Thursday, June 30, 2016

Objective shuffle 2016 part 1

You know, I've been very reluctant to share my 2016 resolution, but we passed the year's halfway point, so no harm, no foul. Just after the new year, I let tradition stress me into thinking I needed a yearly goal to commit to. I spent the whole month of January with that guilt at the back of my mind of not even being able to come up with something. Losing X number of pounds or saving X amount of bucks are nobles goals, and I very much believe in challenging yourself, but I wanted something that would be a bit more interesting to write about.

Then I started getting ideas, so in February, I set out to read as much as possible. I finished a 300-page novel that month, but I didn't actually break my record for pages read until May - 450 of a 700-page novel. The difference came from of course being super engaged in the book, but mostly reading for an hour or so before starting video games, as opposed to games first. Basic prioritization.

I told myself that March would be the month for most trophies or platinum trophies earned. For those of you who don't read the other 90% of this blog, you get a trophy when you do certain things in video games, and these save to your online gamer profile. There are people who obsess over this and don't start playing a title if its trophy list looks too hard, and then there are others who just play a game for its story, regardless of trophies. I fall closer to obsession and always try to get all there is to get in a game. The biggest issue with trophies are that developers put in multiplayer trophies, and lots of games simply lose their online community within about 3 months of release. Considering I usually buy used games to save cash, there have been a few titles that I passed because so many trophies were rooted in online matches. I ended up completing only 2 games that month, which is quite underwhelming. I've actually completed more games in June!

During April, the month after my move, I set out to save as much money as I could. I discovered a local market for Indian, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian (which I call "the brown people store") groceries that happens to sell vegetables and fruit by weight, which saves a shitload of cash. I did especially well at generating cash because I sold my Tesla, McDonalds and Coke stocks for about $1000 profit. I'll write some thoughts on stock in another post.

May was a weird one. I started the month thinking I'd try and release as many blog posts as possible...and released two. This challenge definitely didn't work out, but I had some other successes that I wasn't necessarily aiming for: I biked to work 20 days in the month, and replaced my bike brakes over a 2-week ordeal.

June is almost over, and I started the month by downloading an app called LoseIt. This is a calorie counting app that lets you set a target weight, and will give you daily amount to stay under. You enter your meals at any time, with a live search, and the crowdsourced list is thorough. I found several Korean brands of instant ramen and even made my own entry for Indonesian satay-flavored ramen, called Indomie. I'd initially committed to simply counting calories and set weight-loss to July or so. However, I've been able to stay about 1500 calories under the weight loss recommendation, so that means I should have lost around 5 lbs. Since I don't have a scale, this is all numbers.

Damn, bruh, slow up! Instant ramen ain't fast enough...
Another side effect about counting calories and not the more detailed nutrition is that I've eaten a lot of instant ramen. I bought a case of each ramen I mentioned for $20, and have so far been able to keep other grocery spending to about $80 this month, $20 of which was high quality coffee grounds. I took May and June's savings this month, and it went to $800 of dental work, so the investing went into my pearly whites!

My goal for July is to eat my pantry and freezer. This is easy because I've only lived in the new apartment for 4 months, and don't have much of a backlog. This should also minimize the grocery budget, as I'll just be shopping for chicken, veggies and fruit at the brown people store. I'll report back later!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Naughty Dog did it again with Uncharted: A Thief's End.

The Uncharted franchise has been a wonderful ride over the last 9 years. Each game was all the best parts of a playable movie - intense action, funny quips, likable characters and fast gameplay. Each game was something of a technical feat, usually bringing top-notch animation together with the best motion capture and great voice talent. Naughty Dog always adds details in the environment, and goes the extra mile in having storylines that are easy to follow.

Uncharted 1234 graphical evolution over two consoles.
Uncharted 4 might not have the crystal clearest graphics that other PS4 titles have, but the signature Naughty Dog detail is there. From the dynamic mud/rain splattering that dries in the sun to the the always-different bullet holes in the windshield of your truck earned in a fight that stay through the entire segments of the game. From climbing onto your brother's shoulders when trying to pass him dangling from a cliff to reaching your hand out to touch something as your character is sneaking around in a dark mansion, this game has some great touches.

Three blokes in a truck in Madagascar, shootin the breeze.
One of the newest details is when a character is telling a story during one of the free range parts, if you get out of the truck in the middle of the story and come back to the vehicle, one character will prompt the other, "What were you saying?" and pickup where the story left off. The speaking animations are actually one of the worst parts - games have been shaping character mouths for a long time now, and this game doesn't seem to do that very well.

C'mon Sully, help a brother out!
The characters are fun and vibrant in their 4th appearance, and it's nice that neither of the two main female characters are solely eye-candy. Elena very clearly keeps Nathan grounded, saves his life, and kicks ass during her stealth parts. Nadine Ross is a ruthless mercenary general who provides the muscle to main antagonist, but has her limits.  The other new character to the story, Sam Drake, is even more of a knucklehead than his brother Nate. However, despite both of them being reckless and wild troublemakers, the Drakes are very educated in their history. The brothers are great to watch interact and solve puzzles, but one of my favorite dynamics is Sully and Nadine. They had a past that may or may not have been romantic, but she still beats the shit out of Nate and Sam, and Sully isn't willing to intervene. It's pretty selfish, but interesting that Sully probably doesn't want to experience what it's like to resist Nadine Ross.

In terms of trophies, I did the platinum trophy over about 2.5 weeks and maybe 40 hours total. The first time through the story, I soaked up the graphics, had little difficulty with puzzles, and took liberties with gunplay in about 15 hours. My second playthrough was on the hardest difficulty, where I did 3/4ths of the game mostly in stealth and picked up missed collectibles. Then, I discovered that after you beat the game once, you can unlock bonuses like ultra powerful weapons any time, use them and still get the trophy for beating it on Crushing. My last playthrough was the 6 hour speedrun, which I did in one 5h45m sitting.

Sorry, Nate's fingers, I have a screenshot to take!
The Uncharted franchise is such an easy recommend for anyone who has ever held a controller, and my non-gamer girlfriend definitely enjoyed watching me play for the gorgeous graphics, compelling cutscenes, and well-written characters. I'm glad that Naughty Dog is done with the series, and hope that they develop a game in a space or fantasy setting, though I'll pretty much play and enjoy anything with their name on it at this point. Bring it on, Naughty Dog!

For the record of frugality, I sold this game for a cool $35 after I beat it, having pre-ordered it for $48 through Amazon.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Frugality update: double-ice backfire edition!

Not everyone orders 60 shots, but 30 doubles per month isn't unreasonable.
I've been trying to keep it on the cheap, but this lifestyle has its challenges. I'll say the first and foremost is probably being a little too loud on other peoples' spending. I've got to keep it to advocating the lifestyle and trying not to be too judgmental. A few of the people around me work 2 jobs, some even make double what I do, and others live with either roommates or parents. Despite the larger cashflow, I know they live paycheck to paycheck, driving everywhere, paying for coffee, rarely cooking at home, and wearing the big name brands. I should just say "Must be nice," and carry on investing $200-400 per month. But boy is it hard to bite my tongue knowing that the first hour of their shift is what pays for those two Starbucks drinks that start and end their days. However, just because I don't spend recklessly doesn't mean I don't get suckered every once in a while.

Don't pretend you didn't know this picture was coming...
Goodwill had a 1/2 price green tag sale, so this 
bad boy was $3.50!
Let me start by saying I moved to a new apartment! My income flies so close to the federal poverty level that I'm able to get my rent subsidized so that it equates only 50% of my salary. I tapped my network of friends to get the whole apartment furnished for about $150. $100 of that went to a really nice old leather couch, and the rest went to filling the gas tank of a friend who picked up a table, armchair, bookshelf, dresser and tv stand from an estate giveaway. Then, after work, I walked a mile to the local thrift store, which made utensils and appliances fairly painless to acquire.  

Yikes. This is what you get when you don't go with the major competitors.
I ran into my first frugal trap with internet hardware at the thrift store. At $6 each, I cycled through 3 routers and 2 cable modems before saying 'Screw it," and buying new. This sucks because I lost my receipt for 2 of those, losing $14 in the process. Turns out, a new modem and router were $60, which is a necessary sacrifice for the faster speed of the latest peripherals. The biggest waste I had was two internet providers for the first month living here. I thought I'd fight the power by choosing the "local" internet provider called Frontier, who recently became independent from Verizon. They offered a $35 per month service, which proved to be slow as molasses diarrhea on a snowy hillock. It tested at 1.5Mbps, which meant laggy games and even Youtube and Amazon Prime Video were choppy. The very next morning, I cached in my moral chips and signed up for the Comcast Xfinity, the devil in the suit. Very unfrugally I had two internet connections for a month, and wasted the $35, PLUS the setup fees.

Ahh, much better. I wish there were another way...

I'm also learning the value of measure twice, order once. My bike was in need of a new rear wheel and brake set. The process has been frustrating. I'll get a new part, start working on the bike, only to learn that I need to order a new part. Amazon has been great in minimizing my wait, but the project that should have been an afternoon has been stretched out because I've had to return a few things because I didn't measure before ordering. For returns, I usually at least lose the cost of shipping, and my friends didn't have a few of the tools I needed, which lead to an unplanned $30 that won't make it into investments this month.

I leave you all with a picture of my fabulous living room!

Left to Right: dope couch - $100, heavy coffee table w/ drawer, mangy red armchair, glass-shelf tv stand - ALL FREE.

At work and in your personal life, how many accounts do you have that require a login?

Dudes. Chicks. Calm that consumer rush. This is a hard one, cause I try harder than the average Joe to be frugal and not financially wast...