Archive

Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

Cataloging with a Smartphone

November 16th, 2016 No comments

Cataloging is one of the most time consuming activities auctioneers do. With Auction Flex Mobile you can use your smartphone or tablet to accomplish this task quicker than you ever thought possible. Auction Flex Mobile works on your local network; absolutely no internet required. Or, if you are using Auction Flex in the Cloud, Auction Flex Mobile works anywhere you have an internet connection.

To download the free Auction Flex Mobile app visit the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

To read more about Auction Flex Mobile visit our website.

Watch this video to see Auction Flex Mobile in action.

Categories: Auctions, Computers, Software Tags:

Internet-Only Auctions

February 9th, 2010 11 comments

Definition Please
Internet-only auctions (sometimes called timed auctions) are auctions that take place completely online. There is no live audience sitting together in a physical place in front of an auctioneer. Bidders bid online against other internet bidders. The internet bidder with the highest bid at the end wins the lot.

Trends
Over the last few years we have watched the increasing success of our customers as they conduct internet-only auctions. During that time we have identified several key factors to succeeding with online auctions. I will expound on those keys in this post. Additionally, any features or capabilities described below are already built into Auction Flex and can be put to use immediately by any of our customers.

Not Necessarily National
Some people believe that the real benefit of internet auctions is the increase in the size of the potential bidder-pool based on the alleviation of geographical limitations. In other words, it’s online so I’m naturally going to have millions of bidders from around the country (or even around the world). I argue that even though this is certainly a possible benefit, it is not a necessary attribute for your online success. We have many customers that conduct internet-only auctions for the bidders in their own backyard. They have trained their existing customer base to bid online in lieu of attending an actual live auction.

If You Build it, They Will Come = FAIL
What would happen if you conducted an auction in a new location and didn’t advertise? Your bidder turnout would be horrible at best. That is exactly what will happen if you conduct an internet-only auction without advertising.  An internet-only auction must be marketed the same as you would market a regular live auction. In fact, if your traditional customer base is accustomed to attending live auctions, I will argue that for your first few internet-only auctions you need to market even MORE than regular.

Preview Too
An internet-only auction can have a preview just the same that a live auction can. Sometimes bidders will go to preview prior to bidding online. Sometimes bidders will see an item online that they want to look at closer prior to bidding. Either way, a preview is a vital tool that adds a layer of honesty and openness to your bidders. Additionally, it saves you from exhaustively describing and picturing each and every item (especially the lower dollar items that may not justify the time/expense).

Show Me the Money
A concern with internet-only auctions is payment, or lack thereof. Feedback from our customers has been that non-payment issues are commensurate with regular live auctions. One step you can take to help with this issue is to require authenticate credit card information before an internet bidder is allowed to bid. Additionally, I recommend that you explicitly state in your terms and conditions that you reserve the right to use the bidder’s credit card for payment in part or in full for any successful bids.

Stagger Close
Assume your catalog has 400 lots in it. We don’t want all 400 lots to close at exactly the same time. Instead, we want each lot to close a little bit after the previous lot. If we set the stagger time to 15 seconds and have lot 1 close at 5:00:00pm, then lot 2 will close at 5:00:15 and lot 3 will close at 5:00:30 and so on. This allows someone interested in multiple lots to have time to bid on those multiple lots. In the case of a 400 lot auction with a 15 second close, the duration of the internet auction will be approximately 100 minutes.

Soft-Close > Sniping
Typical internet-only auctions (think eBay) are susceptible to a practice called sniping. Auction sniping is the practice of a bidder waiting until the very last second to place a winning bid on an item with the hope that other bidders do not have time to raise their bid. The intent of sniping is to win an item below the potential high bid (market value). Using a soft-close in your online auction will eliminate this practice. A lot using a soft-close ending time will automatically have its bidding time extended if a bid is placed in those last few minutes. Assuming a soft-close setting of 3 minutes, if a bidder waits until the very last second to place a bid on lot 5, the bidding on lot 5 is extended for 3 more minutes. This gives other bidders 3 more minutes to re-raise their bid. It is not uncommon for a high-interest lot to extend hours past its original close time because multiple bidders keep bidding and extending the close time on the lot.

Linked Soft-Close
Linked soft-close is an extension of the soft-close functionality. It allows you to link multiple lots together so that when one lot is extended via soft-close, all other linked lots will also be extended. This is especially handy when you have multiple similar items. For example, say you have two tractors in your auction. These two tractors are identical except that one has much lower hours than the other. As a bidder, my preference is to win this lower-hour tractor and so I place a bid on it. Other bidders are also bidding on it and after several rounds of soft-close extensions, the bidding price has exceeded my budget. Here is the good part: Because both tractors are linked together for soft-close, the other higher-hour tractor is still open for bidding (even if no one was bidding on it). So now I am able to start bidding on this second best tractor and I eventually win it. If these two tractors were not linked together, the higher-hour tractor could have already closed.

Tech-Phobic
A common misconception is that internet-only auctions exclude all other bids. This is wrong. Just because you are conducting an internet-only auction doesn’t mean you can’t accept bids manually (in person, phone, faxed, etc.). There are some tech-phobic bidders that will refuse to bid online and that is okay; their money spends just the same. You can accept their bids, enter them into Auction Flex, and Auction Flex has the built-in capability to push these “floor” bids to the internet so that these bids compete with the internet bidders.

Auction Day Labor = Nada
On a live auction day consider the additional staff that has to be brought in; cashiers, clerks, ringmen, runners, etc., etc. Now consider the additional staff required to conduct an internet-only auction on closing day — none. Instead of finding 8 people to come work your auction for 6 hours once every 2 weeks, you can have 1 or 2 people who steadily describe/image lots and help customers with pickups. This can have the drastic affect of stabilizing your labor requirements.

Shipping – The Headache-Maker
If you are conducting internet-only auctions to your backyard bidders, shipping is not a concern. Backyard internet bidders tend to come pick up their merchandise. If you do have to arrange shipping I highly suggest forming a working relationship with two or more shippers so that you don’t have to handle the shipping yourself. In your terms and conditions make it clear that the bidder will deal with the shipping companies directly to arrange for packaging and shipping. Now you are not responsible for packaging, broken merchandise, etc. and that is a beautiful thing. The shipping company will be happy for the business (they’re built for this) and you don’t have to pull your hair out dealing with this issue.

But Live Auctions are So Much Better
As an auctioneer, you will naturally be inclined to perceive an auction without a bid-caller as a travesty of magnanimous proportion. I’m not going to argue the merits of live vs online as the pros and cons list could go on for a very, very long time. The variables that determine what makes a successful internet-only auction are specific to you, your bidders and consignors, and regional variables that only you can answer.

One Size Does NOT Fit All
Some types of auctions just beg to be conducted using an internet-only format. Other auctions have no business being conducted solely on the internet. You should consider internet-only auctions as yet another potential method to use in fulfilling your fiduciary obligation to your consignors to get the best possible price. Additionally, don’t discount the potential that internet-only auctions have to reduce your costs which can, of course, provide you a competitive advantage and/or increase your profits.

Categories: Auctions, Computers, Software Tags:

Microsoft Security Essentials

November 10th, 2009 1 comment

Microsoft-Security-EssentialsWhat’s In a Name Anyways?
Well, it doesn’t get any awards for having a catchy name, however Microsoft’s new anti-virus offering titled ‘Microsoft Security Essentials’  is a good product with a great price tag; free. I guess Microsoft Anti-Virus was too self-explanatory a name for the marketing gurus in Redmond. To be fair, however, MSE (my un-official abbreviation for Microsoft Security Essentials) is more than just anti-virus. It protects against spyware and other nasties too.

Liberation with a Capital L
MSE runs quietly, in the background, without pestering prompts, balloons, or any other annoyances. For that alone it deserves kudos. The reality is that you could open notepad and make the same claim. This leads to the most important question: Does MSE do a good job protecting your computer from viruses/spyware/etc.? The answer, so far, seems to be yes. The reviews I’ve read make the case that MSE is as good as other offerings from AVG, McAfee, Symantec, etc. The difference is that MSE is blissfully quiet! And did I mention free?

Bundles of Grief
My biggest complaint against most of the other anti-virus offerings (ahem… McAfee, Symantec) is that they want to bundle their anti-virus with “complete” internet security suites. Yuck! These bundles eat system resources,  slow your computer to a crawl, and cause instability issues. When you install anti-virus it should NOT come with a firewall, intrusion prevention, active web-filtering, pre-emptive cognitive destination avoidance, and a hands-free parallel parking system.  Just say NO to these bloat-ware suites!

My New Number One
I have been recommending AVG for years now but I am officially changing my recommendation to MSE. You heard it here first! I wouldn’t go out of my way to switch from AVG to MSE, but I would definitely uninstall McAfee or Symantec for MSE. Just my two cents.

Download Microsoft Security Essentials

Categories: Computers, Software Tags:

Backups, Backups, Backups

October 9th, 2009 2 comments

BackupToDiskConfessions of an OCD Backup-Maker
I have a confession to make; I habitually make backups…. and then I backup the backup… and then I have a program that automatically backs up my backup to an off-site backup. I’m a little bit OCD like that. But let’s not judge me. Let’s turn this around. When was the last time you made a backup? Was it a good backup or a bad backup (what’s the difference… keep reading)? I’m going to give you some suggestions on making good backups and provide some online tools to make even better backups. You ready? Here we go.

External Hard Drives Are Your Friend
An external hard drive is a type of hard disk drive which is typically connected to your computer via a USB cable. These devices are great for storing backups because they are cheap and large. You can easily find a 500GB external hard drive for $100. At the end of every day you can simply backup all your files to the external hard drive. Because the typical external hard drive is so large you can even keep multiple backups of the same files. For instance, when I backup files I will create a folder and name it based on the date. So, for today I would create a folder called 20091009 (military format for 2009 Oct 9th – it sorts better this way) and then I would backup my important files to that folder. A week from now I would create a folder called 20091016 and I would backup to that folder. I like to make dated backup because if I ever need to go back in time to a revision of a file from weeks (or months) ago, I can. Now, if your computer’s hard drive dies, you have backups of all your important files at the ready. Fix your old computer or buy a new computer, restore those important files and you’re off to the races.

Thumb Drives Are Your Super-Portable Friend
Thumb drives are small (pocket-size) USB devices that, when plugged into your computer, show up as a small hard drive. Thumb drives typically have a much smaller capacity than external hard drives but they have the advantage of being much more portable. Just like an external hard drive, you can copy files from your hard drive onto the USB thumb drive. Again, if your computer dies, you have backups.

Location, Location, Location
So, you’re feeling pretty smug about those backed up files aren’t you? And, a lot of you are going to leave that external hard drive right next to the computer, or you’re going to take that thumb drive and store it in your laptop bag with your laptop. Congratulations; you are now hosed if someone breaks into your office and steals everything, or someone steals your laptop bag on a trip, or if there is a fire, or if your 4 year-old nephew decides your laptop (with the thumbdrive sticking out of the USB port) is a fish and sets it free in the pond out back. In any event you get the idea that storing your backup with your computer is a bad idea. So, when you go to the store to buy that backup device, buy 2 (or more) of them. You need at least 2 because you always, always, want to keep one of them off-site, away from the computer that you are backing up. Now, if someone steals your laptop bag, or the entire contents of your office, or you have a fire, or a flood, or whatever; you’ve got an offsite backup. 

But I Am Lazy, and/or Forgetful
I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust myself to make backups manually. If you are like me, and just want the backups to create themselves then you are in luck; there is a solution. Online Backups. There are quite a few online backup providers out there. The big players are Mozy and Carbonite. They will provide a small program that you install that will automatically backup your important files to a secure offsite location via the internet. Their programs allow you to simply choose what files/folders to backup, when to back them up, and you are done.  Mozy even offers a free personal account that includes 2 gigabytes of disk space! The caveat here is that your computer needs an internet connection and needs to be turned on to make the backups… but the backups are automatic and that is worth the price of admission (which can be free). Now, if something bad happens, you have an online backup that you can access from anywhere.

How Do I Choose?
Here’s the thing about backups. There is no such thing as too many of them. Make backups to an external hard drive, and backup to thumb drives, and use an online backup service.

Categories: Computers, Software Tags:

The Zen of Multiple Monitors

September 22nd, 2009 2 comments

Productivity and Plurality
MultipleMonitorsHave you ever felt constrained by the limitations of a single display on your computer? Do you routinely find yourself switching back and forth between multiple applications? Maybe you’re working on a spreadsheet and an email at the same time and you are using data from the spreadsheet to emphasize a point in your email. So you bring your spreadsheet to the front, find the relevant data, copy it, then bring your email forward again, then paste it, then go back to your spreadsheet and yada, yada, yada. There is a capability built into your computer to support multiple monitors. So instead of having your spreadsheet and email on the same monitor, you can have two monitors and put your spreadsheet on one and your email on the other. Now you can see both of them at the same time.  This capability has been built into Windows since at least Windows 98… if not Windows 95.

Multi-Magic on a Laptop
Most laptop computers have a built-in capability to handle a second monitor in extended desktop mode. There is most likely an external VGA connector on the exterior of your laptop. Just try plugging a monitor into that port. If the second monitor shows the exact same thing as your primary display then it is in Dual-View mode which, you guessed it, shows the same thing on both displays. An easy shortcut that works on most laptops to toggle the various display modes is to press Fn+F8. This key combination will usually toggle through the various supported display modes. If that doesn’t work for you you may need to go to Control Panel->Display Settings.

Multi-Magic on a Desktop
It is typically very easy to add a second monitor to a desktop computer. The easiest way is to purchase a video card that supports 2 displays. The video card will actually have 2 video connections on it. You simply remove the existing video card from your computer and replace it with the new one. There are some gotchas here. 1) You will need to know what type of video card your motherboard supports (AGP, PCI, PCIE ). You may also need to pay attention to what type of monitor connections you have (VGA or DVI).  If you feel intimidated by the computer jargon, you can always bring your desktop to a local computer shop to have this done.

Time is Money
The reason you should consider using more monitors is easy. More screen real estate (ie: more monitors) equals increased productivity. With the falling prices of LCD monitors, it doesn’t take long before the increased productivity more than pays for that additional LCD monitor. And why stop at just 2 monitors? You can actually have more than that. In fact, my computer setup, which I’m writing this very blog on, has 4 monitors. You see, once you go with a second monitor it’s not long before you realize that if 2 is better than 1, then naturally, 3 is better than 2. And so on. And so on.

  

 

Categories: Computers Tags:

Safe Computing is a Choice

August 31st, 2009 2 comments

CautionTape_238x208Safety, Security, & Serendipity
There are many dangers inherent with computing on the internet. Viruses, worms, and spyware are the most omnipresent. It is a choice to engage in safe practices that protect you from these threats. Rather than approach this topic generically, I thought I would let you know specifically what setup and programs I use, and let you glean from it what you will.

The Hated One
Despite the fact that Windows Vista is a much-maligned operating system, the fact remains that it is more difficult to hack than Windows XP. In Vista there is a separation of regular processes and administrative-level processes that is lacking in Windows XP. I use Windows Vista and I won’t hesitate to use Windows 7 when it becomes available.

Anti-Virus
My favorite anti-virus program is AVG (there is a free version available for personal use). I have used many anti-virus programs in the past, but AVG has found the sweet-spot between performance and protection. Other anti-virus programs (ahem… McAfee & Norton) have reputations for being resource hogs. Beyond that, McAfee & Norton want to install a whole suite of add-on programs and I just don’t want them. AVG provides a simple, anti-virus-only software solution without all the rest of the garbage.

SpyWare
My choice here is Ad-Aware and they also have a free version for personal use. That isn’t to say Ad-Aware is any better than the dozens of other products out there. It’s just the one I use.

Safe Browsing
I use FireFox with NoScript for everyday browsing and I use Internet Explorer when I’m going to known sites (webmail, fedex.com, etc.).  What is NoScript? NoScript is an add-on to FireFox that disallows scripts from running automatically. Since a majority of vulnerabilities depend on scripting, the NoScript add-on makes your random internet browsing much, much safer. I would like to warn you, however, that it can make browsing some sites difficult. In those instances, you can always pop open IE to view that particular page/site and then go back to FireFox/NoScript when you are done.

Windows Updates
It goes without saying that you need to keep your version of Windows up-to-date by running Windows Updates. The sooner you install patches, the better off you are. The moment Microsoft releases a patch, hackers are reverse-engineering the patch with the goal of exploiting the vulnerability. In some instances, these exploits arrive within days of the patch being released. That is your window of safety… days.

The Finish
So there you have it. A little peek into my setup and practices. These combined safety measures are a lot like hiking through bear-country with pepper-spray. You are safer, but if you think they make you invincible, you are going to get eaten. Just as you wouldn’t slap a grizzly bear in the face, don’t download anything from a website that you don’t know and trust, otherwise you’re just asking for trouble.

Categories: Computers, Software Tags:

Catalog Images

June 30th, 2009 No comments

Drag-and-Drop Dirge
MouseMicrosoft_gdeA typical process for creating an auction catalog with images consists of 2 steps.
Step 1: Describe all the lots.
                  Lot#1 – Brown chair with garnet velvet piping.
                  Lot#2 – Large white cow with horns. 
                  Lot#3 – Two front-and-center tickets to Springsteen.
                  And so on. And so on.
Step 2: Take pictures of all the lots with a digital camera. 
                  Select all images for lot#1 and drag-and-drop the images onto lot#1.
                  Select all images for lot#2 and drag-and-drop the images onto lot#2.
                  Select all images for lot#3 and drag-and-drop the images onto lot#3.
                  And so on. And so on.

You load 16 pictures and what do you get? Another day older and carpal tunnel wrist. Needless to say, the lot-by-lot drag-and-drop process is time consuming and ripe for optimization.

Image as you Go-Go
One alternative to the post-describing drag-and-drop dirge is to take pictures as you describe instead of after. You can accomplish this with a webcam or a linked video camera (for higher image resolution). Start by going to Auction Lots & Preview and then click on the Detailed Entry button. Now go to the Images tab and click the Add From Capture Device button. This will start an Active Video Monitor form which allows you to rapidly capture pictures as you catalog. So, type in your Lead and description for your item, then click on the Images tab and click that same button again to take a picture. You can monitor the video feed from the Active Video Monitor (which you can drag where you want) and rapidly add multiple pictures to each lot. If your computer’s monitor is higher resolution (1280×1024 or larger) try clicking the Linked button at the bottom left. This will open up a second linked form that allows you to view the Images tab at the same time as you view the Information tab in the first form. Heck, if you need to dynamically add expenses to each lot as you catalog, click that Linked button again. Now you can view the Information, Images, & Expenses without switching back and forth between tabs. This makes for very fast, very detailed cataloging in real time with no tab-toggling. We call this Productivity with a Capital P!

Barcode Wizardry
Bar code cowLet’s assume that you are dealing with a pasture full of larger items that don’t work well trying to capture the image as you describe, so you want yet a different alternative to the drag-and-drop dirge. To start, we need barcoded labels. Lucky for us, Auction Flex has the built in capability to print lot labels with barcodes. So as you describe the lots you stick a lot label on each item. When you’re done describing, every lot is tagged with a matching barcoded label. Here’s where the wizardry starts: Auction Flex can actually read those barcode labels from a picture! So, here’s the process: Start each lot by taking a relatively close-up picture of the lot label. Then, take as many pictures of the lot as you want. Now, with the next lot, again start with a picture of the barcoded lot label, then take pictures of the lot. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Now, open Auction Lots & Preview and go to the Advanced tab. Click the Import Images button, select the appropriate options and Auction Flex will read the barcodes from your images and automatically assign the images to the appropriate lots. Every camera is different and it takes a little practice, but you can achieve 80%+ accuracy using this process. For more information on this check the Auction Flex help file.

Non-Barcode Non-Wizardry
You can use the same Image Import form described above to rapidly manually assign lot numbers to images. Instead of drag-and-dropping the images to each lot, you can simply scroll down a thumbnailed grid of your images and enter their appropriate lot#’s in bulk. Then, when you get to the bottom of your list you simply click the import images button to import all the images to the assigned lot#’s. While this method is not as fancy as reading barcodes from images, it is still faster than the lot-by-lot drag-and-drop method.

Voilà not Wallah
My goal is to give you the best tools I can to help you conduct business as efficiently as possible. Only you can decide which method works best in conjunction with your in-house processes but hopefully I’ve given you a few ideas that have started your gears turning.

These instructions are applicable to Auction Flex version 6.10. If you don’t have some of the buttons or options I’ve mentioned, you’re probably on an older version of Auction Flex and need to upgrade.

Categories: Auctions, Computers, Software Tags:

Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)

June 1st, 2009 No comments

NOT the men in brown
UPS stands for uninterruptible power supply. A UPS is a battery / inverter combo that will instantly provide power to plugged-in devices in the event of a power anomoly. I say anomoly because a UPS protects you from brown-outs, flickers, sags, surges, AND outages. The power coming into your office isn’t necessarily “clean” but that is where the UPS steps in and cleans it up for you.

But I have a laptop
A laptop, by virtue of its internal battery, essentially has a built-in UPS. There is a difference, however, between a UPS and a laptop battery. A UPS is designed to protect in the event of a power surge or other damaging anomaly. A laptop battery does not offer this same protection. I’m not recommending a UPS for a laptop but I would recommend, at the minimum, a quality surge protector. Hey! Get out of that Wal-Mart bargain bin. A quality surge protectors costs more than 5 bucks! In all seriousness though; a power strip and a surge protector are not the same thing.

Tell me another story, Grandpa
In another life I worked at a company as the network administrator (okay, computer geek). I was very insistent that all computers and network equipment have battery backups. I hand-picked an especially nice, heavy-duty UPS for the main file server. On a fateful Wednesday afternoon, 2 electricians were in the building changing wiring in the main office panel. These 2 electricians managed to cross the server’s dedicated circuit with a 220 volt loop. Needless to say this was very, very bad. Luckily, the UPS did what it was designed to do and sacrificed itself. The server was completely untouched!  A quick swap to another UPS and within 15 minutes the company was back up and running. I did have a few choice words for those electricians though.

Switches and routers and hubs, oh my!
If you are a careful reader you noticed above that I mentioned network equipment having a UPS too. Remember that power issues don’t just affect computers – they affect the entire network. You should plug ALL of your network equipment into a UPS.  This means network switches, routers, hubs, etc.

Battery backup vs surge only
Most UPS’s will have two sets of outlets. One set is labeled Battery Backup, the other set is labeled Surge Only. The battery backup side will power your equipment in the event of a power issue. The surge only side is where you want to plug in other devices that don’t need the battery backup but still need protection. Think printers, calculators, phones, lava lamps, etc.

What about printers?
You can plug inkjet printers into your battery backup if you need to print during a power outage but NEVER, EVER plug laser printers into the battery backup side of a UPS. They will magically transform your UPS into an IPS – an Interruptible Power Supply. This is because a laser printer draws more power than a UPS can provide. An overloaded UPS (because of your laser printer), in a power outage will instantly fail and fill the air with what amounts to a UPS crying – EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE – and there will be a pretty, blinking red light too.

Your UPS is not on Viagra!
The average UPS can only provide power to run your desktop computer and monitor for 5 to 15 minutes. A UPS is going to provide your staff enough time to gracefully shutdown their computer in the event of an extended outage. A UPS is NOT a solution for a long-term power failure (you will have to invest in a generator if that is a concern). But even if you have a generator, you still need a UPS on each desktop computer and all your network equipment.

Mission critical
If you conduct computerized auctions without UPS’s you are asking for problems on auction day. Please, please, please if you don’t have a UPS for every single computer in your office and all your network equipment, don’t let another auction go by without adding this layer of defense.

My preferred brand of UPS is APC which you can purchase from Office Depot, Staples, Sams Club, etc.

Categories: Computers Tags: