Category: Leisure

More Tax Haikus

The lovely and talented Kelly Erb (@TaxGirl) has been running a social media promotion where she asks aspiring poets to write haikus about taxes.  This has served as my brain break (in an open Excel sheet) for the last couple of days.  Today’s haiku follow:

Why do people quit firms?

Our review points reveal that

We are control freaks.

 

The Pizza man knows

the code to the office door.

Tax season is ON!

 

Dominos, The Hut,

TakeOut Taxi, Steak Out.

Preparer dining.

 

march madness is near

the tournaments will be shown

in the conference room.

 

it begins with a

1099 and ends with

one last extension.

 

Report from CES 2011, Part 3: Digital Ecosystems and Device Convergence

This is the final article in a series of posts about innovations on display at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month in (fabulous) Las Vegas.  This article will discuss how your electronics can talk to each other using standards like DLNA, as well as show the latest “SuperPhone”, the Motorola Atrix.

Interconnected Ecosystems of Electronics

Although new mobile phones are traditionally announced at telecommunications-centered trade shows, CES 2011 featured many new devices which illustrate how mobile devices, consumer electronics, and computers are converging into a series of devices which work together. This new model means that in addition to connecting your Blu-Ray player to your home theater and your LED television, you will be able to connect many other devices in a “plug and play” ecosystem which can be operated easily. This new model means that:

· Users can connect a smart phone or a tablet to your wireless network, and it can either play back content on the phone/tablet or use the wireless network to work as a remote control for any supported device.

· Smart television sets can run applications to access web content like FaceBook, Yahoo!, YouTube, make phone calls using Skype, or to display media files from your existing network. Most new television sets feature digital connections such as HDMI, DVI, fiber optics, wireless networks, or traditional wired networks to transmit data between devices and work with your internet connection.

· Set top boxes like the D-Link Boxee Box, Apple TV, the Roku HD, or Google TV allow existing “dumb” TV sets to access this new digital world.

· Gaming devices like the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox360 serve as players on these networks, and also integrate with gaming ecosystems like Xbox Live and Windows Phone 7. Devices like the Xbox Kinect allow for remoteless control of electronic devices, and will allow users to socialize virtually using Avatars in a virtual world to connect people around the world.

· Smart speakers allow audio to be “pushed” to network-attached audio devices using a remote or other device.

· Devices which you may have never considered “personal electronics” may interface with your home theater and gaming systems in new and useful ways. For example, the Panasonic booth at CES featured a NordicTrack exercise machine that communicated with Panasonic’s Viera home electronics ecosystem.

Most of these devices uses a relatively new standard called DLNA – the Digital Living Network Alliance (www.dlna.org) to communicate with each other over direct digital cables as well as using existing wired and wireless computer networks. Although most major electronics companies participate in DLNA, which was founded by Sony, some companies such as Apple prefer to market devices which do not communicate using the open DLNA standards.

Businesses should consider the security risks associated with attaching these “smart” devices to business networks, as they may become a new vector for malware, spyware, and privacy breaches. For example, a home network attached storage device which includes a media server might offer hackers and disgruntled employees an open portal into confidential files through security vulnerabilities on the media server.

The Motorola Atrix: A Case Study in Convergence

Probably the most innovative device at CES 2011 was Motorola’s Atrix 4G smartphone. Although this device is really a smartphone, it represents the first wave in a series of new crossover devices which have the form factor of a smart phone, but can morph into a portable computer by placing them into a series of docking stations, including:

· A “lapdock” docking station which allows the Atrix 4G to function as a traditional laptop running the Android operating system.

· A more traditional docking station, which allows connectivity to monitors and TV sets using a micro-HDMI cable, as well as the use of a mouse and keyboard connected with USB or Bluetooth.

This device has both front and rear-facing cameras (1.3MP and 5.0MP, respectively), will record video in 720P high definition format, and will play back content in full 1080P HD resolution over an included micro-HDMI port. (Motorola indicates that this tiny powerhouse will make phone calls on AT&T at its initial launch, but eventually should land on most major carriers).

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Figure 10 – The Motorola Atrix 4G represents a new breed of smart devices which can morph into a laptop or a media player when properly accessorized. Some journalists are classifying the Atrix in a new category – the “SuperPhone”.

The Atrix can also download applications from the Android Marketplace to accomplish additional tasks, such as controlling home electronic devices using a remote control application.

 

Report from CES 2011, Part 2: Tablets, Slates, Convertibles, and Sliders

The form factor of our computing devices has changed over the last year with the introduction of the Apple iPad, and this revolution was clearly evident at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week in Las Vegas.  In this second of three posts on CES 2011, we review some of the products you’ll see on the shelves of a retailer near you later this year.

Tablets and Slates

The biggest trend for 2011 is the appearance of competitors to the Apple iPad tablet computer. While most of the devices shown were running the latest version of Google’s Android cell phone operating system (v. 2.2, aka FroYo) on devices with a single-core processor, devices slated for release in the second and third quarter of 2011 will feature dual-core processors and Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), which has been optimized for use on tablet computers. Microsoft mentioned running Windows 7-based tablets and slates in Steve Ballmer’s show-opening keynote. Ballmer also announced that Windows 8 will include a special version which compiled to run on the ARM processor line, which is used in many consumer electronic devices such as cell phones. Although this will require publishers to recompile their applications to run on this new platform, this may keep Microsoft alive in this new category of devices until they come out with a more substantive strategy.

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab

Samsung created a lot of excitement in the tablet space with the fall 2010 release of the Galaxy Tab, a 7” tablet running Android 2.2 which was sold through most cellular carriers during the 2010 holiday season (along with a wireless data plan and two year contract). A Wi-fi only version of the device was announced at CES, and should be available in the first quarter of 2011. Specs on this device are as follows:

The Galaxy Tab runs on Android™ 2.2 (Froyo) and features a 7-inch TFT display with 1024 x 600 WSVGA resolution. The lightweight and sleek device weighs only 13 ounces, is 12 millimeters thin and easily fits in a jacket pocket or purse. The Galaxy Tab includes 16GB of internal storage and has microSD expansion for up to 32 GB of additional storage. The Tab also supports Adobe® Flash® Player 10.1 to deliver an enhanced content experience with access to thousands of Web sites packed with complex Flash-based applications and content. The Galaxy Tab’s Flash content support includes games, animations, rich Internet applications (RIAs), data presentations and visualizations, ecommerce, video, music and more. The Galaxy Tab is also designed with a rear-facing 3 megapixel camera for taking pictures on-the-go, as well as a front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera and camcorder for video chat. [1]

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Figure 1 – The Samsung Galaxy Tab is an early leader in the emerging Android tablet category (Source: Samsung).

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Figure 2 – Most of the new tablets interface with home entertainment devices, as shown on this Samsung Galaxy Tab connected to an LED flat panel television.

Most tablets included significant enhancements to allow for interoperability with home entertainment systems. These features include media sharing, wi-fi, docking stations, micro-HDMI connections, applications which transform the tablets into remote control devices using wi-fi and many more.

Convertibles and Sliders

While the biggest news of CES 2011 was the entry of numerous iPad competitors into the marketplace, there were some other notable trends, including the demise of the netbook in its current form factor. Although the $300 “netbook” with a 10” display, a 1.3 MP camera, and an Intel Atom processor running Windows XP Home was exciting at CES 2010, this bargain device has been eclipsed by siren call of the tablet. Major netbook manufacturers such as ASUS have introduced a new spin to the netbook – a “convertible” PC with a removable tablet, or a “slider”, which can take conceal its keyboard behind the screen for use as a slate. Most of these devices have screens which are 10”-12” diagonally, built-in webcams, a keyboard, and run either the Android or Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system.

While the Android operating system does not have as extensive of an ecosystem of business productivity applications as Microsoft Windows, concerns about battery life and processing speed have driven many manufacturers in this category to look into using Google’s open source Android operating system instead of Windows. Although business customers will demand Windows-based hardware, it is unclear which operating system consumers will choose for their gear.

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Figure 3 – Sliders, which can be used like a traditional laptop or like a tablet were present from Samsung (L), Dell(R), and many other manufacturers.

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Figure 4 – The ASUS T101MT convertible tablet configured as a notebook (L) and a slate (R).

ASUS indicated that its Slider and Convertible tablets will be available in the second quarter, and will be priced from $299 to $699 (with netbook-style processors) and slightly more than comparable laptops for Core i5/Core i7 based processors.

We will wrap up our series on CES next week with a discussion of the emerging home entertainment ecosystems and how the convergence of the home theater and the home network may affect you in the future.


[1] Source: Samsung Press Release dated 1/5/2011, “SAMSUNG Mobile Announces Upcoming Availability Of WiFi-Only SAMSUNG Galaxy Tab™”

 

And Now, For Something Completely Different….

 

It’s good to be headed back to work this week. I’ve spent the last four months writing sessions and doing some consulting with various organizations, and it’s nice to be headed back to teach some stuff live.
It’s been a good year, and although I have some pretty big challenges this year, I think this is going to be an exciting year.
There’s lots of good gear these days in the mad scientist’s new lair (shown above). I bit the bullet and bought a 1U dual processor server earlier this year, and wired the new office with gigabit ethernet (more on that later). I’m very thankful to be able to teach classes for a living, and I get to work with some really cool technology vendors. Big projects for this year include:
+ I want to improve the document management in my office this year. I’ve been in touch with Fujitsu and HP about hardware, and hope to try out some of the document management systems out there in my office. I have a lot of hardware sitting around that really just needs to be configured to do the document management thing. While I’ve been doing electronic content management for some time, it’s nice to finally be at the point of having the resources needed to do it right.
+ I’m going to have to rewire my office. Like an idiot, I did it myself, and used the wrong parts (trying to do gigabit ethernet with Cat 5e is just a bad idea). I will probably redo the office myself, but am also going to get someone who does this for a living to certify the cabling with one of those $5k Fluke Networks devices. I am also going to have to see if I need to replace my gigabit switch, as I’m told that its backplane leaves a lot to be desired. Word to the wise: Talk to someone before you put in a lot of cabling- it’s an arcane art which can cause you serious pain if you don’t pay attention to it.
+ This year is the final year for the Mafia-Mobile, my 1996 Cadillac. While it has served me well, it now has just short of 200k miles on it, and although it still runs, it really needs some dough pumped into it if I am going to continue with it. I’m considering a mid-sized to full-sized SUV or truck (used, of course). I understand that a lot of people are selling these to get out from under the operating costs. Since I usually only drive to my son’s school, the UPS Store, and the airport, the fact that it gets crappy mileage really isn’t that big of a deal.
+ I’d like to juice-up my servers and website this year, including implementing virtual servers in the office for just about everything. I’m going to have to juice the RAM in everything to make this happen (and it’s ECC RAM, so it’s going to be pricey), but I think it will be worth it. The stats I’m seeing on virtualization really make me think that it’s the way to go. That, plus 4-5 of those cool 320GB HDDs for backup in m
y safety deposit box should really help out with the disaster recovery plan.
+ I also seem to have some PC’s which have broken IDE buses which are otherwise workable. I think it would be interesting to run Hyper-V on them from a flash drive, and then do everything from VM’s off of USB HDD’s on the otherwise good PCs. (First one will most likely be a media center PC for the treadmill.)
On a personal note, I have to get ready for some running later this year. Although I publically declared myself a candidate for the 2008 NYC Marathon earlier this year, I’m going to have to back away from that goal, and head for a more modest one of doing a 5K/10K later this year, followed by Bay to Breakers with K2 CEO Val Steed next May, and a marathon of some kind in 2009. Val is a multiple time Boston Marathon finisher, and I’m a guy well on his way back from weighing 200kg- so I’ve got my work cut out for me.
I also have a soon to be six year old son who wants to ride his bike with his Daddy- so I have to spend as much time with him as long as he will let me.
Either way, my almost 40 year old body is really hacked off at me for my time as a super-large guy, and has been complaining loudly and prominently over the last few weeks as I try to make the transition back to a more healthy lifestyle.
Finally, I’m hoping to pull my ratings up a little bit and give Mac a real run for his money as the champion speaker at K2. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. The competition is definitely fierce, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

How I Know People in the MS Office Team Read Dilbert

As many of you know, I love a good prank, and think having fun at what you do in the workplace is an important part of enjoying your job.  I was catching up on my blog reading today (great place to get new tips/tricks), and stumbled across a new template on the MS Site for Buzzword Bingo.  Read up – and enjoy.  I think this could add a lot of fun to the year-end meetings we’re all having these days

Tip o’ the hat to the MS Office team for adding a little glint of joy to an otherwise very busy day.

 

Off Topic: Entertaining a Young Child for $1 or Less

Many of us are taking vacation time with our kids before school starts back in a couple of weeks, and are wondering – “what will this kid like to do?” in the back of our mind.  Whether you’re working with a known quantity (like your own kids) or an unknown quantity (your nieces/nephews from far away), Lifehacker has you covered with a post called “Ten Ways to Entertain Young Children for $1 or Less (Without the TV)”  I’ll be using some of these next time I find myself with time to kill with my son – too much TV in my house lately.

 

The Smokies for Newbies

Sent this e-mail to a person who asked about the Smokies, and thought it might be of interest to some of you. BFT

Dear XXXXXXX:

I have forwarded your information to some locals who work in either accounting or real estate, and are familiar with the booming cabin business in Sevier County, TN. Sevier County is about 30-45 minutes past Knoxville on I-40 and state route 66. If you have teenagers, I would stay close to Pigeon Forge, which is where much of the “let’s go do stuff” things are, while if you’re looking to be closer to nature, I’d look at communities like Townsend, Wears Valley, Gatlinburg (very touristy, but right next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park). I am a CPA and IT consultant in Knoxville, TN, and support a couple of CPA firms and law firms in Sevier County, so I’m traditionally up there 1-2 days a week when I’m not traveling all over the country teaching continuing education. The locals I’ve sent your info to include:

* Cayce Smith – owns a cabin in Gatlinburg –

* John/Becky Gargis – Own one and rent additional cabins in Gatlinburg – www.smokymountainsrental.com is their main cabin.

* Two CPA’sand a Sevierville attorney who work with clients that rent cabins overnight – I’ll have them or their clients call you if you will provide your phone # and specs for what you want to rent.

If your friends or associates need more information, or would like for me to e-mail their request to the same group of property owners, have them send the request to cabins@tankersleys.us. My friends and clients would love the referrals, and you will do better renting from individuals than you probably will from renting through a large management company, especially when you want amenities like those you requested.

XXXXXX, the skiing here pretty well stinks by ski fanatic standards, but is better than nothing. If you’re used to West Coast resorts like Vail, Heavenly, and Squaw Valley, you’re going to be disappointed. That having been said, if you just want to play in the snow, you can do it in Gatlinburg – they have lots of snow-making machinery up there, but I’m not sure when they will open for the season. The ski resort up there is called Ober Gatlinburg, but my ski friends tell me that it’s nothing special. They do have an artificial ski surface up there, and there is a tram you should ride up there whether you intend to ski or not – it’s an amazing view of the mountains. Ober also has an indoor skating rink which is pretty nice.

My favorite restaurants in Sevier County are as follows:

* The Apple Barn – nice family place, good country cooking. I am told that thereis one of these in Gatlinburg and in Sevierville now.

* Calhoun’s – Great Barbecue (pulled pork with tomato sauce), good steaks and salads. The owner, Mike Chase, is one of the premier restaraunt operators in the area – very consistent, good quality. They also brew their own beer (yum!).

* The Park Grill – Architecture is amazing (huge solid pine lodge reminiscent of the lodges at western national parks). Food is pretty good – great place for coffee and dessert.

* The Peddler is supposed to be a pretty good place (Gatlinburg), although I haven’t been there in 10 years.

Touristy thematic restaurants with the standardfare (which I can’t recommend or advise against since I haven’t visited them)include:

* Hard Rock Cafe (Gatlinburg)

* NASCAR Cafe (Sevierville)

* Alabama Grill (the country band, not the state) – (Sevierville)

A few fun places I like include:

* Cowboy’s Seafood – Think Longhorn Steaks in the middle of nowherewith peanut shellson the floor and serving fried fish. It’s an acquired taste, but interesting. They are on Douglas Dam Road, off of TN-66 between Sevierville and I-40.

* The Front Porch – Bills itself as the “World’s Only Mexican Bluegrass Restaurant”. They do close for the winter, but I’m not sure when. Their slogan is “One Mean Hombre, Has Much Hongry”

There is hiking in the national park all the way from handicapped-accessible, paved trails for the handicappedup to the Appalachian Trail for experts. You can buy a $2 map at the visitors center in the park, but I recommend the Happy Hiker, a hiking shop just outside the park in Gatlinburg (www.happyhiker.com). They have a wide variety of trail books which will give you an expectation regarding the sites on a trail as well as the difficulty of the trail. They also have boots, wool socks, packs, tents, etc.

Gatlinburg hosts a Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium in the Smokies, and other sites. Gatlinburg is the more upscale area- nicer shops,etc.

Pigeon Forge has more amusement park type places like Dollywood, the NASCAR go-cart place, goofy miniature golf places, etc. It’s probably a little more low brow than Gatlinburg. Finally, Wears Valley and Townsend are much slower, much more relaxed places, and would cater more to those seeking peace and quiet. If you can, you should go to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee. This will require a .5 mile steep walk up a paved path, but there is a tower at the top which provides an amazing view on a clear day. This is in the middle of the GSM National Park, and is closed after the snows start, so check with the visitors center before you drive up there for nothing.

Pigeon Forge offers a number of theaters, including performers Lee Greenwood and Louise Mandrell, as well as an Elvis Impersonator (Lou Vuto is his name, I think), so there’s plenty of fun stuff for everyone.

If coming from the South or West (e.g. Atlanta/Nashville at peak times, you’ll do better to take US 441 (Henley St. in Knoxville / Chapman Highway from Knoxville to Sevierville) south through Knoxville toward Sevierville. This will meet up with The Parkway (TN-66 in Sevierville), where you would normally want to turn right if going to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. If traffic is nasty, go straight through the light at the Courthouse (intersection of 441 and TN-66, and go a mile or two furhter on this road, called Dolly Parton Parkway to an Exxon Station, which is across the street from a McDonald’s. To go to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, turn right on this road (Upper Middle Creek), and follow it until it comes out near Dollywood in Pigeon Forge (intersection of Teaster Lane and Middle Creek, near Patriot Park). This is near Dollywood, and if you bear left at the light when you get to Pigeon Forge, this road will dead end into Parkway on the far side of Pigeon Forge, nearest to Gatlinburg. If passing through, please buy some doughnuts from the Krispy Kreme, and tell Joey Messick that I told you to stop in. (I have done some consulting for them in the past.)

There are a number of bookstores for those seeking a good book up there, including a Bookland in Gatlinburg, a Books A Million in Sevierville, and numerous others across the county. You should also watch taffy being made as you walk down the parkway in Gatlinburg – it’s neat to see the candy made by hand. Pi Beta Phi, the sorority, sponsors an artists colony in the middle of Gatlinburg, and there are numerous other local artists (e.g. photographer Ken Jenkins, who operates the Beneath the Smoke gallery in Gatlinburg. Artist Jim Gray, who has a number of galleries, and many others). There is also an artists’ colony near Gatlinburg I think its off the road to Newport.

If you’re passing through Knoxville, I recommend the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (downtown Knoxville), Yee-Haw Industries on Gay Street (the main drag through downtown Knoxville – artist shop who has done work for Ralph Lauren, etc.), and Litton’s Restaurant (take I-640 to Broadway, head north 1-2 miles, and Litton’s is across from the “Fountain City Duck Pond” at Essary Road and Broadway) – best hamburger on the planet. and the best desserts you will encounter. The best mall in Knoxville is West Town Mall, I-40 at Exit 380. While there, take your girls to the Le Sportsac store off of Montvue Road – one of my sister’s friends owns it, and they have purses, bags, and lots of costume jewelry. Again, tell them that I sent you (Lee Anne is the owner). Other sites to see include the East TN Historical Society (Gay St.at Union), the James White Fort (downtown Knoxville), and the Zoo (pretty good fot a city this sized).

Non-chain restaurants to visit if in Knoxville include the following

* Calhoun’s (casual dining, barbecue) – numerous locations – my favorite is the original on Neyland Drive in downtown.

* Copper Cellar (Fine dining) – downtown and by West Town mall

* Regas (Fine dining)

* Italian Market and Grill (good italian)

* Riverside Tavern / Lakeside Tavern – Good food, great views of the water.Dressy Casual.

* Naples (italian)

* Stir Fry Caf (Thai)

* The Chop House (Steaks, amazing pork chop)

Good luck, and if I can help, please drop me a line nospamattankersleysdotus

Brian