Subprime meltdown

The mainstream media coverage of the US subprime mortgage meltdown has mostly been about all the folk who have lost their homes, and various plans the government has come up with to try and ease the problem. Thinking about it more carefully, though, doesn’t it seem a little odd for the US government to interfere in the sacred free market merely in order to save a bunch of poor people from ruin?

A heartwarming tale

Royal Bank of Scotland charges man £3,400 in bank charges. Man goes to court, claiming charges are illegal under UK law. Bank doesn’t bother to show up or contest the claim. Court rules in man’s favor. Bank doesn’t respond when payment of debt is demanded. Man sends in debt collectors, who seize fax machines and computers from the local high street branch in front of startled customers, and tell the bank the equipment will be sold to pay the debt unless the bank coughs up the money it owes.

Free money

Everyone should have a chunk of cash in an instant access savings account; see Dilbert’s guide to financial success. If you’re in the US and have $250 spare to put in a savings account, I’ve got a voucher you can use to open an account with ING Direct, and they’ll give you $25 free. (Plus $10 for me.) I’ve been saving with them for a while, because their rates are so much better than my bank’s savings account rates (4.

Business ethics, Part 2

The idea behind credit cards is simple: they’re a way for the bank to make money. And they do, billions of dollars of it every year. The trick is to find new ways to get as many customers as possible into the optimum debt profile. The basic rules of the game are relatively easy to understand: The more you spend, the more you owe. The more you owe, the more you have to pay at the end of the month.

United we fall

Online forum SomethingAwful managed to raise $27,695 to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Then suddenly, PayPal locked the account. When someone finally managed to contact PayPal, they were informed that PayPal has an exclusive contract with United Way—and that United Way’s contract would not allow PayPal funds to be transferred to the Red Cross. Yup: United Way and PayPal would rather block $27k in relief funds, than allow the money to go to the Red Cross.

So let me tell you about this house thing…

When we arrived in Austin at the end of October, we didn’t expect major problems finding a house. During our visit in April we had spent an afternoon with a real estate agent, and had seen a number of suitable houses. Sure enough, the first day we went house hunting, sara walked into a place and immediately thought “This is it.” We went back when I had finished work, and I agreed.

End of year wrap-up

So, it’s the end of 2004, and once again my life has changed in major ways. In less than a year I’ve: sold my flat in the UK, learned to drive, packed up my worldly possessions and put them in storage, bought a car, gone on a road trip half way across America, moved to Texas, and made an offer on a house. The house thing is still stalled, however. Right now the critical path bottleneck is that the people buying the house next door feel that they need to get the property lines re-drawn.

Do PowerMacs dream of electric bills?

People often wonder if they should turn their computer off, or leave it on but put it into “sleep mode”. I decided to do some analysis a while back, here are the results. If you look up the specs, a Sawtooth Power Mac G4 in deep sleep uses about 4 watts of electricity. In MA you pay $0.04823 per kWh, so it costs 4 / 1000 kW * 24 hours * 365 days * $0.

Now it can be told

My Prius arrived! Three days ahead of the most optimistic estimate! Now it’s purchased, time to tell the whole story… I started the search on September 16th. Calling the local Massachusetts Toyota dealers quickly established that they all had ridiculous wait lists; the best wait time I was quoted was a year. However, the situation wasn’t completely hopeless—according to the online forums like and, dealers often get cars that are a color or a package that nobody on their wait list wants, or nobody on the list who wants the car can get financed at that particular moment in time.

Now for the tricky bit (revised)

I logged in and checked my bank balance this morning. The money from the apartment sale was there. I stared blankly at it for a while, then stared blankly at a bunch of other stuff. I’m not used to dealing with amounts of money that size, and my brain decided to go crawl into a corner for a while and pretend nothing had happened. About half an hour later, the bank called.