Category Archives: Technology

Got the Turbo Tax Blues

Turbo Tax has pulled the old bait and Switch. Things that we used to for the past 20 years  such as handling Rental  properties,capital gains and  small business deductions are no longer handled by the Basic or Deluxe versions of Turbo TAX. They have pulled the old Bait and Switch and pissed a lot of people off. Long story short. If you need Forms A B or C you will need to get the $75.  Premier Version. If you make deductions at all Basic version will not work.

The changes require customers to upgrade to more expensive versions if reporting investment, self-employment, or rental income — costing an extra $30 to $40 — and surprising many long-time Turbo customers.

“Imagine their surprise when they get halfway through doing their taxes and there is a roadblock in the program that says you have to upgrade,” added Dworsky.

“It can be viewed as a bait and switch, yes,” Prof. Bryan Menk told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Tuesday, “because people were not accustomed to this limitation in a prior year.”

HR Block is helping fight back, They are offering their software for free, to Turbo Tax Users who got screwed.

The Kansas City-based tax preparer (NYSE: HRB) announced it’s new “Switch to Block” program Monday, which offers its Deluxe + State desktop software free to any taxpayers who purchased Intuit’s TurboTax Basic or Deluxe software for 2014.

The offer from H&R Block comes at a time when TurboTax customers who itemize tax deductions through a Schedule A report will find that TurboTax Basic can no longer help them, so in order to file taxes they have to spend an additional $40 on an upgrade to TurboTax Deluxe. H&R Block’s basic software allows those same filers to use its basic software, which typically costs $19.95, but they can transfer for free right now.

While the offer is tempting I think I’m going to run with TaxACT regardless, we will not be using Turbo Tax anymore

Not as Bad as It Seems.

As we close out the old year and start the new one, it is a good time to get look at  where we are. Most of us tend to think the world  is pretty bad shape. Maybe it’s not as bad as we perceive.

Maybe Bill Gates explains it Best:

200 years ago 40%of all children died before the age of five. People didn’t have a chance to be literate or to read books, average life spans were less than 40 years. And so in a span of not to much time, even compared to human history, we have made unbelievable progress; the things we take for granted, the abilty to go out and learn things, to have air conditioning, tove clothing, to have a toilet is pretty phenomenal. So anyone who looks at capitalism and what it does and says, “Okay it’s been a net loss versus that life we had before.” I think there is a loss of perspective there.

Yeah, Its all about perspective.

There ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Tribal warfare in Africa, Yet things seem to be getting better, Our wars for the most part less deadly. We watch news eith its 24 hour cycle and we see war and the horrors of war, and the world seems to be comming apart at the seems. But is it as bad as it seems?

Judging the world through headlines is like judging a city by spending a night in A&E – you only see the worst problems. This may have felt like the year of Ebola and Isil but in fact, objectively, 2014 has probably been the best year in history. Take war, for example – our lives now are more peaceful than at any time known to the human species. Archaeologists believe that 15 per cent of early mankind met a violent death, a ratio not even matched by the last two world wars. Since they ended, wars have become rarer and less deadly. More British soldiers died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme than in every post-1945 conflict put together.

We face heathcare upheaval, Ebola killing thousands.  Our food is supposedly loaded with pesticides, herbacides and hormones. Genetically modified is gonna kill all of us who can’t afford to pay 4 times as much for Wholefood groceries.  It’s doom and gloom and we are all gonna die.  Would you believe that we actually aren’t doing that bad?

This helps explain why Bob Geldof’s latest Band Aid single now sounds so cringingly out-of-date. Africans certainly do know it’s Christmas – a Nigerian child is almost twice as likely to mark the occasion by attending church than a British one. The Ebola crisis has led to 7,000 deaths, each one a tragedy. But far more lives have been saved by the progress against malaria, HIV and diarrhoea. The World Bank’s rate of extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.25 a day) has more than halved since 1990, mainly thanks to China – where economic growth and the assault on poverty are being unwittingly supported by any parent who put a plastic toy under the tree yesterday.

Britons don’t need to look abroad for signs of progress. The Lancet report showed that, since 1990, life expectancy in Western Europe is up by five years – thanks, mainly, to fewer deaths from cancer and heart disease.

The 24 Hour news cycle brings attention to the violent world that we live in.  According to statistics perhaps there is something to entering the golden age of Aquarious.

Homiciderates

To be sure, adding up corpses and comparing the tallies across different times and places can seem callous, as if it minimized the tragedy of the victims in less violent decades and regions. But a quantitative mindset is in fact the morally enlightened one. It treats every human life as having equal value, rather than privileging the people who are closest to us or most photogenic. And it holds out the hope that we might identify the causes of violence and thereby implement the measures that are most likely to reduce it. Let’s examine the major categories in turn.

Homicide. Worldwide, about five to 10 times as many people die in police-blotter homicides as die in wars. And in most of the world, the rate of homicide has been sinking. The Great American Crime Decline of the 1990s, which flattened out at the start of the new century, resumed in 2006, and, defying the conventional wisdom that hard times lead to violence, proceeded right through the recession of 2008 and up to the present.

Happy New Year everyone!!

Hamming things Up

I’ve been playing with my radios this weekend, tweeking some settings, adding frequencies and deleting others.  All the while trying to keep some consistency between the three different radios.  I also set the FT-8800 to work as a cross band repeater.  This will allow me to walk around freely with a handheld, and  still use the power of a more powerful radio. Pretty kewl !!

I made some changes to my ham page I included a list of local repeaters with the settings. This might prove useful to a new ham or someone new or visiting the area.

 

Memo to IRS management

Maybe the IRS should consider moving to Gmail.   They never seem to crash, its constantly backed up  and its free.

Radio Free Galveston

I  changed the Tagline of the blog to today. from “Observations of a Yankee Living in Galveston”  to “Radio Free Galveston”.  The old Tagline was lame and didn’t reflect about what the blog is really about.  The new one in three small words defines  the things I want to post about, and combine to make a tribute to an  effective free press operation.

The new Tagline suggest:

Radio. Is my newest interest and I am  fascinated by different aspects of Amateur radio.

Postings of Galveston news , happenings and politics. Now that the newspaper the Galveston Daily News has turned in a shadow of itself and the website has been buried behind a paywall, There aren’t aren’t as many choices as there used to be.

Free as in freemen (women too) there will always be free people and those who wish to take those freedoms away.

 

New Computer Build

Windows_logo_and_wordmark_-_2012.svgMy trusty little Intel Atom based desktop died a couple weeks ago.  This was a an Ubuntu based system was very inexpensive and yet functional.  I replaced it with a new modern Dell.  Its $600 price tag was double what my Ubuntu based Atom board costs, and came with Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system. I  need to have a functional Windows system these days, unfortunately I haven’t figured out how to configure the system as a dual booter. So for now I’m stuck in the Windows 8 ecology.  I can’t say that I’m impressed with Windows 8 the apps and the convoluted way one must do things,  but the whole Idea of an operating is to run the programs we need to use.

I’ve been downloading and configuring the different program and applications I will need and want to use. I find it kinda surprising how short my list is of essential programs that I have installed.

 Google Chrome

I have been using Chrome since the beggining.  What is pretty kewl is that the apps follow the user in a new installation, as well as ones favorites and book marks.  Eventually I’ll install Firefox but for now Chrome is good enough to do what needs to be done.  The nice thing about Chrome though is that the apps I’ve been using automatically got installed.  Some of these Apps are Tweetdeck and Barcode reader

Thunderbird

Thunderbird is the default email reader for most people these days.  I’m amazed at how fast it is to set up and configure. The program prompts the user for email addresses passwords and IMAP or  POP3.  for most configuration login and mail download is automagilcly done.  Those who are still checking their email via a web brouser might reconcider and check out Thunderbird.

 Olympus Viewer 3

Linux and Windows Vista had pretty good import utilities.  Windows 8 though calls up an app when you plug in a camera into the USB port. The problem with Windows 8 apps is that they don’t use the desktop, so practical multitasking is not accessible.   I’ve previously avoided OEM supplied downloaders, and they were not available for Linux based systems anyway. The new Viewer 3 does a pretty good job and allows some touch up editing.  The program uploads and organizes images just fine. While I installed mine from the supplied CD, it is available online from the Olympus site and I suspect it might work from any camera or flash media.

Arduino

I have a couple of Arduino devices, including the Arduino Mega 2560. The new versions of Arduino Programmer.have a real Windows install routine The Arduino is a great development tool for students and professionals alike.  Arduino is an inexpensive and easy way to develop both software and hardware solutions to control or measure or interface with just about anything.

LibreOffice

I don’t have a preference or do I even know what the differences are between OpenOffice.Org and LibreOffice. As far as I am concerned they are pretty much equivilent.  Libre Office is now at version 4.0 and is my gotto for any document creation and editing.  A great Office suite and more than adequate for anything I’m likely to need at my home office.

Microsoft Online Office 365

 This is both a cloud and an application suite.  We moved to this at the office and it came with 5 installations per user so I was able to install everything at home on my desktop.  Suite has a bunch of parts, all which tends to encourage collaboration. The online stuff is hosted by Sharepoint.and is where all the collaboration magic is going to happen.Outlook is available with all of its normal parts, such as tasks and calendars.  Also available are messaging and a newsgroup type functions, blogs and website building tools.   Outlook is pretty good and is pretty much full function the rest of the Office applications is pretty much a neutered version of the real thing.  but is capable of of opening and creating  most documents.

Office 2013 comes to the package and is quickly installed from on line.   Microsofts cloud storage application. Skydrive Pro, the cloud storage app and resoursource is what ties the desktop apps with the online cloud apps. As long as one stores and accesses the Skydrive everything is synced.

This is all rent software and the desktop stuff only runs on Windows 8 or newer OS or Apple OS10 10.3  and better is supported. Vista and XP users are out of luck,  . While my installation is a corporate version . There is a home edition available.  With a licence for up to 5 machines it might not be a bad deal for some home offices with multiple machines and users.

Python 3.3 and 2.7

Python is a programming language. Its today’s BASIC. The nice part about python is that it is cross platform, and it is an interpretive language no compiler required. Its great for writing scripts and even serves as a self documenting calculator I mostly use 2.x because the syntax is a little different for 3.x .  Its a great install for someone who wishes to learn objective orientated programming or create some quick and dirty utilities.

Some stuff I haven’t installed yet but I know I will is Firefox. and Adobe Reader. While some might claim the PC is dead there is still a lot that can be done on a  home desktop. If it is a Windows machine.

 

Google Cleaning House.

Google is discontinuing their reader service on June 1st.  Google seems to do this a lot, offer a service and get a lot of people to use it then take it away. Most of the ideas are an attempt to get people to  work and stay while in their environment.  The problem is Google wants us to use their tools so that they can mine mine data from us. Unfortunatly, often  what they give they take away, Remember Blogger?    A creation of Pyra Labs,Blogger introduced both the blogger and reader to the art and science of blogging, It was free, and all that was required was a host.  which in many cases was provided by our ISPs When Google bought out Pyra Labs. they introduced free hosting., although bloggers were allowed to self host. In other words  to use a host of their own choosing.  This allowed one to use a commercial Web host. This no only allowed users to maintain ownership of their content, but to avoid Google Censorship. Now Google wasn’t all that dictatorial at least in most cases. But any system which responds to complaints subjective decisions as well as automated processes will make bad decisions.    Self Hosting Blogger was the best of both world.  Until Google insisted that we should use their hosting.  This left bloggers with a choice abandon years of work or move their blog to  Google servers.  I left mine on my leased servers , but with out ability to modify, add new comments.   One  unintended side-affect was the loss trust in Google. The user is aware  what Google gives Google can take away.  All this while Google is trying to pull us into  the collaboration in the the clouds scheme.  The grand plan to pull us in and keep us in a Google environment.

There have been a few attempts by Google to build an all inclusive environment  Google Wave was pulled away it just as people were learning to understand it. bloggers and heavy internet consumers were using Google reader, so Google is taking it away in June.   . Google drive is supposed to be the end all using the cloud collaboratively, Its been a year of promises yet Google still hasn;t delivered Google Drive for Linux.

Its getting pretty apparent that while Google gives us great things to play with, they can’t be trusted with real tools that will be available in the long run.. Bing is actually looking pretty these days.

 

Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD Review

This summer Amazon announced a new replacement for their $200 dollar tablet, the Kindle Fire. The new replacement device to be called the Kindle Fire HD. I received mine as an early birthday gift in September. The FIRE HD now comes in several flavors. The Second Generation non HD version  with 8 gigs of storage memory  7″ tablet sells for $159.00. The 64 Gig 8.9 inch with 4G connectivity for $599.  The model I have and reviewing is the $199 16G 7 inch HD model. The Kindle arrives packaged without a lot of extra goodies inside the box.  It comes with a USB cable but there is no charger, there is no paper manual. The metal and glass  construction of  Fire HD gives it a solid heft and feel. The unit comes fully charged and  preconfigured to your Amazon account. All that is required to do is to make the entries to enable the connections to your home WIFI.  Amazon’s Highlighted features are:

  • 1280×800 HD display with polarizing filter and anti-glare technology for rich color and deep contrast from any viewing angle

  • Exclusive Dolby audio and dual-driver stereo speakers for immersive, virtual surround sound

  • World’s first tablet with dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi for over 35% faster downloads and streaming (compared to the iPad mini)

  • High performance 1.2 Ghz dual-core processor with Imagination PowerVR 3D graphics core for fast and fluid performance

  • Over 23 million movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, books, audiobooks, and popular apps and games such asFacebookNetflixTwitterHBO GOPandora, and Angry Birds Space

  • Integrated support for Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! and more, as well as Exchange calendar, contacts, and email

  • Front-facing HD camera for taking photos or making video calls using Skype, Facebook, and other apps

  • Free unlimited cloud storage for all your Amazon content

  • Kindle FreeTime – a free, personalized tablet experience just for kids on the Kindle Fire HD. Set daily screen limits, and give access to appropriate content for each child

  • NEW Kindle FreeTime Unlimited – just for kids. Unlimited access to books, games, apps, movies and TV shows.Learn more

  •  Prime Instant Video – unlimited, instant streaming of thousands of popular movies and TV shows

  •  Kindle Owners’ Lending Library – Kindle owners can choose from more than 270,000 books to borrow for free with no due dates, including over 100 current and former New York Times best sellersI guess the biggest question one might ask “Is this tablet is the best one for me?”

The answer. of course is, It depends”

Amazons tablets strength is also its weakness. The Operating System is a modified Android Icecream Sandwich. It has been tweaked to work int the Amazon environment.  This is a particular benefit if one subscribes to Amazon’s Prime free shipping program which normally has a $79 annual subscription  fee.  We have found that the free 2 day shipping is well worth the Prime membership fee in itself, and Amazon is our prefered on-line retailer.  The free Kindle stuff is icing on the cake.  The free loaner library is mostly unknown authors, but there are some blockbusters there.  The Ian Flemming’s James Bond ,   Suzzane Collins’ Hunger Games and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  There is a decent selection of free videos I find the movie selection is better (not more, just better) than Netflix. The Kindle HD is a very nice personal video player. The screen and audio is surprisgly high quality for such a small device.

The Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Kindle is the supplied web browser, Silk. I wish they had supplied a more developed browser like Firefox or Chrome, It doesn’t support Flash, or as other have claimed  Flash doesn’t support it. I have never been a fan of Flash, but there are still interactive web and you tube sites that demand it. while Silk can seem sometimes awkward it usually works pretty well and remains pretty transparent in its use.

Still the Kindle HD is primarily  an ereader, and it does an outstanding job at this.  Books are highly readable, there is a good selection of fonts and styles supplied, and the kindle is readable most any conitions ecept when a bright sun is behind you. The bright light will wash out the screen. While there are lots of free books and inexpencively priced books available, Sometimes the ebook prices seem out of line.  We are told that the publishers set the price.  I still purchase the dead tree versions when a bargain can be found.  I enjoy reading ebooks, and they have many advantages and do most of my entertainment reading on the ereader.  Occasionally it just pays to be the cheap deadtree paperback at Sam’s club or the used book store.

My biggest praise for tablets such as the Kindle HD is its use as an Adobe PDF reader. As a field service rep. I have lugged around hundreds of pounds of service and user manuals. A laptop and some labeled fashdrives helped a lot, but with an AC powersupply and limited battery life, even a laptop isn’t always user friendly.  Using a tablet with the free PDF reader program has made my life a little easier.  Another use I have remarkably handy is Skype.  If one can find a Wifi connection it can be really handy face to face communications. There is also a useful magic Jack app which is usefull when the cell phone isn’t working.

All in all the Kindle HD has been a very handy an convienient device, and has is one of those things that is essential to  my every day life at work and play.

 

Notes on ebooks

I’ve been reading a lot thIs summer. I finished Ayne Rand’s Atlas Shrugged It only took me about 3 years. I stared by reading it on an old PDF. The problem is the book is so long it strained my little computer and tended to bog it down pretty seriously.  I got recycled nook, and bought it on line.  The Online book cost around  $14 at Barnes and Noble. It was available cheaper as a paperback. This struck me as a lot of money for a 60 year old book. The ebook cost practically nothing to print and nothing to distribute.  Yet, Barnes and Noble charge more than for a real book.  Atlas Shrugged is available in paperback for $7.99  I thought I was getting some insight why Barnes and Noble may be going out of business.

After  trudging through 1200 some odd ages of of  some pretty dry reading, I decided on something lighter. I had a couple of Lee Childs “Reacher Novels” that my darling Equality had picked up for me.  I noted that they had a Sam’s Club price sticker of $6.36.  The price reflects printing, manufacturing, profits and royalties.  Everyone gets and deserves their share. Amazon wants $9.99 for the same books in electronic format.   Seems to me that taking the printing costs out should save some money.

I like the ebook format, and decided to install the the Kindle reader app into my Home desktop and a netbook. The install wasn’t flawless and simple into Linux WINE, but I managed to get it too work.  The Kindle for PC is pretty nice, book marks kept, and notes can be made.   I am disappointed in the price of the ebooks.   I understand that some books can be bought for the 3 , 4  and 5 dollar range. or even for free, but these aren’t the books that I want to read.    Why can I buy a real book cheaper than the electronic version.  I will continue to buy books at discount brick and mortar joints save money even while paying sales tax, and hold off buying a Kindle. I will continue to buy books I can’t get elsewhere from Amazon, but I won’t buying ebooks that are more expensive than the real thing.

NBC and Twitter Conspire to Censorship.

Posting the email address Gary.zenkel@nbcuni.com cost Tweeter his account.

Guy Adams is pretty upset with NBCs Olympic coverage and the way it is handling the time shifted coverage, and hasn’t been shy about letting the world know.  He holds Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics, as the “moronic exec behind the time delay.” And he said Zenkel should be fired. When He posted Zenkel’s publicly known email address NBC complained to Twitter and Twitter cancelled his account.

Adams said in a column for The Independent that Twitter claimed he crossed the line by tweeting out Zenkel’s corporate email address and encouraging his followers to contact the executive directly.

The email address is easily identifiable, common with how thousands of NBC/Univision employees’ email addresses are determined.

Twitter soon suspended Adams’ account, he said. In a story he wrote in The Independent, Adams wrote that after filing an article critical of NBC’s coverage, he checked his Twitter account only to find it had been suspended. When he inquired why, he received the following response: “Your Twitter account has been suspended for posting an individual’s private information such as private email address.”

With that, the account was gone.

And a controversy was born.

Those who object to the heavy handed way that NBC handled this might wawwant to drop an email to. Gary.zenkel@nbcuni.com