Friday, March 15, 2013

A Taxing Question

It’s that time of year again. Time to fill out your income taxes. Uncle Sam and the State want what’s coming to them. (Or to give you back the money you have been loaning them at no interest!)

The question – how will you prepare your taxes? Will you file paper returns, from forms you picked up at the library? Or will you use one of the many computer-based programs that does the math for you and allows you to file online?

For many years now, I have been using a program called TaxCut (now called H&R Block At Home) from H&R Block. I purchase the version that includes both the Federal and State forms and allows up to five Federal e-files at no extra cost. (It does cost $9.95 extra to file the State form online, but I usually mail that one in via the Post Office for the cost of postage.) I purchase this version because I also prepare the taxes for my two daughters, which I can then file by e-file at no extra cost for the Federal forms.   

I usually pay between $30 and $35 for the combined version – the best deals have been found at Amazon, which allows you to download the program directly from the Amazon site and provides a key code for the free Federal e-filings.

If you have used a computer program in the past (either from H&R Block or TurboTax from Intuit), your information from the previous filings can be easily accessed on your computer and downloaded into the new forms. The program even automatically updates the latest information from both the IRS and the State before allowing you to file your returns.

The program works by asking you a series of questions (in a logical order) and walks you through the forms that you have to file, based on your situation. And, best of all, it does all of the calculations! At the end, you have a choice of either e-filing or printing out your returns to mail in. In addition, it allows for direct deposit of refunds directly into your checking (or savings) account or, if you owe a tax, it will prompt you to allow for direct payment to Uncle Sam or the State from your checking account.

If you have a simple tax situation (only W-2s and little else) and plan on taking the standard deductions, both H&R Block and TurboTax will allow you to download and prepare your returns for free and also allow you to e-file the Federal form without additional cost. (It will still cost you extra to file the State tax form – but you can print it out and mail it in for minimum costs.)

In any event, it’s time to get going – and good luck.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Word Processing Programs

As a writer, I depend on having an easy to use word processing program on my home computer. That is why I prefer and use Word Perfect by Corel.

My first computer was the Compaq Portable (portable? That thing weighed 30 pounds!). It was  based on the IBM operating system running DOS, and came with IBM’s Display Write as its word processing program.

My next computer was a Compaq Laptop, and this came with the DOS version of Word Perfect. It introduced me to Word Perfect and I’ve used versions of it since. After the DOS version, came one for Windows, Win 3 and then Word Perfect 7, and finally Word Perfect 12, which I still use. (The latest version is Word Perfect X5.)

There are several reasons why I prefer Word Perfect over Microsoft’s Word. First and foremost, the “Reveal Codes” function. By pressing Alt-F3, the internal formatting codes for each line of text are revealed. In this manner, you can see what codes are being used, alter or delete them and thus make easy and important changes in your document as you go. (Or afterwards, during the editing process.)

The second reason I prefer Word Perfect is the “Publish to” command, found in the drop down box under “File”. With this command, I can take a graph, figure, or table that I have copied from any other word processing document, a PDF file, or a Power Point presentation, and convert it into a “picture”, with a .gif extension, which I can then add to any document (or blog) to which I wish to copy it to. This is done using the “publish to” “html” command.

I can also convert any Word Perfect document into a PDF file, by using the “publish to” “pdf” command.

Thus, I can add pictures or graphics to my documents (or blog) and publish the product as a pdf file for anyone to save and use on their computer.

I also have Microsoft’s Word on my home computer. Since few people have Word Perfect, I’ve found that I need to convert my Word Perfect documents into Word in order for others to be able to open and read my work on their computers. However, because of it’s shortcomings, I rarely use Word as a primary source for my writing.

As some of you may know, I also own a netbook that I use occasionally when I travel. I  have  installed Open Office Documents (, a free word processing program, on it. It looks like Word in use, but stores documents in a strange .otf format, unless you specifically request that it store your document in Word or .doc format. This is what I do, then email the finished document to myself and open it and save it as a Word document on my main computer.(I can then convert it into Word Perfect if I have to do any additional work on it.)

 (I haven’t yet figured out how to install Word Perfect on my netbook, since it doesn’t have a cd drive. Anyone with suggestions?)

I haven’t as yet tried Google Documents, another free word processing program.

So, my recommendation to you, if you do any heavy duty writing (as I do), purchase and use Word Perfect from Corel. (An inexpensive version, called Word Perfect Office X5 Home-Student Version, can be purchased for about $50 at Staples.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Why You Should be Using Crap Cleaner!

Crap Cleaner, otherwise known as CCleaner, is a FREE computer speed up software program. It can help you renew your computer like almost brand new by cleaning up all of  the unnecessary files that have taken up residence on your hard drive. It safely removes temporary files and cleans up useless files that have taken over your hard drive.

You can have a faster working computer similar to when your system was newly installed with just several clicks.

What's more, Crap Cleaner also protects your privacy. It removes cookies which track your online visits, browsing history, etc.

It is easy to use, foolproof, and absolutely free of charge. The program works on Microsoft Windows 7, Vista, XP and 2000. Including both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

Have a faster running computer and protect you privacy now!

To read reviews of this fascinating program, please follow this link:

And to download this free program, please follow this link:

I personally use this program every time I turn on my computer. I run the “analyze” portion of the program and if there is more than 10MB of files/data available to be removed, I  “run” the program to clean up my hard drive.

One note of interest, if you have self-filling user ids and passwords for certain password-protected programs, such as Twitter and Facebook, you might want to unclick the cookie box on the part of CCleaner that affects your browser, (in my case, FireFox, listed under the “applications” heading at the top of the program when it is opened. This only has to done once upon first installation.). That way, you won’t have to reenter your user ids and passwords when opening these particular programs.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

How the Internet Began

This appears to be by an anonymous author, but is worth reading.

(With a hat tip to Bruce Supowitz.)

In ancient Israel , it came to pass that a trader by the name of Abraham Com did take unto himself a young wife by the name of Dot. And Dot Com was a comely woman, broad of shoulder and long of leg. Indeed, she was often called Amazon Dot Com.

And she said unto Abraham, her husband, "Why dost thou travel so far from town to town with thy goods when thou canst trade without ever leaving thy tent?"

And Abraham did look at her as though she were several saddle bags short of a camel load, but simply said, "How, dear?"

And Dot replied, "I will place drums in all the towns and drums in between to send messages saying what you have for sale, and they will reply telling you who hath the best price. And the sale can be made on the drums and delivery made by Uriah's Pony Stable (UPS)."

Abraham thought long and decided he would let Dot have her way with the drums. And the drums rang out and were an immediate success. Abraham sold all the goods he had at the top price, without ever having to move from his tent. To prevent neighboring countries from overhearing what the drums were saying, Dot devised a system that only she and the drummers knew. It was known as Must Send Drum Over Sound (MS-DOS), and she also developed a language to transmit ideas and pictures - Hebrew To The People (HTTP).

And the young men did take to Dot Com's trading as doth the greedy horsefly take to camel dung. They were called Nomadic Ecclesiastical Rich Dominican Sybarites, or NERDS.

And lo, the land was so feverish with joy at the new riches and the deafening sound of drums that no one noticed that the real riches were going to that enterprising drum dealer, Brother William of Gates, who bought off every drum maker in the land. And indeed did insist on drums to be made that would work only with Brother Gates' drum heads and drumsticks.

And Dot did say, "Oh, Abraham, what we have started is being taken over by others." And Abraham looked out over the Bay of Ezekiel , or eBay as it came to be known. He said, "We need a name that reflects what we are."

And Dot replied, "Young Ambitious Hebrew Owner Operators." "YAHOO," said Abraham. And because it was Dot's idea, they named it YAHOO Dot Com.

Abraham's cousin, Joshua, being the young Gregarious Energetic Educated Kid (GEEK) that he was, soon started using Dot's drums to locate things around the countryside. It soon became known as God's Own Official Guide to Locating Everything (GOOGLE).

That is how it all began. And that's the truth.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Replacement Ink and Toner Cartridges for Printers

Ever since King Gillette invented the safety razor along with its replaceable blades in 1903, companies have been seeking the holy grail of an ongoing replacement market for their products. So it is with the lowly inkjet printer (and to a lesser degree with the laser printer). The idea is to sell the main product, in this case, the printer, for a reasonable price and then make the big money by having a monopoly on the replacement cartridge market. So be it for HP, Canon, Epson and the rest.

But, it doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of companies out there that will sell you replacement ink and toner cartridges (or refill kits) at a much lower price than the original equipment manufacturers. The problem is separating the wheat from the chaff.

Today, I would like to introduce you to a company that sells high quality products for a reasonable price and stands behind its products.

I found more than ten years ago. I was searching for reasonably priced ink  replacement cartridges for my original Epson printer and came across Source4ink. I ordered a sample package of a few cartridges and was wonderfully surprised with both the price and service. The cartridges were delivered within days of the order and worked very well with my printer. I have continued to use this service with few problems. Nearly all of the cartridges ordered worked in my printer, and when they didn’t, for whatever reason, they were quickly replaced with no questions asked.

A few years ago, my original Epson printer finally gave up the ghost, and since I had struck up a professional relationship with Ray Diaz, the founder of Source4ink, I got in touch with him for recommendations for a new Epson printer. He quickly guided me toward those he thought would service me best, and with his guidance, I ordered my current Epson Stylus NX510 scanner/printer, and a round of ink cartridges  to work with it. Again, the price was right and I have been merrily printing ever since.

Ray told me that he started this company in late 1999, after the typewriter and office machine repair business he had started while in high school began petering out, as users simply began replacing their machines rather than repairing them.

Just to give you an idea of the price differential, here are the current prices for the ink cartridges for my printer (it uses TO69 cartridges): at Best Buy, color cartridges cost $14.99 ea, while black ink cartridges are $16.99. At Source4ink, color or black cartridges cost $15.99 for a twin pack ($8.00 ea), or if you buy two twin packs, they are $12.95 for the twin pack ($6.50 each cartridge). (Shipping is free for orders over $55, or $4.95 for smaller orders and are sent by First Class or Priority Mail. Toner orders are shipped by UPS ground.)

Saving consumers and businesses money on printer supplies online since 2000, Source4ink has earned an outstanding reputation for excellent customer service and the highest quality printer supplies at deep discount prices.

I highly recommend this online source for your ink and toner replacement cartridges.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Converting 35 mm Slides/Negatives into Digital Images

I went to college in the mid-1950s, got married and began raising my family in the late 50's and 1960s and so, like many others at that time, my camera of choice was a 35 mm. I took hundreds of pictures and slides. The photos were mounted into albums, but the slides were stored in a shoebox, especially once the slide projector got thrown out, as I expect happened with many of you of an older generation.

A few years ago, I decided that it was time to put my slides (and some of the negatives) into my computer, so that the family could enjoy them once again. My wife and I sorted the slides into the years that they were taken (beginning with my college days and our honeymoon) and I went online and purchased a slide converter – actually a digital scanner (a VuPoint that sells for between $70 - $100 at Heartland America). You place a set of 4 slides at a time into a holder and feed that into what is basically a digital camera that takes a picture of each slide (or negative) – in about 3-4 seconds and converts the slide into a digital image that is transmitted to and stored in your computer.

In this manner, I was able to scan over a hundred slide images into my computer. The quality was pretty good, but the scanner came with a photo shop-type program, called Photo Impressions 6 from ArcSoft, that can be used to really enhances the quality of the photos.

A scanner, either stand-alone or as part of an inkjet printer, can serve the same purpose for photographs, either black & white or in color. By scanning the photos into your computer, you can than manipulate them in a similar fashion, as described below for the digital photos made from the 35 mm slides and negatives.

Photo Impressions 6

I am very impressed with this photo shop-type program. It is extremely easy to use and can do a variety of jobs in fixing up low quality photos. In the editing mode, you can auto-enhance the photos,  eliminates red eye, crop and straighten the photos, and enhance sharpness, color and contrast and even blur the background. You can also do small retouches, ie, remove dust particles, or other marks.

I checked online and it is still available – either by purchase or in some cases even as a free download. I suggest you Google the program and take a look for your personal use in fixing up any photos on your computer.

In my case, I found that Kodacolor slides aged better than Kodachrome and to show you, here are a couple of digital images taken from my slides. The first two are Kodachrome images of my then  wife-to-be and I taken in 1956 just prior to my Military Ball (I was in ROTC in college.), while the third is a Kodacolor shot of my wife, Elly, and our daughter, Lori, when she was about one year old in 1960.

Elly in 1956 at UMASS before the Military Ball

Elly & Irv in 1956 at UMASS before the Military Ball  

Elly & Lori in Philadelphia in 1960

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Re-Selling/Recycling Gently-Used Electronics

I recently wrote about how to go about recycling non-working electronic devices (bring them to Best Buy). Today, I’d like to tell you about a number of sites that will pay you to turn in and recycle “gently-used” electronic devices. (With a hat tip to Joe Riess, president of NSCS, who told me about them.)

There are several online sites (and even some that are in local stores) that will pay you for your gently-used electronic devices. Among these are Gazelle and NextWorth.

In researching these sites, I found an article about them that was published last February in USA Today. Let me quote from that article:

“Major retailers, such as Target (TGT) and RadioShack (RSH), are buying back products from customers in-store and offering credit toward purchase of new products. The retailers are working with a handful of websites that hunt for used gadgets, including NextWorth, Gazelle and CExchange. And there are dozens of other sites looking to snap up old gear, such as or

Buying back products from customers "drives traffic into the store, and helps tell that we're a place that can provide value above what you could find at another retailer," says Rob Dunlap, RadioShack's divisional merchandise manager. Target works with Boston-based NextWorth to handle the re-selling of the products that are traded in. NextWorth then turns to traditional online outlets such as eBay (EBAY) and Amazon (AMZN) to re-sell the gear. There's a robust market for those used goods.

The reason is simple. Because the full cost of a 16-gigabyte iPhone 4 is usually subsidized by the carrier, the smartphone costs far more than the $199.99 that most customers pay with a two-year contract. A recent iPhone 4 is worth more than $300 to $350 to resellers, who can turn around and sell it again for $400 or so, says NextWorth founder Dave Chen.

Gazelle, which is also based in Boston, buys back products from consumers on its site and at, Costco, Office Depot, Kmart and Sears, with branded sites.

It, too, plans to expand to an in-store operation with one of its brick-and-mortar retail partners this year. It declined to say which partner, although it had two in-store trials with Office Depot last year.”

So, if you have an electronic device that is still working, but out-of-date, and you want to recover part of its value, look into a few of the above sites that I have mentioned.

How Does it Work?

In the case of Gazelle, the online site describes the company as a “re-Commerce Service” that helps you sell and recycle your used electronics. Whether you want to sell a cell phone, laptop, or any other of the more than 250,000 products they accept, Gazelle can help.

What Happens When I Sell My Electronics?

Once received, your used cell phones and other used electronics are inspected to make sure their condition matches your evaluation. Then they send your payment. The process takes about a week once they receive your box.

What Does Gazelle Do With My Used Electronics?

At Gazelle, we believe electronics recycling begins with reuse. We extend the lives of used electronics by selling them through retail and wholesale outlets. Items without value are responsibly recycled.

NextWorth works in a similar fashion.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Art of Social Networking

Times have certainly changed. Where once we wrote letters and talked with friends and family over the telephone on a regular basis, now we use social networking to keep in touch.

So what, you ask, are social networks? The most common of these are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (at least the ones I use). Each seems to serve its own purpose.


I use facebook to stay in touch with family and friends. Since I'm of an older generation, I don't put much on my facebook page, but I certainly “follow” several members of my family and some close friends, both from high school and college, and a few that I've met over the years.

Facebook allows you to post pictures from your computer and links to articles that you might want to pass along to others.

It’s easy to use and you can comment both on your “wall” (your homepage) or on other’s postings, which then show up on their wall.


Twitter is like an analog conversation. Someone posts their 140 or less characters message and you can either just view it if you “follow” them, or respond, if you have something pithy to say (in 140 or less characters!)

I use it mostly to follow the two areas of interest I have – Boston sports – nearly all of the better sports writers are on Twitter and use it to keep me up-to-date on the latest developments for the teams that I follow, the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots; and the second area is in eye care. I “follow” several eye care sites and keep up-to-date on the latest developments in my field of expertise. I also follow several breaking news sites and use their tweets to stay abreast of breaking world and local news.

I also use Twitter to announce new postings on my blogs. I have close to 100 followers and tweet short messages and a link when I put up a new posting. (Like I’ll do once I put this post up on my newest blog – Musings.)


This is primarily a site for business professionals. (Although, I also use it to follow developments with my former colleagues at Arthur D. Little, and also at my college, the University of Massachusetts.) However, its main application is to keep up with news and job offerings in your field of expertise, in my case ophthalmology and eye care.

I belong to about two dozen “groups” – members allied to a certain affiliation, such as Ophthalmic Marketing or Ophthalmic Professionals. Each group can have several hundred members, giving announcements to such groups wide spread delivery.

In addition, a couple hundred people are connected directly to me, former colleagues, new colleagues and a few friends.

This is the vehicle I primarily use to deliver news of new postings on my main blog, Irv Arons’ Journal, where I write about new developments in eye care and specifically in treating retinal diseases. When I put announcements (including a link) on several LinkedIn group sites, my blog gets several hundred page views from the sites over the next several days.


This is a new social networking site set up by Google to compete with Facebook, where you need to be invited to join. Its main feature is that you can set up “groups” or “circles” of certain colleagues, i.e., family, friends, or business associates, and only make announcements to one circle, unlike Facebook, where it is more difficult to have only certain people see your remarks. (However, Facebook has responded with its own “groups” feature, to emulate Google+.)

One of my friends, Debbie Levitt has just written an excellent article about the shortcomings of Google+, called “Why Google+ Lost Its Shine”. Here are a few comments from her piece:

“Nearly 100% of the posts were about Google+. It was the network that seemed to be built to discuss itself. Plus, with it being so limited in its early days, most of my Facebook friends weren't there. so I still had to go to Facebook to hear what they were thinking.”

“This is all getting very interesting. I'm glad I tried Google+. But I just don't really see the need for it when I can't connect to the people who interest me. because they're either not there or not using it. Or not talking about much other than Google+! “

If you would like to read the rest of her piece, please follow this link.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cloud Storage

Cloud Storage/Backup = Security

Sooner or later, you are going to experience a computer failure – the hard drive will fail or something else will go wrong. Will you be able to recover your important files? You will if you take advantage of the free cloud storage that is available.

What is Cloud Storage?

Several companies are offering free storage of your important files on the web, i.e., in the “clouds”. One that I use is called Dropbox. It offers 2GB of free storage. If you need more, you can pay for it. The features that I like best is that it will automatically put any changes you make in any file into your set of files in the cloud. It will also automatically synchronize all of the files across all of your devices/computers, as long as you have installed Dropbox onto these systems.

How Does it Work?

When you download Dropbox onto your main computer, it installs a file labeled “dropbox” in your documents section. You can then drag and drop (or copy and paste) any file you want to put into the cloud into the dropbox file and it will automatically become part of your dropbox storage. (If you have installed Dropbox on other devices – second computers, smartphones, etc., the files will automatically be available to you on these other devices.)

There are other “free” cloud storage systems –, sugersync, and spideroak, to name a few, but dropbox seems to be the easiest to use and to synchronize with all of your devices.

Try it – you’ll like it! To try it at my invitation, follow this link.

(For a comparison of a large number of cloud storage sites, see Comparison of Online Backup Systems on Wikipedia)

How to Find Answers to Problems & A Good Way to Recycle Devices

Got a Problem - Need an Answer – Google it!

I was watching the Red Sox game and my wife went downstairs to use our computer. (We have a Dell Dimension 3000 system that was purchased in March 2005.) She soon came up to tell me that she couldn't wake up the computer - the screen remained black and wouldn't awaken.

I went downstairs to see what she could have done to the system and quickly discovered that the monitor wouldn't awake. Then I noticed that the green light that indicated the monitor was on was blinking green. It usually is a steady green when in use and orange when the computer is in sleep mode. This was a condition I hadn't seen before and couldn't get rid of.

Then I remembered what Don Orifice had told me to do in such cases. I turned on our backup computer and Googled this condition for a Dell monitor of my model, and sure enough, one of the chat rooms that I was directed to provided the answer. The monitor's circuit board was fried!

A Good Way to Recycle Your Electronic Devices

The next day, I went to Best Buy and bought a new hp 20" monitor. I took the old one in with me and took advantage of their recycling program – bring in any electronic device – computer, monitor, etc. and they will recycle it for $10 – and give you a Ten Dollar gift certificate in exchange. I used the gift certificate to help pay for my new monitor, which was on sale.

So, here are my two tips for today – got a problem? Google it and you will usually get an answer and secondly, need to recycle a broken electronic device? Bring it in to Best Buy and get rid of it for $10 (and get a matching gift certificate towards you next purchase).