The Perils of Selling Stuff Online

There’s a strange mentality at play when trying to sell items online. Several sites on the Internet have become a virtual garage sale. While eBay is the most successful, it’s often easier to use sites which focus on local sales, such as Craigslist or Kijiji. Shipping items is a hassle, and it’s often easier to receive payment when meeting around town.

There may be fewer people interested in your product though, and there are also very obviously those who will try to lowball your asking price.

I recently sold a Nikon SB-400 flash online. Ken Rockwell may love this flash, but it’s not flexible enough for my use. I listed it for just over a hundred dollars, which is what a rough look at successfully completed eBay auctions closed for. Within a day, I had two offers for my asking price, as well as this gem:

Hi si i offer 50 dolar cash, if you think let me come and get it

Brilliant! I’ll sell it to you immediately… Wait, no I won’t. Your offer is ridiculous. If you’re trying to get a deal, here’s a few tips:

  1. Look for items more than a few days old.
  2. Use relatively correct language. Try using a spellchecker.
  3. Try to explain why you should get a deal.

Try actually being persuasive. If you’re lucky, it will work. If not, at least you’re not like to be fodder for blog posts.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Reviews

Almost twenty years ago, the first episode of Deep Space Nine aired. For the first time, not one, but two Start Trek series were in first run syndication.  After The Next Generation ended, Voyageur started, and again, two series of Star Trek were in first run syndication at the same time.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine header image

Deep Space Nine was a different show than the others. Most obviously, it took place on a space station, and not a starship. Unlike the other shows, where the location could shift drastically from episode to episode, in Deep Space Nine, the location remained the same, with a rotating cast of visiting characters.

When DS9 first aired, I was a big fan of TNG. While I made an effort to watch the new show, the first season was a little too slow for my liking. By the time things started happening, the serial nature of the show had developed in completely unexpected directions, I had no idea on what was going on.

In essence, I failed to watch DS9 because it was different. I had become accustomed to one-off stories with an alien of the week. I quite reasonably assumed that two or three seasons in, I should be able to pick up any random episode, and pick up exactly where I left off. I can’t even claim that I wasn’t warned. During the first episode, the merits of a linear timeline with real consequences for actions is highlighted as one of humanity’s greatest strengths.

Deep Space Nine space station

One of DS9’s greatest strengths is paradoxically also its greatest weakness: a complex serial storyline. This kept me from watching it faithfully in the first run, but also fascinated me on DVD.

How does the series hold up today? I’ve started to watch the series again, and plan on writing my response to the show. In particular, I’m going to look at the craft of storytelling. How did the writers develop the story arcs, how effective is their characterization, and how do they deal with relevant social issues? How effectively do they integrate previous Star Trek canon? What works, and what doesn’t, from a writing perspective. While I may, from time to time, comment on some of the acting, especially when it comes to characterization, I’m not really going to comment on special effects, other than when required for story purposes. For instance, there’s this big wormhole which appears in space near Bajor. This wormhole is important for the story, but very little about the special effects associated with it matter to the story.

This also isn’t going to be a plot review, although I’m not going to hold back on any plot reveals. The show is nearly twenty years old. The statute of limitations on spoilers is long since over. Consider yourself warned. If you’re really looking for a plot recap, check out Memory Alpha.

This blog series will quite obviously take a long time to complete. Some posts will be longer than others. The first post will review the pilot episode, Emissary. It will likely be one of the longer reviews, as there is much to cover in the introduction.

Nonfiction Book Review: Getting Started with D3 by Mike Dewar; O’Reilly Media

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working with some visualization libraries in JavaScript. There are a number of different options available, from using the bitmap graphics in the HTML 5 canvas, to writing vector graphics with SVG output.

One of the more popular libraries at the moment is D3, which provides a flexible framework for visualizing large datasets in SVG. While the examples and API documentation available on the D3 website are helpful,  I have also found Mike Dewar’s book, “Getting Started with D3” to be a helpful resource.

Cover for "Getting Started with D3"

Dewar uses a publicly available resource, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority Data Set, to demonstrate how the library can be used to present data in a number of ways. The book covers all the basics with D3, from the selection model, to interactive graphs, and specialized layouts, such as force-directed graphs. While it covers some of these concepts, it never goes into great detail about anything in particular. While this is a “getting started” book, it’s very much an introductory title.

Still, this is a relatively short book. It’s a good introduction to D3, but leaves a great deal about the library to be explored. In chapter 3, the author notes that the standard D3 visualizations are rendered in SVG, which limits the usage to modern browsers. While it is noted that Internet Explorer 9 (March 2011) provides SVG support, the book fails to explain exactly what that means today. As I’ve mentioned before, IE 8 is the most recent version of Internet Explorer that can run on Windows XP, which still has a sizeable market share. While there are workarounds, such as using d34raphael to render VML output in earlier versions of IE, or using svgweb to render the SVG output in Flash, these problems are glossed over with a simple aside.

In the end, D3 is a very useful tool, and Mike Dewar’s book does a decent job of explaining how to go about using it. It’s unfortunate that the book doesn’t go into greater detail, especially since the book is so short to begin with.

This book was reviewed as part of O’Reilly’s Blogger Review program. The book itself can be found on the O’Reilly website here