Virtual Insanity

I think I might have gone a bit mad. You decide and tell me.

I've had an old soundcard sitting in a drawer for several years. It's a good soundcard - an M-Audio Delta 1010LT 10-In/10-Out PCI, which still sells new for GBP120.

Unfortunately it's a PCI card, which means it only fits full size PCs - and those with an architecture that's been obsolete for three years. There's still plenty of people with old and technically obsolete computers - some of them running Windows 95(!) - so PCI cards are still in extensive use.

But not for me. I'm a laptop man now, and the only tower PCs I use are...ones mother and me build from cannibalised PCs which other people give away because there's something wrong with them. Wrong with the PCs, not the people.

So I thought to myself: Why don't I put my old soundcard on Ebay?

So I did. And it sold. For GBP91. Very nice.

Slightly less nice was the GBP3.33 service charge paypal deducted. And much less nice was the "hold" they put on the rest of the transaction.

Paypal have a charming policy whereby if you...
  • Haven't sold anything on ebay for more than twelve months like me, or
  • Have negative ebay feedback, or
  • Just don't have much ebay feedback

...they hold the transaction for "up to 21 days" in case anyone wants to challenge it for some reason. "Up to 21 days" means "always 21 days", and for that time, your money is in limbo, inaccessible.

Sigh. Well if that's the way they want to play it, thinks me, I'll just put some more old stuff on ebay while I'm waiting.

Another thing I'd had sitting in a drawer for years was my old sampler - the Casio SK5. Back in 1987, when I was fifteen and samplers were still pretty new, I pestered my parents for it - GBP99, grungy 8-bit sound, 4-note polyphonic, completely MIDI incapable, and with absurd built-in samples including a laser gun and a lion roar.

I sometimes think, the more advanced and easier to use technology gets, the less productive I get with it. Well, the SK5 was primitive and a pig to use. A dozen albums.

Somewhat easier, around 1993, was a PC soundcard that, with ten minutes fiddling and hacking of forbidden files, could be fooled into thinking your own sample of a Kraftwerk bleep (from cassette) was its own grand piano sound. That, being played by sequencer software that could only be programmed by manually placing notes on a staff, was the next step. Half a dozen albums.

Then in 2000, the Propellerhead company gave us the program called Reason - named after a program in a Douglas Adams novel. I had a copy. Which is to say, I spent a solid ten hours downloading a pirate copy - net connections were a little slow in those days.

And until last week, I've owned and extensively used various pirate copies of Reason, upgrading my copy a few months after each official update. It's not like I could afford to buy the program at the time, and I seemed to use it a lot more - and better - than most legitimate owners. In spite of and a half albums done.

So, I sold my SK5 for a very respectable a bender. A circuit bender that is - someone who takes old synthesiers, and soups them up, adding MIDI and effects to the original by physically augmenting the circuit board. Very clever, and little bit perverse, and rather out of my league. But it's good my old keyboard got a new lease of life with a new nerd.

So I got a bit of money...and I got a plan.

You see, Reason is a synthesiser program, but not a complete music creation system. At what it does it's probably the best, but it doesn't do the rest. It can't record audio, and can only import it as a kludge. It can be wired to work with certain programs that can handle audio, but the process is complex and results tend to sound like just what they are - two different systems working in parallel but not meshing.

But...the makers of Reason have now brought out a second program, integratable with Reason, which does audio. And really great guitar pedal effects, and a mixer that'll make your ears fall in love with you, and other good stuff. It's called Record. And it's completely and utterly unpiratable.

Which is to say, it probably is piratable, by a team of dedicated brilliant hackers doing nothing else for six months. But otherwise, it's the best security I've ever seen.

Which means if I want a studio system that's well integrated and powerful, I've either got to...
  • Stop using Reason and switch to synth plugins running on other, much more easily hacked programs like Cubase and Ableton, which I know where to get pirate versions of. It'd take more processor power, be less consistent, have a difficult learning curve and be much more crash prone, but it's possible. Or
  • Accept the limitations of wiring Reason with another program. Which is what I damn well should have done. Or
  • Buy Record. Legitimately. Honestly. Decently. Properly. Openly. Correctly. Rightly. Legally. And on ebay 'cos there's no way I'm paying the inflated full price.
So I bought Record - GBP99 and in order to run it all I need to do is register it. Unfortunately...

...Unfortunately I got the cheaper version of Record, sold to people who already have Reason, which means in order to register it, I need to register my copy of Reason. Which I can't do, because my not-completely-kosher copy is registered to someone else. So to register Record I need to get...a legitimate copy of Reason.

And it was massively stupid of me to not see that coming.

So now I got to looking for a legitimate copy of Reason. Second hand, from ebay.

I thought I'd help finance this by selling some DVDs, which I'd bought years before for GBP25. They did indeed sell - for GBP2. Ebay doesn't charge you if you don't set a minimum bid, so I...didn't. Sigh.

The first auction I used a free online automatic bidder, and got promptly outbid by someone else's automatic bidder. This is how ebay works nowadays.

The second auction I used a different automatic bidder and raised my maximum bid to GBP100 - and watched the program sell for GBP101. And at the third, GBP102. The forth looked promising - until the seller changed their mind and priced themselves out of the market.

But then, fifth time lucky! And less than GBP100 too.

Now...remind me what I wanted to do with this software? I seem to have forgotten somewhere along the line. And remind me why my idea to get a little extra money by selling means I'm GBP60 down by buying?

And, did I get swept along with an questionable idea, did I finally do the right thing by accident in buying what I use, or did I just go a bit mad?


  1. See. This is why I use a shopping list. So I can keep track of my spending and avoid impulse buying. That way, I stay in my budget.

    I hope your money comes through. Paypal and eBay policies suck! And not in a good way, either!

  2. Yes, you're mildly barking. But that's what Mick does too. He was, at one point last month, the owner of seven camcorders: none of which worked. He then bought a job lot of ancient laptops - which didn't work either - and seriously though he'd make money.

    It seems to be what eBay does to people, and I have no doubt that in years to come there will be an offical psychological name for the problem.


  3. @Eroswings:

    Oh yes, I do shopping lists. Then in the shop I see the bread I wanted is out of stock but there's another one on two-for-one special offer.

    Still waiting for both money and item, but I'm being patient and restrained. And definitely not spending any more.


    Seven camcorders! I only have three.

    As for the name...

    * Caveat non Emptor
    * Buyer's Creep
    * Endless Win Deferment
    * Prospect Telescoping
    * Big Plan Syndrome

    Actually I think its just a new manifestation of the old gambler's fallacy - "My luck's been bad for a long time, so I'm due for a winning streak". Also known as "Throwing good money after bad" and "Desperate Optimism".