Greg's recent activity

  1. Comment on A plasma shot could prevent coronavirus. But feds and makers won’t act, scientists say in ~health.coronavirus

    Greg
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    If this is indeed as promising as it sounds, do we know if the EU, China, or India are pursuing it as an option? It seems as though at least one of the major players should/would be working on it.

    If this is indeed as promising as it sounds, do we know if the EU, China, or India are pursuing it as an option? It seems as though at least one of the major players should/would be working on it.

    10 votes
  2. Comment on Do you churn, or otherwise sign up for credit cards simply for the sign-up bonuses? in ~finance

    Greg
    (edited )
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    I find the economics of points/airline miles extremely interesting. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there's very often a lunch that's subsidised by someone else. You have luxury...

    I find the economics of points/airline miles extremely interesting. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there's very often a lunch that's subsidised by someone else.

    You have luxury services like business class flights or high-end hotel rooms that retail for thousands of dollars, but have very little marginal cost. It's all up-front capital, so the day-to-day pricing becomes this weird multivariate equation of potential profit maximisation based on supply and demand; an airline seat has a notional value in potential profit, but the plane is flying whether it's full or empty.

    So you take the points, rather than the cashback. You've effectively traded $150 cash for around 10,000 points, nominally valued at $100. But then the airlines have a seat worth a notional $900, which is closing towards zero value if they don't manage to fill it, that you can buy with those 10,000 points. So what are they really worth? The $100 Amazon voucher you could trade them for? The $150 you forewent in cashback? The $900 sticker price of the airline ticket? The $0 that the airline would have otherwise got for that seat? Or the $400 you would have actually spent on a different airline ticket?

    It's a great microcosm of how abstract and disconnected the costprice of an item, its perceived value, and it's actual cost can be. The simplified idea of value as a function of cost and a set profit margin is so misleading as to be flat out wrong in a lot of cases.

    As for the actual question, I don't really churn, but I do keep an active eye on my cards. I have a card that I funnel the vast majority of my day to day expenses through (plus any group activities that people want to pay me back for - dinners, gigs, holidays, etc.) and then make an effort to really maximise the value I get from those points. On a good year, I've managed £10,000+ of business class flights on the points from only a couple of years' spending.

    If you look at it on sticker price alone that's a ludicrous, impossible, unsustainable return rate probably north of 40%. But those seats represented maybe £1500 of value to me, and an otherwise empty seat to the airline, so I get a 6% return in real terms and the airline gets whatever kickback Amex gives them. It's as close to an all-round win as you can get.

    6 votes
  3. Comment on New York City rental market pushed to breaking point by tenant debts in ~life

    Greg
    Link Parent
    I'd say that goes for any subscription based business. Gyms, roadside assistance, insurance, video streaming - the less a customer uses, the more of their monthly fee is profit.

    I'd say that goes for any subscription based business. Gyms, roadside assistance, insurance, video streaming - the less a customer uses, the more of their monthly fee is profit.

    4 votes
  4. Comment on New York City rental market pushed to breaking point by tenant debts in ~life

    Greg
    (edited )
    Link Parent
    With respect, I don't think that does put them in the same position. Let's look at @Loire's hypothetical from above: the landlord has put in $100,000 on the mortgage. I'll be incredibly...

    With respect, I don't think that does put them in the same position. Let's look at @Loire's hypothetical from above: the landlord has put in $100,000 on the mortgage. I'll be incredibly pessimistic and assume that they just invested at the start of this year, so the equity built from rental income and capital appreciation are both negligible.

    On a $400,000 purchase price, if we model this similarly to the 2008 crisis, they might have to sell as low as $325,000. Take out $10k for fees, lawyers, and the rest and they walk away with $15,000. Make the assumptions just a tad less extreme and they're more likely to walk with well over $50,000.

    Losing $85,000 is absolutely crushing. I hate to think what it would do to a person's mental health, and I absolutely would not wish it upon them. I honestly doubt I'd have the psychological resilience to handle a hit like that, even knowing what I'm about to say about safety nets. However, in absolute terms this person still has their own home to live in, and at least $15,000 in the bank to cover expenses while they work out their next steps.

    Let's go a step further, and say that they couldn't shift the property even at a 20% discount (roughly the depth of the 2008 crash at its worst Edit: I was using UK figures, it looks like the US peak-to-trough hit was more extreme). I admit my own experience lies only in fast moving cities, so while this doesn't seem at all likely to me, I won't say it's impossible. They walk away with nothing. Well, nothing from the rental investment. The primary home is still there, as are any savings (it's unlikely that one would throw their emergency fund into a rental), and there's maybe a month or two of grace to look for jobs, talk to creditors, and generally try to rescue the home situation.

    Again, the stress is palpable. Even writing about it makes me anxious. But it's taken a worst-case catastrophic loss of the entire rental investment before eviction is even on the table.

    Except there's probably some equity in the home, and likely more than there was in the rental. Putting it on the market to recover something, anything, even at a huge loss is the next step. That puts something in the bank, perhaps only $20,000 when all is said and done, but certainly enough for transport and a few months' rent while job hunting.

    Perhaps even that isn't possible. Perhaps the equity in both properties, the savings, everything truly is gone. Then, and only then, are they in the same position as the renter. Far more likely is the opposite: that the losses aren't as extreme as I've modelled, and that the rental sale pays the home mortgage for 6-12 months while they job hunt, or maybe even take the time to sell properly and downsize a little.

    I meant it when I said I've seen both sides of the coin. I'm laying out these safety nets because they're largely things that I know I benefit from, and things that I remember dreaming of having back when I didn't. None of this is a criticism of the landlord or a suggestion that they shouldn't have the protection of a freeze. It's just an observation of how different the two situations really are.

    1 vote
  5. Comment on New York City rental market pushed to breaking point by tenant debts in ~life

    Greg
    Link Parent
    Over the years I've seen both sides of the coin on this one, and while I absolutely agree that the only fair solution is a freeze across the board, I do also think it's worth remembering how...

    Over the years I've seen both sides of the coin on this one, and while I absolutely agree that the only fair solution is a freeze across the board, I do also think it's worth remembering how different the outcomes look for a renter and a landlord.

    A renter who can't pay is at the mercy of their landlord, a landlord who can't pay is at the mercy of their creditors. On the surface, it looks like they're in very similar situations. If neither can work out an amicable solution, the money stops flowing and everyone has a problem.

    For the renter, this likely means eviction. We'll assume their savings are tapped out, so they end up on a friend's sofa with no job and a net worth of negative several thousand dollars thanks to eviction fees, rent arrears, and the rest. Ending up functionally homeless, indebted, and totally dependent on others is a very realistic outcome here.

    For the small time landlord with maybe one or two rental properties, this means a quick sale if possible, or foreclosure if not. They lose their investment property, keep their home, and more than likely end up with a five or six figure lump sum in the bank. Sure, that might be a smaller lump sum than it would have been if everything had gone well, it may even represent a net loss, but even so it's still very plausibly going to be real cash in the tens of thousands of dollars range.

    The landlord's worst case scenario is better than a lot of renters' optimistic life goals. None of this is to say it's the landlord's fault, it's just a very specific sting I don't think I'll ever forget: hearing someone worrying about a disaster that would have still left them far, far better off than me on a good day.

    4 votes
  6. Comment on New York City rental market pushed to breaking point by tenant debts in ~life

    Greg
    Link Parent
    The mortgage as a whole isn't a cost, only the mortgage interest is. A significant proportion of the payment is building equity for the landlord. At 3.8% (which I make $3,262/month, unless I...

    The mortgage as a whole isn't a cost, only the mortgage interest is. A significant proportion of the payment is building equity for the landlord.

    At 3.8% (which I make $3,262/month, unless I missed something?) that works out to $1318 to the bank and $1944 to the landlord* - it effectively triples the per-hour rate.

    They could also hire a property manager and make the vast majority of that money for effectively zero effort. Or indeed have a much lower mortgage, as @moonbathers mentioned.

    I'm not trying to vilify landlords here, but I absolutely am saying it's an easy and well rewarded job. When the person providing that easy money is working a tough, thankless, poorly rewarded job I'm hardly surprised to see anger and frustration about it.

    *Technically there's a question of inflation to consider by the time the landlord can access that money, but there's also appreciation of the property, so let's just say they cancel out. In reality the appreciation would generally push this even more in the landlord's favour.

    4 votes
  7. Comment on Kanye West says he’s done with Trump—opens up about White House bid, damaging Biden and everything in between in ~news

    Greg
    Link Parent
    I'll sidestep the question of would/wouldn't the US government be willing to do this, and ask instead: would you see them gaining anything specific (and worth the inevitable backlash) by...

    I'll sidestep the question of would/wouldn't the US government be willing to do this, and ask instead: would you see them gaining anything specific (and worth the inevitable backlash) by implanting chips rather than just using fingerprints/facial recognition/gait recognition/any other combination of noninvasive biometrics to track people?

    11 votes
  8. Comment on Why do prime numbers make these spirals? in ~science

    Greg
    Link Parent
    Awesome, I'll take a look at those, they look fascinating. Thank you!

    Awesome, I'll take a look at those, they look fascinating. Thank you!

  9. Comment on Why do prime numbers make these spirals? in ~science

    Greg
    Link
    That was a phenomenally clear and well made video. I'd never come across the channel before, and I'm deeply impressed at how well illustrated the concepts were - I've learned something new today!

    That was a phenomenally clear and well made video. I'd never come across the channel before, and I'm deeply impressed at how well illustrated the concepts were - I've learned something new today!

    3 votes
  10. Comment on Higher ed: Enough already in ~life

    Greg
    Link Parent
    My understanding of the article was that of the 16.5% of people who didn't have home broadband (in 2017), 3/4 had infrastructure available.

    3/4 Americans lack broadband internet despite infrastructure being available in their area (source: see article below)

    My understanding of the article was that of the 16.5% of people who didn't have home broadband (in 2017), 3/4 had infrastructure available.

    4 votes
  11. Comment on Turn on multi-factor authentication before crooks do it for you in ~tech

  12. Comment on How to reform the police in ~misc

    Greg
    Link
    Nothing groundbreaking here, but it's presented clearly, succinctly, and authoritatively (even if the segue to a VPN ad undermines the tone a little). I find it difficult to see how anyone could...

    Nothing groundbreaking here, but it's presented clearly, succinctly, and authoritatively (even if the segue to a VPN ad undermines the tone a little).

    I find it difficult to see how anyone could reasonably disagree with the substance of these points, and presentation like this seems a good way to cut through any fear and misinformation.

    1 vote
  13. Comment on Inside Seattle's Autonomous Zone in ~news

    Greg
    Link Parent
    I'd think that them setting up an effective, non-racist security service with appropriate training in de-escalation and minimal use of force would be the perfect and final form of protest against...

    I'd think that them setting up an effective, non-racist security service with appropriate training in de-escalation and minimal use of force would be the perfect and final form of protest against a police force that represents none of these things.

    13 votes
  14. Comment on Announcing sound null-safety for Dart in ~comp

    Greg
    Link Parent
    I think the big win with null safety is catching that class of errors before they happen - you get the report at compile time, rather than seeing it in a server log at 4am for a function deep...

    I think the big win with null safety is catching that class of errors before they happen - you get the report at compile time, rather than seeing it in a server log at 4am for a function deep within the codebase that you absolutely swore had the correct testing and input validation.

    The other option, and one that I'm kind of surprised I haven't seen in more languages (or standard libraries, I guess), is accepting null as a perfectly valid input by default. Null goes in, null comes out - it doesn't cause exceptions because functions are expected to handle it gracefully.

    1 vote
  15. Comment on When phones were fun: Samsung's "Matrix Phone" (2003) in ~tech

    Greg
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    Now there's a name I haven't heard in a long time... Fun though it is, this Samsung always had a little bit of a "mall ninja" air to it, even at the time. The Nokia 8110 was chosen for the first...

    Now there's a name I haven't heard in a long time... Fun though it is, this Samsung always had a little bit of a "mall ninja" air to it, even at the time. The Nokia 8110 was chosen for the first film because the filmmakers thought it looked like what a hacker would use; the Samsung was injection moulded to look stereotypically hacker-y and imitate a film prop. It was an interesting piece of kit, and the marketing tie in was definitely a big win for Samsung, but actually owning one of these was a step too far for most people.

    That said, my favourite phone, to this day, is the Nokia 8910 which is one of the only other handsets I know of to feature a working pop up mechanism. The 8110 didn't actually do that, it was just rigged with elastic by the props department to (successfully!) make it look cooler.

    Sadly I doubt my old 8910 is still usable on modern networks - it was very obsolete even when I bought it around 2008, but the build quality was phenomenal and the design was a genuine conversation starter; I'd love to see a modern design in this vein.

    6 votes
  16. Comment on Seven years later, I bought a new Macbook. For the first time, I don't love it in ~tech

    Greg
    Link Parent
    Oh cool, I didn't realise that bit was also an electrical connection - I thought it just held the attachment in place! I've just checked my own charger (2019 MacBook Pro, UK plug, no extension...

    Oh cool, I didn't realise that bit was also an electrical connection - I thought it just held the attachment in place!

    I've just checked my own charger (2019 MacBook Pro, UK plug, no extension cord) and it has three metal pins but no link from the ground to the internal button. All UK sockets need three pins to work mechanically, but the third is often plastic, so it seems even more frustrating that they used a metal one and then didn't connect it.

  17. Comment on Seven years later, I bought a new Macbook. For the first time, I don't love it in ~tech

    Greg
    Link Parent
    Does the third pin have an impact on a figure eight cable? I didn't think there was a path for it to connect through to the device.

    Does the third pin have an impact on a figure eight cable? I didn't think there was a path for it to connect through to the device.

  18. Comment on Four major US publishers sue Internet Archive for copyright infringement, alleging that it has illegally offered more than a million scanned works to the public in ~books

    Greg
    Link Parent
    Publishers also charge the library five to ten times as much for digital copies compared to paper ones, and then go on to render them unusable after a relatively limited period. They are in no way...

    Publishers also charge the library five to ten times as much for digital copies compared to paper ones, and then go on to render them unusable after a relatively limited period. They are in no way acting in good faith - they're using the DRM for control and profiteering, not just as a means of maintaining the status quo.

    There's a simple and fair option that I've mentioned before: charge the libraries a fee per lend, and set that fee based on the hard copy price and its expected lifespan. Until we see that happening, I'll maintain a healthy skepticism of the publishers' side of this argument.

    As for the Internet Archive, my understanding is that until very recently they did still limit the copies in circulation exactly like any other library's ebook program. The difference is that they acquired their copies in physical form and digitised them, rather than specifically licensing digital copies. The difficulty comes in the fact that they then removed this limit during the COVID crisis, to allow wider access. Legally dubious, but as far as I'm concerned entirely moral.

    21 votes
  19. Comment on To deliver The Simpsons in 4:3 aspect ratio, Disney+ had to rearchitect its content-delivery system in ~tv

    Greg
    Link Parent
    This actually makes me think less of Disney+ as a whole, although better of their tech team specifically. If they'd lacked the ability to play 4:3 content it would have been a big oversight, but I...

    This actually makes me think less of Disney+ as a whole, although better of their tech team specifically.

    If they'd lacked the ability to play 4:3 content it would have been a big oversight, but I could still see it as an oversight. It's the kind of forehead-slapping "oh god how did we miss that?!" moment that happens from time to time on large projects with many different managers and moving parts. Still shouldn't happen, but it's an honest mistake.

    As it turns out they did have the ability to play 4:3, but someone made the decision to destructively force it into a 16:9 frame instead. And then someone else made the further decision to do a whole tech build in order to retain those edits rather than just replacing them with the unaltered content. Both of these are active decisions, not mistakes; both of them are bad decisions.

    1 vote