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FTL: Faster Than Light Review

Death comes in many flavors in FTL: Faster Than Light for iPad (also on Mac). Will your crew slowly suffocate from depleted oxygen? Be eviscerated by carnivorous space spiders? Get caught by the heavily armed armada fleet that's always in hot pursuit—or something far worse, perhaps? An unpleasant fate is almost a certainty in this challenging strategy affair, but the push to survive and conquer the obstacles thrown your way with each light jump is where FTL's magic lies.

Life at the helm of a rickety space cruiser—manned by a misfit crew—is never dull. FTL's galaxy-hopping adventure throws you into crazy, random encounters that put your captaining skills to the ultimate test. Between managing your ship's systems effectively and conducting your crew in combat, there's a lot of pulse-pounding fun on tap. Plus, scavenging for resources while scrambling to escape an ever-encroaching fleet of menacing, doom-dealing battleships amplifies the already intense vibe.

Ftl1

Diplomacy and shady deals sometimes let you persevere without risking your ship, but the promise of a good battle is never that far off. FTL's real-time combat encounters have you juggling your weapons systems to battle enemy ships, all while simultaneously sending crew members scrambling to repair incoming damage inside your own craft. Meanwhile, you must carefully monitor energy reserves, sensors, life support, shields, and other critical systems. It's sometimes a lot to take in at once, but the ability to pause and strategize pairs well with comfortable touch controls to help ease the chaos.

Once combat subsides, the momentary downtime is a welcome breather for plotting your next move and patching any leftover holes still smoldering. The depth of FTL's ship upgrade and resource management elements adds lots of nuance to balance out its bustling action. Bolstering your ship's functions helps you push further with each run, while unlockable ships and other goodies earned through repeat playthroughs take the sting out of meeting a sudden demise.

Usually, it's not a matter of if your small ship will get ripped apart during your daring escape through the stars, but rather when and how. Getting brutally annihilated mid-game is par for the course, though the big question mark that awaits you on the other side of every light jump keeps things interesting. Will it be an imperiled space station willing to exchange goods for help? Or will it be a hostile alien cruiser primed to melt your face off? Be prepared for anything.

The bottom line. FTL's seat-of-your-pants strategizing hits the sweet spot between careful planning and unpredictable action. This survival sim can be a heartbreaker at times, but it's one of the most thrilling downloads you'll find on iPad.

Review Synopsis

Company: 

Subset Games

Contact: 

Price: 

$9.99

Requirements: 

iPad running iOS 6.0 or later

Positives: 

Gripping real-time space combat system. Deep ship customization. Inventive and vast romp through the galaxy with high replay value.

Negatives: 

A bit overwhelming for newcomers at first.

Score: 
5 Awesome

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Monument Valley Review

Monument Valley couldn’t be much more different in tone and approach than developer ustwo’s first game, Whale Trail—a delightful, rainbow-filled float through the clouds as a marine mammal—but both excel at charming you with remarkable ease. In this case, it’s done with a quiet, contemplative trek through illusion-soaked puzzle stages, wherein spinning the perspective or tweaking a dial reveals new pathways to traverse.

To be fair, it’s not a completely new idea. Inspiration is no doubt pulled from the surreal artwork of M.C. Escher, but also from Echochrome, an ultra-minimal puzzler released on PlayStation platforms six years back. As in that game, the paths in Monument Valley change based on your current camera view—previously separate platforms may merge together with a tweak of your perspective, while barriers may become hidden and new stage elements may appear. Frustration is thankfully rare across the 10 multi-stage chapters, though some solutions do require a fair bit of tinkering to discern the right pattern of moves to guide your heroine to an exit.

Monument Valley

What makes Monument Valley magical is its sensational presentation. It’s a compact experience—less than two hours in total, unless you dawdle (understandable, considering the sights)—but we kept taking screenshot after screenshot from start to finish, as each locale proved more magnificent than the last. The settings are cleanly drawn, punched up with a vivid color palette, and made divine with rich animations. Add in a haunting soundtrack and the adventure builds incredible atmosphere inside of a short span of time.

Occasional hints of story serve as a nice hook to pull you through to the dazzling later areas (and a nice conclusion), though we wish the puzzles required a little more contemplation as the game progressed—or at least that the adventure packed in a bit more terrain to wander through. There’s no question of worth, however: Monument Valley is surely one of the most beautiful games we’ve ever played.

The bottom line. Monument Valley’s dazzling aesthetics and deceptive terrain combine wonderfully to form a rich, memorable experience.

Review Synopsis

Company: 

ustwo

Price: 

$3.99

Requirements: 

iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 6.0 or later

Positives: 

Gorgeous, intriguing environments to wander through and solve your way out of. Puzzles are interesting without being obtuse or unclear. Light story threads culminate beautifully.

Negatives: 

Puzzles don’t become much more challenging as the game continues.

Score: 
4.5 Excellent

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Microsoft Word for iPad Review

Purchase an iPad for a loved one or family member, and without fail, the recipient will ask, “Does this work with Microsoft Word?” Thankfully, the answer is now a resounding yes—at least for those willing to pay for the privilege. With few exceptions, Microsoft Word for iPad is well worth the wait. While the iPad-only app doesn’t offer the same full-frontal feature assault of the Mac or Windows editions, the majority of the most frequently used, make-or-break tools (including track changes, charts, and rich formatting) are all present and accounted for.

Although the app itself is free, Word documents can initially only be viewed. To create, edit, or share, iPad owners must purchase an Office 365 subscription ($9.99 per month and up). That sounds like a bum deal, but the price includes installation on five Macs or PCs and five tablets, plus 20GB of OneDrive cloud storage per user. Folks with a single iPad will rightfully feel gouged—with more and more consumers choosing tablets as their sole means of computing, Microsoft would do well to consider more cost-effective subscription options tailored to such patrons.

Word For Ipad Word Count

For those who can afford it, Word for iPad offers a beautiful, tap-friendly user interface that immediately makes Word for Mac feel outdated by comparison. The polished UI fits in nicely with iOS 7, and Microsoft wisely eschews the complicated Ribbon of buttons for a more streamlined toolbar that makes it easy to jump between key editing modes.

Word for iPad also takes advantage of Siri dictation, and documents can be viewed on the big screen with an Apple TV thanks to AirPlay Mirroring. Overall, this doesn’t feel like version 1.0 software—that is, until you need to print anything, which you can’t do. That’s a huge omission from an otherwise excellent app, but Microsoft plans to implement printing in a future update.

File management is another tricky area at the moment. Word documents can only be saved to OneDrive or the iPad itself, although they can be opened from any app that supports iOS sharing. For example, we had no problem opening a MacBook Pro document mirrored to Bitcasa’s cloud storage, but for now it’s a one-way street. There’s also no way to rename files (short of duplication), and while Word for iPad breezily imports photos from Camera Roll or iCloud, images stored on its own OneDrive service are perplexingly off-limits. We were also frustrated by the inability to crop pictures once placed.

The bottom line. Make no mistake: Word for iPad is the real deal, and it makes third-party alternatives pale by comparison—but it’s still too expensive, especially for tablet owners without a Mac or PC.

Review Synopsis

Company: 

Microsoft Corporation

Price: 

Free (subscription required for many features)

Requirements: 

iPad running iOS 7.0 or later

Positives: 

The best of Microsoft Word, built for iPad. Streamlined user interface. Wide variety of fonts included. Formatting nicely carries across to desktop versions.

Negatives: 

No printing or save-as-PDF feature. Requires Office 365 subscription to create or edit documents. File management isn’t very robust. Only saves to device or OneDrive.

Score: 
4 Great

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12 Ways to Save Money on Food

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Whether you're planning out family dinners, buying snack food online or bringing your lunch to work, there are many ways to cut down your food costs. Here are a dozen ideas from Frugal Shopper blog contributors, including Joshua Rodriguez, Karen Cordaway, Susan Yoo-Lee, John Schmoll and Amber Sager.

 

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Tax Day Freebies and Deals 2014

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Diane Macdonald/Getty Images
By David Muhlbaum

When Tax Day rolls around on April 15, you can find relief from the stress of getting your return in on time by taking advantage of a bunch of freebies and special deals that businesses will be offering on or around the filing deadline.

We'll add more of these Tax Day bargains as we find 'em, so be sure to check back. Also note that while many businesses distribute deals via Facebook, you don't have to be signed up to the service to view and download any necessary coupons. The offers are available only on April 15 unless otherwise noted.

Arby's. The fast-food chain is offering a free value size order of curly fries again this year. You'll need a coupon that you can download from arbys.com a few days prior to April 15.

Boston Market. The fast-casual restaurant chain is offering two individual meals, each including a half rotisserie chicken with a choice of two home style sides and freshly baked cornbread, for $10.40 (as in IRS Form 1040). No coupon required. Take your accountant out to lunch?

Bruegger's Bagels. The bagel chain is reprising its "1040" special: 13 bagels and two tubs of cream cheese for $10.40 -- about a $3.50 deduction. You have to download and print a coupon from Bruegger's Facebook page or sign up for its email club by April 10. The deal is available April 12-15.

California Tortilla. Mention the secret password, "taxes shmaxes," when you place your order on Tax Day at the fast-casual Mexican chain and you'll be rewarded with free queso and chips. A purchase is required. The cheese-intolerant can substitute salsa for queso.

Great American Cookies. Get a free chocolate chip cookie from participating Great American Cookies locations; no purchase or proof of filing (or even of an extension) required. First come, first serve.

Hard Rock Cafe. Musically talented (or low on inhibition)?
You can take the stage at Hard Rock Cafes across America and earn a free dinner entree by completing a whole song in front of the entire restaurant. The song is up to you -- how about The Beatles' "Tax Man"?

HydroMassage. HydroMassage is offering a free massage "experience" on its user-controlled massage beds. You have to download this coupon and call ahead for availability; calling ahead isn't required if you use a bed at a Planet Fitness location but there might be a wait. The freebie is good April 14-18.

Office Depot. Office Depot is letting customers shred up to 5 pounds of tax records (or anything else) for free through April 29. You'll need this coupon.

Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt. Customers can fill their cup with froyo and toppings for only $4.15 (as in April 15) via a coupon that will be posted on Orange Leaf's Facebook page. The chain says that amounts to approximately 50 percent off the regular price, depending on how much froyo and toppings a customer typically chooses.

Schlotzsky's. If you buy a 32-ounce fountain drink and a bag of chips, the deli-sandwich chain will give you a small "The Original" sandwich for free. No coupon required. In case you're not familiar with the Schlotzsky's menu, the sandwich in question consists of ham, two kinds of salami, three types of cheese and an assortment of fixings.

Sonny's BBQ. Once you've given the government its pound of flesh, head on over to Sonny's BBQ to get half off on a plate of Sweet & Smokey or House Dry-Rubbed Ribs. It's the Irresistible Ribs Special (IRS, get it?). No coupon is required, and the chain estimates this tax break is worth about $6.25 to you.


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IRS Warns of Email Tax Scam

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Stephan Zabel/Getty Images
By Cameron Huddleston

If you get an email that appears to be from the IRS and claims that there is a problem with your 2013 tax return, do not respond. It's the latest scam to surface this tax season.

Scammers are sending phishing emails that appear to be from the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service and warn taxpayers that their 2013 income has been flagged for review due to a document processing error, according to the IRS.

To resolve the issue, recipients are instructed to contact the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service by clicking on a link within the email.
The link supposedly provides information about the taxpayer advocate assigned to their case or allows taxpayers to review their reported income. However, the IRS reports that the link actually leads to a Web site that solicits personal information -- which thieves can use to steal your identity or access your accounts.

Although the Taxpayer Advocate Service is a legitimate entity, it does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text or any social media network -- nor does the IRS. If you receive an email that appears to be from the IRS or Taxpayer Advocate Service, do not reply to it and do not click on any links within the email. Forward the email to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

Also beware of phone scams during tax season. Scammers have been calling people across the country claiming that they owe money to the IRS and making threats including arrest if they don't pay up, according to the IRS. Learn more about this phone scam as well as steps to take to lower your risk of fraud during tax season.


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Don't Be Surprised If This Is The Start Of A Stock-Market Crash...

New York Stock Exchange Traders Crash 3

Stocks are tanking today. 

This move mirrors other dives in recent weeks — a decline that has taken the tech-heavy NASDAQ down 7% from its highs and the S&P and Dow about 3% from their highs.

Drops like that are no big deal. 

But some signs suggest that this pullback — or another one sometime soon — could get much more severe.

Why?

Three basic reasons:

  • Stocks are still very expensive
  • Corporate profit margins are at record highs, and
  • The Fed is now tightening

Let's take those one at a time.

First, price.

Even after the recent drops, stocks appear to be very expensive.

The chart below is from Yale professor Robert Shiller. It shows the cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio of the S&P 500 for the last 130 years. As you can see, today's P/E ratio of 25X is miles above the long-term average of 15X. In fact, it's higher than at any point in the 20th Century with the exception of the peaks of 1929 and 2000 (and you know what happened after those).

Pes

 

Does a high PE mean the market is going to crash? No. But unless it's "different this time," a high PE means we're likely to have lousy returns for the next 7-10 years.

By the way, in case some of your bullish friends have convinced you that Professor Shiller's P/E analysis is flawed, check out the chart below. It's from fund manager John Hussman. It shows 6 valuation measures in addition to the Shiller P/E that have been highly predictive of future returns over the past century. The left-hand scale shows the predicted 10-year return for stocks according to each valuation measure. The colored lines (except green) show the predicted return for that measure at any given time. The green line is the actual return over the 10 years from that point (it ends 10 years ago, for obvious reasons).  Today, the average expected return for the next 10 years is slightly positive — about 2% a year. That's not horrible. But it's a far cry from the 10% long-term average.

Screen%20shot%202014 02 19%20at%2010.13.47%20am

So that's price. Next comes profit margins.

One reason stocks are so expensive these days is that investors are comparing stock prices to this year's earnings and next year's expected earnings. In some years, when profit margins are normal, this valuation measure is meaningful. In other years, however — at the peak or trough of the business cycle — comparing prices to one year's earnings can produce a very misleading sense of value.

Have a glance at this recent chart of profits as a percent of the economy. Today's profit margins are the highest in history, by a mile. Note that, in every previous instance in which profit margins have reached extreme levels — high and low — they have subsequently reverted to (or beyond) the mean. And when profit margins have reverted, so have stock prices.

Screen%20shot%202014 02 28%20at%209.45.15%20am

Now, you can tell yourself stories about why, this time, profit margins have reached a "permanently high plateau," as a famous economist remarked about stock prices in 1929. And you might be right. But as you are telling yourself these stories, please recognize that what you are really saying is "It's different this time." And "it's different this time" has been described as "the four most expensive words in the English language."

And then there's Fed tightening.

For the last 5 years, the Fed has been frantically pumping money into Wall Street, keeping interest rates low to encourage hedge funds and other investors to borrow and speculate. This free money, and the resulting speculation, have helped drive stocks to their current very-expensive levels.

But now the Fed is starting to "take away the punch bowl," as Wall Street is fond of saying.

Specifically, the Fed is beginning to reduce the amount of money that it is pumping into Wall Street.

To be sure, for now, the Fed is still pumping oceans of money into Wall Street. But, in the past, it has been the change in direction of Fed money-pumping that has been important to the stock market, not the absolute level. 

In the past, major changes in direction of Fed money-pumping have often been followed by changes in direction of stock prices. Not always. But often.

Let's go to the history...

Here's a look at the last 50 years. The blue line is the Fed Funds rate (a proxy for the level of Fed money-pumping.) The red line is the S&P 500. We'll zoom in on specific periods in a moment. But just note that Fed policy goes through "tightening" and "easing" phases, just as stocks go through bull and bear markets. And sometimes these phases are correlated.

Screen%20shot%202014 04 01%20at%204.55.44%20am

Now, lets zoom in. In many of these time periods, you'll see that sustained Fed tightening has often been followed by a decline in stock prices. Again, not always, but often. You'll also see that most major declines in stock prices over this period have been preceded by Fed tightening. 

Here's the first period, 1964-1980. There were three big tightening phases during this period (blue line)...and three big stock drops (red line). Good correlation!

1964 1980

Now 1975-1982, which overlaps a bit with the chart above. The Fed started tightening in 1976, at which point the market declined and then flattened for 4 years. Steeper tightening cycles in 1979 and 1980 were also followed by price drops.

1975 1982

From 1978-1990, we see the two drawdowns described above, as well as another tightening cycle followed by flattening stock prices in the late 1980s. Again, tightening precedes crashes.

1978 1990%20b

And, lastly, 1990-2014. For those who want to believe that Fed tightening is irrelevant, there's good news here: A sharp tightening cycle in the mid-1990s did not lead to a crash! Alas, two other tightening cycles, one in 1999-2000 and the other from 2004-2007 were followed by major stock-market crashes.

1990 2014

One of the oldest sayings on Wall Street is "Don't fight the Fed." This saying has meaning in both directions, when the Fed is easing and when it is tightening. A glance at these charts shows why.

On the positive side, the Fed's tightening phases have often lasted a year or two before stock prices peaked and began to drop. So even if you're persuaded that sustained Fed tightening now will likely lead to a sharp stock-price pullback at some point, the bull market might still have a ways to run.

But if the recent stock weakness turns out to be the start of a major pullback, don't say you weren't warned!

SEE ALSO: Anyone Who Thinks Stocks Will Go Up If The Economy Grows Should Read This Buffett Quote

 

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STOCKS CRUMBLING (SPX, SPY, DIA, DJI, QQQ, TLT, GLD)

U.S. stocks have taken a sharp turn lower today as the Japanese yen strengthens against the U.S. dollar.

The S&P 500 is down about 1.7%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is off about 1.3%, and the Nasdaq is down 2.9%. In Europe, most equity indices closed lower as well. Spain's IBEX 35 was the worst performer there, down 1.4%.

Notably, biotech stocks are selling off hard.

Some other big losers in the U.S. include Bed, Bath & Beyond (down more than 6%), Alexion Pharmaceuticals (down more than 5%), TripAdvisor (down almost 5%), and First Solar (down about 4%).

The dollar is down 0.6% against the yen, trading near ¥101.40. The dollar is down about 2.5% against the yen since the release of the March jobs report in the U.S. on Friday.

The release of weekly U.S. jobless claims figures this morning revealed that initial claims fell to the lowest level since May 2007 in the week ended April 5. Overnight, the release of Chinese trade data revealed figures on import and export growth in March that were both worse than expected.

The charts below show movements in various markets. Across the top, from left to right, are S&P 500 futures, the U.S. dollar-Japanese yen exchange rate, and the euro-U.S. dollar exchange rate. Across the bottom are gold futures, five-year U.S. Treasury note futures, and December 2015 eurodollar futures.

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Biotech Stocks Are Getting Smashed (IBB)

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The stock market is selling off today, and once again it's being led down by the momentum stocks.

One red-hot industry that continues to get smoked is biotechnology.

The iShares Biotechnology Index (IBB) is down a whopping 6.1%.

Among the big losers are Alexion Pharmaceuticals (-7.4%), Gilead Sciences (-6.8%), and Vertex Pharmaceuticals (-6.1%).

"I frankly just don't know why biotech is off so much today," said Mark Schoenebaum, a biotech and pharmaceuticals analyst for ISI Group.

The IBB index is now down 19% from its February high.

The industry has seen huge numbers of IPOs in the last year, which has some folks wondering if this is just the bursting of a bubble.

Meanwhile, the industry analysts have generally remained bullish on the industry based on the long-term profit potential of drugs in the developmental and regulatory pipeline.

"Large cap biotech is now trading at a 2015 and 2016 PE discount to the S&P500!" exclaimed Credit Suisse's Ravi Mehrotra and Koon Ching in a recent note to clients.

SEE ALSO: Anatomy Of A Biotech Bubble

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