I know I don't update it daily. Shut up.

June 27, 2010

Hey Mario - stick to collecting coins, not minting them

A salesman once told me the definition of an item's worth is whatever someone wants to pay for it. In most cases I have found this to be true, except in the marketplace that is eBay and in the "collector's edition" coin that is my Super Mario Galaxy Free Commemorative Launch Coin. This coin offers a valuable lesson in the e-commerce marketplace. To put this in context, let me first tell you a story entitled:

The One-Eyed Indian Who Bought My Underwear.

True story. Last August I held a yard sale in the front of my apartment building. This is me trying to sell some pajamas:

Would you buy pajamas from this man?

About halfway through day two an elderly Indian couple and their grandson, whom they were training to be both a thief and a liar judging by the example they set, arrived to haggle. The husband bought some shorts and an old shirt from me, conveniently understanding every other word of English though he seemed to speak it fine. After buying $10 worth of clothes but paying $8, I had to leave my post to show his shriveled mummy-wife that the blender I'm selling does indeed work. Though this was proven, she still refused to buy it because a piece of the rotor was made of plastic (I hear those metal-on-metal blenders sell like hotcakes).

After returning to my table I was once again confronted by the Monty Hall of Delhi, who this time was waving a pair of my own underwear in my face. Unbeknownst to me the bag of clothes that was meant to go to the trash wound up in the sale pile, and suddenly I was once again facing the old martini-glass shorts I thought would never see another day.

"C'mooooon ..." Monty said. "I take."

On principal I couldn't let this guy, a dirty old man with a cloudy grey dead eye that seemed to regard everything with a thought apart from the one rattling in his age-addled head, have anything more from me. True, the underwear weren't even part of the sale to begin with, and after talking him into fifty cents for my years-old drawers I was happy to see him, his crusty wife and the little child with a toy he didn't pay for exit the premises.

I vowed never to hold a yard sale ever again. I also learned the depreciation on a pair of underwear goes like this:

S = ([P/N]/T)/2

Where S is the sale price, P is the price you originally paid, N is the number of people who have worn the underwear, and T is time (in this case, years passed between the time they were purchased and the time they are sold).

I tried to do similar math for my commemorative Mario Galaxy coin (Face it: You were wondering where I was going with all this). I remembered the coin just last week as I busted out Mario Galaxy 2 (review coming soon) and realized, "It's been two years; I wonder how much that coin is worth."

The relative value of anything deemed "Limited edition" or "Collector's Edition" has been rendered virtually nil over the past 20 years. Like I do with many other things in life, I blame George Lucas. Before he came along, there wasn't this need to brand anything "Collector's edition" because the collectors didn't quite know what they had. Did my parent's generation ever think to hang on to all those Babe Ruth baseball cards? No, most of them wound up in the spokes of bicycles making helicopter noises.

Until Star Wars, no movie had that kind of merchandising push. The toys, electric toothbrushes, coloring books, silverware, etc. were offered everywhere, and made in great abundance. This is where the economics come in: You make enough of something, its value sinks because the market is saturated and that drives the price down (simple supply-and-demand stuff). It gets worse if the product you put to market gets copied, effectively flooding the market with twice as much of the same thing:

On the left, the Ewok Village playset by Kenner.
On the right, the Robin Hood Prince of Thieves
playset that emerged five years later

So knowing that my commemorative Mario coin was literally one in a million (or more) I looked it up on eBay today. Prices ranged from 99 cents to $40. The thing is, eBay lets you set your own starting price, so that $40 doesn't guarantee someone is willing to pay what you're asking. I saw someone offer a $30 bid for a coin, but on eBay you can't tell if that is a serious bid or the seller trying to drive up the price.

I've come to the conclusion the coin isn't worth anything more than the peace of mind it represents: I received it because I pre-ordered the game, guaranteeing my Italian plumber-infused bliss at the first possible moment. In that case, if P is peace of mind, R is the reaction and T is time:

P = R(T2)

A second coin, regretfully, did not accompany Mario Galaxy 2 but that's OK because apparently if you still want the first game's coin you can find it if you look hard enough.

Or you can have mine. Bidding starts at $500.

June 17, 2010

Troegs beer: Many misses, few hits

John and I before we were interrupted by a robbery and a shrieking woman.

Earlier this week I met John Trogner. John and his brother, Chris, founded the Troegs brew company in 1996 in central Pennsylvania, making them the longest continuously operating business left in central Pennsylvania.
(Full disclosure: I can't figure out the umlaut but there is one over the "O" in Troegs.)
He was in town for Boston's Craft Brew Week, which culminates in a craft beer festival this weekend that I unfortunately will miss due to a previous engagement (which is now a full-blown wedding). John and I got to talking briefly about the history of his beer, and the offerings on tap at The Kinsale that evening. I was gingerly sampling a Troegenator, the brewery's double bock.

Looks better than it tastes.

As double bocks go, I was disappointed by the lack of body to this beer. It should have bigger balls than this limp offering. I found these reviews to be a little over the top, though the only possible explanation I have is that I had it from a fresh keg and it hadn't aged properly. That, or the Kinsale never cleans its tap lines.
I have had another negative experience with a Troegs brew: Mad Elf Ale, which unfortunately lived up to its name: Mad Elf. As in, directly after my second swig of this liquid cinnamon bomb a small bearded man ran up to me and punched me square in the ornaments. So maybe I can't blame the Trogner brothers for that particular experience.
On my second sampling of Mad Elf, however, I learned that I really don't like these overly spiced "holiday" offerings from Sam Adams, Harpoon, Lakefront, Troegs ... and though I love everything from Dogfish Head you can throw Sahtea in the mix as well. I'm not overly sensitive to spice - just ask my coworkers who challenged me to down an espresso cup full of hot sauce. I just think craft brewers are going a little nuts with it, and Mad Elf falls sadly into this trap.
There is one Troegs brew I've found to have an even body, crisp taste and multiple layers of fruit, hops, and honey though with a slight bitterness at the end:

Troegs' saving grace

Of the five Troegs beers I've tried (DreamWeaver and Nugget Nectar are the others not mentioned here - you'll see why in a second) this is the only one I found to be not watered down. And I'm sorry, every reviewer on the Web who tastes a Troegs, but watery is not synonymous with drinkable. Only the Hop Back has made me want to come back to Troegs, and it's what led me to sitting outside the Kinsale this week drinking yet another Troegs.
I wish John and I weren't so rudely interrupted by the woman sitting next to me who suddenly screamed "STOP THAT MAN!!!!!!" while her husband took off down the street chasing the guy who stole his wallet, because I wanted to give John my honest take on his beer. I don't hate it, so please don't take this as an overwhelmingly negative deconstruction of the only business keeping central Pennsylvania alive. Indeed, the many drinkers cited above are proof positive they're doing something right.
I should be blown away by a beer with a name as massively awesome as TROEGENATOR. I'm just not. But like its namesake famously said, "I'll be bock."

June 14, 2010

Wal-Mart takes us a little farther into Hell

Wal-Mart's latest television spot ends like this (paraphrased):

Wal-Mart. Official sponsor of office supplies and Father's Day.

Wal-Mart, you can claim all the inanimate objects you want. Heck, you can even sponsor the Pyramid of the Moon and Teotihuican for all I care. But you're taking Father's Day away from us?
For shame.

June 10, 2010

High fashion and the hobo

Recently I scanned Amazon.com for a new watch. Found this one. If one was given a choice between buying this watch and buying my car, one could buy my car four times over for the same price as this watch.
I don't find this watch attractive. It's visually confusing, I'm pretty sure it doesn't tell time, and its band is made from baby seals. Oh, and it's the most expensive watch offered on Amazon - $139,900 on sale for $96,755.
What's interesting is what the watch DOES display: Wealth. A watch without numbers should be good for something, and in this case the timepiece shows the high price of glamor. Designers have to out-ugly each other in order to be noticed, and by having their products noticed the consumer knows that he/she too will get noticed.

Consider this bag from Angela Di Verbeno:

What I love about this bag is that it proves my point perfectly: This is a hobo bag. I didn't name it; the fashion industry did. And while the word "hobo" brings of imagery of the fly-ridden wino that used to sleep on the bench behind my apartment in New York, I don't think he would have been caught dead with this thing. My wife says it looks like someone wiped with a snake.
Remember the grunge movement, when sleeping in the same clothes for a week was beautiful? Weren't hippies required to live in apartments without showers? The thing about the disgusting/beautiful movement is that it was also cheap. What's Angela Di Verbeno's excuse?