Auction Podcast Episode 6 – Internet bidding primer

In this episode, we’re going to cover the basics of Internet bidding including the different types of Internet bidding, or online bidding, and the different kinds of providers.

There are three main types of Internet bidding. Some Internet bidding providers allow some but not all of the types of auctions. I’ll cover some of the basics here, with future articles and podcasts building on these topics by discussing the combinations of the types of Internet bidding as well as going deeper into the benefits of certain types of auctions and providers.

Let’s begin by discussing the three main types of Internet bidding which are Internet only, pre-auction only Internet bidding, and real-time Internet bidding.

First, let’s address Internet only bidding. When the items sell based solely on the bids from the Internet, it’s an Internet only auction. Internet only auctions may have a bid caller and they may have a crowd, but when software is calculating the time remaining and the current and final bid prices, it’s an Internet only auction. Internet only bidding is sometimes referred to as an eBay-style or static auction, but those are horrific terms for it. Modern Internet only auctions have staggered endings and automatic extensions, more closely simulating a live auction. These modifications move the game so far away from eBay rules that there isn’t a legitimate comparison. The term static implies nothing changes. It’s very definition means fixed or motionless and the auction industry is doing itself an enormous disservice by using the word static to refer to this very active and exciting method of bidding. This method drastically lowers overhead, as well as provides a viable means of selling small groups of assets in multiple locations.

Second in our types of bidding is pre-auction bidding. Pre-auction bidding is the method of accepting Internet bids up to a point slightly before the auction begins to end and representing the Internet bids as absentee bids against the live crowd. This method offers the advantage of increased speed of the event as the auctioneer can see everyone who can possibly bid and doesn’t have to wait for an Internet bidder he can’t see. When the live crowd is done bidding he can sell the item and move on. It offers the convenience for buyers to place bids without having to attend the event or sit in front of a computer.

Finally, real-time bidding is probably the most common type of Internet bidding currently. The process involves an audio or perhaps video stream so that buyers can view the auction as it happens on their computers. They can place bids during the auction based on the audio and the display of the current bid price on their computers. This method has the advantage of allowing bids right up until the second the item closes, but forces users to wait in front of their computers until the items in which they’re interested sell. Many buyers no longer have that time available, or, when first seeing the auction, plan to sit in front of their computers during the event but forget by the time the auction starts to end.

Now let’s move on to the two classes of Internet bidding providers which are portal site solutions and integrated solutions.

When Internet bidding is offered but that bidding occurs on the website of a third party, that third party is a portal. That is, auctions from many auction firms are listed and the bidding is handled all within that site. This method offers the benefit of cross-promotion, where the customers driven to the site by one auctioneer may see the assets listed by another. The downside is that it makes brand-building very difficult and makes buyer retention next to impossible. This kind of solution is good for an auctioneer who needs results quickly. Examples of this kind of provider include Bidspotter, Proxibid, AuctionFLEX and NAA Live.

The concept of an integrated Internet bidding solution is less well-known in the industry. An integrated solution embeds the Internet bidding pages within the website of the auctioneer. The software may not reside physically on the auctioneers’ servers, but the website is built so that the buyer can’t tell the difference and never sees any logo or promotional materials of the provider. This method has the advantage of being excellent for brand building and buyer retention, but has the disadvantage of taking some time to build a buyer base. Examples of this kind of provider include JBS Software’s Maxanet and NextLot.

That’s it for episode six. I’m excited to announce that my friends Robert Mayo of Mayo Auction and Realty and Darron Meares of the Meares Auction Group have agreed to be the first two guests on the show, so look for those two interview episodes over the next two months.

You’ve been listening to the Auction Podcast from AuctioneerTech. If you have suggestions, questions or comments, or are interested in being a guest, please let me know by going to and leaving a message. You can also post public comments about this or any other episode, as well as find show transcripts, on the auction podcast page of

Thank you for listening. Now go sell something.

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Synergy uses one keyboard and mouse for multiple computers, displays

Synergy logoI use several computers simultaneously during day-to-day operation. While it’s easy to connect multiple displays to one computer, the ability to use the best features of Windows XP, Windows Vista and Linux simultaneously is much more valuable than having additional screen area, or real estate, on one operating system.

While it’s possible, and certainly easier, to use a hardware KVM switch, that method defeats the value of having more screen real estate. You’re also relegated to having to hit a button to switch from one computer to another.

I used to have three sets of keyboards and mice, one for each of my three main workstations. Those three sets really consumed too much desktop real estate. It was clunky moving from typing on one keyboard to another, sometimes annoying as I would start typing on one keyboard when I should have been typing on another. Then I found Synergy and it changed everything.

Synergy is an cross-platform, open source utility that allows one computer to share its mouse and keyboard over a network with other computers. It simulates having multiple monitors connected to one machine, so your mouse moves seamlessly from one display on one computer to an adjoining display connected to another computer.

Synergy reduces desktop clutter for multiple computers

Synergy reduces desktop clutter by allowiong one mouse and keyboard to control multiple computers

Synergy comes in versions for Windows, Linux and Mac. My main computer is Linux, but there are still some programs such as Outlook and Zune that simply won’t run – without destructive hacking – on Linux. Synergy lets me simply drag my mouse from Linux to Windows to check my corporate email. I sometimes take my notebook home with me, so I have a fair amount of files on it. When I plug in my external monitor and launch Synergy, my notebook’s Vista OS becomes just another extension of my primary desktop.

Synergy does have some issues. While it’s crazy-easy to configure on Linux using the QuickSynergy configuration utility, the Windows version isn’t quite as intuitive. You have to specify exactly which computer is right and left of each display, but once it’s configured you don’t have to mess with it again.

Synergy can be configured to automatically start, and it’s easy on XP. Vista’s security enhancements pose some additional recommendations when running in that operating system. I start Synergy as administrator, but it still requires that you manually confirm the running of any administrative-level task by using the keyboard or mouse directly connected to the computer, so I simply reach over and hit alt+c or alt+a on my notebook’s keyboard to either confirm or allow the action requested. So long as Synergy is running as an administrator, it will let you use your main mouse and keyboard to proceed using that administrative task once it’s been authorized.

Lastly, I found that Synergy has trouble with Opera on Ubuntu 8.10, Hardy Heron. It may be a problem with Opera on all versions of Linux, but I haven’t found much information about any other versions. I’m looking for a way to synchronize my saved browser favorites among multiple operating systems. Mozilla Weave doesn’t support 64-bit Linux yet, and I really don’t want to mess with Foxmarks because I’d love to get away from Firefox. Last week I tried to switch to Opera, finding that it not only ran on all the operating systems I use but also facilitated browser settings synchronization through My Opera. Everything went well until my Synergy started crashing. It would simply stop working. It’s a very confining feeling when your mouse suddenly is confined to one monitor. I found little information regarding Linux, Opera and Synergy, so I’ve stopped using Opera temporarily until they fix the bug in either Opera or the next version of Ubuntu, Intrepid Ibex, the release schedule for which puts its release at the end this month.

Since I don’t have the ability to test or use Synergy with Mac, I have no experience in that regard. However, since Synergy hasn’t been updated since 2006 I’m going to assume that the stability on Mac is similar to Linux and Windows.

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Vista external monitor flash and flicker problem solved

Auctioneer and item display

auctioneer with display

One of the first pieces of auction technology adopted by an auctioneer augmenting his business processes is a projection system. I was at an auction in Denton, Texas, where there were more than 30 large plasma and LCD TVs – most to be sold that day – showing the same display of the item currently selling. The ability to make the crowd comfortable and more informed by providing chairs and a completely pre-lotted inventory is generating much greater returns for auctioneers who have it.

Whatever the display method, be it projection or TV or monitor, there is a computer driving it, usually with a cable connected from the VGA, or monitor, output to a VGA splitter. That splitter then amplifies the signal and offers two, four or more VGA outputs to run cables to all the display units.

One of the problems we’ve faced is an issue with Vista notebooks. We’ve noticed it with both ATI and NVidia graphics sets, so it doesn’t seem to be manufacturer specific. All of a sudden, seemingly without warning, the display will flicker or flash, almost as if the computer is re-detecting the external display. Most times, the flash is accompanied by the sound that Windows plays when it detects new hardware, confirming that this process is indeed what is occuring. This detection, refresh and re-detection can go on, sometimes in a continuous loop, until you unplug the external display’s cable from your notebook.

We’ve historically simply made sure that the computers we’ve used for digital projection were running Windows XP, but as this practice becomes an increasing security risk and as it becomes harder to find new laptops with XP, it’s simply both unwise and unpractical.

My recent purchase of an ATI-based notebook which exhibited the problem frequently both confirmed that the problem wasn’t specific to NVidia and made me determined to find the solution. I came across this thread in the vistax64 forums and the fix has been working great for me for the last 24 hours.

As it turns out, the problem in notebooks seems to be caused by a process called the Microsoft Transient Multi-Monitor Manager that is supposed to detect when you plug-in or unplug an external display. As it turns out, it is a little too sensitive, causing the system to think you’ve done this action when sometimes you haven’t. This errant re-detection causes the system to refresh its display settings which causes the flicker and flash. Here’s how to shut down the TMM.

  1. Run task scheduler by clicking start button and then typing “task scheduler”
  2. Browse to Task Scheduler Library > Microsoft > Windows > MobilePC
  3. Click TMM in the list at the top-center
  4. On the right pane click disable

After you reboot you should notice no more unexpected flashing. The solution, however, does have the side effect of requiring you to tell windows any time you connect an external monitor, but that’s easy and a small price to pay for the comfort of knowing that your auction display won’t start flickering on and off when you’re in the middle of an auction.

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MozBackup and Belarc Advisor

My HP Pavilion tablet PC is slowly dying. Sent to and returned from the shop twice already since I bought it 14 months ago, both times for a motherboard replacement, its hard drive started flaking on me last month. I was able to repair the hard drive with a disk utility and it’s been working fine since then, but yesterday the USB ports and Bluetooth adapter quit working.

As I spent today moving data to and installing software on a new Toshiba Satellite, I was faced with a couple of challenges. First, how could I easily transfer my seven Mozilla Thunderbird email accounts from my old notebook to my new. Second, how could I easily and quickly get a printout of all the software I had installed on my old machine so I could be sure I installed all of my programs on my new one so as to not be left without needed, though infrequently used, software when I needed it. I found two free and painless utilities that met my needs perfectly.

MozBackup logo by Miro PavelkaMozBackup
The first problem was solved quickly and easily with MozBackup. Here’s the description from the MozBackup website.

MozBackup is a simple utility for creating backups of Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, Mozilla Sunbird, Flock, SeaMonkey, Mozilla Suite, Spicebird and Netscape profiles.

It allows you to backup and restore bookmarks, mail, contacts, history, extensions, cache etc.

Its use couldn’t have been simpler. After a quick download and install on my HP, I selected the product and profile I wanted to backup, in this case Thunderbird and default, select a backup destination, and 20 seconds later, I had a single file in my temp directory with all of the IMAP email settings from Thunderbird. I copied the file, which was about 600k, to my Satellite, installed the program on it, and reversed the process. I opened Thunderbird and found all my email accounts looking back at me. It took me probably 3 minutes all told and saved me 20 minutes of adding all the accounts and remembering all the server and port settings for my Lunarpages, AppRiver and Gmail accounts.

It’s important to note a couple of points. First, all my accounts were IMAP accounts, which means that the mail is stored on the server and not on my computer. That’s the reason why the backup file was under 1 MB. Had I used POP accounts, where the mail is downloaded to my computer and removed from the server, the size of the backup would have been much, much bigger. Second, the program claims to perform the same kind of backup and restore for Firefox and many other Mozilla products, but I only tried it with Thunderbird. For Firefox, I would use Mozilla Weave or Foxmarks.

Belarc Advisor
If the act of re-entering all the information for six or seven email accounts is annoying, the act of reinstalling 20 or 30 software applications and utilities is a royal pain in the ass. It’s pretty simple, though, as I have all my open source applications saved on the 2GB SD card I carry around in my Treo, but I wanted to make it easier. I wanted a simple list of all the programs I had installed on my HP so I could check off the programs as I installed them on my Satellite. A quick Google yielded Belarc Advisor. Here’s the description from their website.

The Belarc Advisor builds a detailed profile of your installed software and hardware, missing Microsoft hotfixes, anti-virus status, CIS (Center for Internet Security) benchmarks, and displays the results in your Web browser. All of your PC profile information is kept private on your PC and is not sent to any web server.

While there is a small software installation involved, it not only listed the programs I had installed, it listed many other valuable pieces of information such as IP address and network configuration, domain information and the service packs I had installed. All these results were returned in a fairly well-organized page within my browser so it was easy to print. It makes a great way to take a snapshot of the condition of a computer, and I see great value in printing the report to PDF using the previously-mentioned PDFCreator and saving it for reference.

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Auction Podcast Episode 5 – PDF

You’re listening to the AuctioneerTech Auction Podcast for the week of 29 September 2008.
AuctioneerTech – Technology, auctions and auctioneers – auction tech for the auction industry

Hello and welcome to the fifth episode of the AuctioneerTech Auction Podcast, my name is Aaron Traffas. In this episode, we’re going to cover the PDF. I’m going to try to explain how to properly use PDFs on the Internet as well as give a couple of faster, easier alternatives to Adobe’s bloated Reader product and discuss some tools to create PDFs without having to use Adobe’s obscenely expensive Acrobat product.

The Portable Document Format or PDF is a file format created by Adobe in 1993. As of July 1, 2008, it’s a certified standard by the International Standards Organization, or ISO, which means that the format is open and published so that anyone can create it or use it.

The advantage that PDF has over other file formats is that it’s a good way to represent printed material exactly as the designer intended it. This advantage makes it good to use for contracts and brochures where the user doesn’t need to change the content and is willing to jump through some extra hoops to view the content in a layout that approximates the printed page. It’s a great format for designers to send to printers because it ensures that the content is displayed exactly as the designer intended.

The disadvantage that PDF has is on the Internet. The Internet isn’t a format that is supposed to resemble the printed page. Because the PDF format – for good reason – isn’t supported directly by any browser, the user must use a browser plug-in to view the content, souring the browsing experience. For this reason, the use of PDFs on websites should be limited to an optional content delivery mechanism.

An example of a very bad use of PDF is for a website selling real estate. The designer used PDF to send the property information document to the printer. The PDF is uploaded to the website and a link is placed on a sparse page that says “download property information document” for information about this property. This practice breaks the first rule of accessible website design, which is don’t force the user to use a plug-in or add-on to view content. Most browsers with the plug-in installed open the page in a new tab, breaking another first rule of web design which is don’t open new tabs or windows. Search engines index PDFs, but if you click on a search result that is a PDF you’ll be taken straight to the PDF which lacks a navigational system for the user to get to your main website.

An example of a proper use of PDF is for the same website to have every piece of information within the property document delivered as valid XHTML and CSS, which is the current best practice for building web pages. That site would then have an optional download for users who want to physically print the information about the property. In this case, the user can browse the property information at browser speeds rather than having to wait for and be confused by the loading of a plug-in. Even the example property contracts should be first delivered as a web page and then made available as PDF for users who want that method as an option.

The very best use of PDF is to not use it at all, instead delivering the content by XHTML and the layout by two different style sheets, one CSS for the screen and one for print, so that the website looks one way on the screen but when the website is printed it looks like the property information document. This is a more advanced website design technique that I’ll try to cover later.

To summarize, PDF has its uses. Just remember that as a content delivery system on the Internet it does fall.

Now that we’ve admitted that there are legitimate uses for PDF on the web, if, after analyzing the situation, PDF seems like the right tool for the job, here are some ways to make its use more painless and less expensive.

Adobe has two products related to PDF use and creation. Adobe Acrobat Reader is the free product that it makes available to everyone on all platforms to view PDF documents. Adobe Acrobat is the program that creates PDF files. As of the time of this recording, Adobe Acrobat Professional 9 for Windows is $419.99 on

Now, why would I advocate the use of one free program over another? The answer is bloat. Adobe’s Acrobat Reader takes eons to load, making you wait to view the content that you realized wasn’t available any other way causing you to begrudgingly click the PDF link, or, worse, making you cuss the designer who surprised you by not telling you that the link on which you just clicked wasn’t to a web page but was actually to a PDF file. Adobe Reader’s install size is also nearly 20 MB. There are two free programs that are much smaller and much faster.

Foxit Reader is the best Acrobat Reader alternative I’ve seen. I’ve been using it for a couple of years and haven’t found an issues with it. It’s only 2.55 MB to download, which makes you wonder what Adobe is doing with their 20 MB. Occasionally, I’ve found that there are some PDFs that require an add-on to Foxit in order to view them properly, so each time I install it I take care to install the extra image decoders from the built-in update system. Here’s how to do it.

From within Foxit Reader, click Help then click Check for updates now. Select the “JPEG2000 and JBIG2 Image Decoders” option, then click add, then click install. The update checker will also allow you to install newer versions of the software when they are released.

For enthusiasts who are willing to sacrifice a few features for blazing fast speed of launch and viewing, Sumatra PDF is the answer. The installation file is just under 1 MB and the program itself has only a single executable file with no dependencies, so you can run it from a USB key if you’re traveling. If all you’re doing is viewing PDFs, you can save a few seconds by using Sumatra for normal viewing and falling back to Foxit if you come a cross a file that Sumatra can’t render or you need to complete the evil PDF forms.

Now let’s turn to alternatives to Adobe Acrobat. $419 is a lot of money. It’s really a lot for software, and when it’s for software that simply creates a document based on an open specification and there are free alternatives that do the same thing, it begs the question why anyone would actually purchase that software.

I started using PDFCreator back in the days of Windows XP. It served me well. It installs as a printer and whenever you want to create a PDF from any application, simply tell that application to print and select PDFCreator as your printer. A dialog box will then open, asking you where you want the file to be saved. It’s as simple as that. The latest version was just released last Friday, and boasts full Vista support.

When Windows Vista was first released, PDFCreator didn’t support it. I needed a free, Vista-capable PDF creation program and found it in CutePDF. I’ve been using CutePDF for Vista since Vista came out and have been quite satisfied with it. It functions nearly identically to PDFCreator. While I haven’t had any problems with it, it’s free but not open source like PDFCreator, so I’m probably going to migrate back to PDFCreator now that it fully supports Vista.

There are other PDF tools that fall outside the functionality of simple creation or viewing. Sometimes it’s necessary to make changes to a PDF when the source files aren’t available. Some people believe that PDF is a good choice when you don’t want the user to be able to edit the file. The truth is that because it’s an open standard, there really isn’t a way to effectively lock it down to prevent users from editing PDFs.

PDF Split and Merge, or pdfsam, is a program that will allow you to work with PDFs on the page level, allowing you to insert a page from one PDF between two pages on another, or join two smaller PDFs into one large PDF.

Lifehacker has a recent article about various PDF programs, and while their attitude towards PDFs is a little more positive than mine, the article does a good job listing programs and services that let you do neat things to PDF files.

I’ve covered some of the free and open source PDF tools here, and while there are several others I’ve probably missed, there are many, many commercial tools that are quite inexpensive compared to Acrobat. There are also web-based services that can do the same.

Many of these podcasts are based on similar articles I’ve posted to Since I posted the similar articles on PDFs last week, my friend Stuart posted a comment both seconding my recommendation of PDFCreator, as well as reminding us that OpenOffice has a feature built-in to it that allows native saving of documents as PDF. That means that if you take the advice from a previous episode and use OpenOffice, you can simply save as a PDF without having to use a separate program to create one. Thanks, Stuart, for the comment.

That’s it for episode four. With each new podcast I record I find I’m having more topics from which to choose. Also, I’m hoping October will bring the first live auctioneer interview, so I’m looking forward to what next month will bring.

You’ve been listening to the Auction Podcast from AuctioneerTech. If you have suggestions, questions or comments, or are interested in being a guest, please let me know by going to and leaving a message. You can also post public comments about this or any other episode, as well as find show transcripts, on the auction podcast page of

Thank you for listening. Now go sell something.

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