project I'm working on : posted by scott on 05.04.07 at 21:13, null, hacks, 3 comments

For a class final project, I'm trying to develop something that can help people to understand/compare mortgages.

I did a little volunteer work for a lender last spring and was surprised at the apparent lack of standard terminology and clear references in the world of lending. I see this project as one way to attack that problem, although I go back and forth on whether it is the right approach, or can actually amount to anything.

Anyway, if anyone cares to check it out I'd enjoy hearing their thoughts.

comment by scott on 05.04.07 at 22:14
Also, if anyone (Devin?) knows more than I do about mortgages, I'm sort of groping in the dark.
comment by anwar on 05.04.08 at 14:23
Having applied for several varieties (and currently shouldering such a beast) I know a couple things about mortgages.

The trickiest thing with mortgages is that there many variations (more accurately called "scams") which are designed to maximize the return to the money-lender.

By and large, understanding mortgages is hard because most people have little *intuitive* sense of very large numbers and how interest is calculated.

For a typical mortgage, the interest is calculated monthly.

accrued monthly interest = (1/12)*yearly_rate*(principal)

The minimum sustainable payment would be to pay off only the interest. (Otherwise, your principal would grow..leading to horrible consequences).

..more later... but for now you can check out a couple sites with nifty calculators.

My credit union's guide to mortgages. (has tips on how to avoid getting screwed)

And a mortgage calculator.

I also have a couple excel spreadsheets that help figure out the exact costs of a mortgage (including various tax-deductions, and so on)
comment by anwar on 05.04.08 at 14:26
A list of common terms can be found in Chapter 4.

building on open source : posted by scott on 05.04.03 at 21:04, Catch-all, null, 1 comment

This Reuters article (from Slashdot) talks about how the availability of open source
software is making it possible to hack together cool new things quickly and cheaply.

To me this is an example of the orders-of-magnitude-higher value that is offered by open source software.

comment by ben on 05.04.04 at 18:10
The open source argument I remember from the olde days (when RedHat 5.0 was bright and new) went something like:

In the open source era your os will be free, the applications you use will be free, it will all be free.

Only big companies will pay for software. That's because they have special needs and can hire developers for those needs. These companies will then release that software as free because it costs them nothing to do so.

As a result commercially developed software will mingle with freely developed software in a utopian software regime making everyone happy and personable.

Am I getting this right? Has the open source model changed? Are we still expecting the demise of Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk and Macromedia? Is there any provision for game development in this brave new world?
the transparent economy : posted by scott on 05.03.28 at 00:10, Catch-all, null, 4 comments

I've been thinking for a while that it'd be really desirable when purchasing a product to be able to learn various things about how that product was made. As it stands, if Company A figures out a way to make a widget for 20% cheaper than Company B, they can pass that savings on to the customer and sell a heck of a lot more widgets than B. If B doesn't do something to catch up, they're in deep trouble.

On the other hand, if Company A makes its widgets for the same cost and sells them for the same price, but causes 20% less environmental harm per widget (or gives its employees 20% better health insurance), it's possible no one will even know the difference.

It would be a Really Good Thing if the same competitive pressures that drive down costs could be made to drive down waste and pollution, or to drive up the quality of life of various workers. One way to get at this is Pigovian taxes, which cause information about the impact of making something to be reflected in its price (e.g. by charging a higher tax for products that required more pollution to produce). It seems like another way would be to make more information available to consumers. (Collecting such information would also provide a good basis for imposing Pigovian taxes.)

It seems like we're nearing the point, technologically, where a supply chain could be designed that would keep track of just about every detail regarding a product's manufacture and shipping, and make this information available (e.g. by scanning a barcode). As far as I'm concerned it is very much my business to know all sorts of details about how the things I'm thinking of buying were made.

Any thoughts?

comment by graham on 05.03.28 at 01:43
This has been a fairly hot topic in the Seattle area.

The technology for tracking a product's manufacture and shipping already exists in the form of RFid tags with built-in sensors. For example, I've seen tags used to track the temperature of produce during shipping in order to determine the remaining shelf life of the items.

From my two experiences with manufacturing, however, I think it might be difficult to put a number on how much pollution is generated in the manufacture of a product. Instead (and this is what most of what I have read on this subject says) it might be more practical to tax products based on it's materials and how easy it is to reclaim them. I've heard of several companies starting to design their electronics products to facilitate dissasembly in order to remove the PCBs for proper disposal and recycle the plastic housings.

[argh... stupid tiny comment box]
comment by anwar on 05.03.28 at 11:40
So, I was thinking about this idea a while back too. Originally I believed that the best place to start was by creating graphs of all the components that went into a product. However, for any reasonably complex thing (e.g. a computer) this graph quickly spirals out of control.

Now I tend to agree with Graham about the materials/energy idea. On the first order, if you know what the materials used in the product are (and also the energy/pollution required to mine/extract/synthesize them). You could quickly come up with an envelope for its total environmental cost.

More on this later...
comment by marco on 05.03.28 at 12:28
At a presentation about food production a year or two ago I remember hearing about some northern European country (Denmark?) that has an interesting system already in place. Meat sold in stores has two bar codes: one is for the regular check-out and price/inventory information, but the other can be scanned at stations in the store to tell you about the production history of that particular item. It sounds like a really cool step in the direction you're talking about, Scott, though I don't know any details about it. Might be worth checking up on.
comment by devin on 05.03.28 at 15:25
One of my college roommates (Chris, for those of you who have meet him) worked at an institute in Germany one summer where they tried to calculate the total amount of various types of resources needed to make consumer goods. Under this kind of system, computers (of any kind) are really expensive. I seem to recall that the total environmental cost of a microwave was absurdly high compared to that of a regular convection oven.
Here we go... : posted by scott on 05.03.17 at 14:30, Catch-all, null, Leave a comment

Well, this is my first nonplatonic blog post.

05.04 | 05.03 |