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You have been outbid...

Bother. I spotted an emergency power off panel from an IBM 1602 on eBay over the weekend, and was out-sniped within the last ten seconds (I'd set my snipe for 29 seconds, figuring that there wasn't likely to be a great deal of interest in a 3kg block of metal). On the plus side, the postage would have cost me the best part of USD50.

For those of you that might be wondering why I'd want an obsolete IBM boat anchor, might I refer you to one of autopope's stories, particularly the last four paragraphs.

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Did it also go for more than you were willing to pay for it?

My standard eBay practice is to work out how much I'm willing to pay and then just put that in as a bid straight off.

Yes, I am aware of the dominant strategies in auctions of this type. That said, eBay auctions suffer some of the same problems of first price sealed bid auctions, in that they encourage bidders to bid above their true value (good for eBay and the sellers, bad for the buyers). Vickrey auctions would work a damned sight better, but I can't see most users being happy with them.

I bid what I was willing to pay, being USD50 in this case. I put this in at the end of the auction because rebidding is common (bidders initially bid less that their true value, then rebid with raised values as their bids are exceeded).

It does not necessarily maximize seller revenues; seller revenues may even be zero in VCG auctions. If the purpose of holding the auction is to maximize profit for the seller rather than just allocate resources among buyers, then VCG may be a poor choice.

Can't see it catching on then :->

Sealed bids are a good way of doing it, certainly. And I can understand not wanting to put in your bid until the last minute, because that way you avoid a bidding war.

Oh, if only people _were_ the rational actors that economists like to model them as :->

First price sealed bids lead to over-bidding, which can be a problem (witness the 3G spectrum auciton - good for HMG, bad for everyone else).

Sorry, yes - it should go for the second bid.

The problem with the spectrum auction was that any phone company that didn't win some space on the spectrum was effectively dead in the water - which meant it was a case of pay or die. This doesn't work for much the same reason that selling critical medical care doesn't work - when you must have something its value is infinite...


eBay isn't first price sealed bid (I guess you understood that, but subsequently you don't make the distinction clear). The underlying mechanism in eBay is actually more similar to Vickrey. You automatically pay just enough to beat the next best bid by the auction's minimum increment.

The actual issue with eBay is that the bidders aren't rational. No amount of modelling with rational agents will tell you anything about how eBay works. We could try to create a system which punished irrationality more thoroughly than eBay, but that doesn't achieve anything except a sense of righteousness for people who understand auction theory.

For example, the very message you quoted exists only because eBay's customers are irrational. eBay earns nothing by telling a rational actor that they've lost the auction, they could determine this for themselves and they have no further interest in the auction because their fair price has been exceeded by another bidder. But in reality the irrational people actually using the service routinely re-bid when they receive this message.

When everyone else is insane, you have to use apparently insane tactics to get what you want. Hence the sniping.

Yup, that's kinda how I feel.

Except that I throw my hands in the air, declare I can't be arsed, and bid what I'm willing to pay straight off. If someone else wants to outbid me then fine - I'll go elsewhere and buy it there.

Thank you for that story link, going to have to seek out more of his work now.

In theory I ought to love Stross. But in practice I don't. Or at least, there are a lot of swings and misses compared to hits.

I found myself thinking about this after reading that short story in the context of having recently read a few reviews of Primer. Ebert seemed to get the same thing out of Primer as I did despite his very different background - it looked like Science, or at least Engineering rather than Science Fiction. Stross doesn't make that work. For me (and I'm sure you'll disagree) his worlds seem to be filled with Magic rather than Science, despite his best efforts.

I think Ebert might be onto something in picking out the lack of exposition. Primer expects (and of course this turns off a mainstream audience) that you will cope with the fact that you have no idea what's going on. That you will, in fact, embrace this and enjoy the experience of figuring out the same things the characters are figuring out, without them explaining it all to you. Stross has too much exposition. If you find yourself explaining the joke to the audience, you can't expect them to laugh at the end.

I am fairly certain that the folks who sniped you were from my museum. I'm not 100%, but i think they brought this to our attention and we had to buy it for our reconstruction.

Bugger. If it's any consolation, they'll have to pay far less postage that I would have...

Yeah, it's one of those bits of technokipple that you just have a visceral need for.

Not what you think it is...

Because of someone's faulty memory or a typing error, the object in question does not belong to the "CADET". The Can't-Add-Doesn't-Even-Try machine is the IBM 1620, a decimal, variable-word-length machine introduced at about the same time as the 1401. (Google it for lots of photos and information). But thanks to internet plagiarism, the error has propagated like a case of herpes, even into several languages.

What the 1602 is/was, is unknown to me (and probably to most IBM veterans). My best guess is that it was a coupler between two pieces of unit-record gear, say a 620 calculating punch and a 407 accounting machine. But that's just a guess. I can find no record of it in the online IBM archives.

Re: Not what you think it is...

I'd already suspected as much; I'd spent quite a while looking through the IBM archives and other sources. I don't know enough about old IBM kit to have been able to hazard a guess as to what it coupled, but your suggestion makes sense.

There's also a separate issue relating to this quote from the Stross: "[...] the 1602 was one of the last computers built to run on tubes: I’ve probably blown half its circuit boards." The 1620 used RTL logic, not valves, so this is either authorial license for the sake of a better story, or a simple mistake.

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