Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Improvements to Uptime in Progress

Patchrends.com is the World's largest price database for Boy Scout patches, Order of the Arrow flaps, and many other pieces of Scouting's collectibles.  

Naturally, collecting thousands of price points everyday directly from eBay presents a number of interesting challenges. So does storing millions of database records and images. But, that's why I remain motivated to devote the time and energy into this invaluable service.

The Patchtrends.com Infrastructure

The service is divided up into several different pieces. The only piece that members and visitors get to see is the website. The website is hosted on a computer that is usually referred to as a "web server."  The other computers that support Patchtrends.com are focused on collecting data, organizing this data, and presenting a stable and reliable storage platform for the millions of data points and item images.

At the time of this writing, there is almost 1 TB (that's one thousand GB) of data collected. The vast majority of this data is made up of item images. And this is growing every day. Due to a lot of hard work, the site has room to grow into several terabytes of data before I have to consider expanding. Thankfully, storage mediums are cheap and open source software tools exist for making this backend scale nearly indefinitely. If there is interest in me expanding more on the technical aspects of the site and the infrastructure supporting it, I'd be more than happy to oblige.

Embracing the Cloud

As many of you may know, the webserver hosting Patchtrends.com has been at the mercy of flaky power at its colocation facility for some time now. I've been resistant in the past to pay additional fees for the hosting of the website itself, but I finally had enough of the stability issues the webserver was facing.

Recently, I took a major step in mitigating this major annoyance by migrating Patchtrends.com to a Digital Ocean, a provider of affordable virtual infrastructure. I looked at plans also for Amazon's EC2/AWS services, and determined Digital Ocean was a better fit for n ow.

While this move has not been without its technical challenges, it's almost mostly completed.  Much of the work was done to ensure that the webserver, once physically connected to the data collection and storage infrastructure, would be able to have fast access to the data no matter where the "server" was located.

This has been solved for the textual pricing data, but not yet for the millions of images that can't possibly be stored in the "cloud."  A solution is on the board, but it needs to be implemented. It's not all that involved, but will take some time to get right.

Goal: Zero Downtime

Zero downtime is not an unattainable goal for Patchtrends.com. In fact, it's very possible; and we've started down the path to achieving this state.

The end result of the move to the cloud is that the site is now much easier to replicate on a remote webserver. What is means rather is that I can build out multiple backup webservers that are able to mask the unlikely situation where any one of the servers becomes unavailable.

I am currently working on setting up a backup server through the services provided by Scaleway.com.  Whereas Digital Ocean is located in New York City (at least my instance is), Scaleway houses its infrastructure in Paris.  If the server is NY goes down for some reason (e.g., another Hurricane Sandy), then visitors will be directed to the Paris server without even knowing. Having more servers just makes our resiliency even greater.

And the additional servers don't just mean failover from unforeseen outages.  The same cluster of replicated servers can be used to balance out the load being put onto it from high periods of usage - a nice problem to have!

Patchtrends Needs Your Support 

Expanding our infrastructure by using paid services is a new expense for Patchtrends.com.  In order to help keep prices ridiculously low, please support my efforts by visiting the following eBay affiliate links presented for active items for sale at Patchbazaar.com.

In Conclusion

Patchtrends.com is poised to be ushered into modern capabilities - resiliency, high availability, and scalability. We've just taken a small, but critical step in this direction. Stay tuned for more!

WWW && YiS,
Patchtrends.com

Friday, December 11, 2015

Patchtrends.com Goals for 2016

This past year Patchtrends.com, The Online Boy Scout Patch and Memorabilia Price Database accomplished some major milestones. Much of it was behind the scenes, but a few that were apparent for all to enjoy:

  • Membership prices are now only $5.95/year for everyone!
  • Activation of managed search alerts for members (active/sold items)
  • Further integration of http://Patchbazaar.com

Note - As memberships subscriptions are renewed, I am adjusting your subscriptions to the new rate and refunding the difference to you. Please say "thank you" by supporting my efforts by using Patchbazaar.com when shopping on eBay.


Goals for 2016


The goal for this coming year is to make it http://Patchbazaar.com even more helpful. I've been working on ways to leverage the data that has been amassed in the Patchtrends.com database so that hidden deals and steals can be detected among the thousands of active items for sale on eBay.

While this feature will be available for free to some degree directly at Patchbazaar, my plan is to offer Patchtrends members exclusive insights on the items that are currently for sale. So not only is Patchtrends going to be good for looking up historical prices, it's going to morph into a smart tool for finding great deals for Scouting items for sale on eBay.  I am excited just thinking about all of the possibilities.

I hope everyone has a great end of the year, and here's to an even more exciting 2016.

How to Support the Site



None of the above means of support will cost you anything other than time.

http://www.patchtrends.com
http://www.patchbazaar.com (usage helps to keep patchtrends costs down)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Keeping Member Prices Low: How to Support Patchtrends.com

The site participates in eBay's affiliate program (EPN), so any links that take you from Patchtrends.com or Patchbazaar.com directly to eBay or to a particular item will earn the site money from eBay. It costs nothing for you, but it helps me out a whole lot.

How to get eBay to pay Patchtrends.com directly at no cost to you

a. Use http://Patchtrends.com search alerts - when you login, look for the little "Alert" link in the upper right of the member screen.  You can create custom searches over completed items and items currently active on eBay.  Results get sent directly to your email.

b. Use http://Patchbazaar.com - it is the main portal to searching for active items on eBay. I collect active item data just like I do completed, and I am building up an arsenal of search tools that will let anyone find good deals.  The next big feature I am working on is one that automatically finds the best deals by comparing the active items to the millions of data points I have for completed auctions.  Be on the look out for this in the next couple of months.

c. Bookmark the linkhttp://patchtrends.com/cgi-bin/index/ebay. It will take you directly to eBay. Please use it any time you just want to go to eBay to buy whatever. Every little bit of traffic I send to them will help.

d. Please spread the word about Patchbazaar.com (it is free for everyone) and the underutilized Search Alert feature on Patchtrends.com.

How to help promote the site

a. Leave us a "5 Star" review on our Facebook site - https://www.facebook.com/patchtrends. If you can't give the site 5 Stars, let me know what needs to happen so that you feel comfortable doing so.

b. Tell your fellow collectors about Patchtrends.com and Patchbazaar.com. Spread the word!

c. Lastly, send me feedback -  best if it's constructive criticism or ideas for new features! Email, call, or text is all fine.

Thank you for being loyal friends of Patchtrends.com, and remember that I want to hear from you about what you don't like and what features you'd like to see!

WWW && YiS,
Patchtrends.com

PS: in addition the data mining I will be doing to find you the best patch deals on eBay, I am actively researching how to create an iPhone App myself; it won't happen tomorrow, but where there is a will, there is a way. My hope is that this will make the service even more accessible to members of our community.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Year, New Features!

Better late than never, so here is an update for Patchtrends.com.

Updated Member Interface

A lot of work was put into updating the user interface (UI) for the member site.  I still need to update the screenshots at Patchtrends.com, but essentially everything was rewritten from the ground up to enable more features. In fact, the two new member features outlined below were made possible because of the new way that the UI was written.

New Feature #1 - Saved Searches

As outlined in the previous blog post, Patchtrends.com members now have the ability to have search alerts emailed to them.  There are many options for the search alerts, but the most important thing to note is that alerts work over both completed auctions and active auctions.  It's extremely handy and much more effective than the saved search feature that eBay provides, for example.

Many use it be emailed weekly or daily the top 25 top selling, currently fetching, or most popular items that have either been completed or are currently for sale.

Member interface for adding and editing search alerts

A real example of an email sent based on a user's search alert

Please send feedback on improving and extending this feature. If you are unsure about how to use it, please email patchtrends@gmail.com for help!

New Feature #2 - Scatter Plots!

Patchtrends.com was chosen as the name for this service on purpose. The main goal is to provide more than a listing of competed eBay auctions. The main goal is to provide tools that help savvy and sophisticated users to find and identify trends in the Scouting Collectibles market.

A tool to scatter plot items by Bid and by Price has recently been released for members to test and use.  There are three key features:
  1. Switch between Price and Bid, over time
  2. Zoom into densely packed points
  3. Hover over individual plots to see item details, including images
The new scatter plot feature shows item sales patters, allows zooming, and shows item details
Please use this feature and send feedback so that we may improve and extend the tools we provide to our valuable members.

Looking Towards 2015

There are a lot of goals heading into 2015. As always, Patchtrends.com seeks to improve upon delivering a rock solid platform on which one may do in depth research into the Scouting Collectibles market.

Another goal for 2015 is to re-launch the sister site, Patchbazaar.com.  The goal of Patchbazaar.com is to provide a free and killer tool to find undervalued and unnoticed Scouting Collectibles on eBay.  Using the site and by clicking the eBay affiliate links also helps fund Patchtrends.com and Patchbazaar.com, so every effort is going to made to refine Patchbazaar.com as THE place to go to when looking to find a good deal on Scouting items on eBay.  It is a win-win for you the users and Patchtrends.com.

Be on the look out for the redesigned Patchbazaar.com logo - and for a fully retooled and reimagined Patchbazaar.com user interface.

Be on the lookout for the new logo and visit Patchbazaar.com to help support PT's efforts!

Thank you for your support and here's to another great year!

Monday, September 1, 2014

New Subscriptions Increasing To $19.95/year on September 15th., Upcoming Email Alert Feature

As noted over the last few months, the subscription price for all new accounts is increasing to $19.95/year on September 15th, 2014.

Existing subscriptions are unaffected by this increase, but will get access to the new features we have planned. Patchtrends.com doesn't currently have tiered subscriptions or differentiate users. It is doubtful we ever will.

After this price increase, there are no plans to increase the price of a subscription for at least 1 full year.

The increase in price also reflects work that's been happening behind the scenes to offer new features. As briefly mentioned in the previous post, several are currently in the works. One of them will be discussed further below.

Upcoming Email Alert Feature


We actually maintain two databases.  We track all completed auctions under the "Boy Scout" category in "Historical Memorabilia," but we also track most active auctions and store items that are currently for sale.

Patchtrends.com provides the searching interface to the ever growing collection of completed auctions (nearly 3.5 million at the present).

The search interface for all active auctions is known as Patchbazaar.com (you have probably seen the links around or even used it.) It is free to use and helps support our efforts by utilizing eBay affiliate links (so please do use the site for eBay searching if you can.)

The new Email Alert feature for Patchtrends.com members will provide an automated way to be alerted for new items that get added to the completed auctions database, the active auctions database, or both.

Users will be able to specify:

  • search string 
  • search window (all-time, last 1-7 days)
  • min/max bid count
  • min/max price 
  • max results shown
  • frequency of alert (daily, weekly)
  • hour of day to conduct alert search (and send email)
  • day of week to conduct weekly alert search (and send email)
Emails will be sent as both HTML and text-only. Both formats will contain search results, including a section on statistics computed over the entire database for that search query.  The HTML version will also contain images links and item links for your convenience.

The idea here is to allow members a more convenient and tailored way to track active auctions, but to also be alerted when an interesting item is recorded in the completed auctions database.

This feature is currently in testing and is scheduled to be released for member use by the end of September.

If you are interested in becoming a tester for this feature, please contact patchtrends@gmail.com. You must be a member of Patchtrends.com to participate.

There are also a couple of other features in the works that future blog posts will discuss.  And due to user feedback, we are investigating augmenting the data we track on each completed item.

Please let us know your thoughts on anything contained in this post or really, anything else that is on your mind as it relates to Patchtrends.com.

Thank you,
Patchtrends.com

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August Newsletter - Exciting Site News, Houston Trade-o-Ree

http://www.patchtrends.com/join

Announcements



Site News

I try to avoid talking about the technical aspects of the site, but I have some news to share. I spend many hours a week on the site, but they are changes that you will never see or know about. The result of the hard work I put into the site is reflected in the speed of the searching over the growing millions of items in the database. It is also reflected in the site's reliability and very low downtime rates.  My goals is always a 100% A+ user experience for my members.

I don't do just maintenance. As time permits, I work in features that I think will take Patchtrends.com - and your memberships - to the next level. Here is a brief list of some of the features I am working on:
  • Email Alerts - manage searches and emails that alert you to new items as they are added to the Patchtrends.com database; searches will also be integrated with the live eBay auction database, Patchbazaar.com. This feature is about 85% complete, and I am shooting to release it by the end of September.
  • Automatic item classification - this feature is more of a backend change, but the main value added here is that as new items are added to the Patchtrends.com database, I will have a system that automatically classifies them into simplified tags using a variety of heuristics.  For example, all items that are related to cancer or cause awareness will be tagged with the "cancer" or/and "awareness" flag.
  • Real aggregate data and statistical information - there has been a great need for some to aggregate the results of a search into statistics. I plan building up the capabilities of Patchtrends.com to provide aggregate (min, max, average, variance, etc) information. I also plan on providing charting capabilities that would allow one to view moving averages and compare metrics for one set of results against other sets of results over the same time period.  This will make the "trends" in Patchtrends.com a reality.
  • Personal list builder - this feature is one that I think people will really like; the idea is that you will be able to "save" results into specific buckets. You will also be able to add your own categories and labels. The net result is that you will be able to build and maintain your own list of items. I also plan on making these lists exportable, so that they can be useful for individuals doing research for their own person or guide or for guide authors who might happen to be working with Patchtrends.com to publish their own guide.
I have few other hairbrained ideas floating around, but all of these are list above are the results of real feedback that my members have given me.  And still after all of this has been delivered, there will be no increase in price for existing subscriptions. It's becoming clear that joining Patchtrends.com NOW is going to pay off in the long run.


Houston TOR Recap


On August 22-23, Patchtrends.com attended its first Trade-O-Ree. It was located in Houston, Texas and held at the Sam Houston Area Council. It was hosted by Colonneh Lodge.

The Patchtrends.com table was about as non-traditional as one could expect at a TOR.  I was not selling patches, but I had some of my dupes out so that people didn't pass me up thinking it was an admin table.

I had a couple of computers set up so that dealers, vendors, and attendees could sit down to look up prices. I had plenty of visitors and I appreciated meeting everyone.
The most exciting aspect of the TOR was that I got to finally meet, face-to-face, so many great individuals that I have been knowing over the years from my dealings on the Internet.  And, not surprisingly, they were just as great and nice in person as they are online.

The first night of the TOR was relatively slow. There was very little foot traffic that was not a result of the vendors and dealers seeing what each other had.

I made it a point to visit each table and talk to the purveyor for a while. They all had very cool stuff and interesting stories to tell. Of course I introduced myself and told them a little about Patchtrends.com. I also told them about the larger and growing Scout Patch Buyers/Sellers Facebook group that I manage. It's a great place for small time and big time sellers to sell. It's a great place for casual and serious buyers to also visit.  As of current count, we have over 1,300 members.

My greatest joy during the TOR was when I was able to discuss the site with individuals. Many took up the opportunity to use the site on one of the two laptops that I had open to Patchtrends.com.

In particular, I wanted to make sure that each and every Scout I saw in the place had a chance to test drive the site. They were also made well aware of the fact that I provide youth Scouts with free accounts.

A great time was had by all, and I am definitely hooked on this TOR thing now. I can't wait until I am able to attend the next one.  I met a lot of great people and really appreciated the opportunity I had to spread the word about Patchtrends.com.  But I keep going back to the real reason I had such a great time - the people.  You never know who you're going to run into, and in my case I had the amazing chance to meet a fellow former Lodge Chief of Chilantakoba #397 - albeit our tenures were separated by a span of 30 years.


It is my goal to make strong inroads into the many TORs that happen each year in this Country.  I certainly can't attend all of them, but I am going to try very hard to make the ones within driving distance for me in the coming year.

Since I am located in Houston, these would include: The Lonestar TOR (Grapevine), The Capitol TOR (Austin), and the world famous Dallas TOR.


Thank You

Patchtrends.com is a labor of love, and I hope that you consider joining if you are not already a member. My focus on customer satisfaction is bar-none in this hobby, and I really want a chance to provide you with an exceptional experience and a great product.  If you are interested in joining, please visit. Once a member, you have all rights and accesses as everyone else. There are no tiers and no classes. All members are equal and all members are a priority.

http://www.patchtrends.com/join


Monday, May 12, 2014

The Newest Patch Guide on the Block - The Guide To Collecting Scouting's Breast Cancer Awareness Patches

I am proud to announce that Justin Carlisle and I have recently released the Guide To Collecting Scouting's Breast Cancer Awareness Patches for sale in electronic format (PDF) for only $10.


For a preview, visit http://cancerguide.patchtrends.com

What's Included?

  • Immediate download
  • 1 FULL year of FREE updates
  • Full color
  • Checklist
  • Over 40 items
  • Satisfaction Guaranteed!

Free Updates for 1 Full Year

For 1 full year after purchase, you will be able to download the latest version of the guide.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

If you are not happy with the guide, we will work with you to resolve your issues. If we can't then we will happy to give you your money back.

Why No Print Version Yet?

We are currently working hard to find the best solution to provide a high quality printed version.  Our plan to provide the guide in electronic format was made based on considerations of time to market , cost of the guide, and make sure we provided the best quality/price.

Guide Authors, Patchtrends.com Wants to Work with You!

This Guide represents the culmination of a lot of hard work by Justin and myself. In addition to the Guide you see before you, Patchtrends.com has worked very hard to position itself as a leader in providing specialized collection topic guides.  While this Guide is the first one created with the help of Patchtrends.com, it is just the beginning.

If you are one of the following, I want to work with you as I worked with Justin to create and publish your very own guide:
  • if you have an existing guide and need price data points to update your
  • if you have accumulated private research and wish to polish it up and sell it as a guide
  • if you're starting from scratch, but have an inkling that you'd like to author your own guide

What can Patchtrends.com offer Guide Authors?

  1. Free and confidential consultation
  2. Free use of Patchtrends.com as a research platform
  3. Permission to publish data researched on Patchtrends.com
  4. Free services to create tools that make your research easier
  5. Access to a graphics designer and book layout help
  6. Marketing and promotion assistance (via the Patchtrends.com network)
  7. Customized e-commerce solution to sell your publication 
  8. Free website creation and hosting promoting your publication
  9. Plus lots of other things that I haven't even though of yet!!
Not guide author has the same vision or needs, so I'll work with you to create the guide that you have envisioned for yourself.  No idea is too big or too small, so please contact me today for a free consultation. PATCHTRENDS@GMAIL.COM.

Sincerely,
Patchtrends.com
http://www.patchtrends.com

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