Some more random links from my browser history…
Dialup Internet: Wasted a little time looking for an dialup internet service to use when on the road. The Freedom List appears to be the place to do that shopping. You can get unlimited dialup nationwide for 6-16$ a month from dozens of vendors (so called ISP – or Internet Service Providers). The costs of an ISP break down into four parts: customer service, his computers (and thinks like storing mail and setting up the mailin handing), and then his access to the internet backbone packet routing, and his access to one or more of the or more of the local dial-in phone networks. Most of this costs are in these last two, I suspect. Those long lists of local telephone numbers your call are maintained by the dialup network providers. There are a handfull of these UUNet, QWest, Telia, etc. This ISP is one of the few that expose that the cost of the different dialup providers. Generally the ISPs also provide few really minor (i.e. cheap and easy to do) services. Mail handling is one example. Customer support is not cheap – so when you read reviews you can see that mostly that’s quite spotty.
Credit Card: I got a new credit card recently. I got it from these guys Farm Bureau Bank; they have been very pleasent to deal with on the phone – unlike the large card company I have been using who was always sending me thru vast phone mazes and trying to sell me junk while generally being clueless. The real reason I picked them was I get 2% [not any more, it’s now 1%] back on all my purchases, in cash, if I play their points game right. I found them using the Credit Card Goodies site which is mostly a place where people who like to shop for credit card deals hang out. It includes nice java applet that plots the advantages of various reward programs for you. Credit cards are a money substitute. Stores trust currency because it’s backed by the goverment. Stores trust credit cards because the credit cards twist their arms – “you will always take this, otherwise you will lose sales” – the store gets the benefit that people can buy stuff more casually. For that benefit they lose some money. So when you pay a $100 on card the store only gets 95$. How much they get depends on their deal/relationship with their bank/credit-card processor. The credit card companies (Visa, MasterCard, AMex, Discover, etc) are bridges between buyers and sellers. Another kind of standard that creates efficencies in the supply chain; but in this case it’s an owned standard and taxes are collected by the owners. My 2% cashback on the new card is the card issuing company bribing me to bring my credit card cash flow of this bridge thru their company. Some portions of the traffic flow across this credit card bridge are so concentrated that the Goverment thinks there are anti-trust issues (you can read court documents about that).
Safe Car?: There are various ways that members of an industry “conspire” to set standards to improve overall efficency. The auto insurance industry collects statistics about car safety, theft, etc. that they use to set insurance rates. It used to be this info was hard to get your hands on, but now much of it is on their web site. The frightening/facinating stuff there are the videos of crash testing. The real meat – what they use for setting insurance rates is the detailed data found here.