eBay: What Happens When You Ignore Your Own Website

18 June 2007

I stopped by eBay tonight looking for cellphones compatible with Verizon’s CDMA network. At least half of the results were junk. GSM phones incorrectly categorized as Verzion-compatible were common, making up a third or more of the search results. Another sixth of the results were data cables categorized as cellphones (likely on purpose to get more hits) and “free information with $10 shipping” scams.

The worst part is eBay’s “Report This Item” system. I made the mistake of thinking I could make a difference and help other people avoid seeing the same hordes of scams, lies, and miscategorized items. To report an item for any of these problems requires the following steps:

1) Open item
2) Click “Report Item” at the bottom
3) Select “Listing Policy Violation” (even if it seems intentionally mis-listed, the “Fraudulent Listings” category doesn’t cover these)
4) Select “Keyword Spamming” or “Other Listing Policy Violations”
5) Select “Innapropriate Use of Keywords”, or for “Other”, select “Miscategorized Items”
6) Click “Continue”
7) The next page tries to take you to the FAQs instead of actually reporting the item. Click the small “E-mail us” link if you actually want to report the item.
8) There’s a text box on the next page, but only item numbers can be entered. If you’re looking for somewhere to explain in any detail why you’re reporting the item, you’re out of luck.
9) Click send.

That was to report a single item. Depending on your search, there may be a third or more of the items miscategorized and irrelevant to your search. That’s a lot of items to go through this 9-step process for. After an hour digging through “super antennas”, “free literature”, and miscategorized GSM phones, I gave up. It’s not worth my time to do eBay’s categorization for them.

eBay is big enough to start charging small up-front fees to sellers. For instance, charge a one-time fee when a seller signs up for an account, say $5. If the seller starts posting fraudulent or miscategorized listings, cancel the account. Keep the $5. Make it unprofitable for sellers to scam or violate eBay policy. It takes the right rules to motivate your members to do the right thing.

Once a WOW Addict….

09 June 2007

I started playing WOW two summers ago. I played it for over a year and stopped when I grew unhappy with how it was affecting my life. Raids became hours-long committments rather than something fun to do after work. I found myself spending entirely too much time in-game travelling cross-world for minor rewards, checking the auction house every 5 minutes, hanging out in town wishing I could find a group, and solo-grinding the same mobs for hours just to go up a level.

Even after quitting I continued lurking the forums, creating talent builds, and reading patch notes. I even kept my WOW client updated — at least until they moved authentication ahead of patch downloading.

At one point I reactivated just for a free character transfer off Illidan, an old and over-populated server, to a newer low-population server. Paying $15 once sure beats paying $20 per character for transfers. But I stayed strong…I set the subscription to cancel right after I paid for the one month, and stuck with it.

Despite the problems, I enjoyed the game immensely. I’ve always planned to start playing again. Get my wife and friends playing, join a good guild, check out the new Burning Crusade content, try a new character class… I’ve been lusting after the new Macbook Pros that were just released, and with Leopard on its way, perhaps this fall will be a good time to try again?

Isn’t it incredible how games have changed? I started playing WOW a year after it was released, played for a year, stopped playing for a year, and am still planning to start playing again.

This post started from my noticing a Blizzard website update which is effectively a Blizzard-branded Thottbott, with some very cool features tying it into the Armory. You can click upgrade on individual pieces of armor, and get a list of likely suggestions for your class, level, and gear-quality. So I started wondering — which character should I play, and what cool gear could I get if I started back up?

Here are Armory links to my characters:

Level 60 Mage (second toon, much faster leveling than shaman)

Level 48 Shaman (zug zug! My first toon)

Level 38 Rogue (who doesn’t have a rogue?)

Level 25 Priest, Squirrelbot (yes, she has a mechanical squirrel)

Level 20 Hunter

Level 16 Warlock (warlocks are amazing, but I quit before leveling too far)

I also have a <20 level Alliance paladin, druid, and warrior.

So…which should I play?

PHP vs. Perl: A Retort to Slashdot’s Perl Mongers

09 June 2007

My company uses both PHP and Perl. PHP runs the website, and the back-end scripts were originally written in Perl. We’re gradually rewriting the back-end scripts in PHP.

We wanted to stick with a single language to promote code reuse, and PHP was an obvious choice over Perl. It’s a full-featured scripting language, yet extremely fast with an opcode cache. It’s easy to use, but also implements full object oriented class design. We use it for TCP/IP socket connections to internal C applications, and for XML-RPC and SOAP web service connections internally and to external partners. In general, we’ve yet to find a niche which PHP can’t fill.

With Perl, we constantly run into script failures due to servers being upgraded or reinstalled and random Perl module X is missing or incompatible, and we need a slew of contradicting dependencies to do a manual (ie: cpan) compile of the module. If I was talking about an incredibly obscure feature I’d be OK with this, but I’m talking about ridiculously basic functionality like date manipulation and array printing.

With PHP the only add-ons we have to worry about are Xdebug (an elaborate performance profiling suite that we use on our test machine) and APC (an opcode cache that approximately quadruples performance).

Is it a problem that PHP is full-featured right out of the box? Heck no! I’d much rather have a sensible set of features with a 5mb executable (ZOMG THATS SO MUCH RAM!!!) than have a uselessly-basic language with tons of self-compiled modules, making scripts non-portable and generally making hell for me running development and operations at a company with 20+ servers running various versions of various OSes.

The other complaint I hear about PHP also makes no sense to me: whining about function naming and return values. No matter what language I program in, be it PHP, Perl, C, or C++, I *always* use an IDE or good reference (ie: MSDN or php.net) to double-check function names, parameters, and return values. PHP.net is a great resource for finding functions and how to use them.

I don’t care how “logical” Perl’s argument order or function names are claimed to be. I still don’t know what they are without checking somewhere. So what does Perl 6’s restructuring get us? Everyone still has to look up functions to check naming and argument order, but now every pre-6 perl script is going to not just break, but break spectacularly, with difficult to debug wrong-argument-order problems. And if you’re working with both Perl 5 and Perl 6, you now have to remember TWO versions of the same function. How is that an improvement?

I had the pleasure of hearing Rasmus Lerdorf give a keynote at the DC PHP Conference. He talked about how hard it was for him to learn English. It’s just not logical! Still, it’s far easier to learn and use English than to “break” every book, movie, webpage, etc. to “correct” the language.

Perl was one of the first languages I learned. I used it for years before I started using PHP at my current job. Perl was an incredible improvement over C and C++ with its fast regular expression and string parsing, and its two-dimensional associative arrays. But it’s also an ugly, hackish, difficult-to-read and difficult-to-use language. I’ve had far more success personally and throughout my company with PHP. It’s got all the benefits of Perl, but with a solid foundation of functionality, reasonable backwards-compatibility between versions, and none of the ugly “$_” hacks that make Perl a write-once-read-never language.  You can write bad code in any language, but Perl demands it.

Quiznos Hates Vegetarians: The Italian Crap-ese

07 June 2007

Quizno’s used to have the best vegetarian sub in town. A bit pricey, but worth it.

I was working late last Wednesday when my wife brought me a Quizno’s Vegetarian Sub. Delicious! I am a confessed Guac-a-holic. One of the greatest things about Quizno’s veggie subs is their unique (and probably unintentional) method of containing the veggies. Instead of having olives and mushrooms and peppers tumbling out of your sub as you eat, they’re trapped in place by a layer of melted mozzarella cheese. It’s as if Spider-man sprayed your sub with his web slingers. Add a layer of guacamole and you’ve got the best toasted vegetarian sub evar.

Not any more.

I went back to Quizno’s on Friday and asked for a Vegetarian Sub. The kids behind the counter pointed behind me and mumbled “asdfffItalianadfasdf”. I looked at the sign next to me, at the menu, back at the sign, back at the menu. Apparently they replaced the old Vegetarian Sub with a new one, the Italian Caprese.

Quizno’s Italian Caprese
What’s on it? Other than dressing:

Mozzarella, Tomato, Lettuce

Yep, it’s a BLT without the B. The old Vegetarian Sub had all of the above, PLUS Red Onions, Olives, Mushrooms, and Guacamole.

Notice a difference? The old one actually has vegetables! Isn’t that an amazing concept for a vegetarian sub? EVERY sub at Quizno’s comes with Cheese, Lettuce, and Tomato. It’s just every other sub has more. The Turkey-Bacon-Guacamole sub, for instance? Everything the Italian Caprese has, plus…Turkey, Bacon, and Guacamole. At Quizno’s your average meat sub now has more vegetables than the vegetarian sub. Yet they cost about the same, and the meat sub also has meat on it. Feeling ripped off yet?

They still have vegetables at Quizno’s. They could keep making the same old Vegetarian sub, they just took it off the menu. So now I have to explain how to make my sub to the kid behind the counter. I guess the next time I go to Quizno’s I’ll be ordering a Turkey-Bacon-Guacamole sub, hold the Turkey and Bacon, add Onions, Olives, Mushrooms, and Vinaigrette Dressing. And PLEASE do the proper web-shooter-mozzarella-veggie-trap so I’m not eating half my sub off my tray.