Shoestring Theory

Currently documenting the house that is eating our lives, we will return to regularly scheduled programming in a couple of more months

Shoestring Theory header image 4

Automatically revise eBay listings to remove email addresses and links (and many other things!)

September 11, 2011 at 1:26 pm by thetheorist
Respond

With eBay’s upcoming mandatory ban on certain contact information and links in listings, particularly email addresses, we’ve been faced with a Sisyphean task: Manually revising well over 2000 listings to remove multiple email addresses and “contact us” links from them. There are at least 2 revisions to be made for every single listing.

Optimistically, I think I could do about 500 listings a day manually. That would take at least 5 days of work, and replace the time that I would normally be listing new merchandise. It’s been a dark, foreboding cloud hanging over me since eBay announced this. I could spread it out over time, but the odds of me missing a bunch of listings seems much higher doing it that way.

A couple of days ago it occurred to me that there might be tools available, or that I could create, to automate this task. After about a full day of searching for Firefox addons, testing them, and writing a little bit of my own Javascript, I’ve finally fully automated the task of revising my eBay listings. All these tools are currently aimed at stripping out those email addresses, but in the future they will let me due bulk edits to my listings, a huge boon.

I want to emphasize that I am not a professional coder or web designer. Just an eBay seller who needed a tool and cribbed one together from multiple pieces. This worked for me, but I cannot promise that it will work flawlessly for you. Each of these tools may require you to do additional reading to educate yourself about their fine points. A couple of them are powerful, robust tools that can do much more than what I’ve listed. Any problems created for your business, computer or life are your responsibility. I’ve provided this guide to help, but at the end of the day you are responsible for your own actions and the actions you take with this information.

Without further ado, here is the guide to automate revising your eBay listings:

This collection of tools will auto-click through all of the pages of revising an eBay item, automatically revise any text in your description that needs changed and allow you to do this to dozens of listings at a time. This has been tested and worked terrifically in Firefox 5 and Firefox 6.0.2. Your mileage may vary with other versions of FF. Based on my research, similar results should be able to be achieved in Chrome. There may also be other addons that I missed that are more efficient than these.

To set all this up will probably take less than hour, including testing.

You will want to download and install the following addons to Firefox (I’m listing the revision numbers as they were when I used them) and the developer’s description is in quotes:

FoxReplace 0.12.2 – “Lets you replace text in web pages. You can define a substitution list and apply it automatically or at your own discretion, or make individual substitutions. You can use this as a filter, or just for fun :)

Greasemonkey 0.9.11 – “Customize the way a web page displays or behaves, by using small bits of JavaScript.”

Snap Links Plus 2.1Currently beta/experimental, but seemed to work great – “Select a number of links with a rectangle and open them all in new tabs or do other things with the links.”

Web Developer 1.1.9 (optional, but could be useful) – “The Web Developer extension adds various web developer tools to a browser.”

Once those are installed and you’ve restarted Firefox, you’re ready to start setting everything up.

First, FoxReplace. It can manually or automatically find and replace text in web forms. It is a global replacement, there is no option to choose. You will define a find criteria, and then define a replace criteria. You can specify this to be applied to every web page, or only specific web pages.

To access these options, in Firefox click on Tools -> FoxReplace -> FoxReplace Options…

A new window will appear that will let you set these criteria. Here is an example of what mine looked like (with my actual business email replaced) (click on the image to see it full size, it’s too wide to fit on the blog):

Screenshot of FoxReplace

In the Replace field, you will need to enter exactly the text that you want to replace. This will be dependent on how you have formatted your listings, so I can’t tell you what to put there. The same is true of the With field. I chose to just replace the link with a generic “contact us”. You may want something else.

Once you’ve entered your find and replace criteria, you’ll want to check the Replace URLs box on the main options page. Don’t check the Auto-replace box for now. While filling out your criteria, also do not check the box for HTML. I found that with that option on, it wouldn’t work with the eBay forms.

You may also notice that if you hit F2 it will manually do a search and replace. If you hit Shift+F2, it brings up a toolbar that lets you do manual replacements with on the fly definitions. I found that neither of the manual options would work with eBay, but the “Auto-replace on page load” worked perfectly. Since this is the option we want for automating the process, the addon works for this purpose.

The address I have entered into the URL field is the core address that appears when you are revising listings. The stars before and after it are wildcards, so it will work no matter what other gibberish precedes or follows it.

I suggest at this point checking and making sure that the addon is working for you. Once you have defined your criteria, turn on the auto-replace feature (it can be toggled on and off from the Firefox Tools menu). Now click Revise on one of your listings and see if it correctly replaces the text. It may take a little adjusting to get it working correctly.

Added Bonus! If you have to relist or sell similar on a lot of listings over the next month or two, you can just leave FoxReplace turned on all the time while listing, and it will automatically make the changes, so there’s no chance you will forget while relising old merchandise that wasn’t up when you did your bulk changes!

Next, it’s time to learn about Greasemonkey, one of the most awesome and powerful tools for Firefox. It lets you run your own Javascript on top of web pages. You install them in Greasemonkey, and it then executes them when the criteria are met. Even if you don’t have any working knowledge of Javascript, you should still be okay. The scripts I have written should work for any eBay listing that is being revised.

Originally I wrote 3 scripts, mostly because I was testing each action individually. However I’ve combined them into a single script for the final process. They could be split back up into the component parts if you just wanted to open the revision page, but not click the rest of the way through. If people have some interest in this, I can split it back up and post it on userscripts.

First, the script clicks the Revise link on an active eBay listing. Then it clicks the Continue button on the next page. This part has a 5 second delay built into it, to make sure that FoxReplace has time to do its job. With no delay, it wasn’t working. I settled on 5 seconds to be safe, but it may be that it could be shorted to 2-4 seconds. The final action clicks the submit button on the confirmation page.

This is the full code if you want to install it manually:

// ==UserScript==
// @name Automate eBay Revisions
// @namespace eBay Revision Tool
// @description Automatically click through the eBay revise item screens
// @include http://cgi5.ebay.com/*
// @include http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/*
// @require http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.3.2/jquery.min.js
// ==/UserScript==

window.addEventListener (“load”, LocalMain, false);

function LocalMain ()
{

var TargetLink = $(“a:contains(‘Revise your item’)”)

if (TargetLink && TargetLink.length)
window.location.href = TargetLink[0].href

window.setTimeout(function() {document.evaluate(“//button[@name='aidZ1']“, document, null,

9, null).singleNodeValue.click();}, 5000);

document.evaluate(“//button[@name='aidZ126']“, document, null, 9,

null).singleNodeValue.click();

}

If you just want to click a button to install the script, it is hosted on userscripts.org and can be downloaded here. Just follow that link and then click the green Install button in the upper right (Greasemonkey will need to be installed).

Now, check to make sure that Greasemonkey is working properly by itself before actually using FoxReplace. So turn off FoxReplace (through the Tools menu). Now turn On Greasemonkey. A little Monkey icon should now be on the far right of your address bar. When it’s greyed out, it’s off. When it’s lit up, it’s on. You can also enable and disable Greasemonkey through the Firefox Tools menu.

With Greasemonkey on, open up one of your listings while signed into eBay. Over the course of about 7-10 seconds, it should go from the listing, to the revision page, to the submit page and finally the the Successfully Revised page. If everything worked as it should, then you’re almost ready to start batch processing your listings. The heavy lifting is done.

Snap Links Plus does not require any configuration. It simply lets you click your right mouse button, and then drag a green rectangle over a bunch of links. When you release the mouse button, all those links will open in new tabs. I suggest testing this with both Greasemonkey and FoxReplace turned off. This will let you open up an entire page of item links from My eBay or Selling Manager.

The final tool I’ve listed is Web Developer. This is optional, but I used it to speed up the process. It adds another toolbar to Firefox and lets you control how Firefox renders things. I used it to turn off Images. To turn off Image loading, click on Options -> Persist Features. Then click on Images -> Disable Images -> All Images. Now images will no longer load. On a very fast internet connection, this may not matter much, but on a slower connection, it will shave some time off and lower some load on Firefox once you start bulk revising.

For the last time, I’m going to re-iterate that if anything goes wrong, breaks, ruins your business, makes your computer explode or dog go bald, it’s not my fault. I’ve simply provided this guide as a how-to for you to try this yourself. Anything you do with this information is your responsibility.

Okay, assuming everything has worked, you’re ready to test it all together. Turn on FoxReplace and Greasemonkey. Now open up one of your listings. Let the process go. Once it has finished, turn off Greasemonkey and check the listing. The information you wanted changed should now be changed and saved. Hooray!

At this point, I tested everything for awhile before going whole-hog on it. I tested 5 at one time, then 10 at one time, then 25, then 50 and finally 100 listings at a shot. 100 brought my computer and Firefox to their knees. It was not a good idea, and I seriously thought the whole thing was going to crash about halfway through. However, 25 and 50 both processed fine and I’ve been revising my listings in batches of 50.

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them. As I said though, I’m not a professional programer or web designer.

Also, stay tuned in the next few days and I’ll be posting a couple of more tricks I figured out related to PayPal and automating printing invoices.

Tags:   · · · · · · 1 Comment

Books you should read: Transcendence

February 13, 2011 at 2:24 pm by thetheorist
Respond

Transcendence by Christopher McKitterick

I feel quite bad for taking this long to get up a note about Transcendence. This is the first published novel by my friend Chris McKitterick. He teaches technical writing and science fiction at the University of Kansas, where he is also the associate director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction (one of the many reasons KU is awesome).

As for the book itself, it’s an incredibly enjoyable read. Chris explores themes ranging from artificial intelligence, first contact, media overload/addiction, and corporate control of governments while packaging it all in a space faring adventure story. I don’t want to ruin anything be delving too deep into the story.

The book was published by Hadley Rille Books, a Kansas City publisher who focuses on excellent science fiction. So for those of you local, you are supporting both a local author and a local publisher!

Transcendence can be found in the KU Bookstore, plus likely some other local bookstores. Or it can be ordered online at places like Amazon (hardback, paperback or Kindle).

Tags:   · · · · · · No Comments.

Netflix is lost in mail after 41 percent price hike in 18 months

December 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm by thetheorist
Respond

After being a huge fan of Netflix for the last few years, I will be canceling my subscription this month and looking for new ways to procure movies. The last year and a half has seen a series of changes that have turned it from an incredible value to a questionable expense. We’ve had the 3 disc plan since we signed up, so all figures below are based on that.

1. Last year, Netflix added the blu-ray “tax” of $4 a month to our plan
2. This year, it agreed to a 28 day delay on many new releases (designed to cut costs)
3. We’re receiving more and more special “rental” copies of movies with all special features removed (again, a cost cutting measure)
4. Finally, in January an across-the-board price hike that will raise our plan by $3.

So, in the last 18 months, our plan has gone from $16.99 for all movies with all special features, including new releases, to $23.99 to get delayed new releases that have had their special features stripped out. That’s a 41 percent increase that has resulted in a service that delivers less. It pushes our yearly Netflix bill to $288. And the agreements Netflix has made with movie companies should all save on costs, so Netflix is getting it both ways.

Some may argue that Watch Instantly has been quite improved in that same time period, but we use it far less than we watch discs. At the end of the day, the part of the service I care about is being cut back while my costs are being increased significantly.

Brick and mortar renting just really isn’t an option for us. We’re notorious about not getting things back in time. Instead, I’m going to start buying all of our movies and selling the majority of them on eBay. Part of the reason that movie companies wanted to get of these changes made to Netflix was to encourage people buying movies. I hate to fall into their trap, so instead I’ll focus on buying used movies or buying them at incredible discounts. Plus I’ll be selling most of them, thus keeping other people from contributing to new sales.

I’m going to run this little experiment for a year. At the end of it, my hope is that our total cost for watching movies will be below $300, and we will have added some of our favorite movies to our permanent library. Total cost actually could be quite a bit less than $300, as I scored some great deals on Black Friday sales on movies, ones that should at least break even, if not turn a small profit, when re-sold.

I’m sorry Netflix, but you simply can’t cut services, raise costs and expect to keep all your customers.

Tags:   · · · 1 Comment

It’s over 9000!

October 19, 2010 at 9:35 am by thetheorist
Respond

Feedback over 9000

Tags:   · · No Comments.

How would you respond?

October 14, 2010 at 2:51 pm by thetheorist
Respond

Below you will find a series of messages that I received this morning from one of our customers. This customer purchased a hard drive last week, which apparently is not working for him. We had received no communication from this customer prior to this series of messages, and honestly I haven’t replied to him yet. I’m not even sure what to say. I’ll be happy to provide a replacement or a refund, but first I have to figure out where to begin. I’m sharing it here for your pleasure, and to see if anyone has any thoughts on how to reply.

This message is presented exactly as I received it, not a single character has been changed. The line breaks are present because 5 separate messages were sent over the course of 10 minutes. Each line break is the separation between messages.

Message from customer:

stupid ckc computers sent me a hard drive in which you cannot install windows xp on it because after 70% of installing windows xp it starts skipping files , i tried to install on 3 laptops, ebay , will you be kind enough to tell this worthless genetic-deformed , money hungry seller that i just bought about 11 hard drives on ebay, all of them installed with time being consumed except this one, tell this seller who has manure for brains and lives in a farmland to send me a hard drive that works or refund my money, tell this yoo yoo that some people in america went to college and learned from college professors about certain genetic-deformed, money hungry people and studyed engineering, and have almost 40 laptops to play with and fix==================this worthless genetic-deformed money hungry manure brained person wasted over 3 hours of my time with this stupid hard drive in which he knew was defective in the first place, he must be one of those people who live in that country where nothing is made over 62 years or one of those people who likes to start all kinds of wars, those worthless genetic-deformed money hungry people who college professors stated in college, or maybe this is a narrow-minded person of another type of people who a greek supreme court judge called the person a narrow-minded son of a gun in a case

wasted over 3 hours on this stupid hard drive, on 3 laptops trying in install windows xp, never seen nothing like it, do not have money to waste because i have not worked for almost 30 years, thank god, i am glad i did not have to pay taxes to support this worthless genetic-deformed, money hungry people due to a bad injury

either send a hard drive that is good or refund my money, you are the first person after buying 12 hard drives and installing them with time consumed that does not work===========another stupid ebayer sent me one which is corrupt and refunded my money, then there was this oriental seller from california who sent me 2 new ones about 6 months ago that still do not work, i do not know what is going on with ebay but nonsense better stop immediately or get some of these sellers off ebay================or tell them to finish grade school and try not to be a genetic-deformed , money hungry worthless american, because it is not funny any more

refund money or send a good one because i have other laptops to test and need more hard drives that work=============buying about 11 that 9 of them work is not that bad on ebay, i can switch hard drives to other laptops because if it is the same type hard drive connector, they will run on laptops take the same type hard drive connector

probably cannot deal with this manure brained farm hand company who think they know everything and other people are stupid

Tags:   · · · 8 Comments

Lawrence Zombie Walk 2010

October 11, 2010 at 6:57 pm by thetheorist
Respond

This year was the 4th Annual Lawrence Zombie Walk, and we were finally able to make it! The lady, the kid and yours truly all got deaded up for the occasion. The first half or so of the pictures are us, and the rest are random people we met or encountered! This was the first Zombie Walk any of us had participated in, it was tons of fun and we can’t wait to do it again next year!

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

lawrence zombie walk

Tags:   · · · 3 Comments

Subtle change removes valuable info from PayPal’s Seller Protection Policy?

June 4, 2010 at 6:56 pm by thetheorist
Respond

Update: All of the following information is still correct, but I did do some more digging through the eBay forums and found some other people who have all been having the same problem for the last week. You can read some here. I think one thing that people are still missing is that the status is removed from the original payment if a claim is filed.

Original Post

So I noticed something odd today in my payment confirmations from PayPal for my eBay sales. PayPal offers a “Seller Protection Policy” (SPP) which guarentees transactions provided certain criteria are met with the payment, and sellers obey certain rules in shipping and fulfilling orders. I’ve only ever had to use it a few times to get back money when a buyer filed a chargeback against me that I felt was unfair. But it’s nice to know that it’s there and it provides sellers with a sense of protection.

For a long time, when you receive a payment received notification from PayPal, it would show whether or not the transaction was eligible for the SPP in that email. In the following screen shot, you can see an example of this. Click on the screenshot for a larger, clearer version. There’s a section labeled Seller Protection Policy, next to that it says Eligible, and then below it has a simple summary of the SPP. I’ve blocked out all private information in the following screenshots.

Information after reversal

Since May 27th, I have not received a single email that showed that a transaction was eligible. I only just realized this today. In that same spot on the following email, you’ll see that it says Not Eligible next to Seller Protection Policy (again, click for a larger, clearer image):

Information after reversal

However, if I go and look at the transaction details page inside PayPal, it shows that the transaction is Eligible. The eligibility status is in the upper right hand corner of the screen shot:

Information after reversal

I’ve checked dozens of payments in the last hour, and in every case the email says that a transaction is Not Eligible, and the payment details page says that the transaction is eligible.

This isn’t just confusing, it’s potentially problematic for sellers who may end up in an argument with PayPal about the eligibility of a transaction for the SPP. When a chargeback or reversal is filed on a payment, PayPal removes the SPP section from the transaction details page. The entire entire “Okay to Ship!” section, with the SPP status, address and address status are all removed from the transaction details page when there is a problem with a transaction. I’ve personally seen this multiple times. All of that information is is replaced with the following very brief note:

Information after reversal

So, in my case, if I end up with a reversal on any of these transactions, my original payment email is going to tell me that the transaction is Not Eligible for protection, and any information to the contrary will have been stripped out of the transaction page. This is deceptive and unfair to sellers.

One thing I have to note is that I’ve ended up using those original payment emails to prove to PayPal that a transaction is eligible. I’ve done this as recently as last month. I thought for a moment that perhaps there was some limit to the frequency that one could use the SPP, but after checking the official User Agreement for PayPal, not so. Section 11.2 states that, “There is no limit on the number of payments for which you can receive coverage.” So that doesn’t seem to be the case.

It’s also possible this is just a glitch in the system, it certainly wouldn’t be the first one I had seen with PayPal’s notification system.

Regardless of the reason behind this, it’s another reason that PayPal needs to stop removing the SPP status of a payment when there is a chargeback, claim or reversal filed against it. Sellers have the right to know that status.

Tags:   · · · · · 1 Comment

Who owns Route 66?

April 21, 2010 at 11:37 am by thetheorist
Respond

A friend alerted me this morning that an item had been removed from his Zazzle store because it contained imagery related to Route 66, the iconic US highway that ran from Chicago to LA. A company based in the Netherlands, Tempting Brands, apparently claims to own the trademark to Route 66 and has been sending takedown notices to Zazzle users relating to merchandise that includes the Route 66 logo. A quick search showed at least one other Zazzle user who’s merch had been taken down for the same reason. That user posted a screen capture of his takedown letter here.

The licensing website for Route 66, with information on licensing and use of Route 66, includes dozens or hundreds of photographs, sounds and movies relating to Route 66 that appear to be vintage stuff, including having the classic song “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” playing over an image montage. But there is absolutely no information indicating that they have asked for, paid for or received the rights to use any of the images, videos or sounds on their licensing site. In fact, there’s very little information overall about the company, actual licensing, their history of ownership, anything at all. There’s not a lot of information about the parent company Tempting Brands either, their official website address just links back to the Route 66 licensing website already linked above.

I have to admit to being incredibly confused about this. Route 66 was a federal US highway that existed for 70 years before being decommissioned and is one of the classic icons of Americana and the development of America’s car/roadtrip culture. I can’t fathom that any company, individual or organization could claim to own a trademark to the name or symbol of Route 66. There are some very specific trademarks and copyrights held in relation to Route 66, such as the old 60s TV series, but courts have shown that even those are very limited due to the nature of Route 66.

Technically the route was decommissioned and I can see the symbol potentially existing in a legal limbo, but there are thousands of companies, communities and individuals who have used Route 66 logos and symbols over the years for just about every use imaginable, including t-shirts, business logos, a movie, TV series, even a state park. Every state the route passed through has a Route 66 historic preservation association. It’s simply unfathomable to me that this trademark can stand as legally binding. The fact that it’s held by a European company is just insulting on top of that.

For those of you who would like to contact the relevant parties about this, feel free to call Zazzle at 1-888-8ZAZZLE (892-9953) or (408) 983-2800. Tempting Brands contact information is:

Tempting Brands B.V.
Westerkade 27-3
1015 XE Amsterdam
The Netherlands
T: +31 (0)20 778 2156

http://www.temptingbrands.com

Martijn Berkhout MA
Managing Director
E: mberkhout@temptingbrands.com

Below you’ll find a series of screen captures I took of the licensing site as it stands now:

Tags:   · · · · · 6 Comments

Announcing Zombie Killer Pizza!

February 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm by thetheorist
Respond

So I’ve hinted at a new side project for a couple of months now and am finally ready to introduce it to the world. The lady and I’s latest endeavor is Zombie Killer Pizza (http://zombiekillerpizza.com)!

Or ZKP as we like to call it. ZKP is a card game where players take on the role of drivers at Zombie Killer Pizza, the last pizza joint on earth. Drivers deliver pizza, booze, ammo and hope to their clientele, helping them survive the zombie apocalypse. Players will compete against each other for deliveries and against the zombie horde to successfully make those deliveries. The ultimate goal is to earn enough tip money to buy the store and retire from the road, leading a life of luxury as the owner of ZKP.

I’m writing the content for the game and Tam is working on the graphics for it. An early piece of Tam’s concept art is up on the site under The Daily Zombie.

The prototype is done and we are currently playtesting it to work out the kinks. Once we’re satisfied that it’s balanced and a blast to play, we’ll be looking into publishing it ourselves.

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at designing my own board or card game and am super excited that we’re making the jump into this and I just wanted to share it with you all. Please let me know what you think of the site, the idea or anything else!

Oh, and if you want to follow the goings on at ZKP, there is an RSS feed. For now I’m going to try and do a post a week, featuring concept art, thoughts about the design process, the history behind ZKP and some of the influences on it. As we move closer to publishing, I hope to bump up the frequency that I post.

Thanks to everyone who supports us in all the different things we try!

Tags:   · · · · 1 Comment

Some business trends going into the new year

February 14, 2010 at 10:52 am by thetheorist
Respond

Once upon a time, we’ll refer to this as the pre-house days, I used to talk about running a small business on this site. I would like to get back to that, perhaps not every post, but at least on a regular basis.

As the country has moved through the recession, there are some buying trends that I’ve noticed with our business. We used to have relatively consistent sales throughout the entire day. There were a couple of peaks, but we sold steadily even at 2 or 3 in the morning. That’s simply not the case anymore. We now have several dead zones and two very hot (and one warm) peaks throughout weekdays. Our overnight, late morning and mid-afternoon sales have all dried up, dropping by 70 percent or more. But, our early morning (5 a.m. – 9 a.m.) has exploded, as has the evening (5 p.m. to 10 p.m.). The early afternoon sales are still steady, though not remarkable.

I have a few theories about why this is.

First, our current sales match the standard work day more now than they did previously. Employers now may monitor or block employees internet access more, keeping our sales lower during the working hours.

Second, we’ve always had a strong client base of self-employed people and small business owners. Many of my regulars from two or three years ago are gone now. Some of them I know had to go back to a real job or close their business, but most of them just disappeared. I would notice that someone hadn’t ordered in a few weeks and drop them a line, only to get dead air or a bounced email. Some of these people are still self-employed part time, but have to work a regular job too, thus restricting the times that they can be online buying stuff from me.

I miss the overnight sales the most from our old patterns. It was always exciting to boot up the old ‘puter in the morning and see how much money we had made while we slept. The answer is the same most days now, not that much.

Tags:   · · · No Comments.