If you're an intergalactic space miner by trade, there are worse fates than getting stranded on a giant red planet rich with subterranean minerals, danger, and excitement. With nowhere to go but deeper and deeper beneath the planet's surface, Mines of Mars teases you along into its Metroid-style adventure by putting up subtle barriers and giving you a means to overcome them: mining. The balance between gathering, crafting, and exploring is well tuned to draw you in, even if other aspects of navigating the planetscape feel weak by comparison.
You start your adventure by discovering a mysterious robot-run surface facility that's decked out with useful buildings, which replenish your assorted systems like health, ammo, jetpack fuel, and more. Equipped with a weak blaster and a pickaxe, your initial excursions into the dark realm below are limited. You can only carry so much and venture so far before you run out of fuel, and the monstrous inhabitants you encounter are eager to get their claws on you, as well.
Hauling the raw materials you uncover up to the surface, where you can smelt ore and cut gems, lets you amass enough of both to upgrade your weapons and gear—which is where Mines of Mars sets its hooks in. Most upgrades help you overcome obstacles in some way, allowing you to push deeper. Whether it's a new helmet that expands your field of view, an enhanced suit that lets you withstand hotter temperatures closer to the planet's core, or a more powerful blaster to zap the tougher foes you encounter, every new piece of kit holds some untold promise of what's to come. Questing for the raw materials to build such gear quickly becomes addictive.
As enjoyable as it can be once you set into a steady routine, Mines of Mars has issues that prove irritating enough to trip you up along the way. The control scheme, for one, is unintuitive and unresponsive. You can get around, but it's hard to do so without accidentally expending precious jetpack fuel when you don't intend to. Tricky aiming also makes combat more of a cumbersome chore than a worthwhile aspect of the gameplay, and minor glitches pop up too, ranging from your jetpack refusing to shut off to warp portals zipping you back and forth unpredictably. It's a shame, since these unpleasant quirks mar an otherwise enjoyable experience.
The bottom line. Mines of Mars puts a cool building and crafting spin on the side-scrolling action genre, though its fun is whittled down a bit by control issues and minor bugs.
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Today Neil Young revealed his Toblerone-shaped "PonoPlayer," which he hopes will launch a successful counterattack against (of all things) Apple's iPod. It seems Mr. Young has missed all the memos about the device's "declining business," in the words of Apple CEO Tim Cook, particularly in the wake of the emergence of integrated devices like the iPhone and iPad.
Young's specific beef with the iPod (and MP3 devices in general) is that the smaller sound files don't deliver the quality of "true" music. The unfortunately named PonoPlayer, to be priced at $399, supposedly makes up for that deficiency by playing "master quality digital music at the highest audio fidelity possible." Young wants us to hear the music "the way the artist recorded it."
Young is showing the device and its associated music store at this year's SXSW festival in Austin, and he plans to seek more funding through Kickstarter later in the week.
"We want to move digital music into the 21st century and PonoMusic does that," Young said, echoing a lot of the marketing talk that surrounded the iPod's first appearance years ago. Young's device is said to come with 128 GB of storage space, which will allow for around 100 to 500 high-fidelity albums.
The 256 kbps music on the iTunes Store is actually quite strong for the format, but certainly little like the huge, lossless files Young hopes to host. It's worth noting that Young spoke with Steve Jobs about such a product before his death (via AllThingsD), but not much ever came of it.
Follow this article's writer, Leif Johnson, on Twitter.
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Eets Munchies invites tinkering and experimentation. Like its PC and Xbox 360 predecessor—from Klei Entertainment, of Don’t Starve and Mark of the Ninja fame—this puzzle platformer asks you to move and manipulate wacky objects to help a hungry rodent find dessert. Although Eets doesn’t have quite the feverish pull of other similar puzzlers, it does a splendid job at continually introducing you to new elements and allowing plenty of room to learn and get creative.
Like a film director yelling “action” and “cut,” much of your time in Eets Munchies is spent pressing “Go” and “Stop” buttons. You don’t have the power to control the game’s lemming-like protagonist directly, but you can strategically place objects like bridges and fans to help guide him or her toward the end of the level. The goal is that when “Go” is pressed, the rodent will march right to its pink birthday cake stress-free.
As the game progresses, however, standard planks and trampolines give way to zany new objects, like inflatable elephants and a disembodied brain that induces an anti-gravity effect. Each new item introduced also comes with a fresh game mechanic, which makes for a steady progression of challenge—one of Eets Munchies’ biggest strengths. The most enjoyable aspect of the game, though, is that it never punishes players for failing. If a setup doesn’t work, you can simply do a little rearranging and try again. It’s not quite a sandbox environment, but the spirit of tweaking and tinkering is at the heart of this experience.
There are a handful of brilliant moments in Eets Munchies, wherein a dozen puzzle elements come together like a Rube Goldberg machine—but the total game package leaves something to be desired. Puzzle Maker mode has novelty value, but not being able to share your created level online is a missed opportunity. Also, the tone of the game comes off as kid-centric, almost like a cartoon animation app, but its often-difficult gameplay seems more suited for adults; it’s hard to believe that a young child would be able to solve some of these puzzles. And any sort of narrative background has been omitted. These elements certainly don’t ruin the core fun, but they do make the experience feel somewhat incomplete.
The bottom line. Eets Munchies will nourish your inner level designer, but the experience as a whole is a bit inconsistent.
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Fortunately, this draconian penalty only applies to those who turned age 70½ and have either individual retirement accounts or employer-sponsored retirement plan accounts like 401(k)s.
Required Minimum Distributions and Your Retirement Account
IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement accounts let you save for retirement on a tax-deferred basis. But lawmakers wanted to impose limits on how long you could take advantage of those tax benefits.
In order to force people to take distributions from the IRAs and 401(k)s -- and therefore pay income tax on the amount they withdrew -- the laws governing retirement accounts require retirees to start taking withdrawals once they turn 70½. The one exception applies to workplace retirement plans: If you still work after 70½ you don't have to take 401(k) or other employer-plan distributions.
The withdrawal amount is based on your age, with the IRS using life expectancy tables to determine how much you have to withdraw. For the 2 million who turned 70½ after July 1 last year, the IRS-calculated life expectancy is 27.4 years, and so the required minimum distribution from your account is 100 percent divided by 27.4 -- or about 3.65 percent of your total retirement-account balance as of Dec. 31, 2012.
Unfortunately, many people take full advantage of that extension -- and some don't even realize that the deadline is there. According to figures from Fidelity, 40 percent of those required to take their first required minimum distribution in 2013 hadn't taken the full amount by year-end, and 36 percent of that group hadn't taken any distribution.
It can be hard to keep track of all your financial deadlines, but if you turned 70½ in 2013, the April 1 deadline is one you can't afford to miss.
You can follow Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger on Twitter @DanCaplinger or on Google+.
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In our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.
Today, one woman explains why she can't quite get excited about eliminating a debt that's followed her for nearly 10 years: her student loans.
If all goes according to plan, my last student loan will be paid in full this June. I'll be debt-free at 29.
The thing is, nearly $40,000 and eight years later, I know how to be in debt. Debt-free? Not so much.
I'm good at being in debt. I know how to juggle payments and budget for automatic debits and track my payoff progress. I know what I'm supposed to do with my money when I'm in debt: Use it to pay my debts down.
When I'm debt-free, what should I do with my extra cash? Save for retirement? Take a vacation? The options are overwhelming, and I'm afraid I'll make the wrong choice.
I feel like paying off my student loans represents some kind of line in the sand: On one side, it's O.K. to be unsure and unsettled. On the other side, it's not. I'm moving toward that other side, and I haven't made it to sure and settled quite yet.
How I Got Used to Living With Debt
My relationship with debt began at the tender age of 21, when I started my one-year master's program in education. I was lucky enough to have my parents pay for my undergraduate degree, so the concept of being in debt was abstract, and I was blasé. After all, this was before the recession, when credit cards were handed out like candy bars on college campuses and everyone I knew was up to their eyeballs in debt. I quite literally didn't think twice about signing on to $25,000 in student loans, or getting a candy bar -- er, credit card -- and charging it to the max. I'd pay it off later, right?
By the time I started my first "real" job as a high school history teacher in the fall of 2007, I had come to rely on that credit card. Living in one of the most expensive zip codes in the nation, near Washington, D.C., didn't help matters. My rent ate up over half of my monthly income, and I had so many other bills to pay that I was barely able to make a dent in my debt.
Around the time I got that first job, I had taken out a personal loan to pay off my credit card debt at a lower interest rate than the card offered. Smart, right? Well, not if you turn around and charge your credit card up again ... which, of course, I did. At the point that I realized I had almost doubled my debt to nearly $40,000 in less than a year -- a low, low moment that led to my first full-blown panic attack -- I vowed to get my finances under control.
Almost overnight, I started working more and spending less. I froze my credit card in a block of ice and switched to using only cash. I canceled my cable, stopped eating out and signed on to work in every after-school tutoring program that would take me. I even had a friend cut my hair to save money on salon costs. I had no free time and got very little sleep during those months, but I didn't care: I was going to pay off my credit cards or I was going to die trying.
My All-Out Effort to Whittle It Down
I used the extra cash to pay off my $6,000 of credit card debt, then my $5,500 private student loan, then my $10,000 car loan. I was good at being in debt, and I got really good at paying it off; I had become addicted to the high that came with cutting down the balance of a loan. I started to live for the pleasure of seeing a $0.00 in the 'total due' section of my online accounts. To be honest, I started to become a little insufferable after a while -- I was a woman obsessed, and nothing was going to stop me from becoming debt-free.
However, I slowed down once my only remaining debt was $10,000 of my $18,500 federal student loan. I knew that at the end of my rapidly approaching seventh year of teaching I would be entitled to student loan forgiveness, because I was teaching at a Title I (high-poverty) school. So, ready for a break from the extreme frugality of the last five years, I decided to just make minimum payments until that time. Besides, my minimum of $219.72 per month was hardly a king's ransom -- I could definitely live with that payment for a few more years.
Slowly, I started loosening the purse strings. I got my cable back, and rehired my hairstylist. I allowed myself to get takeout once a week and went on a few weekend trips. Life was feeling comfortable again, and much less stressful -- I wasn't wasting money, but I wasn't driving myself nuts trying to conserve it either.
Then, about six months ago, I started thinking about how my life would be changing soon. My debt would be gone -- for good. It suddenly occurred to me that I'd have to make real decisions about what to do next with my finances and, by extension, my life.
And that is when I started to panic.
Why It's Hard Saying Goodbye
Deep down I know that the reason I'm not as enthusiastic about my student loan payoff as I should be is because to me, those payments represent my last tie to my early adulthood, a time when the world seemed full of possibilities and my optimism was endless, and I'm holding on to that tie for dear life right now. Because "full of possibilities" and "optimistic" are definitely not how I would describe my outlook at the moment.
Take, for example, my career. For the first five years of teaching, I was one of the happiest public educators in the profession. But recently, the job has changed substantially, in ways I don't particularly like. (Since I'm still reporting to the classroom every day, I'm not going to get into how, but suffice it to say that for the first time ever, I have to force myself out of bed in the morning.) I don't like this feeling, and I want to go back to the time when I was excited about going to work.
To be honest, I started to become a little insufferable after a while -- I was a woman obsessed, and nothing was going to stop me from becoming debt-free.
The closer I get to the end of my student loan days, the more anxious I become. And then I feel silly for being anxious. I know a lot of people who would love to have the problem of not knowing what to do with their extra funds every month.
Pretty soon I'll have this $219 freed up, but I'm still not sure what to do with it. Sure, I'm planning to divert some of it to retirement and some of it to general savings (I guess that would become my emergency fund), but I don't have a "big thing" in mind that I'll save for next ... and that stresses me out.
Instead of holding on to my student loans as a totem from a past I felt comfortable in, I'm going to have to start looking at the unfamiliar as inviting, and the foreign as an opportunity. I'll get there, but it won't be easy.
But then again, what about growing up ever is?
More from LearnVest
- 3 People, 1 Big Student Loan Debt: My Make-Ends-Meet Plan
- Money Mic: My 30th Birthday Present to Myself? Pay Down My College Debt
- How to Save for Retirement ... When You Have Student Loans
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It's strange, because the tax refund feels like free money from the government, although the reality is it's money you worked hard to earn last year. Yet it still feels pretty amazing to get a fat check with your name on it, regardless of where it came from. But what if you could use that money to get an even bigger refund next year? Well, you can. And here are a few ways to do it:
Buy a house. Well, only if it makes sense. If you're planning to buy or sell a home in 2014, don't miss out on the deductions just begging for your attention. Property taxes and the interest you pay on your mortgage are just a couple of deductions to look for. And if you're selling? The profit you make on your home is tax-free.
Invest in your child's education. Whether you've got a screaming toddler or a bright-eyed college freshman, tax benefits are at the ready for you. Tuition, fees and loans are all eligible for deduction by current students (or their parents). And if you have a toddling 1-year-old like we do, your state likely offers a deduction for the contributions you put toward a 529 plan.
Have a baby. If you're planning to add to your brood this year, you'll be able to claim a $3,900 exemption (as of 2013) per child. And to think my parents said I had to earn my keep when I was growing up. With an exemption like that, I think I was earning it just fine. (Just kidding, Mom.) There's also a Child Tax Credit of up to $1,000 per child which many also qualify for.
Donate to charity. If you're on the fence about giving away your collection of Hawaiian button-downs, do the right thing and burn them. But if you have anything else you want to donate, including straight cash donations to your favorite charities or churches, don't forget to keep track so you can deduct that amount at the end of the year.
Open a traditional IRA. The benefits of retirement savings aren't all reserved for your 65th birthday. Consider donating up to $5,500/year to an IRA, and you may be able to deduct the amount from your taxable income. If you're filing jointly, you and your spouse can each donate $5,500, for a potential deduction of $11,000.
So when that tax refund arrives at your doorstep this year (or perhaps it already has), see what it can do for you. And come tax season next year, maybe your gag reflex won't be so strong.
Joanna and Johnny are the writing duo behind OurFreakingBudget.com, a personal finance blog documenting the joys, pains and realities of living on a budget.
More from Joanna & Johnny
- Preparing Financially for the Zombie Apocalypse
- 8 Budget-Friendly Winter Activities
- Is a Joint Bank Account the Secret to a Happy Marriage?
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Earlier today, we saw a huge surge in the share price of fuel cell-related companies, Plug Power most prominent among them, on an apparent run-up in revenues in the long-suffering space.
But just before 1 p.m., the rally collapsed in the blink of an eye. Plug Power closed down 41%.
One reason for the sell-off could be a report issued by Citron Research, an influential online stock commentary website.
In an unsigned note, the firm called PLUG a "casino stock" and suggested it would return to its one-time trading price of $0.50. They write:
A casino stock... is the lowest form of speculative moonshot. A casino stock can trade twice its outstanding shares in a single day, while turning over its entire float on people gambling that they can find a buyer at a higher price … Who really cares about anything else, right? The recent volume and share price surge in Plug Power (NASDAQ:PLUG) demonstrates how Wall Street treats this stock: nothing more than a casino.
Among the problems Citron says its found:
- The company has consistently fallen short of its own quarterly forecasts.
- There's an apparent lack of conviction among Plug's own management, who at one point refused to buy in on a capital round of just $0.15 a share.
- Just one analyst covers the firm — and that same analyst is part of a company, Cowen and Co., that just issued an offering.
- Plug Power owns practically none of their own technology, buying the actual fuel cells themselves from Ballard, which Citron endorses as a better way to enter the fuel cell space.
- Their principal customers have merely been taking advantage of an alternative fuels tax credit that expires in 2016.
Citron concludes: "this business shows no signs of improvement, only the looming end of government subsidies. Does anyone ever really end up a winner at a casino???"
Plug Power was down 4% in after-hours trading, while Ballard was off 1%.
SEE ALSO: What Fuel Cells Have Going For Them
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UBS analyst Eric J. Sheridan and his team say Facebook's stock — currently trading around $70 — is like a "snowball" that could hit a staggering $112 in the future.
Facebook stock is already up 32% this year and has been trading in a frothy region above the average of analysts' price targets, according to Bloomberg. FB has rallied so quickly that analysts have struggled to upgrade their ever-higher price targets. Facebook stock at $70 has a price/earnings ratio of 114, compared with the average S&P 500 PE ratio of about 16.5, according to Factset. So we're entering the stratosphere of valuations here.
In a note to investors titled "The Snowball Picks Up Speed," UBS' Sheridan, Vishal Patel and Timothy Chiodo point to several factors they think will drive Facebook's stock into triple digits in the near future. (UBS actually has a $90 price target with an "upside scenario" of $112.)
First, Sheridan says that Facebook has restricted the "reach" of posts on advertisers' Facebook pages so that just 6% of their followers see any given post. This "is acting as an impetus for greater ad spend as brand advertisers seek to maintain their audience." Facebook has previously denied that it restricts the reach of brands' pages on Facebook. Rather, it believes, the algorithm that controls which posts you see in your news feed is biased toward the posts that your friends also like and toward useful, newsy content.
Second, Facebook did a $100 million ad-buying deal with Publicis Omnicom Group, the giant ad agency holding company.
Third, Sheridan says that despite its reputation, Facebook still remains relatively ad-free:
We believe FB remains undermonetized relative to peers given the time spent on the platform, providing an opportunity for continued strong revenue growth as monetization improves. In particular, Facebook ads exhibit strong pricing power (+92% YoY in Q4) and ROIs remain excellent for FB’s advertising partners, suggesting significant runway for rising ad prices.
Sheridan also believes payment revenue from WhatsApp — users must pay $1 per year after their first year of usage — will help.
UBS has a downside scenario, too, of course. If the snowball melts, the stock would be worth only $55, Sheridan writes.
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Tired of ending every month in the hole with no idea where your hard-earned money went? It may be time to re-evaluate your spending.
In a recent Reddit thread, users shared their best tips for quickly and easily spending less money. They range from practical food-buying tricks to reframing the way you think about your finances.
We pulled out some the best and highlighted them below.
1. Plan out and cook your own meals. Dining out often is a huge money drain. —MrTimSearle
2. Clean out your fridge and pantry. You'll find good food you didn't know you had. —InsaneRay
3. Buy in bulk the things you would normally buy. You'll get more for your buck. —cjs3
4. Opt for non-canned goods. Fresh produce and dried beans are typically cheaper and healthier than canned items. —BellabitchTheStrange
5. Try the grocery store brand. If you like the taste, stick with it, and you'll save money. —Colonel-Rosa
6. Stop buying microwave dinners. The mark-ups are crazy. You could make better, healthier meals for less. —yawrn
7. Don't buy more groceries than you actually need or can keep. Throwing away food is the same as throwing away money. —nowgetbacktowork
8. Use a slow cooker. Throw in some veggies, beans, and meat, and you'll have lunches and dinners for the whole week. —i-hear-banjos
9. Make your own coffee. Those $2 to $4 coffees add up. —StickleyMan
10. Bring your lunch to work. You'll cut your lunch tab in half or more by making it yourself. —ILikeLampz
11. Stop buying bottled water. Use a glass or refill a bottle with tap water for free. —Cam_Harris
12. Don't go out to drink. Drinks with dinner can add $10 or more a person, and a night at the bar can easily cost $40. —typographicalerr
13. Track your expenses for a month. Using a tool like Mint.com or simply keeping a running log will help you see how much of your income is spent frivolously. —elderbio
14. Set goals. If you have a plan to stock money away in an emergency fund, for example, you'll think twice about spending on superfluous things. —Newmoney4me
15. Buy quality items. If you skimp on the important things, you may spend more in the long run. For instance, spending $30 on shoes every six months costs more than spending $60 on a pair that lasts years. —tahlyn
16. Think of your spending in hours instead of dollars. If you make $10 an hour, then that $2 cup of coffee is 12 minutes of your life. You may decide it's not worth it. —Koketa13
17. Before you buy something, ask yourself: What impact is this purchase going to have on my life? That can put an end to impulse spending. —_yertle_the_turtle
18. Change how often you spend on indulgences. Rather than give them up entirely, limit the frequency. For example, if you go to Starbucks daily, try going weekly, and if you go the movies weekly, try once a month. —stringliterals
19. Put half of your paycheck into savings. It forces you to figure out how to live on less. —ntran2
20. Always pay off your credit card at the end of every month. You avoid paying interest and get in the habit of living within your means. —nova_cat
21. Set up auto transfers on your bills so you're never late. Late fees are a waste. —nowgetbacktowork
22. Get checking account alerts on your phone or opt out of overdraft protection. Otherwise, you'll pay steep fees for overdrafting your account. —nowgetbacktowork
23. Spend your money where you spend your time, and cut the rest. If you're a runner, you need good shoes, and if you spend a lot of time in the car, you should invest there. This kind of thinking helps you trim the superficial stuff that does not add value to your life. —GreyFoxNinjaFan
24. Wait at least two days before buying anything over $50. You may no longer want it or forget it altogether. —Newmoney4me
25. Trade cable for Netflix. You'll have access to more TV shows and movies than you can watch for just $7.99 a month. If you like to watch sports, go to the bar or a friend's house. —Newmoney4me
26. Ask your Internet provider if it has any promotional rates. You could see your rate drop by as much as $20. —Aerospacing_Out
27. Cancel magazine and newspaper subscriptions you don't read. Many people will let them stack up instead of picking up the phone to cancel. —mrhoopers
28. Compare rates of local electric companies. You may no longer be getting the best deal available. —Aerospacing_Out
29. Wear a sweater in the house, and turn down the heat a couple of degrees. Over time, you'll save on electricity. —MrTimSearle
30. Rethink your cell phone plan. Are you paying for more than you use? Switching to Straight Talk or a similar plan could significantly drop your bill. —Aerospacing_Out
31. Get car insurance quotes. Companies competing for your business may quote you a lower rate. —Aerospacing_Out
32. Look into refinancing your car or home. You could see your payment immediately drop. —Aerospacing_Out
33. Frequent the library. Get books, movies, and music for free. —AnnabellBeaverhausen
34. Buy your clothes from the thrift store. Chances are, no one will be able to tell the difference. —Newmoney4me
35. Ride your bike to work. Not only will you save on car or public transportation costs, you'll be healthier. —Colonel-Rosa
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