Pokémon Go…or something, whatever

A lot of things have happened since I’ve last updated my blog, but each time I think about writing a post, I realize I’m not entirely sure what I want to share here anymore.  Twitter is the best resource to keep up with what’s going on my life right now, to be honest.  My blog has turned into more of a place for me to dumb long-form thoughts.

That said, time to dump some thoughts. :D

I’ve been playing a lot of Pokémon Go, and despite its tumultuous rollout, I’ve been having a lot of fun with it.  There’s a gym down the street from where I live, and three more within reasonable walking distance, where I can also hit 9 Pokéstops along the way.  It’s a long walk, but I enjoy it.

A lot of the game mechanics are sort of…broken, or “unbalanced” is a better word, I guess.  Stardust doesn’t scale very well, evolved Pokémon trade in for the same amount of candy as their unevolved counterparts, Pokéstops have seemingly recently all but stopped dropping hyper potions…the list goes on.  Niantic has had, and continues to have, their heads in the sand for the most part, especially with the tracking issue, which was made even worse by their complete lack of communication for weeks.

I think a lot of people quit the game, but even with certain things still broken or very unbalanced, I continue to play.  I won’t spend any real money on the game until they address the issues, but the game is still very much playable (which is not something I could say with much confidence for the first few weeks).  Right now, what’s fun for me is collecting Pokémon and specifically focusing on keeping the gym down the street.

Oh, and I guess I should mention that I’m dumb and didn’t realize the teams were based on the legendary birds.  I chose Team Valor (red team) for a completely dumb reason (didn’t understand how gyms worked), and totally didn’t realize I should’ve been on Team Instinct.  (Anyone that knew me back in the day knows Zapdos was my favorite Pokémon).  Valor is the last team I would’ve picked if I had understood gyms, because Moltres is my least favorite legendary bird and red is my least favorite color of the three.  Sigh.  At this point though, even if they introduce a mechanic to switch teams, I’m not sure that I would.

In non-Pokémon-related news, I bought a new car about a month and a half ago.  It’s been at the point for a long time now that with my back/nerve problem, driving a sports compact with a manual was making less and less sense.  This is one of the few things I haven’t posted about on social media, mostly because it almost feels like bragging, when in reality I liked my BRZ a lot and had planned to keep it for a long time otherwise, and now I just want to be comfortable.  My new car has Apple CarPlay, by the way, which I will say is awesome and I don’t think I’d buy another car that didn’t either come with it or couldn’t be upgraded to it via an aftermarket unit.

Also, I think it goes without saying here that this election is ridiculous.  Anyone that knows me probably knows who I’m voting for, but I will say it is nice to have Bernie out of the picture.  To me, he’s been the most frustrating politician to emerge out of the woodwork this season, demagoguing his way into relevancy in a near-Trumpian fashion, only to sell out in the end to the very establishment he claimed to be so separate from.  What a joke.  He honestly cannot fade back into obscurity quickly enough.

So that’s that for a while.  Happy Pokémon hunting.  :)

My writing projects for the past ~7 months

I finished up a novel that began with a story I wrote three and a half years ago called Tracks (which is the working title of the novel as well).  I went over it once for editing then set it aside and began something else.  Unless I like Tracks a whole lot better when I go back to it for a second round of editing, I don’t think I’ll publish it.  It doesn’t feel cohesive and has what I feel is too much confusing exposition in the dialogue.  I do really like the first chapter, though, and it stands alone just fine as a story if you’d like to read it via the link above.

The other work I began writing is yet another story I started a couple years ago that has a working title of SASPER.  It’s probably my most ambitious work of fiction thus far, mostly because it’s cyberpunk, which is technically science fiction, and science fiction can go horrendously wrong if you don’t pay attention to details, do proper world-building, use real science amidst the fiction, etc.  One thing I’m doing with this novel that I don’t normally do is use real places by name, and another is to generally not care about chapter lengths.  Anyone remember that chapter of As I Lay Dying that’s just a single sentence?  I’m not doing anything that dramatic, but you get the idea.

SASPER feels like it’s somewhere between a third and a half of the way done, but I don’t ever set length expectations for total number of words or anything like that, other than 50,000 or more since that’s technically the minimum for a novel.  When finished, SASPER will be my fourth completed novel, and if I feel like it’s good enough to publish, then probably my second published novel.  So far, I feel like it’s on track to meet that goal, unlike Tracks.

Another interesting thing of note is that I wrote Tracks in first person perspective in past tense, but for SASPER, I switched back to third person present tense like I used in the novel I wrote based off of The Redwoods (which is my one published novel).  I really like something about this particular perspective/tense combination, even though there are times when it’s really hard to stay in the right tense.

Bullet-point 2015 MacBook quick review

The list below reflects the 1.2 GHz/512GB SSD model of the 2015 MacBook.  I mostly use it for web browsing, taking notes, research, and writing, so keep my use case in mind.

  • Performance is great on El Capitan.  Scrolling through photo-heavy sites in Safari suffered a bit in Yosemite.  That was resolved in El Cap.  The Core M CPU was really the only tradeoff on this computer that I wasn’t sure would be a non-issue, and so far, so good.  Future OS X updates will tell if this holds true.
  • It’s so thin and light that sometimes it’s hard to believe there’s a fully-functioning computer in there.
  • Battery life is amazing. 9-10 hours and can be recharged from a battery pack and a USB-A to USB-C cable if you need more absolute portability for some reason.
  • The keyboard is a love it or hate it thing.  I love it, despite the lack of travel.  If you don’t like it immediately, I’d say give it a day or so of casual use.  It’s very satisfyingly clicky.
    • Note: Of the ~60,000 words into the novel I’m currently writing, I’d estimate a third or so was written on the MacBook.  So, I have used it substantially.
  • If you try to run a game on it, it’s going to get pretty hot.  I don’t know why you’d buy an ultraportable laptop to game on, but Steam in-home streaming actually works amazingly well if you have a decent PC to stream from.  I played Fallout 4 for a few hours like this on ultra-high settings.
  • The trackpad is incredible.  Apple has always had the best trackpads in the business and they keep making them better.  Easily the best trackpad I’ve ever used, twice as good as the one on my 2010 MacBook Pro.
    • Note: Force touch is neat, but kind of gimmicky other than to allow the laptop to be so thin.
  • The display is gorgeous, exactly what I’d expect out of a pixel-dense Apple display.  I usually keep it around 60% brightness just because it’s so bright.
  • I’ve used the USB-C port with an adapter only one time in a month and a half (to install Windows).  Having one port is a non-issue for me.
    • Note: USB-C is awesome.
  • I haven’t even used the webcam, so the 480p resolution is a non-issue for me.  No other comments there.
  • The hinge and magnets are so utterly perfect.  The machine opens and closes with exactly the right amount of resistance.  Apple’s attention to detail really shines in these kinds of things.
  • This machine is kind of stupidly expensive.  I only bought it because of some great promos on my Discover card that allowed me to save about $500 off of the retail price of $1599.
    • Note: The less expensive/cheapest model is $1299, which is honestly still a bit much, even for the model I got.  But, you know…Apple.
  • Filed under most surprising feature: the speakers are phenomenal, especially given the amount of space they’re in.  Seriously, they sound better than the speakers on my 2010 MBP by a long shot.
  • I got Space Gray, and it’s a super cool color for a MacBook.  The Gold (which is actually more “champagne”) is surprisingly nice and much more subtle than you’d expect in person (this would’ve been my second choice in color).

I don’t like subscription music streaming services

I tried Apple Music, Google Play Music, and am now currently working my way through a 3-month free trial of Spotify, and I have to say…these subscription music streaming services just aren’t for me.  I think the best of the bunch was Google Play Music, with Apple Music being the worst solely because of the app, but it’s not really so much any of that as it is that I think it’s a bad deal financially for me and a lot of others.

For a family of two or three that doesn’t already have a music collection, I get the perceived value.  $15/month for three people to have access to unlimited music is a good deal if at least two of those people normally buy at least an album a month (or spend the equivalent ~$10 on individual tracks).  It’s probably also a pretty good deal for a single person to pay $10/month if they usually buy three or more albums in a month.

The major problem to me is that even with a subscription to one of these services, you still might have to buy music somewhere else.  Want to listen to Adele’s latest album on Apple Music?  Nah, gotta buy that.  Want to listen to Taylor Swift’s 1985 on Spotify?  Nah, you gotta have Apple Music or buy it.  Heck, there was this album by a no-name band (Allstar Weekend) that Amazon Prime Music and Google Play Music have but that Apple Music doesn’t.

So no matter if you’re listening to mainstream stuff or little unknown bands, you’re never guaranteed that your service is going to 100% fulfill your listening needs.  So suddenly, you might be paying $10/month for streaming plus an extra $10 to buy an album that’s not on your streaming service.  And then, you might not be able to listen to all of that music in the same place if you have something like Spotify, so you’re juggling collections between two apps.

Oh, and if you cancel your subscription service in, say, three years, you’ve paid $360 and have nothing to show for it except memories.  And hey, maybe that’s worth it to you.  But the thing is, in 2006, I was buying two or three albums a month, and now, I’m buying one album every two or three months.  So nine years ago streaming would’ve made sense to me, and now, it doesn’t.  So if I had been using a streaming service for the past nine years, I couldn’t even cancel it now or I’d lose all of my music (which, yes, I do still listen to my old catalog – everything from random 90’s country to my amazing 2006 pop-punk bands).  People’s music listening habits change, so what you do now might not be what you do next year.

So yeah, I’ll pass on these services.  Right now, buying albums I like (sometimes on sale for $0.99, $7.99, or half off sales), then uploading it to Google Play Music so I can stream it anyway is the best option for me.

You can’t make nerds happy

Yesterday, Apple introduced a “smart battery case” for the iPhone 6 and 6S, and the techs sites on the Internet went completely nuts.  I had to write something about this whole situation somewhere, because it’s so ridiculous.

For a while now, a specific segment of the phone market has been wanting Apple to make the iPhone slightly thicker to incorporate a larger battery.  The complaint is that Apple always puts form over function, despite the iPhone 6/6S already having an all-day battery life.  So, Apple finally puts function over form, and people still won’t stop whining.

And then on the other side, you’ve got the Apple apologists that try to explain that you can’t put a bigger battery into the iPhone because there’s heat and RF signal issues to deal with, despite, you know, basically every flagship Android handset not having those issues.  I’ve also seen people say that Apple already makes a phone with a bigger battery, it’s called the iPhone 6S Plus, which is an utterly stupid thing to say, because of how wide and tall that phone is.  The apologists’ argument is basically that Apple can’t make an iPhone that’s the thickness of the iPhone 5 at the size of the iPhone 6 “because physics” (which is total BS).

Being in Apple’s position is so interesting, because no matter what they do, people whine.  Clearly – as the world’s most valuable company – they’re doing something right.  The Internet just won’t stop complaining about everything they do.

Lily and Mochi

I have been pretty terrible at updating my blog for the past three or four years.  I know I say this often, but I’m going to rectify that with a little life update post right now.

LilyPretty much everyone that reading this already knows about Lily, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi that Sam and I picked up on June 7, 2013.  She was born on March 17th, 2013, which is the day St. Patrick’s Day fell on that year.  Her breeders called her “Patty” because of this (yes, I know it’s St. Paddy’s Day, not St. Patty’s Day).
She was 8.2 lbs when we got her (most of it ears, probably).  We picked her up when she was 11 weeks old, which means she was a little bigger than most puppies are when people usually pick them up (~8 weeks).  We would’ve gotten her earlier if it were possible, but it wasn’t, and it certainly didn’t deter us.

When we first started looking into getting a corgi, I didn’t know that there were two breeds: Pembrokes and Cardigans.  Lily (as I mentioned) is the former of the two, which is the most popular breed.  Apparently there are around 20 Pembrokes to every Cardigan.  We picked getting a Pembroke I think mostly based on their popularity and that they’d be easier to find.

I wanted a tri-color at first (white/black/tan, etc), but I wasn’t really super picky about that.  The more I looked at pictures of puppy and adult corgis, the more I liked the tan and white color combination and changed my mind as to what I would prefer.  I don’t remember if Sam had any preferences regarding whether the puppy was a boy or girl, but she also wasn’t particularly concerned about the color.  So though I had my preferences, color wasn’t strict, but the sex of the puppy was (the men in my family swear that girl dogs are easier to train and are more well-behaved in general, and they’ve had plenty of dogs).

LilySam happened to find a breeder that had one girl left in tan and white, which was exactly what we wanted, if we’d been given the choice.  I’m certain Lily could’ve been any color and we’d have still wanted her, but that’s just the way it happened to work out!  The breeder was trying to figure out if she was going to make “Patty” a show dog, and I think she probably would’ve had she not been “mis-marked”.  Show dogs have to be marked a certain way or they’re not eligible to show, and puppies’ markings are a bit hard to discern when they’re young.  It turned out that Lily’s face is half tan, half white, and definitely not symmetrical, so she was considered mis-marked.

That means that breeder had one extra unclaimed puppy right at the time that Sam reached out to her, which in the corgi world, is very unlikely.  You typically have to put your name on a waiting list and be willing to wait half a year or more to get an AKC, purebred corgi puppy not from a puppy mill.

LilyLily is now a full grown, 23.5 lb spoiled brat dog.  She’s a little small for an adult female corgi (I think they’re usually 25-28 lbs), but she’s very majestic when she’s not sleeping.  She listens halfway-decently to commands in the house, but at the dog park or around strange people or situations, she generally doesn’t care what we have to say to her.  She loves other dogs, and these days, she’s well-behaved enough to be left in the house for a while without worrying about her.  Lily has a very sweet, playful personality, and like most corgis, she’s very loyal and constantly wants to be around us (or at least in the same room as us).

Interesting tidbit about Lily – most Pembrokes have their tails docked soon after they are born as part of a tradition that doesn’t really mean anything anymore (corgis are herders and originally their tails were docked so livestock wouldn’t step on and injure their tails; these days I think it’s only still done as tradition of the breed).  However, I think Lily is a natural bobtail, as there is absolutely no trace of a tail anywhere on her butt, whereas with most dogs who’ve had their tail docked, there’s a little nub.

After we had Lily for a while, we knew we wanted another corgi.  This time, however, I was pretty adamant: I wanted a merle blue Cardigan girl.  Sam, luckily for me, is just not picky about that kind of stuff, so she was all for it.  This is, without a doubt, the most sought-after Cardigan combination, so out of the already hard to find Cardigans, a blue girl would be even harder.  We put our names on a breeder’s waiting list back in May of this year, expecting to get a puppy around January if the breeder had a mis-marked blue girl (as popular as blue girls are as show dogs, there’s not a large chance the breeder would give one up unless it was mis-marked or they were lucky enough to have two in the same litter).

Sam reached out to this breeder again a couple of months ago to check and see if anything had changed, and everything was still on track for him to have puppies available in January.  However, just a week or two later, he reached out to us with news that one of his breeder friends had a blue girl available the very next weekend because someone had to back out due to some very unfortunate circumstances involving a family member.  Sam reached out to that breeder, she sent us pictures and info, and we immediately knew we wanted her.

MochiThe breeder called her “Star,” and she was incredibly mis-marked in probably the best way possible.  About three-quarters of her face is white, with a black ring around her right eye and a patch of brown and merled blue going back to her ear on the same side.  Her left eye is brown and her right eye is three-quarters blue and a quarter brown.  It’s super cool, and I absolutely love heterochromia in dogs (and in general it’s pretty interesting).  Of course, most of her body is merle blue and white, but she has a splotch of brown on her back feet and a band of it around one of her front legs.

We named her Mochi (yes, like the Japanese pounded rice snack).  The day we picked her up, October 3rd, she turned 9 weeks old (her birthday is August 3rd) and weighed 7.1 lbs.  Her front paws are about as big as Lily’s, and so are her ears, even though she’s so little.  I think this is due to the breed difference, as Pembrokes and Cardigans do vary just a little in physical appearance since they are technically separate (yet very closely related) breeds.

MochiCardigans supposedly are slightly less friendly to strangers than Pembrokes, and (again, supposedly) have a few other personality differences from Pembrokes, but I have yet to be able to tell the difference.  Perhaps it’s because Mochi is so young and we’ve only had her for a little over three weeks, but the way that she interacts with us and the people that have met her seems incredibly familiar to how Lily acted.  Although, I must admit that neither Sam nor I can remember if Lily squirmed quite as much when being held at Mochi’s age, and Mochi definitely barks a bit more than I remember Lily barking when we leave her alone in her crate.

Because Lily likes and gets along so well with other dogs, I never really had any doubt that Lily would have issues with another dog in the house.  She was at first very suspicious, and spent most of the first day doing various things that apparently “asserted her dominance,” according to the Interwebs.  By the second day, though, a lot of that had already faded, and they started playing and doing all of the fun things that dogs do together.  Lily is a very kind big sister to Mochi, or at least I like to think.  Sometimes she bites Mochi’s tail when they’re playfighting, which is kind of funny since Mochi can’t do that back.

Lily and MochiOne of the benefits of having a young adult dog while having a new puppy is that Lily is a good babysitter for Mochi.  With Lily, we had to constantly pay attention to her because we were all she had to play with.  Anyone that’s ever had a puppy probably knows how exhausting that is.  As cute as they are, they’re a handful, and though I’ll miss Mochi being tiny, I do look forward to the day where she stops biting everything and peeing in the house.  It’s nice to be able to leave Lily out when we go to the movies or whatever and not have to worry about her destroying anything or feel bad about having to keep her in a crate.

Anyway, so now we have two dogs, and it’s pretty great, because dogs are the best.

1-Month Gluten-Free Trial

That nerve issue I wrote about at the end of last year never went away.  It’s pretty much a permanent thing at this point, so I kinda have to learn to deal with it.  But hey, there could be worse things!

Anyway, I’ve been to a lot of doctors and done a lot of research on the Internet, and out of desperation, I decided to try going gluten-free for a month, since at this point, the doctors don’t know what’s wrong and just want me to go to pain management clinics.  For the record, if you don’t have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance (which, yes, some people do have), going gluten-free is a total bullshit fad, but that fad has actually helped out people that suffer from gluten-related problems.  There are lots more options for those people on the market now, which I guess is the point of this post.

I went full blown gluten-free for a month, because gluten can cause inflammation (which can cause nerve issues) if you have a gluten intolerance.  This meant I basically acted like I had celiac disease for a month: no wheat, rye, or barley; no foods that shared processing equipment with gluten, and no foods that shared preparation equipment with gluten.  In the past, that might’ve been difficult to do, but these days, it actually wasn’t so bad.

Going gluten-free seems to be more annoying than it is difficult, especially if you have celiac disease.  If you’re just intolerant, you can probably handle cross-contamination a lot better than someone with celiac, but if you have celiac, eating out is almost definitely an ordeal.  Lots of things that should be naturally gluten-free can come into contact with equipment that processes gluten-containing items, which can make things difficult.  For example, Dominos has a gluten-free pizza, but they prepare and bake it in with the same kitchen equipment as their regular pizza, so it is almost certainly contaminated.  Pizza Hut, on the other hand, has their gluten-free pizza and the process they use to store and prepare it certified gluten-free, so theirs is probably safe.  There’s a lot of research that has to go into every decision you make involving anything that goes anywhere near your mouth.

If your significant other just ate a slice of bread, you better not kiss them.  Is your lip balm gluten-free?  Do you share hand-towels with someone that might’ve touched gluten-containing items and then wiped their hands or mouth?  That’s really the most annoying part of the whole process.  I only did it for a month and it ended up not helping me, but for someone that has to do it forever…that could be daunting.

Luckily in Baton Rouge, there is a bakery/restaurant specifically for people that follow diets that eliminate certain food allergens.  They have gluten-free “donuts,” cupcakes, and other pastries, as well as a menu of items that are gluten-free.  And almost every store I went to had a gluten-free section with some pretty interesting options.  The biggest issue, though, is that even when you can find alternatives to things you thought you may never be able to eat again, all of it ends up being pretty expensive.  That restaurant and all of the groceries I bought were probably 25-50% more expensive than comparable gluten-containing options.  As much as that sucks though, at least there are options.

Rice pasta, for example, is such a good imitation of wheat pasta that if it weren’t for the price tag, I wouldn’t care which one you served me.  Trader Joe’s brown rice pasta is $2 for a 16oz bag, whereas wheat pasta is almost half that price.  $2 for a bag of pasta isn’t that much, but a loaf of the best gluten-free bread I could find is EIGHT bucks.  And gluten-free bread is just straight up bleh unless you toast it, which only makes it less bleh.

So, it was an interesting experiment to step into those shoes for an entire month.  Unless you have celiac disease or an intolerance to gluten though, I’m pretty sure you’re crazy if you’re on a gluten-free diet.

The Two Most Useful Credit Cards for the Average Person

Disclaimer: If you don’t pay off your credit card every month, rewards cards are useless.  This post is targeted to people that responsibly use credit and pay their statement balance in full, every month.  I know I say this a lot, but if this isn’t how you use your credit card, you should cut it up into pieces and throw it away unless you are jobless and require it for food.  Also, I am not a financial adviser, yadda yadda.

Without further ado, here are the two most useful credit cards for the average person in terms of benefits they offer.

The SallieMae MasterCard is the most used and most useful card in my wallet.  This card offers the most lucrative cashback options for me and probably for most people.  It is structured as follows:

  • 5% cashback on gasoline purchases, up to $250/month
  • 5% cashback on grocery store purchases, up to $250/month
  • 5% cashback on bookstore purchases, up to $750/month

How businesses are categorized (for all credit cards) is based on their Merchant Category Code.  Many cards that offer cashback on groceries have specific exclusions for stores like Target and Walmart.  This card does not, and it is based solely on the MCC.  This means that most Walmart Supercenters and Super Targets count for 5% cashback under the grocery MCC.  It also means that Amazon.com purchases count as 5% cashback under the bookstore MCC.

Most of my purchases are groceries, Amazon, and gas, probably in that order.  That means as long as I fall within those monthly limits, I always get 5% cashback on the majority of my purchases.

The points can be redeemed as statement credit, and they post pretty quickly to your account.  You don’t need to have a SallieMae student loan or to be a student or anything like that.  All you need is good FICO score, around 690 according to Doctor of Credit.  There are no annual fees.

The second most useful card in my wallet is the Citi Double Cash Card.  This card offers 1% cashback on all purchases and 1% cashback on all on-time payments, which means, effectively, this card gives you 2% cashback.  To boot, there are no limits to how much cashback you can earn every month/year.  There are very few cards out that that offer this level of cashback (only one other personal card that I know of).   The biggest downside to this card is that there is no sign up bonus at all, and you need to have excellent credit, the safest bet is probably in the mid 700s, but I’ve seen people get approved in the lower 700s as long as the rest of the credit report is pretty decent.

Most cashback cards – and probably most reward cards in general – come with benefits like extended warranties on things you purchase, so besides that and the cashback, this card comes with some additional great perks.  My personal favorite perk is Price Rewind, which basically lets you get reimbursed up to a certain amount (I think it’s like $300) if something you bought goes on sale within 60 days.  They even have a feature that can track prices for you and automatically/easily submit the claim, but it’s admittedly not very good at finding lower prices (you can submit prices yourself, though, so it’s all good).  Still, I’ve gotten an $8 credit from it.  And no annual fee.

Citi also offers damage and theft protection on your purchases for up to 120 days, so if you buy an iPhone, break it three weeks later, and don’t have AppleCare+, you can just submit a claim to Citi.  I haven’t used that benefit yet, or many of the others, but it’s nice to know they’re there.

So, those are the two best personal credit cards (for most people) in my opinion.  These are both, however, MasterCards, so I’d like to mention some runner-ups.  American Express Blue Cash Everyday is decent on rewards, but the real reason to consider this card is for AMEX offers.  I’ve only had this card for a few months and so far it’s saved me $180 in AMEX offers on things I was already purchasing, and gotten me about $25 in other random AMEX promotions.  AMEX also has accident protection for purchases up to 90 days.  My second runner up is the Discover IT card, mostly because they usually have pretty good 5% rotating categories, they have a great shopping portal where you can earn additional cashback at certain stores pretty easily, and their customer service is great.  I’ve gotten around $220 back with their Price Protection benefit, which is similar to Citi’s Price Rewind except there’s no automatic tracker, and it’s for 90 days instead of 60.

Shameless self-promotion: SallieMae and Citi don’t do referral bonuses, but if you happen to be interested in the AMEX or Discover cards I mentioned, comment below or Tweet/email/message me somehow and I’ll get you a referral link.  It would get me like $50 and you’d still get your regular signup bonus if one is available.

10-7-2015 edit:  Barclay stopped offering the Sallie Mae MasterCard.  They’ll probably remove the reward categories as well, but no movement on that yet as of this date.  It’s a real tragedy in the credit card world, but life goes on.

Financial Responsibility (Part 2)

I’ve ranted about financial responsibility before, but that was over two years ago, and I think it’s about that time again.

I frequent the personal finance subreddit, and though I don’t post there much, reading some of the things people come up with blows my mind.  Today, someone asked if they should take a loan from the bank to build a nest egg.  This question essentially boils down to “should I pay interest on a loan that I don’t currently need and may never need?”

To give credit where it’s due, at least this person recognized their own ignorance and asked before doing something so stupid, but I mean…come on, seriously?

I also recently found out that the average car loan in America is for ~67 months.  SIXTY SEVEN MONTHS.  That’s over five years.  Absolutely, completely mind-blowing.  If you have to finance a car for 5 years, you cannot afford that car.  It’s astounding what people will do when they have a bad case of the “wants.”

And I just want to stress here again, credit cards aren’t free money like most people seem to think (current average credit card debt: $15,863), but I’d like to add that if you pay off the statement balance in full every month, they actually can be free money.  Credit cards are an amazing tool when treated with responsibility.  Cash back, return protection, protection against unauthorized charges (as opposed to draining your bank account if someone steals your debit card info), price matching, rental car benefits, sign up bonuses, and the list goes on.  But if you don’t pay them off in full every month, you are digging yourself into a hole.

Guys, money controls almost every single aspect of your life whether you like it or not.  If you’re not willing to spend a small amount of time to learn about the basic do’s and don’ts of personal finance, you are doing yourself and anyone that relies on you a great disservice.

Random thoughts on Android, iOS, and Windows Phone

  • There is a lot to be said about how open a platform is.  There are many positives, but also negatives. In Android’s case, I think the positives do outweigh the negatives.
  • Apps are better on iOS.  Period.  Many Android apps feel like an afterthought.
  • Even though you can swipe from the left to go back in most iOS apps, having a dedicated back button is still better since it technically does more than just go back.
  • Windows Phone still destroys Android and iOS in usability.
  • For how much people complain and poke fun at Apple when an iOS update is a bit buggy, Android 5.0 sure is full of bugs…
  • Overall, I think the App Store on iOS is a “better experience,” but Google Play wins hands down on functionality. It’s really nice to be able to tell an app to install on a different device.
  • The ads you get in Android apps remind me a lot of ads targeted to Windows users.  “Computer slow? Download Android phone sweeper!” “Clear your phone of viruses!” So dumb, but one of those negatives of a more open platform.
  • The Bluetooth stack on Android definitely seems to be not quite as good as it is on iOS, but I also have more Bluetooth devices paired to my phone than ever. When/if Google releases Android Wear on iOS, I’d really like to put this to the test.
  • Live tiles on Windows Phone are still the best home screen experience I’ve used to date.
  • Not being able to put icons where you want on the iOS home screen is just stupid.
  • The updating situation on Android is spectacularly broken.  It’s really annoying, and Google/handset manufacturers need to fix this somehow.
  • The approach that Google takes to Google apps and Microsoft takes to Microsoft apps is way better than the approach Apple takes to Apple apps.  I don’t want crap taking up space on my phone that I’ll never use. Let me delete it.
  • I will never understand putting core UI functionality at the top edge/corners of the screen.  Every developer on every platform, first and third party, stop this crap.
  • Google needs to do something about Android’s battery life, which is no doubt linked to memory usage, which is another negative of a more open platform. I get that Android has real multitasking, but needing double/triple the RAM of an iPhone for an Android handset to perform similarly is kind of ridiculous.  Maybe this is unrealistic, but I wish there was a “best of both worlds” solution.