Trinkets, odds and ends. That sort of thing.

Lisbet is my most beloved Ukrainian cannibal of all time, standing heads and shoulders above her compatriots.

It’s fun seeing what else the people who buy my items on eBay are purchasing. As I’ve admitted before, I really enjoy watching the TV show Hoarders because mocking these people who are tens of thousands of dollars in debt from compulsive shopping who live in filth and have to shit in buckets behind their homes because a plumber cannot physically fit into the bathroom to get the sink, shower, and toilet working again makes me feel better about my own minor foibles.

Of course, the one question that’s always on my mind as I laugh at these basketcases is where they get all this stuff. I always wonder if the people buying the old books I occasionally sell are like the people on that show. Sometimes I find evidence that they are.

I’m not proud of the fact that I sometimes look at the purchase history of my buyers, but I’m sure others do the same. People know that others can view their feedback profiles and they also must know that each feedback entry, save for private listings, has a link to the item for which the feedback is for. That’s why I never buy stuff that could later come back to haunt me on eBay. That’s what proxy services are for.

I wouldn’t be so interested in looking at purchase histories if it weren’t for the fact that the books I’m selling are such garbage. There are kid’s books, very old textbooks that are surely outdated and nearly useless (eg. a book on Photoshop from 2000), school books, detective novels, movie scripts, and occasionally some old game-related books.

As it turns out, at least some of the people buying my items buy other garbage as well. Here’s a case history of my most recent customer, who bought a kid’s book from me:

  • a vintage hobo-shaped pin complete with bindle
  • an army strongbox for storing documents
  • a toy treasure chest for storing cash
  • a custom made motorcycle tag
  • several motorcycle-shaped pins
  • several motorcycle themed stickers and other ornaments
  • a snowflake-shaped cookie cutter
  • egg-shaped novelty salt and pepper shaker set
  • a pumpkin-shaped pie mould
  • an apple-shaped pie mould
  • 2 moon-shaped pins
  • 3 candles shaped like little girls
  • a pendant souvenir from the book/movie Eragon
  • numerous vintage postcards
  • another novelty cookie cutter set
  • a cookie recipe
  • a green, plastic, St. Patrick’s Day themed wreath
  • a pig figurine
  • various china dresses like China-san’s from Spirit of Wonder
  • motorcycle themed temporary tattoos
  • a novelty drinking glass with dancers painted on it

This is all from February. In all fairness, it is a leap year, but even so, that’s far more rubbish than I would purchase in any given month. Not that I’m complaining, since, without this sort of person, I wouldn’t be selling my books filled with scribbles and underlining and, of course, a person with my profligate spending tendencies is really in no position to preach. Nonetheless, I genuinely find it entertaining seeing what interesting folks like this customer are buying.

My IPR on my IPR infringement scheme have been infringed upon!

"Valencia? These are juice oranges!"

I was busy vacillating over whether to use my real name and address when signing one of those most-likely-frivolous online petitions a few days ago when I learned that someone stole an idea that I’d been keeping under my hat for some time.

I recently stumbled into a situation that provided me with expansive access to JSTOR, an online service that provides access to scanned, OCR’ed, and generally nicely polished content from so-called “academic journals”, which are indistinguishable, as far as I can tell, from the more plebeian-sounding magazines they actually are. The content is great, but the prices are just disgracefully high. They’re prohibitively high, in fact. The average person cannot afford to access the content they, presumably, painstakingly digitized. You can pay for a subscription for some ungodly amount or you can pay to download individual articles. If you’re an infrequent user, I suppose the latter is the better idea, but it’s still absurdly expensive.

My school, however, has a subscription to JSTOR, as well as other similar services, such as Springerlink. As soon as I found this out I noticed that they’re doing something sneaky where they’ve got a proxy server set up that students can use to remotely access the school JSTOR account and download content from anywhere. In other words, the school is not-so-subtly encouraging its students to engage in disingenuous behaviour, if not blatantly illegal copyright infringement.

I had known of the existence of JSTOR and some other similar services before enrolling in this school, but I never imagined I would be able to access the content. For that matter, I was sceptical of whether the content even existed, since JSTOR and Springerlink are invariably the top search results on Google when you search for the title of an article or the name of an author on Google Scholar. It seemed similar to the phenomenon by which you’re searching for a DDL link or torrent of some obscure object of desire and Google presents you with links to torrent indexers like Bitsnoop and or DDL site search services like Filestube, which you click only to see that it just leads to a page informing you that no results were found for whatever you typed into Google. In other words, just an SEO tactic used to steer visitors looking for thing X to the JSTOR website where they procceed to sell you things Y and Z.

Having said that, I now know that JSTOR is a legitimate service that actually has the media they purport to have available.

Seeing how great the service apparently was, it seemed like a given that I could just go on over to my favourite torrent indexer or private tracker and download gigabytes of PDFs harvested from JSTOR for free. No dice though. I was very surprised, since it seemed like the sort of content to which the benefit of piracy would extend greatly, due to its ridiculous price. That is, it seems to me that the benefit of pirating, for example, a $15 music CD is relatively low when compared to the risk and discomfort of the moral qualms it may arouse, whereas pirating a PDF of academic materials that would have cost you $250 to purchase is a better risk to take. Educational content seems to be more expensive than popular content. I don’t know why; they’re printed on the same paper and pressed on the same CDs and DVDs as popular media. Perhaps it’s not that they’re more expensive because they’re educational but rather that niche stuff is always more expensive and many educational materials are considered niche enough to render a price comparable to popular materials unviable.

I’m digressing though.

Finding that, on the one hand, I couldn’t afford to purchase the materials I wanted legally, while, on the other, I couldn’t even acquire them illicitly if I wanted to, I was in a bind. That’s why I was happy when I enrolled in this school and learned of how they’re basically encouraging us to download content from JSTOR with reckless abandon (and, implicitly, do with it what we will).

You’d have to be an idiot or someone with absolutely no sense of opportunism at all not to think about making some script or other that downloads everything available to you from JSTOR and then publishing a torrent of it. Of course, let me make clear that I am a law abiding citizen and would never actually do that; I’m just emphasizing that you’d have to be pretty dense not to take notice of an opportunity that presents itself quite so flamboyantly.

But, to my simultaneous chagrin and moral endorsement — distinct from practical endorsement (read: I do not endorse this) — the founder of, Aaron Swartz, stole my idea, as people seem to have a penchant for doing. He was promptly arrested, it seems, but, to JSTOR’s credit, they did not pursue a civil suit against him, though the gummint threw the book at him.

This all happened in July, but I didn’t know anything about it until the other day, when I was signing one of those ubiquitous petitions against SOPA and PIPA. I didn’t want to give my name and address on a website run by some PAC I knew nothing about. For all I knew was run by American Crossroads. But it’s not; it’s run by an east coast pirate redditor whiner hipster-doofus troublemaker who stole my idea and I’m okay with that.

I’m happy that exams are over (but I quit anime again)

I'm a winner.

I quit anime again. Initially this was because I figured I’d be playing Skyrim right now but I’ve been embraced by one of my periodic waves of morality and decided that I will buy it instead. In keeping with that decision, however, I’ll now be waiting a year or so until the price decreases.

If I’m not watching anime or playing Skyrim though I have no real reason to keep writing anything. I never have anything interesting to say anyhow. I’m to media consumers as Takeru Kobayashi is to diners. I’m the least discerning viewer out there.

Calling someone a Type B anime viewer can have a pejorative connotation. I once maintained the delusion that I could claim to be a Type A viewer because I count series and films like Ghost in the Shell, Serial Experiments Lain, NHK ni Youkoso! and Satoshi Kon movies among my all-time favourites. But I can no longer delude myself about being a Type A viewer when I’ve also seen Okusama wa Joshikousei. I’m not a connoisseur, I’m a garbage disposal.

One of my guilty pleasures is watching Hoarders on television. This is a reality TV show in which camera crews and TV therapists exploit people who suffer from chronic disorganization and clutter in their homes. Some of these people are really hopeless nutcases who pose a danger to themselves and their neighbours, but others are just normal people who have too much junk in their homes. Part of the definition of a “hoarder” that the show employs is that, regardless of the type of item that the patient accumulates, it must be relatively worthless. Occasionally they profile people who do collect valuable items. They’re not hoarders; they’re collectors. I see an analogy between the behaviours of these people and my own omnivorous appetite for pandering, derivative, clichéd shows that rely on preexisting, done to death tropes rather than taking a leap and telling an interesting story.

If it weren’t for FTTH and my lack of ethics, I’d be the ideal consumer. I can easily imagine myself buying any Blu-ray with an attractive cover design, any video game with voice actors I like, and anything associated with a studio that produced a single franchise that I may have once enjoyed, regardless of how abhorrent their subsequent work may have been. I have no taste whatsoever. The only reason I can associate somewhat competently with people when they talk about anime masterpieces is because I watch everything. The principle of averages means that it’s inevitable that I eventually watch some gems with the kind of methodology I employ.

Having said that, I’ve stalled on one of the only two shows I’m keeping up with this season: Idolmaster. To my credit, I’m still watching the type A show, Mawaru Penguin Drum. The opening of this most recent episode reminded me of that famous painting which, proving to myself that I’m not a complete buffoon, I knew was by Seurat, though I had to look up the name,

This show is great, but I sometimes find that, rather than strain my head to try and construct some understanding of the overall plot, I just say to myself, “Fuck it. I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt that it’s profound”. The more abstract an episode is and the harder the narrative thread is to discern, the more likely I am to be impressed yet the less likely I am to understand why.

Figuring out exactly what I am supposed to be most impressed by is too much effort so I sometimes skip the drawn-out post-viewing contemplation session and jump ahead to the part where I just give the show credit for saying something incisive, deconstructing some taken-for-granted assumption about the social world, or challenging my preconceived notions about some social construct, even without knowing which cornerstone of my worldview has just been shattered. It could be all of them for all it matters. Something is certainly being chipped away at. It just remains to be seen exactly what.

As for my vengeance driven experiment, I’ll go ahead and try to resume that next week. I couldn’t very well count how many people were using electronic devices while taking exams. Incidentally, I don’t know whether I should do a facepalm or be impressed at the security-by-obscurity tactic to prevent forgeries used by the City University of New York on their official department stamps:

One more thing: child broiler? What is that? a German fairy tale?

Success! I fixed my laptop

So I bought this laptop on eBay with a broken screen for virtually zero money. I was sort of vaguely thinking about setting up a dedicated MythTV box or something to leave by my TV but then I got scared since I don’t know how to use MythTV so I decided to use GB-PVR, which I already use but only inconveniently since I need to run a 50 foot cable from my STB to my desktop computer, which is a fire hazard since you’d probably trip over it when trying to leave the apartment. Whew.

Anyway for more or less this reason, as well as the fact that I evaluate my self-worth in terms of the good deals I find on eBay, I was half-heartedly browsing for reasonably priced laptops with cracked or broken screens to set my plan in motion.

A desktop would have worked, I suppose, but I like the idea of giving an abandoned laptop with a cracked screen a nice home and steady work. I also don’t have much space. A desktop needs desk or floorspace but a headless laptop could just sit on top of my standalone DVD/DivX player, which, incidentally, I also procured on eBay.

Among the broken laptops I found on eBay, however, was the one I’m currently using to write this. It was listed as fully working but with a broken screen. The auction even explicitly mentioned that when connected to an external monitor via HDMI it worked fine. So I bought it.

Dual core 2.0GHz processor, 3.0GB of RAM, expandable to 8GB, 802.11n (which is actually useful to me finally since the Actiontec router Verizon gave me for FiOS supports N), and a CD/DVD±R/RW/BD-ROM drive. That means if I ever brick my PS3, which I also bought broken from eBay and fixed, by neglecting to read the readme before flashing it with some CFW, I’ll still have a working Blu-Ray player.

When I got it though I liked it so much that I decided I should try to get the thing into perfect working condition. It looked completely unused with barely a single blemish on the plastic cover, body or anywhere else. The screen was really beautiful without a single mark on it. There is just one small stain on the left side of the speakers. If it weren’t for that though you’d think this was a brand new computer, so I thought it was a shame that the screen didn’t work.

When I got the laptop I went ahead and turned it on, not expecting to see anything. I did not, in fact, see anything on the screen. I connected it via HDMI to my nice ASUS monitor and it POSTed fine. I was surprised though when I entered BIOS to see that it had an HDD installed. I didn’t realise that it was going to come with one. Not wanting to spend more money than was necessary, I was planning on using a 40GB laptop HDD that wasn’t getting much use, but I was sort of considering buying a larger capacity HDD since 40GB is not much for a PVR system.

That’s why I was happy that the thing came with a 160GB HDD. I tried to format it with gparted but it kept saying it couldn’t find any disks. I tried to use DBAN and got some cryptic error. I tried to format it using an Ubuntu installation disc and got some other error. I tried to use an XP install disc but that just hung indefinitely at the disk partitioner screen. I then boot into BIOS and tried to do some HDD self test diagnostic feature that this laptop seems to have. No problems found. Tried the Ubuntu disc again, got same error. Oddly enough the Windows 7 installation disc didn’t complain at all, so that’s the OS I’ve got on it right now. Don’t torch my house, pl0x.

Anyway, once I had an OS installed I realised eventually that the screen wasn’t broken; it was just really, really, really dark. It was so dark that you really couldn’t tell it was turned on at all unless there were some very high contrast images on the screen at the time. I set the following image as the background and could kinda sorta see Nino’s left eye if I placed my face close enough to the screen so that my nose nearly touched it. If you didn’t get that close, you probably wouldn’t notice that it was displaying anything at all.

So that was a great discovery. It meant that the screen was probably fine; the backlight was just out. That’s easy. Hell, I thought, it might just be a loose cable somewhere. I open it up and have a look-see. I cut my left thumb trying to open it. The damn inside corners of the screen enclosure are sharp. That was not the encouragement I needed. I disconnected and reconnected everything I could find, reassembled the computer and powered it up, not expecting it to work. It didn’t.

Now I was determined. This was a nice computer. I bought a compatible screen, installed it, tested it and was disappointed. No luck. After installing the new screen I had the same problem as before; image was fine but very, very dark. Being naïve and never having done this before, I thought the screen would come with an inverter, but it didn’t. Since the problem was exactly the same with the new screen as with the old screen I put the old screen back in since it was now pretty clear it was actually perfectly fine.

So I went ahead and bought a new inverter from Hong Kong for USD14, 1/18th of the price some US-based online stores were selling for (I kid you not, one site listed the exact same part number for USD252). I was disappointed since I had spent about the same amount on a new screen as I had on the damned computer. But as I said, I was determined now, having cut both my thumbs by this point.

The inverter arrived surprisingly quickly for Hong Kong Post SAL. On a related note, I bought an item from ShopTemp on November 30, 2010, had it shipped by China Post Registered Airmail and didn’t get it until two days ago. They shipped it within a day or so, so ShopTemp gets all the praise in the world for that. ShopTemp did everything right. I am sad they are no more, since this was the very first purchase I had ever made from them and it was a great experience as far as ShopTemp was concerned. On the other hand, it was a terrible experience with China Post and I would caution said post that they should prepare to feel my wrath. Hell, the tracking number still said it was in Beijing on the day I received it in my mailbox. My experiences with Hong Kong Post have been mostly good though, with items usually arriving within 1 to 4 weeks.

Anyway, I receive the inverter and install it. Same problem as always. Now I was utterly baffled. I thought this must mean it was a bad CCFL. That’s something I don’t know how to replace. Perhaps it’s easy, but I didn’t feel like learning anything after my ordeal.

Just before giving up I decided to triple check all the connections inside the computer and screen enclosure. While doing so, I noticed this:
backlight cable


So I bought a replacement cable and the screen works fine now. Beautiful too. Not a single dead pixel. The only thing is that while I was replacing that broken cable with the new one I cut my left thumb again. I suppose the lesson here is that you should buy broken electronics even if you don’t know how to fix them because the solution is often as simple as replacing a broken cable. Whoever sold this laptop really lost an opportunity to make a fair amount of money since, as I said, the thing is basically brand new. The screen and one small brownish stain on the speaker were the only imperfections.

Now I have one brand new screen I’ve got to resell.