Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cars I Love: The AC Shelby Cobra

The AC Cobra, also referred to as the Shelby Cobra, is an American classic sports car built on a British-designed platform. Originally intended as a "Corvette beater," an AC Cobra did exactly that in 1963, at Riverside International Raceway. Along with the 'Vette, other casualties included a field of Jaguars, Porsches, and Maseratis.

I found this great photograph of a Shelby Cobra on Pinterest.

Cars I Love are photos of automobiles I find and collect during my journeys around the Interwebs. Whenever possible, I try to credit the source. —Luis

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Death of the Printed Automotive Service Manual

As someone who has relied on printed automotive service manuals for many years, both as a do-it-yourselfer and as a former bookseller, the fact that printed manuals are—slowly but surely—suffering a slow death, became even more obvious a few days ago when the multi-function switch (MFS) that runs the turn-signals, windshield washer, and wipers on my 2006 Dodge Ram 1500, started to act up.

My first reaction was to take the truck to the local Dodge dealer and let them fix the problem, but the miser in me decided to wait until my next salvage yard excursion to try to locate a used one, for a fraction of the price.

A couple of weeks went by as the MFS continued to run the windshield wipers whenever it wanted to—while annoying the heck outta me—so I had to find a solution.

I searched online with hopes to find a working replacement MFS but instead—and totally by accident—I landed on a forum page where a member explained with words and clear photos, how to fix the existing switch.

So I walked out to the garage and followed the directions on how to remove the MFS from the steering column, then took it apart, cleaned it and applied fresh dielectric grease, reassembled the unit, and installed it back in my truck. A quick test proved that—for a total investment of approximately 20 minutes—I had solved the problem and saved a ton of time and money in the process.

I've also used similar forums and websites to learn how to replace, fix, or restore parts and components for my 1989 Turbo Trans Am, even though I own copies of Haynes and Chilton manuals, as well as the factory service manual supplement.

My point is: Are printed service manuals necessary any longer?

I totally get the "you don't need electricity to read a paper manual" argument; then again, you don't need electricity to search for answers online either, as long as you are using a smart phone or tablet, which—by the way—is how over 50% of online searches are conducted.

Not to mention that, if you happen to need a specific part, you can copy the description or part number, then go to Amazon, eBay, AutoZone, etc., and get the item ordered in a matter of seconds. Last time I checked, printed media does not allow for that.

But before you start throwing your old service manuals in the recycling bin, they do come in handy, especially factory manuals that include Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) part numbers, how many of those parts are required, torque specifications, and more. So I am sure that next time you rebuild your truck or car's engine, for example, you will want to have the factory manual handy.

Even cheaper alternatives, such as aftermarket repair manuals, can be helpful to a certain degree. I can attest to that fact. After all, I restored a 1975 Norton Commando 850 motorcycle back in the early '80s with the help of a printed DIY book.

Yes, there was no World Wide Web at the time so my options were limited to a black-and-white Clymer manual and the Haynes equivalent, but I was able to do the job following the step-by-step instructions and carefully studying the photos, exploded views, and diagrams. So I am not an anti-printed-DIY-literature zealot.

But that was 30-plus years ago, and today, manuals can be found in PDF format (some legit, the rest pirated) for a few bucks, plus the hundreds or—in some cases—thousands of detailed tutorials (both in text and video formats), carefully edited by hobbyists, enthusiasts, and even auto parts resellers, all over the planet, which are free of charge.

The other factor that, I believe, spells trouble for printed automotive DIY media, is speed.

This may be more applicable to aftermarket publishers instead of vehicle manufacturers, but the point is that enthusiast media channels will always have the upper hand as far as timeliness, not to mention the ability to provide video coverage on how to perform specific repairs, which put old printed repair manuals to shame.

Traditional automotive repair literature publishers will have to adapt or they may end up going the way of the buggy whip, vinyl record, or VHS tape, to name a few technologies that had they time in the limelight, only to be discarded the moment something better appeared.

I talked to an automotive DIY print media about two years ago and asked him about strategies his company was pursuing to maintain and grow their market share. His reply was that they were working on making all their printed manuals available online.

I guess that's a start, but his statement reminded me of a few large record companies trying to force consumers to purchase complete albums years ago, when people wanted to buy just one song. It took them a while to figure things out, and luckily for them, their industry is quite different than the DIY publishing industry, where talent is not necessarily a prerequisite for success and sales.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What is "Content Quality?"
The 12-Step Program

I recently attended a webinar on the subject, and, frankly, I did not learn a damn thing, and there were no earth-shattering revelations as far as what Google considers "content quality" to be.

Defining something as abstract as "content quality," at least in specific terms when it relates to website content, is just as difficult as defining what beauty is. As the old aphorism goes, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

I believe, the same applies to "content quality" when it comes to website content.

If you ask SEOs about improving the quality of the content on your website, chances are they will have to perform and analysis of your site, which is fine, but ONLY if they are well versed in the subject matter. If you sell fishing gear, for example, the SEO has to be very familiar with the sport. Otherwise, chances are you'll be throwing your money away.

Like I've said before, SEO should not be approached as a one size fits all solution, and although optimizing a site is something that the webmaster or site owner should be able to do without much effort, if you do hire an SEO, make sure that he or she is an expert, not only in the SEO field, but most importantly, in yours.

And when I say "experts" I am not necessarily talking about people who have diplomas, college degrees, or anything like that. But if you are going to talk about skydiving, for example, an expert to me is someone who jumps out of planes (for business or pleasure), and knows what the heck he or she is talking about. Not some nimrod who "learned" the sport by reading blogs and watching YouTube videos.

So please don't try to fake it. I recently visited a website for car enthusiasts, and you could tell that the webmaster was nothing more than a wannabe who had no expertise on the subject. The poor bastard tried to sound like a gearhead, but to me—and I am sure the majority of his audience—he sounded like a dickhead, instead.

Here's a list of things you need to pay attention to, if you want to have a quality website. I know that they are the kind of stuff that makes you want to say "Duh!" but common sense is not that common, so consider this list a "refresher course."

12 Steps to Content Quality
  1. Your site needs to be an authority in its field.

  2. Your website's content has to be written by experts.

  3. Check grammar and spelling.

  4. If you provide outgoing links, make sure they are 100% relevant, and only link to other authoritative sites.

  5. Update your homepage frequently, with good and fresh content.

  6. Make your site's navigation user-friendly.

  7. Utility menus, such as those usually found in the footer of the page, have to be useful.

  8. DO NOT use the page footer as an area for spammy content. Actually, avoid spam. Period!

  9. Keep your copyright notice up to date.

  10. Provide Google+ and other voting links on your pages.

  11. Ask customers to leave and share shopping and product reviews.

  12. Make it easy for customers to contact you. Display your contact info on every page.