10 video game firsts

First job, first kiss, first pet -- firsts are a big part of life, and so it is with games. From MMOs to Madden, from sophisticated CG cinematics to gritty shooters, gaming's biggest franchises, genres, and techniques all had to get started somewhere. Journey back in time with us as we excavate the obscure origins of the gaming world we take for granted today.

First 3D shooter: Wolfenstein 3D

Conventional wisdom holds that the first true first-person shooter -- combining texture-mapped 3D graphics, a first-person perspective, and arcade-quick shooter action -- was id Software's seminal hit, Wolfenstein 3D. And, as it happens, conventional wisdom is mostly correct. Sort of.

Shortly before the release of Wolfenstein 3D (which is itself based on the classic 8-bit adventure Castle Wolfenstein), id took a dry run at the same technology with 1992's Catacomb 3D, a fantasy shooter in which gamers battled enemy goblins with an arsenal of fireballs. All the pieces of the genre were already more or less in place, but Catacomb lacks the visible firearm and ammunition counter that make Wolfenstein seem so familiar to today's Call of Duty devotees.

Earlier games had already established some of the genre's touchstones — 1988's The Colony and 1986's Mercenary, for example, allowed users to freely roam a 3D rendered environment — and later titles, such as 1995's Terminator: Future Shock, which pioneered mouselook, would add essential refinements. But it's safe to say it all started with Wolfenstein.

First cutscenes: Space Invaders Part II


Cinematic cutscenes are such a ubiquitous part of video games nowadays that it's hard to remember it wasn't always that way.

Descended more from pinball machines and skeeball than from movies or television, the earliest games usually made storytelling a pretty low priority. Still, a few key games laid the groundwork, beginning with 1980's Space Invaders Part II. The sequel to the iconic shooter featured brief intermissions between levels in which enemy invaders would fly offscreen, broadcasting an SOS.

The same year, Pac-Man featured comical interludes between stages, and the year after, Donkey Kong would open with a short scene showing the angry ape clambering up scaffolding with a helpless damsel clutched under his arm. Perhaps it's no coincidence that three of the most iconic videogames were among the first to employ digital storytelling.

First real-time-strategy game: Herzog Zwei

Herzog Zwei -- released in 1989 for the Sega Genesis -- wasn't the first title to feature some form of strategic gameplay freed from the constraints of alternating player turns. 1981's Utopia (Intellivision), 1984's Air Support (Commodore 64), and 1988's Modem Wars (IBM PC) all featured certain elements of what would come to be known as the RTS. But it was in TechnoSoft's quirky sci-fi offering — in which players commanded a transforming mech at the head of an army of smaller units — that everything came together.

Players could purchase and command a variety of units, while permanent outposts could be commandeered to provide more production resources. The basic formula — gather resources, build units, go forth and smash the enemy — remains essentially unchanged all the way up to today's StarCraft II. Considering the Starcraft series' enormous impact on e-sports as a worldwide pastime, Herzog Zwei may just be the most important video game most people have never heard of.

First online multiplayer game: Snipes

Then again, 1983's Snipes -- a graphically crude maze game -- might give Herzog Zwei a run for its money.

A simple arcade game in which players must destroy the nests of annoying pests, Snipes had nothing especially distinguishing…except that it was designed for multiple players to join the same game remotely, using code that would evolve into Novell's influential Netware operating system. Every pick-up game of Call of Duty or Counterstrike, every online deathmatch, and every Starcraft tournament can ultimately trace its lineage back to this unassuming title.

First handheld game: Mattel Auto Race

Years before the Gameboy was even a twinkle in Nintendo's eye, Mattel, makers of the Intellivision home console, was pioneering the handheld gaming market with 1977's Auto Race.

A crude driving game in which the player cruised down a three-lane racetrack represented by simple LED lights, Auto Race used about half a kilobyte of memory — or, to put it in perspective, slightly more than this sentence takes up. Speed was controlled via a four-speed gearshift, and the car could alternate among three different lanes of traffic to dodge oncoming cars. The more popular Mattel Football handheld would release soon afterward.

First virtual online world: Neverwinter Nights


Whether you still raid dungeons in World of Warcraft or prefer the far away galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, you owe a lot to Neverwinter.

The design of most modern MMOs harks back to 1991's "DikuMUD," a text-based Usenet adventure coded by Danish Dungeons & Dragons devotees. DikuMUD is itself derived from 1978's Multi-User-Dungeon, wherein the much-used 'MUD' acronym got its start.

But enough history: the first commercially-released, graphical online role playing game appears to be 1991's Neverwinter Nights (not to be confused with 2000's Bioware title of the same name). Playable over AOL, Neverwinter Nights kept armchair adventurers busy until 1997, by which time it had amassed an impressive 115,000 subscribers, with up to 500 players interacting together on a single server.

First 'Sims'-type game: Little Computer People

Fifteen years before Will Wright's squabblin', workin', cookin', lovin' virtual humanoids burst on the PC gaming scene to spawn a seemingly-endless parade of sequels, spinoffs and expansions, Activision laid the groundwork with 1985's Little Computer People.

Though little remembered now, LCP was years ahead of its time. Via a cutaway view of a tiny digital dollhouse, the game tasked players with feeding and caring for their computerized pet. The Little Person could talk on the phone, play the piano, and even type adorable letters to its caretaker.

First sports game: Odyssey Football

It turns out that the first home console ever released -- the Magnavox Odyssey, launched in 1972 -- featured Football as one of the original 12 games bundled with the system (three others were Tennis, Hockey, and Ski).

"Just like the pros," reads the Watergate-era ad copy. "Plan your own strategy. Pass, run, even kick. Touchdown!" In truth, the game was exceedingly basic and required a plastic television overlay to make it resemble a gridiron at all, a far cry from Madden's hyper-realism.

First full musical score: Pitfall II

Video games have made use of music almost since the beginning: who could forget, for instance, the sinister, Jaws-esque two-note thrum that accompanied the action in 1979's Asteroids, accelerating as the number of rocks onscreen decreased?

But 1984's Pitfall II: Lost Caverns -- sequel to the Atari 2600 blockbuster -- upped the ante with a four-channel musical theme so sophisticated it required a custom chip built into the game cartridge. A rousing march clearly inspired by John Williams's theme from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' the tune, composed by Tim Shotter, was cleverly integrated into gameplay in a way that anticipated today's 'procedural' music: the brassy main fanfare would kick in every time Pitfall Harry scooped up another treasure, while his death would trigger modulation into a mournful minor-key version of the same melody. On the evolutionary path from primordial blips and bloops to today's full-orchestra extravaganzas, Pitfall II marked a critical step.

First downloadable game service: PlayCable

Steam. OnLive. Direct2Drive. Xbox Live Arcade. Digital distribution is usually viewed as a child of the new millennium. Lost in the mists of history, though, are two online game distribution services that were literally decades ahead of their time.

1981's PlayCable allowed subscribers to download Intellivision games over their cable TV line, while 1983's Gameline provided a similar service to Atari 2600 users, albeit over the telephone. Barely noticed in their own time, such services blazed a trail that wouldn't be followed up on for over twenty years. Skeptical? Check out this 30-year-old ad for PlayCable featuring none other than Mickey Mantle: ( games.yahoo.com )

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You, me and... no baby!

You, me and... no baby! - Their passion for trekking brought them together. For Kamalika and Tapash of Kolkata, love blossomed during high-adrenalin training sessions of a mountaineering club. And despite being nine years apart, they knew they were meant to be together and take on some death defying adventures.

Married for almost two years now, the couple has taken the first step to realising their dream by floating an adventure sports company that takes groups on camping and trekking excursions. With more ambitious projects in the pipeline, they can't even consider having a child. Asks Kamalika, "Our lives are uncertain, what if we didn't return from an expedition? What would happen to our baby then?" She accompanies her husband on all his trips. "We want to explore a lot of places, and there is no question of bringing up a child for the heck of it," she reasons.

(You, me and… no baby! )

Hers is not a remote instance and a whole new tribe of fiercely independent couples today is choosing to not make babies and focus instead on their creative pursuits.

When Subroto Ghosh (name changed), 40, a journalist living in Pune gave marriage a shot last year, he had one thing very clear in his mind — no babies! And fortunately for him, his wife too came from the same school of thought. He is candid, "The thought of having an 18-year-old at the age of 58 is disturbing. A child should ideally be an independent adult before you retire." He adds, "My wife and I have erratic work schedules. I don't think we would have done justice by bringing another life to the world." To give a dimension to their marriage, the couple has adopted a cocker spaniel 'Belch', that by Subroto's own admission seeks as much attention as a child.

Until some years ago, couples who couldn't have kids were looked down upon, let alone those who chose to not have one. The perception has somewhat changed as more and more couples are opting to never become parents. Says Dr Rajendra Barve, psychologist at IIT Hospital, Mumbai, "These are couples who have found a purpose in life as against those who feel companionship is only about holidaying and partying. The latter usually end up having extra-marital affairs and eventually lose interest in their partner. Baby or no baby, it's about how creatively a couple is intimate with each other."

But for Abhay, 26, a marketing personnel based out of Bhopal, having children is an investment he is not willing to make. A year into marriage, both Abhay and his wife Rhea, have decided to steer clear of parenting. "Being responsible for someone throughout their life makes me jittery. Once you have a kid, you are grounded; either you or your spouse has to sacrifice a career to raise the child. Else, it would be unfair on the kid," shares Abhay. Like Subroto, the couple has adopted a labrador pup 'Foster' that keeps the household alive. 'When Rhea and I go out, Foster gets all sad and distant. It is a terrible feeling to leave him behind, and we wonder how painful it would be were it our own kid," says he.

Perhaps a pet is easier to deal with and yet gives a high similar to raising a child. Vikram Karve, 54, who wrote a heart-warming short story on a Double Income No Kid (DINK) couple, is married for the last three decades and has grown up children. "We have an empty nest, which our pet beautifully fills up. But this is not to say that you should keep a pet instead of a baby. Those who get married should have kids as it is the kid that brings good vibes into the relationship," he avers.
According to Delhi-based sociologist Reeta Brara, couples not going for kids is a mere trend and not true across the board. Says she, "Blame it on today's self-indulgent lifestyles, where couples are not willing to share their resources even with kids. Young working women often think their career will take a backseat if they planned babies." But Reeta feels some unwed career-driven mothers such as Sushmita Sen are doing a great job of parenting, despite the odds.

Painter-curator, Alka Raghuvanshi, 48, who has married and divorced twice with no kids, is clear. "You can't divorce a child. From diapers to dentures it is a never-ending proposition. Women who say they can balance everything from career to kids, are lying to their teeth," she quips. Alka had lost a baby in her womb just a day before its birth from her first marriage. But she has no regrets, "After the incident I lost interest in having a baby and conveyed as much to my husband. I believe God willed me to not have kids. With a child around I couldn't have travelled the way I did, and painted with the same passion."

With mounting pressures of daily life, couples not willing to make an emotional and financial investment into parenting are on the rise. But how natural or unnatural is it for a couple to not have kids? "It's not a socio-culturally natural way of living," says Dr Bhavna Barmi, senior clinical psychologist and marital therapist at Escorts Heart Institute, "as physiologically, the body has a child-bearing capacity which should be optimised."( timesofindia.indiatimes.com )

Whatever the decision, it's the 'little' joys that make up life! 

READ MORE - You, me and... no baby!

Know you're in a healthy relationship

Know you're in a healthy relationship - Everyone talks about being a good, healthy relationship. But what exactly does 'healthy' signify. Put simply, you are in a healthy relationship when you feel good about yourself when around your loved one and there is an equal amount of give and take between both the partners. Most important is the trust factor, you should feel safe around the other person and trust him/her with your secrets. Remember, healthy relationships evolve as each person evolves in his or her ability to be loving to both, themselves and each other.

Here are some important factors for a healthy relationship:

(Being happy as individuals…)


Is kindness more important to each of you than having your way, being in control, or being right? Do you each receive joy out of being kind to each other? Being kind rather than controlling with each other is essential for a healthy relationship.

Spontaneous warmth and affection

This is an important factor. Affection and warmth toward each other help a couple to appreciate the essence of each other, rather than just pinpoint the faults. Consequently, it also helps strengthen the relationship as they are able to enjoy each other, both as individuals, and as a couple.

Laughter and fun

It's vital to the well being of your relationship that both of you laugh and play together. Learn to appreciate and enjoy each other's sense of humour, especially in the midst of difficulties. Both of you need to let down and be playful with each other, letting yourselves be like kids together, as laughter and fun play a huge role in a healthy relationship.

Enjoying time together and time apart

You may both be each other's favourite person to spend time with. However, it is also essential that you grow as individuals and spend quality time with yourself, indulging in your hobbies and passions.

Individual friends and interests

Some couples spend a lot of time together because they really enjoy it, while others spend a lot of time together out of fear of being alone. It is important for a healthy relationship for each person to have friends and interests, so that they are not dependent on each other. Dependency is not healthy in a relationship, especially emotionally.

Resolving conflicts

All relationships experience conflicts in some form or the other. It is not the conflict that is the issue, but how you deal with it. As a couple, you need to have a method for resolving conflict or else you will end up just sweeping aside. Also, if fighting is a part of how you deal with conflict, learn to fight fair, do not be hurtful or insulting.

Letting go of anger

If one or both of you get angry, do you hang on to it, punishing your partner with it, or can you easily let it go? In healthy relationships, both partners are able to quickly move on, back into kindness and affection.

Trust in your love

You need to trust each other that the love is solid, even in very difficult times. You need to know that you can mess up, fail, disappoint the other, emotionally hurt the other and that your love will still be there. This level of trust is essential for a healthy relationship.

Listening, understanding, accepting and learning

Even though you are a couple, each of you need to feel heard, understood and accepted. Share your secrets with your partner without the fear of being judged. Be interested in learning about yourselves and each other than in controlling each other. Listen to each other with an open heart and make the effort to understand your partner before judging each other or defending your actions.


Your sexual relationship needs to be warm and caring. Be sexually spontaneous and more importantly, talk with each other about what brings pleasure to each of you.

Freedom to be yourself

Just because you are a couple, it doesn't mean you have to be a mirror image of each other. Remember, you are individuals with your own personal choices and tastes. To be in a healthy relationship, you need to have the freedom to be yourself without the fear of being criticised. Learn to support each other in pursuing what brings you'll joy. After all, happy individuals make happy couples. ( timesofindia.indiatimes.com )

READ MORE - Know you're in a healthy relationship

No love for women with high IQ?

No love for women with high IQ? - In Kerala's male-dominated society, men shy away from taking on highly intellectual women as their life partners

It's a fact. Studies have proved that women are indeed blessed with a higher IQ when compared to men. The study, conducted over a period of 100 years, shows that the difference in IQ between the two sexes has been narrowing down over the years only to show an increase in favour of the fairer sex. However, the results have become the talking point in Kerala, especially among those who're looking forward to get married! In a conservative state like Kerala, where men still impose their dominance over women, it seems a guy is not really comfortable with the idea that his partner may have a higher IQ than him. We get an insight into why the men are shying away...

(No love for women with high IQ)

Gals say...

Radhika Sasi, a software professional based in Trivandrum, says, "Men pretend to accept the fact that their prospective partners are better than them. He also seems to be alright with her popularity or fame as the case may be. But it is not something they can easily digest, as it is their ego at stake. More often than not, what's on the guy's mind comes through over time and the results are there for all to see — the state has one of the highest divorce rates." Media professional Reethu Zac points out, "Girls opt to marry Malayalees who are open-minded. A guy would be okay with his wife working. But the moment she begins to outsmart him in a field that is originally meant to be his, there will be trouble."

Guys say...

Shafeel Shaf, a sales executive in Kochi, agrees to a certain extent. He says, "It's true that Malayalee men, though modern outwardly, are conservative and egoistic when it comes to dealing with their partners." Rakesh HK, a media professional adds, "If my partner can teach me what I lack and complete my thoughts and perception, and also, help me be successful, then I think that defines the term 'better-half.' " Shafeel points out, "Generally, men don't mind being with women who are intellectually superior as long as the status quo of their relationship is not hampered. If the woman shows off her superiority over men in public, no man would tolerate it, at least not in Kerala."

Here are certain factors that can be attributed to the increase in IQ among women...
  • Demanding lifestyle
  • Better adaptability
  • Exposure to better educational and professional opportunities
  • Tapering gender difference
( timesofindia.indiatimes.com )

READ MORE - No love for women with high IQ?

Ernie Els comes from six shots back to win British Open in dramatic fashion

Ernie Els comes from six shots back to win British Open in dramatic fashion - It didn't seem likely at the start of the day. Six shots back of Adam Scott when he teed off on Sunday afternoon, Ernie Els' chances of taking home his fourth major championship were slim. The way Scott was playing coming into the final round, hitting picture-perfect approach shots and rolling in key putts, Els knew the only way he was walking away with the Claret Jug was with a brilliant round ... and a little bit of help from the Aussie.

He got both, as Els picked up four birdies on the back nine, including a must-make, 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that cut the deficit to one, and Scott completely unraveled over the last four holes to hand the South African his second Claret Jug. (Side note: The win means Els now has major wins in three difference decades.)

Ernie Els / Getty Images

"I feel for him," Els said of Scott after the round. "I'm numb. Later on it will set in that I won this golf tournament, but right now I really feel for my buddy. He's such a great guy. He's so close to being such a great superstar. I know that's not the way he wanted to lose a tournament. I feel very fortunate, but I feel very bad for Adam today."

Els looked to be in a state of complete shock after his round, sharing a hug with his caddie as he tried to make sense of the situation. The thing is everyone, including Els, is still trying to come to grips with what has to be one of the worst collapses in major championship history.

Els won the tournament, sure, but heading to the 18th, it appeared as if he'd likely come up just short again on golf's biggest stage, after he missed a makeable birdie putt on the 16th, and another on the 17th.

At the time you got the feeling that the near-misses were a sign that this wouldn't be his week. But Els pressed on, pulling driver on one of the toughest driving holes on the course and hitting his best tee shot of the tournament, watching as his ball came to rest in the center of the fairway, well within wedge range.

Els took dead aim with his approach and hit it to 15 feet for a makeable birdie opportunity. Now let's set the scene here: Over the last year, Els has missed some excruciating putts, including a couple critical misses in a playoff at the Zurich Classic, and a 3-footer at the Transitions Championship that cost him a playoff spot.

After years of being one of the best clutch putters in the world, it seemed like every time Els had a biggie to do something special, the ball never went in. This time around, however, was different. Els struck the putt and watched as it disappeared into the hole for birdie.

With the exception of David Duval, who won at Royal Lytham back in 2001, nobody had more success at this course coming into the week. Els finished T-2 (1996) and T-3 (2001) the last two times Royal Lytham hosted the British Open, which led people to believe he could be a factor.

Els didn't disappoint, hanging around the lead all week before making a back-nine charge on Sunday that ended with an incredibly clutch birdie putt on the final hole of the tournament.

''It was my time for some reason," Els said after his round. It certainly was. (Yahoo! Sports)

READ MORE - Ernie Els comes from six shots back to win British Open in dramatic fashion

Stop Getting Ripped Off on Auto Insurance

Stop Getting Ripped Off on Auto Insurance - Do you feel like you're spending more on auto insurance than you need to? Want 2012 to be the year you put money back into your wallet? 

Good news: You're likely already doing things that can help you save.

In fact, a 2011 trends survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) found that 53 percent of Americans have made an economic-driven change that could impact the cost of their car insurance in the past year.

Read on for some additional tips on potential car insurance savings that can help you stay on budget this year...

Now is the perfect time to give your auto insurance a tune-up. Here are ten tips on how you can do it.

Tip #1 - Shop Around 

The Internet has redefined shopping. And that holds true with auto insurance. In fact, it's never been easier to shop for a lower rate.

But don't shop by price alone, advises Insurance Information Institute's (III) Vice President Loretta Worters. "Buying insurance is not just to protect you financially, it's also to provide peace of mind. So, it's important to pick a company that is financially stable," she says.

She suggests asking friends and relatives about their insurers, or contacting your state insurance department to find out whether they provide information on consumer complaints by company.

Here are other shopping suggestions from Worters:
  • Get at least three quotes.
  • Give the same information to all three companies; this ensures your comparison will be more accurate.
  • Check the financial health of insurance companies with rating companies such as A.M. Best and Standard & Poor's. 
There's a word for paying for something you'll never use: frustrating. Unfortunately, many people over-insure with auto insurance, according to Worters.

For example, collision and/or comprehensive coverage, which protect your car in the event it's damaged, may not be necessary on an older car. Worters' general rule: if your car is worth less than 10 times the premium, buying the coverage may not be cost-effective.

Information from NAIC's website also suggests that if a car is worth less than $1,000, you should consider only carrying liability coverage, which protects from damage you do to others or to property. This is because you'll likely pay more in premiums than the insurance will payoff, if and when you file a claim.

Tip #3 - Pay a Higher Deductible

Ironically, raising your deductible, the amount you'll pay out-of-pocket in the case of a claim, could be a great savings opportunity.

How? According to an III article titled "How Can I Save Money on Auto Insurance?," increasing your deductible from $200 to $500 could reduce your collision and comprehensive coverage cost by 15 to 30 percent. If you raise your deductible to $1,000, your savings could climb to 40 percent or more.

If you decide to pursue this potential money-saving route, make sure you have the funds to cover the deductible in the case of an accident.

Tip #4 - Cash in on That

Wedding If you got married since you last renewed your policy, be sure to let your insurer know. 

"Generally speaking, you can save money when you get married since married people file fewer claims than singles," says Worters. Therefore, married people are considered less of a risk than single people and can often qualify for lower premiums.

On the other end of the spectrum, if 2012 is a year of divorce instead of marriage, you still might be able to save if your ex had a bad driving record.

Tip #5 - Remove Children from Your Policy 

Is your son or daughter going off to college this year? If so, you could save by labeling him or her as only an occasional driver on your policy. This means your child will only drive your car while home for vacation or holidays. And the savings could be significant. 

Parents typically see a 50 percent increase in their insurance premiums if a child under 25 years old is listed on their policy, says Worters. 

However, to qualify for a potentially lower premium, most insurers will require that the college your son or daughter attends is at least 100 miles from home, according to "Auto Insurance FAQ's" from NAIC's website.

Tip #6 - Drive Less 

Driving less is trending. At least that's what the 2011 NAIC survey on economy-driven trends found. It states that almost 40 percent of consumers are diving less, instead choosing to carpool, walk, or take public transportation more often. If you're a part of that 40 percent, you could qualify for a low-mileage discount.

"You could save 10 to 20 percent, depending on factors like which state you live in," says Worters. So check your mileage. If it's 10,000 miles per year or less, you could be in for some good news about your premium, according to an III article, "What Determines the Price of my Policy."

Tip # 7 - Buy a Different Car 

Are you thinking about buying a new car this year? Don't forget to check the insurance prices for the various makes and models you're considering. It could make a big difference.

Car insurance premiums are based in part on the car's price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record, and the likelihood of theft, according to Worters. And if you thought only pimped-out luxury rides got targeted by thieves, think again. 

The three most stolen cars in the U.S. for 2010 were the Honda Accord, Honda Civic, and Toyota Camry, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau's "Hot Wheels" report.

So, before you pick out your new ride for 2012, make sure to research the car's stats and determine whether or not the insurance premium is in your budget.

Tip # 8 - Move Out of the City 

Like marriage, you likely won't be moving out of the city based on auto insurance rates. But if you have moved out of the city, or if changes in your work allow you to drive and park in less urban areas, make sure your insurer gets the good news. Because to them, that's exactly what it is.

In fact, insurers consider cities so much more of a risk because of traffic (increased accidents), theft, and vandalism, that the 10 highest places to insure a car in 2011 were all populous cities, according to III.

And because we know you're curious, here are the three costliest places in the U.S. to insure a car:*
  • Detroit, Mich.- Average annual premium: $5,941
  • Philadelphia, Pa.- Average annual premium: $4,076
  • New Orleans, La. - Average annual premium: $3,599
Tip #9 - Use an Anti-Theft Device 

Since stolen cars mean insurance payouts, there are some anti-theft devices that will garner you substantial savings.

For instance, says Worters, signing up for LoJack - which uses a hidden transmitter to let police track your car if and when it gets stolen - could net you a 15 to 20 percent discount.

Just make sure that whatever savings you get pays for the anti-theft device, if that's your primary purpose for using it. Of course, getting your stolen car back is kind of a nice thing, too.

Tip #10 - Take Advantage of Any and All Discounts 

From being a good student to simply aging, there are a number of auto insurance discounts that you could potentially qualify for. But, don't expect your insurance carrier to automatically sign you up for discounts for which you qualify.

To get you started, here are a few common discounts:**
  • Mature Driver - Many insurers lower rates by 10 to 20 percent for drivers over 50 or 55, according to Worters.
  • Good Credit Score - Better credit usually equals a better rate, but not all states allow for credit-based insurance scores.
  • Good Student Discount - Usually requires a B average for a full-time student.
  • Passive Restraints - This is for seat belts that automatically buckle when you start the car.
  • Driver Education Course - Completing a defensive driving course could qualify you for savings.
  • Bundled Insurance - Get your auto and home or renters insurance with the same company.
  • Pay in Full - Applies when you pay your entire premium in one payment rather than installments. 
*Average insurance rates come from the Insurance Information Institute, as of August 2011, and are based on business driving for a 2012 Chevrolet Malibu LS. Assumes $100,000/$300,000/$50,000 liability limits, collision, and comprehensive with $500 deductibles, 100/300 uninsured motorist coverage, and any mandatory insurance coverage.
**All discounts not available from all insurers and amount varies with coverage and carrier.

READ MORE - Stop Getting Ripped Off on Auto Insurance

What's Behind The Record Heat?

What's Behind The Record Heat ? - Heat is beating records around the country: the first five months of 2012 have been the hottest on record in the contiguous United States. And that's not including June, when 164 all-time high temperature records were tied or broken around the country, according to government records.

That's unusual, since the most intense heat usually comes in July and August for much of the country, said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist with National Climatic Data Center. For example, only 47 all-time high records were tied or broken in June of last year. 

Also, more than 40,000 daily heat records have been broken around the country so far this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Compare that with last year —the ninth warmest on record — when only 25,000 daily records had been set by this date. 

In other words, the heat really is that bad. And behind the records is a set of weather and climate conditions that is keeping the heat locked in over the country, with little respite in sight.

Can't stand the heat

The warm summer follows an unusually warm winter, which was the hottest and driest that the western United States has ever seen since records have been kept, said Jeff Weber, a scientist with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

The heat burning up the country right now is due in part to a persistent high pressure system, also called a heat ridge or dome, which parked itself over the mountain west, and has now shifted east into the Midwest and Southeast. The system is unfortunately stuck in place, Weber said, because of a slowdown of the North Atlantic Oscillation, a climate pattern that pulls weather patterns eastward across the country.

This "blocking" of the Atlantic has caused the jet stream, which normally ferries air from west to east across the United States, to buckle and trap heat in the Midwest and Southeast, Weber told OurAmazingPlanet.

High and dry

That's not unusual in the summer, said National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Carbin. But this pattern of hot air does cover a broader area than usual, and the total amount of hot air is greater, stretching higher up in the atmosphere than normal, he said.

Dry soils, in part a product of the dry winter, exacerbate the heat. "If the soils were wetter, more energy would be absorbed by the water and the daily high temperatures wouldn't be as warm," Crouch told OurAmazingPlanet. For example, southern Georgia and Florida, drenched by Tropical Storm Debby, haven't been as hot as areas to the north in the last week or so.

Unfortunately, the heat doesn't look likely to dissipate soon, with the National Weather Service expecting warmer-than-usual temperatures to continue for the remainder of the summer across much of the country. The southwest and Rocky Mountains could be in for a reprieve soon, however, thanks to the beginning of the North American monsoon, which is predicted to start bringing moisture and cooler temperatures into the area later this week, Weber said.

Climate change?

The early heat waves of summer — following higher temperatures in spring and winter — could also be part of a pattern of climate change.

"It's consistent with what we'd expect in a warming climate, but it's hard to quantify any effect climate change might have on an individual event like this heat wave," Crouch said. 

While only one heat wave cannot by itself be linked to climate change, a significant increase in these types of events over time could be a hallmark of a warming planet. "An increasing frequency of heat waves —that's one aspect of climate change you can point to," Carbin said.

Over the past few years, daily record high temperatures have been outpacing daily record lows by 2-to-1 on average, according to the website Climate Central. A 2009 study found that if the climate were not warming, that ratio would be expected to be even. So far this year, there have been 40,113 high temperature records set or tied, compared with just 5,835 cold records, a ratio of about 7-to-1.

"This could be a harbinger of things to come," Weber said. ( LiveScience.com )

READ MORE - What's Behind The Record Heat?