A credit card worth having

My general view on debt is that is it is that is mainly useful when acquiring an asset that will give you some tangible returns. For example, if a business wants a loan to buy some machinery that would allow them produce their widgets more efficiently, then that is a good reason to borrow. On the other hand, if a person runs up huge debts buying clothes, then clearly that’s not so good.

So when it comes to debt, and credit cards in particular, I think we need to be very careful. There is a tendency for some people to think that credit cards are free money; they don’t realise the pain of paying it back until it’s far too late.

Of course credit cards are not just about debt. They can be useful in protecting you against dodgy traders or companies going bust and if you pay them off in full every month, you can even profit from them if they offer cashback.

I got my first ever credit card around the year 2000 when I was 18, and it was an Egg card. The reason I chose that card was that they allowed you to manage your account on-line, charged lower fees, and offered a good rate of cashback. However, over the years since they have steadily upped their fees and reduced the cashback, so much so that its benefit now is almost negligible.

Capital One World Mastercard

Last year, Brendan (the king of credit cards) alerted me to a much better cashback card. It’s called the Capital One World Mastercard, and it’s essentially a cashback card that will pay you 1% of whatever you spend on it. If you shop sensibly, this means a further 1% discount on everything you buy, and because it’s a Mastercard it will be accepted pretty much everywhere.

However, the main reason I decided to write about them today is that I just tried out their new online banking system and it is probably the best I have ever used. I say this because it allows you to download your statements in a number of formats such as QIF (Quicken / MS Money), CSV, Tab Delimited etc and for every transaction it provides detailed information including even the MCC / SIC (standard industry classification) code. It also gives you the Merchant’s town and postcode.

All I need now is a good accounts package to import these transactions into!

Free our data!

The Guardian have been running a campaign for the past 2 years to free public information that tax payers have paid to collect but the government currently charges for. Coincidentally, this is nearly as long as Fubra has been interested in making such data available for free.

Free House Prices

We launched our first free data service back in January 2005 with a house price information service called OurProperty.co.uk. A month earlier, the Land Registry had announced that they were going to be selling all the price paid data that they collect in bulk. I spotted this and gave my business partner Brendan a call. Together we agreed that we would buy all the data, but rather than resell it on (as the Land Registry had expected us to do), we would give it away to users for free, and make a little money from advertising.

We were the first site to commit to giving this data away for free forever, and this decision went down incredibly well with our users. Within a week we had 100,000 nosey neighbours signed up to the site. Seeing it’s success, a host of other sites soon joined in the free data party.

Free Petrol Prices

Later that year we spotted another opportunity to give away some data. The AA’s petrolbusters site had closed down, and there was a gap in the market for a petrol price information site. Brendan made a few calls to find a supplier for the data, and within week or two we had launched PetrolPrices.com.

We linked these 2 sites together with a single login (which we call the Fubra Passport), and in the 3 years we have been running them they have grown to have almost 2.5 million subscribers. People love our regular house and petrol price alerts, so they can see what’s going on near them, but this is just the start.

Free our data

If the government were to make more data available we would literally jump at the chance to build more services for our users. I’ve suggested some of my ideas for re-using Land registry data to Charles Arthur and Michael Cross at the Guardian and they published these today:

  • A property metadata service, calculating building and land area for all UK properties. Would allow people to know the price per sqm that properties were on sale for.
  • A land use timeline, showing building growth through time overlaid on a map.
  • Identifying building plots for self-builders by finding properties with large gardens within a local development plan.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. It took me about 5 minutes to come up with these ideas, but I’m sure if I sat down with the rest of my team for just an hour we could think of hundreds more. The point is that there are an infinite number of innovative uses for our data that are just waiting to be built, but they will only be realised if the data is made free and open. These ideas will create new businesses, new jobs, and therefore boost our economy.

That is why we must commend Charles and Michael (and the Guardian) for pursing this issue. I’m confident that with continued effort, the dream of free data will become a reality.

Office Toilet Facility Regulations

Recently we have been considering upgrading the toilets at our office, and part of this would involve removing 2 urinals in the men’s toilet and replacing this with a shower cubicle. Of course, before doing this we have to ensure that we will still be in compliance with Health and Safety laws.

The key issue for us is whether an employer is legally obliged to provide a urinal for male employees.

After spending a while researching on-line, I found conflicting information from various government departments. Southwark council have a page about Toilet Facilities on their site, as does business link and there is a guidance document on HSE’s website. Both Sourthwark council and the HSE guidance document offer two tables listing the minimum number of facilities required, one for a mixed sex work force and one for a male only workforce.

Business link are the only ones who say that the provision of a urinal for male employees is mandatory, saying:

“If any of your employees are men, you must provide the relevant number of toilets and urinals as outlined”

So who is right?

Well the law that governs the provision of toilets by an employer is the Workplace health, safety and welfare. Workplace Regulations 1992, and this is accompanied by another document published by the Health and Safety Executive know as the Approved Code of Practice and guidance.

At this point I couldn’t find the whole book reproduced anywhere online, so I ordered a copy and I have scanned in the relevant pages as you will see below.

Page 33 Page 34
Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare - Page 33 Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare - Page 34

There are two tables in the “Minimum numbers of facilities” section.

Table 1 may be used by all businesses (with a mixed gender, or an all male workforce).
Table 2 may be optionally chosen by employers of an all male work force.

The exact wording is as follows:

In the case of sanitary accommodation used only by men, Table 2 may be followed if desired, as an alternative to column 2 of Table 1

So it would appear that, in fact, urinals are optional but not compulsory.

Minimum number of facilities

The minimum number of WCs and WHBs in a mixed sex office is therefore:

Number of people at work Number of water closets Number of wash stations
1 to 5 1 1
6 to 25 2 2
26 to 50 3 3
51 to 75 4 4
76 to 100 5 5

As a rule of thumb you need at least 1 toilet and wash station per 25 employees + 1 extra. Unless you are planning on having unisex toilets, you will need to run this calculation separately for both men and women. For example, in an office with 50 men and 50 women, you would need either a) 3 men’s toilets, and 3 women’s toilets or b) 5 unisex toilets.

Local Petrol Price Data

A lot of people have been requesting a summary of petrol price information in their local area, so today I built a tool that will allow them to include this on their site:

View the source of this page to see how to include it in your own site (via an iframe).

Organic Eggs? You need a Hen Home

Over the past few weeks I’ve been watching Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Chicken Out campaign on Channel 4 with interest and it certainly has opened my eyes to the appalling conditions in which we raise our feathered friends. I guess I’ve always known that battery hens were kept in cramped conditions, but not to such an extend.

So what can I do? Well the most obvious change I can make is to ensure that I always buy free range or organic eggs, but actually I can go one better than that. My friend Stuart has just designed and built a wooden hen home so that he can have his own pet chickens in his garden.

The Hen Home

Each chicken should produce about an egg a day. You can’t get fresher than that!

2008… the year of the Electric Car?

Let’s face it, cars aren’t going to go away. As a means of private transport they are extremely popular for their convenience, comfort and the personal freedom they offer their owners, so anyone who suggests that we should all give them up and use public transport instead is mad. However, there is no denying that they do pose a problem. And that is that, collectively, cars account for 12% of all CO2 emissions in the EU and thus they are one of our biggest sources of carbon pollution.

So how can we keep our beloved cars, without contributing to global warming? For me the answer lies with Electric Vehicles that are recharged from a renewable energy source. You may think that this vision is still 10 years or so away, but you’d be wrong.

Electric cars are here now, albeit for fringe users, but within the few years the mix of economics and technology might just be right for the average motorist to join in too. In this post I’ll be examining what is current available, plus what’ll be around in the near future and how the cost of running an electric vehicle compares to it’s gas guzzling cousins.

Cost Comparison

Car Capacity Range EPM

eMPG Cost per Mile
Reva G Wiz 9.6 KWh 48 miles 0.2 KWh/m 218.5 0.99p
Mitsubishi i-ev 20 KWh 100 miles 0.2 KWh/m 218.5 0.99p
Phoenix Motors SUV 35 KWh 100 miles 0.35 KWh/m 124.9 1.73p
Tesla Roadster 53 KWh 250 miles 0.212 KWh/m 206 1.05p
Lightning Car ? ? ? ? ?

  • A UK imperial gallon of petrol contains about 43.7 kWh of energy
  • A litre of petrol contains 9.6 KWh of energy @ 100% conversion efficiency
  • Equivalent Miles per Gallon (eMPG) = 43.7 (kwh/gallon) / energy per mile
  • Energy per mile (EPM) in kwh/mile = Capacity (kwh) / Range (miles)
  • Cost per mile = EPM * price per kilowatt hour
  • Price per Kilowatt hour = 4.95 pence (off peak, green energy)

Reva G Wiz
Reva G Wiz
Mitsubishi i-EV
Mitsubishi i-EV
Phoenix Motors SUV
Phoenix Motors SUV
Tesla Roadster
Tesla Roadster
Lightning Sports Car
Lightning Sports Car

123-reg nameserver problems

There has been a problem with 123 reg’s nameservers for most of today such that they aren’t responding to DNS queries.

This is pretty severe as it means anyone trying to access a site pointed at those nameservers will not be able to resolve the domain name to an IP address, and will be given a Server not found error. It will also affect any e-mails to those domains.

On their status page, they say:

17/11/2007, 09:15 – We are currently aware of a problem regarding 123-reg nameservers which in turn is affecting the visibility of websites and services such as email. At present, we have engineers looking into this as a matter of urgency. Please be assured we are working to rectify this issue as a priority and hope to resume normal service as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience in the mean time. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

If you are looking for a new registrar, you could try our Livetodot domain registration service.

More innovation from 3 with 3 Skype Phone

Three have launched some impressively innovative features in the last year or so and they’ve continued this trend with the arrival of their new Skype Phone today. Looking back we’ve had…

3 X Series

First there was X-series that allowed free unlimited internet access on your mobile to services such as ebay, skype, Google, sling box, messenger etc…

3 Mobile Broadband

That was followed by Mobile Broadband, allowing laptops and computers to connect via a USB modem to the Internet over a 3G wireless connection. Their 2.8mbps download speed and £10 per month price point meant that this service was competitive with traditional fixed line broadband services such as ASDL and cable modems.

3 Like Home

Three’s new roaming product is arguably the cheapest on the market, at least if you are phoning home from a country where Three operate. Calls and texts back to the UK from Austria, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, Hong Kong and Ireland are deducted from your inclusive minutes just like a normal call.

and now… 3 Skype Phone

The Skype Phone gives free mobile Skype calls to anyone using the handset including their pre-pay customers (as long as they top up £10 per month). According to their FAQ, this works with their 3 Like Home service, allowing free skype calls abroad when roaming on the Three network.

The Skype Phone is free on all pay monthly contracts (from £12 per month), and £49 on pay as you go. It has a 2 megapixel camera, and comes with a 256MB microSD memory card.

3 Skype Phone

It was a good day for Three’s owner, Hutchison Whampoa (0013.HK) with their shares up 8.43%.

Microsoft pays a premium to get some Facebook

OK so this is old news now, but it just dawned on me how much Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) paid for a bit of the Facebook pie. First, let’s put things into perspective:

Investor Site Unique visitors
(GigaOM Sep 2007)
Traffic Growth
On previous month
News Corp MySpace 68,449,000 +0.1% $580 million
Google YouTube 47,486,000 +5.8% $1.65 billion
Microsoft Facebook 30,601,000 -9.3% $15 billion
($240 million for 1.6%)

These figures are from Comscore, and I believe they cover US traffic only, yet they illustrate the sort of value that Microsoft got when compared to other similar acquisitions by News Corp and Google.

Facebook is definitely growing faster in some places such as the UK where it is now nearly the size of MySpace, however I think a lot of that growth could be from the novelty factor; when you first sign up you’re addicted for a few weeks whilst you add all your old school friends, but then the novelty wears off. Personally, I used Facebook a lot more initially and now that has tapered off such that I now check it once per week or less.

It’s clear to me that Microsoft has paid well over the odds to stop Google getting yet another gain in ad inventory as it did by buying into AOL, YouTube and DoubleClick and by striking an advertising deal with MySpace. What’s not clear is how well Microsoft will be able to sell Facebook’s audience to their adCenter advertisers.

Mark Zuckerberg

Whatever happens, Mark Zuckerberg is happy!