Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Has eBay had its day?

My eyes were opened this morning to the troubles that eBay seems to be in. I strongly suggest that you read down all the comments. There's some interesting stuff there.

I've used eBay since 2003 for occasional purchases and selling. I even managed to sell two vehicles, notably Bertha, my lovely camper van, which Len and I used to support our son George and his friends on his bike ride from John O'Groats to Lands' End last year.

I've been fortunate in my experiences, other than buying a fourth-hand car which was little more than a wreck. That appeared as a classified ad and I should have gone to inspect it beforehand. So that was my fault.

I'm not in the market for buying branded goods, other than for photography. If I look on eBay, the search invariably takes me to shops located in Hong Kong which promise to deliver goods free of custom duty. I tried it once, and got stung by the customs charge. So I don't buy from eBay shops anymore if I can help it.

I think it pays to keep checking the listings for the real second hand bargain. There's no point on clicking on just anything in the listings. And ALWAYS read the small print and the description in detail.

Having said that, a friend and I are considering setting up an ecommerce store and thought that it might be a good idea to use an eBay shops as a taster. I went to a seminar about selling on eBay, but quickly decided that the cost of 'renting' the store space far outweighed the highly inconvenient methods of listing and the rather tacky image that most shops have.

If I were looking for something a bit more exclusive, I would not personally go to look on eBay. I would, however, look on Amazon. I buy a lot from Amazon, in the way of books, classical music CDs, photography accessories and kitchen equipment when it's on special offer.

I still would not put my ecommerce offerings on Amazon. I want to present an exclusive image for that.

So what's the problem with eBay? Website traffic is plummeting apparently. People are scared off by fraudulent tales and experiences. Did they really expect to buy a Gucci, or Armani or Nike for next to nothing?

You're mostly locked into PayPal for payment. Not everyone wants a PayPal account although in my experience, you can still use a credit card when going through the payment process. For large payments, I specify BACS.

Just maybe, the novelty of online auctions is wearing off? You might have thought that eBay would be a destination of choice in lean economic times, but somehow the concept of eBay being a source of things cheap and cheerful has gone.

My own impression is that eBay has been trying to reorientate the perception of its image, with one that's more up-market. Is that what its potential customers want?

What should eBay actually be?

See figures for eBay web traffic in the USA.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Feeling like an Android

Is it really September since I last posted? My eco-button tells me that I've saved £18 since I installed it.

I gave one to Len for our 35th wedding anniversary, but his laptop powers down automatically so he handed it on to our son George, who's attached it to his mega computer - used essentially for playing WoW.

Naturally, George forgets to press the button, so periodically, I peep into his room when he's out and bang the button for him.

Yes, the Google Android phone has been released. I'd love to try it, but I really can't justify £40 a month, when I already have another mobile contract and 3 broadband as well.

Besides, with arthritis in my hands, my little Advent computer is much more convenient to use. I never have got used to texting, preferring to use my Skype account to send SMS instead. Not only mostly cheaper, but I find it much, much easier to use the Qwerty keyboard.

With luck, the monthly cost will come down and I shall be able to try out Google's new phone.

I've been attending lots of workshops about online marketing, pay per click, SEO and selling online in October. The result? I'm changing my business focus.

Must dash. The toad-in-the-hole will be burning for supper.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Eco-button - my little bit for carbon saving

I went to the Recycling and Waste Management Exhibition at NEC with Len and Rosie last week. It was a glorious day.

We had to walk through an outdoor display of giant crushers, shredders, loaders and diggers on the way to the hall.

Len had his own itinerary, but Rosie and I sat down for a coffee to research who we wanted to visit. Rosie was targeting media stands in a bid to get a job and I was interested in the domestic recycling displays.

Naturally, we picked up loads of hemp and cotton bags, pens, pencils, sticks of rock, stress balls and a mug for Len to take back to his new desk in Kazakhstan.

We also bought a Green Cone. That involved Len digging a three foot hole in our clay-bound garden, into which to install it. Some good physical exercise. It isn't quite straight but it is sort of in the sun, where it needs to be in order to digest all the waste food we shall be throwing into it.

None of us relish the prospect of recycling the contents of the Bokashi Bin over the winter! The Green Cone seemed an eminently more welcome prospect.

While Rosie and Len were lugging our green cone to the car park, I made a last-minute diversion around the stalls to find the Ace stall where I hoped to discover where I could recycle tetrapaks.

On the way, there was a gadget stand. One of those companies that specialise in marketing all those knick-knacks that businesses like to hand out as freebies to customers.

And that is where I spotted the Eco-Button. I bought two.

It was rather profligate of me really, since all it does is put your PC into Stand By mode, and the promotional cost was £13.95 each.

Normally I would snort at these 'I want one of those' devices, which you don't really need, but I have to admit that it is so much, much more likely that you will hit the green button when quitting your desk for a while, rather then going through the two clicks needed to put your computer into Stand By.

There's a nice little touch. When you resume your position at the computer, a display shows you how many carbon and power units, and cash savings, that you've made.

I've had it installed for a week, and to date have saved £2.61, 11.86 power units, and 5.10 carbon units. At this rate, it will take me six weeks to get back the cost of buying it.

Nice eh? Mind you, I don't know how much carbon was used to make it in the first place. Would that have been incorporated into the price?

A week later, I have spotted the Eco-button for sale in my local Coop supermarket for £14.99 each.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Made my peace with Firefox 3

Frustrated beyond measure at not being able to install Delicious buttons on the Firefox 3 toolbar, I finally got round to doing the necessary research.

I looked for 'Unexpected installation error' on the Mozilla support site.

Corrupt extension files seem to be the issue.

You need to quit Firefox, find your Firefox profile, then delete extensions.ini, extensions.cache and extensions.rdf.

Restart Firefox and these files are automatically regenerated.

Advice on how to find your Firefox profile.

I was SO happy when Firefox blazed back with my Accuweather forecasts, delicious buttons and Colorzilla dropper, along with the developer toolbar.

Business has returned to normal.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Writing in Google Chrome

Yes, I've downloaded the app and am trying it out right now while I write this.

One of the toolbars looks suspiciously like the one on Flock with Share Facebook, Furl It and Mark in Magnolia. And looking for addons takes me to Firefox.

But all I have to do now is to click the star next to the address bar to add a site to my favourites, which is all I have to do in Flock really, to add urls to delicious.

It is fast. I'll see how I get on.

Just tried to install delicious addon. At least I got a message that Windows does not recognise an xpi file. But why now? It's always recognised xpi files for Firefox extensions in the past.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Really, REALLY peeved with Firefox 3

Since the beginning of this week, persistent reminders have suddenly appeared on my monitor screen urging me to upgrade to Firefox 3. It did point out that certain addons, such as Google tool bar and Autocopy, would no longer work.

So I ignored the exhortations.

When the frequency of these notices increased, I decided that there must be something to the claim that FF3 improved security, so I upgraded.

I SO wish that I hadn't.

I have lost ALL of my addons, and if I try to install them again, such as Delicious buttons for bookmarking pages, I get a message that Firefox cannot install the addons because of an error 203 and that I should check the error console.

"Error: e.location.getItemLocation( is undefined
Source File: file:///C:/Program%20Files/Mozilla%20Firefox/components/nsExtensionManager.js
Line: 4007"

Has anybody ANY idea what that actually means?

I uninstalled FF and hoped that I could find an earlier version to download, but no, version 3 is the only one on offer. Reinstallation didn't improve anything about FF3 performance with addons.

Firefox is now virtually next to useless as far as I'm concerned. It was all the addons that made it so valuable.


I have Flocked off to Flock.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The pitfalls of getting my videos on to YouTube

I have a JVC Everio GZ-MG37E camcorder. I came by this natty little HD camcorder while in Fuerteventura, hob nobbing with conmen. I found reason to rue the purchase when I discovered that JVC, for indecipherable reasons, uses its own proprietary file format with which to record the video files.

Although software was provided, it didn't suit me. The guidance notes looked awfully basic. It didn't take me long to find out that the files I transferred to my PC wouldn't play in standard media programs.

I discovered that Adobe Premiere supported the file format. I installed Premiere on my little laptop and downloaded files taken in Paphos, Cyprus to work up. But the laptop memory didn't seem adequate to handling the app with any sort of speed.

What next? Obviously, a little online research. To my horror, the results show that it's a real pain in the backside to work with JVC files, both in Windows and OSX .

It's taken me a year to get round to sorting out this mess. I used the JVC Everio to record clips of the Great Jogle last year, but never got round to downloading the video. I went online again last week to search for solutions, and bless him, someone called rukhsana photograpy had posted all the information that I needed, to the moviecodec forum.

For Windows XP (yes, I haven't changed to Vista yet), you need to download and install a converter named SUPER ©

Then you may well need k-lite which is also downloadable from this site. Installation warns you that Real Player will be uninstalled, and that the k-lite 3-2-1 media player becomes the default on your computer.

After installing these programs, I converted the JVC .MOD format files to .avi and the soundtrack to .mp3, and successfully put together a video subsequently uploaded to YouTube.

However, there's always a however. I can no longer edit movie clips taken from my Canon G9 camera in Windows MovieMaker. Whenever I try, Visual Studio homes in with an error warning about debugging, and if I cancel, MovieMaker closes immediately, saving absolutely nothing.

All the video files on my super laptop converted automatically by virtue of the codec pack. Fortunately, I have backup copies of the more important ones elsewhere.

I have yet another option, which is to use iMovie on my Mac Book, but wouldn't you know, iMovie does not natively support the JVC file format.

The solution is to use a Mac OS X droplet called DropDV. Something I have yet to try out.

I am seriously inclined to uninstall Super and K-lite from Windows now that I have got my essential files sorted out, and providing DropDV works on the Mac without any problem.

In the meantime, I also finally imported video from tape on my mini-DV camera into iMovie and was relieved to be able to broadcast two videos of me singing at 'How to Get On In Society!' in Leicester last year just yesterday. It's only taken me 11 months!

Friday, June 06, 2008

East Midland Speakers with WebJam

I signed up to Webjam a week ago. You won't see anything terrific on my personal webjam but that wasn't the main reason that I joined.

Webjam does what I had hoped Google Sites would do. It offers a collaborative system using modules and themes which enables a group to build and maintain a website.

And it works.

I've created the East Midlands Speakers Club website using Webjam, with a blog and bulletin on the front page. I've been able to add a Google map showing the location of our meetings and also a Google calendar.

Because of the faffy way Google goes about things, I couldn't just drop and drag a calendar. I had to copy the code and paste it into the html, but Webjam still made that process easy.

Parts of the website can be limited to group members, which might have its uses.

Two members of our club have signed up as co-editors. I just need some information to write up now.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

SOSIUS - online networking tool for business

I might, at last, have found the app that will enable me to establish a working, user-friendly, social network for East Midlands' Speakers Club.

I found out about Sosius from scanning my RSS feed for Gulf News. Fancy that. I had to read something published in the Middle East to get the lead.

It does everything that I had hoped Google Sites would do, but incomparably more efficiently. The only hitch is that I have to persuade other people to sign up in order to use it.

East Midlands' Speakers' Club hopes to charter into full Toastmaster International status in July. A gradually increasing number of us meet on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of each month to support each other in our bids to become more confident and interesting public speakers. We shall be able to set up our own website under the auspices of Toastmasters only once we are chartered. Meanwhile, we have a Facebook group which I use to remind people about meetings and to create more awareness of the club.

East Midland Speakers came into being as a result of my erstwhile colleague, John Cox, wanting to join Toastmasters himself but being aghast at finding that the nearest clubs were either in Birmingham or Leeds. That's a lot of travelling for a quasi-social event.

We are social, despite following precise guidelines for meetings, speeches and time-keeping and Toastmaster International programmes of Competent Communicator and Leadership. It's definitely a new group of friends.

But back to Sosius. The sign-up process is pretty painless, and membership is free providing you use no more than 200Mb of online storage. You can collaborate with an unlimited number of other users.

The dashboard is an instant guide to what you can do, with inbuilt calendar, content and template creation tools (eg blogs, web pages, documents) email, site customisation, workflow management and so forth. You can even use SpinVox which converts your spoken words into text entries.

It has also introduced me to XFN and FOAF which I'm going to have to look into more thoroughly, since these are technologies which will enable you to create your own friends' network from any pages which link to people you know.

An East Midlands Speakers Club on Sosius would enable us to share information, log our progress through TI programmes, advertise meetings - generally creating a community.

Sosius really does seem to offer the facilities for innovative groups with online members to collaborate and work together, but oh my, most people I know don't live online like I do - yet. And many still don't find these online services sufficiently intuitive.

And oh the eyebrows that rise high when I mention using Facebook for networking! Get real. Social networking apps are powerful.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Google Sites - Hold it!

I've been disappointed with Google Sites.

I wanted to set a site up for the East Midlands Speakers Club and duly registered an account. I got only as far as writing some text on the Home page.

I set up a second page on which I wanted to insert a calendar gadget, and that's where the trouble started. I'd have thought that would have been easy, but oh no. It seems that I have to register independently for yet another Google account in order to create a calendar.

It's all needlessly complicated. Obviously if I want to create a collaborative site, I want to insert a common calendar.

And there's no help for untutored people like me. Google Sites is classed as a Google app, which suggests that only developers have a chance of working out what is required.

Another issue I have is that the interface is clunky. Several themes are offered which enable you to change colour schemes, but how about improving the layout?

All in all, I am not tempted to persevere, and will abandon the project.

Then I discovered MS Sharepoint, which appears to offer the same sort of service. The amount of supporting information is overwhelming, and I haven't a clue how to start. Neither have I seen any statement which shows me how much the service costs potentially. Since this is Microsoft, it will cost.

How sad that I have been reduced to studying for MCTS 70-528 on Easter Sunday, but believe me, it's been raw, cold and snowy.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Online teamwork with Google Sites. WOW!!

I received an email today reminding me that I had asked to be told when JotSpot was updated and relaunched.

To be honest, that was so long ago that I couldn't even remember what JotSpot did, but the big news is that it has been relaunched as Google Sites.


I think it is big news, although I have to admit that I haven't tested it yet. Nonetheless, the concept is very exciting.

At no cost, small companies, schools, project managers, groups and so on can have access to a welter of online apps that will enable them to work collaboratively online, without having to pay for hardware, networking or software licences. Which would have been the way to do it otherwise.

Create your own intranet using the web page builder. Share team calendars. Send mail. Post and review documents, upload photos, videos, files for common use. Prepare online presentations. Update events for internal notice with a blog.

Using Web 2.0 technologies, Google has aimed to make it as simple as it can be at the moment for the ordinary office to make all its admin tasks electronic and increase efficiency.

And because it's so simple, the learning curve should be relatively small. A godsend for companies that have been having to pay for software training.

I suspect the reservations will be about security. After all, anything that's online can ultimately be hacked, but how many people really suffer that, unless they've been extremely lax about use of passwords or even indiscrete about what is shared within the team.

And there will also be the core of people who resist doing anything on computers. Are you still employing them?

I only wish I had a project on which I could test this out. I'm already making plans ...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gone mobile

I finally took the plunge and signed a contract with 3 for a Skype enabled mobile phone. I simply wanted to try out the technology and was persuaded that a monthly contract would not only enable me to make free calls Skype-2-Skype but that I would also benefit from free to 3 phone calls and a monthly allowance of free minutes to any network.

Have I used the minutes in the first month? No. On an economically rational basis, I have made a bum decision, and should have stayed with my Virgin Mobile pay-as-you-go but pay-monthly-plan, which averages around £5 a month. The person who I speak to most on my mobile Skype is my daughter, who I can also call for free using 3.

Still, I have demonstrated the use of mobile Skype-2-Skype to her. She has chosen a phone upgrade which also uses the facility, enabling her to speak with her admirers across the globe via Skype. I wish there was rather less admiration and a more focused effort on earning money rather than asking for handouts to keep afloat. But there you are, we can't force people to be economically rational, even though it is a fundamental premise of Economics that people are economically rational.

I also, oh goodness me, subscribed to another 3 contract, for mobile broadband. It works on my Mac Book Pro as well as my PC laptop. It's a liberating sensation to feel that I can take a laptop anywhere to connect to the net, and I only wish that I had had the facility at John O' Groats last year, when I wanted to send a photo of George and his friends at the start line, to the local press. But is the 3 3G network available in the very north of Scotland?

So far, this, too, been an economically irrational decision. I haven't made the use of it that I could. If I were more mobile doing business on the move, I could justify the expense, but being at home most of the time, I'm a heavy user of wireless broadband.

Sadly, the FON/BT partnership for mobile broadband doesn't seem to have caught on, such that I could login for free to FON wireless mobile hotspots wherever I went. And Skype seems to be in the doldrums too. If more people subscribed, then we could be considerably more inventive in our use of cheaper telecomms technology.

The latest issue of Web Designer reckons that Wimax will be with us, in certain locations, within two years.

Yeah, right!