More from: wal-mart

Next Smart Phone not a Smart Phone

Note: this article is the writers personal opinion. It is based upon almost 40 years of experience in small computers and communications, but it is still an opinion. It is presented AS IS. All use is at your own risk.


According to an article in Network World over half (65%) of persons choosing a new phone will not choose a smart phone, but a less featured ordinary “dumb” phone. Images showing November 2010 survey results can be seen here and here. Apparently, owners of any Android variety are more likely to upgrade to a full smartphone than other types, with most people choosing to buy a phone that lacks even basic Internet or texting.

The survey found that 49% of current Android owners traded up from a not-smartphone while 13% switched from a BlackBerry device. 11% of Android owners are on their second Android device, compared to repeat buyers of iPhone at 26% and BlackBerry at 32%. It is rather astounding that 11% of a random sample would even be on a second Android… Android is essentially only two-years old.

The most common business reason given for refusing to buy a smart phone were that the high cost of ownership and requisite service contracts was not justifiable: very few felt the devices were too complicated for them to utilize. A Dutch friend of mine once told me that in Holland phones are $5 each and include all capabilities: no roaming charges, not extra fees: they buy several and keep them in a basket for out of town guests to use. By comparison the cost to Americans of nearly $100 per month with a multitude of restrictions, abusive early cancellation penalties, and piles of extra add-on fees, is rather repugnant.

For business this should be awake up call: clearly consumers are tired of expensive and deceptive contracts that add more charges after the fact. Of course telephone companies have pulled this for years, but with the mobile market it has been far more abusive than before. The net result of American mobile plan pricing is apparently to discard 65% of the market by charging drastically more than the market will bear. Watch for a severe adjustment as enabling factors are already in place: China and other foreign powers are rapidly buying up foreign markets.

All that would be required to completely own the American mobile market is for a Nokia, a Wal-Mart or another large Chinese corporation to decide to offer a no hassles plan everywhere in the US with a flat $20 fee. The existing top heavy mobile corporations that are charging substantially above market price are not likely to adjust fast enough to survive: their thinking seems to be that they can control the market, which is a fantasy that can exist only until competition recognizes this low hanging fruit waiting to be eaten and simply takes over.

There is no such thing as a free lunch: there is only temporarily above market pricing followed by a market adjustment. Such a take over could be achieved in one or two months, suddenly resource starving the existing American players with an extreme interruption in their cash flow that would force them to either accept their rival as their Hegemon by stock exchange or merging, or at least forcing them to sell off their towers and fiber and drastically resize human assets sufficiently to meet payroll in the third month. With something like a $32b trade imbalance right now China does have the cash required. At that point market terms could be set by the survivor, most likely a 50% correction (prior $60/month average – minimum $20/month)/2 resulting in a flat market price near $39.95/month.


Tax Software

Tax time is fast approaching. There is info on how to file US and State taxes for free, without buying any tax software at all just a bit further down this page.

We used the Intuit TurboTax and Quicken products basically since their creation but a few years ago we ran into what we considered irreconcilable differences(Note 1) and had to fire Intuit. Since that time we have purchased the new H&R Block Tax Cut software each year.

H&R Block changed the product name this year to H&R Block At Home. It comes in several versions, Basic, Deluxe, and Premium. We priced the product on H&R Block’s web site, via a CD H&R Block mails to their past customers to recapture their business for this year, and through web sites for three large office supply chains: Office Depot, Staples, and Wal-Mart.

If your taxes are pretty ordinary (no special business forms or such) then just go to Wal-Mart and buy the $15 ‘Basic’ package. OR skip buying software at all and just use the Free IRS web site.

The benefit of buying the software is the additional safety of having someone besides Big Brother look over your taxes as you work on them and then tell you what to change *before* you file it, the ability to start your taxes on your notebook right away and come back later to finish, for example if you still need some information that is missing when you start, and also the ability to print nice copies of your tax return for all those situations that demand them through the year: your return stays on your computer so you just start the program and click print. If you like the program and buy another one next year, then your work from this year should be automagically sucked into next year’s program for you, so you can skip some typing (such your name, address, ssn, and how much your refund was for 2009).

We looked at the prices (to nearest whole dollar) in each case, and the results are as follows:

Basic Deluxe
w/o State
Deluxe
with State
Premium
H&R Block Web Site $35.00 $45.00 $60.00
Office Depot $20.00 $20.00 $35.00 $50.00
Staples $20.00 $30.00 $45.00 $60.00
Wal-Mart $15.00 $40.00 $50.00

Office Depot advertised the Deluxe without (w/o) State but they were sold out (obviously people know they don’t need State in Indiana because they can file for free on the IN.GOV web site). Why Office Depot is stocking Deluxe with State in Indiana is beyond me. Maybe they are just hoping people will not know about filing for free on IN.GOV and buy the State anyway.

If your income is less than $57,000 you can probably copy the resulting forms right onto the http://www.irs.gov/ on the IRS “FreeFile”, which I think is about everyone. If you actually snookered more than $57,000 last year you can still use e-File on the IRS site. OOOHHHH and remember Adult Life Training has been doing wonderful work helping displaced older workers update their job skills and so they can get re-employed and reduce your tax burden for this year. Send your tax deductible donation to Adult Life Training, c/o Abundant Life, 3301 East Coliseum Blvd, Fort Wayne, IN 46805 or click the button at top left of their page to Donate with PayPal. (end of shameless promotion of my charity)

If you use Free File or E-File the refund should be in your bank account in 10 days or less. Ditto for the Indiana Personal Income taxes — just copy a few numbers onto the IN.GOV tax form, without paying big ‘electronic filing’ fees to some corporation. There might be a filing fee of say $2, Indiana tends to do stuff like that.

Prices are shown to the nearest dollar. We ended up buying at Office Depot. We wanted the package without the State capacity because Indiana provides free income tax filing to their citizens via their IN.GOV web site — no eFiling fee, no extra charge for preparation, no third party collecting your financial data and then forwarding it to Indiana for you: we just type the numbers from our federal form onto Indiana’s web form and file. We like that.

Photo H&R Block At Home Premium
Photo H&R Block At Home Premium

As it turns out, the Office Depot folks explained that I needed the Premium version because the Deluxe version will not let you fill in a Schedule A or C. This seems like a rather unexpected limitation — a call later to H&R Block busted this claim: Deluxe will do the Forms A, C, and many others.

H&R BLOCK At Home Premium Package contents
H&R BLOCK At Home Premium Package contents

The prices for Intuit started at $24.95 and went up to $129.95. I felt that their web site was also a bit confusing because they advertised “Start for Free” but they didn’t really describe when they get my money or how much of it they expect to get in a way that I felt was obvious — money details should be on the first screen. Apparently Intuit’s Home and Business (compares to Block’s Premium) is $74.95 PLUS $36.95 more if you want the State too.

Guess H&R Block is the competitor this year.

The competition considered, $50 for H&R Block At Home Premium (their Home & Small Business version) isn’t so bad, even if I would have liked to escape paying for the State that I did not need or want. In H&R Block’s defense, they do include five (5) eFiles with that package, except there is only one of me so you go figure. Maybe 4 more people would like to eFile their Federal Return with my tax package. Hmmmm. Wonder if I could soak ’em each for say, $12.50?

Our test system is a VMWare virtual machine (VM) with dual core CPU and 4 gig of RAM running Windows 7 Ultimate. We copied our data from last year into the VM and let Windows 7 update itself before we began. We converted the CD to an .iso  to serve the VM as a CD for the install. Installation was straight forward with nothing to see: we started the CD and clicked seven times. Done. Maybe 2 minutes total.

Operation of the software is straight forward. You just follow the screens and type in the numbers it requests. The software will ask you questions to discover which forms to use to your best advantage, then finally it will test your return to be sure there is nothing in it to trigger an audit and send it electronically to IRS. To make extra copies later you just start the program again and click print.


Notes:
1. For years we used the Intuit Turbo Tax, and then a few years ago we black listed Intuit over what we felt were several ethical and security issues: we do not like their installation of the “Content Guard” copyright protection software on our computers because we had very bad experience using it with Zinio some years ago (it kept forgetting we were allowed to use our subscriptions, which we simply cannot afford to have happen with our financial data), and we had a major dispute with Intuit over their demand that we pay them $200 every year to buy the same information contained in the (free) IRS Circular E, even though we prefer to do our own payroll and their QuickBooks product represented that as one of three ways we could use our copy of QuickBooks to do our payroll.
Intuit literally told me that business persons are not capable of typing in the three or four numbers from the Circular E, so it is in our best interest that they force us to pay them to do it for us instead, and to enforce that position by deleting all our payroll multipliers (withholding rate, etc) every time we try to run payroll. We had been buying their new version of Turbo Tax and the accompanying consumer accounting software Quicken for more than a decade — from Quicken version 2.0 on up.
So that is how we started using an alternative tax preparation software, Tax Cut by H&R Block. Not that it was all that different to use: H&R Block simply seems to understand that their customers do not want their financial secrets potentially compromised by malfunctioning ‘copy protection’ software and so far as I have detected, they have not followed in Intuit’s steps to so disrespect their paying customers.
Note: this article is the writers personal opinion. It is based upon almost 40 years of experience in small computers and communications, but it is still an opinion.It is presented AS IS. All use is at your own risk.

Virus Costs Computer Owners

The twitter.com web company has begun suspending accounts belonging to people whose computers are infected with ‘Koobface’ virus. The virus posts messages using the infected person’s accounts on social networking web sites, such as FaceBook.com, MySpace.com, and Twitter.com. The viral messages contain links, which when clicked spread the virus to the clicking party’s computer. Readmore..