On World of Warcraft and the Stock Market

Yesterday I sold some Apple stock I had purchased. It worked out well for me, I bought it when the economy was shaky and the stock market in shambles, it cost me $85 a share. Now, a year later, I sold it for $199 a share. So I made some money, not a huge sum, maybe $3K after taxes.

It got me thinking about the nature of money. After all, what had I done here? I had clicked a mouse a few times, waited a year, and clicked a mouse a few more times, resulting in almost doubling my money. It was very little effort, and a very abstracted process.

Now here’s the thing – the amount I made was based on the amount I had initially. If I had millions, I would have made millions. It had nothing to do with skill or work, it was based entirely on what arbitrary amount of money I had to begin with. There is a sort of snowball effect that happens, the more money you have, the easier it is to make more money.

It reminded me of playing World of Warcraft three or so years ago. When you start playing in WoW, you have a low-level character. Tasks you do and enemies you defeat don’t give you a lot of cash, so you earn copper and silver. For a low-level character, getting a gold piece is a big deal. I never played long enough or hard enough to build a high-level character, but built up to something like level 14 and ended up playing the auction house.

The auction house is essentially like an in-game eBay – you can put items you have found up for auction, set a price and an end time and then people can bid on them. I used a plug-in someone had written (legal in the game) which monitored the market, and tracked the going rate for each item. I would then look for items selling below market value, buy them, and sell them for a competitive but profitable price.

Out in the wilderness, my character had to fight monsters and save up meager coins to buy slightly better weapons. At the auction house, a little buying and selling made easily more profit than fighting monsters. And the more money my character had, the easier it was to get more. There was a leveling-up effect to trading – at first I could only afford to buy and sell cheap items, but then finally had enough cash to buy and sell some more expensive items. Eventually I moved from selling things worth silver to things worth gold. Suddenly, the gold that was hard to come by in the wilderness was flowing to my character with relative ease.

I eventually stopped playing WoW, as it was eating up a lot of time. But it had been fun while it lasted. What it had done is made true for me an old adage, “the rich get richer”.

Money these days is such an abstract concept – with direct deposit and debit cards, we often never even see it in physical form. What’s interesting is that there is little difference conceptually between money in WoW and money in the real world. They are both abstract representations on a computer somewhere. The difference is that people have agreed that virtual dollars can be exchanged for goods and services, while virtual WoW gold cannot. Even that’s not entirely true, black markets exist that sell WoW gold for dollars, allowing conversion of one virtual currency into another.

I think this is part of the mentality of the rich, being able to deal with money as an abstract, to treat the system as a game. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle, not poor but not rich either. I can think of an investment as a game, but at the same time, I have a mortgage to pay every month, and food to buy.

People are always talking about some “get rich quick” scheme, but the sad truth of it is that most of the time, “get rich quick” schemes only work if you are already rich. Even if you can double your money, it doesn’t amount to much if you only had a small amount of money in the first place. Meanwhile, someone who is rich can earn an 8% return on an investment and make more than a pile of poor people do in a year.

It’s a disparity that’s a side effect of the capitalist system as a whole. The thing is, poor that decry this system usually support it at some level, because they see themselves as someday achieving wealth and getting their “piece of the pie”. It is often a complaint of envy, not of justice. They don’t object that the rich exist, they object that they are not rich themselves.

I find the whole thing very interesting, and sad in some ways, but don’t have any solutions to offer. Alternative systems like communism tend to fail for the same reasons, corruption and the rich using influence to get richer.

Anyway, just something I was thinking about the last day or so.

Added layer of security

Also, I think from now on I will try to use my credit card instead of my debit card. I think credit cards have better arbitration than debit cards, plus they aren’t linked to my bank account.

I’ll just put everything on my credit cards and pay it off at the end of each month. Which is pretty much what I’ve been doing, but had been using my debit card as well.

Plus since I pay off my cards, I don’t pay interest, and get a couple percent back as rewards, so I think it actually works out slightly cheaper than cash.

Credit cards only from now on.

Bleh. I got scammed.

So I tried out this website, mint.com – you hook it to your bank and credit card accounts, it downloads and categorizes your transaction histories so you can see how much you spend on what. There’s also an iPhone app that goes with it. Of course, I’m anal about data, so went through and manually categorized the items that mint couldn’t match to a category.

Good thing I did.

Mint showed me a number of $40 transactions over the past two months, listed as “GMA soft”, “Trustedbillers.com”, and “Netschelp.com”.

I called the contact number on the transaction, they are porn sites.
So someone’s stolen my credit card number. Great.

Now I have to stop at Bank of America on the way home, contest the charges, and cancel the card and get a new card. Which will probably take a week or two, and since BoA uses card number as login on their site, I probably won’t be able to access my account online for a week or two.

Sigh. Why do people have to suck?

I guess I should look on the bright side, it will make me be more mindful of card security, I’m going to update all my passwords tonight. And at least it was small amounts and not my whole bank account.

I wouldn’t have even noticed if I hadn’t tried out mint.com. Yay, mint!

I bet $2200 on black

With the economy unpredictable, unstable, and hazardous, I figured now would be a good time to try my hand at buying stock. =)

I ordered 25 shares of Apple stock… the market closed around $90/share, I’m not sure how it works, placing after-hours orders that are filled the next day… I think they are at the closing price… dunno, it’s the first time I’ve ever bought stock before.

But I figure, with Apple stock so low, and new laptops probably being announced next week, as good a time as any to buy some… I’m patient, I can wait a year or two for the share price to come back up… assuming there still *is* an economy in a year or two…

Guess I’ll see after I get out of surgery tomorrow if I have some shares of stock.

Quit bogarting the fun tech!

As William Gibson pointed out:

“The future is already here.
It’s just not very evenly distributed.”

Case in point: the EKG and EEG.

These technologies have been around for a while, and with the advent of printed circuits and microchips, should now be extremely cheap to produce. However, since they are considered niche technology – specifically they are only sold to doctors and hospitals who have deep pockets – they are prohibitively expensive to the average consumer, or even for healthcare providers in poorer countries!

In this day and age, it would be possible to sell an EKG for $50 and an EEG for $100, if they were computer accessories that used software to do some of the heavy lifting. If they were stand-alone, tack on another $100-$200 for computer-on-a-chip components.

But since they are “niche” products, this will never happen, creating a technology divide between rich and poor.

Now in my case, I am merely annoyed by not being able to play with what looks like fun tech. In the case of poorer countries, or even poorer regions in the US, it may mean not having access to technology important for medical care.

Mail Woes

If you tried to email me at my tev (at) tev (dot) net account in the past two weeks, I didn’t get it – there was some kind of glitch at Points South that resulted in my mail bouncing instead of getting through.

Should be fixed now though, Alex started looking at it yesterday and figured it out today around noon. I tried a couple tests and they got through ok.

Since mail was bouncing, I think that two weeks of mail is gone forever. Snooj mentioned they might have the last day or two in a buffer, but I’m not counting on that, since it was bouncing in a weird way.

Which sucks… I was wondering why I never got an email notice when my E*Trade stock purchase went through, or when I tried that RealAge thing…

I’ve been toying with the idea of handling my mail through google, which would make sense since I use the gmail interface to check my mail anyway… I think I just have to get my mxrecords to point to gmail or something. Maybe I’ll look into it this weekend.

– – –

On the plus side, my E*Trade stock purchase cleared today, might take another day or two to transfer it into my bank account, but then I can pay off my discover card and car, and I’ll be debt free! Yay!

Operation: Debt Free!

I’ve been debating a plan to get debt-free, after talking about it for a while, Adam was like “stop talking about it, just do it already!” So I did.

On Friday, I cashed out some stock, not a lot, but enough to pay off my car, pay off my credit card… and some left over in case Apple comes out with a new iPhone next month. Heh, you didn’t think I was going to be *too* responsible, did you?

It takes a few days for the stock sale to go through, so I probably won’t have everything paid off until next week. But it’ll be sweet to have no debt. Well, I will still have the house mortgage, but that’s still cheaper than rent. And I’d been putting $500 or more a month towards credit cards, and $666 a month for my car payment, so it will be like getting a $1000 a month raise!

I could even do something crazy, like save some of it or something. Right now I don’t really have any savings to speak of. I have like $50 in a savings account. Yeah.

Here’s to debt-free-ness!

No longer a student!

I just paid off the last $200 on my student loans!

It took me like 10 years to pay it all… I was only paying like $100 a month, since it was fairly low interest, so was in no rush to pay it off ahead of other debt.

Now now my debt’s just down to house, car, and a bit on a credit card.

Paying off the car would be nice, since the payments on that are evil (think the number of the beast) – basically the previous car loan got rolled into the current one, so it’s very expensive. However, to pay it off I’d have to cash in some of my stock options, which I’m loathe to do when the market is so crappy.

Surround Sound and the Mac Pro

So I made a discovery about the Mac Pro (and Macs in general) – they do not support the 3 mini-jack surround system that 90% of Windows and Linux machines use. Instead, they will only output surround sound through an optical port.

I looked at my options, listed here in order of expensive-ness.

Option 1:
Give up on surround sound, either use current surround system in stereo mode, or get new 2.1 channel system.

Option 2:
Get Griffin FireWave, which will output 3-mini-jack surround via firewire. Downside? No windows drivers, so if I booted into windows, I wouldn’t have sound. One of the main reasons I want surround sound is for windows games.

Option 3:
Use optical to 3-mini-jack converter box. Not a bad option, Creative makes one, but it’s discontinued and I didn’t have any luck finding it.

Option 4:
Get a new surround sound system that has optical support.

I ended up going with option 4, and got a Logitech Z-5500 system for $250 (yowtch).

It arrived yesterday, and I was unprepared as to how massive it is. Everything is literally twice the size of my old surround sound system. Physically, and power-wise. The subwoofer is the size of a Volkswagon.

I managed to untangle the old surround sound and set it aside, and somehow managed to squeeze the new speakers into the same places. Except the subwoofer. It came with a warning to keep it far away from your computer, so I moved the Mac to the other side of my desk, and put the subwoofer on the bottom of my wire shelf. It *just* fit.

(click the image for more details)

Finally having it set up, I noticed a few things:

1. You have no control over output when using optical out (a digital signal) – this means the mac outputs at a fixed level, and you can *only* control the volume using the surround sound’s volume knob. This means the volume + and – on the keyboard no longer work. Adjusting output levels in individual apps does still have an effect, I wish I could map those keys on the keyboard to iTunes volume + and -, but haven’t found a way to do that yet.

2. In windows, the Mac internal speaker is on all the time. To silence it, you have to go into the volume control panel and turn the Master Volume all the way down. Now sound will just come out of the surround sound system.

Aside from the price, the physical size, and those couple quibbles, I’m happy with it – it sounds great (though I only use a fraction of the volume available).

One thing happened that lessened my fretting about having spent too much on speakers.

When setting up the speakers, I moved my old subwoofer, and noticed a pile of rolled coins and a bowl of coins under my desk that I’d sorta forgotten about. Every day I take the spare change in my pocket and toss it in the bowl, and every now and then I’d roll them up with a coin sorter. Over time, a small pile of rolled coins had built up. I hadn’t rolled any in several months, a thick layer of dust and cat hair covered the pile.

I dusted it off, and took a half-hour and rolled the loose coins. At first I used the coin sorter, but it kept jamming, so I did it by hand instead.

Humans are really good at pattern recognition. I dumped the coins a couple handfuls at a time into a pile on the floor. First I grabbed all the quarters, as quickly as I could. I was impressed how little of a quarter had to be showing out from beneath other coins for me to find it. Finding a quarter and grabbing it was seemingly faster than conscious thought, my brain was doing all sorts of size, color and weight analysis without my having to think about it. After the quarters, I did the dimes, then the nickels, then the pennies. I also found a couple John Adams dollar coins in there. John Adams has a dollar coin now? Who knew?

When all the coins were rolled, I counted it up. $354.00 (not counting the two John Adams dollar coins, a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, and two bicentennial quarters that I set aside to keep). Wow. It paid for the new surround sound, and then some!

Addendum: By toggling the Feature Key/Function Key setting in the keyboard control panel, I reassigned F1-F3 to exposé, F4 to dashboard, and in CoverSutra assigned F7-F9 to Previous/Pause/Next, and F10-F12 to Mute/Vol -/Vol +. So now those keys control the volume in iTunes instead of trying to control global volume, which doesn’t work with optical out.

…and now I’m poor.

I just ordered a shiny new Mac Pro. Since I did a custom configuration, I won’t get it for a month, though.

So, anyone wanna buy a MacBook laptop?
I’m selling it to defray the costs of a new computer somewhat.

I’ll also be getting rid of my old Dell, though that’s not even worth selling at this point.
Maybe I’ll give it to Moses if he wants it, not sure if it’s better than what he has now.