My experience selling used items with Amazon’s “FBA”

I’ve got a lot of stuff lying around that I no longer use that I really need to get rid of.  Instead of using eBay or Craiglist, I decided to experiment with selling 3 items on Amazon using their “Fullfilled by Amazon” program.  One reason it really appealed to me in my zeal to declutter is that Amazon actually handles all the fulfillment, so you ship the items to them immediately, and the clutter is gone.  Once they make their way to the warehouse, Amazon can fulfill them with Amazon Prime, which you figure a buyer has got to love.  Finally, it seems like most of the sellers price their used items so high that it should be easy to undercut with the lowest price and still really feel good about the amount of money you’re getting, even after Amazon takes their cut.

First, let me say, it’s obvious that this program is really geared for people who are running a business with regular inventory.  As easy to use as the consumer facing Amazon web interface is, it is amazing just how clunky and baffling the workflow through the FBA interface is for a simple guy like me just trying to sell his stuff.  It’s truly awful.

I decided to start with three items.  Here’s what happened

  1. One item listed for $70, Amazon has designated as damaged by the carrier. Supposedly I’m going to get reimbursed for that at some point, but it’s not clear how much or when.
  2. Second item listed for $160 and sold relatively quickly, shipped to buyer Amazon Prime. This item was like new and in the original box. Two weeks later the buyer returned it to Amazon. Amazon has now designated it unsellable because it is defective. WTF? So now my only option is to have them send it back to me, and see if they guy really broke it, or what the deal is. Which of course I have to pay for.
  3. Third item listed for $30 sold after a few days, without incident (so far).

Amazon rocks for buying things and they get a much larger portion of each of my paychecks than they probably should, but as far as selling my used stuff, I’m thinking I need to stick with either eBay or Craigslist …

Surly LHT and Kona Dew Deluxe stolen [Brandon, FL]

Pisser of a day.  Discovered around lunch time two of my bikes were stolen out of my garage.  As far as I can ascertain, nothing else was taken, including my wife’s bikes.  Which makes me suspect it might have been a couple of people who took what they could easily ride off without drawing too much attention.

I’ve been having trouble with my garage door randomly opening, which I reported to my landlord weeks ago (Waypoint Homes: DO NOT recommend) but they haven’t been in any hurry to address it.  They’re that way with most issues, it seems, but you’d think this kind of problem would be a little higher on their list.  They’ve pushed us up on the priority list, so now they are going to take a look July 1st, but it’s a little late now.

To be fair, I am only assuming that they gained entry to the garage because of the door randomly being opened.  The times I’ve come home and found the door open, felt fortunate that nothing seemed to be missing.  I had hooked up a workaround using a remote AC adapter that would let me turn off the power completely to the opener to prevent this.  I can only assume at some point I either forgot to switch it off or the power off signal didn’t reach it without me realizing.

Anyway, I’ve filed a police report, and for whatever it’s worth, let me put this out on the internet.  I’ve heard miraculous stories of recovery, so it’s worth a shot…

The first bike was a Surly Long Haul Trucker/50cm frame/dark green.  It’s already fairly distinctive because you just don’t see too many of these out in the wild – they’re really made for long distance touring.  But it made a great commuter bike when I was back in Georgia.  It’s also distinctive because it not only has a rear rack but a front rack as well.  And it’s the disc brake version of the LHT, making it even rarer. Here’s a picture:

Pisser of a day.  Discovered around lunch time two of my bikes were stolen out of my garage.  As far as I can ascertain, nothing else was taken, including my wife’s bikes.  Which makes me suspect it might have been a couple of people who took what they could easily ride off without drawing too much attention.

I’ve been having trouble with our garage door randomly opening, which I reported to our landlord weeks ago (Waypoint Homes: DO NOT recommend) but they haven’t been in any hurry to address it.  They’re that way with most issues, it seems, but you’d think this kind of problem would be a little higher on their list.  They’ve pushed us up on the priority list, so now they are going to take a look July 1st, but it’s a little late now.

To be fair, I am only assuming that they gained entry to the garage because of the door randomly being opened.  The times I’ve come home and found the door open, I felt fortunate that nothing seemed to be missing.  I had hooked up a workaround using a remote AC adapter that would let me turn off the power completely to the opener to prevent this.  I can only assume at some point I either forgot to switch it off or the power off signal didn’t reach it without me realizing.

Anyway, I’ve filed a police report, and for whatever it’s worth, let me put this out on the internet.  I’ve heard miraculous stories of recovery, so it’s worth a shot…

The first bike was a Surly Long Haul Trucker/50cm frame/dark green.  It’s already fairly distinctive because you just don’t see too many of these out in the wild – they’re really made for long distance touring.  But it made a great commuter bike when I was back in Georgia.  It’s also distinctive because it not only has a rear rack but a front rack as well.  And it’s the disc brake version of the LHT, making it even rarer. Here’s a picture:

surly

The second bike was my original commuter bike, a Kona Dew Deluxe/53cm frame/black.  It wasn’t nearly as expensive of a bike, except that I had some super sturdy custom wheels built for it which cost almost as much as the bike did originally.  It’s also fairly distinctive because it has butterfly handlebars with red tape on them.  Here’s a picture from when I took it grocery shopping:

kona

If you have any information, please email me at e r i c —> ericasberry.com.  Alternatively you can contact the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office @ 813-247-8000, the case # is 14-364609 and the deputy who took the report is Romano.

Migrating a Desktop VM to an ESXi Server

I have a Windows 7 VM running on my primary Mac notebook that I use mostly for one single application on a regular basis, and for occasional browser testing or other random tasks on rare occasions.  I have an ESXi server running on an old desktop machine, and I thought that it would be nice to move that VM to the server and just remote desktop to it.  It would have the added benefit of being able to run the app from one of my other machines.  I learned a few things along the way.

First, the straightforward thing to do would be to create a new virtual machine on the server, install Windows 7, and then install the application.  But like any good lazy programmer, I figured there had to be a better way.  What I _really_ wanted to do was just move my existing image off of my laptop onto the server.  Turns out it’s not very difficult, but there are a few steps and at least one “gotcha”.

First, if you don’t already have it, you need to download the OVF tool from VMWare.  Extract the .tar.gz file and open the *.pkg file to install it.  Then, at the terminal, run a command similar to this:

/Applications/VMware\ OVF\ Tool/ovftool ./Documents/Virtual\ Machines.localized/Windows\ 7.vmwarevm/Windows\ 7.vmx /Documents/ConvertedVM/

This assumes your current working directory is in your home directory, your VM’s are stored in the same place mine are, etc.  ConvertedVM is the directory where it will output the converted VM as an OVF.  Season this recipe to taste.  Now, you can deploy the OVF to your server in the usual way.

As I mentioned before, there is one “gotcha”.  I had recently upgraded to the latest version of VMWare Fusion, and allowed it to upgrade my virtual machine’s “hardware”.  Don’t do that.  As the link describes, once you upgrade to hardware version “10” you can no longer edit the hardware settings of your VM using the Windows vSphere client.  You can edit it with the “web vSphere client”, but apparently that is something that is not available for the free version of ESXi I’m running in my home “lab”.  I needed to change the hardware setting though, because in the migration I lost my network adapter and the Windows application in question needs network access.

I was able to work around it in a fairly brute-force way.  I removed the VM from the ESXi inventory (but did NOT delete the disk), re-created a new Windows VM and reused the existing disk image.  It worked fine, although I did have to reactivate Windows.  In the previous link there is also a workaround mentioned using “PowerCLI”, but I haven’t used that so can’t vouch for the solution.

EXCLUSIVE LIMITED-TIME BONUS TIP!  Gosh, I sure do miss the <blink> tag.  But, I digress.  I’ve been using “Remote Desktop Connection” to access Windows VM’s.  I believe it was installed as part of Office for Mac 2011, or maybe it was something I downloaded from Microsoft many moons ago.  If you’re still using that too, I’ve found that there’s actually a much better free remote desktop application (also from Microsoft) available on the Mac App Store.  Get it now while supplies last!

Tracking Down Bandwidth Hogs: Netflow Home Edition

Recently Comcast announced they were going to be doing some testing of data caps in certain markets, including mine.  I’m a cord-cutter and I’ve been very happy with Comcast’s speed and reliability, but when you view a lot of streaming video (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, iTunes)  and do a lot of cloud backups of your data, 300GB suddenly doesn’t seem so much.

Fortunately, Comcast has graciously decided to give its customers a grace period before they actually start charging for overages, so I’ve been trying to manage my data use a little more proactively.  Looking at previous months, I saw that I was typically using 500-600GB of data.  After cutting my streaming usage way back, it seemed that I was still using a tremendous amount of data and exceeding my cap well before the end of the month, and I couldn’t really figure out why.

It so happens that the company I work for makes a great enterprise product for finding just these sort of things, using NetFlow.  Unfortunately, we don’t (currently) produce a home edition, so I decide to try the next best thing.

The first step was to configure my router, which is running  DD-WRT firmware, to export “RFlow”.  As best I can tell, RFlow is an implementation of some version of NetFlow.  Presumably NetFlow is trademarked, so they have to call it something else.   Add to the mix nprobe and ntopng, and I was able to find that one host was using a very large percentage of the total bandwidth.

 

ntop

So the host 192.168.1.103, which is my Macbook Pro, had used over 1GB of bandwidth during the reporting period, but what really surprised me was that it wasn’t predominantly downloading data, but sending data.  This set off all kinds of alarm bells and gave me a mild panic.  I’m thinking virus, botnet, who knows what evil malware I may have gotten, despite considering myself fairly savvy.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell much more about the traffic other than it was SSL.  But now that I had it narrowed down to a host, I remembered a handy utility I’d discovered awhile back called Little Snitch.  It’s basically a firewall which allows you to selectively allow and deny connections from your Mac.  Being required to whitelist each application that requests access to the network gets pretty tiresome after awhile, so I had stopped using it.  But turns out, the latest version has a “passive” mode, where it will monitor what’s going on but won’t actively block anything.  I let it run for awhile and was able to collect some interesting data.

snitch

Outlook?  What the hell are you doing?  After about an hour it had sent nearly half a gigabyte of data.  I’ll grant you that my emails may be overly wordy at time, but I hadn’t actually sent any.

Turns out, Outlook has a rather nasty little bug having to do with folder syncing that makes it use a metric crap-ton of bandwidth.  There doesn’t seem to be a fix that I could find, so for now, I’m just shutting down Outlook when I’m not actively using it.

And thus ends my bandwidth hog detective story.

OSX Lion: ssh_askpass: exec(/usr/libexec/ssh-askpass): No such file or directory

I keep running into this.  For various reasons I need to use password-based authentication on some test boxes that are regularly rebuilt which makes using key based authentication difficult.

Ordinarily I set up an alias like this:

alias ssh1="sshpass -p secretpassword ssh -o StrictHostKeyChecking=no -o UserKnownHostsFile=/dev/null"

… which lets me use a command like:

sshl eric@devbox

But sometimes (and I swear, it doesn’t always happen, but I haven’t figured out the variable yet), it fails, and I get:

ssh_askpass: exec(/usr/libexec/ssh-askpass): No such file or directory

… and indeed, the ssh-askpass binary doesn’t exist.  After some flailing around and googling, I finally came up with this ugly hack.  I create a shell script with the following contents:

#!/bin/bash
echo "secretpassword"

Then, I set the following environment variable, which directs sshpass to use my script instead of looking for the missing ssh-askpass

export SSH_ASKPASS=/Users/eric/scripts/ssh-askpass.sh

It’s ugly, but it works.  Of course, it assumes you’re always using the same “secretpassword”.  Some day I need to figure out a better way of addressing this, but today is not that day.

See also:  http://apple.stackexchange.com/questions/18238/mac-os-x-lion-and-sshpass