Tag Archives: opinion

Penny Auctions, take 2

I was fairly diplomatic in my earlier blog post about penny auction site grabaid. While it looked a bit sus, I’m wary of jumping to conclusions and calling something a scam when it could be legitimate.

I’ll not make this mistake twice.

Penny auction sites, which seem to be popping up all over the place these days, are little more than a scam. If you bid, you will lose. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • grababid.co.nz (and .co.uk .com etc)
  • swoopo.com
  • ipennybid.com
  • bidrivals.com
  • planetbid.co.nz

If you’re considering bidding on one of these sites, I highly recommend you read the following posts:

Don’t be sucked in.

Grababid.co.nz and Penny Auctions… my take

I recently noticed an ad for www.grababid.co.nz while browsing gmail. It was advertising LCD tvs for $1, no doubt because I had been bidding on such items on trademe, and the keywords would have been fairly prominent in my inbox (don’t you love targeted advertising?). Normally I ignore crap like this, but it looked like a New Zealand auction site so I had to check it out – anything that competes with Trademe is good for the market in my book.

Except perhaps, in this case.

I visited the site and at first glance it looked promising – $1 reserve auctions for high value electronic goods. The problems become apparent quite quickly when you dig deeper.

Grababid is a “Penny Auction” site, and placing bids on is not free. You have to pre-purchase a quantity of “bids” in packages. The site encourages you to buy larger packages of bids in two ways – by giving you more bids for your dollar in larger quantities, and also by giving you 30% extra on your first purchase.

I’d encourage you to read the following wikipedia article (which is not up to the usual wikipedia standard but informative none the less). What it comes down to is that bids are placed which increase the sale price by a fixed amount (say 10c, not sure what it is in grababid’s case). The last bid placed wins the auction, but each bid extends the auction to give other “players” (let’s be straight here, you’re playing a game) the chance to bid. The final sale price is usually well below RRP, but since each bid that is placed has already been paid for, the auctioneer collects fees for each bid in addition to the sale price. So for a $1 start auction with a bid price of $1 and an increment of 10c that finishes at $100, the auctioneer has actually collected over $1000. The “winner” probably got a good deal, but the other bidders/players all have lost out. Note that the price appears to be fixed at $1 for many of grababids auctions, so it’s basically just the last person to bid $1 that wins…

In game theory terms the players are playing a game of brinkmanship, where each bid placed lessens the reward. But in the case of a website there is a third party – the webmaster – and they hold all the cards. The potential for abuse is huge as the webmaster can easily deprive any player of a win simply by placing a shill bid, which would be almost impossible to detect as only the webmaster truly knows who placed each bid. It would also be rather easy to create the impression of a busy site by running a whole lot of bots, and grababid actually does seem rather busy at first glance…

The point is, that unless you like games where the odds are stacked against you (i.e. you’re a gambler), you’d be wise to avoid sites like grababid. I’d sooner do my research and shop around than throw money away trying to “win” a game of brinkmanship. The fact is that if they weren’t making a margin on the goods they’re selling, they wouldn’t be in business. Given that margins are already rather low on electronic goods it makes far more sense to shop elsewhere.

You might also be interested to know that despite the .nz domain name and the skytower graphic in their logo, Grababid.co.nz was registered by someone in Hong Kong with a German registrar:

domain_name: grababid.co.nz
query_status: 200 Active
domain_dateregistered: 2008-07-08T12:38:27+12:00
domain_datebilleduntil: 2009-07-08T12:38:27+12:00
domain_datelastmodified: 2009-05-01T11:14:51+12:00
domain_delegaterequested: yes
%
registrar_name: Key-Systems GmbH
registrar_address1: Prager Ring 4-12
registrar_city: Zweibruecken
registrar_province: RP
registrar_postalcode: 66482
registrar_country: DE (GERMANY)
registrar_phone: +49 6332 791850
registrar_fax: +49 6332 791851
registrar_email: info@key-systems.net
%
registrant_contact_name: Jerry Reddig
registrant_contact_address1: Flat 5, 10/F, Yuen Shing Ind. Bldg.,, Yee Kuk West Street
registrant_contact_city: Hong Kong
registrant_contact_postalcode: 1033
registrant_contact_country: HK (HONG KONG)
registrant_contact_phone: +852 4246860 7
registrant_contact_fax: +852 11111 1
registrant_contact_email: purchase@grababid.com

Also note the existence of grababid.com, grababid.co.uk, they’re all the same thing (it doesn’t appear that much localisation was done other than the graphic).

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not you want to join this site, but it should be fairly apparent that I won’t be buying my LCD TV from there.

Buying a second-hand Digital SLR Camera

Having recently purchased a camera from TradeMe (New Zealand equivalent of ebay), I now realise that I made several mistakes. The camera was a Canon 5D with a 24-105 F4L lens and was physically flawless. It appeared to have been very well looked after, and the test shots looked fine, so I have to admit I wasn’t as cautious as I should have been. But the day afterwards I noticed what looked like very fine cracks in all my photos. Some quick internet research revealed that what I was seeing was fungal growth on the CMOS sensor! How did I not notice this?

The problem was that I went to have a look at the camera after the sun had gone down, thus all the photos were taken in dim indoor lighting which needs wide a aperture for proper exposure. At wider apertures much of the light hitting the sensor comes in at a wider angle, and as the sensor has a filter in front of it some light can get behind foreign matter on the surface of the filter before hitting the sensor. Narrow apertures show up dirt far more readily as the light is coming in from a narrower range of angles.

Looking at the sensor itself I could see the fungus and some other specks of dust. So I took a test shot of the sky at f/22, +1 EV (although any brightly lit background would do)… and this is what I saw (this is the full frame so you’ll have to view it enlarged to see what I’m talking about):

Filthy!

Filthy!

Needless to say, these marks have a very visible impact on any pictures with an aperture narrower than about f/7, and looking back I can even make out the fungus in the original test shots I took at f/4.

Fungal growth on the sensor could potentially be expensive, as a by-product of fungus is an acidic compound which could eat away at the coating on the filter. Worst case is that it needs a new filter, which should not be expensive in itself but would expensive in terms of labour as it requires dismantling the camera. So I’m hoping a simple clean will put it right!

So, the lesson I learned is to take some test shots in BRIGHT LIGHT, at both narrow and wide apertures. Narrow apertures reveal dirt on the sensor, and wider ones are more likely to show up any lens issues such as fringing or bad focus.

A summary of advice:

  1. Go to view the camera during the day, not at night.
  2. Take your own memory card along so you can examine the shots in more detail when you get home. I did this, but the wide apertures meant that the fungus was barely discernible, and it was on the edge of the image where the picture was out of focus anyway, so I wasn’t looking in the right places.
  3. Take test shots of the sky or another brightly lit background at the narrowest aperture possible (normally f/22) and +1EV (exposure value). If you simply can’t arrange a time during the day, flash shots of a clean white or lightly coloured wall should suffice. Or you could use a long shutter speed, since dirt on the sensor isn’t going to move you don’t have to worry about camera shake or motion blur… just make sure you get the right exposure.
  4. If purchasing a lens with the body, take some shots at the widest aperture possible, as these are far more likely to show up lens flaws such as fringing or bad focus.
  5. Examine the sensor by putting the camera into “sensor cleaning” mode. This flips up the mirror so you can see the sensor. To do this on a 40D you would go to setup menu 2 (yellow icon with two dots) > Sensor Cleaning > Clean Manually. On the 5D just scroll down to it, it’s in the orange setup section close to the bottom.

There are no doubt many other flaws to look out for in cameras which I haven’t touched on here. So be sure to look at other sites with more complete information, but nonetheless I hope this has been useful for someone!

Update 1-6-08

Probably what most people reading this are going to want to know is; did the sensor clean fix the problem? Unfortunately it didn’t, and Canon quoted me $2500+gst in parts alone for repairs (which is a new sensor assembly). Since this is considerably higher than the value of the camera, it’s basically not economic to repair unless you know someone capable of replacing the filter or dismantling the camera and cleaning it properly.