Friday, May 22, 2015

A Tale of Two Kindles - Part II

Part I

After looking at all of the Kindle SKUs that were available, I set my sights on picking up the basic, plain Jane Kindle. Why not aim higher and grab one of the Kindles with a better screen and more functionality or one of the (Kindle) Fire tablets? Well, basically it boiled down to cost. I didn't want to throw out $199 on something like the Kindle Voyage, only to find out that I didn't care for eReaders either. So the $79 basic Kindle it was.

Then Mother's Day happened. Leading up to Mother's Day, Amazon slashed the price of the Fire HD 7 from $139 to $99. Not only was this a $40 savings, but it was also only $20 more than the regular Kindle I was considering. Now, I'm not a fan of tablets, as I generally find them pointless, but I am a fan of a good deal. $20 was a small hurdle to jump over for a device that could be the eReader I wanted plus so much more. So yeah. Kindle Fire HD 7? Cool, I'm down.

...Three days later, someone at Amazon decided cut the price on all of their Kindles (and tablets) by $20. So the $79 Kindle I was eyeballing, was now $59. Sixty bones. That's squarely inside of "impulse buy" territory for me. Especially since Amazon was offering to let me pay it off over five months, interest free. So yeah. OG Kindle? Yeah, let's do this.

"So wait. You bought two Kindles?"
"Why? You can only use one at a time."
"Well, I bought the tablet because it was on sale and was a good value."
"Then why'd you buy the other one?"
"Because it too was on sale and that's the one I wanted."
"So why didn't you just buy that one first?"
"Because it wasn't on sale when I bought the tablet."
"Why didn't you cancel the tablet then?"
"Because it was a good value."
"...but, that reasoning doesn't make any sense."
"It doesn't. But does. Sort of."

So let's be frank here. Emily was 100% correct. There was no need for me to get both Kindles. However, I am my mother's son and I don't let a good deal pass me by. With two weeks having passed since they both arrived, did I make a good decision? And which Kindle is my favorite?...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Tale of Two Kindles - Part I

"I think I'm going to buy a Kindle."
"For what?"
"Um, to read books? What else would I use a Kindle for?"
"But you don't read books."

True story. Up until last night, I hadn't completed a book for the entirety of my relationship with Emily. If my memory serves me correctly, the last book I completed was "Angels and Demons." Based on this blog post, I finished that book in May 2009. Emily and I started dating in October 2009. It is now May 2015. It's been a minute.

That's not to say that I haven't tried to read a book or two. There was "Water for Elephants," a book of Emily's that I tried to read early on in our relationship to earn some brownie points. I read half of it and got bored. There was "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," a comedic take on a 'literary classic.' It didn't take me long to realize that "Pride and Prejudice" was still the same story that I didn't care much for in 11th grade and that adding zombies wasn't making it any better. Ironically, there was "The Shallows," a book about how the Internet is ruining our attention spans. I read three chapters, got distracted by something on the Internet, and forgot where I last put it down at. Most recently I started reading "Dad is Fat," a small, easy-to-read book by comedian Jim Gaffigan. I like Jim Gaffigan. I like the book. It is currently sitting on our coffee table, somewhere around 70% completed. I've been saying that I'll come back to it for two weeks now. At this point, there's a good chance that I will have kids of my own before I go back to finish reading those last 60 or so pages.

As I started recalling all of the unfinished books that lay beside my side of the bed, I started thinking about all of the things I really love to do. I love listening to music. I love wandering around the Internet. I love playing videogames. And as I started thinking about these things, I started thinking about how the way I discovered and consumed content has changed over the past 6 years. If I was changing the way I found and used things that I loved, maybe it was time to change how interacted with things that I only somewhat enjoyed?

Fast forward to the conversation that opened this blog post. So it was decided - I was going to buy a Kindle. Maybe an eReader would jumpstart my desire to read? If nothing else, it was worth a try. But picking a Kindle was no easy task. Amazon has no less than 7 devices that either carry the Kindle name or are part of the family tree. Which one would I choose?...

Monday, May 11, 2015

To Work or Not To Work - That's Not Your Question

Poor Sean Dunbar. Who's Sean Dunbar you ask? Mr. Dunbar is the gentleman behind the article "Why I Won't Let My Wife Quit Her Job," where he detailed the reasons why he didn't want his wife to become a stay-at-home mom. Not surprisingly, much of the mommyblogging sect are up in arms about this.

Weirdly enough, this is one of those times I kinda agree with them.

Mind you, I am not in favor of a woman becoming a stay-at-home mom. It's one of those core, non-starter type things for me. I have my reasons - some historical, some financial, some personal - but I'm just not in favor of the idea. Luckily, the woman I married has no aspirations of being a stay-at-home mom, so this isn't really an issue on my end. And it's not that I disagree with the reasons as to why Mr. Dunbar didn't want his wife to become a stay-at-home mom. I can empathize with many of those same concerns. My issue with this situation is that he completely took the choice away from her. That's lame.

A recent post on The Federalist sums up Mr. Dunbar's offense quite nicely:
"There are all sorts of problems with this attitude. Namely, Sean is spending a lot of time thinking about what he wants and not a lot about what his wife wants. He lists all the reasons why he wants her to work and so by the time you read in the piece that Sean’s wife specifically said she’d like to stay home with the kids, you want to send her a help line." - The Federalist
Now Mr. Dunbar is claiming that he was a victim of the editor's red pen, which is very possible. I know folks in media who have had their work retitled or heavily recast to fit a narrative, but for some reason I doubt that's the case here. It seems like Sean was more worked up about maintaining the image of what he wanted his wife to be instead of listening to what she wanted to be.

As I noted, I'm not in favor of stay-at-home mommydom, but if Em wanted to give it a go, I'm not going to overrule her decision. Being honest, I wouldn't be excited about it. That said, I'd be willing to talk it out, look at the pros and cons, and give it a try. If it worked for us, great. If it didn't, we'd figure out something else to try. Key words in those last two sentences? "Us" and "We."

Hopefully this situation will serve as a wake up call for Mr. Dunbar. It seems like his life is pretty good, but maybe it could be even better if he just listened to what his wife wants.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

#Splatoon: Global Testfire Event - Quick Thoughts

This weekend, Nintendo held the "Global Testfire Event" - essentially an online stress test - for their upcoming new Wii U game, Splatoon. Splatoon is Nintendo's take on the shooter genre and as expected, it's full of the quirkiness and whimsy we've come to expect from them. Unlike its contemporaries, the goal of Splatoon isn't to rack up the most kills. Instead, your goal is to cover as much of the ground as possible with your team's ink. There are "kills" (or "splats" as they've been lovingly referred to) involved, but with that not being the main objective, "Splatoon" has a very different feel from something like Call of Duty or Destiny.

The Global Testfire Event was held at three times - 11pm ET on Friday and 7am & 3pm ET on Saturday. I got the chance to partake in two of these times and I wanted to toss out some quick thoughts on my experience with the game:
  • I love that Nintendo continues to be a publisher that says, "We don't have a problem using colors OTHER than brown, black, and gray." Splatoon is very colorful and rather easy on the eyes.
  • The online was surprisingly smooth. Even though many of the matches I played paired me up with people from the other side of the globe, I'm happy to say that I experienced very little to no lag. After the strong showings from Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros for Wii U, I'm glad to see that Nintendo is starting to become competent in delivering a solid online experience.
  • ...that said, there's no voice chat. As the matches are pretty short, its omission isn't terrible, but it would have been nice to have that option available.
  • The controls are great...after you disable the motion controls. They were very responsive and the Wii U Gamepad is actually put to good use. When waiting on a match, the Gamepad is host to an NES-style mini game (Squid Jump!) which actually wasn't half bad. I mean, it's better than staring at the TV. During a match, the Gamepad provides you with not only a real-time map (to track how much of the map is being covered), but also a way to instantly jump to where your teammates are. The latter is something I ever remember seeing in a FPS, so I'm looking forward to seeing what strategies come from it.
  • The gameplay was fresh, fun, and lighthearted. Going into Splatoon, I can't say I ever expected to use those words to describe a shooter - a genre that I've found stale for years. It's nice to have something that's both different AND good. 
  •  Black squids!! Representation matters. It's always nice when your in-game avatar can somewhat resemble you.
If the full retail release delivers, Nintendo could have a hit on their hands. Will it dethrone Call of Duty or drive Wii U sales into the stratosphere? No. Not likely. But it will find its niche. For a new IP on a system that hasn't had the success of its predecessor, that's not a bad start.

Splatoon swims onto Wii U on May 29th. After my two hours with the game, I think I'm going to put down the cash to be there Day 1.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cutting the Cord: After Four Years Has It Been Worth It?

Today on my way home, APM Marketplace ran a story about how cable companies have been getting concerned about the recent trend of customers wanting - and finding - smaller cable bundles. Which makes sense as no one wants to pay for things (like hundreds of channels) they don't use. As I listened to the story, I couldn't help but think about how things have changed since Emily and I first "cut the cord."

When I moved in with Em in 2011, it was the first time I had cable in two years as I had gotten rid of it after finishing grad school. (I don't know if it was because I was broke and trying to save money or the fact that I tend to spend more time in front of a computer than anywhere else, but in 2009 becoming a "hulu only" guy was an easy move to make.) During my "funemployment" stint, cable was pretty much the only luxury we had. It was a reasonable expense because it kept us a) inside and b) entertained. Spending money saved us money - at least that's what we told ourselves.

Throwing logic to the wind, it was once I got a job (and thus a second income) that we downsized our cable package. It made sense to cut it loose as once we got home from work, the one television we had was only on for an hour or so before we left to go to the gym, go out with friends, or waste time on the Internet. We wound up not completely cutting the cord though as TimeWarner managed to upsell us into their "Starter TV + Internet" package. Basically, for $10 more than what we would have paid for Internet, we got all of the over-the-air channels plus TBS and CNBC. Seemed like a fair enough deal. Once the dust settled, we went from paying $118 a month to only $65 - a savings of $53.

Shortly thereafter we added Netflix to our lives, first at the $15.99 tier for the one DVD plus streaming option, eventually settling into the current $8.99 tier once we realized that we did a shit job of actually watching the discs that came in the mail. All-in-all, we were still saving $44 a month. Not too bad.

Fast forward to present day. Over the past four years, both the amount of content to stream and the ways to consume them have increased. As such, Em and I have created our own package that works rather well for us:

We still have our Starter TV package. Mostly because we're stupid and lazy, but whatever. Somehow I rationalized that paying that extra $10/mo was better than buying three HD antennas (we may have picked up a couple more TVs over the years) it's not, but again, I'm allowed to be stupid and lazy. Unfortunately, due to taxes and other general price increases, that starter package is now $78. (insert grumbling here) Still, we have access to local news and weather, programming on the major networks, and regional sports. It could be worse.

Netflix ($8.99) is also still around, but it's been joined by some new friends. Amazon Instant Video (effectively $0) joined the party as a side benefit of paying for free shipping at Amazon. WWE Network (it's only $9.99!) came into our household shortly after I got back from WrestleMania XXX. And recently, Sling TV ($19.99) reintroduced us to the idea of watching programming not on-demand. It's OK though as Sling TV has been good for scratching itches that Netflix and Amazon Instant Video can't. With a selection of networks such as ESPN & ESPN2, AMC, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, and Cartoon Network/adult swim, Sling TV is almost the perfect set of channels for us. I say almost as it's missing USA Network. Still, for the price, it's been a welcome addition to our entertainment menu. Total cost for all of our streaming options? $38.97. A pittance for the amount of content available to us, especially since all of those options are also available on mobile devices and PC.

So with all of our new streaming options are we better or worse than we were four years ago when we first cut the cord? Well, I'd say we're better off. When you add our Internet and streaming packages and compare them to our original 2011 costs, we're still saving $1.03. So you know, that counts for something. But if we're being fair, we need to compare our current costs to that of an equivalent cable package. You know who still has the same cable + Internet package that we had? My mother. And while she doesn't live in our metro area, her cost are probably a good measuring stick. What's she paying a month? $155.72. Using that number, we're still coming out $38.75 ahead. Not the $65/month we were saving, but every little bit counts.

So yeah. Cut the cord. You don't need "big cable" sucking your wallet dry every month. Unless you're a big sports fan. In which case your options are limited and they will bleed every dollar they can for you.

Sorry bros.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

She's Still Alright By Me

Sure, it's been a while since I've posted anything in this space, but I really wanted this here. It just seemed fitting.