I have been a loyal TurboTax user for more than 10 years. Specifically, I’ve used TurboTax online so I could use any of the computers in my house to work on my taxes. But this year? I decided it was time to shop around instead of blindly shoveling $79.99 toward Intuit, the company that owns TurboTax. I limited my shopping to the “big three” tax prep providers: TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxACT. Why? Because taxes are serious business, and a lot of people, including me, feel more comfortable using tax prep software that has been used by millions of people and, therefore, is likely to have few or no bugs.
You own a small(ish) business. Or maybe you don’t, but you work for one. At the very least, you almost certainly have friends who own or manage small businesses. And all of you should know the basics of PR, but probably don’t. Not many small businesses know how to do effective PR. In fact, not all that many *big* businesses or PR agencies are good at it. This is silly, because PR doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated to be effective.
Lee Drake specializes in Microsoft technology, including their cloud products. He’s honest enough to refer clients who don’t want to use Microsoft to people he knows who can serve them better than his company, OS-Cubed, can. This is a major “plus” mark if/when you’re choosing an IT consultant or vendor: the admission that no one person or company knows everything about everything.
I recently downloaded the latest version of LibreOffice, the free, open source office suite I use when my work requires print-style text formatting, a slide show or a spreadsheet. Or, more often, to read and work with a document prepared in a proprietary office suite like the one Microsoft sells. And after I finished my download, I donated $10 to The Document Foundation, which maintains LibreOffice. I didn’t have to pay $10 for the latest version of the software, but I did because it’s the right thing to do — and also because it’s almost always less expensive to support a free software project than to buy commercial software.
Here comes the Super Bowl! And there it goes! Suddenly, there is no compelling reason to buy an even bigger HDTV than you already have, especially if you’re an American male. And low-cost laptop prices seem to be rising slowly after their annual post-Christmas slump. But they *are* rising, and once tax refunds start hitting there will be more buyers for both laptops and TVs, so if you want to buy either one you’d better get moving, at least if you want to get the best deals available before the end of the tax refund spending season, which we can loosely call June 1.
Tablets keep getting cheaper. Today’s bargain, courtesy of my LogicBuy newsletter subscription, is an ASUS VivoTab 8 M81C-B1-MSBK Signature Edition Tablet running Windows 8.1. Not a bad deal for a tablet with Windows and — Wait! There’s More! — a year’s subscription to Office 365 personal edition, supposedly a $69.99 value. We don’t know how long this deal will last, so if you’ve always wanted a tablet running Windows, you’d better move fast. But enough about Windows. Let’s talk about Android.
My HTC Desire 816 Android phone becomes more and more wonderful. The fact that it has decent quality speakers and is loud enough to be heard outdoors from several feet away is marvelous. I use my smartphone as a recumbent trike “dashboard” with a software package called Ulysse, that not only displays a speedometer and odometer and other useful indicators, but has a feature that lets you control other applications through it, including iHeartRADIO, to which I have now become addicted.
Yes, I know iHeartRADIO is a rebrand of the evil Clear Channel Network that bribed lawmakers into allowing a single company to own multiple stations in a single market, and to own hundreds of stations in the country. But (sigh) let’s face it, the playlists of 800 radio stations give an insane selection of music. For instance, Loungin’ Out Radio, what we might call ‘the Roblimo edition,’ which accurately follows my taste because I’ve upvoted music I liked and downvoted music I didn’t like long enough that just about everything I hear now is something I like — for background music or going to sleep.
For other moods, or when I’m out on Silver (as in “Hi ho, Silver, away”), my recumbent trike, I may prefer classic rock or even modern hip-hop or country, depending on my mood. I’m an eclectic music listener…
…which means that I’m a member of local (Tampa area) “Community Conscious Radio” station WMNF, which besides playing an insanely great variety of music, also does more local news than any other broadcaster around here. So I also have the TuneIn Radio app, which gives me not only WMNF but other independent, non-profit and progressive stations.
I started my mobile music junkie ways with iHeartRADIO, but right now I’m listening to a pleasant orchestral piece on WSMR 89.7, our local NPR station.
I remember when Internet Radio was going to be The Next Big Thing, but I never quite got behind it in the beginning. Now, with the mobile Internet reachable anywhere I can get a cellular signal, it is the primary way I get music — in addition to my wife’s and my large collection of CDs and even a few vinyl records.
Dude, My Car’s Right Over There!
Now and then I have a senior moment and forget where I parked my car. Shades of the stupid, ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?‘ movie, eh?
Ah! There it is. Right where my car-finder application, called Where’s My Car, says it should be.
This is totally an application for idiots. It has a big P and a big ?. When you park your car, press P and it records the location. When you want to find your car, you press the big ? button, and you see your car’s location and direction. Walk toward it, hopefully without bumping into anything, and there’s your car.
This app, like most based on GPS, will not work in parking garages or other places that keep your phone’s GPS receiver from having a clear view of the sky.
Is this the best car-finder app for Android? Apparently not, since there are dozens of other ones, and some have higher ratings. But I’ve used ‘Where’s My Car’ since there were hardly any of these apps out there back then and now I’m used to it.
An important app? No. Useful? Yes. There are also ways to track your movements in Google Maps, and you can make your parked car a “waypoint” so you can get back to it. And if you’re parking under cover, as I do now and then in the Tampa airport parking garage, I use my writing app (Google Doc, but you can use whichever one you like) to record the level and position of my car, either by talking or typing.
And voice? Yes! Much fun on its own! But we’ll save that for another time, along with a test of some of the higher-rated car-finders, which can obviously find things like treasure you buried, a boat you tied off in an obscure location, and so on.
Isn’t that right, Matey?! And yo ho ho and a bottle of rum (or soda for the non-drinkers) around this part of the world this time of the year, because we will soon have the Gasparilla Pirate Fest, which is totally the kind of event that always results in lost cars — hopefully with yours not among them because you used ‘Where’s My Car’ when you parked.
Once upon a time there was a little computer you could carry around with you in a briefcase or in a smaller, specialized piece of luggage. You could open this little computer up so that its keyboard sat on your lap and its screen faced you, although it was usually more comfortable to use if it was on a desk or table. In any case, it was small, expensive, and underpowered. It was something you used because you didn’t have access to your ‘real’ computer. But this has changed. Laptops, even Chromebooks, are becoming primary computers for a growing number of people, especially those who use their computers for business.
This is a short post, because it is the one that says good-bye to 2014 and hello to 2015. I am not a big fan of year-end posts, but all my journalist buds are doing them so I might as well do one, too. And the three main things I see happening to us in 2015 are security breaches, security breaches, and security breaches.
We are now into the post-Christmas TV sales hiatus, which experts in the consumer electronics field tell me lasts until about a week before the Super Bowl, which is February 1 this year. It seems that a whole lot of men feel the Super Bowl is a good excuse to buy a 240″ ultra-HD Supervision(TM) TV. So if our old TV is getting blurry, we only have a few weeks to glom onto a new one at an out-of-season discount price.
Finally! The pre-Christmas shopping madness is over. From now through the 1st of January — and often beyond — we’re into gift return madness, which can be as irritating as shopping madness. Go to a store? You’re kidding me! Both the local Walmart and Best Buy have packed parking lots. Hopefully, you don’t have any gifts to return. I only have one, and it’s from Amazon so returning it is a breeze. But that’s not what makes this time of year special. This is the last week of the year, and is traditionally the best time to get great deals on high-cost items *not* bought through big box retailers.