How to buy safely on eBay – read this before buying anything!!

Buying online can be perilous. If you get conned, the seller disappears into oblivion; you can’t send your boys round to beat the crap out if them like the good old days. But here’s what you can do:

This is the definitive guide to buying safely and reliably on eBay. BOOKMARK THIS PAGE!

On the listing, at the top right, there’s the seller name (with a link to their profile), and a feedback number next to it. That is the total feedbacks over the life of the account. Under 100 and they’re almost definitely a private seller; certainly not a proven online seller. Over 2000 and it’s probably a business. In between is the gray area. Buying from a business seller is safer, since you can look in detail at their feedbacks to get a good idea of their quality. And they have a reputation to uphold to keep selling. The percentage next to it should be at least 99%. Any less and you need a good reason to buy from them – eg if you’re buying a very small ticket item. But beware: this percentage is only on transactions (bought and sold) over the last 12 months. Ie no guarantee  they’re a good seller. (Since 100% could be a bad seller). It only tells you if they’re a bad seller. (90% is a lousy seller).

Next, click on that feedback quantity. You need to check that the feedbacks are for items they sold, not bought. Do this by (after clicking on the user’s feedback number), click the tab “feedback as seller”. This lists all feedbacks ever given, for items they’ve sold.

At the top of that list, check the number of feedbacks as seller. If it’s less than 10-20 items, especially. If they’re low value items, it’s not a safe bet.

Now, you want to see what they’ve gotten bad feedback for. Even the best of sellers can have occasional bad feedback. But you must investigate…

Above the tabs, there’s a  3×3 table with rows being positive, neutral and negative feedback, and columns being 1 month, 3 months and 12.

If they’ve had any negative feedback over the last 12 months, that number will be linked; click on it. This will show you:

  • The item that was sold that received negative feedback
  • The amount the item was sold for
  • The comment the buyer left
  • Possibly the seller’s response.

Look for high value items. The comments the buyers leave tell you everything. Watch out particularly for comments like these:

  • Item not received
  • Item not as described
  • Seller not responding to messages
  • Etc

Another point: only buy using PayPal. If the listing does not say it can be purchased with PayPal, forget it. This gives you essential protection.

Last but not least, look at the following THOROUGHLY:

  •  Listing title
  • Listing description
  • Listing pictures
  • Item condition (at the top of the listing, either “new”, “seller refurbished” , “used”, (with description of condition eg “like new”) or “spares or repairs”
  • “Item specifics” – above the description there’s a small boxed section giving bullet points eg screen size for a phone.

MAKE SURE THEY ALL MATCH. The more discrepancies there are, the greater the chance of a dispute going in the seller’s favour. Similarly, watch out for what is NOT said. If you’re buying a stereo, make sure it comes with speakers. If you’re buying a digital thermometer, make sure it comes with the probe.

It sounds like a nightmare,  but consider how things were before the Internet.  Buying used goods was a total bloody gamble. But now, with the above tools, the buyer has all the power!! Remember:

  •  Money buys everything but good sense

Finally, if you have been conned, or let down, contact the seller to arrange a refund. They have to pay the return postage if the listing was inaccurate. If they refuse, open a “dispute”. If an agreement is not reached, “escalate” it, eBay will step in. They might only do so if PayPal was used. But you only have 30 (or is it 90) days to start a dispute, and 7 days to escalate. Opt for returning g the item, rather than getting a replacement, since this can be a delay tactic so your dispute runs out of time and you lose.

Lol @ Dangerous machining

We all know the hazards of DIY. Anyone who’s ever done any sanding knows that a lot of that stuff ends up in your nose. It collects. It really bulks up those bogeys.

But machining metals is another ball game. Metal shards up the nose is one thing for a start.

But in machine shops, you’d be told not to allow the chaff to build up anywhere. You’d be told to keep the floor, work surfaces and machines free of build-ups. This is important when dealing with aluminium and steel. But there’s something they never tell you:

Iron Oxide + Aluminium + Bogeys —–> Thermite bogeys

You have been warned.


Grenfell: Hillsborough v2.0

One thing is worse than tragedy: an avoidable tragedy. Worse still: a cover-up.

What a mess our United Kingdom is in.

Public confidence at an all time low with voters chose their lesser evil. Few believe austerity has been a success. The NHS is at its knees.

And now Grenfell happens. Few believe the death toll being reported. Assumptions rise, remnants of trust crumble.

So many questions. And therein lies the problem. Any catastrophy has more than one cause. How could we let so many accumulate for this to happen? How many more are on the horizon with our infrastructure apparently so critically weak?

Does Grenfell symbolise the UK in its current state? We can’t let it. But that doesn’t warrant a cover-up.


How to understand something backwards: teach!

The process of learning something involves starting with simplest topics and building on them.

When teaching, the process is reversed. You aim to have taught the student up to some advanced topic. But to get to that point, you have to know what the prerequisites are.

But it’s more thoroughly backwards than that implies. In some certificate, such as a mathematics undergraduate degree, each module has prerequisite modules. But so do the smallest of progressions of knowledge. To know how to add three numbers together, you must first know how to add two.

While that seems obvious and insignificant at improving one’s own understanding, consider how many times you have been asked a question about a topic you understand advanced concepts – but have been unable to explain simple questions, like “But why?”

“But why”. You have failed to explain the reasoning – the prerequisites to a conclusion. You have forgotten all about the “why”, because you have for a long time only practiced the “how”, and progressively expanded upon it.

So by teaching,  you are re-learning the “why”. You are literally learning it backwards – for the first time!

So to learn something backwards, teach. Reminding ourselves of the “why” opens doorways to new understandings. It gives us greater confidence, greater certainty, greater agility of mind.

However, we could simply always ask ourselves “why” – and sometimes that’s wise to do – so why teach? Students have the advantage on the mentor. They know when the “why” is an assumption, a prerequisite, unintuitive, or perhaps just wrong.

Trolls are breaking the Stack Exchange system: part 1

If a question is popular and gets a lot of attention, but is on a slightly off-kilter topic, what will happen? Enough users will look at it, misinterpret it and vote to close it. It just takes 5 users over any length of time. But then to get it re-opened, it’s near impossible. It takes 5 users over a short time. Yes, there’s a time limit, but only for reopening. And of course, once a question’s closed, views plummet because the SE system makes it so. So that question is then dead. A valuable question which brings a challenging concept [to some] … is permanently dead.

And what if you delete and start again? You get penalised. You can even get banned. What happens if you ask it a second time? It gets marked as a duplicate.

This is just one way  in which the SE system is broken. And it is trolls that are breaking it.

Rant over. For now.



Rear van accessory sockets: energize when doors open

I often do work in the load bay of my van, so I need a source of electricity there. I use both 12v and mains equipment, so I need to install a 12v socket and also a power inverter to get mains out of it. Then I can use battery chargers, power drills, a glue gun, laptop, maybe even a TV and kettle. Funky!

The solution: Lay a line to the back of the van, and install 12v sockets. I’ll have the sockets mounted in a metal box which I’ll fasten down. I hereby christen that box the “Auxiliary Panel” for reference.

What will it all involve? The core of it will be a 12v line to the back which will power the sockets and the inverter. There were a number of solutions, but only one seemed the right choice. Some ideas were:

  1. Add a single wire; one end to the positive of the cigarette lighter socket, then feed the other end to the load bay. For ground, attach another wire to the chassis in the load bay. Voila, these two wires I attach to a socket that I mount to a box and fasten in the load bay.
  2. As with option 1, but take the positive from the battery (via a suitable fuse located near the battery) rather than the cigarette lighter socket.
  3. The complicated option I chose. See below.

The problem with option 1 was the cigarette lighter circuits cannot handle more than 20A. This is fine for a low power inverter, or battery chargers, but not much more.

The problem with option 2 was that my auxiliary panel would have power 24/7, so if I were  to accidentally leave anything connected, the battery would drain and I’d be stranded, unable to start the van.

So option 3 takes the best of both worlds. It takes a feed from the positive terminal of the battery which gives it ample power. It also takes a feed from the cigarette lighter socket as a signal, which disconnects my box from the battery when the cigarette lighter socket has no power. (The cigarette lighter socket only has power when the key is in the ignition). All this needs is one relay (plus suitable fuses and of course a 12v socket).

And then I took this one step further. I also want my box to have power either when the rear doors are open, or when the key is in the ignition. This complicated things though. Not only does this entail an additional relay, but a number of diodes.

So, to follow up the last diagram I posted of my van’s interior rear lights, here is the modification which uses that signal from the interior lights (and the cigarette lighter socket) to energize the rear accessory sockets when the rear doors are open or when  the key is in the ignition:


RLY1 is the big boy relay. When either the doors are open or the key is in the ignition, this relay will be energised, thereby giving power to the auxiliary panel socket from the battery.

Getting RLY1 energised when the key is in the ignition was the easy part: the positive from the lighter socket could have gone straight to the relay coil. The complication is the doors. I need the relay to be energised when the doors are open – so when the door switches are closed, and therefore when the wire coming from them is held at zero volts. So I need RLY2 to flip this around: when the doors are open, their switches are closed, the wire coming from there is at zero volts – this energises RLY2, which then via D2, energises RLY1 with +12v.

D1 and D2 are needed so the cigarette lighter socket signal and the signal from RLY2 don’t interfere with each other. Without D1 and D2, having doors closed would actually energise the cigarette lighter socket! Plus all sorts of weird things could then happen. In theory only D1 is needed, but D2 makes things symmetrical and gives peace of mind if I expand the circuit at a later time.

D4 is (probably) needed to stop current flowing when it shouldn’t. If the doors are shut, (so their switches are open), no current should be flowing through the ceiling lights. But if RLY2 was closed when the doors shut, the relay could pull current through the lights. Weird things could happen.  So I thought I’d add it just in case.

I used a total of 4 fuses: one near the battery, one for RLY2, and one for the socket at the auxiliary panel. (The fourth is not shown on the circuit diagram: a 0.25A fuse at the cigarette lighter socket)

Voila. I now have convenient power in the back of my van.

For the sake of brevity, in the above diagram I omitted the aftermarket timer that was installed which turns the lights off after 30 minutes (when the doors have been left open). This is shown below. It doesn’t alter how the circuit above is connected.



Lamborghini Gallardo

As you can see, it is one seriously beautiful car.

Just 6 short laps and I was shaking, it was terrifying! That thing stops on a penny. Although I can shift gears quicker and more smoothly in my Transit. Still, the gear paddles were fun! It was a pleasure to drive; it gripped the track like [insert impressive metaphor here], and the stunning dashboard, interior and ride make you feel like you’re in some sort of luxury fighter jet.

There are now just two vehicles I would swap my Ford Transit for: an M3 E46, and a Gallardo. Either would do.