Search The Web

Today's Headlines

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Microsoft Access Tips & Tricks: Highlight Form Controls

When you have long forms with lots of controls to make entries in, it is easy for the user to lose track of where the cursor is, and what control they are supposed to be making an entry in. A well-designed form in which the cursor moves in an orderly fashion can ease this problem (see the post on setting tab indexes), but even well-designed forms can have some cursor movement that can be confusing. For instance, if your address is split into a street address, city and zip controls, you may want to move the cursor directly from the street address to the zip control so that you can use a lookup table to fill out the city based on the zip rather than forcing the user to make an entry in that control.

In any case, it is helpful for the user to know at a glance where the cursor is positioned in a form without having to squint and stare at the form for a long time, or having to use the mouse to position the cursor where they think it should be. An easy way of doing this is to highlight the form field which has the focus at any given point of time. The highlight can take many different forms, but one simple way to make it stand out is to change the background color to something bright so that the field stands out to catch the user's attention.

If you are interested, you can find my earlier posts on finding the median, the mode, the geometric and harmonic means, ranking every row in a query, selecting random rows out of a table, calculating running sums and averages, calculating running differences, creating histograms, calculating probability masses out of given data, calculating cumulative distributions out of given data, finding percentile scores, percentile values, calculating distinct counts, full outer joins, parameter queries, crosstab queries, working with system objects, listing table fields, finding unmatched rows, calculating statistics with grouping, job-candidate matching, job-candidate matching with skill levels, great circle distances, great circle initial headings, using Excel functions in Access, using the windows file-picker, using the Access date-picker, setting tab indexes quickly and correctly, and pre-filling forms based on previous entries.

This post shows you how to change the properties of a form control based on the GotFocus() and LostFocus() events of the control. In this case, when the control gets the focus, all we will do is change the background of the control to a bright yellow so that it stands out among the controls (we will assume that the rest of the controls have the default grey or white background). When the control loses focus, it will go back to the previous background it had.
Option Compare Database
Option Explicit

Private Sub Control1_GotFocus()
Dim myCtrl As Control
Set myCtrl = Me.Control1
Call HighlightControl(myCtrl)
End Sub

Private Sub Control1_LostFocus()
Dim myCtrl As Control
Set myCtrl = Me.Controls.Item("control1")
UnHighlightControl myCtrl
End Sub

Private Sub HighlightControl(ByRef ctrl As Control)
ctrl.Tag = ctrl.BackColor
ctrl.BackColor = 65535
End Sub

Private Sub UnHighlightControl(ByRef ctrl As Control)
ctrl.BackColor = ctrl.tag
End Sub
Obviously, the control in this case is named "Control1". Hopefully, your controls have more meaningful names than that! Leaving that aside, let us look at the code carefully. In the GotFocus() and LostFocus() subroutines, we first create a variable of type Control.

We then set the variable to Control1, and then call HighlightControl() in GotFocus(), and UnHighlightControl() in LostFocus(). Notice the two different ways to set the value of the myCtrl variable. You can either use the construct me.controlname, or the construct me.controls.item("controlname"). I have used both constructs in my code to show that there is a choice. Preferably, you should use one of the constructs in both places for consistency and ease of maintenance.

Seems simple enough. But notice that HighLightControl() and UnHighlightControl() take the control as an argument by reference. This is a very important point to note. Since we are changing the control's properties, and we want the changes to stick after we exit the subroutine, we need to pass the control by reference rather than by value (which is the default in VBA).

Why don't we just change the background color in the GotFocus() and LostFocus() subroutines themselves and save ourselves the trouble of writing separate subroutines to change the background color? That is a perfectly valid way of doing things. The only problem is that sometimes, we want to do more than just change the background color based on getting or losing focus. As the number of changes we want to make increases, it makes sense to isolate all these changes to separate subroutines rather than repeating the changes for every control in the form.

Remember that your form might have dozens of controls. Instead of a call to HighlightControl() and UnHighlightControl(), the GotFocus() and LostFocus() of each of these controls might expand to several lines each, making the code hard to read. The code also becomes harder to maintain because every time you want to make a change to the controls based on their getting or losing focus, you have to make the change individually in every GotFocus() and LostFocus() subroutine rather than in a single place (the HighlightControl() or UnHighlightControl() subroutine).

The other thing to note in the code above is what we do with the normal background color of the control when we highlight it. In this instance, I have put that previous background color in the tag property of the control. This is then used to restore that background color to the control when we unhighlight the control.

If you use the tag property for something else and don't want to overwrite it with the control's previous background color, you have to use a global variable to accomplish this. In fact, if you change more than one property, you really can not store all the previous values of these properties in the tag property, and retrieve them from there without a lot of fancy coding. So, global variables come in handy. Take a look at the following snippet of code:

Option Compare Database

Public highlightbackcolor As Long
Public unhighlightbackcolor As Long

Option Explicit

Private Sub Control1_GotFocus()
Dim myCtrl As Control
Set myCtrl = Me.Control1
Call HighlightControl(myCtrl)
End Sub

Private Sub Control1_LostFocus()
Dim myCtrl As Control
Set myCtrl = Me.Controls.Item("control1")
UnHighlightControl myCtrl
End Sub

Private Sub Form_Open(Cancel As Integer)
highlightbackcolor = 65535
End Sub

Private Sub HighlightControl(ByRef ctrl As Control)
unhighlightbackcolor = ctrl.BackColor
ctrl.BackColor = highlightbackcolor
End Sub

Private Sub UnHighlightControl(ByRef ctrl As Control)
ctrl.BackColor = unhighlightbackcolor
End Sub
You can declare global variables for as many properties of the control as you are going to be changing, then set their highlight properties in the form_open() event. Set the unhighlight properties in the highlight() subroutine to their current values, and then you can use those values to revert the control back to its original appearance when you unhighlight it.

The possibilities are endless. Experiment with it, and your users will thank you for creating forms that are easier on their eyes, and there will be fewer data entry errors, making everyone happier!

Hope this post has been helpful in solving any problems you might have had with highlighting form controls in Access. The VBA code in this post has been tested in Access 2003 and should work without any problems in all versions of Access from Access 97 on up. If you have any problems or concerns, please feel free to let me know by posting a comment. If you have other questions on Access that you would like me to address in future posts, please feel free to let me know through your comments too. Good luck!

Star Of The Ladies Night-In

Guest post kindly written and provided by Patricia Donnelley

The ladies night-in has been a tradition in my place since God knows when. The men take off and go out for a men's night out while the women stay in and have a "night-in" every Friday. We take turns hosting these fun parties and the conversation is as good as or better than the food!

This Friday, the ladies night-in was hosted at my place. A couple of weeks back, I saw a glowing review of Enclume pot racks, and convinced my husband to order me one. After it arrived, my husband helped me install the Enclume pot rack in a prominent place in the kitchen. I then arranged my best pots and pans in the pot rack.

When my friends arrived for the ladies night-in, nobody could seem to take their eyes off the pot rack. Everyone was curious about it, and asked me lots of questions about it. It was great fun being the center of conversation, answering all the questions my friends had about Enclume in general, and the pot rack in particular.

The ladies night-in was great fun, as usual. Sometimes, the food is the star of the ladies night-in. And sometimes, it is the conversation and juicy gossip. But I think my Enclume pot-rack was the star of the latest ladies night-in. I didn't really mind because, in spite of its other excellent qualities, the pot rack can't really talk. So, I became the center of all conversations, and the most sought-after person at the party. My pot rack my be the star of the ladies night-in, but I was the one basking in its warm light!

Last Minute Australian Vacations Need Help From LastMinute.com.au

Ever since Oprah gave everyone in her audience an Australian vacation, Australia has become a popular vacation destination. Everybody wants to go to Australia and see kangaroos and koalas. But many are finding that airfares and hotels are not cheap as they expected them to be. The problem is that most people use US-based travel websites to plan these vacations.

There are other travel-planning websites out there that most people don't know about. These can provide better deals than the more popular sites. One of the best resources I have found for booking complete Australian vacations conveniently and inexpensively is the site lastminute.com.au. It is a particularly valuable resource for people who have procrastinated too long and find themselves doing their vacation-planning at the eleventh hour.

So, if you are looking for last minute accommodation in Australia or last minute flights to, from, and within Australia, lastminute.com.au is your best bet for making your vacation dreams come true without breaking the bank. Obviously, making bookings at the last minute is going to be more expensive than planning well in advance, so it becomes more important to know where to go to try and cut costs as much as possible.

Even if you are not looking for last minute hotels or flights, lastminute.com.au is still a great resource for Australian travel. Booking well in advance enables you to get even lower international airfares, as well as cheap flights within Australia. Lastminute.com.au is a simple-to-use one-stop shop, so it is easy to shop across and compare flights offered by several different airlines. Many different airlines serve Australia, including Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Jetstar and Virgin Blue. Being able to see all of their schedules and prices in one convenient place is important in making the right choice.

If you are considering a vacation down under, you should choose a research partner that is completely familiar with the travel market there. There are many travel booking sites, but when it comes to Australia, trust lastminute.com.au to find you the best deals!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

An Innovative Way To Evaluate Logo Design Companies

The best way to evaluate the quality of a company's work is to hire them, have them do some work and then look over their work with a critical eye. This is particularly true of creative undertakings like art. Since art is so subjective, one has to be careful in evaluating samples side by side at the same time so that your frame of mind at that time does not influence your evaluation of the art.

Why is art so important? Websites rely on art to a larger extent than most would think. The most memorable part of a website interaction in many cases is the logo on the company's website. Have a memorable logo, and you attract a lot of visitors who remember your site and let their friends know. Have a logo that nobody remembers, and your traffic is not going to be so high.

So, it pays for a website to put some effort into choosing a good logo design for their site. But, not many internet small businesses have the wherewithal to hire multiple logo designers and have them compete with each other to create logos for them. For instance, a company like Logo Design Pros might charge several hundred dollars to do a full set of logo designs, including flash logos. Hiring multiple companies to compare their talents side by side becomes prohibitively expensive.

That is where LogosRated.net comes into the picture. This company has already done the hard work for you: they have hired 6 well-known internet logo-design companies and paid them to produce logos for their own website. To do a side by side comparison of the work of these creative firms, go to the Logos Rated.net website and look at the different logos these companies came up with.

LogosRated.net then had their own people compare the logos and write detailed reviews about each of the companies. In addition to some subjective comments about the art itself, the reviews include the amount of money paid to the companies, the turnaround time for the artwork to be created and other details also.

This is a wealth of information that is difficult if not impossible for a small business website operator to collect on his own. But it is very valuable and useful information. If you do a small business on the web, and want to raise its profile with a professionally designed logo that attracts and retains visitors, you should check out LogosRated.net and their unique approach to comparing and rating logo designs and logo design companies.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Annual Fantasy Hockey League Draft

Guest post written by Rosie Holliwell

Every year my husband and his friends all come over to our house for their fantasy hockey league draft. I guess that it's something that not every wife would be so nice to her husband to fix all this food and host all this stuff. But I also invite the wives of his friends over so we can talk and complain about how much we don't like hockey because we have to hear about it so much all of the time.

I was online sending out emails to the other fantasy hockey wives and also looking up recipes for this party online when I saw the web site clearwirelessinternet.net and read through and ended up deciding to switch over our internet service to it. I was so tired of having to call up our old wireless company all the time for them to talk me through all the problems we experienced with it.

The party ended up being a success on my end and from what my husband said, I coudl tell that the league draft was also a success. But honestly, I didn't really care about that. I just had fun talking to the other women.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Diversifying Into Gold Makes Financial Sense In These Uncertain Times

Diversification is one of the most important things to keep in mind when investing. It takes all kinds to make this world. Similarly, it takes different kinds of investments to make sure that all your investment eggs are not in the same basket. Just as you need diversity in the types of foods you eat so that you get a healthy balance of all the nutrients your body needs, you need diversity in the range of assets you invest in.

Diversity protects against steep losses in one particular stock or sector of the market. You need to hold some of your investments in cash or equivalents so that you can access them immediately in case of an emergency. Another investment class that is worth diversifying into is precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum.

GoldCoinsGain is an online seller of gold, silver and platinum bullion that you can buy with your investment assets for diversification. Gold is considered a mainstay of investing because of the intrinsic value of the precious metal. The production of gold in the world is very limited and no government or other organization can increase the supply of gold substantially to devalue it.

Therefore, bullion, and in particular gold bullion, tends to hold its value well even when other investments lose value. As you know, many stock markets throughout the world have fallen in the past few years, but gold has done pretty well during the same time period. Moreover, because of the recession, many governments have taken on increasing amounts of debt and relied on deficit-spending to balance their books. This increases the supply of money beyond what the economy can sustain normally, eventually resulting in devaluation of the currency. This has also resulted in appreciated values for gold over the past few years.

The accompanying graph showing the price of gold over the past 5 years illustrates the explosive growth in gold prices. During the time period, budget deficits and trade deficits have gone up causing countries to prop up their economies by trying to increase their money supplies, resulting in devaluation of currencies and a run-up in the prices of real assets such as gold.

The trend has continued to this day, and all indications are that it is not likely to stop anytime soon. All this bodes well for continued appreciation in the price of gold going forward. Gold Coins Gain allows you to tap into this growth opportunity by allowing you to buy bullion (particularly gold bullion, but also silver and platinum) with your investment dollars.

In addition to allowing you to purchase gold in a regular investment account, Gold Coins Gain also allows you to set up a gold IRA that allow you tap the potential of the yellow metal in your retirement account. In addition to a variety of options to buy gold bullion (bars, different types of coins from different countries, etc.), the site also offers extensive information about investing in precious metals. The site also features testimonials from other satisfied investors. As part of building a diversified portfolio, you need to check out GoldCoinsGain. Start incorporating precious metals into your investment strategy and decisions today!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Don't Let A Bad Showerhead Turn Every Day Into A Bad Hair Day

Water conservation has become an important priority for several cities in the country. Population pressures as well as depleting aquifers and other water sources have made many of them turn to various water conservation solutions to get people to use less water for everything, from showers to flushes to yard watering.

But this has created problems for many people. The low water pressures that result from water conservation measures have made the morning shower that many people rely on to be invigorating and wake them up, into a torture ritual that people can barely endure.

This is where advanced shower heads from takeashower.com come into the picture. Based on years of experience, takeashower.com has created well-designed shower heads that overcome low water pressure to deliver excellent showers.

Their Fire Hydrant Spa low pressure shower heads are a case in point. The name says it all: these shower heads will make you feel as if you are standing in the jet from a fire hydrant! They can produce powerful sprays or jets of massaging water, or a combination of both. And you can even pause the shower head without having to turn off the faucet. So, you can soap up or shampoo your hair without having to waste water or fumble with the faucets to get the right temperature after you are done. The Fire Hydrant Spa is also available in the form of handheld shower heads rather than fixed if you prefer that.

Before you give up on your daily shower out of frustration with low water pressures, you should try a shower head from takeashower.com's collection. You can save water while not sacrificing the quality of your showers. It may sound unbelievable, but you have to experience it to believe it!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Impression Review Of Gold's Gym Door Gym

A door gym is a bar that installs in doorways and allows you to do a variety of exercises like pull-ups, chin-ups, rowing, etc. My daughters used to go to a park near our home to use the bars there for hanging from, and my wife wanted me to get a door gym so that in the winter, they could do it indoors in the comfort of our home instead of trying to do it in a park in sub-zero temperatures.

There are several door gym models available on the market. They all look approximately the same, and are put up in doorways in about the same way also. Some of them come with bells and whistles like extender bars, loops, slings and other contraptions that the makers claim make their product better than the competition.

The prices for these products range all the way from about $15 to over $100 depending on the brand, and the bells and whistles the product comes with. I started doing some research on these products, and found a lot of negative reviews on them in various places. Many of these products seem to be hard to assemble, or poorly made and prone to breakage. So, I wanted to buy something locally rather than online so that if it breaks or malfunctions in any way, I can just pack it up and return it rather than dealing with the hassles of shipping it back where it came from.

I found that Walmart stocks and sells the Gold's Gym door gym in my local store, so I decided to give that a try. The door gym comes in a pretty small box that contains everything you need to put the thing together. The total cost was $20 plus taxes. If you want to save yourself the taxes, you can get it from Amazon.com (though it comes packaged with an umbrella for some reason. Don't ask me what exercise equipment has to do with an umbrella, but I am sure some MBA in marketing got paid a lot of money for thinking up this combination!). Even though the description on Walmart's website mentions the product coming with a DVD, the box does not say anything of that sort, and in fact, there is no DVD in the box.

What the box does contain is 5 distinct pieces that need to be put together with the provided screws, nuts, bolts and washers. Until I bought this product, I wasn't sure at all how these things were installed. I assumed that the bar would contain some sort of spring that would allow it to be installed in a door frame and held up just by the pushing of the ends of the bars against the door frame.

Gold's Gym door gymIt turns out I was completely wrong (at least as far as this product is concerned). The thing actually consists of a long bar that goes on the outside of the doorway, attached to a couple of curved handles linked up with a cross bar. The crossbar hooks over the top of the door frame on the inside of the doorway. The weight of the entire contraption makes sure that the crossbar stays hooked over the doorframe, and adding an exerciser's weight makes it even more secure (assuming that the doorframe is strong enough). That way, the whole contraption, once it is assembled, can be hung up on any door and removed from it in a couple of seconds.

The box also contains a very detailed instruction sheet and a sheet of exercises you can do using the door gym. The first step in putting the door gym together is to create the long bar (the actual bar from which the exerciser hangs) from two separate pieces using a couple of screws in the middle. Then you attach the curved handles to this long bar using two bolts. Lastly, you attach the crossbar to the curved handles using two more bolts. The gym comes with a multi-tool that is a screwdriver in one end, and a wrench at the other end. Assembly of the gym was a snap and took less than 15 minutes.

The instruction sheet also contains illustrations and instructions on how to install the gym in a doorway after it is put together. A couple of measurements are important to note in this respect. Basically, the long bar has to rest securely against the outside of the doorframe for the thing to work. And the doorway should not be so thick that the crossbar can not reach across the doorway and grab the top of the doorframe securely.

So, here are the measurements to keep in mind. From end to end, the long bar measures 36 inches. So, if you are careful about not moving the bar from side to side, and allowing for a 2 inch overlap at each end of the long bar with the outside of the doorframe, the door opening itself can be no more than 32 inches wide. Most standard doors are 30 inches wide, so this should not cause much of a problem. But, make sure there is at least 36 inches of space (including the door opening) for the long bar, and at least 2 or 3 inches on the outside of the doorway on each side without walls and other obstructions.

The handles from the long bar are about 16 inches apart, so the door can not be narrower than 18 inches (otherwise, the handles can not be passed through the door opening for the crossbar to grip the top of the doorframe on the inside. The instruction manual says the door frame has to be between 27.5 and 30 inches wide (which seems a lot more restrictive than my measurements would suggest). The manual also says the gym can not be used unless the depth of the doorway is 4.5 to 6 inches. This again should not be a problem unless you live in an old house with thick stone walls that are more than 6 inches thick. The long bar ends up about 6 inches below the top of the doorway if your doorframe extends about 2 to 3 inches above the doorway, like mine does.

Since the crossbar rests on top of the doorframe, make sure the top of the doorframe is horizontal and deep enough (about a quarter inch depth should be sufficient). But if you have crown-molding or other decorations that make the top of the doorframe non-horizontal either from side to side or front to back, you are going to have trouble getting this door gym installed securely in such a doorframe. It certainly will not be usable in arched doorways, for instance. Also, if you have something above the doorframe blocking access to the top of it (such as ceiling tiles, for instance), or if you have no doorframe on the inside at all, this gym will not be usable in such a doorway. Moreover, since part of the gym is inside the doorway and part of it is on the outside, you can not close the door fully when the gym is installed in the doorway.

Because the gym basically hangs by the crossbar, it is very easy to move from doorway to doorway. You just have to lift it slightly to disengage the crossbar from the top of the doorframe and take it off. In the new doorway, just secure the crossbar over the doorframe, make sure the long bar rests securely on the outside of the doorway, and you are ready to use it.

The instruction manual, in fact, also shows some exercises that you can do by putting the door gym horizontally on a flat surface, away from a door. You can do dips and push-ups that way. You can also secure the door gym to the bottom of a doorway instead of near the top, and hook your legs under it to do sit-ups. To do this, the crossbar needs some kind of threshold at floor level to hook onto, so if your doorways are like mine, and don't have raised thresholds, then the gym can not be used at the bottom of the doorway.

The door gym is designed for people weighing up to 25o lbs. Everyone in my family is under 150 lbs, and it stood up well under a few chin-ups by me without any problems. But I am not entirely sure it will be able to put up with all the stresses that a 250 lb person can create when doing chin-ups, especially if he/she bounces up and down. I have no doubt the bar is capable of supporting a deadweight of 250 lbs, but that is not the same as supporting a 250 lb person trying to do vigorous exercise.

The long bar has two sets of foam-rubber grips. The narrow set is on the inside of the handles, and is about 10 inches apart from center to center. The wide set is on the outside of the handles, and is about 22 inches apart from center to center. In addition, the handles protrude beyond the long bar to the outside to provide another set of handholds that are 16 inches apart from center to center.

All the handholds have foam-rubber grips that are stuck to the underlying steel structure so that they don't move or rotate. The crossbar has a rubber backing strip so that it rests against the wall above the inside of the door frame without causing marks. The ends of the long bar, which rest against the outside of the doorframe also have rubber coverings. I have not seen any marks or damage to any of the doorways where this door gym was installed in my home.

What do I like about the door gym? It seems to be well put-together and reasonably sturdy. It is trivial to assemble and put up in a doorway (provided you have a door that meets all the requirements). The foam-rubber handholds make the exercising more comfortable by protecting your hands from blisters, and also making sure they don't have that distinctive iron or steel smell after an exercise session. And the rubber pads on the parts of the gym that come in contact with the door frame, walls, etc. also protect those parts of your home from scratches. You can move it from doorway to doorway without any effort, and you can also use the gym on the floor to do other types of exercises.

What don't I like about it? Well, I would have preferred if the gym came fully assembled and welded together rather than having to put it together from pieces. I think it will be stronger that way, though of course, the package would be a lot bigger, and you would not be able to break it down and pack it into a backpack (which you can do now if you wanted). I am not completely sure about the durability of the foam rubber handholds either, but they seem reasonably sturdy. And last but not least, I strongly doubt the ability of the door gym to actually bear the loads associated with a 250-lb person doing chin-ups using it. I think the gym is likely to last for a long time if not used by anyone over 200 lbs.

I must warn you that the product has several negative reviews on the Walmart website, but so far, I have not encountered any problems that would make me consider giving this product at least a 4-star, if not 5-star, rating. The reviews at Amazon.com reflect my experiences with this product much better.

Overall, it is hard not to like the product, at least initially. My kids love it. For the price paid, it is hard to beat. It is well-designed, and looks sturdy and strong. Assembly is a snap, and moving it around is trivial. It does not have all the bells and whistles some more expensive models come with, but if you are going to use it for basic stuff like pull-ups, you don't need the extra contraptions. You can always buy some of these contraptions separately if you need them later on also. The bottomline is that, as of now, I would recommend the Gold's Gym door gym without reservations if you are looking for such a product.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don't Pay Taxes On Gambling Winnings Unnecessarily

The common wisdom says that nothing is certain but death and taxes. This certainly seems to be true particularly for gambling winnings in the US. The US government gets its share of taxes on large winnings before even the winner gets to savor it. In fact, the US federal government withholds 30% of gambling winnings against anticipated taxes and allows casinos and other gambling establishments to distribute only the remaining 70% to the winners.

But you can legally avoid some of these taxes if you keep good records. The taxes are supposed to be on net gambling gains, not on total gambling gains. Your net gambling gains are usually much smaller than the big win on which you were taxed. Any money that was lost on gambling can be offset against the winnings to reduce the total gambling winnings tax burden.

Many foreigners do not know this. Since they do not normally file US tax returns, they think that they do not have any recourse against the taxes. They end up unnecessarily paying large amounts of taxes when they may actually be entitled to a refund of a substantial portion of the taxes. CasinoTaxRebate.com is a company that specializes in filing claims with the IRS and with state taxing authorities to recover casino tax refunds for people entitled to them.

The process is quite simple. You keep track of all your spending on gambling in the form of casino receipts, ATM receipts, etc. Then you submit the 1042-S provided by the casino or gambling establishment along with the receipts to CasinoTaxRebate.com. They put together the paperwork required, process it, obtain the gambling tax refund and have it sent to you.

The process requires that you have a US individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). If you don't have one, CasinoTaxRebate.com can obtain one for you as part of the process of applying for your rebate.

There are many establishments out there that claim to do US tax recovery. Many of them operate on a percentage basis where they take a percentage of the casino tax rebate they are able to obtain for you. If you have a large refund coming your way, these fees can eat up a substantial portion of those.

CasinoTaxRebate.com operates on a flat fee basis. You know up front how much it is going to cost you to get your rebate regardless of the amount of the refund. Because of this, fees on large refunds usually work out to a fraction of what they would be with other companies that offer this kind of service. And if you don't get a rebate, you don't pay any fee. It is as simple as that. CasinoTaxRebate is also registered with the Better Business Bureau, and prides itself on its impressive record of never having the IRS reject a legitimate claim submitted by it.

If you have had taxes withheld from your gambling winnings, take a careful look at what the correct tax liability should have been. It is your money, so you need to take responsibility for it. Get a strong advocate such as CasinoTaxRebate.com on your side to go to work for you, recovering what you are entitled to. Tax laws are complicated, especially for foreigners in the US, so trust an experienced expert to recover any excess tax payments. Remember, tax evasion is illegal, but tax avoidance is not!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Be Your Own Boss By Buying And Running A Franchise

Running your own business is high on everybody's wish-list. The freedom to work when you want, not being answerable to anybody except yourself, being able to make money based purely on your skills and hard work, these are advantages you don't get by being an employee of somebody else's business.

But figuring out what business to start, and how to run it, can be daunting. This is where franchises enter the picture. A franchise allows you to duplicate a proven business model for selling a product or providing a service. You don't have to come up with your own product or service, and you don't have to figure out the details of how to place the product or service in the marketplace, what to charge for it, etc. You get readymade business plans and strategies, with the best ideas distilled down to action plans that you can implement without having to reinvent the wheel yourself. In short, you are in business for yourself, but not by yourself.

So, how do you find the best franchise opportunities to get involved in? Not every franchise opportunity is created equal. Not all of them fit your requirements in terms of startup capital, type of business, your values and goals. Franchise Advantage takes the guesswork out of this by giving you all the information you need about franchise opportunities in one place on the web.

Franchise Advantages lists franchises by category, by investment level or by company name. You can explore the opportunities for opening a franchise from scratch, or you can find a franchise for sale. Franchises are listed for sale by their current owners on Franchise Advantage, and you can find such franchises and hook up directly with the owners to arrange for a mutually beneficial transaction.

The Franchise Information Center at the Franchise Advantage website is a great resource for anybody looking to own their own franchise. There are articles about the history of franchising, the advantages of owning a franchise, how to secure financing, and various other relevant and interesting topics.

Going from being an employee to being an employer can sound intimidating. Franchising can be a good intermediate step on the way to becoming a fully independent business owner. Franchising can provide you with most of the advantages of owning your own business without many of the headaches associated with it. Running a successful franchise can provide you with the experience and maturity necessary to take the next step in your entrepreneurial growth. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, after all!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

H&R Block Will Not Be Doing My 2010 Taxes

I have to warn you in advance that this post contains some technical details that only someone who prepares their own or other people's taxes might understand. But the details are not important. The main point I am trying to make in this post must be understandable to anybody who reads it.

This week, for the first time, in our tax class, we got to work on the computers. We were provided our own logins and passwords for the software that H&R Block uses to prepare clients' returns. We were explained some of the basics (the software is reasonably user-friendly, so the basics were not that difficult to grasp), and we were then given some test cases to prepare tax returns for.

Our instructor put up the solutions on a flipboard in the center of the room (the final income amount (AGI) and refund or payment amount). We were then asked to go at it.

The software is not like the software most people are used to for preparing taxes for themselves. It is not based on a detailed interview format. Instead, it relies on the tax professional having looked at the client's situation in some detail and having worked out some of the broad details such as the forms to use for the client.

Thus, for instance, the software does not ask whether you owned a business and have business income and expenses to report. The tax professional is supposed to know this and select Schedule C from the list of available forms himself. Similarly, if the client had sold stocks and bonds for gains and losses, the tax professional is supposed to know that this would require to be reported on Schedule D.

Given that only tax professionals use this software, this is not really a problem. The problem I had was with some of the weird problems in the software that no well-designed software should have.

First of all, many people got stuck on one screen where the client's social security number and that of his spouse are to be entered. Under some special set of circumstances which I haven't yet figured out, the software gives an error message saying that the spouse's social security number is not a valid one. However, at that point, the software refuses to allow you to edit that field. All it does is beep at you disapprovingly every time you hit a key or click a mouse button. You can not tab into the spouse's social security number field, you can not click into it.

You can not exit the form or the tax preparation application either. Pretty much nothing works at this point. The user can not even log out of Windows at that point. And Ctrl-Alt-Del is about as useful as a candle would be in melting your way out of an avalanche! The instructor, who has been with H&R Block as a tax preparer for the past 3 years, did not have a solution to this problem either. The only way to get out of the jam was to power down the computer by holding in the power button for a few seconds and then rebooting. Completely unacceptable software design, as far as I am concerned.

But it gets even worse. The whole point of tax software is that it does the hard work for you, doing all the calculations and what-not so that you don't have to do it yourself. Now, imagine a tax software that does the calculations wrong. All your input is correct, but for some reason, the software comes up with the wrong results. You know they are wrong only because you have already solved the problem by hand and know what the results should be. And the tax software's results do not match the correct results.

That is scary, but it happened in the class. Under three different scenarios. The first scenario was when one person, by mistake, put a "Y" in the box that asked whether a client's business was exempt from Self-Employment tax. This resulted in Schedule SE not being filled out. This completely changed the final outcome because one half of the self-employment tax is a deduction against income (thus changing the final Adjusted Gross Income), and the full amount of self-employment tax is part of the tax liability of the client.

As soon as the final outcome was different, the student quickly figured out that his adjusted gross income was different from what he was supposed to get, and based on that, figured out that he was missing the deduction for one half of the self employment tax. So, he went back to the screen where he had made the business exempt from the tax, and changed the "Y" to an "N".

One would think that this would fix the problem, with the software automatically using the update to generate the changes necessary to fix his problem. Nope. The Schedule SE was still not added to the tax return. He then went back to first screen of the program that allows the tax pro to pick the forms to include in the tax return and included Schedule SE in the return. But this only included a blank Schedule SE in the return. It would not automatically fill with the appropriate numbers from Schedule C to make everything work out.

He then had to go into the blank form, and manually put in the final profit from the small business before it would calculate the numbers appropriately. Strike one.

Even worse though, was another person's problem. In this case, the profit from the small business was below $400, so no Schedule SE is required. But for some reason, a Schedule SE had been generated for the return, and some amount of self employment tax had been calculated. This was mystifying to all of us, and opening up the Schedule SE solved part of the mystery for us. The final profit from the client's business had been doubled on this schedule for some unknown reason, making the client liable for self employment tax. This also increased his tax liability quite significantly.

No amount of tinkering with anything that had been entered in the return fixed the problem. We manually changed the profit number to what it should be, and the schedule SE did show a zero self employment tax. But only until we exited the form. As soon as we exited the form, the numbers automatically went back to the wrong ones, resulting in errors up and down the entire return.

We then decided to simply delete the Schedule SE off the return. That fixed the problem part-way, but not fully. It turns out the client's Earned Income Credit was also being calculated wrong because the client's business profit was once again being doubled on that EIC worksheet also. No amount of tinkering fixed this second problem, and the EIC form could not be deleted off the tax return either. The final solution was to delete the Schedule C of the client, then regenerate a new one from scratch. The profit then worked out correct on other forms, schedules, and worksheets to give the final correct answer. Strike two.

By this time, I was quite dumb-founded. This is not the way the software I use to prepare my taxes every year works. And it is certainly not the way I want any tax software to work. You would think that any change you make to a scenario or number somewhere on a tax return should flow through to all relevant parts of a tax return without having to start a return from scratch!

The final straw came when we worked on a scenario that involved depreciation. When you enter the details for the first capital asset to be depreciated, the software pops up a screen asking whether the client chooses to opt out of accelerated depreciation of different classes of depreciable property. We did not enter anything into this screen, and by default, accelerated depreciation was enabled on our tax returns.

Our depreciation amounts came out much higher than in the solution put up by the instructor because they had opted out of accelerated depreciation. Once we figured that out, we knew we had to opt out of accelerated depreciation too. But we could not get to the screen that allowed us to opt out of it. It only appears when we enter details about the first asset to be depreciated, and even deleting all the assets on the depreciation worksheet and starting afresh does not show us the screen again. Strike two and a half.

We finally figured out that the optout screen does appear when we finalize the return. All right, problem solved. We opened the optout screen and opted out of accelerated depreciation for all asset classes. Problem solved, right? Wrong!

Our depreciation numbers did not change when we made this change in the options. It turns out that the option takes effect only for assets we enter after the selection is made. It does not go back and change the depreciation numbers for the assets already there. We had to remove all the assets we had already entered, and then re-enter them one by one for the new depreciation numbers to be calculated correctly. And there is no indication or warning that the option takes effect only going forward. And no way to turn it on going backwards to assets already entered! Strike three!!

This was well past ridiculous, bordering on the insane and imbecilic! We were able to prepare returns that matched the instructor's answers eventually. But if we did not have the instructor's answers to compare ours against, none of us would have produced correct tax returns at all. The results produced by the software defied all logic and reason. Simple transfers of numbers from one form or schedule to another were flubbed. Changes in options did not carry through a return the way one would expect.

In short, use this software only if you know what the final answer should be, and then massage it laboriously and slowly to get it to produce the correct results. If you have no idea what you are supposed to get, your chances of getting the correct final answer seem to be about the same as a snowball's chances in hell.

Assuming I actually get hired by H&R Block to work with them, I thought I would use their software to prepare my tax returns for 2010 instead of my free web-based solution (I use TaxAct free version). I might still do that, but only out of curiosity. I will certainly not be trusting something as important as my income tax liability to software that is as buggy and temperamental as this. It may be good enough for H&R Block's clients who don't know any better, but I am not touching this with a barge pole!

Get A New Start On Your Finances Instead Of Drowning In Debt

As the economy continues to drag along in what feels like a recession in spite of the experts' declarations that the recession was over more than a year ago, more and more families are finding themselves in the uncomfortable situation of having to continue to spend money while having no income. With job creation still in the dumps, unemployment continues to be high, making it impossible to generate new income. Some families are eating through their savings, while others have gone through theirs and are starting to accumulate staggering amounts of debt.

Most of this debt is in the form of credit card balances and other personal loans. This is usually high-interest debt, and the interest is not tax deductible. This makes this kind of debt quite undesirable. Fortunately, there are some ways to get out from under this mountain of debt apart from declaring bankruptcy and ruining your credit rating for a long time.

United Debt Counseling offers strapped families a way get out from the clutches of their debt by offering debt settlement and debt negotiation services. There are no hidden or upfront fees. Their experienced debt counselors not only advise clients but are able to negotiate with their creditors to provide debt relief.

In many cases, United Debt Counseling can arrange for one affordable monthly payment instead of making separate payments to several different creditors. And the program is structured to get the client out of debt in as little as one to three years. And all this without having to declare bankruptcy or have your wages garnished.

They also offer tax settlement services that allow you to negotiate an affordable payment schedule with the IRS for taxes or penalties owed. This can help prevent more penalties and interest charges from accumulating, making it easier to get on track with your obligations to the government.

In addition to these services, United Debt Counseling also offers financial education to its clients. This can include budgeting, saving, counseling about debt options, and other services. Financial literacy is probably one of the most important things to have in today's world, and it is one of the things that is barely covered in school or college. United Debt Counseling can step into the breach and educate their clients about this important topic so that they can stay out of financial trouble in the future.

If you are drowning in an ocean of debt, and think you have no options or help, think again. There are several options less drastic than declaring bankruptcy. Explore them with United Debt Counseling's experienced associates. You will come out better off than doing nothing or choosing drastic measures. After the immediate problem is taken care of, enroll in their educational offerings to teach yourself about debt, savings, budgeting, and other financial matters. It has never been more important to know about these things so that you can navigate the shark-infested waters of personal finance safely and securely.

Friday, October 15, 2010

This Is What Passes For English Nowadays!

No Enter sign at airportI was walking through Terminal 1 of the Chicago O'Hare airport recently when a sign caught my attention. It was a giant sign that simply said "No Enter" as seen on the photograph to the left. The sign certainly made me do a double-take.

"No Enter"? It is not "No Entry", or "Do Not Enter". I made sure I was not misreading the sign, and also that no part of the sign was obscured to cause the sign to be grammatically absurd. But, no, the sign was as I read it, and no part of the sign was obscured or hidden.

And this is not some small hand-written sign posted outside a restroom by a janitor or something like that either. This is a large LCD screen filled with these words, obviously put up there by someone who should know better. It is a sign operated either by United Airlines, which operates from this terminal, or the airport itself.

I don't know whether there was a problem at this location with lots of people not understanding properly worded signs and just entering where they were not supposed to. So, perhaps, somebody decided that if you couldn't beat them, you had to join them by putting up signs in broken English also. Or maybe, several levels of employees at the airport or at the airline simply don't know enough English to realize that "No Enter" makes no sense at all.

It reminds me of the controversy surrounding proposals that are frequently floated to make English the "official language" of the US. I wonder what that would mean. If it means that everyone would have to take a test in English and people who fail would be sent out of the country, I wonder how the US would manage with only half or a third of the people who currently live here!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Second Thoughts About Bosch SHE33M02UC Dishwasher

I wrote a review about the Bosch SHE33M02UC dishwasher when I initially bought it over a year back. As I mentioned in that review, the dishwasher is quite expensive, but low on options. No delayed wash, no soak option, only 2 washing modes, etc., etc.

After using the dishwasher for over a year now, I have found a lot more things to be displeased about as far as the dishwasher is concerned. Firstly, the inside of the tub, which was one of the things I liked about the dishwasher, has become a dull white instead of staying bright and shiny. I have tried running the dishwasher with no dishes in it, I have tried cleaning it with vinegar and lime juice, CLR and other stainless steel cleaners, but none of that has helped. The inside is still a dull white, which makes the whole point of spending extra for a stainless steel tub quite moot.

The dishwasher does not come with a built-in food grinder. So, dishes have to be thoroughly washed to get rid of food particles before being loaded in this dishwasher. Any food particles that remain on the dishes end up in a filter at the bottom of the tub. This filter then has to be cleaned on a regular basis, or it gets gross or even worse, gets clogged making the cleaning very inefficient.

The lack of wash options is quite frustrating also. Initially, I thought I would not miss the options you would normally find on a high-end dishwasher (such as multiple cleaning modes, delayed wash, etc.), but some of them are quite useful. In particular, I used to use an option on my previous dishwasher called "soak and scour". Once you loaded the dishwasher and turned this option on, the dishwasher would load up with water, and spray it on all the dishes for about 5 or 10 minutes. After that, the dishwasher would sit around without doing anything for 10 or 15 minutes. Every 10 or 15 minutes, it would come on for about a minute, spraying the dishes with warm water. This would go on for 4 hours, at the end of which, the dishwasher would drain the water, refill with new water and start the actual washing.

This was a very popular option with me because I could load dishes after dinner and be done by about 7 PM. I would then put it in "soak and scour" mode, knowing that the actual wash would not start until 11 PM. In the meantime, the dishes would not get dry and become caked with dried-up food either. It was excellent for loosening up sticky food off pots and pans, and the vessels came out shining like new after a wash with this option on.

Since the Bosch dishwasher does not have this option, I either have to start the wash right after loading the dishwasher, or let them sit in the washer for sometime. Both of these options are problematic. If I switch on the dishwasher at 7 PM, all the glasses and dishes that come in later can not be washed until the next day. They clog up the sink and make my wife mad. If I wait to switch on the dishwasher until all the dishes for the day are loaded, there are two problems. Sometimes, I forget to switch on the dishwasher because I don't add anything to it later (even though I did not switch it on earlier thinking I would have stuff to add later). More commonly though, I do remember to switch the dishwasher on, but by then food particles have dried up and stuck on to the dishes loaded earlier, making it very hard to do a good job of cleaning them.

And that brings us to the next and most troublesome issue with this dishwasher. A month or so back, the dishwasher started leaving dishes very dirty after a wash. It was as if the washer was doing no work at all. The food on the dishes was exactly the same before and after the wash, with no difference at all.

I was quite puzzled by this. To get to the bottom of this mystery, I loaded up the dishwasher and switched it on after noting the position of the water spray arms. Whenever I opened up the dishwasher during the wash, I noticed that the arms where in the exact same position. Either they had never moved, or I was running on an incredible streak of coincidences. It turns out, I was not that lucky. The arms were really not moving.

The next question became, why they were not moving. It turns out that the holes in the spray arms through which water comes out (and it is the force of water coming out that turns the arms in the opposite direction, just like a rocket or jet engine) had become completely clogged up with soap scum! These holes were not large like on my previous dishwasher that never had this problem. These were tiny holes and it was easy to see how they could get clogged up over time with soap scum buildup around the edges of the holes.

I then had to use a knife to poke through the soap buildup to reopen the holes so that the dishwasher would start cleaning dishes again. This is just fundamentally bad design that should not have been shipped out of the manufacturer's research lab in the first place. Now, after I load the dishwasher, I examine all the holes on each spray arm, and poke each one with a knife to make sure it is not clogged before I switch on the dishwasher.

Oh, and by the way, the dishwasher consumes rinsing agent like crazy. I have to have a big supply of bottles of this liquid ready at hand because the dishwasher does not want to run when the rinse agent reservoir is empty. This is another reason to hate this dishwasher. I have never used rinse agent in a dishwasher before I bought this one, and my dishes came out as clean as this washer gets them. But now, I have to spend a lot of money buying what I consider a completely useless and frivolous product just to get this dishwasher to work.

Overall, I have changed my mind about this dishwasher. There are lots of good dishwashers out there at this price. Most of them come with more and better options to make your life easier. This one is short on options and convenience, and very long on expense, maintenance and clean-up. It is still as quiet as the day I bought it, but that is pretty much the only thing going for it at this point. I would not recommend this model to anyone, and if I had a choice, I would return mine and get a better dishwasher myself too.

Protect Your Fragile Stemware With Stemware Racks

Stemware can be expensive. If you entertain frequently, and need access to your stemware on a regular basis, it may not be practical to secret them away somewhere safe. But leaving them in cabinets and other general-purpose spaces can cause them damage due to breakage, chipping, etc.

The solution is stemware racks. A wineglass rack protects your investment in expensive and fragile glasses by making sure they stay out of the way of other pots and pans in your kitchen or bar, but are readily accessible when you need them. And there is no better way to tout your wine connoisseur credentials than by having classy and elegant glass racks for your wineglasses.

GlassStemwareRacks.com is a premier source of stemware racks, wine furniture and other accessories for the wine connoisseur. You can buy cabinet racks, ceiling racks, wall racks and various other kinds of storage solutions for your glassware as well as your bottles of wine and other alcoholic beverages. The prices are guaranteed to be the lowest you can find, and all the merchandise comes with a full guarantee and the peace of mind of a 30-day no-questions-asked return period.

In the past, I have suffered the angst caused when stemware gets nicked, chipped or broken because of kitchen mishaps. Stemware comes in sets, and it is difficult or impossible to replace single pieces, so it is very important to keep every piece safe so as not to lose the entire set because of one accident. Stemware racks make keeping stemware safe quite easy and effortless. They are there when you need them, but they stay out of the way so that you don't knock them over or otherwise damage them when you don't need them. Entertaining friends with a full set of stemware instead of handing them their drinks in mismatched glasses is always a pleasure!

Make A Fashion Statement With Funny T-Shirts

There are 10 kinds of people in this world: those who know binary and those who don't! If you got this joke, then you know who you are: you are one of the few, the proud, the nerds! And you need the right fashion accessories to show off your unique character.

T-Shirts with nerdy captions and/or pictures are one way to tout your nerdy credentials to the whole world. These funny tshirts are a sure conversation starter among nerds, and perhaps even curious wannabe nerds. These tshirts make ideal partywear, or you can wear them to your college classes. You can also wear these to the popular watering holes on campus. Anybody in the know will tell you that these tshirts represent the height of mens fashion among the in crowd!

If you are a creative type, you can also submit your own designs to win cash and other prizes. You can also vote on designs submitted by others. New tshirts come out every Monday, so be sure to keep the site bookmarked so that you can check out the latest designs as soon as they come out.

All the tshirts and other merchandise come with a full guarantee. You will usually receive your order within 2 to 3 days of placing your order. If you don't like what you got, simply return it for an exchange or refund. A nerdy tshirt doesn't cost much, but having your proud nerdiness touted to the whole world by your apparel is priceless!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gold Makes The Headlines - Again!

Gold is seemingly on a wild run these days. Gold prices have made several new all-time highs this week, and is now well over $1300 per ounce. Investors who got into the precious metal over the past few years have undoubtedly enjoyed the wild ride that has made their investments a lot more valuable than they were just a few years back. And all this while stocks have barely shown any meaningful gains in the same time period!

Gold has always been considered a mainstay of investing because of the intrinsic value of that precious metal. The production of gold worldwide is very limited and nobody can increase the supply of gold substantially in an arbitrary manner. The same is not true of fiat currencies such as the Dollar or Euro because governments can print more money as and when needed (and have done so in the past), increasing the money supply and causing such currencies to lose value.

Because of the worldwide recession, many governments have taken on increasing amounts of debt and relied on deficit-spending to balance their books. This increases the supply of money beyond what the economy can sustain normally, eventually resulting in devaluation of the currency (a phenomenon which manifests itself as higher and higher inflation). This has also resulted in appreciated values for gold and other bullion over the past few years.

Gold price over 5 years chartThe accompanying graph showing the price of gold over the past 5 years illustrates the explosive growth in gold prices because of turmoil in economies throughout the world. During this time period, budget deficits and trade deficits have gone up causing countries to prop up their economies by trying to increase their money supplies, resulting in devaluation of currencies and a run-up in the prices of real assets such as gold.

The trend has continued to this day, and all indications are that it is not likely to stop anytime soon. All this bodes well for continued appreciation in the price of gold going forward. Buying gold or other bullion coins (such as silver, platinum, and other precious metals) enables you to take advantage of the upward trend in the price of gold for your long term investment gain.

In addition to purchasing gold bullion in a regular investment account, you can also set up a gold IRA that allow you buy gold to tap the potential of the yellow metal in your retirement account. As part of building a well-diversified investment portfolio, you need to start checking out gold and other precious metals, and incorporate them into a well-rounded investment strategy!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Yesterday, I Completed Half A Million Aerobic Steps On My Pedometer

Time for another mini-celebration as I walked and ran past half a million aerobic steps on my pedometer yesterday. I posted earlier about going past half a million total steps on my pedometer. My pedometer also counts aerobic steps (if you walk at more than 60 steps per minute for at least 10 minutes, the steps count as aerobic steps), so I was eagerly waiting for my aerobic steps to hit this milestone.

It has taken me about 45 days to get to this milestone. After my previous post, I did go ahead and make changes to my goals. I left my goal for steps at 15,000 per day, but I changed my goal for aerobic steps per day to 10,000 and raised my aerobic walking time to 90 minutes per day. I also ratcheted up my calories goal to 450 per day and left the fat burn goal at 25 grams per day.

Omron Health Management Software ScreenshotAs you can see in the figure to the left, Since that previous post, I have gone past 25,000 steps on a couple of days. On both those days, the number of aerobic steps exceeded 20,000 also. Well, 25,000 aerobic steps is what I should shoot for next, I guess!

Many people at work have wondered how I manage to get so many steps in every day. Even on most bad days, I put in over 15,000 steps. And my best days have had over 25,000 steps in them. The answer, though, is that I do mostly nothing special.

I am an active person most of the time and don't like to spend too much time sitting in a place. But, after I have gotten the pedometer, I have become more conscious of not sitting down for long stretches of time (unless it is necessary). So, I walk around quite frequently. I walk at about 100 steps per minute when I walk at my normal speed of about 3 miles per hour, so every minute that I spend on my feet instead of on my butt translates to 100 extra steps on my pedometer.

And the steps add up fast. Usually I show up at meetings on time, but many other participants at these meetings show up 5 or 10 minutes late. Rather than sitting in the meeting room, I will pace the corridor in front of the meeting room or walk around the meeting room itself. That is 500 to 1000 steps for every meeting I am booked in!

I also take a walk after lunch every day, walking around my office campus at a leisurely pace for about 30 to 45 minutes. That is another 3000 to 4500 steps. I also set aside some time during the work day just to walk around (usually at least one 30-minute block either in the morning or afternoon) for another 3000 or so steps.

At home, I run on the treadmill on alternate days, giving me about 5000 steps on those days. On the other days, I walk on the treadmill if time permits. I used to read in bed before, but nowadays, I read while walking on my treadmill. Each hour spent reading and walking is worth 6000 steps on the pedometer.

The only task I do, that I am forced to do sitting down, is working on my computer. If I can rig it up so that I can work on my laptop while walking on the treadmill, that will probably be worth a few thousand more steps on my pedometer since I can read emails and watch movies while walking. I could probably even write blog posts while walking instead of sitting in my seat like I am doing right now!

Taking ten or fifteen thousand steps per day sounds daunting at first. But once you realize how easy it is to convert sedentary time to walking or running time, you can easily get to 20,000 or more steps on a daily basis too. I am going to keep my goal at 15,000 steps per day for now, but my walking has been trending up ever since I got the pedometer. I can see that goal being 20,000 steps in the future, and if I am conscientious about not wasting opportunities to walk during the day, it should not be difficult to meet or exceed that goal on most days.

Archival Copying Of Optical Media Made Easy

Optical media, like CD's and DVD's, has been becoming cheaper and cheaper over time. Most computers come with optical drives and drives that allow writing to optical media, so the fact that media for these drives is getting cheaper is good news.

Optical media has also advanced in many ways. Only a few years back, writeable DVD's were quite expensive and it was almost impossible to get dual-layer DVD's. Even if you could get them, dual-layer DVD-writers were quite rare too. Now, most computers, even laptops, come with fast DVD-writers that are capable of working with dual-layer DVD's.

If you want something with a lot more capacity you can go with blu-ray DVD's that have 25 GB capacity. Dual-layer blu-ray DVD's can store up to 50 GB. This is more capacity than most hard drives had just a few years back!

There are several sources of optical media out there, but I have found that most big box stores sell them at pretty high prices. If you use a lot of optical media in your business (if you are a video producer or software producer and you distribute your products on optical media), you should go online and buy your media from a good source like GotMedia.com.

GotMedia has all kinds of optical discs from CD's to DVD's to dual-layer DVD's to blu-ray discs at low prices. They also have brands of optical media that you would not normally find in big box stores (such as Taiyo Yuden, MAM, etc.).

If you find yourself copying optical media manually using your computer's optical drives one at a time, you should also consider getting optical media duplicators. Duplicators enable large-volume production of CD's and DVD's from a single source disc so that you can distribute your product in larger numbers without the production speed being a bottle-neck.

This simple DVD duplication guide explains the logistics, economics and logic behind using a duplicator instead of trying to burn discs one at a time. Doing the latter puts a lot of strain on your DVD burner, and can lead to significantly shortening the life of such burners. Most of them are not designed for heavy-duty use or constant use, so you should use them sparingly to make initial copies and then use duplicators to produce the volume runs.

GotMedia sells several lines of DVD duplicators that make acquiring one quite affordable. Most duplicators can produce dozens of copies of a DVD automatically. You just load them up with blank media, and out comes copies of your source DVD, ready to send out to your customers. Many duplicators come with both PC and Mac-compatible software. Most of them also have built-in printers that enable you to label your products professionally.

If you need a stand-alone solution just for printing labels on optical media, GotMedia also has CD printers that make it easy and inexpensive to produce professional-looking optical media without using sticky labels that are just plain tacky (no pun intended!). The printers can print in full color, in 4800 dpi resolution, on both CD's and DVD's (and practically any kind of optical media that has the same form factor). The printers, once again, are mostly fully automatic, and can handle high volumes with no manual intervention once the job is set up. These printers can be used with both Windows and Mac PC's.

CD's and DVD's are the most convenient media for distribution of video, computer data, software and other material. If you have the need to produce such media in high volumes, duplicators are the ideal solution. And if you need your media to look their best, a high-volume disc printer is the ideal solution. The advance of technology has made these quite inexpensive and affordable. The question has changed from "can you afford to have one?" to "can you afford not to have one?"!

Little Band Of Pirates

Guest post written by Craig Watson

No matter how much I convince my boys, they just want to dress up in the same kind of costumes as they have for the past two years, pirates. Now, a lot of times that would be a parent's dream, except that both of my boys have grown a lot so I'm going to have to buy them some more costumes.

I started looking up costumes to buy online with clear-internet.com and then realized that all the costumes were basically the same.

That got me thinking that I could probably just make them wear some of their clothes that they've messed up and still fit them and change them a little bit to make it look like a pirate costume. I'm going to take pieces of their old costumes like fake swords and eye patches and get them to reuse them this year. Besides, I convinced both of them that if we make the costumes they’ll look more authentic like they’re real pirates anyway, which they said would be even cooler.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Taxes, Appropriately Enough, Are Quite Taxing!

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised about that, but this past week, it certainly did catch me by surprise. I had what seemed like an overwhelming amount of homework to complete in my tax class. Most of the exercises involved completing whole tax returns with lots of worksheets and schedules to be filled out by hand.

One of these complete tax returns was the basis for a review test which I also had to complete online last week. The review test consisted of several questions whose answers came from different line numbers in the completed returns. All in all, it was a hectic week, in which I was huddled with my tax books most of my after-work hours.

But I also made good progress at work last week, with my project moving along at a decent pace for the first time in several weeks. I have always found it easier to work collaboratively with somebody else rather than trying to pound at something by myself. So, I got a chance to work on some coding with a colleague and teammate of mine this week, and we made excellent progress. We designed data structures, wrote code, corrected bugs and zipped through several tasks, all in seemingly record time. I think independent work is highly over-rated. After all, it is not for nothing that they say two heads are better than one!

All this focus on work and homework though, meant that I did not get to work on my blog at all this past week. The only thing I can say about my blog is that a visitor from the British Virgin Islands landed on my blog this week. This makes it 152 countries from which visitors have visited my blog.

Homework is not as heavy this week as it was last week. I only have to complete the exercises in two chapters of the tax book this week as opposed to 3 or 4 chapters in each of the past two weeks. But next week, I have to take a midterm exam in the tax course. Quite taxing, you could say! So, it is time for me finish up this post and work on other things that need to be taken care of.

Prescription Sunglasses Are Just What The Doctor Ordered!

Thanks to guest poster, Sebastian Stanford, for this post.

I have always worn Oakley sunglasses since the day I started wearing sunglasses. I have always liked their styling, their quality, their customer focus, and their constant innovation in the field of sunglasses. But as I have gotten older, it has become more and more difficult to get sunglasses for my prescription.

HeavyGlare has come to my rescue in this regard recently, and I could not be happier. It is easy to find prescription sunglasses on this site that even the sunglass manufacturer (such as Oakley) does not make. HeavyGlare uses the most advanced technology to make prescription sunglasses using digital surfacing technology. The result is prescription sunglasses that conform perfectly to your prescription, thus making the glasses exactly what your optometrist ordered.

Their advanced technology makes it possible for them to offer prescription sunglasses in styles that are off-limits to other prescription sunglass-makers. For instance, they can make most prescription sunglasses with wraparound frames even if you have been previously told that this was not possible! The use of computers and lasers to bit-map your prescription throughout the surface of your sunglasses enables use of the peripheral portion of the lens also, increasing your field of view.

HeavyGlare guarantees all their sunglasses unconditionally. If you are not satisfied with your sunglasses you can return them up to 365 days after your purchase. They sell only original sunglasses from the manufacturers, not replicas or fakes. Their customer testimonials testify to the satisfaction of their customers.

If you have your mind set on a style of sunglasses and have been told that you can't get that style in your prescription, don't give up just yet. Head on over to HeavyGlare and see what the leaders in prescription lens manufacturing have to say about it!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Whatever Did People Do Before There Was The Internet?!

Recently, the eldest son of a friend of mine left home and went off to college. My friend and his wife accompanied him to his new university and spent a couple of days getting him settled in before coming back. I met them later that week and asked them how their son was settling in. My friend said he doing well, having settled in, and was getting busy with classes, homework and the usual college stuff.

I asked him where he was living, and my friend said he was living with roommates in a shared apartment. I remember when I first went to college, I moved into a dorm at the college because I needed someplace to stay right away before I would be able to find friends and rent an apartment etc. Eventually, after a semester, I did find roommates and rented an apartment with them, but everything took time. In the meantime, I was paying through my nose for the university-provided dorm room!

It turns out my friend's son had connected with potential roommates through a couple of websites before even heading out to his college. He connected up using EasyRoommate.com and RoommateClick.com. Both are sites that make it easy to find a roommate over the internet. You can search for roommates and rooms to rent on the sites, and start making arrangements even before you set foot wherever you are headed to. The roommate finder on these websites is very easy to use, as can be expected!

If you are already in an apartment and want to find a roommate to share it with, the sites allow you to do that too. You can list your room rental like in a classified ad (except it is totally free in this case), and just wait for it to show up on searches and somebody to contact you regarding the property. No need to put up "roommates wanted" signs on grocery store bulletin boards, and hoping that somebody stops to read your listing from among the dozens of listings put up in a narrow, dimly lit corridor while pushing a grocery cart with a wheel that wants to go in every direction except where the shopper wants it to go! Just do a roommate search on one of these sites and contact potential roommates directly to initiate the process.

These sites represent another innovative use for the internet. It is amazing how much the internet has changed life in the past dozen or so years. It has made practically everything we do much easier. Now you can not only find the right university and student loans that will enable you to attend that university, you can also find the perfect roommates to share your life at the university with! I am almost scared to think what the next evolution of the internet is going to produce and how it is going to change our lives!!

Visitors Country Map

Free counters!

Content From TheFreeDictionary.com

In the News

Article of the Day

This Day in History

Today's Birthday

Quote of the Day

Word of the Day

Match Up
Match each word in the left column with its synonym on the right. When finished, click Answer to see the results. Good luck!

 

Hangman

Spelling Bee
difficulty level:
score: -
please wait...
 
spell the word:

Search The Web