Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Importance of Regular Posting

Back when I started this blog, I had every intention of posting everyday. But of course, I had nothing to write about because I didn't plan very well. I tried again a few times to start regularly posting, but it wasn't until I found myself stuck in Afghanistan with limited internet access that I found myself coming up with interesting post ideas. I have a little notebook I carry around with me all the time, and whenever I come up with something fun or wierd or informative to write about, I jot it down.
I call it my ideabook! (Not really)

One reason I try to do a post everyday is my desire to establish a big reader base before I bust out the big gun posts. After all, who's going to follow a blog that only posts once a week? It's a little bit easier for me than it is for some bloggers, because I write about a variety of topics, which keeps it interesting for everyone.

In addition to jotting down blog post ideas, I also right down various other ideas I have throughout the day. I've found that this helps me retain some of my great ideas. It's something I think everyone should do, seeing as how unpredictable our memories can be.

But back to the importance of regular posting. I believe that posting once a day, or at least 5-7 times a week, makes a blog look more professional. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of professional blogs out there (and mine certainly isn't one) that don't post super often. And on the other side of that, there are plenty of regular blogs out there (like mine), that aren't any better just because the blogger posts everyday. But for the most part, the best blogs out there have a combination of good quality, and high quantity.

The really big blogs, like The Consumerist and Lifehacker seem to have quality and quantity down to an art form, with multiple posts from different authors several times a day. But there are lots of smaller blogs out there that post one or two times a day and have real quality posts that I enjoy as well. Get Rich Slowly and The Simple Dollar come to mind.

If you have a blog, do you make an attempt to post everyday?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Simpler Life

With the recent economic crisis (or whatever you want to call it), a lot of people have been looking into living a simpler, more frugal lifestyle. For a lot of people, their lifestyle expectations will return to normal with the economy. For others though, they will embrace their newfound life and will likely espouse it to everyone they know.
Kind of like this, except not stupid.

Personally, I hopped on the simpler life bandwagon back before the bubble burst. I was a little lucky though, I was living in the barracks and wasn't allowed to leave the base. Needless to say, I got used to not spending a whole lot of money. The extent of my expenditures consisted of occasionally ordering a pizza on the weekend. It was a great life.

When I'm finally released from the clutches of the Army, I plan on attending college. While there, I intend to live in a small apartment, with as little furniture as my wife will let me get away with. When I finish school, I would like to purchase a small house, and continue living simply and frugally.

It's not really a lifestyle that's supported by a majority of people living in the U.S. these days. In contemporary America, people are encouraged to keep moving up, buying new houses, and new cars, and spending themselves into oblivion. That's not the life I want to live. I'd love to have a small, or even large, garden, and maybe even some animals. I'd like to line-dry my clothes, ride my bike to work (if I even  have a job), and write on my blog rather than watch TV.

How about you? Is the simpler life something you're interested in?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What's a Stock?

This is part two of the multi-part series What's a Blank?, today's topic is stocks; what are they, and why are they important?

Welcome back to What's a Blank?. Today I'll be discussing stocks, which are an important part of the world economy, and an excellent way to invest for retirement.

Not exactly the type of stock I meant.
Stock basically means the original capital given to investors when the company went public or anytime thereafter (generally to raise funds). Stock is divided into shares, which are what you're actually purchasing when you invest in "stocks".

There are two different types of stocks. Preferred stock, and common stock.

Common stock generally comes with voting rights, whereas preferred stock does not. Voting rights means that you get to participate in any voting the company might do. Preferred stock is "preferred" because it is legally entitled to receive a certain level of dividend payments before any dividends can be issued to other shareholders.
Close, but not quite.

Dividends are an amount of money that you receive simply for owning shares of a company.

So why should you invest in stocks? One reason is that stocks generally outperform other types of investments, provided that you're smart about it. Another is that you can generally sell your shares whenever, as opposed to a piece of real estate, which might take a lot of time to liquidate (sell).

Diversification is when you buy lots of shares of different companies, so that if the stock of one drops the overall value of your shares won't be affected as much. Diversification is important, because you can't read the future and don't know for sure which stocks will succeed and which might fail. If you did, then you would only need to buy the stock that's going to succeed.

"Stocks rule, dude!"
As far as how to go about investing in stocks, it's easy. Open a brokerage account through with a broker or brokerage firm. You've probably seen commercials for eTrade, which is an example of a brokerage firm. Your bank might also offer brokerage services as well. Put some money in the account. You can generally do this via an electronic funds transfer from your bank. Then, either call your broker, or make a buy order, and pick which stocks you want to buy and how many. How this will work exactly depends on where you open your account. Your order will go through and you'll now be the proud owner of some shares.

It's all very simple, but you could spend a lifetime learning the ins and outs of the market. The most important thing is to buy low, sell high. Too many people forget that, and buy when the stock is high (expecting it to go higher), and then sell when the stock is low (expecting it to go lower). Instead, try buying a stock when it's on a down slope, and then selling when it goes a few points above the price you paid for it.

As far as day trading goes, I don't recommend it as a hobby. Day trading can be risky, and it's important to have a lot of time to devote to analyzing market trends and fancy stuff like that.

Has anyone had any personal experience with stocks?


Monday, September 27, 2010

Facebook Games: The Casual Revolution

No, I'm not going to bash Facebook games. I'm a firm believer that casual gaming has it's place in the grand scheme of things. In fact, I've played a few Facebook games in my time, and they're not generally all that bad. Some of them are poorly designed, and the forced social aspects are a bit of a turn-off for me, but generally I've found that they have decent gameplay (what do you expect on Facebook anyways?).

The refuge of the bored housewife.
There are a lot of folks out there who feel that Facebook games are a blight on gaming. Or on society in general. I think all gaming can contribute to the overall world of gaming however. Even the worst games contribute something, even if it's just what not to do in a game.

One thing (two things actually) I don't like about Facebook games are the social aspects and the addictive qualities. I hate having to bug my friends to get stuff done in a game. And as far as addiction goes, it's not as addicting as say WoW, but it can still sucker a person in for quite a while.

I have found that Facebook games are great for wasting time, however, which in Afghanistan is something I find myself needing to do a lot. And I can certainly see the appeal for more social people. What's better than working with your friends to succeed in a game? It's like doing a Kaz run for stay at home moms (pardon the WoW reference, and I've honestly never done been to Kaz'rogal in the game).

And that brings me to my conclusion: Despite the comparatively poor overall quality of Facebook games, they have their place among games as an entertainment medium.

Anyone plan Facebook games regularly? Anyone out there who can't stand them?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Favorites: Part Two

This is the second part of the My Favorites series, today I'll discuss my favorite movie.

As I said last week, sixth grade was a major time in my life. It was my last year attending Fort Irwin Middle School. I had a 4.0 GPA the entire year, which put me on the super honor roll or whatever they called it. It was also the year I set two of my favorites in stone. I chose sushi as a my favorite food, and I chose Titan A.E. as my favorite move.
Greatest. Movie. Ever.

What makes Titan A.E. great enough to be called my favorite movie of all time? Well for one thing, it's a pretty decent sci-fi story. It was also animated. Is that really enough to make it my favorite? In sixth grade it was.

And the whole point of establishing favorites was to avoid awkward coversations, where people ask what my favorite movie is and I'm forced to reply "I don't know." I think of "I don't know" as a cop out, for people who aren't willing to invest the time to determine a favorite thing. You wouldn't respond with "I don't know" if someone asked what your favorite color was would you? For the record, my wife usually replies with "I don't know" when I ask her stuff like this.

Titan A.E., was sadly an largely unsuccessful movie. It barely grossed half it's budget, and pretty much forced Fox Animation Studios to shut down. This is generally blamed on the animation age ghetto.

I won't go into details about the plot (you can read the Wikipedia or Tvtropes summary, or just rent the movie), but I'll tell you that the Earth is destroyed and it's up to the hero of the story to save humanity.

I think that about covers it though. Tune in next week for another awesome post about my favorites.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Am I a Hippie?

I would totally drive this.
Say "hello" to my new feature, the Saturday Short Post!

It's a question I sometimes ask myself. Sometimes others ask it for me. After all, I support the legalization of marijuana, and I have a general disregard and dislike for authority. On the other hand, I support people having firearms, and I'm in the Army. It's almost like I'm two different people.

My sister is a lot more of a hippie than I am, that much is for sure.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Afghanistan Diaries: Yay For Basil!

My basil plants have been sprouting nicely all week. I've been adding coffee grounds to the cardboard box lined with a trash bag and small rocks that I've been using as a planter everyday, and ensuring that the "soil" is kept moist. It's been getting pretty cold during the night though, and I'm a little concerned for the well being of my adorable little green friends.
For the record, I work in one of these.

In other news, there's a sweet new type of MRE out there called the "First Strike Ration", which contains nearly three times as much food in a package that's about the same size as a regular MRE. The food is also better. If you've never had an MRE before, I suggest you try one, at least a novelty if nothing else.

I've really begun to pick up the pace on writing posts for the blog. I'm nearly two weeks ahead of schedule as I write this, and plan to have even more posts lined up by the time you read this. Some great posts coming up this week include info about stocks, Facebook games, and living a simpler life.

The temperature has been fluctuating quite a big, with a difference of almost 30 degrees between the day highs and night lows. I find myself cranking up the heater in my "office" at night, and blasting the A/C during the day. The A/C in my sleeping tent blasts 24 hours though, and it's funny to go to sleep with one sheet, then wake up after a few hours to add another, and a few hours after that I just get in my sleeping bag and throw both sheets over the top of it.

This isn't MY basil, but it IS basil.
That's all I've got for today, I hope everyone has a great week and I look forward to all your wonderful comments.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Learning the Harmonica

I bought a harmonica (or mouth organ, which sounds more intriguing, and vaguely sexual) when I was living in Monterey in order to impress girls. I didn't succeed in impressing any girls (at least not using the harmonica), but I was successful with waking people up at seven in the morning trying to practice.

This is a harmonica, FYI.
One of the great things about a harmonica when compared to other instruments is portability. Next to the kazoo, it's one of the smaller instruments out there, but it remains incredibly versatile. One of the first things one must learn in order to play the harmonica is that you generally only blow into one hole at a time (that's what she said!), unless you're playing a chord. One of the harder things to learn for me has been the proper mouth form for playing, because having a big mouth makes it difficult to play only one note at a time.

But once you've gotten the proper mouth form down, and you've learned the notes, playing the harmonica is pretty straightforward (as I imagine any instrument must be). The hardest part for me is moving quickly between notes and actually remembering which note I'm supposed to be playing.
This guy is playing two instruments at once, woof.

I used to play guitar (let me rephrase that, I used to attempt to play guitar), and it's definitely harder than playing the harmonica. Some people are somehow capable of playing both at once, like Bruce Springsteen and the guy in the picture on the left.

So while I someday hope to be able to play the harmonica well enough to panhandle on a street corner somewhere, for now I'm stuck in Afghanistan, practicing a little everyday.

Anyone else have any experience with the harmonica, or another instrument?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Knowing Arabic

One cool thing about being in the Army is the fact that I got paid to learn another language. I spent nearly a year and a half learning Arabic in beautiful Monterey, CA. Besides the language itself, I also learned the about the various cultures of Arabic speaking countries (of which there are 22 IIRC).

This sign says "stop".
Seeing as how we're currently occupying Iraq (or whatever it is they're saying we're doing there), knowing Arabic was a pretty exciting prospect. I'd have been able to talk to people, barter with merchants, and impress officers. Sadly, in Afghanistan Arabic is not a major language. Sure, people know it a little bit because they're Muslim and the Quran is supposed to be in Arabic, but for the most part everyday people don't speak it regularly.

As you can probably imagine, my Arabic is a little rusty. I luckily got waived for the test because I'm in Afghanistan, but I have to take it six months after I get back. I'm not too excited about it.

I like to think that knowing Arabic puts me in a bit of an interesting position when it comes to some of the ridiculous things that happen in America (the "Ground Zero Mosque" debate comes to mind). Since I like to think that my understanding of Arab culture is a little more in-depth than most people's, it's hard to avoid doing a face-palm when people start making ridiculous claims (It's not a mosque, and it's not at ground zero, deal with it).

Does anyone else know another language?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What's a Bond?

This is the pilot post of a series called What's a Blank?, for the next few weeks I'll be covering some basic financial terms and how they affect us.

A lot of people are big into trading stocks, but what about bonds? They're not the most exciting security out there, but they can still play an important part in an overall investment strategy. Let me break it down Barney-style for everyone:

A bond is a formal contract to repay borrowed money with interest at fixed intervals.

This is one type of bond, but not the kind we're talking about.
Which basically means that you lend someone money, and they pay you back with interest. The "someone" in this case being a government or company. So if I buy a bond from the government, they have to pay me back not only what I paid for it, but also a little extra. There are lots of different types of bonds.
The most basic type of bond is the fixed rate bond, which pays the same level of interest over the life of the bond.

Floating rate notes have an interest rate that follows a reference rate of interest. The interest rate is recalculated every so often, typically every one or three months.

Zero coupon bonds don't pay any interest, but they sell for less than you redeem them for. An example of this is the Series E savings bonds issued by the U.S. government.

This is another type of bond, James Bond.
Inflation linked bonds have an interest rate which is tied to inflation.

That's just a smattering of the different types of bonds, but most bonds fall under one of the above categories. War bonds, for example, can be any of those four types. One reason that people generally prefer stocks over bonds is because you can generally  make a lot more money with stocks. This is due to the fact that the market rewards risk. Bonds are one of the least risky investments you can make (unless you buy junk bonds). Since they're generally issued by government or companies with good credit, you're practically guaranteed a payment (unless the government goes under, but in that case you've got a lot more to worry about). Nearly all retirement planners recommend that as a person ages they invest more in bonds, to avoid the fluctuations of the market as they near retirement.

As for my personal recommendation? I think that while bonds are nice, you shouldn't invest in them unless you have enough money that you can live off the interest they generate. This would likely place you in the million to two million range, assuming a relatively average cost of living. Until you have that much money, it's worth investing in stocks (or real estate, or whatever) until you have the money you need.

Does anyone have any experience purchasing bonds?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Games We Play

Despite being in Afghanistan, we've got no shortage of video games. We currently have a 360, PS2, PS3, and Wii set up, with dozens of games. I've currently been playing Dragon Age: Origins, which is pretty cool. Sort of a fantasy Mass Effect. Yes, I realize the game came out last year, but I'm a little behind the times when it comes to gaming.

Some of the other guys in my squad prefer to play sports games. It's one thing I never understood, but as I understand it they've started adding some RPG elements to them, so I might have to give one a try soon.

As far as shooting games, I prefer to play my FPSs on a computer, but I'm alright with consoles as well.

My current gaming plan has me finishing Dragon Age, then finishing up Red Dead Redemption (which I was close to completing before being caught up in Dragon Age). Once those are both beat, I might try either Just Cause 2 or a sports game, likely NCAA Football.

Does anyone have any recommendations?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Favorites: Part One

This is the first part of a multi-part series about my favorite things in a variety of categories. Today's topic is food.

When I was in sixth grade, I finally got tired of people asking about my favorite things. My favorite book, my favorite movie, my favorite song, etc. I was so fed up, that I made the decision to "lock in" some of my favorites. I ended up establishing my favorite food as well as my favorite movie. Neither of these have changed, despite the nearly ten years since then.

While other kids were claiming that pizza, spaghetti, or ice cream were their favorite foods, I decided to take it a different direction.

Mmmm.
So despite never having eaten sushi (sashimi, in particular), I was drawn to it for several reasons. One, I like rice. Two, I like seaweed. Three, I like fish. It should come as no surprise then, that I would enjoy a tasty and delicious dish consisting almost entirely of those three things.

When the moment of truth finally came, about six years later, I found out that not only was sushi my favorite food, but I also enjoyed it.

I don't know if it was the build-up over the years of claiming sushi as my favorite food, or maybe it just tastes delicious, but I enjoyed every bite. I went back to the same sushi restaurant several times, and each time was better than the last.

Sadly, Afghanistan is a landlocked country, so I'm SOL on the sushi situation (also my food is prepared by Army cooks, so it wouldn't be that great anyways). When I return to the states though, I plan on having a big platter of sushi to celebrate.

Now if I could just get my wife to enjoy seafood...

So what about you? What's your favorite food?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reader Mailbag

Hey, I didn't get any mail this week, what gives you guys?

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Afghanistan Diaries

It's been another excellent week here in the Stan. We're expecting rain soon, which will hopefully reduce the ridiculous amount of dust in the air (and everywhere else). I'm currently growing some basil seeds that one of my buddies got in a care package. I'm using coffee grounds as fertilizer. I likely won't use the basil on any of my food, but I like plants and it will add a touch of green to our otherwise brown area.

I'm currently working a different shift than usual due to some schedule changes, which affects what times I get online. The only problem with this is that a lot more people are trying to use the computers at the same time as me, resulting in a lot of lag. If I don't post in the next few days, that's why.

My wife's computer is broken (I'm guessing a virus is the culprit), and I haven't gotten to talk to her in a while which is bumming me out. Hopefully it gets fixed soon because my list of stuff that I'd like to discuss with her is backing up. It includes some ideas for our belated honeymoon, as well as possibly starting a business.

And that's all that happened this week, tune in next week for another update, and if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments or via e-mail!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Dream Job

Growing up, my dream job changed quite a few times. First I wanted to be a train engineer (the people who drive them, not the ones who design them). Then I wanted to be an ambassador at the UN. Then I wanted to be a business analyst. After that I didn't WANT a job. Matter of fact, I still don't WANT a job, but apparently I HAVE to have one. Point of contention there, but I'll save that for another day. So what do I want to do these days?

Well, besides starting my own business (yeah, Pizza My Ass!), I'm really interested in becoming a financial advisor. I like this job for two reasons: I really like money, and I really like helping people in financial trouble. In fact, that's part of the reason I started this blog. Though I'm not as successful as big blogs like Get Rich Slowly or The Simple Dollar, I like to think I bring my own flavor to the personal finance blogging world. For example, a lot of blogs focus on getting out of debt, while other focus on money saving tips for moms. I fall into neither of those categories.

My personal favorite PF-related blog is Early Retirement Extreme, which is about a guy who retired early, as the name suggests. Retiring early is part of my life plan. Didn't I tell you I hate working? So in order to make enough money after college to retire early, I'll need to have at least some money coming in.

What's your dream job?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Writing on the (Bathroom) Wall

Being that I'm in Afghanistan, on a base full of young infantry soldiers, it should have come as no surprise to me that the level of the conversations that occur on the walls of the restroom stalls wouldn't be too high. I wasn't exactly expecting a philosophical conversation on the nature of war or anything, but all I've seen so far has been pictures of penises next to people calling other people fags. It kind of makes me ashamed to be soldier (not that I'm not already, don't you worry).

I imagine in the times before the use of "gay" to refer to homosexuals that people would have had a harder time coming up with things to write, since "homosexual" is one of those $5, polysyllabic words that the people who write on bathroom stall walls probably aren't capable of comprehending. I suppose it's not all bad though, it gives people something to do while they spend time on the toilet, and it acts as a primitive kind of message board for everyone. At least until space runs out. If I had a camera, I'd probably take some pictures of the ridiculous things I've read. In fact, I think I'll borrow someone's next time I have to go.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Start Investing Now

It's Tuesday again, and you know what that means: another post about personal finance!

There's a Chinese proverb (or maybe some other country, but a proverb nonetheless) that goes something like: "The best time to plan a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now." Investing is a lot like growing a tree. You take a little bit a money now, and by planting it in the right place and with the proper care it will eventually grow into a mighty nest egg. But even if you didn't start investing twenty years ago, you can still invest now. In fact, it's probably easier now than it was back then, thanks to the advent of the internet.

So why should you invest now, in a recession of all times? Well that's a no-brainer. When's the best time to buy stuff at the store? When it's new or when it's on sale? During a recession, stock prices drop, and you can scoop them up for a lot cheaper than they were during the boom. Once the economy picks back up again, your stocks (or whatever you invested in) tend to go back up as well. That doesn't mean you shouldn't invest while the market is strong though. You never know when the market will peak, so buying as much as you can as often as you can is the best idea.

So here's what I propose you do. Go to Vanguard.com, and open up a brokerage account. Go ahead, do it, my blog will still be here when you get back. Then, transfer some money to the account from you bank (this might take a few days, feel free to read ahead). Take that money and invest it in one of Vanguard's many excellent mutual funds. I'll let you do the research for that on your own, since everyone has their own tolerance for risk. Mine is pretty high because I'm relatively young, but some young people might prefer more conservative investments.

Next, wait 20 years. If my blog is still around then, go ahead and post about your success.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Single Player Games With Multiplayer Features

It seems like multiplayer gaming is the go-to gimmick for game designers these days. I recently picked up a copy of Dragon Quest IX for the DS. One thing included is a feature that allows you to play with friends over a wireless connection. Similar to Zelda: Four Swords, I imagine (since I've never played it). I also picked up a little known game called Magical Starsign (for the discount price of $15). This game includes a feature that allows you to unlock new characters by connecting to other players. Needless to say, I don't have any friends who also have this game, and since I'm in Afghanistan I can't exactly meet up with other players. Pokemon has had this feature since it's inception, with the inability to collect every Pokemon unless you have a friend with the opposing game.

Something I forgot to mention about DQIX is the inclusion of a "shopping channel" type store, with the catch being that you have to connect to Nintendo Wi-fi, a bit of a feat when you're stuck in a third world country. I suppose that my main complaint here is that I purchased games which I assumed were single player (they're all RPGs), and with the exception of Pokemon I didn't expect that I would need to have friends or an internet connection to beat the game 100%.

Along those same lines is huge rise of DLC. I was playing Dragon Age: Origins, when I ran into a merchant. In order to complete a quest for him I needed to download some extra content (I'd have to pay for it, of course). What this tells me is that the content was available when the game was released, but they decided to charge extra on top of the $60 cost for the game. It's a worrying trend. Would you pay $700 for a new dryer, only to discover that in order to actually heat anything you had to pay an extra $100 for the heating unit? I certainly wouldn't stand for that, especially if I didn't have access to a way to "download" said heating unit.

Has anyone else had an experience with these games, or a similar situation?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Super Saturday Links

It's been a dull week here in The Stan, but here are some links to make everyone's Saturday exciting:

J.D. over at Get Rich Slowly had a book week this week, reviewing several books and topping it off with a top-ten list of money books.

Kotaku has an article about health and healing in the upcoming Diablo III. I'm sure every nerd is eager with anticipation over the release. I'm a little hesitant after StarCraft II.

Trent from The Simple Dollar had Summer meal #15: Butternut Squash and Carrots with Coconut Milk and Curry. Yum! Sadly, it's the last of the Summer meals series, but hopefully the Fall meals are just as tasty.


That's all I got today. I don't get a lot of internet time, so these are the main sites I check everyday.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Yo Ho! Yo Ho! The Pirates Life for You!

One of the things that defined the early internet (and also the modern internet) was rampant file sharing. Sure, file sharing had been around before the internet, but the internet offered a whole new means to get software around the globe. I was only about 10 when the Napster trials went down, and I was around when the likes of Bearshare and Limewire made their debuts. Today, BitTorrent is the way to go for most pirates, with sites like The Pirate Bay and Demonoid offering millions of movies, games and books for totally free (and totally illegal).

What is the allure of the pirate lifestyle? On one side, there are people who practice their l337 skillz by cracking even the toughest anti-piracy measures of today's programs. On the other, are people who just want to save a buck by not paying for overpriced games and movies. I'm looking at you Starcraft II! Somewhere in the middle is the guy who's nephews showed him how to download Photoshop.

But despite the increasingly draconian restrictions, software piracy is here to stay. Unless some ridiculous measure is implemented (say, having to be online to play a single player game), it's very difficult to keep your program out of the hands of anyone who wants it. What companies don't seem to realize is that all these tactics don't hurt the pirates, but the people who aren't pirates. If a game ends up on a P2P site, then odds are all the "crap" has been removed and the people who download it won't run into any problems.

Even games like WoW can be found on sites such as these. You have to play on private servers, but so what? You don't have to pay up front for the game or monthly to actually play it. There are a lot of smaller, independent companies out there like Spiderweb Software and Stardock who avoid putting outrageous hurdles in their games. And guess what? They're not losing money. Gamers are people too, and when they're not being treated like criminals they're willing to step forward and pay for a game that's worth it.

I can only hope that more companies will realize this before it's too late, and PC gaming dies out completely (save for these small independent companies), and everything moves to consoles, where software piracy is completely unheard of.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Afghanistan Diaries: No Work Edition

We haven't had any missions the past couple of weeks have been boring...and awesome! I've been playing my DS a lot, mostly Dragon Quest IX, which is an excellent game. I'd be playing Pokemon, but I'm currently stuck at the point in the game where you need to trade with people to complete your Pokedex, and no one else here has it that I know of.

The weather has been cooling down, but it's still pretty hot. Like I said last week I'm looking forward to the snow and cold. From what I understand the attacks die down during the winter too. I may be going on a mission in the coming weeks, but I don't have any definitive information on that. In the meantime I'll be playing video games and posting on my blog.

The Free State Project and You!

As many of you already know, I'm a member of the Free State Project. "What's that?" you may ask yourself. Well, it's this awesome plan to get 20000 people to move to New Hampshire to shape politics and make the state more liberty friendly.

Now what's so cool about this? Well aside from the fact that I'm a libertarian, and I would love to be around more libertarians, it's a step in the right direction for establishing a grass-roots movement to affect the way this country is headed.

Why should you care? For one thing, you're probably more libertarian than you think. Do you support the legalization of marijuana? How about gun rights? Bad examples? Give the Worlds Smallest Political Quiz a try.

Even if you're not interested in moving, you can still help by visiting the main site and telling your friends. Or not, hey, I'm not judging.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Magic of Compound Interest

If you read anything about personal finances, you've probably heard about a little thing called compound interest. I want to keep this short and sweet, because I don't doubt that you're an intelligent person who won't have any trouble understanding how it works.

Basically, interest is "rent" paid on money. So, if you lend your cousin $20, and he pays you back $21, you just got $1 in interest. There are two basic types of interest, simple and compound. With simple interest, you pay only on the principle. So if you borrow $100, at 1% interest, you pay back $101.

Things get a little more complicated with compound interest. In this case, you have to pay interest on any interest that was added to the principle. So, if you borrow $100, at 1% interest compounded monthly, and you have to have it all paid back in a year, the total would be $101. If you noticed, that's the same as the first example. That's because compound interest takes time. Let's try the example again, with the same interest rate, but over a longer period of time.

With simple interest, if you had to pay back $100 plus 1% interest, after 30 years the total would be $101. With compound interest, if you had to pay back $100 plus 1% interest, compounded monthly for 30 years the total would be $134.97. It's not major, but with higher interest rates (and they ARE higher), and larger principles the differences can get pretty major. If you want to give it a shot on your own, try this handy calculator I found.

So where does the "magic" part of compound interest come in? Well, ideally you're the one getting compound interest instead of the one paying it. If you're still paying something off, I suggest you finish, then start trying to get someone to pay you instead.

The "magic" is what happens after a long period of time with a pretty reasonable rate and a bigger principle. In a hypothetical situation, let's say I invest $12,000 a year (it's hypothetical because I invest twice that) at around 8% interest compounded daily (like most stocks are) for let's say, 40 years, then at the end of that 40 years I'll have a total of  $3,529,362.86. Not bad for only twelve grand a year I'd say.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Starcraft II Woes

As I'm sure everyone in the world knows by now, Starcraft II was released a little over a month ago, to much fanfare. I'm sure every nerd on the planet breathed a sigh of relief that it didn't fall into development hell like Starcraft: Ghost did. I haven't played it, and probably won't until I return from Afghanistan (and upgrade from my tiny netbook), but some of my friends have and from what I hear it's pretty good. Being not that great at the first one, or RTS games in general, I don't know how to feel about it.
One thing that bums me out about the game though is the fact that you have to register online with battle.net in order to play, even the single player mode. So even if I had a more powerful computer, I still lack the internet connection required to even start the game. Oi, I hope all future games don't start requiring draconian measures such as these in order to play games offline. Additionally, I've heard that unlike the first game, you can't play over LAN, which as I recall, was the way to play back when. I've been to a few LAN parties myself, and I can't imagine it not being available for Starcraft II.

<--$60! Ouch! And it's only the first third of the game!

Even further bummage is the 3 installment campaign. If each one costs as much as WoL, then the total would come to $180. That's almost enough to buy a new netbook! Man, the bad is really starting to outweigh the good huh? Why would I pay 3 times as much for just one game, especially if the only thing each installment adds is a campaign? I can at least justify buying an expansion pack, but if I can't play offline without an internet connection, and the justification is that no one would ever want to play offline, then am I to assume that single player isn't that great and I have no reason to buy all three installments.

I'm sure the pirates are laughing all the way to the bank (to deposit the money they saved not buying this craziness), because the online activation is no match for their l337 skillz. In fact, they probably have their own private pirate servers set up where they can play the game against each other without having to go through battle.net. Avast!

Upon further reflection, I think I'm going to pass on the chance to pick this one up. Nice going Blizzard.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Definitive Posting Schedule Guide

Keep in mind, this is not the end-all be-all guide to the posting schedule (don't let the "definitive" fool you). However, it is likely to be the schedule that I'll stick with for at least the next few weeks.

Monday - Video games, reviews and discussion
Tuesday - Personal Finance and self-improvement
Wednesday - Political and social commentary
Thursday - Thuper Thursday Links and misc. topics
Friday - The Afghanistan Diaries
Saturday - Super Saturday Links and reader mailbag
Sunday - Major posts that don't fit anywhere else, guest posts, etc.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Reader Mailbag

Every Saturday I plan on opening my e-mail and pulling out some of the most interesting, funny, or pertinent questions asked by readers like you.

Hey everyone, this week was pretty intense. I motivated myself to write a whole mess of great posts, and I've got a list of additional ones I plan on writing. This week marks the start of my reader mailbag, where I publicly answer questions sent to me by readers. If you have a question, and want it to appear on the reader mailbag, just send it to me!

Lotadlover3 writes: Hey I saw your post on Pokemon Soulsilver the other day and was curious how you felt about Black and White coming out this month.

Well Lotadlover3, I can tell you that it certainly looks interesting, and if I wasn't in Afghanistan I'd probably go out and pick up at least one of them. For those of you not familiar with the Pokemon games, Black and White are the newest additions to the series. They take place in a whole new country, which is supposed to be far away from the Japan-expy that is Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh. The new games are supposed to add at least 30 new Pokemon, which will bring the total to over 500. For more information for those of you who are interested, check out the Serebii.net article.

TexasPeter99 writes: It's pretty hot here in Texas during the summer, I'm curious, how hot is it where you're at in Afghanistan. We support our troops!

Thanks for your support TexasPeter99! Temperatures are generally over 100 degrees F where I'm at, as I imagine they are in the rest of the country. Luckily I work nights, so I don't have to deal with a lot of the heat during the day. I'm really anticipating the winter here, because from what I've seen it snows quite a bit, and I love snow.

Republicrat08 writes: Why don't you do more posts about politics? I love politics!

I'm currently working on establishing a schedule so that all my topics of posting are covered. I'll publish that in a few days once I've worked out the kinks. And don't worry Republicrat08, there will be plenty of politics to come, so stay tuned and keep reading!

TheRealTomSayer: Why don't you do more posts about Rush?! I love Rush!

I really enjoy Rush too, TheRealTomSayer. I've contemplated adding some posts about music on the blog, but I doubt I could make it a regular thing because I don't listen to a lot. Keep an eye out, as I may begin adding music posts to the mix when I've worked out my posting schedule. Until then, try to enjoy my other posts and keep commenting! 

That wraps it up for this week's reader mailbag. If I didn't get to your question this week, don't worry, if it's interesting, funny, or pertinent enough I might get to it next week. In other news, keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming MASTER SCHEDULE, which I'm creating to determine what to post about on what days.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Afghanistan Diaries

It's more like a journal really, I think diaries are for girls. Doug Funny had a journal, if any remembers that show, and he got pretty upset when people called it a diary. Actually, it's not really a journal at all because I don't write in it everyday, and also it's actually a blog. Which you are reading by the way, welcome!

I've decided that on Friday's I'm going to post about my experiences in The Stan, so if that's all you're interested in make sure you check back every Friday. Alternatively, if you don't want to hear about Afghanistan, you could avoid stopping by on Fridays. Aren't schedules great?

As I said in my last Afghanistan post, Afghanistan is pretty great. It would be even greater if there wasn't a war going on, but I suppose you could say that about a lot of places. I liken it to a vacation, except there's the real chance of being killed or kidnapped. So yeah, more like a vacation in eastern Europe. I personally haven't felt my life was in danger since I arrived.

In fact, I'm more concerned about being electrocuted by an improperly grounded electric cable in the shower than being blown up up or shot. Kind of terrifying if you ask me. You're already naked, and it just get's more embarrassing from there. There are worse things that could happen in the shower, but this is a FOB, not a prison (there's a difference?).

In the last post I also referenced being a Fobbit (thanks for the definition Wikipedia!). If you don't like or don't trust the Wikipedia definition, then I'll tell you that it's basically someone who sits on a FOB (Forward Operating Base) instead of going out and fighting the real war. It's generally used as a derogatory term by people who leave the base to refer to those who stay. I prefer to think of it as a term of endearment, and embrace it as a lifestyle. That may change soon, as I could begin leaving the FOB to assist with operations. Oh, the excitement! I'll be sure to keep you posted on any updates regarding my status as a Fobbit.

I'll wrap up today's post on The Stan by saying I'm really enjoying my time here, but that doesn't mean I can't wait to get home.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Possum Living: The Book Review

If you haven't noticed from some of my past posts, I'm a big fan of not working. Or at least not working for other people. I hate having to deal with other people's rules and trying to squeeze my life in around the edges of my job. That's why I was so interested when I read the title of this book. I was even more interested when I actually started reading the book.

As promised, this how-to guide from Dolly Freed (first published in 1978, wow!) will break down a lot of the steps towards leaving the job market and surviving on as little money as possible while still maintaining a comfortable lifestyle.

Between growing and raising your own food, fishing, hunting, and cutting your other expenses, this is a great instruction manual for living on, as promised, almost no money. The book does assume that you have some money to start with and a place to live, of course, and it won't help too much if you live in the city. A little bit of the information is outdated, but overall it's still applicable to our modern world of cell phones and computers and such.

As much as I'd like to recommend this book for everyone, some people might be a little squeamish about raising rabbits in their basement for food, and some of the advice is less than legal. Overall though, it's a great read and at under $10 new, I can't think of any reason not to add this to your collection of personal finance books.

Thuper Thursday Links: Live from Afghanistan

Happy Thuper Thursday everyone!

I'd love to share today's Cracked.com article, but Websense blocks it here, apparently it's "tasteless". So you'll just have to click through from the main site.

Get Rich Slowly has has a guest post from Robert Brokamp of The Motley Fool.

Some good news for Back to the Future fans, it looks like they nabbed Christopher Lloyd to voice Doc Brown in the upcoming BTTF game.

That's it for today's links, make sure you enjoy today's post as well.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Multiple Blogs?!

I was just staring at my Blogger dashboard, which helpfully informed me that I was managing one blog in total. Imagine that, one person running one blog. Then I got to thinking, how many blogs could one person conceivably run? I suppose you could run an indefinite number of blogs if you rarely posted on them, so let's rephrase the question to "how many successful blogs could one person conceivably run?"

It would depend on how one defines "successful", but I think that number is probably right around 5, assuming that you were knowledgeable about 4 subjects plus a personal blog. Imagine that, there are people out there running multiple successful blogs and I can't even run one!

At that point, writing would likely be a full-time job, and not something you work around the edges like I do. Alternatively, one could run a blog without necessarily doing any writing if you hired staff writers. I don't know that I'd want more than one blog, since having all kinds of crazy topics to write about in one place keeps things interesting.

For example, I like writing about personal finance, video games, and rarely politics. A lot of blogs out there only focus on one thing. That's great if you're willing to read posts about the same thing day after day, but I like to shake it up. You never know what you're going to get, so you have to check back every day and find out!