Archive: July 6, 2003

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iSnipeIt rocks

Sunday,  07/06/03  09:24 AM

Have you ever discovered a great little restaurant, and hesitated about telling your friends because you don't want "everyone" to go there?  Sometimes you find something really cool, but if everyone knew about it then it wouldn't be as cool anymore.  Well, I found something like that, but I'm going to share it - with you!

Evolution has this problem.  An organism "discovers" a new strategy - either physical ("long neck") or behavioral ("live on higher ground") - but the value is mainly as an advantage over competitors; if everyone employed the strategy there is no advantage.  And if there is a cost to the strategy then everyone has to pay the cost; there is no way to form a union of organisms which agree not to eat leaves from the tops of trees, or graze in the high meadows.  But I digress...

I really like eBay.  I am mostly a seller.  I am a gadget freak, I always want the latest of everything, which means the previous "latest thing" is no longer needed.  So I sell it on eBay; this works great; not only do I get money back, but the gadget's useful life is extended.  Occasionally I will buy stuff on eBay, but I've found the buying experience is not quite as great as the selling experience.  There is an asymmetry, in that if you're selling something chances are you will sell it, but if you're bidding on something you might not get it, at least not at a reasonable price.

So - I just found this great tool called iSnipeIt.  This tool automates an eBay practice called "sniping", whereby you sit on the sidelines of an auction you're interested in until the last possible second, and then enter a bid quickly, leaving the other interested bidders no time to respond.  There are two advantages of sniping, first, you are more likely to get the item, and second, you often save money (because other bidders don't have a chance to bid you up).

I've been trying to buy a used Macintosh Titanium Powerbook.  {Why used?  Well, laptops are one of those things that lose a lot of value right after they're bought; you can buy an almost-new laptop for substantially less than a new one.}  So after bidding on three auctions in a row and getting out-bid at the end, I decided to try iSnipeIt.  It works!  I won the first auction I tried it on, and the final price was $125 less than I was willing to pay.  Pretty darn cool.

Of course, if everyone snipes, the whole auction process is subverted.  The person willing to pay the highest price will still win, but you won't have the dynamic of people bidding against each other.  Which reminds me to point out - you can only really snipe if you know what an item is worth.  For items with a defined market like laptops this is great.  For a one-of-a-kind collectible you might want the auction dynamics to help you determine the price you're willing to pay.

Still, everyone doesn't snipe - at least not yet - so this is a great way to gain some advantage.  I can only imagine how frustrating it was for the other bidders on this laptop to see a brand-new bidder come in with 15 seconds to go and win.  Yippee.


Sunday,  07/06/03  10:27 PM

Well I would have bet heavily against this, but it looks like SARS has been contained.  A tribute to the quick global response of scientists and doctors.  I guess quarantine can be a successful strategy.

Bill Whittle's Fourth of July offering: Trinity Part I and Part II.  As always really good stuff, and really well written.  I particularly like the clear argument that capitalism is a riding tide which lifts all boats, not a matter of some taking from others.  "It is possible to be rich without taking from the poor."  In fact most of the time being rich actually helps the poor...

SJMercury interviews Linus: Linux creator an open source.  Linus discusses the SCO lawsuit, among other things.

GNXP: The biochemical foundations of morality.  Great stuff.

Slashdot: Duct tape goes miniature.  I linked the Slashdot thread instead of the article because the comments are really funny.  Duct tape is truly a wonder, but I don't know how useful a small strip would be...

Years ago I sailed a lot, and pretty much always carried a roll of duct tape wherever I went.  I figured carrying duct tape was a sure sign of a sailor.  I was in a gas station when the attendant saw a roll sitting on my back seat, and said "oh, do you race motorcycles?"

You've got blog!  AOL is introducing blogging tools; Jeff Jarvis blogs about his sneak peak.  It will be interesting to see how "open" AOL makes their blogging universe.  Sounds like they "get it"; they're going to have RSS feeds, for one thing :)

Dave Winer has some comments about blogging via IM, and posted a longer article about AOL's entry into weblogs.

Chad Dickerson: RSS Killed the Infoglut Star  ."When I started using an RSS newsreader daily, some remarkable things happened that I didn't necessarily expect: I began to spend almost no time surfing to keep up with current technology information, and I was suddenly able to manage a large body of incoming information with incredible efficiency."  I've found the same thing; I use SharpReader as my entry point to the web.  And to think at one point I didn't like RSS aggregators :)


The Nest

Sunday,  07/06/03  11:23 PM

Around our house we have a bunch of old iron lanterns.  They are reasonably attractive, pleasant at night (with suitably low wattage bulbs), and difficult to maintain.  They also make great bird nests.  And therein lies a story, which I am about to relate...

There's a lantern on a balcony in my back yard which has had a nest in it for a while.  The other day I noticed a dead adult bird stuck in the bottom of this lantern.  I have no idea how the bird died - maybe it got stuck wiggling into the lantern, or it had some disease, or maybe it was just his time.  So, now I've got to clean up the dead bird.  {Being a longtime cat owner, this is not a new experience for me...}

Well there's a dead bird, and a nest, and a bunch of droppings, and overall a big mess.  So I decide I'll just hose out the lantern.  I drag over the hose, turn it on full blast, and squirt it into the lantern.  No good, the nest is stuck, the bird is stuck, and even the droppings are stuck.  I'm going to have to take the lantern apart.  Did I mention these lanterns are difficult to maintain?  Yeah, they were designed by someone who apparently figured there would never be any need to open the lantern.  Fool.  Like the light bulbs live forever, or something.  Not to mention the possibility of bird nests.  So I take the lantern apart, shake out the dead bird (yep, it's dead all right), and shake out the nest.

Woa!  The nest falls out, intact, with three baby birds in it.  And two other baby birds fall out of the lantern as well - a little wet and bedraggled looking (baby birds look that way anyway) - but otherwise seemingly okay.  They are wiggling their little wings and opening their mouths.  Way cute.  I'm no expert on birds, but these were little baby birds, as in no hair, eyes closed, etc.

So what do I do now?  Well, the two not in the nest look like they belong in the nest, so I put them back.  Now I have a nest with five baby birds wiggling around in a fuzzy ball, a dead parent, and a disassembled lantern.  Help!

I call my local pet hospital, explain the situation, and am referred to a woman who nurses baby birds which have been orphaned!  I call her and tell her what happened.  She says that birds like these typically mate for life, with the male and female sharing nest caring duties.  So there is probably another bird around to take care of the chicks!  She also tells me little chicks like these need to be sat on by a parent at night to stay warm (I would believe that, they have no feathers to speak of) and can't go more than a day without food (I would believe that too, they are so little).  I look around and sure enough, there's this little bird just like the dead one buzzing around the patio.  Most likely a really pissed little bird wondering what happened to her nest.  Sorry!  I reassemble the lantern - did I mention they are difficult to maintain? - remove a glass panel, and carefully put the nest back in the lantern, complete with the five little fuzzballs wiggling around.  What will happen?

Sure enough, the little bird buzzes into the lantern, and sits on the nest!  Yippee.  All's well that ends well.  My kids had a chance to see little chicks up close, and the baby birds probably needed a bath, anyway :)

[ Later: Please see revisiting the nest for an epilogue... ]


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