Saturday, November 29, 2014

Some Tips on 4K (UHD) Televisions

The recent price drops on 4K (Ultra High Definition (UHD)) televisions have been stunning, with some sets being priced today 30% or more lower than they were priced just a week ago. And it appears demand is strong for these sets, e.g., Costco.com has no Vizios in stock. But before you rush out to buy one, this article from the Wall Street Journal (11/29) offers some useful tips. Putting aside the lack of 4K content, most important, there has yet to be established a 4K standard.

TV Buying Guide: Beyond a Stellar Screen

Four televisions with selling points beyond a stellar picture: the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision Avant, Samsung HU9000, Sony W800B and Vizio E-Series

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TOMASZ WALENTA
ANYONE SHOPPING for a new television—whether this Cyber Monday or beyond—will no doubt be steered toward the latest Ultra HD models (also known as 4K), whose image resolution is quadruple that of standard high-definition sets.
But even though these new sets are dazzling to behold, it’s important to remember that a television’s beauty is more than screen deep. Yes, you should consider picture quality and similar specs, but in the vast sea of nearly identical-looking models, there are plenty of other, sometimes overlooked, criteria to consider.
Movie buffs, for example, might want to splurge on a model with room-filling audio, while casual gamers might appreciate the ability to stream games directly from the Internet to a set. For those early adopters who do decide to jump on the Ultra HD bandwagon, an easy-to-upgrade model that aims to protect their investment in this still nascent technology is definitely worth considering. And, of course, finding the perfect balance of price and performance is a good way to pick a TV, too.
We’re not suggesting, of course, that all televisions that tout clever features are worth a place in your living room. (When 3-D was first introduced, for example, the dubious but heavily promoted feature cost extra.) But TVs are more varied and unique than shoppers might realize. These four models are worth adding to your short list.
For Early Adopters | Samsung HU9000 65-inch 4K TV
Undoubtedly, super-sharp TVs known as Ultra HD (or “4K”) are the future. But that future is still a ways off. Sure, Netflix may have launched its 4K-streaming service this year, but few TV shows or movies are available to watch in 4K on Netflix or anywhere else. More worrying, the protocols for the format haven’t been fully established—which means that some current Ultra HD TVs might not be compatible with the 4K content to come.
That’s what makes Samsung models that work with the One Connect Box (also from Samsung) so compelling. These sets, like the 65-incher in the HU9000 series, offload much of the image processing to an external box that can be upgraded down the line, most likely for a fraction of the TV’s original cost. Beyond allowing you to boost performance with up-to-date processors, this feature should guarantee that the TV can accommodate the latest 4K content. In the meantime, standard HD video will still look stunning on this model’s glare-reducing curved screen. $3,500, samsung.com
For the Price-Conscious | Vizio E-Series 60-inch LED HDTV
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TOMASZ WALENTA
If you’re just looking to get the most for your money, the typical TV showroom can be a confusing place. Are those Cyber Monday bargains or the floor models at a rock-bottom price really a good deal? And what about the slew of affordable sets from B-list or house brands, such as RCA, Dynex, Insignia and Magnavox?
Savvy bargain hunters will want to avoid all of the above and check out Vizio’s E-Series LED models instead. This line is aggressively priced and notable for a feature called “full-array local dimming.” Instead of adjusting the image uniformly to improve contrast—for example, by darkening the picture to create deeper blacks during a nighttime scene or brightening the picture to make a blue sky pop more—the set will dim or lighten parts of the screen independently. That means a character’s flashlight will be made lighter without washing out the shadows around it to a muddy gray. Although sets range from 23 to 70 inches, the 60-incher hits a sweet spot of price and screen size. $800, vizio.com
For Stellar Sound | Bang & Olufsen BeoVision Avant 55-inch 4K TV
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TOMASZ WALENTA
If money is no object, finding a TV with breathtaking picture quality is pretty easy. Obtaining breathtaking audio, on the other hand, is more of a challenge—especially if you don’t want to clutter your space with speakers.
Bang & Olufsen’s immodestly priced BeoVision Avant is among the most discreet solutions. At the push of a button, its built-in 3.1-channel soundbar slides under its 55-inch screen. Far from a tacked-on gimmick, the integrated speakers (including two surprisingly forceful subwoofers) deliver blistering, room-filling sound. (Bang & Olufsen is first and foremost a maker of luxury audio products, after all.)
For true surround sound, home-theater purists will want to add at least two more speakers at the rear of the room. But the Avant makes that largely hassle-free, too. It can sync with up to eight wireless speakers that are WiSA-certified, whether from Bang & Olufsen or other manufacturers. $7,995 without stand, bang-olufsen.com
For Casual Gamers | Sony W800B 50-inch LED HDTV
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TOMASZ WALENTA
Among the many 1080p LED televisions on the market in the $1,000-or-so price range, this model might seem fairly standard. Yes, its colors are accurate, and it can access streaming-video services, such as Netflix and Hulu, directly over Wi-Fi—but so can many other TVs.
So what differentiates the 50-inch W800B? Its ability to stream PlayStation 3 games without a gaming console. This set (along with others of varying sizes from Sony) can tap into the PlayStation Now service, which lets you stream PS3 titles over the Internet for a modest rental fee. Although the selection is limited and games can stutter if you don’t have a fast Internet connection, the service (still in beta) has plenty of must-try games, among them the expressionistic, genre-bending “Proteus” ($4 for a 7-day rental). For ex-gamers looking for an occasional fix or anyone who is curious about the state of gaming but not ready to buy a console, this set is a low-commitment solution. $1,000, plus $55 for a wireless game controller, store.sony.com

Thursday, November 27, 2014

My Blue Heaven (1990)

Steve Martin has made many wonderful movies, including two great ones and one near-great one: The Jerk (great) , Roxanne (near-great), and My Blue Heaven (great). Even if you don't know how to merengue (and if you don't, you should take lessons immediately), the two merengue scenes are just fabulous. The music is wonderful, and the casting of Joan Cusak and Carol Kane is brilliant. This movie will not make you think and it's not heavy in any way, but it is sheer delight and will make you smile and laugh throughout (unless there's something wrong with you).

IMDb Link

Gmelius

On the one hand, Gmail has some very nice features, especially its ability to synchronize across all platforms. On the other hand, Gmail is quite annoying in how it hides many of its features. For example, when replying to an email, it is not readily apparent how to add a cc or bcc field or both. Gmelius is a Chrome extension that lets customize Gmail in many useful ways, i.e., it lets you  hide stuff Gmail will not hide and lets you make apparent stuff Gmail hides. Unfortunately, while the free version will give you many desirable options, even it will not set cc and bcc fields automatically, but the premium ($25) version will do so and a whole lot more.

Link to Gmelius in Chrome Extension Store

Link to Gmelius.com 

Do Not Use This Quirk to Scam Amazon

Say you need a flash drive today. You go to Amazon Prime, buy one, and pay the fee for same-day delivery. Then, it occurs to you to buy some additional flash drives to have on hand as backups, so you do. Only this time, instead of opting for same-day delivery, you opt for delayed delivery which gets you a $1 discount on a future video streaming or e-book purchase. Then, something amazing happens, like a Thanksgiving miracle: Amazon bundles the two orders together for same-day delivery AND gives you the $1 discount. PLEASE do not use this quirk to game the Amazon system. Thank you.

Blocking Webmail Ads

If you use Chrome as your browser, and you use a web-based mail system such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or Outlook.com, check out a free extension called Webmail Ad Blocker. Once installed and activated, it prevents ads from appearing on the screen when you're reading messages, which frees up some screen space and lets you concentrate on the task in hand.



Link to Webmail Ad Blocker

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How to Fix a Broken Website

If you had nothing to be thankful for before today, now you definitely have something to be thankful for. Because with the tips below, you can get to that website you have been unable to reach and can avoid the psychotic break that was about to befall you.

Assume you are using Chrome. There's a website you go to with some frequency, perhaps even every day. One day it does not display correctly. In fact it's all a jumble of stuff and no pictures or anything. The problem persists for days and you cannot find a solution. It's driving you nuts. Fortunately, it turns out there is a pretty easy fix. Here's what to do:

1. Check either of the two URLs that will tell you whether it is a problem with the website's being down or with you. The first, Down For Everyone, will tell you simply that "yes" the website is up or "no" the website is down. The second, Is It Down Right Now, will tell you that and give you a bunch more information about the website and related matters. Here are the two links:

Link to Down For Everyone

Link to Is It Down Right Now

2. Assuming either of those links confirms the website is up, try opening it in IE or in Incognito Mode. If it displays correctly, at least you now can reach and see the website. But for a permanent fix, open up you Extension page, and start disabling one-by-one each of the "filtering extensions" you have (such as ghostery, ad-blockers, tracking blockers, etc.) and try opening the page after each disable. There is a 99.99% one of these extensions is the culprit. All you need to do then is de-activate for the particular site if possible or disable it entirely.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Windows Sticky Notes

[Prefatory Confession: I'm probably the last person to understand what Windows Stick Notes can do]

The Windows clipboard remembers only one copied item at a time. Downloadable clipboards capture way too much stuff. Windows Notepad lets you copy whatever you want to it, but you can not save it in a readily-accessible place. Downloadable notepads are way too complicated and likewise lack a readily-accessible savings feature. Chrome had a terrific Notebook/Clipboard extension that let you put on it and immediately save whatever text you wanted to copy or reference in a readily-accessible button. Unfortunately, the extension no longer is available and if you move to a new computer, even though the button appears when you open Chrome, it does not work properly.

It turns out there is a FABULOUS alternative built right into Windows: Sticky Notes. You can find it in Start/All Programs/Accessories/Sticky Notes. From there, right-click on it, and choose  Send to (Create Shortcut), or Pin to Start Menu, or Pin to Taskbar (which is what I have done), or all three. Then, just click on the new icon and up will pop a note. You can change the size and color, and add as many notes as you want. Saving is automatic--just click anywhere not on the note and it will save and disappear. Click on the x to delete any note.

Now, here is what you can do with Sticky Notes: Just put on the first note any text (numbers, words, anything) that you have to reference or copy with any frequency, such as your South West Airlines Rapid Reward #; your Costco membership number; your credit card number; your partner's social security number. Then, if you ever need them, just click on the Sticky Note and shzam, they're there, and if you need to paste them somewhere, just highlight, copy, and paste. So, they are quite useful even for stuff you have difficulty recalling, like your name and address, because they will save you from having to manual type them ever again. In effect, the Stick Notes are a list of macros.

The bottom-line is this: If you already use Sticky Notes, you are stunned that anyone out there didn't know about them; if you are not a Sticky Notes user, your long national nightmare now is over!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Office 365

Office 365 is Microsoft's licensing of its Office products (including Outlook, Word, Excel, Power Point, and more) for $99 per year. That fee though entitles you to have these Office products installed on 5 different computers, and unlike a bundled Office product, you can activate or de-activate licensed computers. Beyond the price (which works out to be $20 per computer per year), there are some compelling reasons to consider this offering, including:

1. Outlook is a terrific email, calendar, address book program. While there is a bit of a learning curve to set up the options you want, it is amazingly customizable, and integrates seamlessly with your ISP's email server (so now you can see spam filtered out by your ISP and you can block senders without the limitations imposed by your ISP). Just by way of example, it will let you designate that an email you compose be held and not sent until a data/time of your choosing; it's auto-complete addressing is much more adaptable than even Gmail's as is its Folder organization; you can add or remove or change the weather bar in a zillion ways; and on, and on, and on. The only shortcoming is that it's not available on smart devices yet, so Gmail remains the best way to handle email on such devices.

2. With Word comes bundled One Drive which lets you set up a folder so that you can access your documents from any computer anywhere in the world.

3. Most amazing for a Microsoft product, you actually can reach free telephone support in a minute or so to trouble-shoot a problem.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Whether or not you've ever seen this Little Shop of Horrors, even if you've seen if more than once, if you have not seen it in the past few years, it's an absolute must-see! Essentially, a Faustian-bargain story (although it might be said that Shakespeare might have ended it differently), it also is an incisive commentary of mid-century American life, aspirations, realities, and fears. Put all that aside, it is highly inventive in so many ways. The animation is phenomenal, the music and songs are foot-stomping sing-alongs, the choreography is creative, the casting is simply amazing (the cameos will stun you as you see one old friend after another), the sets and settings are clever, the cinematography is spot on, and the acting is terrific (and who knew Rick Moranis could sing and that teaming up with Steve Martin as they did in My Blue Heaven is such an added bonus; and you get extra points if you can spot Christopher Guest).

IMDb Link

Work Around for Search Box on My (and Other Blogger) Blogs Not Working

The search box on this blog has seemed to stop working. And apparently it has stopped working for many other Google blogs as well. Here is a good work around: Go to The Google and put in "edctips" plus "what you're searching for."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Apple's iCloud Explained

Here is a good overview of what Apple's iCloud can do for you in terms of syncing and storing your files across all your devices: Link to explanatory CNET Arrticle

Really Neat Alternative to Hearing Aids

If you avoid restaurants where the ambient noise level makes it difficult to hear your dinner companion(s), but refuse to buy hearing aids because they are costly and unfashionable and because you really don't need hearing aids, checkout Soundhawk. It is smart listening system that just might be for you. It is all explained here: Link to NYT Article on Soundhawk

Bandwith Detector (Glasswire)

Glasswire is one of my favourite finds of the year.  It shows you how much internet traffic your computer is producing, both inbound and outbound, and it shows you precisely which programs or services are generating it.  It's great for tracking down slow connections, and very useful if you suspect that a certain program is sending or receiving more data than it should be.  And unlike similar technically-oriented programs, this one is simple to use.  It looks good too.
If you already are a Glasswire user, there's been a handful of useful updates and bug fixes, as well as some work on making the menus clearer.  In that event, uninstall it and get the latest version.  You'll not regret it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Some Upsides If Your Computer Blows Up

Everything was fine when you turned off your computer on Friday night. On Saturday morning, it would not boot up. It turned out your hard-drive had a catastrophic failure in the middle of the night. You go to Amazon Prime and order a replacement that will arrive late Monday. From the moment the it arrives, you work around the clock to configure the new computer to do what your fried computer used to do. In a sense, it's like having a new roof put on your house: It has to be done and paid for, but all you get is back to where you were, hours later and dollars poorer. Actually, not so. There are some substantial upsides.

1. Even if you bought the same effective model computer as the old one, it likely is enhanced and ultimately runs faster and smoother.

2. It also will run faster and smoother because (once you get rid of the bloatware) it won't be as gunked up with unneeded stuff and mistakes you made with the old computer.

3. Even if all your data was properly backed up and stored, there will be glitches in setting up each program. Here's the real upside though: In doing the set-ups, and immersing yourself in the program settings anew, you learn a whole new world of customization. It turns out every program can be far more customized than you ever thought, and your "old way" of dealing with your programs will gleefully be so yesterday.

4. At the end of the day, as you solve glitch after glitch after glitch after glitch after glitch after glitch sometimes to the point of thinking you cannot take it any more, you will feel invigorated by an enhanced sense of self-confidence in your ability to solve computer problems, proving yet again to embrace your failures as your best teachers because we learn far more when something goes awry than when everything goes swimmingly.

5. Finally, you will be most appreciative of your cellphone and tablet, not only because of their ability to step up to the plate, but because of how easy in comparison it is to bring a new cellphone or tablet "on line" compared to a computer.

Monday, November 17, 2014

UPS Live Chat

Fugget about it. Just phone them.

Dental Procedure Rates

Do not think that two equally skilled dentists will charge the same for the exact same procedure. Indeed, it is not unusual that a more skilled specialist will charge less for the exact same procedure than a dentist will charge. Just by way of example, a dentist can be known to charge $2,400 for the exact same procedure a periodontist charges $1,900, largely because the periodontist gets the materials at a discounted price because the periodontist has greater volume with the respective lab. And the materials you get from the lab used by the periodontist likely will be superior to the materials you get from the lab used by the dentist. In short, when it comes to dental procedures, comparison shopping can really make a difference--with price differentials of 25% or more. In fact, even with teeth cleanings, the hygienist charge under a periodontist might be $118 while the hygienist charge under a dentist might be $158.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How to Immediately Turn On Your Screensaver


  1. Choose Start→Computer. In the Search box, in the upper-right corner, type *.scr and press Enter.
    image0.jpg
    Windows responds with a list of all .scr files — all the screen savers — on your computer.
  2. Right-click the screen saver you want to use for the Boss Key and choose Send To→Desktop(Create Shortcut).
    Most filenames are obviously associated with specific screen savers, but a couple of them are tricky. A shortcut to the corresponding .scr file appears on your desktop.
    Not sure which file to use? This table gives you a breakdown of the screen savers that ship with Windows 7.
    Screen SaverFile
    3D TextssText3d.scr
    AuroraAurora.scr
    Blankscrnsave.scr
    BubblesBubbles.scr
    Mystifyssmyst.scr
    PhotosPhotoScreensaver.scr
    RibbonsRibbons.scr
    Windows EnergyssBranded.scr
    Windows Logologon.scr
  3. On the desktop, right-click the new shortcut and choose Properties.
    The Shortcut Properties dialog box appears.
  4. Click once in the Shortcut Key field, and then press the key combination you want to use to activate the Boss Key.
    You can use any key combination, such as Alt+F10.
    If you want to customize your Boss Key screen saver, right-click the shortcut and choose Configure. You can change all the screen saver’s settings.
  5. Click the OK button and your Boss Key is complete.
    Test it — press the key combination you chose. The built-in screen saver springs to life.
Test the Boss Key before you really need to use it, okay? You might find that your chosen key combination doesn’t work (this means that another program has already claimed that combination). If it doesn't work, assign a different key combination.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Maximing Your Tax Deductions

From the WSJ (11/115/2014)

A Two-Year Plan to Lower Your Taxes

Bunching Deductible Expenses Into Every Other Year Can Lower Taxes Over Time

It may pay to alternate between the standard deduction and itemizing.ENLARGE
It may pay to alternate between the standard deduction and itemizing. BLOOMBERG NEWS
Here’s another reason to be generous during the holiday season: You could lower your tax bill by making next year’s charitable donations before Dec. 31 and prepaying next year’s state and local taxes.
By doing so, you could benefit from a simple tactic that takes advantage of a feature of the tax system: Each year, taxpayers get to decide how they want to take deductions from taxable income.
The Internal Revenue Service offers two options. Taxpayers can take the standard deduction, which is $6,200 for a single filer and $12,400 for joint filers. Or they can itemize expenses such as mortgage interest, state and local income and property taxes, and charitable donations, which can add up to a larger deduction.
ENLARGE
TK
Unless you receive reasonably sophisticated tax advice, chances are that each year you make the choice that lowers your tax bill the most for that year. About 70% of U.S. taxpayers simply take the standard deduction, which is the easier route.
But many people can boost overall deductions for every two-year period by alternating between the two approaches each year. In the years when you itemize expenses, you make two years’ worth of charitable donations and pay two years of property taxes. For a typical couple who own a home, that could add up to well over $12,400.
The following year, you take the standard deduction, which could be much more than you would have qualified for otherwise, given that you would have relatively little to itemize for that tax year.
“Individuals should consider alternating between the standard deduction and itemized deduction,” says Grant Moore, a financial adviser in Rockford, Ill. “By doubling up on items such as charitable contributions and property taxes in the year in which someone itemizes their deductions, they could significantly reduce their lifetime tax burden.”
To be sure, the savings may be modest. Don Williamson, who heads the Kogod Tax Center at American University in Washington, said the maneuver is likely to be of marginal benefit to many taxpayers.
Those savings may be welcome nonetheless, especially for those on middle-class incomes.
The technique frequently gets overlooked. Tax planners tend to focus most on taxpayers with higher incomes or more complex affairs, whose deductions are so large that it almost always makes sense for them to take itemized deductions each year. When they recommend paying some of next year’s expenses early, it is typically to help wealthier clients avoid the impact of the alternative minimum tax, the parallel tax code designed to close loopholes in the principal code.
Yet even those who aren’t among the highest earners can benefit from multiyear planning.
Consider a married couple with $5,000 in annual mortgage interest, $3,000 in state income taxes, $4,000 in property taxes and $2,000 in annual qualified charitable donations. That adds up to $14,000 in annual deductible expenses.
The total is only slightly above the $12,400 standard deduction allowed for joint filers. This couple may wonder if it is even worth spending the extra time, effort and cost to itemize their taxes for a net saving which may amount only to a couple hundred dollars. But the picture changes if they make two years’ worth of charitable donations in a single year and prepay next year’s state and local taxes by Dec. 31.
If they do that, they can itemize $23,000 of expenses this year. (The overpayments of state and local taxes will go toward next year’s state and local tax bills.) Next year the only itemized deduction left would be the $5,000 in mortgage interest, but the couple can take the $12,400 standard deduction.
Total deductions over two years: $35,400, compared with the $28,000 they would have taken by itemizing each year. If the couple had $100,000 in taxable income each year and was in the 25% bracket for federal income tax, that would save them $1,850.
The maneuver does have some drawbacks. By prepaying some of next year’s expenses, taxpayers miss out on the interest they could have earned on the money.
But inflation is low and so are short-term interest rates, so the cost is likely minuscule. Meanwhile, low interest rates have reduced the value of the deduction for mortgage interest, bringing many taxpayers’ total annual deductions down below the value of the standard deduction.
What’s more, some taxpayers may find it attractive to simplify their tax filing every other year by taking the standard deduction. The IRS calculates that the average nonbusiness taxpayer spends about eight hours a year on tax compliance.
Itemized deductions and standard deductions were designed as alternatives. But with a little careful planning, you can get the best of both worlds.
Write to Brett Arends at brett.arends@wsj.com

Downside of SSD

Laptops come with either a hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid state drive (SSD). The SSD machines are way way faster in booting up and in every other way. Unfortunately, when they fail, they fail catastrophically with no warning. HHDs will tend to give a few weeks warning by noticeable processing errors.  A catastrophic failure is a very painful experience.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Best Deal for Bluetooth Headset

It's not a Bose, but it costs under $10 and shipping is free. It connects wirelessly by Bluetooth to your iPhone or Android and then you can play your music on the go without wires hanging all over the place and the sound is not bad, and you can answer and talk on your phone wirelessly as well. It's also very, very comfortable.





Link to Buy One on ebay

World's Largest Olives

Until a few weeks ago, TJ's carried the world's largest pimento-stuffed olives from Spain. In a shocking decision, TJ's discontinued them. In response to an email inquiry as to why, confirming my decision of several months ago to boycott TJ's, TJ's gave an amazingly insightful and yet unapologetic answer, which explains why so many of their distinctive products disappear, to-wit: Each week they introduce 10-15 new products and discontinue 10-15 products.

Fortunately, a decent substitute is readily available, namely, Lindsay's Spanish Queen Pimento-Stuff Olives, which can be found at Safeway, Costco, and even Walgreen's. Lindsay also offers them stuffed with garlic or almonds.

Link to Picture of Lindsay Olives in Bottle 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Begin Again (2013)

It's not a perfect movie, and it's not a great movie, and it has some stupid scenes, and an ending that makes no sense--although be sure to watch past the beginning of the final credits, but it's definitely a very good movie worth watching. The music is terrific. Mark Ruffalo is, well, totally loveable as Mark Ruffalo. Even if you didn't like Keira Knightley before the movie, you will really like her afterwards. The woman who played the artist on Seinfeld should stick to the small screen but her part is not big enough to spoil the movie anyhow.

IMDb Link

Friday, November 7, 2014

Huge Gmail App Improvement

One of the most annoying things about Gmail on portable devices is the way conversational threads are "organized," or more appropriately described, the way they are "not organized" in simple fashion. After beating and beating on Google, I am thrilled to say that our national nightmare is over. Just download the most recent Gmail app to your phone and tablet and, voila, a conversational thread will look like it does on the Gmail for the desktop.

Change in Roth IRA Regs You Might Benefit From

The IRS have relaxed the regulations re conversions from IRAs to Roth IRAs. The longer your time horizon, the lower your income now versus your future income, and the greater the likelihood of gains, the more sense it might make to do a conversion, i.e., it could be a way to substantially grow your portfolio over what it otherwise would grow. The link is an informative article. But, in all events, it is best before doing anything to check with your accountant.

WSJ Link

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Android 5.0 Lollipop

Android 5.0 is rolling out this week and likely will "show up" on your phone or tablet fairly soon. This article gives a good overview of the new interface and features: Android 5.0 Overview Link

Orange Is the New Black -- The Book (2010)

The book rivets you from the start, and you will find you cannot read or turn the pages fast enough to find out what happens next. The clear, tight language perfectly suits the story that unfolds, which, btw, is a true story, making it all the more compelling. About half-way through, it starts to bog down and get  a bit tedious. Whether that's the author's the fault or just the cost of reading a book about a year in prison I shall not opine. But I will tell anyone who has not done time, prison life is inherently boring--not unlike coal mining. [See Peter Cook's description from Beyond the Fringe ("boring is the word that springs to your lips")] While one might be tempted to just stop reading, the desire to find out what happens after Piper Kerman (her real name) is released will keep you reading. And if you haven't seen the streaming version, you will immediately want to do so.

Kindle Download Link

IMDb Link

Peter Cook Beyond the Fringe Coal Mine Link

PS: The Kindle download has a bit of a hiccup in the "time remaining in the chapter" computation which seems to always read 1  minute, even on the first page of the chapter.

Amazon Prime Just Got Better

Now included in one's Amazon Prime membership is free unlimited photo storage, which you can add from your computer, phone, and tablet.

Registering an American Express Card on PayPal

The PayPal registration form will ask you to fill in the 3-digit code on the back of the credit card. While this is correct and works for MasterCard and Visa, it will not work for American Express cards. Rather, fill in the 4-digit code on the front of the card, and then it will register. PayPal has been apprised of the issue.

Verizon Tracks Its Mobile Customers

It has been learned that Verizon Wireless has been silently tracking around 100 million mobile customers using a supercookie that can't be opted out of. It's all explained here:  Explanatory Article

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Toasting Bagels for a Large Group

Say it's Christmas morning or any other occasion where you are serving a breakfast schmear of scrambled eggs and bacon as well as lox to a largish group and so you will be toasting quite a few bagels. If you use a toaster, not only is the process tedious, but the early ones will be cold by the time the latter ones are toasted. So, instead, toast them all at once in the oven, which has the additional advantage of actual toasting them faster and each bagel will come out the same--unlike many toasters where successive toasting tends to over-toast later items.

International Cellphone Calls and Texts for Free

Using mobile data is VERY EXPENSIVE outside the United States. You can buy data and text packages or international sim cards to reduce the cost but it is still expensive. Wi-fi remains free assuming you can find a free wi-fi spot which usually is pretty easy, even in remote fishing villages in the Aegean Sea. With that, there are many free apps (such as Google Voice, Pinger, TextPlus, Talkatone) that will enable you to send and receive texts and make and receive phone calls as long as you are on wi-fi. One caution, however, be sure your mobile data is turned off--otherwise the text/call app will "glom onto" your data connection and send you to the poor house.

HDMI Cables

The best way to cable together A/V devices (e.g., cable box to tv; dvr to tv) is with HDMI cables. Prices on them vary dramatically. For example, the same length cable on Amazon can be as low as $5.99 or as high as $1,494.75 (and of these, Amazon has "only 3 left in stock." The question is whether higher priced HDMI cables are any better than lower priced ones. Putting aside all the technical data and jargon on the issue, the answer is an unequivocal NO!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sky Harbor Airport: Change of Terminal 4 Cell Phone Lot

According to the airport's press release, beginning November 5, the Terminal 4 Cell Phone Lot is moving. Actually, what has been the Terminal 4 Cell Phone Lot is staying put, and perhaps being given a different use. But Cell Phone Lot serving Terminal 4 will be in a new location. It is all explained here: Sky Harbor Press Release

Monday, November 3, 2014

Excellent Canon Scanner and Support

I have an inexpensive (under $100) Canon flatbed color scanner which has worked perfectly for quite a number of years and is well out of warranty. Today, it had a problem scanning. I sent an email to Canon support from their website (the form was simple and fast to fill out and did not ask for any irrelevant information) and, less than 30 minutes later, I got a response that was clear and spot on in fixing the problem. Looking at others' ratings of Canon scanners and support, it would seem that I am not alone in being so extremely pleased with the Canon product and with the Canon support.

How Phoenix Might Use Less Water and Bring in More Money

The Arizona Republic will be publishing a letter that suggests how Phoenix residents might be induced to use less water and the City might be able to generate more revenue. Here is the text of that letter:

Those who use more city water, pay more than those who use less city water. But, heavy users pay the same per-gallon rate as light users. If the City would scale up the per-gallon rate of water usage as a customer’s water usage went up, the City would take in more dollars and customers would have a greater incentive to use less water. For example, by scaling the per-gallon rate as water usage increased, either fewer customers would put in winter rye lawns that consume enormous amounts of water in the germination stage and/or the City would take in more revenue; likewise, customers who have leaks would have a greater incentive to find the leaks and have them repaired and/or the City would take in more revenue. In sum, by adopting a scalar per-gallon rate structure, both the City’s coffers and its water reservoirs stand to benefit greatly.

Privacy Badger

Privacy Badger is a browser add-on that stops advertisers and other third-party trackers from secretly tracking where you go and what pages you look at on the web. If an advertiser seems to be tracking you across multiple websites without your permission, Privacy Badger automatically blocks that advertiser from loading any more content in your browser. To the advertiser, it's like you suddenly disappeared. Privacy Badger is currently available as an add-on for the Chrome and Firefox browsers. There is also a FAQ with detailed information about the add-on. It is currently in beta and may have some bugs but it seems to work quite well, and it will speed up your browsing.


Link to Privacy Badger

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Recipe for Delicious Meat Loaf

Meat loaf is one of those dishes that can take on so much, like vegetables, leftover mashed potatoes, the end of a bottle of wine from the weekend, a bit of stale bread. The real key to a juicy, delicious loaf isn't the meat, it is all the things that moisten and flavor the loaf at the same time -- like bread soaked in wine, tomato paste, vegetables and cheese.

Red Wine Meatloaf

Mashed potatoes are the classic partners for this, but a puree of braised broccoli and garlic is lighter and works like a charm. Sandwiches of this loaf on day two are super, especially if you warm the meatloaf for a few moments.

Ingredients
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup cubed (about 1/4-inch cubes) whole-wheat baguette, or other whole-grain chewy bread
  • 1/4 cup dry red or white wine
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 large fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1 slice bacon, minced
  • 1/2 cup (1-1/2 to 2 ounces) shredded Asiago or extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1/4 large sweet red pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 large whole scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 pound ground 85% beef chuck
  • 1/2 cup dry red or white wine
Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Have a 9-inch square cake pan handy.

2. Turn on a food processor and drop in the garlic. Then drop in the bread cubes and process until pieces are a quarter the size of a pea. Scrape everything into a large bowl and moisten the crumbs with the wine. Let wine soak into the bread while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

3. Completely blend in all the remaining ingredients except the meat. Then work in the meat with a spoon until everything is thoroughly mixed. Turn the mixture into the pan and shape into a plump loaf.

4. Bake the meatloaf 20 minutes and pour the 1/2 cup of wine over it. Bake another 30 to 40 minutes, basting occasionally with the pan juices, or until an instant reading thermometer inserted into the meat loaf’s center reads 160ºF. Remove the meatloaf from the oven; let it rest about 15 minutes, then slice for serving.

Refrigerator Water Filter Change Interval

Most shampoo directions say to wash, rinse, and repeat. For many people, particularly those with shorter hair who do not need to repeat, following the package directions will use up the shampoo twice as fast if the repeat is ignored. A similar concern might apply to refrigerator water filters where the package instructions say to change the filter every six months. The question was put to Amana as to whether that instruction was assuming a 4-person household and, if so, whether a 2-person household might not need to change the filter so frequently. A week later, Amana's e-Solutions Specialists from its Customer eXperience Center responded as follows:

"Thank you for visiting the Amana web site.  We appreciate hearing from you concerning the water filter inquiry. Your email is extremely important to us and we are sincerely sorry for any delays in responding to you. We are working diligently to respond over the telephone and through email to all of our customers.

"The Amana refrigerator water filter recommendation is to change the water filter at least every six months.  In order to provide safe drinking water, the water filter removes six contaminants such as cysts, bacteria and particles present in the water supply. The longevity of the filter depends on how many contaminants are required to be filtered and not the number of family members. 
"You are a valued Amana customer and we apologize for any inconvenience this concern may have caused.
"We invite you to contact Amana again either by calling (800) 344-1274 between 8:00am to 8:00pm EST weekdays or by emailing whenever the need arises. When calling please press the available option or stay on the line to reach a representative."