Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Wednesday Writeup! This has been a pretty good couple of weeks, and despite the horrible ever-increasing heat I have been more productive lately than I have been in a while. I am rebuilding necessary momentum, and finding the right balance between the things happening in my life, something that is always a struggle.
One interesting thing that I'm noticing is that in general I haven't felt as motivated to keep up with online courses. There is a new Write of Passage cohort that has been happening for the last few weeks, and although I was excited initially, I quickly lost the drive to join in. I am still interested in some small group things, including one I will mention later, but I think that since moving in with some folks and spending more time hanging out with people, my introversion has kicked in and I haven't felt like spending a bunch of time on Zoom as well. Not necessarily anything to change there, but an interesting observation at the very least.
What I'm Doing
I figure I might as well take advantage of my audience for this, but for any of you interested in Dungeons and Dragons, I'm helping as the stream director for a group of friends that is planning to start streaming a new campaign next weekend (in the same vain as Critical Role). We are currently hoping to begin streaming next Sunday the 9th of August, although that isn’t quite locked down yet. If you happen to be interested, there is a site with links to our social media channels and Twitch here.
I joined an accountability group for bi-weekly retrospectives last week. I'm hoping it helps keep me on track with more regular reflection on how things are going as well as provide a prompt and incentive to do more planning. As someone who is trying the self-employed thing, one of the biggest difficulties is staying accountable for proper processes and systems. Already, joining that group has gotten me to incorporate a planning session for my Monday mornings, and a reflection at the end of the day Friday. Those two things alone feel like they are going to be transformational, and although I have known for a long time that I needed to do more planning and reflecting, committing to doing those things with an accountability group changes the psychology of it immensely.
I definitely felt like I needed to take a break from Android dev for a bit after publishing my app, and it was nice focusing on other things for a bit. But after a few weeks off I have been taking in some feedback and adding a few new things. A version with improved audio quality went out a few days ago, and I submitted a new update for review earlier today with a Dark Mode and a different option for how to do the recordings. I will be working more on marketing over the next few weeks, and push to try and get a slightly larger user-base and build more momentum around it. I'm already way happier with how it is now compared to how I sent out the V1, so I think that doing a marketing push now will make more sense than it would have a month ago.
Last week I met up with a friend from that aforementioned D&D stream to do some live painting of a mini for a game that I'm in. It was more fun than I was expecting actually, and it was a nice way to get a totally different type of creative flow happening in my brain. I decided that I wanted to do more of that, so I have some painting supplies showing up soon and plan to start getting some minis printed to paint.
I'm hoping to get back into reading more fiction books, I feel I need a bit more creative inspiration, and I haven't read much in that vein for most of this year. I will be looking around for recommendations, and there are a couple of things that I have on my list, but I figured I would go with that theme for my own recommendations this week. There are a couple of good large collections that are all either in the same series or at the very least set in the same setting. So if you are looking to find new fiction, any of these will give you a wealth of content to draw from.
Discworld Books by Terry Pratchett
I have read the majority of these in the past, although there are a few I haven't gotten to yet. This is a collection of comedy-fantasy books written by the late, great, British author Terry Pratchett. Consisting of 41 novels covering different times, places, and sets of characters, nearly every one of these books is jam packed with humor directly addressing the core of human behavior.
Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
This is a fun gritty urban fantasy series. It certainly isn't top tier literature, but it is nice getting a different take on the whole idea of vampires and werewolves and other creatures of that ilk. The characters are enjoyable, the plot is pretty solid, and it has a good balance between introducing new ideas every book with an enemy-of-the-week format, while still having a through-line and steady character development throughout. And I will say, if you enjoy audiobooks, I very much recommend listening to this one. James Marsters is perfect for Harry Dresden, and although it is just him he does a great job covering the variety of voices needed.
Cosmere by Brandon Sanderson
This is a slightly different one. Rather than being set in the same series, or even clearly in the same world, the Cosmere is the universe that a bunch of different worlds are set in. It doesn't manifest itself too clearly, although there are subtle hints throughout the books. But the Cosmere is the universe that nearly all of the different book series written by Sanderson are set in.
For someone new to his works, Elantris would be the easiest to get into, it is a standalone book and is a well contained story. Other than that, although there are a number of other books in the collection, the most popular are the Mistborn series and The Stormlight Archive. The former has a couple of completed three book arcs, whereas the latter is still in the process of being completed, and is likely to be the highlight of what should become a relatively massive fantasy series.
Idea of the Week: Index Funds
I have been planning to start a series on personal finance and financial literacy on my blog and/or youtube channel, so I figure I might as well test out one of the topics I want to explore here with all of you first. Let me know what you think, if you learned something, or if it seemed overly simplified, or inversely too complicated.
When many people think of investing, the thought that goes through their mind is probably the idea of picking individual stocks. They think about that time they nearly bought shares of Apple before it got huge, or a person they know who went all-in on a company and lost everything when it went bankrupt. It seems like something complicated that requires luck, skill, and a large appetite for risk. And it probably seems like something that simply isn't worth it if you don't have a lot of time, energy, and money to dedicate to it.
But investing can be much simpler than that. And much more accessible to anybody who has even a little bit of money to set aside. The answer is to take advantage of a specific type of investment option called Index Funds. An Index Fund is a type of fund (either a mutual fund or an ETF, but don't worry about this for now) designed to match the movement of a certain market. So you might have an energy fund that is made up of a bunch of small quantities of stocks in different companies in the energy sector. Or you could have a bond fund that gathers together a bunch of bonds to have a relatively safe option with less movement. The most common though (at least in the US) match the larger market indexes such as the S&P 500.
When you look at the performance of the S&P 500, it measures the performance of the 500 largest companies in the US. An S&P 500 index fund does the same, it allows for buying a single piece of the fund, and in the process you buy a tiny piece of every one of those companies. It is the ultimate tool for diversifying. Rather than needing to try and pick winners and losers, instead you can buy in to the market and take advantage of the fact that it tends to grow over time. Most investors, even well trained ones, actually struggle to even do as well as the market. They make poor choices, or they try too hard to time their trades and end up buying at relative highs and selling at relative lows. Unless you are Warren Buffett, odds are you will underperform the market, so it can make sense to do the easy thing and simply match it instead.
There are other benefits to index funds as well. First of all, they tend to be cheap. Most normal mutual funds are actively managed to some degree, and therefore somebody needs to be paid to make the decisions about what goes in it. But with an index fund, the decision making process is simple, and in many cases formulaic, which means they are close to zero extra overhead to run. So whereas other types of funds may cost upwards of 0.5%-1%+ of your portfolio every year, many index funds can be had for less than 0.1%, which can make a huge difference.
And secondly, they are simple to manage. My entire portfolio consists of ~5 funds, and I could have chosen to consolidate that down to just a single one if I had chosen to do so. This makes it easy to manage your portfolio and avoid getting overwhelmed with options. Companies like Vanguard provide a good array of cheap index funds, and even have a couple of target date retirement funds that can balance 3-4 other index funds based on desired risk. With one of those you can buy a single fund and remove all other choice from the equation.
Investing doesn't have to be hard. Just about anybody can do it, and although there are things to keep in mind before doing any sort of investing (which I will get into another time), it is something that many more people should and could be benefiting from.
Location of the Week: Delhi, India
Back in 2017 my team went to India for a research trip. As soon as we walked out of the airport immediately it was overwhelming. The smell of smog, and the dense feeling in the air set a tone for the whole trip. It was an incredible place to visit, but all throughout it seemed like everything was more intense than it is back in the states. When we visited the spice markets, the overwhelming smells of curries and turmeric filled our noses. Everywhere we went the sounds of people chattering back and forth with their car horns exhausted our ears. And it was impossible to avoid feeling over stimulated trying to visually keep track of all the activity happening along the roads. Road rules were practically non-existent, and there would be walking pedestrians, bikes, rickshas, and other rickety vehicles all zigzagging around, honking at each other, and seemingly testing fate with every turn.
But despite all that, and although I'm not sure I would want to be back, it was a fascinating experience seeing such a different culture. It is an incredibly gorgeous place with lots of great architecture and tons of delicious food. And it did gave me a hint of what India has to offer that I would like to expand on at some point. It is a massive country, and I hope to explore more of it at some point.
Signing off until next week
- Aengus McMillin