Friday, May 29, 2009

Less Revenue But More Profit?

After an exhausting six month job search during the worst economic crisis since the great depression, I had yet to get an offer from any of the crappy office jobs I was applying to. Even the temp agencies in Boston, which assured me there was work, found me nothing.

I was scraping by on rent, eating away at my already small savings, and racking up a huge credit card balance. I even had to cash out my 401k from my job in LA. After aboutsix months of this, my attitude had shifted from humbled, to humiliated, to basically indifferent about the whole job hunt process. It wasn't until then that my brother approached me about going into business with him.

He was running a successful IT company (think GeekSquad but local - and better priced :D) and had more clients than he had time. I have a computer background, so it was a perfect fit.

I've actually been able to work only part time, but keep my overhead so low that I'm making more profit and saving up more money than ever before. My credit card is paid, and I've started (modestly) rebuilding my emergency fund.

I also have a few goals for making some digital passive income. Not only can technology help us trim the fat from our expenses (like the Roku box), it can actually MAKE us all consistent passive income.

Right now I'm making about $50 a month online. To get a full breakdown on where that's coming from, and how I plan on expanding it, check out my new series of posts, called Digital Passive Income.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Simplify Life With Technology: Roku Edition

Today's topic is the first of a hopefully long series, called Simplify Your Life With Technology.

While some may advocate avoiding technology for a simpler life, I disagree. Technophobia is a path toward more complications down the road. Technological advancements, when carefully selected and used correctly, are wonderful things that can simplify all areas of our lives. This week, I'd like to focus on the wonderful, tiny, cute little machine known as The Roku Box.

What is it?
The Roku Box is about the size of a small Linksys Router. It runs quietly (almost silently). It is capable of Composite (Yellow), Component (Blue, Red, Green) and HDMI video outputs, and Optical and Composite (Red & White) audio outputs.

Via an ethernet port in the back or Wifi (I have mine plugged in to avoid wireless headaches), the Roku connects online and plays streaming movies from your Netflix account onto your TV.

Netflix's streaming video options isn't the most impressive thing in the world, but there are thousands of great movies to choose from (12,000 and counting). Think of Roku more as 50 free movie channels than video-on-demand: you'll have a wealth of movies to choose from, but if you have a specific movie in mind that you're dying to see, there's a good chance it isn't available via instant stream (get the DVD mailed to you instead!).

Some Roku favorites in our household are Star Trek (the original series), South Park, a decent-sized Woody Allen collection, a great documentary selection, and plenty of blockbusters from the "Stars" channel.

Right now, Roku also offers Amazon video-on-demand, where you can buy or rent your favorite TV series' and new releases. We opt for saving $$ and just getting those delivered as DVDs, but if you like the idea of impulse, pay-per-view type watching, and you have some cash to burn ($3.99 for a new release), check out the Amazon channel.

You can also purchase digital copies of movies through the Amazon video channel. This is essentially like buying a copy of the movie: you own it, and the rights to play it whenever you want (assuming Amazon never goes out of business). This is an appealing alternative to buying DVDs, which for me either get scratched, borrowed, or just end up adding clutter. still, I'm holding off on making the switch to buying digital movies from Amazon until they offer a streaming AND downloading option. I'd like to have a copy of the movie on my hard drive, in case Amazon ever went under.

The folks at Roku have hinted at a few new channels coming this year (fingers crossed for Hulu!), but we'll just have to wait & see.

Bottom line
Roku isn't a 1:1 replacement for cable; you won't get live TV and you won't get the new TV shows (for free, at least). It is a great replacement, however, for the overpriced movie channels that cable companies offer. If you're already a Netflix subscriber, and you're also paying a large cable bill, the Roku box will pay for itself with the cheap pricetag of $99.00.

4.5 / 5 stars!

Buy it at Amazon for $99.00
Check out eHow's How to Simplify Your Life With Technology

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Video Games You Can Play With One Hand

I'd like to take a break from my in-depth "origins" posts to write about the specific incident that lead me to become incapacitated, take some time off, and start writing again.

Well, a self-inflicted accident on May 3rd left my right hand in a cast for about three weeks (yes, I'm about as dumb as that guy), I've been getting acquainted with a variety of great PC games that you can play with one hand. Consoles are out (unless you buy special controllers), but that doesn't mean I can't have fun while I recover.

Monopoly 2008 - PC
What can I say? Maybe it was all the percosets that I was popping, but Monopoly is a game I'll never tire of. The familiar colors, themes, names and rules are all implemented seamlessly in the PC version. All you need is the mouse to roll the dice, buy properties, and laugh when the computer AI lands on your real estate empire.

Watch out for the tendency for the computer to simply buy every property they land on (making it so nobody gets a monopoly). This can make the game DRAG on.

Amazon has a great deal right now for the game at only $5.52
3 / 5 stars

Settlers of Catan - PC
This is for those of us who just can't get enough of the board game. Arguably the most well-balanced strategy board game ever, the PC version holds up pretty faithfully to the real experience. They even did a great job of handling the "trading" aspect, with AI refusing to trade with anyone nearing 10 victory points.

Another steal at $6.95 via MSN Games

4 / 5 stars

Puzzle Quest - Challenge of the Warlords
What if you could mix the addictiveness of Bejeweled, with the OCD-catering nature of Final Fantasy? Throw sorcerers, elves, ogres and orcs into the mix and you can call me one happy camper. Yep, old news I know, but Puzzle Quest is an absolutely GREAT game to play with only one hand. Fire this game up, throw a Kung Fu movie on my Roku, and the recovery days simply melt away.

Once I tear through this I plan on checking out the Sci-Fi sequel, Galactrix, but from what I hear it might not be quite as handicap-friendly. The "hacking the leapgates" feature of Galactrix is basically a race against the clock, and seeing as how I' using the mouse with my wrong hand, it'd be hard to do anything coordinated under pressure.

For a more information on handicap-accessible games, check out and eHow's How to Find Handicap Accessible Games

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Success or happiness? Both?

I have a history of maturing at a rapid rate (grey hairs to prove it), and I more or less had a midlife crisis at the age of 23.

My hours at work were increasing and unbearable (12 hour days), rounds of layoffs were expected, and the air in the office became venemous. All the perks of working for a video game company, my "dream job," were undercut by my petty and insecure boss, a huge revenue slump, and constant misdirection from my superiors. The concept of my job was great, but the reality was killing me. I was eating unhealthily, smoking occasionally, and spending so much of my salaruy recovering from work that I barely had anything left to save.

Around that time, a good friend of mine passed away. It was time to go home. Enough people have had their California dreams dashed that it becomes more of an annoyance than anything to join their ranks; yes, I wasn't from LA and yes, I was homesick.

My girlfriend, a Boston native like me, was also on the same page. The California chapter of our lives had concluded.

Almost two years had passed and I once again found myself without a job, driving from one side of the country to the other. I left my job to make the move, a move almost anyone would recommend against. But I was willing to work at Starbucks at that point to make ends meat. And with a network of family and friends back in Boston, I had hope that it wouldn't come to that.

On my next post, I'll write about my job hunt during a recession.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The shot heard 'round the world

This is a blog for the Digital Underclass. We are the new generation of Americans who refuse "business as usual," who vote with our wallets, can't buy expensive cars, don't climb corporate ladders, and refuse to take on unecessary debt.

Life doesn't have to be the way it was for people ten or twenty years ago. We can live locally and still communicate globally. I want this blog to be a voice for a generation that emerges from the collapse of the old "big car, big house and bigger debt" American way of thinking.

About Me:
With the ink still drying on my English Lit degree, a couple hundred dollars in my bank account, and a car with 185k miles on it (named Rusty), I road-tripped across the country to Los Angeles in pursuit of a career in video games. Just what exact job was I looking for? I had no clue. I only knew that if I was going to end up in some corporate setting, I wanted to at least work for a company that did something interesting.

Cut to one year later: I'd crawled the ranks from a video game tester temp to a full-time, salaried marketing position with a leading video game publisher. I was making great money, traveling the country on business, and even meeting the occasional celebrity.

Then I quit. The job, lifestyle, and even city I thought I'd wanted turned out not to be the case, and it was time for some drastic changes.

Tomorrow I'll post about what lead me to make such a harsh choice. Stick around!