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.

Consultation is now over so I’d better get on with it

Playing Trains At Beamish

What is Beamish some will inevitably ask. Put simply, if you don’t know, it’s the one museum you really must visit, and you should plan on staying at least a couple of days.

 

It’s an open-air museum featuring towns and scenes from the North. One slogan is “bringing the past to life” although this looked a little odd in the back of the period hearse!  The large site features a two-mile circular roadway and tram line around which you will find many features Continue reading

A Bit More Photography

It’s been awhile since my last blog post, due to too many things to do like impending GDPR Rules (if you don’t know what that is think yourself lucky) and new websites for EDM Models. I have managed to keep up with the new photography interest and I’ll just visit the latest efforts in this post and then leave it to get back to trains.

Clare and I have continued with our BBC set topic challenge and I also went on a guided night photography walk around York which apart from being freezing was very interesting and also helped meet that weeks challenge topic which was `Star’ so this picture of the entrance to The Star Inn did it.  It was a 30+ second exposure and believe it or not someone came out of The Star, walked through the picture and stood at my side chatting but managed not to appear in the image! Continue reading

MORE PHOTOGRAPHY

First blog entry of 2018, so we’d better start with Happy New Year to any readers. We start with an image to get your attention. We’ll get back to the toy train sort of models soon but for this installment its more on photography.

In the last episode I mentioned making more of photography as a different hobby to every flavour of trains and that I’d had some tuition in doing the close up macro photography. The interest in actually taking photography has actually taken a hold and has become absorbing.  Continue reading

Photographing Models

Well, that has probably got your attention but that’s not the sort of model I am going to go on about here today.

I have had an interest in photography for years and have done the same as many, nicked my Dads camera, got my own Practica then Zenit E (that might have been the other way round), the a pair of Yashicas and finally a Canon. All these were film cameras and I did photos of model and real railways. Never really did people or the really small stuff. I did a bit at school and I did an evening class which worked its way up from the bowl of fruit to, for the final lesson, a real live model.

I sort of lost interest in the proper photography and my proper cameras as the cheapo digital age dawned. At that time `cheap’ DSLR’s were several thousand pounds and I said I wouldn’t get one until they became affordable. Then compact, bridge and mobile phone cameras all got pretty amazing and the photography I was doing then was basically snaps documenting what I and the volunteer groups I was involved with were up to, often just for websites so portability was more important that how clever it was. Cost also proved to be important when I dropped a camera whilst stood on top of a loco which happened to be stood on an inspection pit. I was going to say, “it didn’t bounce” but it did, on pretty much everything it could find on its way down. It didn’t work at the end of it.

Continue reading

Coaching

A month, or so, ago I was going on about sticks with glimpses of a carriage on my Facebook page but at that time I couldn’t say a lot more. Well I suppose now all can be revealed.

It was a retirement gift for a friend and colleague and is a model loosely based on coach 106. For that reason I couldn’t say a lot until after the presentation. The retiree is Jed Perks who retires from the FR as the carriage maintenance electrician. This all gets a bit scary as I remember when he first volunteered at Boston Lodge. Jed took over maintaining the carriage electrics that I designed and installed after I moved back to working on bigger trains.

Continue reading

Heretic BINGE

OK, for the sake of a title this is really two items in one post. If you want to skip to the Heretic part click here

Our First Granite Restoration

The first item is news of a Binge Weekend. Before you start worrying about excessive drinking and my health I’d better remind you what BINGE is in this context, Beamish Industrial Narrow Gauge Engineers. We are slowly building up the stock for the narrow gauge railway at Beamish with a mix of new wagons were creating and the restoration of some Granite Wagons on loan from the Festiniog Railway.

The first of the FR waggons we did was 978 which is basically a slate waggon boarded in and with higher sides to allow it to carry stone. That was done over the winter of 2015/16. Continue reading

Percolating at Beamish

Nothing for months and then he gets the gift of the gab. Guilty as charged.

In this first installment its been fun playing trains at Beamish Museum for The Great North Steam Fair. This is the third year I have been involved and they’ve let me play with their trains. The first and second year I was sort of there looking after visiting Festiniog engines. This year I was either driving the home fleet or the visitor from Statfold.

This year the steam fair was 6th to 9th of April. Four days of things steamy and mechanical. If you’re used to the normal Steam Rally this will leave you dissatisfied with them in future. Five different railways all operating, frequent tram service, vintage bus service, steam lorries, traction engines, rollers and vintage lorries all moving about the site. Other engines working equipment as they once would have.

My main steed for the three of the four days was this contraption. It’s a Head Wrightson Coffee Pot of 1871. The steam fair was the first time its steamed for two years having been out of use needing a boiler re-tube. With the usual “in the deep end” training program i.e. “just get on with it, it’s a steam engine”. I got to drive it Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

It might be just a steam engine but its different. Its geared so the engine goes around about four times the speed of the wheels. Its parked out of gear so the first challenge to moving is getting it into gear. Its got no injector so you have a steam powered pump to maintain the water level. The regulator gets stiffer as the pressure rises and its a very wet engine making a hat a must. Continue reading

IT’S ALL THIS MANS FAULT!

Well, that was a bit of an EPIC weekend. The 25th & Final Narrow Gauge South West Exhibition. I’ve been to most of them, starting as a demonstrator and then as a trader. In all that time I have known Howard Martin, the organiser and fellow modeller, and we’ve been good friends throughout.

Anyone who knows Howard will know he’s had a few medically challenging years lately which make achieving the 25th show an even bigger landmark than the simple number would portray. For a few years, through the worst of it, he’s been determined to do the annual show and set himself the target of getting to the 25th show and making it a cracker. Now before I go any further I need to make the point that it isn’t just Howard that does the show, he has a loyal band of helpers but I think they would be amongst the first to say its Howards show.

There has been a thread on the Narrow Gauge Online Forum in the run up to the show promoting it. Another started after the show has loads of photos of the 65 layouts at the show along with lots of comments saying, basically, cracking show shame it was the last. I wanted to add my bit to that, and I have commented on the forum, but I felt the need to say something more. I felt 25 years needed marking.

What to say though? So, I sat back and thought about it for a while and then I realised something. Continue reading

Xmas, Coffee & Holes (lots of holes)

Christmas message time I guess. Lots of them about so I’ll try to be different. Once upon a time before I did EDM Models as a full-time escapade Christmas & New Year was a break from the day job but rarely restful. It usually consisted of the minimum time possible spent doing family Christmas stuff and the earliest possible escape to North Wales.

In the past I have driven the boxing day trains, rebuilt loco’s valve gear and organised epic working parties to build complete double engine superstructures in ten days flat. More recently it’s been a case of making and packing orders right up to the last minute for all those `proper blokes’ who’ve left their shopping to the last minute.

Bad news for `proper bloke’ this year, the old days are back. Its already too late for anything that’s not on a shelf as I am not doing any more installs or manufacturing before the New Year. Tuesday the 20th is the absolute last chance you have for `in stock’ items as Christmas in Wales beckons.

I will wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and I look forward to all sorts of new stuff in 2017.

OK, so now on to the coffee nonsense. Well it started with a picture on Facebook of this bit with just the caption `Sneaky Peaky’. Friends in the know then commented and the 2nd one was “Taken during your coffee break…?” which was quite a clue really.

Not for some though as the following guesses were way cold.

 

Due to a pressing appointment with a pub in Wolverhampton the guessers were left hanging for a day but were eventually given another clue.

 

This gave the game away and the first response correctly sussed the clues out.

 

 

 

The crankshaft is part of the engine fastened to the boiler of the Head Wrightson Coffee Pot that runs at Beamish Museum.

Last summer a boiler tube failed and to get the engine returned to service for this season the boiler was lifted and sent away to the Severn Valley Railway for re-tubing.

It returned on Friday 16th December collected by the lorry that has taken Glyder’s boiler for attention.

The lorry carrying it is equipped with a Hiab crane which first lifted it to the ground where the transport cradle and other bits that stick out were removed before then being lifted into the frames. There’s quite a bit of commissioning work needed to put it back together but it should be running next season.

 

 

 

So why did I make the special trip to see this?

I’ll just leave you this clue

 

 

 

Finally, holes. Lots of holes!   The last episode of this blog showed our tacked together new body for the granite tipper with the comment “Lots of holes now need to be drilled”.  With me making a trip up to Beamish and Matt working in the evening driving a Christmas tram we declared the afternoon a mini BINGE working party and made a start on the holes.

The angles we tacked into the bottom of the hopper were marked for drilling in key locations and then removed from the wagon. Some dodgy maths sorted the spacing for the rivets and more positions were marked and centre popped.

The angles were then set up in the radial arm drill and drilled through.

At the end of the day we got the angle back in the body and clamped in place with some bolts ready for the holes to be drilled through into the plate work. 80 holes done, plenty more to do but hot rivetting gets closer.