So, I know that a lot of people are concerned about the centralization of bitcoin hasing into pools. And I can understand that, but from an individuals perspective, let me just say I'm glad that they're there.
I started mining about end of April, and continually expanded my hashing power from the single 6870 I had to the point where I reached the electrical limit of my house (not that impressive actually as this house is wired ridiculously stupidly. There is a 20A breaker connected to NOTHING and every other outlet is on 2 other breakers, except the kitchen which has ~100AMPs sigh).
As of the difficulty change today I have completely paid off everything, all the cases, psus, gpus, mbs, ram hds, electricity, everything. All this without finding a single block.
That's right, somehow in almost 2 months I've found zero blocks. Had solo mining been the only option and network growth had been similar, I would have had to commit seppuku or basically given up on bitcoin, despite liking the project very much. So I say again, thank goodness for pools! I'll continue happily mining away and if I find blocks for the pool great, if not, well at least I'm still contributing sorta.