Websites – A Proper Pain in the Nether Regions

Sorry, but this isn’t a cheerful happy post full of photographs of steam engines I get to play with (but one of those is on the cards).  No, this is a post telling you about the NG Trains website and opening up to discussion some of the ideas I have for it.

All other posts I have done on the blog I have left online but I think this one I may only leave here for a week or so as it’ll stop being topical quite quickly.

Today’s Site –  bit of history

My website was started in the days when you listened to modems beeping and burbling to themselves and you went for a brew whilst stuff uploaded.   It was created in FrontPage before FrontPage became FrontPage 2000 which gives you an idea of the date.  Both of those programs are long gone and its now done in Expression Web, newer but still obsolete.

In techno babble it’s a fixed page format with no dynamic searching and being close to 20 years old it’s full of accumulated crap.  It has no capability to show stock levels and cannot be linked to our current stock database.

When we started we had no stock database or stock control because I knew what we had and where everything was.  That didn’t last!   In 2013 I got an EPOS system That has the stock codes, bar codes and stock levels. If I sell you something at a show the stock level is reduced. When at home and I process a web sale I have to also do that sale in the POS system and, if I remember, reduce the stock on the website.

I guess what I am telling you is the old way has to go and that is not negotiable but the question is what to change to.

An Uncomfortable Confession.

For reasons I will explain whatever replaces the current site it has to be cleverer than the average simple site.  It was beyond me, so I sought help via my go to IT helper.  That generated a lot of hot air, cost money for a trip to London and a meeting room.  [not quite true, I found a use for my IET membership – free use of a meeting room – ironically at the ImechE because the IET had got the builders in].  What it didn’t do was create the website the technowiz promised.

I look back now and kick myself, but I then went to another recommended source which showed a lot of promise and was well on the way until a change of personnel at the developer (a change of role actually) gave a muppet more power than he should have had and convinced him of abilities he didn’t have.  It went on for a while but overall it resulted in no website, a lot of money I won’t see again and a complete lack of trust in anyone else to do it for me.

Having someone else do it always sat poorly with my inner control freak, but I was convinced by others that I needed to delegate and spread the load. CLEARLY, I WAS RIGHT AND THEY WERE WRONG!   The control freak is back in charge, but the result has been nothing happening. Until now!

So, What Now.

There are many options of the “ecommerce site in a flash” type systems out there but they won’t really cut it. They don’t integrate with or provide their own POS system, can’t do pre-orders, can’t do subscriptions, can’t do variable page formats by product group. The clincher is that they are really aimed at selling large quantities of a few products where NG Trains is really about selling a few of a lot of products.

I have been looking at a lot of options but then I narrowed it down to three to have a closer look at Prestashop, Open Cart and the one I think I have settled on, WooCommerce. Notwithstanding its stupid name, it seems to have all the features I want.

I say think I have settled on because all three of these have one flaw to the new starter. In all of them the starter site is free but to call it basic is generous. Adding formats and functionality is achieved by purchasing modules and the problem with this is that the blurb promises much but you can only really find out if it does what you want by handing over the dosh.

Your Opinion Matters……..

………Although I might end up ignoring you now that the control freak has reasserted himself.

The lack of progress is down to a few things: –

  1. Learning a new system is pretty daunting. One of the reasons the current set up has lasted was that I knew its ins and outs.
  2. To do it all in one hit is such a big task that the result is nothing gets done.
  3. There is a load of stuff that isn’t on the website. You’ll have seen the PSC castings at shows but there’s a whole load of other stuff that neither goes to shows or is on the web.

Here’s the plan then.

Currently I own the domains www.ngtrains.com and www.ngtrains.co.uk.   If you try the latter it just forwards you to the former. The suggestion is to split them and start the new site on .co.uk whilst the existing site continues on .com.

  • The new site would start life as the parts and castings site adding items that aren’t on the current one.
  • This would allow me to set up the new site and learn how to work it.
  • As it developed other `parts’ type stuff would move from the old to the new
  • There would come a point where, once I am happy with it, there would be a push to move everything to the new site at which point it would revert to one domain forwarding to the other

So what are the issues with this?

  • The upside for me is that it gets round the “too big a job” blockage in the development progress and allows me to build my skills.
  • The down side is that its possible that to buy a range of items you may have to place two orders, one on each site.

I expect I will get to a point fairly quickly where the two site thing gets inconvenient enough for me to get on with the big push but the alternative at the moment seems to be nothing continuing to happen.

What do you think?    Let me know, not in the comments here, reply to the newsletter

Playing Model Trains (aka Care in the Community)

Doesn’t time fly! Its been a busy summer with business stuff, garden railways and driving trains in Wales and as a result it hasn’t occurred to me to do anything with this blog so it comes as a shock to find the last post was in May (which also apologised for the infrequency).

Anyway the thing that has prompted me to place pixel to screen now is to post some pictures of an event that took place last Saturday.  The 7mm Narrow Gauge Association fosters area groups which are encouraged to run members open days. Whilst called members days all are welcome in reality.

The general format of these is an informal social meet with a little bit of trade, a few layouts, some demos and am emphasis on hands on and having a go. Food and endless teas and coffees are another incentive to attend,

With my NGtrains hat on I support the Bradford and Derby open days and take a selection of trade stuff and usually something to demo and get people to have a go at things. This year, on message, I built a set of 7mm scale Lynton & Barnstaple Railway bogies but then, off scale, I ran my HOf test track and built a 7/8th scale skip!

Anyway have a look at the photos

Chuffing About for two weeks

Square2Those who subscribe to the EDM Models Newsletters  [Subscribe] will know that the business has been closed for two weeks and most will have guessed that I was away driving trains again.  I could write a blow by blow account of the two weeks but let’s just stick to the highlights, 640 miles driven over 12 days on duty, totalling 122 hours (bit more than a 40 hour week then) and 25 times to Blaenau.
Four different engines driven, David Lloyd George (56 miles), Linda (166 miles), Earl of Merioneth (194 miles) and Merddin Emrys (224 miles).

Driving trains from Porthmadog to Blaenau, and back, is pretty routine but there is new stuff to be seen. Our railway has got a pretty savvy media team who keep it in the public eye. They are constantly making new videos either for sale or to use in the social media and they are always looking for new angles and now they seem to have found one

Droning On

Drone by shedThe new toy is a sophisticated drone operated by a local company who offered to do some photography with it to demonstrate what it can do. It’s not the sort of drone you find Maplin selling.

 

Drone extract

We’re talking a pro job with six rotors, two cameras, a pilot with a helicopter license and five million quids worth of liability insurance.

Have a look at the video below. This was filmed by drone flown by vertical horizons media and edited by them and not by the railway

Whilst spectacular there are some issues with it. You will note the chap walking backwards and Merddin Emrys inhaling his own smoke. This is because the swooping in shots are actually filmed as swooping out shots as they’re easier to fly and then played backwards (ie forwards) and some bits were missed.  The filming on the cob is all from the seaward side. This is because one of the drone flying rules is you don’t fly over the road.

Its all clever stuff but a film of 100% drone footage does get a bit tiresome.

Vertical Horizons have done other equally good films that are worth a look here Vertical Horizons

The future of drone footage is to use it sparingly cut in amongst ordinary camera shots.  Whilst I was in Wales the railways camera teams and Vertical Horizons set out to film a sequence to demonstrate this and they chose Dduallt as the location and Linda with train as the subject. Five cameras were used and one top notch drone. Have a look at this and see what you think

Now this is actually a compilation of two up trips, the 10:45 and 14:30 ex Port on the 30th July. This I know because I was driving and my friend Clare Oates was firing. Whilst the film gives the impression of a non stop run that’s not the full story. On the first run we stopped to drop one of the cameramen off and the opening drone shot of Linda approaching  to go under the bridge and you’ll see several seconds of steam from the chimney as Clare puts the blower on ready for me shutting the regulator. In the next drone section, the high level shot over the top curve you’ll see Linda slips twice as she tries to accelerate away from the stop. The bit in between of Linda powering through the station was the second non stop trip as the drone was over the embankment for this bit.

Once you  have spotted it it’s difficult not to look directly at the drone and it is kind of weird as it backs away from you as you approach.

This film was just a sample of what is to come as they have apparently filmed loads.

I’ll finish with another video. Bit more of an amateurish attempt this and he needs to buy one of them furry squirrels to stick over the microphone

So why include that one? Well its me driving Merddin Emrys out of Porthmadog on my last day, 9th August, with Matt Ellis firing on what might be our last day on Merddin before its withdrawn in early September for its 10 year overhaul.

Custom Models

Now I try to make a living from model making and there are many things that can get in the way of this but a model has just been completed for a customer that demonstrates one of the problems with trying to make a living its nice to have.

This model is constructed from one of my Darjeeling B Class kits to 16.5mm gauge (it can be built to 14mm) which has then been painted and weathered by Chris Clark. The nice to have problem is that having done it and made a superb job of it a little bit of both Chris and I don’t want to part with it.

front3 2-400

There are higher resolution photos of the model on the gallery tab at the top of the page or click this link. B Class Photos

This model is off to its new owner in Germany and we both hope he treasures it.

Producing one of these models is not a quick job with over 250 hours in the build and then Chris’s time to paint it so they don’t come cheap but both of us are happy to quote for doing a custom model just for you. Others are in build at this time with DCC, Sound & 14mm versions being progressed