Category Archives: IMHO

My humble opinions…

A Cautionary Tale

Picture of the word FAIL

“FAIL STAMP” by Nima Badiey on flickr CC:A

Why I Won’t Purchase from Artifactory Replicas, and Why You Shouldn’t Either.

I love movie and TV show props. These are items that may be an integral part of the story, like Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber, or an incidental set piece like a Men in Black business card. These items, for some, become icons that personally tie them to a story and make it more real to them. The Internet has a lot of information about these things, and there are many websites that cater to people with these interests. One such place is the Replica Prop Forum. The members there often discuss items in detail, obsessing over every measurement and component of a prop, and the more skilled among them make limited runs of these items for purchase by board members.

On February 12, 2010, one member with the handle “SD Studios” opened a message thread in the RPF’s ‘Junkyard’ forum  to gauge interest in a Men in Black “neuralyzer” (otherwise known as the ‘flashy thing’.) (NOTE: a free membership is required to read the posts in that forum.) This member, whose real name is Stephen Dymszo, had a small company that had produced well-recognized prop replicas in limited runs before he went on to found a commercial prop company known as Master Replicas.  He had previously produced the neuralyzer in proper filming scale, which raised a great deal of controversy within the community as it was very large. (The original prop had to be bigger to hold all of the electronics. A hand model with huge hands was used in close-ups to give the appropriate sense of scale on-screen.) These originally cost over $800 each, and people had gladly forked over their money to own one. Master Replicas produced another neuralyzer model under his tenure that quickly sold out. He left Master Replicas years ago to start another prop company, Quantum Mechanix (QMx) before he finally went back to producing props under the SD Studios moniker.

Mr. Dymszo had a reputation of being honest, straightforward, and dedicated to quality. He exhibited high standards in what he produced and happy customers would vouch for his work. After reading the thread about what he proposed I jumped in and registered my interest. He responded with an email giving details and a few pictures. There were two models to be made—a ‘standard’ with rudimentary electronics for $395 and a ‘deluxe’ with fancier electronics and sound effects for $495. The production process should take about 4-5 months, depending on the ability to coordinate the work between five different companies. He wanted to implement a payment plan, and I made arrangements to pay Mr. Dymszo $400 toward a deluxe model. I was told that the final payment of $100 plus shipping would be required upon completion of the props. This began an ongoing saga that, nearly four years later, has not yet reached a successful conclusion.

Members began getting sporadic updates on the progress of the prop. We got enough info to keep us happy and believing that we’d soon receive our precious replicas. We were told there were some initial problems in acquiring the dot-matrix LED displays used in the earlier SD Studios models as they’d long been discontinued. A cache of them was found and production moved along. RPF member JeffreyMorren recently reported that he and Gerry Mros shipped 53 deluxe circuit boards and 7 standard circuit boards to Mr. Dymszo in December 2010. Videos of the working electronics were posted to YouTube. Then, bad news: the printer that Mr. Dymszo had worked with on his previous runs had gone out of business, and now he’d have to find someone who could not only print the control panel legends but could also perform the necessary cutting and trimming of the panel. Months went by. Then we were told that he found an overseas company to do the work, but since this was a small order they’d fit it into their workflow when they could. He’d also discovered that the on/off switches were flimsy and wouldn’t stand up to regular use, so he had to replace all the switches before the units were shipped. Again, months went by with no updates. In the meanwhile, SD Studios continued producing and selling other prop replicas. The reports from his satisfied customers were good, so the neuralyzer customers kept waiting. More patiently than we should have, but remember that this guy had a sterling reputation and produced a lot of great merchandise over the years.

Within the past year he’d mentioned (in an email update, I believe) that he was closing down SD Studios. He’d said not to worry, that all outstanding orders and runs would be completed, but that he was starting a new company. From what I remember he’d also said he wanted to get out of the prop business. The new company would take a considerable amount of his time and effort and that updates would only come with actual news to report. He also asked people to stop bumping the RPF message thread because that could bring unwanted attention from the studios and a cease and desist (C&D) order from the lawyers. A C&D order would mean that the neuralyzers would never be finished or delivered. That kept the buyers quiet for a while longer. Over the past six months or so, however, the message thread has come alive with people who’ve finally had enough and want a resolution.

In the meanwhile, Mr. Dymszo has opened another prop company, Artifactory Replicas. This company produces some pretty boring stuff in comparison to his previous efforts, but these items are intended for use in museums and for eclectic collectors. His offerings include a replica “Shroud of Turin” and the golden record sent off with the Voyager spacecraft. He sent an email update a few months back to the neuralyzer customers that said he fully intended to finish them. However, SD Studios was closed and had no money for refunds or to finish them but he was working on a solution. He also said the money couldn’t legally come from Artifactory as it was a separate business that had no dealings with SD Studios.

As of this posting, neuralyzer customers including myself are still waiting for a product or a refund. Some readers are probably laughing at this turn of events. Couldn’t we have seen this coming? Why did we wait so long before making a fuss? Why should we expect anything if these items weren’t “legal” to make in the first place without a blessing from the copyright holder? Well, there is some precedent for this. Studios have turned a blind eye to this sort of hobbyist activity in the past if the produced numbers of an item are very low. As for the trust placed in Mr. Dymszo, he’d had over seventeen years (by his own count) of producing quality merchandise and happy customers. None of us thought we were gambling our money on an unknown quantity. We believed in him. And in the grand tradition of one “Oh sh*t” cancelling the goodwill of a thousand “Atta-boys” Mr. Dymszo has blown his previously good reputation to shards.

Many of us no longer believe that we’ll see anything from the investments we made nearly four years ago. In fact, if Mr. Dymszo were to contact me with news the neuralyzers were finally ready and asking for my final $100 payment plus shipping, I wouldn’t send him anything. At least, until someone else reported they had and received their item. Fool me once…

The bottom line is this: don’t spend your money with Artifactory Replicas. If Mr. Dymszo was willing to treat the customers of his previous company in this manner, it is likely you may find yourself in the same predicament.

If and when I ever have good news to report I’ll let you know, right here.

To see more of Nima Badiey’s flickr photostream, go here.

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Spy Much?

-The Electronic Freedom Foundation

-The Electronic Freedom Foundation

 

Why, love him or hate him, you owe Edward Snowden your thanks.

By now you know the story. American contractor Edward Snowden, working for the National Security Agency, absconds from his job with copies of sensitive surveillance data. He had an attack of conscience when he saw the extent of spying performed by the US Government on us, its citizens. He begins releasing data, shocking the press as well as his fellow countrymen, eludes capture and prosecution by the Government, and gains political asylum in Russia. End of story.

Except that it’s not the end of the story. Data continues to be released on a regular basis that implicates the Government in also spying on our supposed world allies, pissing off such staunch US friends as Spain, Germany, and Mexico. Additionally, recent news that NSA employees routinely used their access to spy on family members, friends, and lovers made everyone wonder whether or not the Government had crossed the line. Well, if there was a line I believe it was crossed years ago, perhaps even decades ago. The citizens of the United States of America have had crosshairs painted on their backs by their government for years, but the most infuriating over-reaches have been facilitated wholesale by their own elected officials since 9-11.

Surveillance technology has been improving by quantum leaps since the first telephone wiretaps were challenged in the legal case of Olmstead v. United States in 1928.  U.S. spy planes carrying high resolution cameras flew the skies over foreign countries decades ago, and when satellites began carrying similar technologies the game rapidly began advancing. Today’s citizen of the world can safely assume that, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing, they’ve been spied upon at least several times during any normal day. The success of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network stripped away America’s naiveté and made many in the population ready to accept a surveillance state if it meant they could “stay safe.” Senators and Representatives began rubber-stamping anything the U.S. security agencies told them was necessary for National Security without questioning what they were told. (This is a safe assumption if you look at the loads of crap that’s been approved since 9/11. Any rational person would’ve looked at some of that stuff and put their foot down. Hard.) Now all of our Internet traffic is inspected as is our telephone calls (cell and land-line). It’s been said the only form of communication that’s currently safe from spying is the good old U.S. Postal Service letter.

Mr. Snowden found out that our government wasn’t acting properly in that they were spying on their own, in direct violation of laws designed to prevent it. Revealing what he knew was, according to law, illegal and carried serious penalties for doing so. The sheeple of the U.S. had been lulled into silence by what the news outlets, fed their information by the government, were telling them. He thought they ought to know and so he told them. He felt the good that would come of his actions was so great that it was worth his personal sacrifice. He walked away from his well-paying job, hot girlfriend, and family after leaking the story and chose the life of an isolated ex-pat.

I’m not going to debate whether or not the man is a traitor. I’ve talked with so many people who are nearly physically torn because what he did was morally right but legally wrong and they can’t rectify the two. What I will say is that he deserves the gratitude of the world population because he initiated a badly-needed conversation on the topic of spying. The U.S. Government is not unique—if they spy on other countries (and their own citizens), those other countries are also spying on themselves and us. They traditionally don’t make a lot of noise about the practice. Unless, of course, they’re outed—in which case everybody involved screams foul, tempers flare and people become indignant. When that happens  the diplomatic machinery goes into hyperdrive. Apologies will be offered and hesitantly accepted, situations smoothed over, and spying will resume (if it ever stopped at all) until the next leak. The practice of domestic spying will continue because those responsible are not beholden to the laws. When you’re in government these days, you can hide anything by declaring the information or situation as something vital to national security and you have to answer to no one.

Which, ultimately, raises another question. Who really runs the country? You’d think the President does, but he’s often body-checked by the judicial and legislative branches of the government. This was by design…remember “checks and balances” from your Government classes in grade school? However, this country’s founders didn’t envision that the military/security groups would rise to surpass the House and Senate in power. Looking at history over the past sixty years or so, you can see any number of times the country’s citizens were conscripted into the armed services, forced to fight against their personal and religious beliefs, and used as science experiments by their own government. Money was acquired through obfuscation and deceit to build top-secret military facilities (think ‘Area 51’) and fund programs that wouldn’t have gotten a dime had they been properly submitted for approval. It would seem that the military really runs the show and, if that’s true, how does that make us different from many other countries already under military rule?

So, whether or not you like or agree with Edward Snowden, you should thank him. People who are willing to stand up for the rights of their fellow human beings are far too rare these days.

 

 

 

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Powerball Illogic

lottery

In mid-May of 2013 an 84 year old widow, Gloria C. Mackenzie, walked into a Florida Publix supermarket and purchased a quick pick Powerball ticket. It turns out that one of her sets of numbers won the $590 million dollar jackpot. As she waited in line to purchase her ticket, a fellow resident of Zephyrhills Florida named Mindy Crandall gave up her turn in line and told Gloria to go ahead of her.

Now the media is up in arms, relating the story and playing up Crandall’s “bad luck” (and poor choice of timing). Lots of people are apparently wondering if the elderly widow will give her benefactor some of her winnings in gratitude. The entire situation is ludicrous, both on the winner’s side as well as the loser’s. Let’s look at the reasons why.

First, the “loser’s” side. This was not a contest where, for example, the thousandth customer would win, and Crandall was that thousandth person but gave away her place in line. Nor were Mackenzie and Crandall purchasing scratch-off tickets, where there was a possibility that they were going to purchase tickets from the exact same game and each person’s place in line would be important. The lottery is a game of chance with astronomical odds of winning. The winning numbers weren’t hand-picked–they were automatically generated by a computer with a ‘supposedly’ random seed. (At least, that’s the way these things are supposed to be run.) I don’t know if Crandall also had her numbers auto-picked, but with the odds stacked against the players anyway, there’s little chance that she would’ve gotten the winning numbers had she kept her place in line.

Second, let’s look at Mackenzie’s side. She was in the right place, at the right time, and received a ticket with randomly-chosen numbers. Her odds of winning were as improbably high as anyone else’s. Is there a reason she should split any part of her money with Crandall? Not particularly. If she were going to reward an act of kindness shown to her, shouldn’t she also give money to the person who filled her gas tank so that she could drive to the store? How about the clerk who handed her the winning ticket? Any reasonable person can see where this could go. She owes no one a thing, and if she didn’t share her winnings it wouldn’t matter a bit. I firmly believe in there being a plan for each person’s life, and she would have won that prize whether she’d gotten the ticket earlier in the week or an hour after she originally purchased it. She wouldn’t have needed to go to that particular Publix, or even to play more than one set of numbers.

Now let’s look at the ludicrousness of Mackenzie’s win. According to news reports she’ll take home approximately $278 million after taxes. Did I mention that she’s 84? Being older I’m sure her personal needs are modest. She’s reported to have four children and I’m sure she’ll give each of them something. Even so, she’ll have a lot of money to manage and it’s very likely she won’t live long enough to fully enjoy her windfall.  Unfortunately lottery winners have a history of having their lives ruined by their good fortune. It gives credence to the old saying that God shows his disdain for wealth by the kinds of people He gives it to.

And, if the lottery is really a tax on people who are bad at math, what can we say about those people making the erroneous leap of logic in this situation?

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Caroline Glaser and Rachel Bilson: Separated at Birth?

I’ve been watching “The Voice” off and on since it started this season. I haven’t cared to get into it too deeply; I have a belief that America’s love affair with reality shows has lessened the number of quality scripted TV dramas, and so I despise them. However, I’d flipped the TV on last evening as I was doing something else and heard this wonderfully quirky singer named Caroline Glaser. When I looked at the TV I had to blink a couple of times. This extremely talented young lady bears an incredible resemblance to a woman I’ve had a huge crush on for several years. See for yourself:

Caroline Glaser

Caroline Glaser, singer/songwriter.

Rachel Bilson

Rachel Bilson, actress.

Caroline could easily be mistaken for Rachel Bilson’s sister. Both are extremely easy to look at, though Caroline brings a little guilt to the table as she’s just 18. But still…wow.

Add the fact that my best friend’s stepdaughter bears a striking resemblance to Rachel as well, and there’s a Battlestar Galactica moment in the making. “I like Number 11 a lot. Is she available in blonde?”

 

Addendum 10-24-2013: The title of this post has bugged me ever since I published it. It’s impossible for them to be separated at birth–Caroline was barely eighteen and Rachel was, I believe, about 30 at the time of this posting. A more accurate title might have been “Sisters?” or “Are They Related?” Oh well. The toothpaste’s long out of the tube. I still think they’re both talented, beautiful women–and would be happy to spend time with either one.

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The Sweet Smell of Old Technology

smelly-bomb

I’ve noticed a phenomenon with older technology (mainly computers) that I cannot find an answer to. It’s odd, a real head-scratcher, and doesn’t necessarily mean something’s wrong with the unit. I first noticed it a few years back when working on a friend’s computer. I’d hooked it up on my test bench and turned it on. After a minute or so I could smell a distinct odor coming from inside the unit’s case. It was slightly sweet, almost like a perfume. Since this guy was living alone at the time and I knew he wasn’t given to wearing Liz Taylor it was puzzling. I’d opened the PC’s case and looked around—nothing was amiss—and decided to give the unit a good dusting out.

After going over it with an air compressor and a clean dry paintbrush to dislodge any hangers-on, I let the case air out overnight. When I turned the power on again the odor returned. Most people might think that an electrolytic capacitor had blown up and caused the smell, but that leaves a visible mess as well as a very distinct odor which is unlike what I smelled. The PC’s problem was a corrupted software installation so I repaired and returned it. The computer functioned well for several more years before being retired.

The same friend upgraded his family’s computer a year or so and gave me his old one. Guess what? It exhibited the same smell.  Okay, I thought, it must be something in his home environment that’s getting sucked into the computer’s air vents.  Again, the computer itself worked fine but had a dead power supply. I removed the motherboard and transplanted it into another case. When the computer was turned on I could still smell the odor but more faintly.

Recently a different friend gave me a netbook so that I could attempt retrieving some files. This one had been dropped which shattered the built-in LCD display. I hooked it up to work on it, and guess what? The same smell filled my workroom. This time, however, the friend is female, has children, and multiple dogs. There’s one small fan in the netbook from what I can tell as it uses an external brick-type power supply.

I mentioned this to a friend who runs his own electronics repair shop. He’s never noticed the phenomenon with all the various electronic detritus that has crossed the doorway of his shop.

Several weeks back I acquired a Playstation 3 that had ceased to operate in the hopes of fixing it for myself. It also has the smell.  I only had it on for a short time and I can still smell it well over a week afterward. Scented electronics…surely there’s a market for that.

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eBay: Some Words of Wisdom

Hard-won tips and observations about what works and what doesn’t.

 

eBay Sign

eBay…My Frenemy.

I’ve been on eBay over twelve years—the first few were simply as a buyer. Eventually I tried my hand at selling and was good enough at it to move a lot of my old stuff. As an eBayer  I’ve seen and experienced many things that delighted me, some that disappointed me and a good quantity that irritates me to this day. As eBay has tried to evolve into something more than a Wild West, anything-goes-type of trading post it has alienated many basement- and garage-cleaners like me. This is primarily through their push to regard all their customers as professional dealers. This has forced a migration by their smaller sellers to their competition while volume-based companies have moved in–that all sell the same imported Chinese crap at less than desirable prices.

eBay’s management has enabled dishonest buyers by allowing them to leave any type of feedback they want while preventing sellers from leaving honest feedback about their bad customers. They feel that, from a seller’s standpoint, the only type of buyer there can be is a “good” one—even if they’ve stiffed you on a payment, were very late on making payment, or fraudulently claimed to get defective goods and try to screw you out of your item while getting a refund. Yes, that really has happened—browsing the eBay Seller Central forums reveals all sorts of horror stories like these. Yet eBay claims these policies level the playing field for everyone. John Donahoe, eBay’s CEO, must have belonged to the generation who taught their kids that “everyone’s a winner, and everyone gets a prize.” Most eBayers believe that he needs to go and the sooner the better.

So why do I and the other dedicated stalwarts who stick it out continue to do so? Despite the negatives, eBay is still the big player in online auctions and commands a significant amount of traffic. While other players like Amazon now allow the little guy to sell there, let’s be honest–not everything can be sold on Amazon. I can dump an old 386-class motherboard and ISA expansion cards or a broken camcorder on eBay that would gather no interest on Amazon. For people like me who have a LOT of that kind of merchandise eBay is where those types of prospective buyers reside…and so we stay.

Over the years  I’ve seen many poorly-designed auction listings.  These design faux-pas range from poorly-worded ad copy to having crappy pictures (or the wrong ones!). I’ve tried to learn from these examples and make my auction items more appealing. I’m going to share some things I’ve learned with you to try and prevent more of these atrocities, and in doing so give you some tips to help you shop and sell your own stuff.

Tips for Sellers: Product Photography

1.  Get a good digital camera and learn to use it properly.

Judging by the mediocrity or outright crappiness of many auction pictures a lot of sellers think their cell phone camera or cheap point-and-shoot is all they need. WRONG! Look at your own behavior as a shopper/buyer when you‘re evaluating items. How many things have you purchased that had blurry, darkly-lit or indistinct pictures? Probably not many, if any at all. If you’re a brave soul who took the plunge because the price was irresistible, how many of those items weren’t what you were expecting? If you’re like me you’ve probably tried at least once or twice; maybe you weren’t burned too badly. The simple fact is that good pictures go a long way in helping you sell your items.

Make sure that whatever camera you choose can take in-focus and up-close pictures. You want the ability to fill the frame with your item, and it has to be sharp. Keep in mind that pictures of very small things require a camera/lens capable of “macro” photography. The inherent problem with macro photography is that, the smaller the item, the harder it is to keep the entire item in focus. That problem deals with something called “depth of field,” meaning the amount of space in front of and in back of the point you’re focusing on. A good photography tutorial will explain this better than I in this short article. In general, increased depth of field requires more light and a smaller aperture.

2.  Light It Up!

If you take a picture of your item and its dark, throw some light on the item and try again. Place the item on a table by a window, or invest in a tabletop light tent in a kit with several lights. If you’re handy, make your own like I did. (Google using the terms: “build photo light tent.”)  For lights I took the reflectors off a couple of clip-on utility lights and married them to some gooseneck table lamps from Lowe’s. For bulbs I used 100-watt equivalent spiral CFLs with a “daylight” color temperature between 5000 and 7000 degrees Kelvin. By building your own setup you’ll invest less than $50.00 and have the basic equipment to light and showcase all your items.  The only downside of CFL lighting is that it’s not bright enough for fast shutter speeds.

Why not use the camera’s built-in flash? If you have the experience, great! I don’t recommend it because, for most people, flash photography of “products” is difficult to do well. The most-often seen result is that the item is washed out (too bright). Flash photography can be done well, but it requires external equipment and more finesse than the typical eBay seller can (or is willing to) muster.

3.  Use a Tripod

Lower light levels mean longer shutter speeds which make it difficult to handhold a camera. Putting the camera on a cheap tripod (and using a remote shutter release or the camera’s self-timer) practically guarantees sharp photos.

4.   “Hey Buddy, Am I Bidding on the Doll or the Coffee Cup?”

Isolate your item from other distracting things when taking your picture. People looking at your auction item want to see that thing alone, not how nice your living room is or that you’re drinking from a 49ers mug.  If you have a stack of stereo equipment you’re trying to unload, PLEASE separate the items and photograph each one by itself.  Being lazy by taking one picture and saying “only the CD player is in this auction—the other items are in their own auctions” is lame and says to the world that you’re an amateur.

A corollary is this: if you’re photographing an item that is reflective or shiny, look to see what’s reflected on the surface of your item. By now I’m sure everyone’s seen the picture of the teakettle with the naked photographer reflected in it. Don’t be that person.

5.   Clean Up Your Act

Before photographing your items take a few minutes to clean them up. A clean item will photograph better and will bring more money than something you picked up off a dirt floor and blew on a couple of times.

General Selling Tips

 1.   Be Brutally Honest in Your Pictures and Descriptions

I’ve been burned a few times by sellers who only showed the good side of an item in a picture and didn’t disclose that the back half was partially melted. Or that it was missing its battery cover, had a hole drilled in it for who-knows-what reason, or a major crack in its plastic case.  If you don’t have all the item’s parts, say so. If there really is a crack in the case or a seam in the pants is split, tell the prospective buyer up front AND show it in your pictures. Do you really think that the buyer will keep your wonderful P.O.S. once they discover the defect on their own? If you disclose the item’s flaws, the buyer will not only appreciate your honesty but have no excuse to come back on you for having a fraudulent auction. If you’ve listed an item’s flaws honestly, and spelled them out explicitly in word and picture, you can be reasonably assured that the buyer doesn’t care about purchasing a flawed item.

You should also functionally test your item (if that applies) to make sure it works. A phrase like “I couldn’t test it because…” has become an inside joke among buyers and is interpreted as “It doesn’t work and I’m trying to screw you.”  This also marks you as an eBay hack and someone to avoid.

2.   Do Your Research Before Listing Your Item

This requires a little work on your part but prevents you from looking like a clueless idiot. eBay has a tool called “What’s My Item Worth?” (You can search eBay help on the terms “item” and “worth” if the link doesn’t automatically appear on your main page.) With this tool you can find out what prices an item like yours have recently sold for. If most of the items came without all the accessories or their physical condition was poor, they might have been priced lower or brought less money than items that were complete with their original boxes, packing, and documentation. There are some items I’d wanted to list but changed my mind when I looked them up.  My time was better spent taking those things to a thrift store. If you have a number of similar things that are valued low, you could also lump them together in a “bulk lot” and sell them in one auction.

With that said you should be realistic with your pricing. I’ve been looking to pick up a dbx 3BX-DS dynamic range expander. The 3BX was made for years in a number of incarnations.  On the model I want, most of the auctions start out low but end up bringing several hundred dollars. Yet I see the early 3BX units being priced hundreds of dollars higher than the newer units with more features. These overpriced older units don’t have a great sell-through rate. Be realistic. I’d like to get more money for some of my stuff too but I acknowledge that I won’t always get the amount I’d like.

3.   Don’t Get Cute in Your Item Titles and Descriptions

I enjoy writing creative descriptions and have used humor to sell things. I’ve never gotten a comment back about my writing style, and I’d like to think that someone has enjoyed my prose. However, I’ve never used cutesy-pie terms such as  “minty” or “L@@K” in my item titles and descriptions. If you use either of these conventions there’s no question that you are an eBay loser. Why? When I see items with those terms in the titles I pass them by without reading the descriptions no matter how much I’d want them or how reasonably priced they are. I’m an average guy and I know that I’m not the only person with these dislikes. If I’m willing to turn away from an item I want based on this I know that others will too.

4.   Don’t Even Think of Holding a Reserve Price Auction

Most people rationalize that a low initial price will get bidders into an auction early so they go with this type of auction. If the highest bid amount never meets the reserve price (meaning the least amount the seller would take for the item) by the auction’s end time, then the seller isn’t obligated to sell it. Let me ask the sellers who employ reserve prices this question: Have you ever been on the losing end of a reserve price auction? No? How would you feel if you had the highest bid on an item you really wanted to own but didn’t win the auction because your bid didn’t meet the minimum price? Reserve price auctions alienate customers.

Make things simple for yourself and your prospective buyers. Run a regular auction but set your starting bid as the least amount of money you’d accept for the item. If it goes for that amount, great! If it goes for more it’s a bonus. Or, list your item in a fixed price auction for the amount you want. If you don’t sell the item it should tell you that your asking price is out of line.

5.   Shipping Do’s and Don’ts

Don’t Turn Shipping Into a Profit Center

This simply means that you should make your shipping costs reasonable. Use the lowest cost shipping that provides the ability to track the shipment and gets the item to your buyer quickly. If the item’s valuable select the appropriate amount of insurance and include it in your shipping costs. It won’t cost you anything since your buyer pays shipping and provides great peace of mind.

There was a widespread practice among vendors where they’d advertise an item for a low cost, say 99 cents, and then charge $30.00 for shipping.  This was to avoid eBay fees. eBay then started charging fees that included the shipping costs, taking money out of legitimate seller’s pockets. Unfortunately some of these yahoos still persist in the practice.

If you ship your item(s) free then ignore the above advice. But why would you ship free and lose money?

Pack the Item Well

I purchased an old laptop from someone who crammed it into a Priority Mail box and shipped it to me. There was no space around the item as it just fit into the box. They didn’t even bother to use a simple layer of bubble wrap for padding! Another seller sent me an Xbox 360’s outer case in a box that was slightly too small, so they wrapped it liberally with packing tape to hold it together. The best bad example was the guy who put a 60-pound subwoofer into a box using only foam peanuts for packing, then put that box into a bigger box with literally a handful of foam peanuts “separating” the two boxes. Of course the unit was trashed in shipping.

Pack your item like you are shipping it to yourself. Put it in bubble wrap. Choose a sturdy shipping box that provides enough room around your item so that you can fill the space with foam peanuts.  Tape the box well and, if the buyer should open a particular side of the box, mark that info on that side using a black marker.

State Your Handling Time and Ship Properly

eBay says you have 30 days to ship. I list in my auctions that I will ship within three days of receiving payment and I keep my word. Ship your customer’s stuff promptly to keep them happy.

Establish Accounts With Your Carriers of Choice

I set up accounts with both UPS and the Postal Service. Because of this, I get preferred rates from UPS and by purchasing and printing the labels at home I no longer stand in line to ship things. When I have personal items to ship I can also purchase labels on-line to save time.

 

Hopefully you’ll find some of these tips helpful in your own eBay dealings. My next eBay article will recount some of my purchasing experiences, both good and bad.

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Now Back to Our Regularly-Scheduled Program

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A makeshift memorial for the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary. AP Photo

It’s happened yet again. Another nutcase decided to go straight to hell in a blaze of gunfire, taking as many with him as he could. This time it was twenty six- and seven-year-olds and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the gunman’s mother, and the gunman himself.

And it’s not December 21st yet.

Of course this is a tragedy. It was a senseless loss of life and a rude introduction to the world-at-large for the children who survived. If you aren’t touched by this turn of events you have a cold, hard heart. If you aren’t praying for the families who lost a loved one in this mess or in any of the other shootings this year, well…may God have mercy on you when you need help and comfort.

It was big news on December 14th. Every TV news outlet had wall-to-wall coverage of the event. It was all over the news the next day as well, and tonight it was still the big story two days afterward. If you wanted news on anything else in the U.S. or the rest of the world, sorry, you were out of luck. According to the news propaganda machine it is all you’re supposed to be thinking about. Oh, please.

News is something that’s both current and noteworthy. Something you need to inform you about the greater world around you. Getting information to the public as it’s released about the pertinent facts of a situation is news. News is not showing the same footage over and over while talking vacuously about unconfirmed rumors when a situation is going down. News is not shoving a microphone into the face of someone whose world has just been torn apart and asking them “How do you feel?” And news is definitely not interviewing first- and second-graders to find out what they were doing when madness was roaming the halls of their supposed sanctuary from the daily world. Most of them can barely describe what they had for breakfast in a cogent narrative without dissolving into a string of “ums” and “ahs.” In this case it was news two days ago, and in the newspaper business of old it would be lining a birdcage today.

Yet if you were to complain to the news organizations about this type of coverage you’d get this answer: “We’re simply providing the coverage that people want at a crucial time.” (I know this because I’ve complained a few times about situations like this one.) We pretend we’re civilized and refined; that we’re above gawking at accident scenes yet we always slow the car down and try to see a flash of red or a limb sticking through a broken windshield. We don’t want to experience such a horrible loss ourselves so we hang onto every word of the witnesses and survivors to know what it “feels” like. Ultimately it boils down to dollars and cents to the broadcasters—every set of eyeballs watching their coverage means more possible revenue for their advertisers.

What the people of Newtown Connecticut need more than anything else is to be left alone. They would certainly welcome support from outside their community in the proper time, but that time isn’t now. The news organizations need to get out of town and respect their privacy. It’s time for grief and healing—and let’s not be the morbidly curious world that keeps it from happening.

UPDATE: 12-20-2012

Brian Williams made a comment last night before launching into NBC Nightly News’s Sandy Hook coverage. He said that NBC had “reduced their presence” in Newtown because the residents told them they wanted privacy now. Hallelujah! I’m happy that at least one news organization gets it and will do as they are asked. Sort of. Thanks, NBC!

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