Bad math tax

Adverts for the UK lottery make me want to rant. So I will.

Let’s give it up for the optimists out there. Don’t just dream of being a lucky winner – think big and think positive, as those dreams could come true.

No they won’t. Sorry to be a spoilsport here, but you will not win the lottery. Yes, I know someone has to win it, but it won’t be you. Yes, I can say that for certain. You will not win the lottery.

It’s not that the odds are low, it’s just how mind-bendingly low those odds are. Let’s give it up for the optimists out there. Give what up? Thinking? No, let’s actually have a think for those people who can’t really grasp huge numbers, which is all of us really. I’m not exactly a genius (I know, false modesty…) and I can’t get my head round the numbers either. So let’s try to put things in perspective…

Think about when you and someone toss a coin to decide who does the washing up, changes the nappy etc. Think about how often you win. Well, it’s half the time, isn’t it? Now take this coin and flip it. Got a heads? Excellent. You only need to get the equivalent of 23 more consecutive heads to win the lottery jackpot. If any one of those tosses results in a tails you lose. So that’s

  1. Flip-Heads [2:1]
    (It’s worth considering here, that after just one flip and with all those other flips stretching out below, you’ll only get to this point half the time)
  2. Flip-Heads [4:1]
    (We are only two flips in and already there is more chance you’ll get cancer than flip 2 heads in a row. Sorry about this, but you are almost 5 million times more likely to get cancer than win the lottery)
  3. Flip-Heads [8:1]
  4. Flip-Heads [16:1]
  5. Flip-Heads [32:1]
  6. Flip-Heads [64:1]
  7. Flip-Heads [128:1]
    (It is more probable that your car was stolen this year than to flip 7 heads in a row)
  8. Flip-Heads [256:1]
  9. Flip-Heads [512:1]
  10. Flip-Heads [1,024:1]
  11. Flip-Heads [2,048:1]
  12. Flip-Heads [4,096:1]
    (Half way there, and
    you are more likely to have died in a car crash than to have got this far)
  13. Flip-Heads [8,192:1]
  14. Flip-Heads [16,384:1]
  15. Flip-Heads [:132,768]
  16. Flip-Heads [65,536:1]
  17. Flip-Heads [131,072:1]
    (If you managed to survive the car wreck at flip 12, a bee or snake sting will kill you here)
  18. Flip-Heads [262,144:1]
  19. Flip-Heads [524,288:1]
  20. Flip-Heads [1,048,576:1]
    At this point, with odds of just 1/730,000, it is now more likely that the supervolcano in Yellowstone Park has erupted and wiped out life on earth as we know it.
  21. Flip-Heads [2,097,152:1]
  22. Flip-Heads [4,194,304:1]
    (If the cancer, drunk driver or killer bees didn’t kill you earlier, if the Yellowstone supervolcano didn’t wipe out life on earth, this is where you die in a plane crash)
  23. Flip-Heads [8,388,608:1]
  24. Flip-Heads [16,777,216:1]
    (Actually it’s only 14,000,000:1 but what’s a couple of million when the numbers are this big?)

Yay! You won! If you play the lottery weekly, on average it’ll take just 4,500 lifetimes to win. Assuming you get reincarnated a lot.

But never mind. There are other prizes aren’t there? Tell you what – forget about the odds – look at the lottery as an investment. Give me a quid and I’ll give you back 20p. OK, I’m actually being a bit more generous than the lottery is, but I’m nice like that.

Invest your money in me and I’ll give you more back than the lottery does. I’ll take Paypal payments. Go on. Give it up.

Paypal are a bunch of useless twats

A word of advice if you selling something on Ebay to an international buyer using Paypal – don’t. Well, at least read this first before you do and don’t come running to me when Paypal decide that your money is safer with them and they’ll just hang on to it, thank you so very much, you horrible potential thief.

so, as you’ve probably guessed by now, this post isn’t even going to have any attempted humour in it, other than some bitter sarcasm, maybe.

When I sold a certain item on Ebay, it was to a Canadian gentleman. As the item was quite heavy and large I didn’t bother setting things up for an international sale, but this guy was very keen and gave me a good price. So I looked up the carriage on it. It was £71. Holy fuck. Still, he’s paying for it; and he did pay for it, nice and quickly with Paypal. So I packaged it up and decide to transfer the money over to my bank before sending it. I’m not quite destitute yet but a £71 sized hole in my budget isn’t something I’d want for very long.

Paypal says “no, you can’t have your money”. I might be a crook for all they know, so they’ll just look after it for a while. It’s being “Temporarily held” to “help ensure that the transactions go smoothly.” It is released, apparently, “after 21 days without a buyer dispute, claim, chargeback or other action. The hold may be released earlier if buyer leaves positive feedback.” Which isn’t much use to me as it’ll take up to 30 days to get there. So that’s 3 weeks I’ll be out of pocket by £71, which will be lounging around in Paypal’s account, gathering interest for them. That’s a tiny part of Ebay’s $280m profit or, to put it another way, the value of a week’s worth of groceries that I’m lending them for free.

By the way, isn’t it handy that this particular service to the public – helping innocent Ebayans have smooth transactions with potential villains, also lets them earn interest on all the money they are looking after on behalf of their grateful customers? I bet they didn’t even think of this when they set it up – they just have their customer’s interests at heart, after all.

Anyway, I explained the situation to my Canadian buyer and suggested that I refund him the money, as I cannot afford to send it while Paypal are hanging on to the carriage money. Instead he gave me positive feedback to release the funds.

Yes, that’s right. Paypal’s buyer protection policy, designed to squeeze a few more pennies out of it’s customers…, er I mean save innocent buyers from unscrupulous bastards such as me, put him in a position where he had to give positive feedback for an item which hadn’t even been posted to him yet. Nice one Paypal. Good job I’m honest, isn’ t it?

But it gets better. This all happened 5 days ago, so the money was released 5 days ago, right? Nah, Paypal decided that it liked his money so much, it wouldn’t pass it on to me after all. I’ve sent emails to Paypal, the first of which was answered by “Miles” who blamed the computer and said he would get it taken off hold. It wasn’t, so I emailed them again and asked my buyer to email them too, which he did. They sent him a similar message as the one sent to me the first time (except that it contained factually incorrect information about their holding policies, namely that if I marked it as sent it would be taken it off hold) and ignored the email I sent.

So I’ve just given up and refunded him. There was no sign that the money was ever going to be taken off hold.

Based on my experiences, what would my advice be? Well, for one thing, don’t treat Paypal as a bank and don’t keep any money in your account. They are not a bank, are not bound by the rules that govern banks, and can choose to keep your money at any time without warning and there’s nothing you can do about it. Also, if there is any danger that your money will be put on hold, avoid using them for international transactions. This site has plenty more Paypal horror stories.

And finally, as they might still say on the News at Ten (I can’t watch it these days – it’s just too awful), they asked me to complete a questionnaire to see if I was satisfied with their customer service. I decided to be honest.