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Kevin's Thoughts!

Maybe you agree, maybe you don't… find out!

Welcome and how to use this site!

Posted by evgenia on August 26, 2011
Posted in Welcome  | 1 Comment

Welcome to Kevin’s Thoughts – a blog on a variety of issues, our lives, and things we consider interesting.

Please notice the menu to your left.  Although you are welcome to scroll down and read what we post in chronological order, we believe you will find navigating through the menu to be very effective.  Of course, also feel free to use the “Search” function to your right.

This is a multi-lingual blog with myself posting in English and my wife posting primarily in Russian.  Under every post you will find a [translate] button which will allow you to translate the post into many native languages.  Do note it is a computerized translation so be very open minded.  Things like “Hope you are in good spirits” often turn into “Hope you have plenty of good alcohol.”

Please click the “1 Comment” link under this title to learn how to comment on our posts.

Добро пожаловать в “Размышления Кевина” — блог, созданный для описания разых событий, нашей жизни и тех вещей, что нам интересны.

Обратите, пожалуйста, внимание на меню слева. Вы можете просто прокрутить страницу вниз и прочитать все посты в хронологическом порядке, но мы уверены, что поиск и навигация через меню наиболее удобна.А можно воспользоваться и окном поиска справа.

Этот блог “двуязычный”, Kevin пишет на английском, а я, Evia, в основном на русском. В конце каждого поста Вы найдете кнопку [translate], которая позволяет перевести любой текст на нескольколько языков. Только учитывайте особенности машинного перевода, порой он может быть ну очень своеобразным, так что советую все же доверять больше своим знаниям языка.

Captain and the Kings by Taylor Caldwell

This 1972 book is a “must read” for anyone interested in understanding the concept around a “New World Order”.

Its long, at 816 pages, and drags a bit in the middle, but its message hits home.

Although fictional, with echos of the JFK story, it remains eerie, and frightening from a Geo-political standpoint if its even remotely true – and I suspect there is more truth in it than most would care to admit, much less think about.

NeverWinter - the good and the neutral

In this post I thought I’d comment on the non-pay-to-win aspect of NeverWinter.

The good:

Great graphic detail.  You can actually look at the leave’s on the trees.  Yeah, within a few moments you will see the replication, but they are much actually better than most artificial Christmas trees I’ve seen.

The music sets the mood.  They have done great things with the music and sound track.  The sound affects remind me a LOT of those in The Secret World.

The quest are in-depth and chained, again much like those of The Secret World, which is nice.

Companions are nice.  Most MMORPGs have a class with pets, here it is for everyone.

The Neutral:

A few of the quest are grind quest, but not many.  They do make you run around a bit, which makes the mounts handy.

The dungeons are cool.  The first time I saw a spiral staircase I thought it was really special.  Alas, its a but “building block”.  Once you see the same spiral staircase a dozen times it loses it special trait.  In fact, the “building block” aspect of the dungeons tends to make them all start to feel the same, I actually wondered if they reused some early ones mid-game and simply populated them with different mobs.

One companion.  With two (or 3 or 4) one could run multi-player dungeons solo, which would be cool, but would be a game design change.

Instance matching.  Really mixed feelings about this one.  I tend to play solo most of the time, never having felt “friend groups” worked well.  In Aion I had a strong guild, and could often find players to run multi-player quest with.  Yeah, you tended to run with the same players all the time, until levels drifted due to different play schedules.  But you actually got to know some people.  With instance matching, us solo players can do the required multi-player quests, but the “team” only lasts until the quest is done.  Tera also does it this way (and I have a lot more experience over there with this).  It works, but it doesn’t build friendships, and those really make a game (I still play with Sophie, across a number of games, and we started out in Aion together).  Eve does an excellent job with this, where high level players can run with low levels to help them out, so friendships can grow over time.

End game:  Obviously haven’t made it to that point, but not clear if there really is one or what one would do.  In Tera, there is normal PVP (not voluntary controlled as in NeverWinter), and one can at least play with the idea of becoming a bad-ass good guy and picking on the PVPers.  Reality is bad-add bad-buys seldom run solo, so you would need a team of good guys to be effective.  This was one of the BEST features of Aion, until they tweaked it away with level buffs.  Eve, on the other hand, doesn’t have a practical end-game unless you plan on playing for 5+ years.  That is REALLY nice (and yeah, I’m starting to talk myself into going back to Eve if I get bored with Tera).

Character tuning:  Lots of character creation tweaks – hair style, color, finger nail length/foot width (really?!?!), etc.  Alas, an elf is always going to look like an elf with its big eyes.  Its almost like your can infinitely tweak your characteristics but the results all look the same.  Aion still wins 1st prize with this feature, even if the results do look like a porcelain doll.  At least its a recognizable porcelain doll – I had several that looked like FireFly actors (the quiet girl and profession to be specific).  Tera’s tunes are more lifelike, but lack the details that Aion had.  NeverWinter seems to be a blend of WOW and Aion, which is just weird.  Eve has virtually none, but there you spend most of your time looking at your spaceship, so it really doesn’t matter.

Outfits:  Tera wins by a slight lead over Aion.  Yeah, I’m still a guy, and I like to see sexy outfits. Deal with it.  Tera actually overdoes this a bit, the challenge becomes finding a nice middle – sexy does not mean skin.  I’m leaning towards the elf-mage dress combo as my favorite in Tera now.


NeverWinter – a few days later

Posted by Kevin on June 18, 2013
Posted in Gaming  | No Comments yet, please leave one

NeverWinter - a few days later

Well… compliments of a variety of mishaps, like renters not showing, the end of work assignments, etc.  I’ve had a few solid (12 hourish) days to play this game.

Some of that time was spent with a friend, some spent surfing the web, but mostly I’ve been leveling my Control Wizard (aka – the mage).  I’ve been following the information in this post, since its appears to be one of the better ones:  http://guidescroll.com/2013/05/neverwinter-control-wizard-guide/

Since the servers are now down for maintenance, I thought I’d take a few minutes and post, a bit about game play, a bit more on “Free to Play”.

First, a teaser:  On a scale of 1 to 10, with Wartunes a 0 and Tera a 10, I’d give this game a 4.5 in regards to your ability to play for free (Eve gets a 8.5).  I’ve made some progress, my Mage is level 38 (of 60) now.

Second, a bit on the economy:

Zen – Perfect Worlds Inc universal real money unit.  $1 = 100 zen.  Bought on their website, then permanently transferred to a server.  A player bidding system exist to convert Zen to/from Diamonds.

Gold, Silver, Copper – earned from selling gear at merchants.  Useful for consumables like healing kits, potions, crafting supplies, etc.

Diamonds – used to buy companions, remove gems for reuse, and to buy things from the Exchange (more on the Exchange later).  Also used to buy Identification Scrolls (more on those in a bit too).

The biggest source for diamonds in the game are the dailys (2000 for running two PVP session, and similar payments for running skirmishes and group dungeons).  You can also make some crafting.

The Zen:Diamond ratio is running about 1:300, so 1M diamonds requires 3333 Zen, which would cost $33.33 (actually $50, since that is the next purchase tier up).  The biggest sink for diamonds in the game is removing gems from armor.  You can either throw the gems away when you sell a piece (player bound equipment is not tradeable) or retrieve them, or avoid the heartache and not use them.  e.g.  Don’t benefit from the extra stats and drag your toon down.   Its pretty clear that those that focus on PVP are using gems, which means they are either not saving up diamonds, or are spending Zen.

The Exchange – a place to offer up unwanted armor, weapons, etc.  An alternative to selling things at the market, but there is no real demand for most of the stuff, at least at my current level.  I have a few hundred diamonds a day from the Exchange, vs. many thousands from quests.

Identification Scrolls – you wouldn’t think of these as a main economy driver, but they are.  They drop fairly frequently, but not at the same rate unidentified equipment drops.  Merchant prices for unidentified equipment is about 1/10th that of ID’ed stuff.  So… spend diamonds on ID scrolls to make gold (or to be a bit selective on what you offer on the Exchange), or make less gold.

Third, where you might spend Zen (aka “Real Money”):

1)  Companions.  The sooner you get one, the sooner you can start leveling it.  Leveling takes time.  As mentioned in the previous post, I bought a tank for glass cannon.  At level 16 (where you get a free companion) I selected the cleric, and am very glad I did.  The cleric really helps in PVE and I find myself swapping him in for a few minutes whenever my health gets low.  My tank is leveling slowing and is currently level 17, while the cleric is maxed at 15.  Yes… the totally free companions max at level 15…  I have my eye on a cat, which is suppose to be the ultimate for a Wizard, but that cost close to 1M diamonds, which will take me a month or three to earn (at current rate of accumulation).  The cat, like my paid for tank, maxes its level at 30.  So… given that as a goal, I have a choice of earning the diamonds in-game, or using the Zen exchange to convert real money into diamonds.  Companions cost anywhere from 1500-3000 Zen, depending on what you want and any current sales ($15-$30).

2) Mounts:  A free one around level 20 that will increase your travel speed by 50%.  Not bad, although mounts are not used as much as you think – mostly they are handy at quest turn in times, or for running through the large cities.  However, Zen purchasable mounts will boost that speed up by 80% or 110%.  So whats a little time?  Well, its more than that… the Zen mounts also take more damage before your dismounted.  This is huge when running through areas you just don’t want to bother slaughtering your way though, and huge in PVP where you sometimes want to run past your opponents to get to their tower.  I believe the best mounts were 2000 zen ($20).

2) Inventory bags, Bank slots.  Yes you can play, at least to level 20 or so, without extra inventory bags.  After that, when you start getting socketed armor, your going to want to start savings gems (4 lowers can be fused into 1 better), and your going to need a place to save them.  The free bank is a teaser, with only 16 slots, it fills up fast.  You get a 2nd, small bag around level 10, which helps, but its just not enough.  The best bags cost 1000 zen ($10).

3) Resets.  As you play, you allocate points into your basic stats (Int, Cha, Wis, etc.), into Powers (basically skills – with limited flexibility – although the skill choices you make for which are active is important), and into Feats (think of them as passives – a lot of flexbility – really how you tune your character the way YOU want to play it).  Play for a few days and your probably going to want to reset for 400 zen ($4).  I view this one as totally acceptable.  Reasonably priced, and very useful.  The developers do have to eat after all.

4)  Zen -> Diamonds.  Weeks if not months of constrained play or spend another $50 to “enjoy” the game.  Easy choice if you have the $50… but I suspect you will spend hundreds if you start down this path.

5)  Crafting.  Crafting is different in Neverwinter.  Closest match I know of is skill training in Eve, with the requirement to gather some fairly easily obtained items.  Its a Real Time thing.  Now, here is the rub…  Want to level crafting?  Well, you spend 6 hours and get 50 leveling points… or you can buy a “bag of gems” (presumably with Zen) and get those points in 15 seconds.  BOO!!!!!

And then there is straight cash payments…

A “Founders Pack”, for $199.99, provides you access to a special race, the Drow, get a special spider mount, a fighting companion, some cosmetics, 2M diamonds, 3 extra character slots, a small bag, titles, priority access to the game if the servers are overloaded, etc.  All good stuff, but $200?!?!?  This reminds me SO much of Wartunes that I had to look… Yep.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_World_%28company%29 Its a Chinese company.  That explains it.  I’ve never seen a Chinese free-to-play that I thought was not money grubbing – they don’t care about their players, all they care about is the players cash.

Well… it was fun, but I think I’ll cut my losses.


NeverWinter - A Perfect World "Free-to-Play" game - Open Beta thoughts

Well… had a friend, Sophie, with whom I have gamed for years, suggest I check out NeverWinter.  This is the latest game from the makers of Perfect World.  Below are my thoughts after playing for something like 8 hours in the Open Beta (Production release is scheduled for 6/20/13).

First off, I highly suggest http://guides.gamepressure.com/neverwinter as a first read.  Its long, over 66 pages in length, but will give you a good overview of the game mechanics.  It is NOT a hint guide or walk-through however.

My initial thoughts on these type of games always focuses on the character creation panel.  As my readers know, I loved the character creation in Perfect World, which was surpassed by those in Aion (which to date still has the best modeling tool), had more lifelike but less control in Tera, and feels just a bit strange in NeverWinter.  One has a LOT of things to tweak, like finger nail length and hand width, but a female elf face is going to look like the same basic female elf face no matter what you do.  Yes, you can change hair styles, hair color within race specifics, etc. but the basic structure is pretty fixed.  I’d call it “good enough”, but found myself spending 10-15 minutes tweaking things instead of the hour+ I routinely spent in Aion.

Of course, more important is game play. The UI is a natural for any MMORPG player, with WASD movement and mouse control.  A bit odd is the use of the ALT key to toggle cursor control.  If you want to click on a control button, you need to tap ALT to do so, then tap it again to return to normal more.  The only other key related thing I struggled with until I accidentally figured it out was invoking the class specific “mechanic”.  Apparently this changed a bit during alpha and beta since various guides talk about using the Tab key, or double clicking the shift key.  Currently, you simply double click the WASD key (at least for my Mage-like character) – that causes her to teleport a few feet and is really handy for getting out of AOE circles.

Having been badly burnt by Wartune’s “free to play” model I remain highly attentive to spending real money to play NeverWinter.  So far, it is similar to Perfect World, which I suppose shouldn’t be a surprise.  The difference is that virtually required items, like companions and mounts, do eventually become available for free.  For instance:  Companions are the classic “pets” – they level with you, and can help you attack, or act as a tank, or I’m told play a healer role.  You get a free on when you hit level 16.  You can buy one with Zen (the Perfect World’s universal real money currency – 100 Zen = $1 USD) I suspect immediately.  I bought one around level 8 in order to write this commentary (and to help!). Zen Companions are suppose to be better than the free ones and will set you back $15-$30.  Good news is they are permanent.  Bad news is that they, like virtually everything, are associated with a specific character.  Reroll and you won’t have access to your Zen based goodies.  OK news is that they appear to be tradable.  (Trick:  Register two accounts with PW, use two computers, and bounce your items between toons).  So… if you spend money early, you can start leveling your companion sooner – and it does make the game a whole lot easier.

Like Wartunes, if you want to speed things up, you can spend in game currency (diamonds in this case) to do so.  Of course, you can trade Zen for Diamonds…  So far, I’ve found (2) real-time events this works for:  Training your companion, which is required to level it, but during which its not available to help you, and crafting.

Crafting is, well, different.  You hire (apparently for free) workers to craft things for you.  It takes real time.  At level 1 start, just seconds, by level 2, hours can be spent.  Good news – its real time – you can start a crafting task and log off and the clock still runs.  There is also a “Leadership” “Craft” which yields coins, exp, and crafting skill levels.  At my current level, as an example, I can do some 5 EXP, 5 Skill point tasks that take 10 minutes, or something that generates 100 copper, 20 EXP, and 20 Skill points in 2 hours, or something that would generate 40 skill point in 4 hours (great when you log out for the night).

Game play starts out very prescriptive, like most games with an initial training area.  That is OK, one needs to learn how to move around, etc.

One has an option to engage a “sparkle trail” that will lead you to your next quest area (and sometimes to individual quest items).  That’s handy, but know you need to go “off trail” if you want to find some treasure chest.  Chest and other reward items often require usage of a skill kit – thievery or nature or dungonning, or … which are for sale fairly inexpensively at most merchants.

One can also pray to your god (called “invocation”) once you hit the first main town and find the quest to do so (near the top of the map).  Some guides say this in only available after you reach level 11 – took me awhile to find the lady to talk to, so I was like 13, so can’t confirm that.  You can pray once an hour and get various goodies for doing so.

This real-time activity stuff is a mixed blessing.  In theory, you would need to login in every hour to maximum your goodies.  That is also very WarTune like where people spend their lives around the game clock.  The real-time training and crafting is very Eve like though, shy the training queue, and apparently escalates fast enough that I hope it will simply be a once a day thing.

PVP is different, and so far, nice.  You queue up to join a PVP team, everyone on the team is artificially set to the same level with the same gear – so it really is about your skill rather than equipment as it is with so many games.  A PVP event takes 15 minutes or so (or so it felt, might have been longer) and consist of a red and blue team battling over ownership of a central tower.  You get points for being the owner, first team to 1000 points wins.  This is very Wartune GuildWars like from a goal perspective without the domination of static op teams.

In the open beta, your allowed 2 characters – more slots available for Real Money.  Likewise, larger inventories, more bank slots, and the universal fancy clothing options all cost Real Money.  I much prefer Tera’s model where Real Money is only spent for costumes, character renames, and things like that.  In NeverWorld, spend rate will make a difference in the ease of playing the game – but I’m still way to young in the game to understand the total impact.

Bottom line:  I’m looking forward to spending some more time with this game and seeing where it goes.  Its my hope that it truly is, like Tera, very playable for free.  My fear is that it won’t be at higher levels.


Rent vs. Buy vs. Buy Bigger

Posted by Kevin on March 17, 2013
Posted in Money  | No Comments yet, please leave one

Found myself questioning the standard statement “You house is your biggest investment” last night.  Got up this morning and created a spreadsheet to see if its really true:


Lets start with a basic definition from http://www.dictionary.com:




1. the investing of money or capital in order to gain profitable returns, as interest, income, or appreciation in value.

The key here is that an investment is suppose to MAKE YOU MONEY, not COST YOU MONEY.  The spreadsheet up in Google Docs shows how a house will cost you money… you can play with the parameters and come up with your own conclusions.  Note the spreadsheet does not take into effect things like the Home Mortgage Tax credit those of us who itemize can currently get (and which is under review to be eliminated).  That tax credit simply impacts how much a house cost you, not that it does.

OK – so what does this show:

Tab 1, Rent vs Buy, shows that owning a home is somewhat cheaper than renting a home.  It presumes you have the fortitude to put your down payment into the stock market and let it sit for 30 years.  If you don’t, renting is a lot more expensive, even after taxes, insurance, repairs, etc.  That makes sense.  The people owning the house have to make a profit to stay in business.

Tab 2, Buy vs Buy Bigger, shows just how bad of an “investment” a house is.  Its an Expense, not an investment, and the bigger the house the greater the Expense.  This tab compares a moderate home with one that cost $100,000 more and shows what would happen if you simply put the difference in down payment ($20,000) into the stock market for 30 years.  Net result, your HALF A MILLION dollars better off living in the smaller house for those 30 years due to stock market investment returns, lower taxes, lower repairs, lower insurance, etc.

So why the push to buy mini-mansions?  I’d venture to say that is being driven by the banks wanting to make more money, the government wanting to stimulate consumerism and collect higher taxes, and peoples nature desire to live-for-the-day in as much luxury as they can afford.

Have fun with the spreadsheet and let me know what you think.



The basics of personal finance

Posted by Kevin on March 16, 2013
Posted in Money  | No Comments yet, please leave one

The basics of personal finance are really VERY simple and have been well documented since Babylonian times:  Earn 10 dinars and spend 9 and you will be wealthy.  Spend 10 (or 11) and you will be poor.  Its really that easy – live within your means and you will be fine.

Honestly, that 10% savings rate represented by earning 10 dinars and only spending 9 is also basic, solid, advise.  You WILL need more money than you earn someday, and/or you will want something you can pay cash for instead of borrowing for.

Alas, beyond that, its gets much more complicated.  I can provide a few tidbits:

1)  Ignore “the Jones” – advertisers get paid HUGE dollars to make you think you need things you don’t – be it special shoes or purses to mini-mansions.  Cars are the largest, next to homes, target:  Simply remember this – ALL cars are Expenses, not Investments.  I once had a friend tell me BMW’s were investments because they held their value better.  That friend needs a lesson in personal finance – anything that loses value is NOT an investments – investments are suppose to MAKE money, not lose it.  That said, in my hayday, I owned a BMW Z3 (bought used) – it was a great car when I was single.  Loved that car.  Lots of fun.  But I knew it was an expense.  Actually turned into a reasonably priced way to get around – Oil changes were $69 at the dealer, but only needed to be done every 15,000 miles, which matched the cost of Jiffy Lube for “once every 5000″ mile vehicles.  Brakes however were a killer – about $2000 every 50,000 miles or so.  Tires were not cheap either – also about $2000 a set every 50,000 miles.  And don’t even THINK about driving it in the snow.  But hey, convertables are a blast…  consider one an every-day entertainment expense – great if you can afford it.

2)  ALWAYS pay off your credit cards every month.  NO EXPECTIONS!!!  There is no faster mainstream way to piss away money than giving it to credit card companies.  If you can’t pay it off, you A) are likely living beyond your means and/or B) Are not saving 10% of your income.  Emergencies happen – cars break down, water heaters need replacing.  Emergencies are not “but there is a sale at Macys!”.  Related:  Never pay for a credit card.  Oh… but you get POINTS on SouthWest Airlines if you use their credit card… and you pay what?  $79/year for that privlege?  Suspect you could get a lot more points just flying to Florida or someone cheap once a year – or better yet, forget the points and pocket the cash!

3)  If you are unfailing at #2, never use a debit card.  Find a credit card that pays cash back, NOT POINTS, and enjoy the bonus every year or so.  Visa has free cards that pay 1% cash back, and if you sign up every quarter, 5% cash back on things like gas (typically 2 out of every 4 quarters).  5% cash back on gas is HUGE – your going to buy it anyhow, if the pump says $3, know your paying $2.85…  BP use to have a great card that did just that, but they changed it to some “cash back at the pump” scheme that really pays you less than 1% now.  Only kicker on cash back is that its not instant – get over it.  Most allow you to collect anytime you have $20 or so in credits.  ALWAYS take the cash, don’t use your points to buy overpriced junk merchandise on their website.

4) It use to be considered a fact that a house would be your largest and best investment.  Anyone who has owned a house since, oh, 2006 would beg to differ with you.  Elsewhere on this blog you will have read about our rental home business (Evia and I own 6 “starter home” class single family homes.  I bought them all around 10-15% below then market value.  None are worth what I paid for them today, but their mortages are still based on purchase price).  Recognize that even if you own a home, paid for, without a mortage – you really don’t.  Don’t believe me?  Try not paying your property taxes for 3 years and see if you still own that home… You rent it from the government.  So:

5)  To own or rent?  Owning a moderate home is comforting.  With luck, you can pay it off fairly quickly and not pay the banks 2-3+ times the cost in interest payments.  Go to sites like http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/managing-debt/annual-percentage-rate-calculator.aspx and play with the numbers.  A $100,000 loan at 5% for 30 years cost you $193,255.78.  Think of what you could do with that $93,255.78 if you had paid cash, or some serious fraction of that if you had bought less house than you could afford and paid if off quickly.  Rates are low now, but still well above inflation, and inflation is all you should hope your income will raise by – shy of you increasing your worth to your employer or a very unexpected shortage of workers.  Homes are expensive – expect to pay about a 1/3rd of your mortage in taxes and insurance – something with no intrinsic value.  The more expensive the house – the higher the taxes and insurance.  Then there are the water heaters, and AC repairs, and siding repairs – not to mention yard care.   If you rent, you still have that yard care, but not much else to worry about – other than the landlord raising your rent – and market pressures prevent that.  If your fiscally solvent (e.g. you have been saving that 10%), and the landlord wants to charge you to much – you can always go out and buy something.  In the meantime, at least for a year at a stretch, you know what it will cost for the roof over your head.

6)  You biggest expense catagory in life isn’t what you likely think.  Its not your house or car payment, its TAXES!  They tax you when you earn it, they tax you when you save it and earn on that, they tax you when you spend it, they tax you after you spend it (Personal Property tax for cars, real estate taxes for homes), they tax you for your future (Social Security), they tax you for your future medical needs (Medicare) – and thats just the Feds.  Then the state does the same thing, and the local community does it again.  Yes, governments need taxes to pay for essential services, but they waste it horribly as well (Remember Bush saying that Desert Shield was going to cost $50B?  That regional war that never seems to end is approaching $2T now – a meer miscalculation of 40X).  Think about $2T and realize we have about 300M people in the USA.  Cut out half for children and the elderly, and another half for single family wage earners, etc. – so about 75M taxpayers.  That war effort therefore cost each family about $26,666… for each and every family in the USA.  OK, this is sliding into politics, so I won’t rant on that anymore.

7)  Financial bleeding to death:  Inflation.  Nothing is more evil, except perhaps for taxes.  Its incideous and eats away at your savings every minute of every day nostop.  Remember the “Rule of 72″:  When years*inflation rate = 72 your money’s real value is cut in half (This is sometimes called the Rule of 70 or the Rule of 69 – they are all close enough for ballpark math and vary based on how often the compounding happens.  For continuous compounding, like inflation, the Rule of 69 is probably more accurate, but I’ll go with the more commonly used Rule of 72).  So, in the 70s, and again in the 80s, when inflation was around 12%, every 6 years the value of money halved.  See:  http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/inflation/historical-inflation-rates/ for a nice table of historical rates.  Right now (spring of 2013) we are hovering around 2% – but banks are paying less than 1% on CDs and money market accounts (and as little at 0.01% on savings – $1 a year on a $10,000 deposit!).  Beware rates advertised that are higher than that – there is usually a catch, like requiring a $10/month checking account or having a cap on how much you can save and earn that rate.  Bottom line:  Money placed in banks is losing value.  Save that 10% and you more than compensate, but don’t be fooled into thinking your MAKING value – your just losing it slower than if you stuffed your mattress with cash.

8)  The stock market is legalized gambling.  Do your research, and realizing that if you make more than “the market” you just got lucky.  Highly suggesting reading the Vanguard site.  Seriously SERIOUSLY think about no-load mutual funds but don’t invest until you understand why.  Compare 20+ year historys for alternatives.  Realize that every year 90% of the mutual funds out there, and espeically those you pay loads on, do not do as well as the market.  Compound that with the knowleged that who makes up that 90% shifts every year.  Sure XYZ stocks may be hot – but by the time you read about that, its probably too late.  “The Market” itself is what I pretty much think of as the real inflation rate – not the number the government publishes.  So to protect your value, it probably needs to go into the stock market – but only for long term value.  The great recession should be all the proof you need of that.  Don’t plan on getting rich there – just be happy if you get lucky, and hope you counter inflation.  KNOW BEYOND ANY DOUBT that there is no such thing as a “Hot Stock” – your ability to discover it, buy it low, and sell it high, as an individual is about as likely as stricking it rich by investing in lottery tickets.  There are a lot of professionals, with multi-million dollar computer programs crunching numbers, looking for those “Hot Stock”s.  You can’t compete with them and your a fool if you think you can.  So buy the market and hope we don’t have another global depression.

9)  Easy money:  Buy low, sell high.  Its that simple.  Its also incredibly hard to time right.  Something called “income averaging” helps.  Say you want to invest in some mutual fund but don’t know when to do so.  DO NOT drop all your savings in day 1.  If you have something like $10,000 in savings, invest $1000/month.  If the mutual fund value is low, your $1000 will buy more shares.  If the mutual fund value is high, your $1000 will buy less.  Over time, its rather self correcting towards giving you the best value.  Of course, if your lucky, and you invest all $10,000 when its low, your golden.   If you do this with something like silver, which has historically varied ALL OVER the place, like from $5 to $50 an ounce and back again, and you have the fortitude of a 200 year oak tree, set a max price and only income average invest when its below that.  Maybe that is $25 an ounce.  If its $25 an ounce or less you buy $500 worth every other month.  When people go nuts buying silver and it jumps to $35 or $50, you just hold off firm in the belief it will come back down.  If silver falls to $5 ounce, you still have 20% of your value – double what you would have had if you continued to buy all the way up to $50.  Oh, on silver – buy 0.999 rounds or bars.  Period.  Screw 90% silver coins or “investment” grade collectables – they vary from meerly being overpriced to being total ripoffs.  If your buying metal, buy the friggen metal, not some highly marketed “better” (per the marketing company that is profiting) version of the metal.  Also know how to do the math, or at least how to have Google do it for you.  Don’t get confused with grains vs. grams for instance.  And please, PLEASE, don’t buy silver or gold jewelery as investments.  Oh, reminds me of my favorite marketing gimmick:  “Buy your finance an INVESTMENT grade Diamond to tell her you love her.”  What?  She is going to sell it someday?  If she does, was it really a good investment for you?  Diamonds are nice.  Find one you like the looks of and go for it, but realize its jewelry, not an investment.  e.g.  The the flaws require a 10X loop to see, who is going to see it besides your jeweler?  (Oh, other side note discovered long ago:  There is a HUGE (like 10X) markup on diamonds.  What you pay $1000 for would wholesale for perhaps $100.  Sure, if you want to insure it you should for $1000, since that is its replacement value.  But if you need cash, and you think you will get $1000 for that diamond, you are going to have a very unpleasant surprise when you try and sell it.  Some jewelers will even guarentee you your purchase price if you want to trade up later.  Note the “up” part of that – ask them if you can trade down and pocket the cash and see their reaction.)

10)  Risk vs. reward:  This is the classic balance.  Want safe (well, at least reasonably?)  Earn 1% in a money market account (much better than any bank savings or checking accounts so long as you don’t access it more than a few times a month.  I use ours to feed out checking account – deposits going into the money market, and once or twice a month I take out living expenses and move into checking where all the activity occurs – its trivial with todays modern online banking tools.  Short form – the bulk of my cash sits in a higher paying account.  I leave a small amount, like $500, in a bank savings account that my ATM card can access for emergency cash.)  Want a great reward, invest in pork futures – and realize you might lose everything if you can’t back your options.  The options in between are numerous and varied such as the stock market.  Over 50 years, it has exceeded the inflation rate the government publishes (but some claim its growth rate is the real inflation rate since it relflects a large chunk of the countries money supply), but either way has exceeded bank savings rates.  On the flip side, although the DOW is back to where it was 7 years ago, it would have been a tough 7 years if you depended on that money to pay your medical bills, and tapping into it during the lull would have been the opposite of “buy low, sell high”.

11)  What to do – Kevin’s approach:  I’ve coming to believe the only way to truly accumulate weath that taxes and inflation won’t destroy, or to at least have a fighting chance at that (since taxes can always be used by corrupt governments to destroy anyone they want to), is to invest in hard assets – things that won’t go away.  Examples include gold and silver (risky since they could be make illegal, and the prices swing a lot), land (they are not making any more), and solidly constructed homes that should last generations (think 12″ log homes, stone homes, concrete homes, maybe post&beam – NOT stick homes which have about a 50 year lifetime.  Go look at 200+ year homes and see how few are around.  None were built with 2x4s and drywall).  Alas, you will still need to pay taxes, and for that I’m gambling:  I have some in hopefully solid dividend yielding stocks (where I get a check even if the stock price goes down), some TIPS funds, some mutual funds.  I do have one professionally managed IRA (my former employers 401K funds) which did better than the market during the down time, but not so hot since.  Seriously thinking of switching that to a no-load mutual and be done with it.  Last words on investments:  take to heart two classic sayings 1)  Past performance may not reflect future earnings, and 2) Hindsight is 20/20.  It easy to look back and show what should have been done, and even create fancy mathematic models that match that, but its incredibly hard to project that forward with any sense of certainty.

Hope you found some of this rambling useful,




Free to Play games (aka Pay to WIn games)

Posted by Kevin on October 31, 2012
Posted in Gaming  | 2 Comments

Free to Play games (aka Pay to WIn games)

Over the years I’ve come across many of these games, starting with RuneScape (free to play in a small world, pay to play in the larger one) through Perfect World (a gorgeous game, very well done, but that will dime you to death) through Entropia (also well done, but will micro-penny you to the poor house) through Evony and its branch of web games, ending recently with Wartune.  Let talk about Wartunes a bit…

Wartune (http://www.wartune.com for the chinese supported version, http://wartune.r2games.com for a much better USA supported version – but other than translations, identical to other) is probably the most complex Flash game I’ve come across to date.  You can play for free, and most do (90%?), but you will never be a top player without dropping some cash.  The game seduces you into do this quite well.  They have a $7.99/month VIP plan that boost your rate of progress by 50% and gives you small bonus items every day.  Not bad… most online game run about $15/month these days.  For “only” $4.99 you get a huge bonus pack with enough gold to start your own guild and raise to up a level, (2) games items that are the best in the game until level 40, etc.

Wartunes approach is not to nickle and dime you throughout the game, but rather to convince you to drop everything your willing to pay up front.  That huge bonus pack I just mentioned comes with ANY first “recharge” (any money you spend other than for your VIP membership).  They basically double the in-game content you receive for your cash vs. money you spend later.  Spend $4.99 and your in pretty good shape for the first few days.  Spend $39.99 and your good for a week, kind of.  Spend $99.99 and you might just, maybe, be in the top 3 players – unless they spend the next step:  $299.99.

I’ve played on about a half dozen servers (they launch them regularly – at least every week or two) and there always seems to be at least one $299.99 player, sometimes several.  Its so consistant that many wonder if the gaming company plants shills to encourage others to spend money.  On the Chinese site, we actually got one $299.99 player that spent more during the game to admit he was the son of one of the game developers and that it was his job to provide competition for the top players to encourage them to restart and try again spending higher sums.  Unethical for sure, but probably not illegal.  And the kid was a jerk, so may well have been lying.

I moved over to the US supported servers after that.  They were busier and I got to know several of the top players – mostly nice people that simply wanted to win once, so dropped the cash to try and do so.  The game is pretty addicitive, and for the first week or so, if you socialize at all, you can easily spend 18 hours a day in the environment.  In fact, if you want to be a top player, you need to.  Thats the real downside – few can.  Miss a day, especially during the first 5 days after launch, and you fall behind.  Again, the developers have driving you to play down to a science:

If you want to run a guild, you need to be present the moment the server launches.  You get to create your guild when you reach level 12, which takes about an hour.  Of course, you need the resources of the $4.99 pack to start it.  Be an hour late and there will be 2-3 other guilds where most of the best (e.g. driven, dedicated, cash spending) players have already landed.  You MIGHT be able to compete with them over the next few weeks if you get lucky enough to have some late cash players join you, but don’t count on it.  Try starting a guild 3-4 hours after launch, when you have earned enough in-game gold to do so without spending real cash, and you will struggle to find members since you will be one of a dozen or so such efforts.

At the two hour mark, or shortly thereafter, you have reached level 20!  I have to admit, going up quickly is a rush – new skills, new equipment, new things being unlocked to do.  Wartune.com tends to launch their servers 2 hours before the first World Event.  World Events require you to be level 20 – so if you really hurry (augmented by cash of course) you can participate in that first event.  Do so yields nice rewards in terms of training credits and in game gold.  It also lets you take a first look at your competition.

From this point on… its a race.  Level 20 lets you buy your first armor set ($16.00).  This is a huge help for those willing to do so.  It can be augmented with gem sockets ($1.85 each and you can add 7) and gems ($0.85 ->  $3.40 each on up in 4X cost increments until your credit card melts) if you truely want to max it out.  This set will serve you well for a few days.  It can also be earned in game, a piece at a time, but will likely take you several days to do so.  They even give you a few gem socketing tools for free – but not enough for you to compete with the heavier cash players.

Leveling quickly slows done.  From 1->20 in 2 hours if you know what your doing and rush (and don’t play a Knight).  Level 25-28 within a dozen hours or so.  Level 30 within 24 hours if you are a cash player.  Level 35 pretty much takes 5 days of virtually contant play, but is key.  If you are one of the top 3 players at midnight server time on the 5th day after server launch, you are rewarded with a 10-pack of L4 gems.  Oohh… ah… who cares?  Well, remember that $0.85 I mentioned?  That was for a L2 gems.  Takes 4 of them to create and L3.  Four L3s to create an L4 ($13.60), and this event just rewarded you with 10 of them.  For people that do not make that top 3 list, thats $136 worth of gems… and armor, sockets, gems, and something called Astrals pretty much define who the winner will be.  Yeah, a bit of skill helps, but surprisingly little.

After you have reached L35 there is a new armor set you want.  The gems move, the sockets do not.  So you get to spend more cash.  Many hold off using their sockets until this set.  At L40 (about 2 weeks) new jewerly becomes available – if you lucky enough to get it.  This is likely the last jewerly you will ever use (at least looking at people on the oldest servers).  So now you finally replace that gear your initial recharge provided you.  Of course, more socketing tools are needed.

Until recently, the L45 armor set was considered the ultimate in the game.  However they have announced a L55 set coming out in the next major patch.  Few will be able to use it.  There are over 50 servers between the two vendors and I suspect less than a couple dozen players that have made L55.  The game is designed to go up to level 80, but I don’t know if it could hold anyones attention that long – unless they spent a LOT of money (rumors of some people spending $1500 – $2500 – $7500 on the game – which is just insane.  But again, the goal is to pit you against someone else who can spend money and make it a competition.)

The game is an interesting mix of activities, but they do get rather repetitive:  Farming, city construction, solo dungeons, multi-player dungeons, a bit of crafting, guild work, bounties, 1×1 dueling, 3×3 arenas, group world bosses (where typically 100-200 people attack one big beast), etc.

Hmmm, world bosses are probably worth a special mention.  These occur 3 times a day: 11am, 4pm, and 9pm local server time (R2game servers are spread around the world, wartune.com servers are all on the west coast).  When you attack the world boss, you get 1 gold coin and 1 daru (a training credit) per point of damage you do.  You get to take your two sets of troops with you.  Put them in front and you will last 3 turns.  The boss will one-shot kill each set of troops, then you (at least early on).  You then die for 30 seconds and can jump back in… unless… of course, you spend money.  For 10 cents you can end that 30 second cool down and jump back in.  Net result:  more gold and daru for you.  Do it every turn, and if your a top player, you may rank in the top 3 and earn a bonus.  Unlike many of the longer term events, there is a significant difference between being 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in world boss.  And that difference of course accumulates and helps you secure your rank and compete with those above you.  Miss a few World Bosses and you fall behind.  Don’t spend reset money, and its likely others will and will take those top 3 slots.  Best bet, if your a cash player, is to just spend enough to safely secure the #1 slot, unless you just don’t care about the cash burn.

About playing 18 hours a day:  Here is a bit of the breakdown…

(3) World Bosses at 11am, 4pm, and 9pm – about 15 minutes each, call it 20 since you can’t be late, so 1 hour.  Something called Battle Ground, which is a random 15×15 competition where you earn the credits you need to buy your L35, L45 and L55 armor sets.  8pm-9pm (split into 2 events of about 25 minutes each).  Arena, which is a 3×3 competition – more armor credits, 1pm-2pm and 7pm-8pm – yes, TWO HOURS A DAY just for this one event.  (5) runs of multi-player dungeons (1-2 hours depending on your team.)  (3-6) solo dungeons (1-2 hours).  Farming, bounties, 1×1 duels and other misc. things – 2+ hour.  So 1+1+2+1+2+2 = 9 hours a day of pretty manditory things to do if you want to be a top player.



EveOnline can be played as a 2nd job, or more, if you so desire – it is very easy to get seriously addicted.  However, I think it possible to play this game in a bit more controlled manor.

Of course, depending on how frequently you play, some aspects of the game will be pretty closed off.  For instance, your not going to be a big time fleet combat pilot if your not on a lot.  Likewise, solo mining is doable, but not very effectively – you really need a miner ship and at least a hauler, and ideally a third player in a ship called an Orca.  Of course, you can solo mining, it will just go slow and be pretty tedious.

So… the way I see it, there are four main aspects to Eve:

1)  Social – making friends, talking with interesting people, doing things together (be that mission, mining, pirating, whatever)

2)  Earning ISK – the in game money.  You need ISK to buy better equipment, ships, skill books, etc.  There is, unfortunately, a cheat now available:  PLEX.  PLEXes are 30 day Pilot Licenses redeemable for 30 days of game time.  You can buy PLEXes with real money and use them (although monthly subscription rates are a bit cheaper), or buy PLEXes with ISK and redeem them (which many serious players do to pay for their habit), or buy PLEXes with real money and sell them in game for ISK.  Many MANY consider the  use of PLEX a cheat – just a way for those with real money to get a jump up on those that earn their way ingame – but it is an option.

3)  Learning skills.  Virtually everything in EVE requires skills, from being able to fly non-newbie ships to firing the weapons on those ships to using mining lasers…  Skills are learned by buying skill books (or earning the early ones by doing training missions) with ISK, and by spending the real time to learn the skill.  Simple skills can be learned in minutes, harder ones in days, weeks, and for some, over a month.  It takes REAL TIME to do this, so no matter how much ISK somebody buys with PLEXes, they can’t get around needing to be in the game for months.  Oh, this is a good time to point out that EVE is designed to be played for not weeks or months, but years.  (See my previous post about a holiday 60-day free trial – but these are designed just to give you a feeling for the game.)  There are fun programs that help with planning your skills, since real time is the one thing that you really can’t afford to waste.  My favorite is EVEMon (http://evemon.battleclinic.com).  I’ve spent hours just playing around with my training queue – it really can be fun if you like setting priorities and expectations.  It also gives you a great reality check on what it takes to do some things in the game.

4) Experience.  ISK without Skills is useless.  Skills without Experience is likely to waste a LOT of ISK.  Fortunately, the game has a huge number of “missions” that will both help you gain experience, and pay you reasonable levels of ISK.  Running missions, especially “Security Division” missions (the combat ones) is both a lot of fun, and one of the normal ways people earn ISK.  Missions come in various levels that you earn the right to fly.

If you are looking to solo and/or play part time, the Social aspect can not be a priority.  Sure, you can join a Corporation if you have a buddy in one, but that’s not going to be your primary calling, and make sure the Corporation knows your a casual player (in fact, Corporations advertise for players with “casual” vs. “hardcore” representing part-timers vs. mostly-daily players.

Earning ISK will come slower, but that’s OK.  Earning ISK via missions will come more-or-less at the rate you need (note:  not want! <smile>) to keep you moving.  By the time you are capable of running level 4 missions solo – ISK should not be a major issue.

Skills work in your favor as a part time player.  You see: skills are trained in real time, even when your not playing.  The only caveat is that you can only instruct the game to train skills that will start within 24 hours.  So early in the game, when your learning a lot of basics, you might want to log in daily for a few minutes just to load up your skill queue.  EVEMon helps a LOT in this – you can figure out your plan once and just follow it.  Of course, as you gain experience, you will probably want to change that plan, but EVEMon at least keeps track of things for you.  Much, MUCH, later in the game, when your training 7 day skills, or 15 day skills, or 30 day skills, keeping track of your training queue becomes less of an issue.

Experience comes at whatever pace you wish to play, so is also not a problem.

So what can you do as a part-time casual player vs. a hard-core player?

1) Missions:  Most are designed to take anywhere from 15 minutes to 6 hours.  You can look at the bonus reward time to get a feeling for how long it might take you to run a mission.  Virtually all missions are also described in detail, with suggestions, on web sites like eve-survival.org.  You can probably ignore such sites for level 1 missions, but they are critical to survive level 4 missions.

2) Mining if you don’t mind doing it slowly – but personally I would think that would get rather boring.  If you want to do this, its probably best to join a casual mining corporation and hope to be able to partner with someone when your on.

3) Trading:  With a few skills and a lot of flight time, you can make a decent level buying low and selling high.  Time is in your favor for this, since most sale offers can be posted to last up to 3 months.  Not my cup of tea, but I know many people that make their primary incomes this way.  Just beware of scammers – folks selling things for inflated prices, or hoping you miss where the decimal place is in their offers.  Don’t trade on a whim, know what your buying, what the normal price is, etc.  Lots of websites and in-game information available to help (like watching item price trends).

4) PI (think of it as Planetary Industry although that’s not what its formally called).  Basically its building extractors and/or factories on planets to mine raw materials and process them into more advanced materials which you then sell.  I’ve written a guide you should find a few post below this one that will tell you more about PI.  The key to doing this part-time is to just realize you will be earning ISK at a slower pace then somebody playing PI full-time.  That’s OK.  The good news is that PI is like skills, it occurs in real time.  In fact, with 1 account you can define 3 characters, and with just a few skills, can have all 3 earning you ISK as real time passes.  Just note that PI requires attention at least once every 2 weeks (at maximum extractor cycle times), so 3 characters doing this will be 3 times the work of 1.  The best part of PI is that once setup, and given that small amount of attention, it will provide a small but steady stream of ISK to you.

Solo playing is very similar to part-time playing: the more seldom your on, the harder it will be to build your social network, so you will find yourself playing solo more often.  Again, nothing wrong with this – just know that the game is designed for teams of players.  In fact, some things, like Player Owned Custom Offices (POCO), can only be owned by a Corporation.  You could, in fact, make your own Corporation, but its just not possible for a single player to place a POCO in space unless they are an outstanding combat player with a LOT of time on their hands (like 17 hours non-stop).  That too is OK, its just a reality of the game.





Eve News – 60 day Holiday trial

Posted by Kevin on December 5, 2011
Posted in Gaming  | No Comments yet, please leave one

My current game addiction, EveOnline, has a holiday special running right now:  60 free trials.  Normally you can get 2-3 weeks depending if you solo or go through a buddy, so if you want to check out Eve, now is a good time.

Access is via a special code, one per account I believe.  I have two accounts left, so e-mail me at kevin@kevinsthoughts.com if you would like one of my remaining codes.



Diverse reading habits

Posted by Evia on November 22, 2011
Posted in FamilyLife in GeneralLife!  | No Comments yet, please leave one

We ordered books today for the three of us.  What a diverse list of reading material!

For Nastya

For Kevin

For me