Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tough month? A few ways to make ends meet.

I am scatter-brained and already bored with video games. I'll get back to them, I promise. Now, here are a few ways to find extra money if you've had unexpected expenses that will put a temporary strain on your accounts:

1. Stop contributing to retirement accounts. This should be something of a last resort and assumes you have been contributing. If there has been a legitimate emergency, though, this is a better alternative than both payday loans and borrowing from your 401k -- especially if you are able to make it up by contributing a little extra in a couple months.

2. Evaluate your cell phone plan. Many carriers will let you make changes to your plan at any time, not just when the contract is up. Consider whether you can switch to a less expensive plan for a couple months. Keep in mind if you just passed your billing date, you may get billed for the old plan for one more month.

3. Watch your utilities. If it's your bills that are scaring you, keep the lights, computers, TV, and other electronics and appliances off as much as possible. Take shorter showers, don't water the lawn, and try to lower your utility bills.

4. Clean house. Dig up old stuff that no one uses anymore, and either toss them on ebay or rush to put together a garage sale.

5. Use what you have. Try hard to make meals from the food you have sitting around, do not go out to restaurants or movies, and delay as many routine purchases as possible. In addition to the obvious savings from not buying stuff, this helps you delay a stop at the gas station.

6. If your medical history allows it, look into donating plasma. Private blood banks typically pay decent money, and it is not significantly more involved than giving blood.

7. Take a close look at the charges on your credit cards and checking account. See all those small, insignificant charges? They add up. Look for a pattern, and find ways to avoid all those charges. In my case, I can save $150/mo just by eating in and packing lunches.

8. Care. That's the absolute biggest step you can take. My girlfriend lives with two housemates. Her finances, despite a college budget, are always in good shape. Her roommates both work more, make more money, and frequently end the month with as little as $2 in the bank. While all 3 girls know they are on limited budgets, my girlfriend is cautious with her money and thinks before spending. The other two constantly eat out and make purchases, not caring whether they will have money left over.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Linux Gaming: TORCS

In my series of Linux game reviews, I come to TORCS: The Open Race Car Simulator. It is a 3-d racing simulator with a great variety of tracks available and decent graphics. If you are looking for a casual racing simulator, this is a good one. The physics simulation is good, and the large selection of tracks means there is something for everyone. You can race a high-speed oval, a road course, and anything in between -- including tri-ovals and rectangular tracks.

Before you start playing, tinker with the user controls. Personally, I find the default steering sensitivity to be unusable and drop it dramatically. Like all racing simulators, it is best played with a wheel and pedals, not a keyboard. Unfortunately, all I have is a keyboard.

Though certainly worth a little time, TORCS is for the casual racing fan and is not up to par with commercial offerings. It is fun for awhile, but if you have played any of the recent NASCAR simulators you will be a bit disappointed in TORCS. There is no way to customize your car's mechanics in the shop, the graphics do not include spectators, logos, or weather, and no matter what you do the controls will be a bit choppy. In its current form, it is more of an arcade game than a realistic simulator. That is not necessarily bad -- it is, after all, a good game -- but you may need to manage your expectations.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Linux gaming: Actual good games!

I have been a Linux user for about 5 years now, and have not run Windows on any of my computers in over 2 years. I don't particularly dislike Windows, I just think Linux fits my personal needs (and budget!) better. I don't particularly dislike Apple products, just the die-hard Mac heads who evangelize for them ... but that is another topic.

When it comes to games, Linux has always been perceived as a weak platform. Sadly, for the most part, that is accurate. I'm by no means an avid gamer, but I want a good FPS experience now and then. There are scads of websites out there with lists of great Linux games, but they often include lame entries. Look, people: Tux Racer is fun, but it does not qualify as a modern gaming experience. And I'm sorry, but Chromium, though also fun for awhile, is closer to an arcade game than a legitimate first-person shooter.

So instead of a list, I present a series of posts reviewing a number of Linux games. Some will challenge my definition of "Linux games", so I present it here: Any game, free or commercial, which was intentionally created to run under Linux, or any game which can run easily and responsively under Wine. Yes, I know this will include some games which technically are not for Linux. No, I do not care, as long as it works.

With that, I leave you with a simple review: Unreal Tournament 2004 has a Linux installer. It runs exactly the same on Linux as it does under Windows, except game servers seem to be more reliable and have fewer connection issues. That's right, I firmly believe UT2004 actually runs better in Linux.
Now, back to playing...