eBid and The Great Online Selling… Thing

Recently I’ve been trying to sell off a few hobby items on eBay, with limited success I might add, but just when I was getting into the swing of things eBay slapped me in the face with their latest big change for sellers – they have basically banished PayPal and all other direct methods of receiving money from buyers, instead eBay will accept the payments (which can still be made via PayPal and other methods) on behalf of the sellers and then (apparently at their leisure, within 2-4 days they claim) push the funds out directly to the seller’s bank account.

I have a bit of a beef with this, not just because of the inevitable delay in getting paid (and eBay will make a fortune just holding the money for a couple of days for no reason), but the way they word it leads me to firmly believe that they will be increasing seller’s fees making it even less attractive for small-time sellers like me to bother with for low value one-off items, and there is also the matter of faud and awkward customers, if I link this eBay account to a separate bank account (i.e. not my main bank account) which doesn’t contain much in the way of funds, someone does a chargeback or otherwise demands a refund, where is that going to come from?  Will this new system be open to fraud and exploits?  I think the answer is definitely yes, because they’ll always find a way.  There’s also the removal of that layer that PayPal provided, the buffer between eBay and my bank account; I already have a PayPal account, they know my bank account details (they have to in order for me to make payments when my PayPal balance is zero, I never withdraw funds from PayPal, I just spend them), eBay are not providing that easy facility so it’s just not something I’m interested in using.  Given no alternative, I have to stop selling on eBay (and thus their plan to get shot of small-time sellers works).

So what does this have to do with eBid?  Well it means that I’ll be returning to the eBid platform after some time away.  I have a Lifetime Seller+ account there (which I bought several years ago) so in theory I’m all set to pick that back up and get selling, although the traffic to eBid is very light compared to eBay there is still a good community of buyers (but admittedly mostly sellers), the listings appear on Google Shopping and Bing, possibly others via organic searches.

One of the things about eBid is that there’s a definite emphasis on self-promotion, getting the message out there that I have stuff for sale.  I have revamped my eBid presence with a fresh new style and three new stores, I’ve been busy over the past week and have quite a few items listed now so here they are:

https://www.ebid.net/uk/stores/Miniature-Hobby-Store

https://www.ebid.net/uk/stores/Old-Games

https://www.ebid.net/uk/stores/Car-Boot

Sign-up is free of course, here’s my eBid affiliate link – if anyone uses this to sign up I get a tiny bonus in the form of eBid club card points: https://www.ebid.net/uk/buddy/420706

See you there!

Posted in News, Wellbeing | Leave a comment

Fake USB Flash Drives and How To Find Them

Recently I had need of some easy, fast and silent storage (to plug into my smart TV for video file playback) so I went for a couple of 128GB Kingston DataTraveler G4 USB Flash drives, I’ve used Kingston before and always found them to be solid and reliable (they may not be the fastest or the best, but one usually pays more for those kind of things).  I shopped around and bought a couple that seemed reasonably priced from a seller on eBay.  When they arrived I was a little disappointed to see they had been sent in a flimsy DL letter envelope (not padded at all), but thought little of it as these things weren’t likely to take any harm in the post anyway.  I opened the packages and looked at the USB sticks…  as I handled them I started noticing little things, such as a faint print of the text on the wrong side, like one gets from using a stamp a second time without refreshing the ink, then there was the slightly bent angle at which the plug protruded from the plastic body, and the lack of any details stamped on the plug metal itself (which is always present on Kingston USB sticks).  The lids were difficult to remove too, when I compared them to my 16GB Kingston USB stick I noticed that the small retaining tabs were a different size.

I plugged one in, it immediately glowed with a red flashing LED inside, this is definitely something I had not seen from a Kingston G4 USB stick, my yellow Kingston G2 does have this but that is a much older design, and it’s a matching yellow LED; the Kingston 128GB G4 has a white body and a green end piece, and there is no LED inside my 16GB anyway so I would not have expected there to be one inside any of the G4 USB sticks.

I considered these strange flaws, said to myself ‘if it works then they don’t really matter’.  The sticks didn’t work.  I tried to write data to them, it would write at around 20MB/s for about 10 seconds and then stop, the USB stick would continue to flash away for a few minutes before the copy operation would continue (as reported by Windows), this to me looks like either a faulty / seconds (i.e. rejected during QA by Kingston) memory chip or just plain fakety fake memory chip, coupled with additional circuitry that simply couldn’t cope with the speed, it probably had a small fast cache that quickly filled up, then it took a long time to place that into the actual main flash memory store.  Another thing to note about these USB sticks was that the plastic in the plug was black instead of blue, which would indicate that they were probably USB 2 or even USB 1, definitely not USB3 (which always has blue plastic in the USB plug / socket).

I tried reading back the data that had (eventually) been written, some video files… to my surprise they did actually appear to read OK, and there was more than 20GB by the time I decided to stop the copy operation.  The data may well have been intact, though I doubt there would have been the full 128GB available (in actuality, only about 115GB was showing as available, but this would be expected due to overheads etc).  I decided that this warranted further investigation, a bit of digging on the internet uncovered a useful method of testing for fakes, there are numerous videos on YouTube that make use of a program called RMPrepUSB, download here: https://www.rmprepusb.com/tutorials/-fake-usb-flash-memory-drives#TOC-Downloads

It uses destructive write tests to test the size and speed, the website explains the process and how fake devices are made very well.  I tested both of my fake USB sticks using the software and both failed miserably, I also tested my 16GB ‘genuine’ USB stick and it passed all of the tests with flying colours, thus proving what I suspected, and that the software worked.

After proving beyond any reasonable doubt that these were indeed fake 128GB USB sticks I started the returns procedure with the eBay seller, at time of writing this is in progress and I have no doubt that with eBay behind me I’ll get my full refund (if eBay get one thing right, it’s standing behind their buyers).  I also decided to completely wipe the USB sticks, writing all zeroes to them to remove any of the video data I had copied during testing, don’t want to give the seller or anyone else anything like that (this took several hours at the crippled write speed, but did eventually complete).

Moral of the story – buy from a reputable source, and test any suspect flash memory (or indeed any memory that you buy) using a proper tool such as RMPrepUSB.

Posted in Computing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Stick this up yer Pi-Hole

For quite a while I’ve been intending to acquire a Raspberry Pi and try out the Pi-Hole home DNS project, which is intended to block requests that websites make to undesirable domains such as advertising, tracking, and malicious content or code, for this purpose it seems to do a good job but is not 100% effective (and from what I’ve heard, could become less effective as especially advertisers cotton on to this and change the way they present online adverts to web browsers).

I eventually won a Raspberry Pi 3 at a reasonable price on eBay, I had read that this was the optimum model to go for on account of it having a decent processor and 1GB of RAM, which helps to make the web interface and visual reports and charts fly, and that much is certainly true – the web interface is very fast, the charts display instantly, which has left me wondering if a smaller Pi would do just as well (will probably find out with a future Pi purchase!)  It looks like the main essential piece of hardware is a physical RJ45 socket, wifi is not as reliable and subject to interference (not to mention potential hacking from the street or neighbours).  The auction included an official Pi power supply (UK plug type) and an official Pi case which looks quite smart, everything required to get going apart from a MicroSD card, which I would buy separately.

I went for the suggested SanDisk 32GB MicroSD card, specifically SanDisk Ultra 32GB Class 10: https://shop.westerndigital.com/en-gb/products/memory-cards/sandisk-ultra-uhs-i-microsd#SDSQUA4-032G-GN6MA
Of course, these can be purchased almost anywhere that sells electronic accessories these days but it’s worth trying to find a reputable vendor as I recently had a bad experience with a couple of fake Kingston USB sticks, more on that in a separate post.  I also suspect that 16GB would no doubt suffice, unless you intend to keep years worth of log files on a busy network.  I paid £5 for my 32GB card.

I found a very good guide online which I followed to get my Pi-Hole up and running, here it is: https://www.smarthomebeginner.com/pi-hole-setup-guide/

This guide goes through the complete basic setup to get Pi-Hole installed and running on a Raspberry Pi (not in a virtual machine or server, but using an actual Raspberry Pi running the Raspian OS, Lite version).

A few things I learned and had to adapt to along the way included a slight change of wording / naming of the Raspian OS on the Rasberry Pi main website, changes to web addresses, and how to install Log2RAM (more on that later).

For the main Raspberry Pi OS, it’s currently named Raspberry Pi OS Lite and can be downloaded here: https://www.raspberrypi.org/software/operating-systems/

I used the excellent balenaEtcher (which I have used before on other projects) to ‘burn’ the Pi OS disk image to the MicroSD card: https://www.balena.io/etcher/

Adding the empty text file named just ‘ssh’ (no extension) to enable SSH is easy, it’s best to use a plain text editor such as those designed for coding, e.g. Visual Studio Code or Brackets.  After this I used Terminal on the Mac (one could use any command prompt shell) to login to the Pi: pi@<ip-address> and the default Pi password which is raspberry.

The IP address of the Pi has to be acquired from the local DHCP server, or home router in my case.  I would later choose to use a fixed IP address for the Pi (my router doesn’t allow reserved IP addresses, but will hopefully respect fixed IP addresses on devices and not give them out to others).  While I was in my router I also took note of the two DNS entries as provided by my ISP, typically they will be just one digit out from one another.

First thing to do is to change the default password using the command passwd, I noted down my new password (very important to keep it somewhere safe for future reference).

Next I grabbed and installed Pi-Hole itself using the command:

wget -O basic-install.sh https://install.pi-hole.net

and then

sudo bash basic-install.sh

I ran through the installer options, making sure to choose ‘Custom‘ from the DNS list and entering the two DNS entries I gleaned from my router earlier.  This is where all of the allowed requests will be forwarded to.  I just went for the single main block list offered (by StevenBlack).

Once the installation was finally complete I took note of the dynamically generated web admin password and kept that in the safe place next to the SSH password.  As I’d chosen to include IPv6 I also took note of the IPv6 address shown here.

I decided to go with individual device configuration, we don’t have many devices in the home so it made more sense, it would also provide an opportunity to see what difference the Pi-Hole made between similar devices.  It’s pretty straight forward to change the DNS settings per device, typically it will be in the network settings under the title ‘DNS’, be sure to remove the old DNS entries and only add the single IP address of the Pi, I also entered the IPv6 address which would be used for IPv6 DNS requests, more mobile devices seem to be using this as well as IPv4 nowadays, it may be required for the faster wifi speeds (not really sure myself).

There are SSH commands for controlling, configuring, and getting status reports but from what I could see nearly if not all of these commands are available from the web admin gui.

Important note:

One configuration option I tried was Update, however I think this broke something as after doing this the Pi-Hole seemed to stop blocking anything, I tested it extensively and all advertising domains were allowed through (‘OK’ in the query log).  After looking up this problem and finding that several others had encountered it, trying the suggested remedies and getting thoroughly lost and over my head in linux commands and Pi details that I didn’t understand, I came to the conclusion that it’s probably best to just leave it alone, if a major update comes along then start a fresh (I have a second 32GB card for this reason, I can clone my working installation to it as a backup) and acquire the update that way.

The one tweak that I did was to install Log2ram, although the first guide and the Log2ram depository don’t give much away as to how to install it, luckily I found another short guide on this: https://mcuoneclipse.com/2019/04/01/log2ram-extending-sd-card-lifetime-for-raspberry-pi-lorawan-gateway/

In a nutshell, SSH into the Pi and perform the following commands:

cd /home/pi

git clone https://github.com/azlux/log2ram.git

cd log2ram

chmod +x install.sh

sudo ./install.sh

sudo nano /etc/log2ram.conf
(this opens the nano text editor, use the cursor keys to edit the SIZE value from 40MB to 128MB, then save the file with CTRL-X, yes, ENTER)

sudo reboot

There won’t be any visible difference in the Pi-Hole web admin, this just changes the way the logs are written to the MicroSD card in the background (once daily instead of constantly), the 1GB of RAM will be more than sufficient to hold the 128MB RAM disk as well as run the Pi.

So there we have it, my experience of the Raspberry Pi-Hole.  It doesn’t block 100% of adverts out of the box, there are people out there trying very hard to achieve this but there are also others trying equally hard to circumvent such efforts (the advertisers and others), I might have a look into using the REGX (regular expression) facility to see if it’s possible to block specific items that get past Pi-Hole’s normal domain block list.

A very worth-while project to do, and once the installation process is pared down to the essentials it doesn’t take long to do at all.

Posted in Computing | Leave a comment

Frosty RC and new headlights

In recent weeks we’ve had a lot of rain, then some sleet, and now it’s all frozen.  The slush that fell yesterday has formed an inch-thick layer over the ground, the grass in the garden is frozen solid..  So what better time to get out with an RC truck!

Axial SCX Honcho

Although the sun was shining it wasn’t managing to melt away the frost and ice much at all, walking around quiet roads might as well be like walking on an ice rink so I’d rather keep my bones in one piece, forget cycling until it’s at least above freezing.  I considered driving on the frozen pond but a quick tap with the foot showed that the ice was easily broken, last thing I want is for my lovely RC to sink into the mire and probably explode in a shower of burning LiPo battery chemicals.

On my SCX Honcho I’ve replaced the front white LEDs with warm-white ones, I think it makes the headlights look a lot more realistic; I have further plans to boost the spotlights and (if I can be bothered to order the parts) try to set up some sort of nano Raspberry Pi to control them using one of the auxilliary switches on my transmitter, it involves some programming and a bit of electronics / wiring, shouldn’t be too hard but just takes a bit of effort.

I’ll also insert a resistor to the rear LEDs as they look too bright to me, as if the brake lights are permanently on.

I’m adding this post to the Wellbeing category as it represents me _not_ doomscrolling (or in my case, watching topical videos on YouTube) or otherwise fretting about world events over which I have no influence or control, which causes anxiety and stress and all the bad side effects that come from them.  Keeping the mind active is of paramount importance during difficult times.

Posted in Radio Controlled Vehicles, Wellbeing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Year, New Image Host

I’ve decided to switch to using postimage instead of Google Photos (formerly Picasa) for my image hosting needs.  I’ve noticed that some of my linked photos are showing as unavailable, it’s not because the original images are no longer there, it’s because Google have changed something so the link no longer works, and that’s not much use.  Admittedly Google didn’t provide image hosting officially for blogs and such, I just used a direct link to the photos but that’s obviously unreliable due to the way Google organises things.

I’ll be going through my old posts and switching over the images, it may take me some time and I might get bored and do something else for a while half way through, but I hope to complete the job eventually.  I also hope that postimage don’t let me down.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

WTB Ranger Tyres Ride Well!

After a few rides on these 2.8 plus tyres I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the rolling speed and grip that they give both over tarmac and over hardpack.  There isn’t that much by way of thick or sloppy mud around here (that I care to ride through), certainly the official forest trails are almost entirely hard when it comes to the surface (most of it is hard pack) and these tyres run superbly on it.  I think the only way these could be better would be if they were the softer, tackier compound but that would wear down probably a lot quicker, and generally only be an advantage over wet rocks… I’ll take the occasional sideways slip for that trade-off of longevity.

I haven’t ridden them in deepest darkest winter conditions yet, though being January now there’s bound to be plenty of opportunities, once the black ice clears.  I haven’t been out for the past couple of weeks due to the frozen conditions outside, an arctic blast currently keeping the temperatures at freezing or below (but no snow for Christmas).

I might just leave tubeless riding until the spring, it’s a lot easier to work with going tubeless when the weather is a bit warmer.

Posted in Cycling | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

WTB Ranger Fast Rolling Plus Tyres

I’d had my eye on these tyres for some time after searching around online extensively for something other than the massive chunky affairs that seem to be popular on e-bikes (which typically use 2.8 tyres), the reason being that they have a relatively tightly-spaced tread pattern which should provide a faster rolling experience more suited to the typical hard-packed trail surfaces I usually ride, compared to the more open tread patterns of the OEM tyres Purgatory and Ground Control that came with the bike.  These two OEM tyres are fine, and visually they certainly look like a higher quality tyre than the WTBs, however the OEM tyres didn’t seal when I tried to go tubeless with them and they’re perhaps more useful for muddy / wet conditions (i.e. winter riding) than hard-pack / dry summer riding.

WTB Ranger Tyres

These tyres were a bit of a chore to get on my rims, the rubber certainly wasn’t slippery so perhaps that bodes well for mechanical grip, especially over wet stones and rocks.  I had to use the technique of starting at the valve (I am running them with innertubes to start with) and then pushing the tyre down towards the other side, this helps quite a bit when trying to get that last part of the bead to push over the rim.

Once on and pumped up to about 35psi they look good, the treads are not as sharp as the Purgatory or Ground Control, they do look a little cheaper to be honest (although they were not cheap!), but perhaps this sloped / slightly rounded knob shape will help them roll a bit easier.  I will run them at around 20psi to start with, see how it goes.  I’ll lower the pressure to around 12 or 15psi once I’m confident enough with them tubeless.

 

WTB Ranger Tyres Fitted

It took a few seconds for the bead to settle on the rims fully, observable by looking around the rim and checking that the bead pattern is uniform around the entire tyre.

WTB Ranger Tyres bead seating

Bead still in the process of seating

WTB Ranger Tyres bead seated

Bead fully seated

The tyres are noticeably narrower than the 3.0 OEM set from Specialized, being 2.8 this should be no surprise but just confirms that the OEM set were genuine 3.0 tyres and not less as some 3.0 tyres turn out to be in practicality.  I have read in some reviews that these WTB Ranger 2.8 tyres can be closer to 2.66, however I think this may depend on the width of the wheel rim.  I have not measured the width as fitted to my rims, it’s not that important to me, they are what they are.

I’ll be riding them very soon, most likely tomorrow, so we will see how they compare to the OEM set and how they ride my local roads and trails.

 

WTB Ranger Tyre Front

WTB Ranger Tyre Rear

Posted in Cycling | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Big Let-down

A couple of weeks ago when I rode my Plus mountain bike I noticed half way through my ride that the rear wheel rim seemed to be bouncing off bumps on the trail, I stopped and put some more air in and set off again on my merry way, not thinking any more of it.  A week later I came to ride the bike again and discovered that the rear tyre had gone completely flat.

I had converted these wheels to run tubeless last summer so I knew it wasn’t going to be due to a traditional puncture, it would require some time to investigate the air leak, it would most likely be one of three things – air escaping through the tyre sidewall, a tiny gap at the rim (possibly caused by the tyre burping at low pressure, something which I don’t think was the case now), or a faulty valve; I pumped up the tyre to 20 PSI (max riding pressure) to see how long it would take for the tyre to go flat, it took about a day or so, so I knew it had to be quite a slow air escape.

Today, being several days later, is the first chance I’ve had to spend some time looking at the problem so I set to with pump, tyre levers, and spare sealant at the ready.

First thing I did was remove the wheel from the bike and pump it up to 20 PSI, then listen and look closely at the tyre, paying particular attention to the sidewall.  After some time I narrowed down a slight hiss to an area of the tyre near the valve, though it was not coming from the valve but through the sidewall, I could see some tiny bubbles of sealant leaking out where the canvas pattern was in the sidewall.

After confirming where the air was escaping I popped the tyre off to check the sealant level, and I was astonished to find that the inside of the tyre was bone dry!  The sealant had adhered to the inside of the tyre and probably just run out, leaving one area without enough sealant to properly seal the tiny holes in the sidewall.  There was only one thing for it – add a load more sealant and hope for the best, so that’s exactly what I did.  After refitting the tyre and pumping up to 30 PSI (installation pressure), then tilting and swirling the tyre around to ensure the sealant moved over the entire inside surface I listened again – no air escaping sound could be found.

I checked the front tyre and found almost the same situation, although this time there was a tiny trickle of sealant and the inside of the tyre looked wet at least; I added another dose of fresh sealant and put the tyre back on the bike.  Time will tell if this has cured the problem, fingers crossed!

In conclusion, if there’s a ‘slow puncture’ on tubeless tyres then first thing to check should be the tyre sidewalls, look for a tell-tale diagonal stripe pattern and sealant escaping along lines following the pattern of the canvas that makes up the tyre carcass.  Check that there is enough sealant sloshing around inside the tyre (at least one inch depth), add more if it’s running low or dry.

It’s interesting to note that I haven’t had this problem with my Vittoria Barzo 2.2 tyres, only the Specialized Ground Control / Purgatory 3.0 tyres; no doubt their construction differs, if I had the luxury of being able to try a different 3.0 tyre pair on the Plus bike I would, however after plenty of internet research the consensus from users is that this Specialized tyre combo is perhaps one of the best so it’s worth persevering with for now.  Hopefully with more e-bikes using 3.0 size Plus tyres the available selection will improve in time.

Posted in Cycling | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Autumn Road Riding – Damp / Changeable Conditions

Today is one of those uncertain days where the forecast (mainly the cloud / rain radar) shows a few definite blobs moving across, chances of getting caught in a shower are high but temperatures are supposed to stay above 6 degrees Celsius.  I gambled on the following:

  • Windproof outer (also light shower proof)
  • Merino wool thermal base layer (long sleeves)
  • Regular tights
  • Thin wool socks
  • Overshoes (waterproof)
  • Thick winter gloves
  • Merino wool skull cap (also covers ears)

This turned out to be the best choice, as although I did get caught in a shower which lasted about 15 minutes it was only light so didn’t penetrate the windproof top and quickly dried off while I was moving, my body and limbs remained warm and I didn’t end up damp with sweat.  The temperature actually dropped to about 4 degrees when I was higher up in the forest and the sun was in, so despite my thick gloves and overshoes my hands and feet still got rather cold.

Moral of the story is to keep moving and try not to spend too long free-wheeling when the temperature dips below 6-8 degrees Celsius.

Posted in Cycling | Leave a comment

Autumn Cycling Attire

I’m quite enjoying autumn so far this year, temperatures have been nice and mild, the sun is still shining and the beautiful colours of autumn are in full swing.  Despite the sunshine I have had to adjust my cycling wardrobe to suit the lower temperatures, so what have I been wearing so far this season?

With the temperatures dropping to around 16 degrees Celsius I didn’t really need to change much – maybe if there was a cool wind then wear full finger gloves and for road riding a long sleeve jersey, but that’s about it.  Below that magic 15-16 degrees marker though I added a Merino wool base layer (Endura BaaBaa, works a treat for me).

The temperature did drop to around 5-7 degrees for a week or so, a cold snap during which I went full winter gear – neck buff, thick winter gloves, Merino wool base layer, middle layer, windproof top layer, Merino wool skull cap, and for road my waterproof overshoes for added dryness and wind protection.  All worked a treat, even if I did sweat a little.

So that pretty much brings us up to this weekend, we’ve had a bit of a reprieve in the temperatures as they’ve been up as high as 16 degrees in some places during the week, today as the Easterlies are bringing colder air from Scandinavia and Russia it’s back down to around 9 – 10 degrees, so what to wear for my mountain bike ride today?  I decided to go half-way on my winter gear, here’s my choice which seemed to work well for today’s sunny but cool conditions:

  • Ear protection wind proof head band
  • Long finger gloves
  • Thermal base layer
  • Short sleeve jersey middle layer
  • Long sleeve jersey outer layer (same one as for summer riding)
  • Long wool socks
  • Regular canvas top flat pedal Five Ten shoes
  • 3/4 Waterproof baggy shorts, leg vents zipped up
  • Neck buff carried in jersey pocket in case needed
  • Transitional cycling glasses (in and out of forested areas which can be quite dark during the winter even when the sun is shining)

There was a little bit of sweat going on but mainly where I had things in my middle jersey pockets, generally I keep moving so if I do sweat it doesn’t get a chance to cool down much, that’s when the cold can really start to grab you.

I could have worn thick winter gloves but for sure my hands would have sweated, but they would also have been warmer.  If I had worn a windproof top layer then I would have sweated more, even without the middle jersey; in my experience a windproof is never as good as a regular top for allowing sweat to escape despite any claims by the manufacturer, I generally only wear a windproof or waterproof if there is a cold biting wind that I need to keep out.

The forecast is for much lower temperatures in the week to come, we shall see what the next ride entails!

Posted in Cycling | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment