Guy creates bot to auto-buy cheap gifts online

New software sorts, finds, and buys cheap stuff from an online auction site and sends it to Paul Hunkin, who just likes getting packages (with free shipping, of course).

The secret sauce that gave Hunkin his idea. Randall Munroe

Being that I'm a famous geek-culture Internet celebrity, people send me gifts all the time. Why, just today I walked out of my apartment to find an eye patch, chopsticks, a John Elway coffee mug, and a power supply for a PowerBook 1400cs. Thank you, readers, for your kind gifts!

But not everyone can be a well-known blogger. Take, for example, Paul Hunkin, a Ph.D. student in New Zealand. He set up an Internet bot to randomly buy low-priced stuff, with free shipping, from an online auction site. Paul, you see, likes to get packages. This way, he gets one, on average, every three days. The bot even tweets what it bought (these watch batteries, for example,) so Paul, and anyone else, can keep track.

The thing was inspired by this wonderful old strip at XKCD, a nerd Web comic that you should be reading if you aren't. A quote from Paul's Web site:

Google didn't reveal anyone doing this already, and after asking a few people, the general opinion was that doing this was a terrible idea that would inevitably end badly. So obviously I had to do it.

Poor life choices are, in my opinion, a mark of disturbed genius. Hunkin's script uses Python, and it gains a dollar a day and runs every evening at 8 p.m. Each time it runs it has a one-in-three chance of purchasing something; that way if it doesn't find anything it likes, it can save up for slightly more pricey items.

Paul includes more tidbits on his Web site, like an overview of the algorithm the bot uses to pick what to buy, but sadly no downloadable source code.

Paul, if you're reading this, please make it available. More people, including Yours Truly, want to get random packages. And really, this could help out the global economy, don't you think?

"Look what my bot got me today!" http://twitter.com/trademe_xkcd576

About the author

    With more than 15 years experience testing hardware (and being obsessed with it), Crave freelance writer Matt Hickey can tell the good gadgets from the great. He also has a keen eye for future technology trends. Matt has blogged for publications including TechCrunch, CrunchGear, and most recently, Gizmodo. Matt is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CBS Interactive. E-mail Matt.

     

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