Since I’m writing this on March 17th, I have to mention St. Patrick’s Day. This made me wonder what happened to the shamrock shake served by McDonalds? I’m a child of the TV era, one of the baby boomers who grew up with Gilligan’s Island reruns and the Brady Bunch in prime time. When the shamrock shake ads first appeared, we HAD to have one. Not liking mint, I didn’t particularly care for the shamrock shake but my brother loved them. Every year we’d make the family trek to McDonald’s, with three kids in the back of the station wagon. A sure sign that spring was around the corner was the shamrock shake.
I Googled “shamrock shake” and found a ton of recipes for the frosty shake, a “Bring back the Shamrock Shake” fan appreciation site and a blog post from a few weeks ago with shamrock shake sightings in Chicago. I even came across a hilarious parody in the The Onion which quotes a leader of Sinn Fein demanding that the shamrock shake be available year round and the opposing British view. Hilarious reading, if you are in the mood.
Shamrock shake aside, the biggest news this week is that the contest to create a dual-boot Intel Mac ended and winners have been announced. In case you didn’t know, there was a contest initiated by a website, Windows XP on an Intel Mac, which awarded a prize generated by contributions. The final amount raised was $13,854, which went to two hackers, Blanka and Narf. Links to the contest site and screen shots are here:
Now that the world knows that an Intel Mac can be turned into a dual- booting computer, what lies ahead? Incredible gaming experiences? Explosion of available software? Something big? Nothing at all? I guess that time will tell.
Be Smarter at Work, Slack off
Holly sent me a link to an article on CNNMoney.com with this title, “Be smarter at work, slack off.” It is an eye catching headline. After all, doesn’t the idea of taking life a little easier sound good?
The article addresses the idea that the mind needs freedom to wander if it is to be creative and that the most creative ideas, and those that come out of associative thinking, happen when the thinker has let his or her mind wander. (The article uses the stories of Archimedes in the tub and Newton lazing under the apple tree.) Some of my best ideas happen when I’m not trying to have ideas, like when I’m driving or washing my hair. It’s the ideas that pop up when you least expect them that make it fun to daydream.
The second part of the article interviews 12 leaders about their work habits. What I found interesting about the interviews was how technically challenged most of the leaders are, some never using email. I can understand not wanting to use email, but never actually using it? That just seems archaic to me. I hope they’ll be retired 10 years from now instead of trying to deal with employees who grew up with text messaging and email.
Express Yourself with .Mac iChat Icons By Holly Buttura (Holly @ smalldog.com)
iChat is a great communication tool. It allows me to reach a co- worker who’s in a different part of Small Dog’s two buildings without physically having to go to them. From a work perspective, it saves me a lot of time.
Something else I enjoy about iChat is the use of the icons. I like seeing what my co-workers pick. Some are funny, some inspirational, some I just don’t get! I never seem to find ones I really like, or when I resize the image you can never tell what the image is. Apple just simplified that for me today.
Any .Mac member can now download some distinctive icons to play with. You can use what you download as long as you like, but some of the sets are only available for a limited time – until June 1, 2006, to be precise. I’m using an “Illustrations” Yada Yada icon today, and when I go to lunch I’ll switch to the “Status” lunch icon.
I’m all set for iChat fun with easy-to-read icons now!
TurboTax By Joyce Travers (joyce @ smalldog.com)
I purchased TurboTax Deluxe for Mac and have used the software for the past several years. I really like it. I figure that it saves me money, and since I follow the step-by-step directions I’m fairly confident that if I do make a mistake, the IRS isn’t going to throw the book at me. I’ve done my taxes to the best of my ability, with information that I know to be true. Plus it didn’t cost me $200 to watch someone else enter the information into a similar software program.
I’m single and have no children, so my taxes are pretty straightforward. However, this year there were a couple of things that were out of the ordinary, yet TurboTax handled them with no problems. During the course of the year, I use Quicken for my home accounting. At the end of each year I run a Quicken report that tells me, by category, where I spent my money. I like to use this report as a way to see where I might cut some expenses in the next year.
OK, getting started. First and foremost, gather all your paperwork. The procedure is so much less painful when you can just sit down and get it done. Think of this software as an interview. If you have all your information at hand, all you have to do is answer the questions presented. Doing your taxes takes enough time without having to stop and go digging for paperwork. I have a milk crate sitting next to my desk at home that serves as a repository for anything I think might be needed at tax time. As things come in the mail or from my employer, I just toss them in there.
Once you’ve installed and opened the software, a Welcome page automatically appears. You have the choice of taking the Quick Product Overview or starting your return. For first-time users, it’s not a bad idea to go through the overview. On the right side you’ll notice a list of FAQs. These are very helpful to review before getting started, since they might answer some questions you already have. Hit the “Start my return” button to get things going. (Note: At the top of the page, there is a bar that tells you where you are in the process and checks each section off as you finish it.)
The first section is “Personal Info.” A great feature here, if you’ve used TurboTax for the previous year’s return, is that it will import all the personal data from the previous year so you don’t have to enter it again. It will also use this information during the process to show you a comparison between the two years.
As you click through the screens, TurboTax asks you to enter the information it needs to calculate your return. What kind of return do you need to file? Do you want to import data from Quicken? Since I import data from last year’s return, it asks me to verify that it’s still correct. TurboTax goes through all the personal questions regarding dependents and special situations. You also have the option all through the “interview” to stop and play little “movies” that expand on things like the new 2005 tax law changes.
The next section is “Income.” After entering the information from your W-2, you start getting questions about adjustments. I had situation where my Blazer finally died and I needed a car. As it turned out, my cousin had a van he would sell me but I was low on funds at the time. Needing transportation, I raided my retirement fund – NOT something you really want to do, but I had little choice. Anyone who has done this knows that there are penalties and taxes on this money. No problem. TurboTax, during the course of the interview, asked if I had done this and made the necessary addition to my return.
Next, TurboTax takes you through the “Deductions” section. It asks questions regarding items that can be deducted from your income and gives your “Adjusted Gross Income,” or the amount on which you are going to be taxed. In this section, TurboTax shows you which option would be better, taking itemized deductions or taking the standard deduction allowed. It also asks a series of questions designed to make sure you are getting every deduction you can legally take, and will even tell you what items cannot be deducted. This is the section where you enter mortgage interest, property taxes, and student loan interest. There is a special section on charitable contributions to help you understand what is allowable and will calculate what you need to have spent in order to deduct medical expenses. Again, keep an eye on the questions at the right – you may find the answers to any questions you have regarding deductions.
The next section’s first page has you stop and get the documentation ready for the next set of questions (kind of a midway stretch). Then you start on any other taxes and credits you may need to report, things like income for a child under 14, household employees, and the now infamous Alternative Minimum Tax. TurboTax has an AMT analyzer to let you know if this tax is applicable to your return. If you are curious about this tax, you can click on the blue lettering and a very informative help screen appears. At the end of this section, TurboTax shows you a screen that summarizes your return. It shows your income, deductions, other taxes, and what was paid in taxes from your W-2. All of this totals to either a refund for overpayment or an amount due for underpayment. With a few other questions in the “miscellaneous” section, your federal return is done.
Final review gives you a chance to make sure that your version of TurboTax is updated with the latest information and forms and to run an error check.
Now it’s time to fill out your state tax information. You can download this information (for a fee, but there’s usually a rebate) if you didn’t purchase the TurboTax with State included.
When you start the state portion, TurboTax is able to take your information from the federal section and enter a lot of the information for you. A good portion of the state interview is just verifying that the information is correct, but there are some questions that will be native to your particular state. Like for us in Vermont, did we win the State Lottery? (I wish!) Do you qualify for a renter’s rebate? Naturally your state version will ask questions based on your particular state’s tax laws. You should have your property tax bill and last year’s tax return handy for this section.
OK, now you can file your returns. TurboTax gives you the option of e- filing or filing by mail. You normally get your refund faster by e- filing, and again there is a charge – but also a rebate. At this point, make your choice and either print your returns or go through the e-file process. I can’t help it: I print mine. At the end of all this, there’s a section on preparing for next year. You can use this information to create strategies to minimize your tax bill.
A few closing thoughts:
1) Save this information on your computer so next year TurboTax can enter a lot of the information and save you time. You will also be able to see the changes from year to year and how well your tax planning is working.
2) Take advantage of the rebates. I sometimes forget that I sent them in and the check I receive becomes a bonus I hadn’t expected.
3) Take advantage of TurboTax’s iChat help. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to finish a project (especially your taxes), hitting a wall and, to add insult to injury, not getting answers. But their help was there for me. Even though we couldn’t resolve the issue one way, she resolved it another and that’s what matters. It must be difficult to help someone with a computer problem if you’re not there to actually see what is going on, though this woman certainly tried. Overall, I was very happy with the experience.
I hope I’ve been of some help to you. I found TurboTax to be very intuitive, and it seems to cover a wide range of situations. It reminds me of the stories written by R.A. Montgomery called “Choose Your Own Adventures,” where you read the story and are able to choose which path the story takes. While doing your taxes isn’t nearly as fun as reading his books, TurboTax at the very least gets you organized and helps you along the way.
There are four different versions of TurboTax available: Basic, Deluxe with State, Deluxe without State, and Premium. The Basic version is the basic tax preparation software without the added features such as deduction tips found in the other versions. The Premier version provides more help for those who are self-employed, own rental property, or have large investments.
Intuit Turbotax Basic for Tax Year 2005 – $26 Intuit Turbotax Deluxe No State for Tax Year 2005 – $38 Intuit Turbotax Deluxe with State for Tax Year 2005 – $43 Intuit Turbotax Premium with State for Tax Year 2005 – $67
Order any TurboTax and get free shipping! Just enter TooTaxing as a coupon code.
Connecting Your Mac to a Television Ed @ smalldog.com
Steve Jobs has a famous disdain for television. He once said, “You go to your TV to turn your brain off. You go to the computer when you want to turn your brain on.” However, Macs have long been able to connect to televisions. People connect their computers to televisions for three main reasons: to use the computer’s DVD drive as a DVD player, to use a television as a very large monitor while giving a presentation, or for showing off digital photos in iPhoto or home movies in iMovie.
It’s great to know that this feature continues to be well supported. A couple of weeks ago, I happened to read a post on HD Beat about connecting a MacBook Pro to a large high definition television. In their words, “It just works, seriously.” Read the review here:
Like the PowerBook, Power Mac G4 and G5, and the Intel iMac, the MacBook Pro supports both video mirroring and video-spanning out of the box. Mirroring means the same image shows both screens; video spanning (or dual-display) means you can have two different images or programs running on each screen. Earlier G5, G4, and some G3 iMacs, as well as G3 and G4 iBooks, only support video mirroring. There is a program you can download to “hack” the video card to support video spanning for these systems.
I’ll outline the options you have for getting a video signal out of your Mac and onto the TV. Note that you’ll still need to get audio out of the computer and into the TV, stereo, or receiver. I’ll cover that at the end of the list.
The 500-600 MHz G3 iBooks have an A/V port that uses this cable:
Apple AV Cable for 1st-Generation dual USB iBook – $20
This cable sends out a video and audio signal. No further cables are needed or can be used. The cable will only work with the 500 and 600 MHz G3 iBooks.
The 700 MHz and higher G3 and G4 12- and 14-inch iBooks have a mini- VGA port. You would use the Apple Display connector to get Composite and S-video out of those iBooks. See the cable here:
Apple Video Adapter – $20
The 3500 PowerBook, which was the very first G3 PowerBook, only had a VGA-out option. All later G3 PowerBooks had a built-in S-video port. You would use a standard S-video cable to send the video signal to the television.
All 15-inch G4 PowerBooks, all 17-inch G4 PowerBooks, and all 15-inch MacBook Pros have an S-video port. You can use the same standard S- video cable to connect to a television. See the cable here:
Belkin 12ft Gold S-Video Cable – $16
The 667 MHz and higher 15-inch PowerBooks, all 17-inch PowerBooks, and all MacBook Pros also have a DVI port. You can connect to many high-quality flat-panel displays with a DVI-to-DVI cable. See this here:
Dr. Bott DVI monitor cable extension 3 meters – $45
Some high-def televisions have an HDMI port. HDMI combines audio and video and is quickly becoming the interface standard. You can buy a DVI-to-HDMI cable to connect the PowerBook/ MacBook Pro to HDMI- equipped televisions. See the cable here:
Monster HDMI to DVI Cable – $175
The Mac mini has a DVI port. You need to use Apple’s DVI-to-Video Adapter to convert the DVI port to Composite/S-video ports. See this here:
Apple DVI-to-Video Adapter – $20
You could also use a DVI-to-DVI or DVI-to-HDMI cable to connect to higher-quality flat-panel and/or high-def televisions.
Dr. Bott DVI monitor cable extension 3 meters – $45
Monster HDMI-to-DVI Cable – $175
All iMac G4s have a mini-VGA, but not all G4 iMacs support sending video to a TV. You can only do this with the 1 GHz 17-inch iMac G4, 1.25 GHz iMac G4, and the 20-inch 1.25 GHZ iMac G4. You would use this cable with those models.
You would also use the Apple video adapter for all G5 iMacs.
Apple Video Adapter – $20
The Intel iMacs have neat trick: they have a mini DVI-out port, so you can connect the iMac to the new Apple displays along with hundreds of other high-quality LCDs. They also support video-spanning out of the box – no need to download a hack for this. To get Composite and S-video out of the iMac, use this adapter:
Apple Mini DVI-to-Video Adapter – $20
Power Mac G4 and G5
For G4 Power Macs, you can add a PCI card with a DVI connector, as well as a dedicated S-video port. You can install this card and use it in tandem with the preexisting video card. See this here:
ATI Radeon 9200 PCI Video Card – $122
You can use this card in most PCI-X equipped G5 Power Macs. You can also use Apple’s DVI-to-Video adapter to get video out to the TV (which uses a DVI port on the computer). See this here:
Apple DVI-to-Video Adapter – $19.99
Again, you can also use a DVI or HDMI cable to connect the PowerBook/ MacBook Pro to DVI- or HDMI-equipped televisions. See the cables here:
Dr. Bott DVI monitor cable extension 3 meters – $45
Monster HDMI-to-DVI Cable – $175
EyeHome Digital Media Player
For all Macs, you might also consider the El Gato EyeHome Digital Media Player. The EyeHome allows you to stream music, video, and photos to your TV.
El Gato EyeHome Digital Media Player – $185
So far I’ve only mentioned getting video out of the computer. To get audio out of the computer, the standard procedure is to simply use a 3.5-inch headphone jack to RCA cable. The 3.5-inch plug goes into the headphone port of the computer and RCA plugs go into your TV, stereo, or receiver. See this cable here:
Belkin 12ft Mini Stereo Y Adapter to 3.5mm Stereo – $9
Finally, Monster makes a couple of cable kits to facilitate connecting the universal iPod dock, the 15- and 17-inch Powerbooks, and G4 iBooks to the TV. These include all required cables. See these here:
Monster iTV Link for iBook – $39.95
Monster iTV Link for PowerBook and iPod Photo – $39.95
Cosmic Blobs: The Lab Rat Edition – $35 Cosmic Blobs is the coolest and simplest 3D graphics creation software for kids hands down. Bend, stretch, pull and flatten basic shapes like digital modeling clay into amazing 3D models. The easy-to- use mouse controls and colorful decorating activities offer endless ways to make fantastic and colorful objects.
John Deere: Busy Days in Deerfield Valley – $23 There is a lot to do in Deerfield Valley, the busy town where Danny Dozer and his friends live, work and play. Danny, Barney Backhoe, Eddie Excavator and friends are ready to get to work, whether it’s building a new library, fixing the bridge, or digging holes for water pipes.
John Deere: Welcome to Merriweather Farm – $23 Kids will delight to see Johnny Tractor (J.T.) and his friends Allie Gator and Corey Combine who live, work and play at Merriweather Farm. Follow their adventures as they plow the fields, take care of the farm animals, and harvest crops.
Totally Spies Monster Blues – $15 When a cute government courier disappears deep in the Louisiana Bayou it’s up to the Totally Spies to save the day. Sam, Clover and Alex need your help! Only with your aid can the girls solve the mystery of the missing courier.
Totally Spies Zombie Jamboree – $15 A therapeutic shopping trip to the mall is cut short when fashion zombies attack! Totally Spies spring into action when fashion zombies attack during a shopping trip to the mall. Sam, Clover and Alex need your help! The girls need you to help put a stop to those color clashing fashion zombies!
Totally Spies Zombie Jamboree – $60 The PilotMouse Bluetooth Wireless works seamlessly with Bluetooth- enabled computers and up to 7 other Bluetooth devices, all in a wireless range of up to 30 feet. DiamondEye optical technology provides ultra-high-speed acceleration and tracking. Contoured form and flexible rubber grips provide unmatched comfort for both left- and right-hand use. PC and Mac compatible. Blue and silver mouse with two programmable buttons and scroll wheel. 2 AA batteries included. 5- year warranty and free technical support.
Brother MFC-5840CN Printer/Scanner/Fax USB Network – $185 Brother has taken their new Color Inkjet Multi-Function Center machines to a higher level of performance and value with the MFC-5840CNflatbed model. This feature- rich machine offer consumers more for their money. The model was built to meet the needs for a home office, or a small to medium size business. The model bundles together all the features, speed, flexibility, and connectivity necessary to meet today’s, and tomorrow’s, communication and imaging needs.
Here are the specials for this week, valid through March 23rd or while on-hand supplies last. Be sure to use the wag URL to get this special pricing.
EZQuest Pro Audio 250gb 8mb FireWire Drive External – $184
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag46882/mymac
Two Office Bundles
A complete home office in a box! Includes MacBook Pro, Canon Pixma MP170 Print/Copy/Scan, and MS Office 2004 – $2819
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16519/mymac
PowerBook 15-inch G4/1.67GHz 512/80/Super/AP/BT with Brother MFC-7420 Multifunction, Microsoft Office 2004, and Headset for VoIP such as Skype – $2099
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16516/mymac
iPod mini 4gb Silver (2005) with Crumpler Case and CARTune FM Transmitter/Charger – $179
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag50046/mymac
LaCie Bigger Disk Extreme 1.2 Terabyte! – $985
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16520/mymac
Microsoft Office Student/Teacher – $145 with free shipping
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag14295/mymac
Epson Moviemate 25 Projector, DVD player, Subwoofer, Screen – $1145
Just plug in the Epson MovieMate 25 and let the show begin! There are no video or audio cables to connect, so you’re up and running in no time. And with offset lens shift functionality, you get crystal clear images no matter where you set it up. It’s so flexible, you can project an 80-inch image from just 6.6 feet away. Use it for the kid’s slumber party or in your game room for that video-gaming marathon. Project your favorite movie on the wall in your family room, or on the side of the garage for the neighborhood block party.
Power Mac G5/2.5GHzDP 512/160/SD/Rad9600XT with 4GB RAM installed – $2339
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16505/mymac
Don checked in earlier this week to let us know that he had added more pictures to his .Mac web site. <http://web.mac.com/donmayer/iWeb/ Site/Welcome.html>. It appears that they are getting lots of rain, but are still really enjoying themselves. I say the rain is payback for not having to write Kibbles & Bytes.
Thank you for reading Kibbles & Bytes and supporting Small Dog Electronics with your purchases. Have a great week!
Dawn, Holly, Ed, and Joyce