What I Learned In My 20s About…Finance

A little later on this year, I’ll be turning 30 years old. In American society, this is for some reason a milestone birthday[1]. If nothing else, it’s the birthday that signals that “milestone” birthdays will stop coming at oddball intervals and instead begin showing up at the decade mark.

I don’t see getting older as a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just reality. Everyone ages, regardless of if we want to or not. And while I feel like I’ve known a good bit for whatever age I’ve been at the time, I certainly found that I’ve accrued quite a bit more knowledge over the last decade. As time gets closer to my birthday later this year, I wanted to share some things I’ve learned in my 20s about various topics. I figured I’d start off with a topic that I learned a lot about as a teen then built on in my 20s — personal finance.

Take the things I talk about in my list below as items I gained from my own personal experience rather than hard gospel. While the things below worked (or didn’t, depending on the case) for me, your mileage may vary.

1. Emergency Funds Are Useful…But They Likely Won’t Feel Useful

As I was coming out of college in 2008, I had very little money and a whole hell of a lot of debt to my name. Any money I had made during college from jobs there went to car payments, car insurance, student loans, my cell phone, or gas. With my first job out of college, I got paid twice a month and I found that nearly all of one of those two checks went to student loans. That said, I was driving a car that was ten years old, trying to scrounge money together to apply for grad school, and still had other bills to handle. If it wouldn’t have been for the kindness my grandparents showed me by letting me live with them for a year and a half after graduating, I probably would have ended up in a significantly worse place than I was.

One of the things that I learned from a co-worker at that job was that an emergency fund would save my ass when I least expected it. Over the course of the first year I had that job, I set out to save enough from each paycheck to give me three months worth of paychecks in savings by end of year. I got to December of 2009 and had reached my goal a month early. It felt like a waste. That money was sitting in a savings account and gaining (very little) interest and could be used up at any time. What was the point?

Soon I realized that the fact that the money could be used at any time but wasn’t being used was the ideal situation. It was a safety net — something I wasn’t used to having in my life. The net below an acrobat seems awful useless until you fall. When my car broken down two days before moving from Arizona to Ohio, I was glad I had it.

2. Take Advantage of Income Based Student Loan Repayment

One of my biggest mistakes financially early in my twenties was choosing not to use income based repayment plans offered by the student loan companies I had my loans with. As I mentioned in the previous section, my student loans were taking up nearly 50% of my take home pay when repayment started. I was able to manage it for around six months, but eventually decided that the solution to not having to pay student loans was to go to grad school in order to get my loans back in deferment.

While graduate school ended up being a largely positive decision for me[2], I wish I would have given more of a thought to the repayment options that were available to me. I was far too stubborn in my early (and mid) twenties to be willing to consider lowering my payments. By the time I was willing to consider them, my loans were nearly paid off. Though I’m certainly not saying income-based repayment makes sense for everyone, if you’re having trouble with your student loans, I would encourage you to look into it.

3. Take Advantage of 401k Matching As Soon As You Can

There’s a lot of debate around whether or not Albert Einstein actually said that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe, however one thing is for certain — interest and market growth are immensely powerful. I came into my twenties knowing next to nothing about retirement plans, the stock market, or investing in general. On top of that, it turns out that the things I was taught about those items were very, very wrong[3].

In the USA, if you’re at least 21 years old and have been with a company for at least one year, if your employer offers a 401k plan, you are eligible by law to be able to contribute to it. Furthermore, if your employers offers something known as employer match, the money you put towards your retirement can be matched in some capacity (usually dollar for dollar up to a certain percentage and/or amount).

While retirement investing is a bit complicated and I am not a financial advisor in any way shape or form, I will say that there is one thing that I’ve found is unequivocally true. Free money to help out your future is almost always a good thing. If you’re not putting away whatever amount of money towards your 401k that your company will match, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

4. Stop Lending Money to Friends and Family

Of the four items on this list, this was probably the hardest for me to get good with. After all, friends and family are people you are close to. You care about them and want them to be successful. And yes, if someone needs a little money here or there in an emergency, there’s nothing wrong with helping them out. But when that request becomes routine — $20 one week, $40 the next, $10 the week after that — it’s a sign there are bigger problems in play.

Instead of lending the money, or perhaps in addition to doing that if you must, offer to help the person needing the money with their budget and finances. It wasn’t until I sat down and figured out a budget in my first few months out of college that I really was able to understand where my money was going. While I’ve slipped in budget management from time to time[4], I’ve always found myself coming back to math and spreadsheets to help set my finances straight. If someone is serious about making their financial situation better, they’ll work to do so. If not, they’ll just keep asking for money. Those are the very people who you shouldn’t lend money to.

What if I Were a Pokemon Champion?

You might have noticed that I’ve been doing a decent number of video game posts lately. I don’t really have a reason for this, though I realize there’s a handful of my readers that really don’t care about said posts. That said, I’m on a video game writing kick, so I thought I’d try another one.

This time, I’m inspired by the video below by Bird Keeper Toby on YouTube. In the video below, he shares the Elite Four teams, as well as his own team, if he were Pokemon League champion.

The basic premise of Toby’s video is that he is the end game champion of the Elite Four. Toby explains each of the four trainers that precede him in you — the trainer’s — path to becoming a Pokemon League champion. I figured I’d take my own crack at making an Elite Four as well as my own champion team.

In Toby’s video, his Pokemon League theme is a treehouse. In keeping with the idea of having a themed Elite Four, I’m going to have my Pokemon League be a meteorology theme. Weather was introduced into Pokemon in Generation II and my personal obsession with weather[1] makes meteorology a natural fit for the theme. Additionally, I’ve decided to keep with Toby’s theme of making Elite Four members people from previous games. Since my biggest exposure to Pokemon has been in Generations I – IV as well as VII, my Elite Four hails from those groupings.[2]

Battle 1

In the first battle, you’ll be facing off against the first member of my Elite Four, Flannery. For those unaware, Flannery is the fire-type trainer from Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire’s Lavaridge Town. Admittedly, this was the only gym pick I made purely based on previous game skills and not like of a trainer/Pokemon, as there’s not a ton of fire/grass leaders I like.

Flannery is the first fire type leader to use Sunny Day in games, using it on both of her Slugma. In my Pokemon League, however, she’s grown as a trainer from her Gen III days, diversifying her team to include grass type (to fit with the Sunny Day theme) and normal type (due to her familiarity with Norman) Pokemon on her team.

Flannery’s Team

Magcargo
Holds: Heat Rock
Ability: Magma Armor
Moves: Sunny Day, Flamethrower, Recover, Rock Slide

Rapidash
Holds: None
Ability: Flash Fire
Moves: Flamethrower, Solar Beam, Overheat, Bounce

Sceptile
Holds: None
Ability: Overgrow
Moves: Solar Beam, Mega Drain, Dual Chop, Swords Dance

Vigoroth
Holds: Safety Goggles
Ability: Vital Spirit
Moves: Sunny Day, Reversal, Solar Beam, Slash

Torkoal
Holds: Firium Z
Ability: White Smoke
Moves: Overheat, Heat Wave, Iron Defense, Earthquake

Battle 2

Presuming you get through Flannery, you’re on to take on our Rain Dance master, Lana from Pokemon Sun/Moon. Lana is the game’s water trial captain at Brooklet Hill. In nearly every Pokemon game I’ve played, my starter has been the water type starter of the game. You’ll see the influence of my water type starter preference in the second battle, as well as a Alola Pokemon focus in this battle.

Lana’s team also uses rain dance to its fullest by using its powers to improve the accuracy of Hurricane and Thunder via Swanna and Lanturn/Alolan Raichu. I was tempted to add Primarina to Lana’s team as a sixth Pokemon, however I figured keeping all the Elite Four teams at five Pokemon made more sense.

Lana’s Team

Lanturn
Holds: Damp Rock
Ability: Volt Absorb
Moves: Rain Dance, Thunder, Aqua Ring, Surf

Swanna
Holds: None
Ability: Hydration
Moves: Hurricane, Roost, Brave Bird, Surf

Empoleon
Holds: Air Balloon
Ability: Torrent
Moves: Aqua Jet, Brine, Flash Cannon, Rain Dance

Raichu (Alola Form)
Holds: None
Ability: Surge Surfer
Moves: Electric Terrain, Psychic, Thunder, Light Screen

Araquinid
Holds: Waterium Z
Ability: Water Bubble
Moves: Leech Life, Aqua Ring, Rain Dance, Liquidation

Battle 3

For battle three, you encounter the rock/steel/ground filled Sandstorm room of the Elite Four. There’s quite a few options here, particularly considering the prevalence of those types in the first two generations. Of the four Elite Four battles, this one is probably the most straight forward, as you’ll be taking on a familiar face — Gen I’s Brock.

Brock already fields a team filled with rock, ground, and steel types, but he’s got a couple of tricks up his sleeve thanks to his time with Ash, as well as some help he received from Gen II’s steel leader, Jasmine. Brock’s familiar Pokemon do their best to take advantage of Sandstorm, while his new additions attempt to counter those who would damage his main team. And of course, since Brock’s dream is to become a Pokemon breeder, every Pokemon on his team knows a move that can only be learned by breeding (except Magnezone, which can’t).

Onix
Holds: Eviolite
Ability: Sturdy
Moves: Bide, Sandstorm, Stone Edge, Rollout

Magnezone
Holds: Smooth Rock
Ability: Magnet Pull
Moves: Gyro Ball, Discharge, Thunderbolt, Explosion

Golem (Kanto Form)
Holds: None
Ability: Sand Veil
Moves: Stone Edge, Focus Blast, Heavy Slam, Endure

Donphan
Holds: None
Ability: Sand Veil
Moves: Hyper Beam, Rollout, Ice Shard, Thunder Fang

Steelix
Holds: Steelixite
Ability: Study/Sandforce
Moves: Sandstorm, Earthquake, Iron Tail, Rock Climb

Battle 4

You’re finally to the last of the Elite Four members at my meteorology themed Pokemon League. If you beat the final trainer, you’re on to take on me as the Champion. That said, you’ve got to deal with the original ice user and her Hail optimized team first. Lorelei from the Gen I Elite Four is up next.

Unlike the previous three weather types, you know what you’re getting here. Ice gonna give it to ya. There’s just one problem. Lorelei has brought a more diverse team that can learn ice moves — not just ice types. And in the event you plan on bringing in fighting, rock, steel, or fire types here, she’s ready to counter it.

Lapras
Holds: Icy Rock
Ability: Shell Armor
Moves: Blizzard, Perish Song, Surf, Confuse Ray

Froslass
Holds: None
Ability: Snow Cloak
Moves: Hail, Destiny Bond, Thunder Wave, Shadow Ball

Slowking
Holds: King’s Rock
Ability: Oblivious
Moves: Scald, Heal Pulse, Yawn, Dream Eater

Aurorus
Holds: Light Clay
Ability: Snow Warning
Moves: Psychic, Blizzard, Thunderbolt, Stone Edge

Abomasnow
Holds: Abomasite
Ability: Snow Warning
Moves: Blizzard, Energy Ball, Wood Hammer, Ice Punch

Battle 5

Finally, you’re beaten the Elite Four and you’ve reach the champion — me. So what kind of team am I going to bring out? After all, you’ve already ran into the four weather types so far. What else could I have? My team is built around Pokemon who change the weather as soon as they enter battle. The abilities Drought, Drizzle, Sand Stream, and Snow Warning are present on four of my six Pokemon, changing the weather as soon as they enter. As for the other two, they’ll be bent on stopping you in their own unique ways that help balance out my team.

Pelipper
Holds: Damp Rock
Ability: Drizzle
Moves: Hurricane, Surf, Fly, Roost

Torkoal
Holds: Heat Rock
Ability: Drought
Moves: Solar Beam, Heat Wave, Flame Charge, Amnesia

Tyranitar
Holds: Smooth Rock
Ability: Sand Stream
Moves: Dark Pulse, Stone Edge, Dragon Claw, Ice Beam

Scizor
Holds: Scizorite
Ability: Technician
Moves: Silver Wind, Hidden Power, Metal Claw, Toxic

Umbreon
Holds: Chople Berry
Ability: Synchronize
Moves: Yawn, Dream Eater, Confuse Ray, Dark Pulse

Ninetales (Alolan Form)
Holds: Light Clay
Ability: Snow Warning
Moves: Aurora Veil, Toxic, Blizzard, Hex


So. What did you all think? I realize this is a bit different type of post from one I’ve normally done, particularly since it’s a video response. Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments.

Fire Emblem: Heroes Review

A few weeks back, I did a recap post of all of the information coming out of Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Direct event. Since that post, the first of the four games mentioned in the Direct event — Fire Emblem: Heroes — has released on mobile devices. I downloaded the game’s iOS version and have been playing it since launch day. Now that we’re almost a month into the game’s existence, I wanted to share some thoughts on FE: Heroes and my experience with the game.

Story

Like most Fire Emblem games, Heroes gives you a story about how you’re trying to save the world you’re in from bad guys. Granted, in almost all of the previous FE games, you’re trying to save the world from an evil dragon, but we didn’t need an evil dragon for this to feel like a Fire Emblem game. Instead of a dragon, you’re tasked with saving the summoning gate from the evil Princess Veronica.

To be clear, you’re tasked with saving the summoning gate — the place in the game where you can buy your units — from a bad guy trying to stop you from being able to summon.

On one hand, I get the point. Veronica wants to stop you from summoning great heroes who could defeat her. Her motives make sense. Meanwhile, you want to defeat her so that…uh…you can summon more units to defeat her again? I mean, your ulterior goal is to save Alphonse and Sharena’s kingdom (Askr) from Veronica, but the ultimate objective is to save the summoning gate. Which could cause you spend money. Is Nintendo trying to teach you that fiscal responsibility is bad[1]?

That all aside, the plot seems very thin, both at time of release as well as now. While the paralogues get you into the history of Fire Emblem games a bit, the main story is extremely linear. On top of that, the dialogue pre-chapter is very slow. Your only options for the dialogue are to wait it out or to skip it entirely. I found myself skipping it entirely from chapter 3 onward, then going back and finding it online to read it myself.

Also, why is it that the most badass original character introduced in Heroes (Veronica) isn’t a playable character?

Gameplay

The primary game play focus of Heroes is similar to the grid-style, turn-based combat featured in most Fire Emblem games. You’re limited to 4 units per map, which feels perfect on most maps. You’re generally tasked with facing 3-5 units in story mode, so it’s rare you’ll feel crowded by anything other than terrain. Though the permadeath feature that most early Fire Emblem games are known for isn’t present in Heroes[2], there are quirks in the game that force you to be creative with your game play style in other ways. As an example, if a unit dies mid-battle, you lose all XP and stat growth that you’ve gained throughout the battle. This prevents players from charging headlong into battle with no regard for strategy, particularly on Lunatic difficulty in the story mode, as well as in the PvP arena.

Story mode itself seems like it’s going to be an in-depth experience at first glance. You have 9 chapters with 4-5 parts each, as well as three different difficulty levels you can play each part on. The rounds go relatively quickly though, meaning you can blow through your limited player energy in 10-15 minutes, particularly on higher difficulties. Though stamina potions are plentiful, this only makes the story mode feel shorter.

Arena mode is painfully disappointing. Similar to the story mode, arena allows you to compete in a 4 vs. 4 battle, though your opponent is another player. The battles themselves are generally harder than story mode, adding a challenge to the player experience. That said, arena mode is majorly flawed thanks to the bonus points you can receive for using certain units in the arena. If you’re able to use one of the 6-10 bonus point units for that arena “season”[3], you’re all but guaranteed to receive the maximum prizes possible that season. If you can’t use one of those units, you’re relegated to 60-70% payout in a best case scenario.

Other side modes like the training stratum and special quests are merely for materials or unit farming. Nothing really to write home about, though it’s pretty standard fare for mobile RPG games.

Summoning and Leveling

As mentioned earlier, to get new units for your teams, you must summon via a gacha-style summoning gate. Fortunately, the in-game currency (called orbs) are pretty common to get, even when ignoring the app release bonuses currently ongoing. I’ve summoned or acquired[4] somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 units to this point, with 5 of those units being top rarity units. Considering I’ve been free-to-play the entire time, summoning new units is not an issue.

Nor is there an issue with the actual leveling of units, at least once you recognize that if a unit dies mid-level, you lose all their XP and stats obtained that level. It took me 3-4 days to realize that was happening, so be aware of that mechanic. Unit experience seems to scale at a comfortable level from level 1 to level 40 regardless of the unit’s rarity, so that’s a positive as well.

The major gripe I have here is with the promotion functionality of Heroes, which is referred to in-game as Unlock Potential. For units of a very low rarity (1 or 2 stars), the resources required to level the rarity of a unit up are pretty minimal. However, once you try to level a 3 star or 4 star unit up, the acquisition of one of the two items (hero feathers) needed to raise the rarity of a unit is unsustainable. The only way to obtain large amounts (read: more than 10 at a time) of hero feathers at this time is through weekly arena rewards. The best case scenario for arena rewards is 7,100 feathers in a week, though that would mean you would have to be the top player in the entire game. A more realistic value is that you finish unranked among all players, but still get full rewards for the other milestones. If you do that, you get 2,100 feathers in a week…or just over 10% of the amount you’ll need to raise a 4 star unit’s rarity to 5 stars. You’re either stuck grinding for literal weeks on end or hoping you get good luck at the summon gate.

Replay Value

For free-to-play players like myself, games like Fire Emblem: Heroes need good replay value, otherwise grinding for resources is pointless. The replay value so far isn’t good. That in and of itself is concerning, as I’ve found myself getting bored with the game less than a month after its release. Though Nintendo has done a good job of releasing new content since launch[5], the amount of effort and/or luck needed to get a top-tier team is disheartening. I got lucky in one of my very early unit pulls and managed to get two units that seem to be meta-defining in the arena at this stage of the game (Takumi and Cordelia). Had I not had that luck, I think I would have lost interest before now.

Furthermore, unless you intentionally handicap yourself by using lower level units, most of the story mode is simple. I finished Normal mode in less than a day, Hard mode in about a day and a half, and Lunatic in three days. The only reason any of those modes took as long as they did was the energy limitations — even Lunatic mode would be easy when compared to other Fire Emblem games.

Final Thoughts

I had pretty low expectations for Fire Emblem: Heroes prior to its launch. Despite all of its flaws — and there are quite a few — Heroes has exceeded my expectations pretty comfortably. The game is enjoyable in small bursts and it makes me nostalgic for previous editions of the Fire Emblem series. With that said, I’ve taken multiple day breaks from the game twice already in the first month. There’s just not enough content to make a casual gamer, especially one that isn’t familiar with Fire Emblem canon, care about the game.

If you’re a Fire Emblem fan, Heroes is probably worth playing through for the nostalgia. It’s a good time waster in small bursts, and its familiar game style will be easy to pick up on if you’ve played previous games in the series. That said, unless Nintendo comes out with more content, more difficult content, or both, I don’t see Fire Emblem: Heroes being a long-term success.

And Then Something Peculiar Occurred

The life of a self-published author is difficult and strange. This is especially true when you’re acting as a self-published author who doesn’t keep an incredibly interactive social media presence. I understand that being more active on social media platforms could certainly help my writing career. I made a choice a few years ago not to be active on most social media. At the time, the decision was based out of fear and frustration, though now I’ve chosen to keep that stance because social media just isn’t interesting to me.

I say all of this to talk about how my free book event that occurred this week went. I did a free book event back in July of last year, giving away 10 copies of the book across three days. Extrapolating that out to five days, I expected to give away somewhere in between 5 and 20 copies of the book. I had no reason to expect anything else.

Through 4pm or so on Monday, my expectations were pretty accurate. I’d given away 2 copies of the book, putting me on pace for somewhere in the middle of that estimate range. Considering most of my friends had a copy of the book — either a hard copy, a digital copy, or both — I figured my best hope was someone randomly scrolling through the free Kindle books and buying because they liked the cover art[1].

And then something peculiar happened…

I got home from work and saw the number had tripled. Six. Took a nap because I felt like death. Woke up twenty minutes later to find the total at 11. My wife got home, bringing dinner for her as well as my congested and feverish self. The count was up to 17.

So the night went. In a feeling I had never experienced before, I was able to refresh Kindle’s publishing reports and literally watch as new downloads of my book posted to the account. The day ended with An Epilogue to Innocence being downloaded 56 times. That’s not a giant amount, but it’s 5.6 times the number of downloads of the entire Kindle event I ran near launch.

When I woke up the next morning, I was able to grab this picture off Amazon.

Category Rank

I had risen to #64 in free Kindle books for Single Author Fiction Short Stories. Is that a super specific category? Yes it is. Did I care? No I did not.

By the end of the week, my rank had tailed off a bit. I went from that #64 rank in category to the mid 200s. My overall Kindle rank had fallen from ~3,500th to ~8,000th. I really didn’t care though. After all, I couldn’t explain where the sudden burst in downloads had come from. I still can’t explain it. I had three people who I know personally reach out to me letting me know they got the Kindle version of the book. Still doesn’t explain the other 77 copies that were downloaded last week.

On one hand, I know there’s not a ton of reasons to get excited about 80 free copies of my book getting downloaded. It’s not like I’m making money off of them. On the other hand, this is my Kindle sales report for the last 30 days.

units-ordered

Those 80 free copies that were given away in the last 5 days? That’s literally 1.6 times the number of books — free or paid — that I’ve managed to get out there since July. For all months combined. 80 free copies given away in 5 days is 61.5% of all copies of my book in the world today. That’s why 80 free copies is a big deal. That’s why I’m celebrating this.

I don’t know who did this or how I managed to get so many copies out there. To the three people I know downloaded the book because you mentioned it to me — Kait, Jenn, and Stephanie — thank you. To the other 77 of you, thank you too. Here’s to hoping this influx of new readers means some new, positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

 

Oh…and if you want to actually buy the book and help me out that way, that’d be awesome too. Go pick it up from Amazon or Createspace.

Awaiting Assessment

Note: The following short story was originally a submission to a writing zine with the prompt being “birth and death” with a 1,500 word character limit. The story wasn’t selected for the zine, so I figured I’d share it with all of you.


*Now reviewing candidate OH-1-3678545. Candidate OH-1-3678545 please report to assessment area six at this time. Candidate OH-1-3678545 to assessment area six.*

Isidora stared at her candidate card and carefully reviewed her number. OH-1-3678549. Only four more to go. This was the most stressful part of birthdays for Isidora. Arrive, politely decline assessment, leave. It was redundant, painful, and emotionally exhausting. Accepting assessment, however, would be worse.

A tall man walked through the entry way, crossed the room, then took a seat beside Isidora. She watched as he reached into his wallet, pulled out an emerald green card — the telltale color of assessment cards issued within the nation — placed it carefully in his left hand, then replaced his wallet in his pocket. The man was visibly upset, tears streaming down his face.

“First time here?” Isidora asked. She knew it wasn’t his first time at the Bureau. Everyone has to report to the Bureau yearly on their birthday upon turning 17 unless they choose to receive assessment. If a person chooses to receive assessment, they are no longer required to visit the Bureau until age 80 or three years before they die, whichever is set to come first.

“No,” the man meekly said, his voice trailing off as he spoke.

“Every time feels like my first time here,” replied Isidora. “I hate it just as much every time.”

The man shuffled his assessment card in his hands, flicking his fingers over the rounded edges. As he did so, the overhead lights reflected off the card, allowing Isidora to see the number. OH-1-3678551.

“You’re only two after me,” she stated. “Born around 2:30 pm in 2136?”

“2:36 pm,” said the man softly.

“I’m Isidora.”

Isidora reached out her hand to shake the man’s hand. The man stared at her hand for a moment, then cautiously presented his own.

“Penn. Penn Carrington.”

“You mean like the singer?” Isidora asked.

“Yeah, like the singer,” Penn replied. “It’s a good thing the Bureau gives us these numbers, otherwise I’d be mistaken for him all the time. Well, that and the fact that I’m tall, black, and quiet and he’s none of those things.”

*Now reviewing candidate OH-1-3678546. Candidate OH-1-3678546 please report to assessment area eleven at this time. Candidate OH-1-3678546 to assessment area eleven.*

“You’re telling them no then?” Penn asked.

“Yeah,” responded Isidora. “I know assessment’s an accepted practice now, but I just don’t feel right knowing when I’m going to die. You know?”

“I get it,” replied Penn.

The transmitter on Penn’s left wrist lit up orange, indicating a restricted communication arriving. Penn touched the transmitter, hiding himself from Isidora’s view in the process. She waited quietly, watching as the previously called candidate made her way across the room. The candidate was a young woman, much like Isidora, though she was wheelchair bound. An orderly wheeled her to the door leading to assessment area eleven. Isidora wondered how long the candidate had to live. She often found herself wondering when those she came in contact with would die. But she didn’t want to know her own expiration date.

*Now reviewing candidate OH-1-3678547. Candidate OH-1-3678547 please report to assessment area two at this time. Candidate OH-1-3678547 to assessment area two.*

Penn ended his transmission, coming back into view for Isidora and those around. He had reverted back to crying, much like he was when he first walked in.

Isidora reached into her clutch and produced a small package of tissues. She handed them to Penn. He gratefully took them from her, removing one of the tissues from the case and wiping his eyes with it.

“Thank you,” Penn said, handing the package of tissues back to Isidora. He held his lone tissue tightly in his left hand, balling it up atop the candidate card.

“Is everything alright?” Isidora asked. “If that’s not too personal, that is.”

“Not particularly. Trying to take care of the affairs of my wife.”

“Oh dear. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it up.”

“You couldn’t have known. It’s a bit of a birthday downer, even more so than a trip to the Bureau.”

“May I ask what happened?” Isidora asked.

“She um…,” Penn stammered, trying to collect his thoughts. “she died two weeks ago. Heart attack at the age of 27.”

“That’s so sad!” Isidora exclaimed.

“I didn’t know it was coming. None of us did. I mean, we knew there was a chance that Mira — that was my wife, Mira — would have heart issues. Both of her parents died from heart conditions in their fifties. She…”

Penn took a deep breath and stared into the room in front of him. He watched as a young man walked out of the room, a large packet of papers in hand. The man was clearly shaken. Like Mira, he’d die soon. The assessor had confirmed as much.

“She felt she had time to live her life without worry before she had to worry about getting assessed,” Penn continued. “We were both planning to get an assessment done when we turned 40. Halfway to the required visit age seemed like as good of time as any to know.”

*Now reviewing candidate OH-1-3678548. Candidate OH-1-3678548 please report to assessment area two at this time. Candidate OH-1-3678548 to assessment area two.*

“They must have said no,” said Penn. “I always said no. So did Mira. She’s gone now though. I’m a 28-year-old single father. I need to know if I’m going to be around for my daughter or if I need to make plans for her.”

Isidora stared at her assessment card. Only one spot until she would be called. She grabbed a tissue out of her case, handed it to Penn, then took one for herself. Isidora wiped away the tears that had begun to well up in her eyes.

“Do you have anyone you’re responsible for, Isidora?” Penn asked.

“No,” she responded, “not yet. No kids, no spouse, no partner. My roommate will be living until age 83. My parents each have at least 25 years left and none of my grandparents will be passing for the next five years.”

“So they all know?”

“Everyone in my family knows. My roommate’s father was an assessor before he died. I’m the only person I know personally who doesn’t know when I’ll die.”

“Why not?” Penn asked.

“Because my creators gave me a choice. My parents sat me down at a young age and told me about how assessment worked, my choice, and the consequences of knowing and not knowing. It’s scary not knowing, but I’d prefer not to be counting down the days until I get hit by a bus, die from cancer, or never wake up from sleep.”

*Now reviewing candidate OH-1-3678549. Candidate OH-1-3678549 please report to assessment area four at this time. Candidate OH-1-3678549 to assessment area four.*

“That’s you,” stated Penn.

Isidora rose from her seat and started walking towards the assessment room. She stopped and turned back to Penn.

“Regardless of what you find out today,” she said, “you should get some cake and ice cream for you and your daughter. It is your birthday after all.”

“Happy birthday to you too, Isidora,” replied Penn.

Isidora entered assessment room four. She proceeded towards a single white stool in the sterile white room. Across from her stool, a gangly woman in a white lab coat sat on a white stool with a white computer on a white desk in front of her.

“Please sit.”

Isidora sat down on the stool.

“Candidate OH-1-3678549, given name Isidora Pía Lorca Cabrera. Born March the 11th, 2136 at 2:32 pm. Please confirm your identity.”

“I am as you say I am,” said Isidora. The required identification response still seemed forced to Isidora, even after years of saying it.

“Thank you. Candidate OH-1-3678549, do you wish to undergo assessment?”

“I do not,” Isidora replied.

“Please confirm your denial of assessment formally.”

“I, Candidate OH-1-3678549, hereby decline assessment for one calendar year.”

“Thank you. Please exit.”

Isidora rose from her stool and made her way back to the Bureau lobby. Penn was gone, off to his assessment room to learn his fate. Isidora zipped her jacket up and walked out of the building, striding through the late winter snowfall to her transport.

She sat inside the transport, her warm breath fogging up the cold windshield. With a long sigh, she spoke into her transmitter.

“Remind me to receive assessment next year at this time,” said Isidora.

“Reminder set.”

Isidora let out a deep breath and pressed the button to start her transport. A loud explosion ripped through the air, its force tearing apart both the transport and Isidora alike. As the Bureau building caught fire, those inside evacuated out the back. Penn was happy to learn he wouldn’t die that day. He only hoped the same was true for Isidora.

AETI: Free Kindle Book Promotion (#2)

Oh hi. From February 20th through February 24th, 2017, you can pick up my debut book, An Epilogue to Innocence, for free on Kindle. For a more detailed explanation as to why I’m doing what I’m doing with this event, keep reading.

If you got An Epilogue to Innocence from this event, please consider writing a review on Goodreads or Amazon. Also, regardless of if you picked up the book during the event, please share this post with your friends and encourage them to get the book for themselves.

Around six months ago, I did a free Kindle book promotion for my book, An Epilogue to Innocence. Seeing as it had been almost a half of a year since the last one I did, I figured now was a great time to do another giveaway. I’d been wanting to do one for a while, however a recent piece of polling[1] that came out made me feel like now was as good of time as any.

A Pew Research study released in November 2016 found that about a quarter (26%) of Americans haven’t read a book in the last twelve months. That number goes up if you’re specifically looking at black Americans (29%), rural Americans (32%), Hispanic Americans (40%), and Americans with a high school diploma or lower (40%).

I’m not saying my book is the best book for people to read. There are amazing authors out there that write great, inclusive, thoughtful fiction that everyone should read. Hell, I need to do a better job of representing people of color, those with disabilities, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups in my work going forward. While I made an effort with An Epilogue to Innocence, there’s definitely a long way I have to go.

That said, it’s hard to continue a career in writing if I cannot fund it. While the free book event will not provide me any profit, my hope is that it can help drive paying customers who want to buy my book to the places where they can buy it. I’ll keep writing — and keep working to both improve my writing and make my writing more inclusive — regardless of the outcome of this event. I’ll do the same regardless of my book sales prior to now or going forward. But any help that you, or others, could give me, would be greatly appreciated.

Jealousy and Confusion

I’m almost always excited when I see people I know succeed. It’s gratifying to see people I’ve worked with, people I’ve learned from, people I’ve mentored, or even people I’ve influenced become successful in their own way. It’s also great to see people who I’ve looked up to be successful. In some cases, they were already doing well for themselves when I heard of them. In other cases, that person was as anonymous as me when I first met them, but they’ve made something of themselves. It’s an awesome thing to see.

Yet, for some reason I cannot fully explain or comprehend, I find myself jealous of that success. Instead of solely being happy for my friend or colleague, I’m wishing that I had received that book deal or that I been the one to get that promotion — even if their triumph was in an area that has little to nothing to do with what I’m good at doing or what I enjoy doing.

As a kid, I wanted to be a lot of different things when I grew up (as most kids are wont to do). At various points, I wanted to be a history teacher, a pro football player, a race car driver, an author, and a famous musician. Somewhere in there, around the age of 11 or so, I wanted to be a professional wrestler. The urge to be a wrestler didn’t last any longer than the other things that I wanted to be when I grew up[1], but it sticks out to me as an adult because of how vividly I had thought things through. I was going to go wrestle for the WWF, where my ring name would be the Juke Box Hero — an odd cross between early 1990s Randy Savage and HBK-era Shawn Michaels —  and my finishing move would be a knee drop from the top turnbuckle. My dad even got mad at me when I broke my brother’s bed by performing said knee drop on one of my pillows. My entrance music? Clearly already picked out for me.

I obviously didn’t become a pro wrestler[2]. I have zero regrets about not being one either. But I think the appeal to that childhood ambition was to be noticed. When you’re in the wrestling ring, the focus is, by its very nature, on you. The better you and your opponent are at putting on a show and telling a story, the more the crowd cares about what you have to say. Professional wrestling is just as much about story telling as it is feats of athletic prowess. Just don’t tell that to pre-teen me.

As an adult, I’ve learned that I don’t always want the spotlight on me. In an age of social media panic, every action we take is judged and misjudged until the meaning is largely lost. Yet that same technology is also the technology that allowed me to get what I had to say out to the masses — be that this blog, my book, my podcast, or just the random bullshit I spouted off for whatever reason.

I know these people I see around me being successful are becoming that way because they’re working their asses off. I know I do the same — just not to the same extent. It’s not to say I don’t try hard. I definitely try hard and I definitely care a ton about the creative work I create. If I could be someone who just creates meaningful content for a living, be that my own work or something educational like Crash Course, that would be the ideal job situation for me.

Yet I haven’t completely found the thing that moves me so much that I want to create content about that thing and nothing more. I haven’t found that idea that sparks me to want to develop that pro wrestling persona that I thought up as a child (or at least its adulthood applicable equivalent). And that fact is both inspiring and depressing. On one hand, I know I have a lot of time to get to the point where I am inspired. Yet, on the other hand, I know the longer that inspiration goes unfound, the harder it’ll be for me to act upon it.

Adult responsibilities kill time. There’s only so much time to be had before you have no free time left. And to create quality work, you need time to focus your energy on that work. That means for me, and for many others, if you’re working a full-time job and trying to create creative content, you need some time to unwind. It works out great if you never sleep. That said, I’ve found that sleep deprived content rarely turns out positive.

I want to see my work be successful. I want to achieve some modicum of greatness with my life. I want to make an impact with the work I do. I wouldn’t be jealous of the success of others if I didn’t want these things. I’m just confused as to the direction I need to go.

Episode 11 Show Notes

Check out the show notes for the newest episode of my podcast, Everyone Is Funnier Than Us. We’re trying the show notes format to see how it works. Feel free to leave feedback and let us know what you think.

Everyone Is Funnier Than Us

So we thought we’d try this thing where we do show notes with our episodes. We’re not really sure where this will go yet, however it’s always worth trying. Plus, if we have polls going forward, we’ll direct you here (potentially) so that you can just get to the polls easily.

Haven’t downloaded episode 11, entitled “Money is Funny (At Least Something Is)”? You should click on one of the links below to download this episode now. We’re also available on Pocket Casts in addition to those below.

iTunes
Google Play Music

We mentioned a few resources that you might find use to help yourself out with money in the podcast. Samantha specifically brought up the online programs Mint and Digit. Mint and Digit are neither a sponsor of Tim nor Samantha individually, nor EIFTU as a show. That said, we wanted to share a bit about them.

Mint is a…

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Fire Emblem Direct Thoughts

A little over a week and a half ago, Nintendo held a Nintendo Direct event for the Fire Emblem series of games. As you might be aware, I like Fire Emblem just a little bit. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the four games discussed in the event below. If you haven’t watched the event yet, you can find the full video below.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Shadows of Valentia is a game inspired by an earlier entry in the Fire Emblem series, 1992’s Gaiden. While I’ve played quite a few games in the Fire Emblem series, Gaiden is not one of the titles I’ve played to this point. From everything I’ve gathered, the gameplay mechanics of Gaiden differ pretty drastically from other Fire Emblem games, which is a disappointment. Gaiden combines the turn-based strategy of a typical Fire Emblem game with a navigable world map similar to games in the Legend of Zelda series. I love the turn-based style combat of Fire Emblem, so seeing a Fire Emblem game deviate from that — as three of the games on this list are expected to do to some extent — is a bit disappointing.

With that said, Shadows of Valentia appears to have a good storyline, at least from what little we can glean from the Direct event. The game itself is reported to copy Gaiden‘s gameplay style nearly directly, though an updated story inspired by Gaiden will be introduced with Shadows of Valentia. Part of me is tempted to get my hands on an emulator copy of Gaiden soon to see if I like the style. But there’s two main things holding me back from that.

  1. Gaiden never received an English translation
  2. I really hate Zelda style games

The Direct event shows a scene around the 5:15 mark where you appear to do a dungeon crawl level that really turns me off to the game. As much as I love Fire Emblem, I have no desire to play hack and slash or dungeon crawl games. That said, a lot of the other scenes focus on more traditional Fire Emblem game play. My hope is that Shadows of Valentia focuses more on the traditional game play than the overworld.

Shadows of Valentia will be releasing on May 19, 2017.

Hype Rating: 3 of 5

Fire Emblem for Nintendo Switch

We don’t get a title for whatever the new Fire Emblem game coming to the Switch is, but that’s alright since the game won’t be releasing until 2018. We don’t know much about the new game other than it’ll be the first full console release of Fire Emblem since the Wii. Even in the Direct event, all we got was a 45 second blurb about the game coming out in 2018. That said, of the coming games, it’s the one I’m most intrigued to learn more about and eventually play.

Hype Rating: Incomplete, though likely at least 4 of 5

Fire Emblem: Warriors

No.

But really though. Dynasty Warriors is a hack and slash series that I have zero cares about. If you want to see an example of exactly how hack and slashy this game is, go to the 7:50 mark in the video at the top of the post. The art in Warriors looks amazing from the preview video, though I’d have to assume that’s console gameplay we’re looking at, not handheld. While Warriors will be released on the 3DS and 2DS in addition to the Switch, I do get the impression that either there will be less stellar graphics on the handhelds, or we’ll see a degradation of play quality. Since I can’t imagine Nintendo allowing the latter to happen, I’ll assume that the handheld versions will have lessened graphics qualities.

But hey, at least Chrom is in the trailer?

Hype Rating: 1 of 5

Fire Emblem Heroes

This game screams Brave Frontier or Final Fantasy: Brave Exivus. Bad. To the point where I had to go back and watch the Direct video a few times to make sure Alim wasn’t part of the development for Heroes.

This is Nintendo’s first foray into the mobile market with a Fire Emblem game. Heroes — at least from what we can tell from the Direct video — looks to combine some of the turn-based attack strategy game from Fire Emblem’s other games with summoning type mechanics found in mobile games like Brave Frontier.

Of all the games announced so far, Heroes is the only game thus far where I’m disappointed with the released art. I don’t know if this is because I’m so used to seeing newer Fire Emblem games like Awakening and Fates, however the actual gameplay art of Heroes is subpar. The non-gameplay art (in particular the summoning art) seems to be pretty good, so perhaps it’s just the preview that I’m bothered with.

Not shockingly, Nintendo has decided to go with the microtransaction model for acquiring the in-game currency needed to acquire units in this game. As much as I’d like to try Heroes thanks to my love for the Fire Emblem series (as well as the aforementioned Brave Frontier), I don’t think I’ll find myself picking up Heroes when it releases on February 2, 2017.

Hype Rating: 1.5 of 5

In Her Majesty’s Silent Service

“Mom, I want to get a picture with him!”

“Kaitlyn, he’s doing his job. Leave the poor man be.”

“Puhleeeeease!”

“Terry, make your daughter listen to me.”

“Kaitlyn, please listen to your mother and leave the guard alone. I’m sure he’s had to deal with enough tourists trying to get pictures with him today.”

Terry was right and wrong, all at the same time. I, along with nearly every other member of the Queen’s Guard, have tourists take pictures of us at a seemingly endless rate. I’m fortunate enough to begin my duty at a relatively early hour of the day, meaning the majority of people who cross my path are commuters rather than tourists. However, the sentry who takes up the guard after my tour of duty in the rotation ends deals with far more people than I.

The Americans are the worst. Loud, brash, insistent on spelling words like colour and aeroplane improperly. The Americans are the visitors that drive the less experienced sentries mad. I personally have a hot and cold relationship with them. On one hand, their country’s repressive drinking age means that young Americans are more likely to be drunk tourists. Drunk tourists never cease to add amusement to my day. On the other hand, I cannot interact with them. I cannot laugh, smile, nor otherwise act in such a manner that distracts me from my post.

‘You may not eat, sleep, smoke, stand easy, sit or lie down during your tour of duty.’

So it is. So it was. So it shall be. All in the service of our majesty, the Queen.

“I wonder when he’s going to move next.”

“The internet says they’re supposed to move every 10 minutes.”

“Oh what the fuck. It feels like we’ve been here an hour already.”

The second young lad was right, while the third was wrong. I, like all other members of the guard, do march every ten minutes at my post. The group had only been standing watching for a little over three minutes. It’s peculiar the details you begin to remember and which you begin to forget when your task is largely to remain silent for two hours at a time. If bystanders don’t say their names or don’t do anything to cause me to yell at them, they all blend together as voices in my memory. By the same token, I’ve learned to tell the amount of time that has passed in a ten minute increment within ten seconds in my head.

“Try saying something funny to him.”

“Wanker!”

Heard it. Your mum said it better.

“It didn’t work. Try again.”

“Fuck off. You want to make him laugh, you try.”

“WANKER!”

Saying something louder doesn’t make it funnier. It just makes it louder. That’s how science works.

“What if we ask him question until he answers?”

Won’t work.

“Do you like it when I do this?”

The first lad grabbed the second lad’s leg and began thrusting his pelvis at it rapidly and rhythmically. This led to the second boy smacking his friend, then running off while the first boy chased after. If I didn’t see that skit nearly every day from a teen, I’d probably find it funny. Instead, it just bored me.

Every once in a while, one of the passers-by will ask a question I wished I could answer. While the wording my vary by person, the six questions I hear the most frequently are asked in a manner similar to the following.

  • Are you a real solider? [Yes.]
  • Do you like your fuzzy hat? [My uniform is a representation of my country and my duty. I love my country and I honour my duty. Therefore, I love my fuzzy hat.]
  • Are you hungry/thirsty/tired? [It’s irrelevant while I am at my post.]
  • Have you ever had to use your gun? [Fire it? No. Port arms for someone not heeding my warnings? Only twice so far. I don’t particularly see this number rising, as my post is no longer one that the public can walk directly to. A rope prevents the public from getting closer than ten meters from my post.]
  • I want to take him home with me. [Not a question, but the answer is no. This answer remains the same independent of your attractiveness, at least while I’m on my tour of duty.]
  • What would make him smile?

That last question — as innocent and simple as it may be — is one that brings a particularly high level of consternation to my mind. As I mentioned before, we are not to stand easy while on guard. The intense focus necessary to perform our duties is more than just a solider’s training. It is about protecting and honouring the Crown. That’s not to say I was immune from cracking a smile as a guard. But every day I endeavored to be as serious about my job as possible.

“Daddy?”

“Yeah, sweetie?”

“Why isn’t the man in the funny suit moving?”

“He’s a guard for the Queen.”

“But I don’t see the Queen.”

Children like that small girl confused about the lack of the Queen’s presence bring me the closest to smiling or laughter. One day, very early in my time as a member of the Queen’s Guard, a small girl from somewhere in the Commonwealth (I believe Canada based on her accent, but time has faded the memory) walked under the ropes and started making her way towards me. Her parents yelled after her, causing the child to stop mere paces from where I would have been forced to shout at her to stand back.  For the next few seconds, the parents pleaded with the child to cross the ropes, while the girl insisted that she wanted to hug me. Had I not been on duty, I would have immediately walked up and embraced the child. However, had I not been on duty, the entire event would never have occurred.

“Daddy?”

Our present day child had more questions for her father.

“Yes?”

“Can I pet the kitty cat?”

A small kitten — likely no more than three or four months old — had crossed the street, strutting under the ropes like it owned the whole of England. It walked up to me, rubbing itself against the leg of my trousers. I could hear it purring loudly, in spite of the sound of the public around me.

“No, the kitty is on the other side of the ropes. You can’t go on the other side of the ropes.”

“Do you think he’ll pet it?”

I could not pet the cat, as the child had asked. That did not, however, stop my heart from being warmed as the cuddly grey feline snuggled up against my legs. The cat circled me, its tail reaching up and tickling the backs of my calves lightly. Its purring with rhythmic and fast. I found my own breathing speeding up so as to match the purring in time.

After a second pass, the cat stopped in front of me. It stood on all fours, patiently staring up at me as I glanced back down at it. The kitten sat, wrapping its tail around its tiny body. It cocked its head slightly to the right, never breaking its gaze with me.

“Meow?” said the cat, questioningly.

I smiled, first at the cat, then at the man and his daughter watching us. The kitten, seemingly content with my response, sauntered away, chasing after a fallen leaf that had blown by a few moments prior.