First I played with sharebuilder because, well, I sorta just fell into playing with their service. With them, the universe seems far more solid -- you say how much money you want to spend on what stocks, and it gets you whatever shares you can afford (including "partial" shares which seems to be something it made up... and you don't buy realtime, you only buy on Tuesdays... and so it gathers all the buying up together and pieces together the partials into whole shares (and I presume it buys the slack up). You pay whatever market value is.
A couple of days ago I finally put together the paperwork (and mailed it in) for Datek, because they're cool and reasonably cheap (and I got 15 free trades =). Hell, they're cool enough that I didn't find an add giving me a "bonus code" until after I signed up and they still credited me for the trades. :)
I got mail on christmas saying that my account had been credited with money (from a check I sent them) so I could play around. But the market was closed on christmas, so I had to wait until today.
And today I learned the "truth" of the stock market. Or at least I understand the more normal level of it that most people deal with -- limit orders and stuff like that. You can see what the current "asking" and "bidding" prices are for a given stock... and you can say "sell this many for at least this amount, and if nobody buys by the end of the day, cancel" or "buy this many for at most this amount, and if nobody sells it to me by the end of the day, cancel" or "I want this many shares, just get it for me" or "I want to sell this many shares, just get rid of them for me" and stuff like that. It's so much more intricate, so much cooler, so much more addictive... and so much more a consensual fiction. It's amazing. =)
Just had to rant. La la la.