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,

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.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,

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!