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:

Self-Checkin Kiosk

July 27th, 2009 2 comments

Here’s a video that Aaron Traffas did of our new self-checkin kiosk. The video was shot on the tradeshow floor at the National Auctioneer’s Conference & Tradeshow in Overland Park, KS.

The self-checkin kiosk is not available yet, but will be included with version 7 which is slated for beta release towards late August – early September.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Plain text email vs “fancy” HTML email

July 10th, 2009 2 comments

EmailWhen sending email campaigns you have the option of composing your emails as HTML or plain text. With HTML you can have fancy formatting, embedded images, etc. With plain text emails you just have text. There are pros and cons to each format. I am a proponent of sending plain text emails, but rather than explain the reasons behind this preference, I’ll send you over to a great article written by Aaraon Traffas at his blog on AuctioneerTech.com:
Sending plain text email is better for users and branding

Aaron makes some very good points in his article and hopefully convinced you of the merits of plain text email over HTML email.

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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:

Bing.com

June 19th, 2009 No comments
bing

bing

Microsoft released their new search engine bing.com recently and I have to say, I’m impressed. If you search bing.com for auction software we are the first natural listing. We can’t argue with those results. On other searches bing.com seems to compete well against google.com in terms of returning relevant results. In some categories I dare say bing has google beat.

It’s been some time since anyone put up even a meager challenge to Google’s search engine dominance. If Microsoft can capture even 30% of the market that will make a huge dent in Google’s revenue. Better yet, the competition will mean a better consumer experience as these 2 giants battle for our eyeballs.

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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:

Bidder Numbers at Auction

May 29th, 2009 1 comment

gavelonkeyboard_212x141Three-digit bidder numbers
I’m going to make the case that larger auctions should start their bidder numbers at 100. More specifically, there should be no two-digit bidder numbers. If you need four-digit bidder numbers (1000+) for your floor bidders congratulations, you’re having one big auction!

Clerking
With everything that it takes to facilitate a successful auction I want to focus on a very specific function; clerking. From an auction software perspective, the most important person on auction day is the clerk. Why the clerk? No other position (again, limited to auction software) has as much impact on a bidder’s experience. The clerk must be fast. The clerk must be accurate. In fact, a clerk with O.C.D. is probably worth their weight in gold!

Clerking accuracy
The more accurate the clerk is, the less problems you will have at checkout. Every time a bidder disputes the price of a bid, or a wrong item is on their invoice, or an item is missing from their invoice what effect does that have? It sloooooows things down. It causes everyone else in line to wait that much longer as the staff rifles through the manual clerking sheets or listens to the taped recording of the auction.

Fast checkout
If a bidder knows that they are going to have to wait in line to checkout what do they do? They checkout early to avoid the rush. If the bidder is checking out early what are they not doing? They are NOT bidding! If a bidder knows that checkout will be fast, even at the end of the auction, then that bidder is more likely to stay on the floor and keep bidding. If the bidder is bidding the consignor is realizing maximum dollar and so is the auctioneer. Win-win.

What does all this have to do with bidder numbers?
We’re all human and we all make mistakes. We transpose numbers, we miss numbers, we mess up. One thing we can do to help our clerks is to always hand out three-digit bidder numbers. That means we start with bidder number 100 and go from there. This helps because the clerk knows that every bidder number should be three digits. If the clerk mis-hears bidder number 23 they automatically know there is no bidder number 23 and they can ask the auctioneer to repeat the number.

But I already have permanent bidder numbers with two digits!
If you already have permanent bidder numbers with two digits there is still something that can be done to help the clerk. Have the auctioneer say the zero in front of the two-digit number. So instead of bidder twenty-three, say bidder zero-two-three or oh-twenty-three. 

Exceptions to the rule
If you rarely exceed 100 bidders at your auctions then I recommend starting at bidder 10. Why ten instead of one? Because your clerk knows there should be two digits. Clerk hears bidder 7, knows there is no bidder 7 and asks auctioneer to repeat… but you already knew that didn’t you? In this case it makes no sense to add the burden of typing three-digit bidder numbers if you don’t need to.

Change is good
This simple change might only eliminate a few clerking errors each auction but every little bit counts. The point of auction software on auction day is to provide a pleasant experience for the bidders. Fast + Accurate = Happy Bidder and happy bidders come back to your auction. All else being equal, if you and another auctioneer are having an auction on the same day, which auction will the bidder attend? Yours with the fast checkout line or your competitor’s auction where they have to wait 40 minutes to checkout? Your fast and accurate clerk can actually bring more bidders to your auction which gives you a competitive advantage.

Categories: Auctions, Software Tags:

Microsoft Office 2007 Ribbons

May 28th, 2009 No comments
Office 2007

Office 2007

When I first installed Microsoft Office 2007  I hated the new ribbons that replaced the old toolbars and drop-down menus. I especially despised the new ribbons in my favorite Office application, Excel. Determined to not be averse to change – to instead embrace change with the knowledge that change is good – I plodded ahead with the ribbons. I endured the lost productivity of constantly searching out where my commonly used functions were relocated. I justified the slow-going with the knowledge that once I conquered the learning curve I would be just as efficient as I used to be. Well, 18 months later I still can’t find anything without searching, and searching, and searching and I’ve finally given up. Office 2007 ribbons just plain stink! I’m a power-user, and if after 18 months my productivity is still hurting, then it’s not my fault. I gave it a fair chance.

I can live with the idea that some user interface team at Microsoft provided evidence through diligent research that the new ribbon interface helps a subset of users… heck, it might even help the majority of users. What I can’t forgive, however, is knowing that same group of UI experts was responsible for NOT including classic menus too. I HATE the ribbons. HATE. HATE. HATE. If you do a Google search on the phrase “Office Ribbons Suck” you will get thousands of results indicating I’m not alone. The vitriol for the ribbon is widespread and we will be heard! Microsoft should have absolutely, positively included the ability to show classic menus… but they didn’t. Shame on you, Microsoft. 

The beauty of capitalism is that where there is a void, there is someone willing to fill the void. Several companies have come to the rescue with add-ons to Office that will re-create our classic and beloved menus and toolbars. Unfortunately they are not free… but I can assure you they are worth every penny of the $20 bucks or so that they cost. If you are ready to end your misery check these out:

Office – Toolbar Toggle

Excel Only – MrExcel

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