Tag Archives: eBay

eBay: cloud storage for physical objects

From the Alt Text comedy column at Wired:

Most of my old games are now eBay-bound — eBound, if you will — as are most of my old books. I don’t think of it as getting rid of them. I still have them, right on my phone.

And if I want them in physical form? Well, I’ve stopped thinking of eBay as an auction site. Now I think of it more as cloud storage for things with measurable volume. I’m putting my possessions into the cloud, and if I want them again I can retrieve them from the cloud for a small fee.

Sure, they won’t be the exact original items I once owned, but that doesn’t bother me any more than it bothers me that the 1s and 0s I retrieve from Evernote aren’t the same electrons I originally stored.

Compare and contrast with the last Viridian Note from Bruce Sterling a few years back:

You will need to divide your current possessions into four major categories.

  1. Beautiful things.
  2. Emotionally important things.
  3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.
  4. Everything else.

“Everything else” will be by far the largest category. Anything you have not touched, or seen, or thought about in a year – this very likely belongs in “everything else.”

You should document these things. Take their pictures, their identifying makers’ marks, barcodes, whatever, so that you can get them off eBay or Amazon if, for some weird reason, you ever need them again. Store those digital pictures somewhere safe – along with all your other increasingly valuable, life-central digital data. Back them up both onsite and offsite.

Then remove them from your time and space. “Everything else” should not be in your immediate environment, sucking up your energy and reducing your opportunities. It should become a fond memory, or become reduced to data.

Of course, even as a short-to-medium-term storage medium, eBay is horribly clunky and expensive to use (not to mention lossy as all hell), but it’ll have to do until fabbing technology and truly ubiquitous digital media archiving catches up. The worrying thought is what we – as a culture, rather than as individuals – might lose in the period between now and then…

… but given that my ridiculous and ever-growing library of dead tree books contributed hugely to making my recent house move a waking nightmare, I’m starting to wonder whether I care as much as I think I do. Or rather, more than I should.

The artwork that sells itself

Consider, for a moment, the trials and tribulations of the plastic artist. You create your masterpiece, and – if you’re lucky – you sell it. And that’s your lot – not only is it beyond your control once it leaves your studio, but it can’t make you any further income.

Or can it? Caleb Larsen thinks he’s found a way to keep a persistent revenue stream flowing back from his latest piece, a featureless black plastic box entitled A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter; once it arrives at its new owner’s home or gallery and gets plugged in to power and ethernet sockets, it will wait for a handful of days before logging into eBay and putting itself up for auction again:

“Inside the black box is a micro controller and an Ethernet adapter that contacts a script running on server ever 10 minutes. The server script checks to see if box currently has an active auction, and if it doesn’t, it creates a new auction for the work. The script is hosted on a server to allow for updates and upgrades if and when the eBay API (the interface used for 3rd party programs to talk to eBay) changes.”

The technology is designed specifically so that the buying and selling process could carry on ad infinitum, suggests Larsen, who adds that, if eBay “dries up and disappears, then another platform, either propriety or public, can be used for the selling.”

However, the process is also reliant on purchasers agreeing to stringent rules. There are, in fact, 18 terms listed on the eBay auction site, although Larsen is confident that buyers will comply because they could make money by doing so.

Here’s how it works. The purchaser can set a new value for the artwork, which must be based on “current market expectations” of Larsen’s work, and which could be considerably more than the price they paid. When A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter decides it wants to be sold again, bidders will start their battle at the value set by the current owner.

This is where the art collector could make money. However they must first pay any fees to eBay and give Larsen 15 percent of any increase in value of the artwork.

I expect that once the novelty of the story has worn off, the income stream will dry up pretty fast; Larsen’s real gain here is notoriety and cultural kudos rather than cold hard cash. But his work is an interesting conceptual collision, and doubtless says something quite profound about the value we place on art, the ephemeral nature of that value, and the abstraction between the creator of a work and its existence independent of him or her – a metaphor for modern parenthood in a networked world?

Or something like that, anyway. [image lifted from linked article; please contact for takedown if required]

Military hardware on eBay – the black market is only a click away

Chain gunUnited States Defense Department investigators have discovered that it’s surprisingly easy to purchase restricted or classified items of military hardware; all you need to do is have a scout on eBay or Craigslist. [via SlashDot][image by swotai]

” Among the items purchased include two components from F-14 fighter jets …”

The article mentions the risk of items being reverse-engineered or countermeasured by enemies of the United States … though I’d hazard to suggest any enemy worth being worried about has probably decided that it’s best to continue letting bureaucracy and internal discontent do all the hard work of wearing their opponents down.

I think the thing that astonishes me most, though, is the fact that I’ve had eBay auctions delisted for tiny marginal breaches of the site’s code of conduct, yet their eagle-eyed monitoring teams don’t notice or investigate people selling chunks of fighter jets. It’s a weird world, and no mistake.