Review: The Bogleheads’ Guide To Investing

This review is going to be inescapably biased. I read Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich a few months back. Since then, I’ve become very interested in personal finance, and I’ve been on a hunt for more reading material on the subject. A large portion of this review will be comparing and contrasting The Bogleheads’ Guide with Sethi’s book.

You may wonder, after all the praise I gave Sethi’s book, why I would even want to read another personal finance book. First, I wanted some resources to confirm the advice given in that book. More importantly, I wanted some more detail on a few topics that I felt Sethi’s book glossed over. In his book, Sethi advises average readers to invest in life-cycle funds. These funds do all of the investing grunt work for you, making them easy to use and maintain. You just keep adding money. He also advises the reader on how to set up personalized asset allocation and invest in individual index funds manually. He describes the potential for a slightly higher return by managing your own individual investments compared to simply choosing a life-cycle fund. Unfortunately, he does not give a lot of detail on how to distinguish various index funds from each other. I started looking for personal finance books that could offer more insight into how to evaluate an index fund. I actually found The Bogleheads’ Guide To Investing through Sethi’s book recommendations page.

The Bogleheads' Guide to InvestingThe Bogleheads’ Guide To Investing ended up being much more than I anticipated. I was happy to see that it was not simply a rehash of the same information and ideals found in I Will Teach You To Be Rich. This book was something altogether different and yet written from a similar perspective. Bogleheads are a group of investors who have been influenced by John Bogle. Bogle is the founder of The Vanguard Group (an investment company), and he has been a long-time advocate of indexed mutual funds. Vanguard created the world’s first indexed mutual fund under Bogle’s supervision. Thus, Bogleheads are Vanguard proponents who believe in the advantages of indexed mutual funds.

This book is set up to be a sort of personal finance bible. It has everything from how to save money, how to get started with investing, why you should invest in index funds, and a lot more. The sheer scope of this book is phenomenal. It goes beyond simple personal finance advice. There were two chapters on tax efficient investing, a chapter on setting up college funds for your children, and even a chapter or two on estates and how to pass on your wealth effectively.

I am comparing this book to Sethi’s for a few reasons. One of the things I noticed is that they actually complement each other pretty well. Sethi’s book gives better motivation for getting started with investing. It contains specifics (with numbers) of how to set up a conscious spending plan (or budget) and it’s very task and goal-oriented. “This week, you should complete tasks X, Y, and Z.” It also caters to a fairly specific audience, people in their 20s to mid-30s. The Bogleheads’ Guide is built for all age groups. It talks about the importance of starting early and how compounding interest works in your favor. It gives advice for changing your investments as you progress towards and into retirement. It has chapters on saving for your children’s college education and even what types of insurance are appropriate for different people at different ages. It also talks about ways to minimize taxes on investments and how to pass on an inheritance to your family.

I can’t say that this book answered all of the questions I had about asset allocation, choosing funds, and vetting fund quality. I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by all the detail about retirement and education planning that will be useful in the future. But more importantly, after reading the chapters on asset allocation and getting started with fund selection, I realized that both books were telling me that choosing specific funds isn’t nearly as important as asset allocation and fund expense fees. In fact, I could picture Ramit face-palming himself and yelling, “Quit debating minutiae and get started already!”

While I liked both books a lot, there are a few reasons that I will likely recommend Sethi’s more often, at least to people around my age. First, I liked his motivational writing style. It instantly motivated me to get started. Second, while The Bogleheads’ Guide is very thorough and will be useful to me over the years, for someone who has never invested (or even thought about investing before), it would probably be overwhelming. Sethi also warns about debating minutiae (because it leads to inaction), and The Bogleheads’ Guide is full of tweaks and sometimes unnecessary details that could precipitate this inactivity.

Overall, I did like the book a lot, and it’s one I will definitely be keeping around for future reference. If you’re young and looking to get a handle on your personal finances, I recommend you start with I Will Teach You To Be Rich. If you’re older than 40 or you just want some more detail than Sethi has to offer, The Bogleheads’ Guide is an excellent choice. Just don’t forget to put things into action right away! Remember Ramit’s 85% solution. It’s better to be 85% of the way right and actually doing something than be 0% right by doing nothing. Don’t become paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake. Doing nothing is the mistake.

4.5/5

Cellphone Economics Revisited: Two Years In

I have now saved myself a full cellphone contract. Two years ago, I devised a plan to save myself a ton of money by overhauling my cellphone service plan. Last year, I reflected on how much I had accomplished and discussed some potential tweaks to my system. To recap, two years ago, I was paying $576 per year for a no-frills, mediocre phone plan with no included text messages. Last year at this time, I had reduced that amount to less than $190. This year, I have continued to cut my usage, and I am happy to announce that I only paid about $130 for my cell service. This includes 1000 prepaid T-Mobile minutes (purchased last April for $100+tax) and $26.55 for a 1-year Skype subscription. Over the last two years, I have saved $832 compared to keeping my traditional cellphone plan. I’d just like to take an opportunity to pat myself on the back. It wasn’t always easy, and I did occasionally use Sadie’s phone on the weekends, but otherwise this plan was a fantastic idea. A lot has changed over the past year and more change is coming in the future, so all of this could potentially affect what will happen to my plan in the upcoming year.

I’ll be the first to admit that as I looked back through my records I was surprised to find that I had not bought any minutes for my prepaid T-Mobile plan since last April. I just ran low enough at the end of March 2011 to finally buy some more. As I mentioned above, a few things have changed for me this year. First, Sadie and I got an apartment together in Chicago. I no longer make hour-long nightly phone calls to her. Although I previously used Skype to make these calls, there were always occasions where we would have longer conversations on the phone when using a computer wasn’t practical, such as while I was driving.

Phonebooths

CC-BY-SA by echiner

A few things changed technologically as well. Not only is it now possible to use Google Voice with a free VOIP client, but Google has integrated free voice VOIP calls into GMail and the Google Voice Web app. Since I commented last year on the quality of Skype calls, I’ll comment on Google Voice VOIP calls today. They are not as clean as Skype, but they are improving. The call quality sometimes degrades, randomly cuts out, or even drops. This is especially true if I’m doing anything else using the network, including browsing the web while talking on the phone. I rarely experienced these problems with Skype VOIP calls. Overall, the call quality seems to have improved over the past few months, but it is still much more temperamental than with Skype calls. However, what it loses in quality, it makes up for in convenience. I almost always have a GMail tab open, which means that incoming calls now ring my computer and outgoing calls are just a click away. Plus, Google Contacts makes it easy to store and dial multiple numbers for all of my email contacts. This makes the Google Voice interface quite a bit more usable than Skype’s client. Google Voice also offers free text messaging, and messages are delivered to your GMail account just like a traditional email. Since my Skype subscription is lapsing in a few weeks, I find myself asking, “should I renew my Skype subscription or just stick with Google Voice?” I am leaning towards sticking with Google Voice because I can get incoming VOIP calls through GMail, Google Contacts’ phone number organization, and it’s free. Over the past 6 months I can probably count on my fingers how many calls I’ve made using Skype, so it seems silly to continue paying for it. On the other hand, it’s quite inexpensive, and it’s a good backup to have if my Google Voice call quality is poor.

 

I will also be starting my residency training at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in a few weeks. Sadie and I will be moving in June. This throws a number of new variables into my (currently very efficient and cheap) plan. I don’t think my current minute usage will change much. I make calls to my family and Sadie using a mixture of Google Voice when it’s convenient and my cell when it’s not. I am unsure how much residency will eat into my minutes though. While I’m at the hospital for longer hours without frequent access to GMail for checking text messages or listening to voice mails, this will undoubtedly result in more calls on my cell and thus more minutes used. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just a fact.

There’s another interesting twist in all of this. According to our Program Director, anesthesiology residents at MCW get a free iPod Touch. The department started posting podcasts through iTunes U to facilitate quick reviews of common anesthesia topics between surgical cases, and the iPod Touch is their nice gift to allow everyone to access the podcasts. No one mentioned if we will be receiving these this summer or if we will have to wait to get them until next summer when we start our official anesthesiology training. Since the new iPod Touch can be paired with a Bluetooth headset and its Google Voice and Skype apps work over WiFi, this could work as a convenient make-shift phone at the hospital and at home.

Cellphone

CC-BY-ND by samantha celera

And then there’s the elephant in the room. Starting in July, I’m no longer going to be a poor medical student. Technically, I’ll be a poor Resident Physician, but at least I’ll have this thing called income. I keep wondering whether it’s time I break down and get an Android smartphone. (At the time of writing, it would most likely be a Nexus S.) Part of me says I should, but I still have some reservations. My biggest concerns are monthly price and value. Currently, I’m spending about $10 per month on cellphone service. Can I really increase that 7-fold? More importantly, will I derive enough value from a smart phone to justify the increased expense? At this point, it’s not really about the money. It’s about feeling that I’m not getting ripped off by my wireless provider. I’m not going to use many minutes, and I’m not going to use much web data since I’ll almost always have Wifi around. Ever since T-Mobile dropped their Even More Plus plan, I feel like wireless companies no longer care about what their customers want. I want to buy an unlocked, full-price phone and get a cheaper monthly bill with no contract. I want plans that have less than than 450 minutes and are priced accordingly. I really want a data-only plan with the option of adding on talk time. Instead, wireless providers are generally trying to keep you locked into an over-priced smartphone contract with a required, bundled data plan (usually $25-30/month). This results in people paying for a lot of stuff that they don’t use.

Then, I see people like Dave Pell and David Siegel who point out that too much Internet connectivity can disconnect you from real life. I have enough trouble with controlling my Internet time on a laptop, so what’s going to happen when my Internet is with me 24/7? So here I sit with my old cellphone. I’ve had my Sony Ericsson W810i for 4.5 years. The battery still lasts 4 days on a charge. After paying my dues to Cingular and AT&T for 2 years, my subsidized phone is unlocked and transferable to any GSM carrier by switching out a $5 SIM card. I can place calls, text, listen to music, and connect to my laptop via Bluetooth.

I guess I have some decisions to make. After reading I Will Teach You To Be Rich, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about conscious spending. In the book and on his website, the author discourages people from passing judgement on others for their spending habits. When budgeting, after “paying yourself” by contributing to savings, he encourages consciously spending money on things that you value and mercilessly cutting spending on things you don’t. The goal is attainable because it doesn’t require people to consistently tell themselves “no” and it encourages them to understand what makes them happy and to do it as much as their budget allows. Now, I just have to decide whether a smart phone brings enough value for me to consciously spend my soon-to-be, hard-earned money on it.

Review: I Will Teach You To Be Rich

A few years ago, I saw Ramit Sethi on The Daily Show promoting his book I Will Teach You To Be Rich. It sounded very helpful and like a book I should probably read. I filed it away on my Amazon Wishlist and forgot about it for a while. Since I recently got a job with actual income, I decided to buy the book and see what it was all about.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit SethiI’ll start by saying that this book blew me away. Since I’m busy studying medicine, I had not put much effort into learning about finance. I am still pretty young (ahem!), and I thought the topic was too complicated and something I could put off worrying about until later. In essence, Sethi wrote this book for people like me. It’s meant for people in their 20′s, and he points out a number of ways that you’re an idiot if you put off starting to save until it’s too late. While I assumed that “starting early helps,” I had no idea how much. He demonstrates with a nice chart that a person who invests $100/month for only 10 years starting at age 25 will have a lot more money at retirement than a person who invests $100/month for 30 years starting at age 35. That’s right. You have to save for 3 times as long if you delay starting for 10 years, and you still end up with less money!

The book is broken down into a 6-week program. You’re given tasks to complete each week. Tasks cover budgeting; tackling credit card debt and improving your credit history; setting up a no-fee, high-interest savings account; opening a 401(k) and an IRA; and learning to invest appropriately.

Besides just giving plain, old “good advice,” there are a lot of reasons that this book succeeds. First, he addresses perfection. Most people know they should do this stuff but don’t want to get started because the topic is overwhelming and they’re afraid they’ll do something wrong. They say, “I don’t want to make a mistake. I’ll just worry about it later.” Sethi advocates the 85% approach, wherein doing something 85% right is still a lot better than doing nothing, which equates to 0%. When addressing your budget, he doesn’t advocate being an all-around cheap penny-pincher. He proposes “conscious spending.” After socking away an appropriate percentage of your paycheck to savings and paying your bills, he tells you to consciously spend what’s left on things you love and avoid spending on things you don’t. He provides an example of a friend who spends $21,000/year on going out to bars. Granted this friend has a 6-figure salary, but Sethi makes his point. As long as you’re putting enough into long-term and short-term savings, it doesn’t really matter what you spend the rest on. He also breaks down overwhelming topics into digestible chunks and gives you timed, task-oriented directions. Importantly, he tackles a lot of common misconceptions around finances. For example, investing is not about picking stocks! He demonstrates thorough evidence that, aside from a very elite few, no person is able to consistently predict the stock market. Instead of losing thousands of dollars per year on fees to investment companies, he shows you how to create a portfolio that will return 8% on your investments long-term. This has been the average return for the last 80 years on the stock market, and you won’t do any better unless your name is Warren Buffett.

The best part about Sethi’s program is that he advocates for minimal effort. The last thing I wanted to read was a book telling me how I need to spend hours a week pouring over my finances, checking stocks, and doing financial research. In fact, it’s just the opposite. He teaches you how to make things happen automatically, so that after working through his 6 week schedule, everything is done. You’re making money without even thinking about it, doing things that you actually like, such as being with friends and family. He teaches you how to automatically direct money from every paycheck into savings so that you don’t even miss it. He teaches you how to automate investing so that you only have to think about your investments for about an hour per year (if that!).

I can’t speak highly enough of this book, and I can’t wait to put the rest of it into action. I need actual income for parts of it :) . I know I’m being weird, but I want to convince almost everyone I know to read it: Sadie, my sister, my cousins, my friends. While it’s geared towards young people, I think middle-aged people could get a lot of benefit from reading this book too, especially on understanding investing and changing investments as you get closer to retirement. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Go out and buy a copy right now. Once you’re financially secure, you can start making decisions about life and your career based on what is in your best interest, not what will make you the most money to pay the bills. Define what “rich” means to you and make it happen!

5/5

January Books Read

In honor of my finishing a personal record 6 books in the month of January and in homage to Sadie-Jean:

January Books Read

Total Books Read: 6

Favorite Book: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Least Favorite Book: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Hunger Games was a close second. Also, I feel like I should point out that two of the books that I “read” were audio books. I downloaded them (for free!) from Librivox and listened to them while I drove. Sadie says this still counts, but I’m tempted to be less generous about it. Still, hooray for reading!

La Roux

As I browsed through The Hype Machine Zeitgeist 2009, I came across La Roux. As soon as I heard the first song on her self-titled album coupled with the good reviews on The Hype Machine, I knew I should probably just go ahead and buy it. The Hype Machine helped me discover an artist I otherwise would have probably ignored.

La Roux’s “A Flock of Seagullshairdo matches her musical style quite well. It really has that “straight from the 80′s feel” of futuristic synth-pop. The song variety leaves a little to be desired, but the entire album has a fun feel to it. Normally the occasional falsetto strain in her voice would turn me off, but her voice is quite unique and likable. Maybe it’s her accent. I bet that’s it. Of course, the lyrics are nothing to write home about, but I didn’t expect them to be.

Notable songs include “In For The Kill,” “Tigerlily,” “Cover My Eyes” and “As If By Magic.” This album is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a fun twist on an old style and probably worth a purchase (or at least a listen).

3/5

(As a side note, I purchased this album from 7digital soon after Ubuntu announced that 7digital would be providing the music for the Ubuntu One Music Store. Not that it matters much.)

eMusic Review

When I bought my new portable audio player, it came with a bunch of free songs from eMusic. I have gotten these offers before, but in the past I did not bother cashing them in because the eMusic selection was pretty limited. Since I wanted to grab some new music to fill my new toy, I decided to give eMusic another chance. I was pleased to find that their selection is much better than it was a few years ago. They are no longer limited to music from independent labels, and they actually offer a decent amount of music from mainstream artists. Much to my delight, they also offer a nice selection of classic rock albums.

As you might be able to guess, another stipulation that I had for eMusic was its ability to work in Ubuntu. They can offer me all the free credits they want, but if they require a PC/Mac-only downloader, it doesn’t do me any good. I was pleasantly surprised to find that eMusic actually offers a Linux downloader, and it actually works fairly well. As a bonus, Banshee offers an integrated eMusic Importer extension in its latest release.

I received an offer from eMusic for 50 free credits. One credit equates to a single song, but many albums are sold as “deals” that cost less than buying all of the songs individually. In order to get the free credits, I had to “subscribe” to eMusic. This means I had to sign up with a credit card and choose a subscription plan, with their most popular being $11.99/month for 24 credits/month. The pricing is pretty reasonable at $0.50/song. Of course, this is contingent upon being able to find 24 songs per month to download and spending $12 every month on music. The first 50 songs are still free, and you are not charged for the subscription until your free credits are used up. As soon as your free credits are gone, your credit card is charged and your subscription starts, but if you’re satisfied with 49 freebies, you can cancel your account without charge and keep the music. They offer a nice bonus too: if you’re close to finishing off your free credits, they’ll offer a few extra freebies to entice you into starting your subscription. For example, if you have 8 free credits left and you’re browsing an album that costs 12 credits, eMusic will probably display a message that says something like “We’ll give you 4 more free credits to start your subscription today.” Unfortunately, the free credits can’t be used to buy certain songs and albums on eMusic. It was pretty frustrating because a few popular albums that I wanted to pick up were unable to be purchased with free credits. Free credits are also only good for 30 days. I would recommend not starting your account until you have about 4 new albums to buy.

I was able to find quite a bit of new music. I made a list long enough to use all of my free credits and my first month’s subscription. All-in-all, I picked up 6 new albums and 5 singles for $11.99. That includes 56 free credits and $11.99 for 24 credits.

  • Creedence Clearwater Revival – Chronicle: 20 Greatest Hits
  • Dire Straits – Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits
  • Matt and Kim – Grand
  • Metric – Fantasies
  • The Submarines – Declare a New State!
  • The Temper Trap – Conditions
  • Some Singles:
    • America – Lonely People
    • Jim Croce – I Got A Name
    • Neil Young – Long May You Run
    • The Yardbirds – You’re A Better Man Than I
    • The Yardbirds – For Your Love

Unfortunately, I couldn’t justify renewing my subscription for any longer than one month. During my search for new music, I came across a few new albums that I wanted to pick up, only to find that eMusic did not carry the artist or album. I also could not see myself consistently spending $12/month on music, even if I could find stuff that I liked. Plus, eMusic does not allow unused credits to roll over from month-to-month, so if I had unused credits at the end of a month, I would be forced to use them or lose them. Overall, I was impressed with their collection though. I was just not impressed enough to keep up a monthly subscription. However, they do offer a variety of subscription plans including a “lite” version that costs $6.49/month for 12 credits/month. If you’re willing to subscribe for a year, they’ll also throw in 100 additional free credits. As an interesting side note, when I attempted to cancel my account, I was offered a free extra month (24 songs) with no strings attached. After canceling, I also received an email offer for 75 more free credits to restart my subscription. I may consider renewing in the future if I can come up with enough music.

For now, look forward to some reviews of the aforementioned albums. And if you’re the music-buying type, head over to eMusic and give them a look. You can get a really nice deal on the stuff they offer, and while their selection isn’t as good as iTunes or AmazonMP3, it’s pretty darn good.

Begin To Hope

I probably first discovered Regina Spektor years after most other people in the country. It was only a few months ago that I was captured by her song “Us” featured in the movie 500 Days of Summer. As I went searching for more of her work, I found that she was already a fairly well-established musician. She just released a new album in 2009, and she also released a popular album called Begin to Hope in 2007. I decided to pick it up after enjoying a few samples. (As a side note, this was my first full album purchase from the new Ubuntu One Music Store.)

The album is definitely something unique and worth checking out. Her music immediately made me picture her performing as an independent artist in a city like New York. Spektor’s lyrics are phenomenal. She embodies everything I’d hope from a modern singer-songwriter. Some of her songs are based on syllabic repetition in a style that is truly her own. Their hooks are so simple, and yet they work so well that it’s hard to imagine trying to complicate them with anything more. There were a few songs on the album that I didn’t care for much, but they gave me a deeper respect for Spektor as an artist. They reminded me that she is a true creator that is not afraid to push the boundaries of what a song should sound like. Above all, she appears to remain true to herself and her vision, and that is worthy of respect.

I definitely recommend checking out some of Regina Spektor’s work, especially Begin to Hope. I will probably end up with some more of it over the next few months. Notable songs for me included Fidelity, Apr├Ęs Moi, On the Radio, Better, Sampson, and Edit. You may noticed that the first song that drew me to Spektor isn’t on this album. It’s actually on another called Soviet Kitsch, which I’ll have to pick up at some point too. As for Begin to Hope, if you’re looking for some unique and well-done music, this album comes highly recommended.

4.5/5

Sansa Clip Plus

My aunts gave me a gift certificate to Amazon.com for Christmas. I like to spend gift certificates on something I want rather than something I need (like a text book) because I don’t always get a chance to do that. I had been thinking about buying a portable music player to use in my car for a while now, and this was the perfect excuse. I knew that I didn’t want an iPod, so I did some research at Anything But iPod. I was very impressed by their review of the Sansa Clip Plus (or Clip+), and I noted that it took home their #1 player of 2009. I won’t go into too much detail about why I chose the Clip+, but the ability to play OGG and FLAC formats in addition to mp3, the cost, the expandable memory slot, and the reportedly great sound quality were all key factors. I must say that ABi didn’t misrepresent the Clip+ at all. It’s fantastic!

Sansa Clip PlusI bought the 8 GB model from Amazon. Since the Clip+ has an expandable microSDHC slot, I also recently grabbed an 8 GB card for $12 from Fry’s, giving me a total of 16 GB. My main reason for buying a portable music player was to replace the (literally) 50+ CDs strewn over the back seat of my car. I have a lot of music on my computer, but I get sick of listening to the same album all the time, and I usually get very frustrated with the radio. Since my car’s radio unfortunately doesn’t have a line-in jack, I also picked up an iriver AFT 100 FM Transmitter, which works surprisingly well. I was a little skeptical of the FM transmitters at first, but with this one the sound is usually pretty clear and without static.

I don’t have much else to say except: I love this thing! My assortment of music on the road is huge now, which is something I’ve been wanting for a long time. I did a lot of driving during the months of February and March, and this little guy was a perfect companion. Plus, I’m thrilled that this thing has an expandable microSDHC slot. Recently companies have started making 32 GB microSDHC cards, and in a year or two when the price drops, I’ll have a 40 GB mp3 player that’s about the size of a box of matches for very cheap. Plus I love that I have an excuse to expand my music collection. I bought a couple of new albums recently, so look forward to some new music reviews. Sansa also impressed me by having standard protocols for syncing, so I can choose either MSC or MTP mode. To make a long explanation short, it works well on Ubuntu (and Linux in general).

All-in-all, this Sansa Clip+ gets an A+ from me. It comes with a very high recommendation.

Cellphone Economics Revisited: One Year In

Last year I devised a plan to save myself a ton of money by revising my cellphone service. I was paying $576 per year (including taxes) for a mediocre cell plan from AT&T. I’m happy to report that my plan has been a fantastic success. Using this plan, I managed to pay $188.56 (including taxes) for my phone service for the entire year. That includes $162.01 for 1500 prepaid cellphone minutes and $26.55 for a 1-year Skype subscription. The Skype subscription is really the key here. I made a 30 to 60-minute phone call on average of 4 nights/week, every week for a year, for $26 total. That’s pretty amazing. Otherwise, I would have been using about 720 minutes/month to talk to Sadie on my cell every night, in which case talking to her with a regular phone plan including “free” nights and weekends would have been cheaper.

With my heavy reliance on Skype, you’re probably wondering what the service is like. To be honest, it’s better than I expected. I very rarely had a dropped call, and for the most part the sound quality was quite clear. Sadie even told me that she was impressed with the call quality, saying it sounded just as good as if I were calling from a cell.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nichollsphotos/2906834393/

CC-NC-ND: Jason Nicholls

Were there any downsides to using Skype? Only a few minor ones, some of which I had predicted. Unless you sign up for a SkypeIn online number ($30/year), when you call someone who has Caller ID, your number shows up as something crazy (like 0001123456789), and it’s always different. This scared a lot people who weren’t used to it, since they had no idea who was calling. Sometimes my mom still screens my calls with the answering machine. I could have also gotten around this by buying some Skype Credit, which can be used to disguise Skype calls as ones coming from my cell number. I need the credit in order to send and receive a text message from Skype to my cell to verify the number. I would have done this long ago, but unfortunately the lowest amount of Credit you can buy is $10. I would have had $9.80 worth of Credit still sitting in my account. I decided to save my money and live with the inconvenience for the time being. I also had an issue with poor call quality using my Skype-to-Go calling card, but it significantly improved at some point last Fall.

As serendipity would have it, Google Voice also launched last year. I linked my new Google Voice number to my cell number so that I can give out my Google Voice number and it will ring my cell. Then, if I ever decide to buy a SkypeIn online number, I can tell Google Voice to ring my cell and my computer when someone is calling.

So what is my plan for the future? At least for the next year, I plan to keep doing what I’m doing. I may splurge and buy a SkypeIn number and hook it up to Google Voice. It would not only stop the Caller ID problem I mentioned, but it would also allow me to receive phone calls on my computer, which would be a big help. I would say that at least half of my cellphone minutes are used because someone is calling my phone, and I can’t answer it on Skype. The only thing keeping me from doing that right away is the rumor that Google Voice is soon going to become a desktop VOIP provider and thus a direct Skype competitor. If they can offer competitive rates to Skype, I may have little reason not to use them. Of course, Skype is likely announcing an open-source client, which would be fantastic. Then it will be a battle to see who provides the best quality service, the best price, and the best open-source/Linux compatible platform. It’s shaping up to be quite a year!

On a related note, LifeHacker picked up this topic today. As I posted in their comments: Every time that I have the urge to get a smart phone, I cringe at how much more it’ll cost me every year for features that I don’t even need, and I quickly remember why I don’t already have one :)

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for a few years now, and I just never made time. It’s partly because I always imagined it was going to be too much sci-fi for me. I’m not sure why I tend to shy away from sci-fi books because I usually end up liking them just as much as (if not more than) any other genre. I’ll just go ahead and apologize for that now. This book was simply excellent.

In some ways, “Ender” Wiggin is your typical 5 year old in the future. In many ways, he’s not. Due to the overpopulation of Earth, families are limited to two children except when given explicit governmental permission to have a “Third.” They give permission when a lineage shows particular promise for creating adept military commanders, as they did with the Wiggin family. You see, Earth has had two previous wars with some extra-terrestrials called “Buggers,” who are cunning fighters. Humans only survived the last war because a military genius named Mazer Rackham was able to fend off a massive Bugger attack. The military is trying desperately to discover and train potential leaders for their intergalactic fleet. As Ender embarks on his journey, the threat of a Bugger attack is looming closer than ever. What will become of the fate of mankind?

A bit dramatic? Perhaps, but it works. Watching the military manipulate and challenge children in this age group to see if they “have what it takes to lead” is chilling. It’s remarkable to see the bonds that form between these kids and the intelligence that develops as a result of that pressure. This book gives some keen insight into the military complex and what happens to the mind under stress. More importantly though, it realistically captures how a kid would handle these situations. You empathize with Ender and his friends. You celebrate their victories and wish against their defeats. All-in-all, it’s a really amazing story. If you’ve never read it, check it out!

5/5