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technophobic RSS Feed (new york, ny)

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Amazon is the problem, not Flixster or Vudu, March 14, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Flixster (App)
With the Comcast/NBCUniversal/Fandango acquisition of Flixster, UltraViolet has become radioactive for Amazon. Initially, UltraViolet was meant to break an Apple monopoly over the distribution and exposition of e-movies. Since then, Amazon and Comcast each have seen an opportunity to become a second-to-Apple monopolist in distribution and exposition. Now the acquisition of Flixster by Comcast has apparently convinced Amazon that its own monopolistic ambitions can't be realized through UltraViolet anymore. So out goes UV as far as Amazon is concerned, this from "the most customer-centric company." BTW, the stand-off between Apple, Comcast and Amazon puts an even bigger question mark behind UV than there was already before. Don't put too much of your money in an UV collection elsewhere. And don't count on a replacement app from Amazon (or permitted by Amazon) to download & show UV movies/shows on your Kindle and Fire devices.

TaxACT 2014 Deluxe Federal Edition [Download]
TaxACT 2014 Deluxe Federal Edition [Download]

52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delighted, January 25, 2015
After 15plus years of TurboTax, now a first-year user of TaxACT, and I couldn't be happier. $12.99 for a package that would have cost me $150 with TT. (I use Schedule A, B, C and D, and depreciation schedules.) Saying goodbye to slimy Intuit: priceless!! Switch-over was painless. Overall, entering the data is as easy as it was with TT -- at one point, TaxACT is even better as it allows for overrides where TurboTax has limited the override capability more and more. The import of my 1099 forms is manual, however it is a minimal effort, in the course of which I discovered that one automated import last year dropped taxes withheld: either the bank did the wrong encoding of the 1099 form or the TT software did the wrong decoding. In any case, an unexpected refund for me. (I did not choose the bundle because my state makes it super easy to enter the data directly on the website of the state revenue department.) (I have TaxACT running on Vista and on Windows 8.1 in desk top mode - no problem in either case.)

(Before I transferred to TaxACT, I looked into H&R Block but found that if HRB would be given half a chance, their business practices wouldn't be any better than Intuit's. To wit: In 1994, Intuit bought TaxEdge, a competitor of TurboTax, and then closed it down. In 2011, H&R Block tried to buy out TaxACT, a product put together by the original programmers of TaxEdge. The Justice Department stopped HRB for anti-competitive reasons.)
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 24, 2015 1:31 PM PST

TurboTax Premier 2014 Fed + State + Fed Efile Tax Software - Win [Old Version]
TurboTax Premier 2014 Fed + State + Fed Efile Tax Software - Win [Old Version]
Price: $89.99

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars How to destroy a brand, January 15, 2015
A few years from now, the Harvard Business School will have a TurboTax case study on how to destroy a brand.

The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World
The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World
by Greg Ip
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.71
70 used & new from $9.14

7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Clear, simple, and wrong., September 15, 2014
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This is a book for our times: Simple, cocksure explanations for complex phenomena. The book fits Mencken's observation that for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. The author also answers President Kennedy's prayer for one-handed economists - with Greg Ip there is no more "on the one hand this, on the other hand that."

Which would all be fine if the book were an opinion piece, but not if the text is larded with facts that are fictitious. Take the relation between taxes and economic growth. The author writes,
"Indeed, in the 1970s and 1980s, conservatives like economist Arthur Laffer and
"Congressman Jack Kemp, claimed that tax rates were so suffocating that tax cuts
"would actually pay for themselves by stimulating the supply side of the economy. [...]
"The supply siders were wrong. Tax revenue fell after Ronald Reagan's and
"George W. Bush's tax cuts and it rose after Bill Clinton's tax increases".

Bad supply-siders! Case closed.

Not!! Greg Ip is entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts. According to the Tax Policy Center (a daughter organization of the Brookings Institution, the latter not known as a hotbed of supply-side economics) individual income tax revenue (more precisely, "total tax liability" in IRS lingo) rose after Reagan's Tax Reform Act of 1986 by $3 billion in 1987 and $46 billion more in 1988. Bush's Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 saw individual income tax revenue rise by $86 billion in 2004 and $106 billion more in 2005, the latter still an all-time record, even for years that tax rates rose, Clinton and all.

Back to the lack of wonderment and humility about the many things in our economic behavior that we cannot yet explain or predict with a high degree of certainty. An investigation into that incapability, the limits of what we know today for (relatively) sure, and the major controversies in economics could fill a wonderful, enlightening book. The Little Book of Economics does not have it.

Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better
Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better
by Peter H. Schuck
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.57
116 used & new from $1.20

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Missing the argument for limited government., September 3, 2014
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The book touches on about 50 government failures, all of them well-known. The book’s categorization of the failures is arguable, and in many cases this categorization confuses the matter. If somewhere there is a finding of government overreach, that finding is hard to discern. Worse, the author does not find the one element that unites all failures: a lack of broad consensus behind the policies and programs in question. At one time or another there may have been (and maybe there still is) a majority supporting a particular policy or program, maybe even a temporary super-majority (say 60 out of 100). However, majority is not the same as consensus, and unfettered majority rule is not what the country and the constitution are about. By the time the author gets to proposals for improvement, he has put much of the blame for past failures on Congress (explicitly on page 380), and he is working from the questionable premise that “big government is here to stay” (page 408). The author ignores the fact that Congress is a reflection (the best we have, and a very good reflection indeed) of a deeply divided populace and no consensus on much of anything – certainly not a foundation for big government.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 8, 2014 12:33 PM PST

What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery
What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery
by Francis Crick
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.17
98 used & new from $0.01

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do yourself a favor, pick up What Mad Pursuit, September 21, 2013
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In choosing popular science books, I use a couple of ground rules;

- First Rule: Never pick books written by journalists or other professional writers without scientific training and practical experience. At best, their work is "on the job training." You are always left wondering whether their assertions are maybe off-the-wall. Their understanding of the subject matter is not deep enough to see the counterpoints.

- Second Rule: For professional writers WITH scientific training & experience but without being in the class of Einstein or Feynman (limiting myself to 20th century examples), pick their first book, probably the one that made them famous and opened the gates to more writing. A good example here is Douglas Hofstadter, whose Gödel, Escher, Bach was terrific. The trouble with the professional writers cum solid scientists is that their later works tend to become repetitive or steer us in directions where their qualifications are lacking.

- Third Rule: For scientists of the top shelf, pick any of their popular writings, although you may want to start with their most personal book.

The above is a long way to explain how I got to What Mad Pursuit, by Francis Crick. Crick was of the Einstein/Feynman class. What Mad Pursuit is a slender, popular volume, putatively about Crick's pursuits in molecular biology and the discoveries (with James Watson) of the DNA structure & the genetic code, but actually about Crick's personal experiences with scientific discoveries. Descriptions of the work on the DNA structure and the genetic code illustrate the way discoveries come about. Factors such as partnership (Watson), collaboration, competition, priority and recognition are all covered - and without a single trace of self-absorption, an Englishman the way you like to think about them.

A touching part of the book is the Epilogue - here you are, one of a handful of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, but what do you do with the rest of your life (in Crick's case 40 years) after the discoveries that brought you fame? What do you do for a second act? Without saying so directly, Crick appeared to have understood that second acts (a la Einstein or Bardeen) are near impossible. Reading the Epilogue, he appeared to be at peace with it.

Do yourself a favor and pick up What Mad Pursuit.

Right Ho Jeeves
Right Ho Jeeves
by P. G. Wodehouse
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.99
13 used & new from $0.65

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I second that: Not a readable version, September 14, 2013
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This review is from: Right Ho Jeeves (Paperback)
I wish the entry from the previous reviewer had been available when I ordered the book. The lines on the page are nearly twice as long as is normal for fiction. No fun to read, in spite of Wodehouse. I'm returning the book right now.

As there are many editions for sale on Amazon, it is worth noting the specifics: The publisher of the particular paperback edition is Lits Books and EBooks, an imprint of International Aliance [sic!] Pro-Publishing. I have also seen comments that the edition from CreateSpace is no good.

(Similar to the spelling of Aliance, the ships on the cover of the CreateSpace edition are a giveaway that there is something amiss: there is not a single boat in the Right Ho, Jeeves story. Do not look for a maritime element.)

(BTW, what's going on here, did the authorial rights or so expire on Right Ho, Jeeves? Everybody & his brother seem to be publishing the book. Google "Alba & Tromm" and you'll find still another (obscure) publisher of RHJ. Join the club in chasing an easy buck, never mind the quality of the publication.)

Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe
Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe
by Mario Livio
Edition: Hardcover
104 used & new from $0.01

10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bottom line: A Disappointment, September 8, 2013
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Bottom line: The book is a disappointment, even if the starting point is solid: it draws on the lives and achievements of five great scientists - Darwin, Kelvin, Pauling, Hoyle, and Einstein. For each scientist, the author summarizes the achievements that made the person great. It is a pity that most of the summaries are badly organized. Next, for each scientist the author describes their singular "blunder," but here the author gets into real trouble: in each case, he has to spend pages and pages trying to convince us that the "blunder" is a blunder, while you and I are sitting there thinking that the scientist (with the exception of Hoyle and maybe Pauling) could not have known better, given the available evidence at the time the "blunder" was made. In your mind, you can see the author writing the book, reminding himself with every page that the book's theme is blunders, so he better makes sure the readers accept there are blunders. Take the blunder talk away and you have snippets of good science writing, more so if you also skip the psycho babble (as in for example the section "On the Feeling of Knowing") for which the author does not appear to have the necessary qualifications.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 21, 2013 4:08 PM PDT

The Cuckoo's Calling (A Cormoran Strike Novel)
The Cuckoo's Calling (A Cormoran Strike Novel)
by Robert Galbraith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.99
542 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The trouble with the flood of 5- and 4-star reviews is...., August 22, 2013
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The trouble with the flood of 5- and 4-star reviews is that your expectations are sky-high. Sure enough, disappointment sets in when you read the book yourself. The story is formulaic, the technique rests on piling confusing details on top of confusing details, the characters are cartoonish. I couldn't care less about the murder victims or anybody else in the story. The celebrity culture that plays in the background turned me off. Surprisingly, the skilled author has trouble letting her characters speak in various forms of slang or broken English, killing any authenticity that the story may have carried.

Dropcam Wi-Fi Wireless Video Monitoring Camera
Dropcam Wi-Fi Wireless Video Monitoring Camera
Offered by AlohaProducts
Price: $211.95
36 used & new from $99.50

5.0 out of 5 stars "Apple" quality, June 11, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The feel of Dropcam is "Apple" - clean and simple, but not too simple.

The wide-angle lens covers a lot of ground (much negating a need for a tilting camera - in electronics, avoid anything mechanical, mechanical breaks first) and does so without skewing the picture too much. From the corner of a room, you can see all four walls and everything that is in the room - no room to hide.

The software that enhances low-light situations (before the infra-red mode kicks in, automatically, for total darkness) is truly amazing. (Samsung has similar low-light software included in its latest smartphone. The software sets the new standard for cameras.)

The mic on the camera is pretty good too. I have turned down the mic's sensitivity to one third but I can still hear myself typing on the keyboard 15 feet away from the camera.

The Dropcam delay is about 2 or 3 seconds. The next best thing for baby monitoring is sitting next to the baby.

With all this goodness, don't overdo things: Don't try to control the camera from two computers at the same time, the Dropcam software gets pretty confused. When prompted in the set-up phase, don't try to economize on buffer space, give it at least 20 or 50 MB. Don't use Dropcam in places with marginal wifi strength. And where wifi is average, don't use HD (although the sharpness of HD is a pleasure to look at).

Without HD, you also cut back on the number of bytes flowing over the internet - you can lower the 60GB per month quoted elsewhere down to 25GB and still have the camera on all the time.

Turning the camera remotely OFF and ON takes a few minutes to settle, and you may have to press Refresh (F5) if the "wheel" on the screen keeps spinning much longer - better, leave the camera ON all the time if you can. (Mine has now been going for a week without a single problem, have not touched the camera one time. Any intermittent wifi hick-up between camera and router is resolved automatically, in seconds.)

Finally, at least in my situation there is no need for the DVR service so the subscription part of Dropcam can be dropped, no monthly fees.

I am hard to please but Dropcam gets five stars!

PS: I also looked into the Foscam alternative. Its reviews are good too but over the most recent 50 "verified purchases" the Dropcam reviews are better. Besides, some of the Foscam reviews mention how good Foscam's Customer Service is. Hello, you don't want to talk to Customer Service, the product should be user-friendly enough so you don't have to call for help.

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