Archive for March, 2013

Why Don’t We Have Free, Simple Tax Filing? Blame Intuit (maker of TurboTax)

According to Pro Publica:

Intuit, producer of the top-selling tax software TurboTax, has opposed letting the government do your taxes for free – even though it could save time and headaches for millions of filers.

and (same article):

Conservatives and software companies will keep tax season miserable

Return-free filing could save taxpayers billions, but the GOP and companies like TurboTax maker Intuit don’t care

and NPR (audio):

Opposition Blocks Return-Free Tax Filing In U.S.

As far as I’m concerned, Intuit has NEVER had their customer’s best interests at heart.  After using TurboTax for 12 years, in 2005 I switched to TaxACT due to the rapidly increasing price of TurboTax & it’s increasing restrictions on the user.  TaxACT offers completely free Federal Income Tax filing with no restrictions — either online or via downloadable desktop application.  You do have to pay a nominal fee for the State return, but it’s only half the price of what TurboTax charges.

And how many of you have used Intuit’s Quicken?  Do you realize that each version released expires after three years, and no longer allows you to download bank or investment transactions (e.g., no online banking)?  Same thing with QuickBooks.

As a minimum, the government should provide most all taxpayers with appropriate software to prepare their tax returns.  Ideally, they’d allow taxpayers a choice from popularly available software (i.e., TaxACT, H&R Block, TurboTax) — at no cost to the average taxpayer.

So… any chance of this ever happening?  Nope.  We have a government that’s “of” the Corporations; run “by” the Corporations; & “for” Corporations.  Anyway’s… you wouldn’t want that $11.5 million Intuit spent on federal lobbying to go to waste now, would you???

This Techdirt article says it all:  Intuit Continues To Make Sure Filing Taxes Is Complicated

Recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports… for your reading pleasure

Courtesy of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), here are a number of Congressional Research Service reports published since the first of the year that you might find of interest:


Finally… the REAL Purpose of DRM Exposed!!!

Ian Hickson, who works at Google, put together an excellent post on Google+ that exposes the true purpose of Digital Rights Management (DRM):

DRM’s purpose is to give content providers control over software and hardware providers, and it is satisfying that purpose well.

Mike Masnick @ Techdirt further expounds on this with:

All of this shows a legacy copyright industry that is so focused on holding back innovation so that they have a veto right and control over the pace of innovation. That, of course, is bad for the economy, bad for the public and bad for society. Innovation is important in growing the economy, and due to silly laws around DRM, we are purposely holding it back.

Numerous examples of the negatives of DRM are provided, such as unskippable FBI warnings, previews & ads on DVD/BluRay Players that prevent you, the legitimate BUYER & OWNER of the product, from jumping right to the movie; not being able to transfer your Amazon ebooks to other non-Kindle devices such as the Nook; not being able to view a Netflex movie from two devices at the same time; etc., etc., etc.

For pretty much every example, tools exist to remove the DRM from the content — be it movies, video games, software or ebooks.  In addition, non-DRM versions of most all this content are available on file sharing sites.  Without DRM, you can do pretty much anything you desire to do with your content.  All DRM does is PENALIZE THE LEGITIMATE PURCHASERS of digital content.

DRM is one of the PRIMARY reasons for the existence of piracy, and the content industry is solely responsible for this!

If you’re one of the many who belong to the “More Copyright is GOOD!” and “Piracy is Bad!” crowd, then I suggest you read Cory Doctorow’s recent book “Pirate Cinema” as it might change your mind, or at least get you to think about copyright laws in a new light.  He’s provided free downloads of his book here.  If you like the book, I suggest you purchase a copy, or better yet, donate a copy to a library or school.

Love & Farting… had an interesting article this past Saturday titled “Farting in Love” that discusses the role “farting” has in relationships.

After 15 years, our only real rule is that you can’t NOT comment on someone’s fart.” She added, “If I ever farted and my husband said NOTHING, I would know we were doomed.

How true.  In our case, we just blame each other & that usually works.  When we still had a kid in the house, he got all the blame (and rightly so!  His farts were DEADLY!!!).

But back to farting & relationships… here’s a site that shows you how to use fart mathematics to determine your relationship strength.

Happy Farting!

Can Copyright Be Fixed? The Content Industry (monopoly) won’t allow it

GIZMODO had a great article on Digital Copyright a few days ago titled Everything Wrong with Digital Copyright (And How to Fix It).”  It provides an excellent summary of many of the biggest problems with copyright today.  Unfortunately, it didn’t mention the obnoxious length of the current copyright term (which is well over 100 years when you include the life of the author/artist/creator).  Despite that shortfall, if you’re one of the majority who think that copyright is just fine the way it is (& that all file sharers are thieves), then I strongly recommend you read this article.

Recently, the head of the US Copyright Office, Ms. Maria Pallante, gave a speech & spoke to Congress about the need for improving US copyright law.  She even proposed reducing the current copyright term from 75 yrs (plus life of creator) to 50 yrs + life of creator.  I’m sorry… that’s still about an order of magnitude too long.  Five years, renewable only once for maybe 5 more years, would be more than appropriate.

But no worries… the content industry (MPAA, RIAA, book publishers, etc.) isn’t going to allow ANY changes which could reduce their monopolistic hold on our culture.  They have Congress in their pocket and have been responsible for all of the copyright extensions over the past several decades.  They’ve pretty much stolen the public domain from… guess who?  Yeah… from us, the public!  Nothing entered the public domain again this year, and won’t until 2018 or 2019 (assuming there’s no more ‘content industry’ copyright extensions).

Speaking of copyright reform, the MPAA Talking Points on Copyright Reform have just been leaked.  As usual, the MPAA does an excellent job of disinformation by completely rewriting copyright history (along with the real purpose of copyright) as pointed out by Mike Masnick at Techdirt.  It’s an EXCELLENT read.

Even worse, with “official” talk of copyright reform, the Copyright Lobby (aka content industry) is doing everything they can to ensure that the Public will have no place in any future copyright policy discussions.  In reality, there is only ONE true stakeholder in copyright policy, and that’s us — the PUBLIC.  I’m afraid that it’s the “content industry” that has NO place in copyright policy, and yet they’ve been writing US copyright law for decades.  It’s time to wise up, folks.  Please read the full article “Copyright Lobby:  The Public Has No Place In Policy Discussions” by Mike Masnick @ Techdirt, which states:

Apparently the public is simply too stupid to understand copyright law and is easily led astray by groups like Public Knowledge.

Taken together, you see both the fear and outright contempt that the copyright lobby has for the public.  To them, the public are interfering with “the industry’s rights” and are apparently stupid, gross and easily led astray and into mob behavior.

It’s high time we, the “public”, got off our arse and put the content industry in their place (which, ideally, is NO WHERE NEAR any copyright policy discussions).  But that’s not likely to happen, so stand by for even more ridiculous copyright law additions/modifications that further lock up our culture and make criminals of millions of more Americans.  Yup… copyright is seriously broken… and you know what’s really sad?  It’s probably just going to get worse.

Electronic Cigarettes… Greatest Thing Since Toilet Paper!!!

Have you noticed the commercials on prime time TV for these devices?  Electronic cigarettes (or “e-cigs”) are finally becoming mainstream.  I’ve been using them since Feb 2009 and they are, literally, a life saver.  I went from over 2 packs per day to approximately 1 pack per month.  I actually completely quit smoking regular cigarettes within a week after I started using e-cigs.  But after gaining nearly 25 lbs during the first three months without regular (analog) cigarettes, I started smoking an occasional homemade cigarette to suppress my hunger urges.  (Unfortunately, appetite suppression isn’t due to the nicotine… it’s apparently due to some or all of the other toxic by-products of regular cigarettes)

So just what is an electronic cigarette?  It’s a device that uses electricity from a small battery to vaporize a nicotine-containing solution so that the user can breathe it in.  Are they safe?  While e-cigarettes may give smokers more or less the same amount of nicotine as a conventional cigarette, they do not produce the same toxic smoke that can cause lung disease and cancer when inhaled over time.  Since there are no products of combustion to be inhaled, no tobacco toxins are inhaled besides nicotine.  Only water vapor is exhaled, although there haven’t been any thorough studies to prove this definitively.

According to The Economist,

Electronic cigarettes do not just save the lives of smokers: they bring other benefits too. Unlike cigarettes, they do not damage the health of bystanders. They do not even smell that bad, so there is no public nuisance, let alone hazard, and thus no reason to ban their use in public places. Pubs and restaurants should welcome them with open arms.

Unfortunately, because electronic cigarettes seem just too good to be true (for smokers trying to do less harm to themselves), we can probably count on the health lobbyists to do their utmost to stub them out…  not to mention higher taxes & restrictions being proposed and/or imposed by both state & federal government.  Also according to The Economist,

Some health lobbyists are so determined to prevent people doing anything that remotely resembles smoking—a process referred to as “denormalisation”—that they refuse to endorse a product that reproduces the pleasure of smoking without the harm.

This is wrong. Those charged with improving public health should be promoting e-cigarettes, not discouraging their use

I switched to e-cigs over four years ago, primarily due to the continuously rising price of cigarettes along with increasingly ridiculous restrictions on smoking.  Since switching to e-cigs, my lung capacity has vastly improved; I no longer cough; and I no longer experience an annual bout of bronchitis.  Electronic cigarettes have definitely been “too good to be true” for me.  Which, of course, means that now that they are becoming a viable (& healthier) alternative to smoking, they most likely WILL become over-regulated; their use overly restricted; and vastly more expensive.  (Me thinks I’ll stock up on supplies before this happens)

Two vendors of electronic cigarettes that I can strongly recommend are Vapor4Life and Madvapes.  I’ve been purchasing products from Vapor4Life for nearly three years, but have recently used Madvapes because of their inventory and excellent service.

If you’re a smoker, I strongly urge you to at least try an electronic cigarette as a healthier alternative.  I’ve been smoking for over 40 years and I can honestly say that e-cigs have been a 99% solution for me.  But if the “naysayers” have their way, e-cigs may become too expensive and difficult (if not outright impossible) to obtain.

Happy Vaping!

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Universal Plug & Play (UPnP) Security Flaw discovered 6 weeks ago

RouterAlthough there have been fundamental problems & security issues with UPnP for over a decade, those are small potatoes compared to this new UPnP security flaw reported at the end of January 2013.  UPnP has always been assumed to be applicable only to the LAN-side of your router (i.e., your home network).  This new flaw effects the WAN-side of your router, meaning someone on the internet can easily use UPnP to exploit your router & network.   Approximately 6,900 products (including popular routers) from over 1500 vendors are susceptible to this UPnP vulnerably.  Rapid7 is credited with the discovery of the UPnP security flaw and they strongly recommend disabling UPnP on all internet-facing systems & replacing routers that do not provide the ability to disable this protocol.  They’ve produced a whitepaper on this security flaw here.  An extensive list of the vulnerable routers is posted here.

If you haven’t done so already, I strongly recommend you test your router for the presence of this vulnerability.  Over 81 million individual routers were discovered to be vulnerable as of January 30th, 2013.  Steve Gibson of Gibson Research Corporation ( has added a vulnerability test on his  “ShieldsUP!” web page located here.  Just click on the “Proceed” button, followed by clicking on “GRC’s Instant UPnP Exposure Test.”

In addition, Steve Gibson & Leo Laporte have a detailed discussion of the UPnP Security Flaw in their Security Now podcast, Episode #389.  You can find the audio, pdf and html files for this podcast on the “Security Now” homepage.

Here’s hopin’ that your router passes the vulnerability test!