Apr 22, 2016 at 20:35 o\clock

23 surprising things you can get for free

(RealSimple.com) -- Sometimes you get what you don't pay for. Here are nearly two dozen of the best freebies and -- most important -- how to score them.

Free education

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Get your geek on: MIT offers a far more comprehensive selection of free online courses than other universities -- nearly its entire undergraduate and graduate curriculum. Downloading materials takes minutes. A newsletter highlights new offerings, from Quantum Physics to American Women Authors.

What's the Catch? Users can't enroll, take classes on campus, or earn degrees.

Find Out More: http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html

BBC, FrenchPodClass. The BBC offers top-notch online and MP3 lessons in languages familiar and obscure, including French, German, Portuguese, Mandarin, Greek, and Urdu. FrenchPodClass has easy-to-use, enjoyable podcasts that allow you to learn French while you do errands or go for a run.

What's the Catch? Classes are one size fits all, which fast learners may find sluggish (and slow learners may find difficult).

Find Out More: http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html, http://www.frenchpodclass.com/

Free classes

U.S. Small Business Administration. Learn how to write a business plan, register your company, and deal with the tax details of running a home business at your local Women's Business Center evening classes (men are welcome, too).

What's the Catch? Novices and more advanced learners share the same classroom.

Find Out More: http://www.sba.gov/localresources/index.html (click on "Local Resources" for a nearby center and for financial and marketing information).

Apple Stores. Apple gives excellent classes on business and entertainment software, music programs, and computer basics, all remarkably free of sales pitches. There are also classes on how to use Apple hardware, like iPods. Most of the company's stores -- there are more than 170 -- offer several classes a day.

What's the Catch? All classes relate to (often pricey) Apple products.

Find Out More: http://www.apple.com/retail/ (click on "Visit an Apple store").

Free culture

Museum visits. While some museums don't charge an admission fee, others can cost $20 and up (more than a movie!). Take advantage of free days, half days, and nights that take place weekly or monthly at various institutions throughout the United States.

What's the Catch? The free-admission times tend to attract large crowds; expect long lines and less of an opportunity to get up close and personal with a Czanne.

Find Out More: Check out the Web sites of your local museums.

Music Together, Music for Aardvarks, Gymboree. These three companies all offer a complimentary peek at exactly what baby music classes entail (hint: plenty of drumbeating, rattle shaking, and scarf throwing). It's a great way to introduce your little one to the experience before shelling out $135 to $255 for a full term (generally 10 to 12 weeks).

What's the Catch? Many parents have been taking classes together for a while, so they can be quite chummy. As an observer, you might feel left out and too shy to participate fully.

Find Out More: http://www.musictogether.com/ClassLocator.aspx, http://www.musictogether.com/ClassLocator.aspx, http://www.musictogether.com/ClassLocator.aspx.

Kids' Night on Broadway. Once a year (this year it was in late January), children ages 6 to 18 can experience the Great White Way for free with a full-paying adult. There are also Kids' Nights for nationally touring shows throughout the year.

What's the Catch? Tickets go very fast, especially for the most popular shows.

Find Out More: http://www.kidsnightonbroadway.com/kids.php.

Tip: To find out about free movies and concerts in your area, go to Yahoo or Google and type in the kind of entertainment, "free," and the name of your city.

Free gyms

Health-club trials. LA Fitness, Bally Total Fitness, the Sports Club/LA, and Gold's Gym have a range of free-trial offers, from one day to two weeks, for prospective members, as do many other gyms throughout the country. Rules vary.

What's the Catch? You often have to tour the health club with a sales representative, which sometimes takes as long as an hour. Some gym companies may require you to prove nearby residence with a driver's license.

Find Out More: Go to the gyms for details.

Free photos

Adorama, Dotphoto, Kodak, Snapfish. In addition to photo sharing and online albums, these popular services provide 15 to 50 free prints when you sign up.

What's the Catch? You have to pay for shipping, which usually isn't more than a few dollars.

Find Out More: https://www.dotphoto.com/join.asp http://www.snapfish.com/registration

Free pets

Craigslist Community Pet Listings, Petfinder.com. Unlike shelters, most of which charge a small adoption fee, these sites feature numerous free-pet notices posted by owners, usually as a result of an impending move or an allergic family member.

What's the Catch? Not all the owners who post notices are as honest as you'd wish. Out-of-control animals can be listed as "friendly and calm."

Find Out More: www.craigslist.org (click on your city, then on "Pets"), www.craigslist.org (click on "Classified Ads").

Free phone services

The Popularity Dialer. Want to flee that meeting? Get out of lunch after an hour? The Web-based Popularity Dialer can place one of five fake calls: the boss call, the cousin-in-need call, the male-friend call, the female-friend call, or the affirmation call (reminding you that you're wonderful). Each recording includes convenient pauses for your side of the conversation.

What's the Catch? You need to know beforehand that you'll want rescuing and you have to be willing to break social graces by taking a phone call in the middle of a meeting or lunch.

Find Out More: www.popularitydialer.com.

800-FREE-411. Instead of dialing 411 and being charged 50 cents to $1.50, call this service, from a cell or a landline, for free nationwide directory assistance.

What's the Catch? You have to listen to a 20- second ad before receiving your number.

Find Out More: 800-373-3411 (800-FREE-411).

Skype. Download and install free Skype software and call other Skype users, computer to computer, at no charge, anywhere in the world. If you have a webcam, you can see whom you're chatting with, too.

What's the Catch? If you don't have DSL or a cable modem, it may be more cost-effective (money- and sanity-wise) to dial up the old-fashioned way.

Find Out More: www.skype.com.

Free e-mail reminders

Memo to Me. Avoid visits to the "belated birthday" or "so sorry I missed our anniversary" section of your local card store. Memo to Me reminds you before the event. Just plug in your e-mail, choose a password, and program the events you need to be reminded of and when you need the reminders. Whether it's Grandma's 80th or your own anniversary, no one wants to be the one who forgets.

What's the Catch? There's some innocuous advertising on the Web site.

Find Out More: www.memotome.com.

Tip: E-cards have gotten less corny. You can find witty and well-designed cards at www.hipstercards.com, vintage ones at www.cardcow.com, and photographic ones at ecard.digiart.ee.

Free ice cream

Ben & Jerry's Free Cone Day. On one day every year (this year, April 17), all of the more than 600 Ben & Jerry's stores worldwide offer free cones, with no limit -- eat all the Cherry Garcia you'd like.

What's the Catch? There are often long lines, and popular flavors, like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, run out early.

Find Out More: www.benandjerrys.com for stores.

Free used books

PaperBackSwap.com, TitleTrader. List the books that you'd like to get rid of, then wait for someone to request one, which can take as little as eight minutes. Mail your book to the person and you'll receive a credit to choose your own book. PaperBackSwap.com involves only paperbacks, which keeps shipping cheap, usually about $1.60 per book. TitleTrader also lists DVDs, CDs, and VHS cassettes and can rack up higher costs with heavy hardbacks, though shipping rarely tops $4 at the book rate.

What's the Catch? Popular fiction moves fast, while classic and esoteric titles may stay put for months.

Find Out More: www.paperbackswap.com, www.titletrader.com.

Free household items

The Freecycle Network. This nonprofit community group with an environmental mission lets users "recycle" unwanted items by posting ads on local online bulletin boards. If you see a chair or a computer that you'd like, respond to the ad. The site is a great way to acquire a perfectly good coffeemaker or piano while doing your part to reduce waste.

What's the Catch? You're responsible for getting the stuff home.

Find Out More: www.freecycle.org to find a group.

Free (and worth it) samples

Many free-product programs come with hidden costs. The ones below are legit. Sign up for one and your in-box may be inundated, but there's also an outside chance you'll end up with a flat-screen TV.

Start Sampling (www.startsampling.com) connects manufacturers with consumers who test products. Type in your demographic information and you'll see a screen listing your free-sample options -- everything from cleaning products to Harlequin romance novels to toiletries.

Kiehl's (800-543-4572) hands out samples of every product it sells approximately 10 million giveaways a year. Request samples at a Kiehl's store (where the selection is usually larger) or a Kiehl's counter in a department store. Or call Kiehl's and tell the operator what you'd like to try and the company will send you up to three samples.

Programs from American Consumer Opinion and E-Poll (www.acop.com, www.epoll.com) allow users to take product surveys to get cash ($4 to $25 per survey), samples (ranging from pizza sauce to even the rare flat-screen TV), or points (which can be redeemed for gift cards from retailers such as Amazon.com and Target).

Oil of Olay's sample program (www.olay.com; click on "Samples & Offers") gives away small sizes of its newest products.

Sephora stores (www.sephora.com for locations) offer generous samples from the more than 150 cosmetics lines they carry. Just ask and a salesperson will hand you a packaged sample or fill jars with requested products for free.

Procter & Gamble's Home Made Simple and Tide e-newsletters (www.homemadesimple.com, www.tide.com) entitle you to discount coupons and new-product samples. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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Apr 22, 2016 at 07:18 o\clock

Free guns program launches in Houston neighborhood

HOUSTON Houston resident Cheryl Strain's inexperience with guns was apparent as she struggled to load shells into a 20-gauge shotgun.

Over the piercing blasts of gunfire in the shooting range, Strain's instructor, Dan Blackford, patiently directed her on how to use her thumb to shove a shell all the way inside the barrel and feel it click.

"Now we got a round in the chamber ready to go," Blackford said as he positioned her body on the right way to hold the shotgun. "Look down your sight, put that BB right in the middle of your target and press the trigger."

Strain's northwest Houston community of Oak Forest is the first neighborhood in the country being trained and equipped by the Armed Citizen Project, a Houston nonprofit that is giving away free shotguns to single women and residents of neighborhoods with high crime rates.

While many cities have tried gun buy-backs and other tactics in the ongoing national debate on gun control, the nonprofit and its supporters say gun giveaways to responsible owners are actually a better way to deter crime. The organization, which plans to offer training classes in Dallas, San Antonio, and Tucson, Ariz., in the next few weeks, is working to expand its giveaways to 15 cities by the end of the year, including Chicago and New York.

But others in Houston, while expressing support for Second Amendment rights, question whether more guns will result in more gun-related deaths rather than less crime.

Residents of Oak Forest say their neighborhood, made up of older one-story houses and a growing number of new townhomes, has experienced a recent rash of driveway robberies and home burglaries. On a recent Sunday afternoon, a group of 10 residents, including Strain, went through training at Shiloh Shooting, a northwest Houston gun range.

Kyle Coplen, the project's 29-year-old founder said his group expects to train at least 50 Oak Forest residents and put up signs saying the neighborhood is armed.

"When we have a crime wave, we don't just say let's just increase police and that's all we do. We do multiple things. I see this as one aspect of what we can do," said Coplen, who graduated from the University of Houston with a master's degree in public administration.

It costs the organization about $300 to arm and train an individual and about $20,000 for an entire neighborhood. All costs are paid through donations, said Coplen, though he declined to say how much his organization has raised so far.

While some residents in the neighborhood are supportive, several officials have mixed feelings about it.

Sandra Keller, Strain's neighbor, said she is participating in part because of the helplessness she felt after her furniture store was robbed a couple of years ago.

"If you don't have a gun, you're just a walking victim. You're just waiting for somebody to take advantage of you and your property," said Keller, 64, after practicing at the shooting range.

But Houston City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, who represents Oak Forest, said, "I have serious concerns about more guns in homes."

Cohen said she supports Second Amendment rights and believes that such a responsibility should include proper training and background checks.

David Hemenway, a professor of health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health who has - - written about firearms and health, said studies suggesting gun ownership deters crime have been refuted by many others that say the opposite.

"Mostly what guns seem to do is make situations more lethal because most crime has nothing to do with guns," he said. "When there is a gun in the mix, there is much more likely to be somebody dying or somebody incredibly hurt."

Proponents of increased gun ownership point to a variety of statistics to support their argument, including ones showing that some cities with strict gun control laws, like Chicago, still have high murder rates.

Blackford, the firearm instructor in the Oak Forest training, said the group is teaching residents not only how to handle and store a weapon but also when to use deadly force.

"The sad part is most people think if you're pro-gun, that you've got this gunslinger attitude, that you are walking around looking for a gun fight to get into and that is so far from the truth," said Blackford, a former Secret Service agent.

Harris County Precinct One Constable Alan Rosen, whose deputies patrol Oak Forest, said that while he believes the best deterrent to crime is effective neighborhood watch programs, he believes people should have the right to protect themselves.

"In terms of having a shotgun, after you've been properly trained on it, to have that in your home to protect your home, I'm for it," he said.

Strain, 46, a single mother who has never owned a gun, said she was nervous firing the shotgun but that more training will help. She also had her 12-year-old son Rory practice firing the shotgun so "if God forbid something happens, he could be prepared as well."

2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Apr 21, 2016 at 07:28 o\clock

6 Items You Can Invest in to Make Money-Saving Weekends at Home More Fun

When I was a kid, I was never at home. My teenage years in Singapore were filled with nights that melted into mornings walking from Orchard Road to the Esplanade, playing cards at Newton Circus Hawker Centre at 5am and cycling in the middle of the road late at night in the knowledge that there would be hardly any cars.

I might be revealing my age by saying this, but those were the days when I didnt have to worry about paying a ton of money for cab fares. The night rider buses used to run until 5am, and the price of taking a taxi home after midnight was a mere fraction of what it is today.

Maybe thats why the older I get, the more appealing I find the idea of inviting friends over to my home, or chilling out at theirs, especially since a peaceful evening out in town can now easily cost over $50.

Having your friends over might save you money, but youve got to have something going for you other than your sparkling wit if your place is going to be your crews designated hangout. Here are six things to invest in to make your pad the place to be:

1. Cocktail shaker

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 2.12.42 AM

Cocktail shakers might not exactly be something you can buy for two bucks at Daiso, but the fact that cocktails in Singapore are so overpriced makes them a worthwhile investment. A basic $20 cocktail shaker is cheaper than a single cocktail at many bars.

Some friends of mine actually went so far as to buy a home bar complete with giant beer dispenser, but you dont have to go that far. The internet is a huge repository of not only cat videos but also cocktail recipes and instructional videos. Try to get all your booze from duty free as Singapore prices are just not acceptable!

2. Steamboat machine

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Okay, I have to admit I really want one of these things. Not all of us are capable of whipping up edible dinners for six people on short notice, and with a steamboat machine, youll never have to. The best thing is that steamboat dinners are always fun and social. Whether youre helping the person beside you locate his lost fishball or being the bad guy who stuffs all the vegetables into the pot, you can feel pleased that youre not paying $20 per head to enjoy the same experience elsewhere.

3. Mahjong set

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The guy who owns the mahjong set is always the one whose house all the mahjong kakis gather at for their regular games. If youre sick of having to spend all your your winnings to take a cab back home after a mahjong game, youd benefit from buying your own set. Before you purchase your set and table, do your research, as prices can vary greatlyyou should be able to get the whole shebang for about $50 to $70.

4. Board and card games

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Not everyone is a board game geek, but even if the last game your friends played was Snakes and Ladders, its a good idea to have some games at your disposal. Unless your friends are gaming freaks, its a good idea to steer clear of games that are hard to pick up or confusing. Games like Card Against Humanity, Dixit and Telestrations are perfect as theyre super easily to learn, dont require too much strategising and are high in entertainment value.

5. Karaoke microphone

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 2.20.16 AM

All of us have seen that middle aged man who goes to KTV pubs alone and then hogs the mike all night long, torturing the other customers with his renditions of Wa Meng Ti. If that sounds like you, instead of subjecting the rest of the world to your warbling, you might want to consider investing in a karaoke machine instead. Considering an evening of KTV usually costs at least $25 to $35 per person, youre saving your posse quite a bit of money. Youll see sets going for more than $1,000, but since most videos are available on YouTube anyway, buy a bunch of $10-$20 microphones instead and an HDMI cable so you can hook your laptop up to the TV.

6. Nintendo Wii

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 2.24.59 AM

Most consoles lack the mass appeal that the Wii has. Thanks to games like Rock Band, Just Dance and Wii Sports, the Wii can be the perfect party host/hostess that you most certainly arent. Just make sure the hardcore gamers dont hijack the set. While game consoles are never cheap, now that Wii U is out the Wii has gotten considerably cheaper, and you might be able to get a new one for $200+, while second hand sets can go for as low as $100+.

Image credits: Robert S. Donovan, momo, Alan Yeh, Joe Bain, He JiaWei, Enrique Dans

Do you own any of the above items? Share your experiences in the comments!

The post 6 Items You Can Invest in to Make Money-Saving Weekends at Home More Fun appeared first on the MoneySmart blog.

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Apr 20, 2016 at 10:55 o\clock

16,000 Attend La Feria de la Familia (Family Fest)

Doris Irizarry, a northerner who easily adapted to her new Florida home, accidently started writing for a newspaper when an editor asked if she'd be interested in taking photos at a concert. She provided photos as well as a review and surprisingly both were published, from which Doris gained her own entertainment writing column. Doris commenced as a local Examiner -- Tampa Cultural Examiner and now on the national level as a Latin Music Examiner. She's covered the Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas, the Billboard Latin Awards in Miami and many other important events. Apart from being an Examiner, shes an income tax preparer manager and her past times are gardening, selling, volunteering, and interior decorating - - including being a handy 'gal.' Contact: treasureworld247@aol.com

Apr 20, 2016 at 09:09 o\clock

Easy Ways to Make Money From Home

A job is never really appreciated, unless and until it gives you its worth. And if you are just idle at home and thinking on what to do, then you have more reasons to be happy as there are innumerable ways to keep oneself busy and at the same time, earn money. And when it comes to teenagers and kids, it is the dream of every parent to see their kids understand their responsibilities at a tender age and it doesn't get better than this, when you and your kids both have some easy ways to make money from home.

10 Simple Ways to Earn from Home

Money making is a talent in itself and devising new ideas for it requires creativity. Besides, before opting for a job which you would like to do from home, make sure it is something close to your heart. Passion driven hobbies make excellent jobs and they make working absolute fun. Here are some of the good money making tips, applicable across all the age groups.


Freelance content writing is one of the best ways to make money from home. Such writing jobs come as contracts, where the person may be hired on a project basis to write the content as desired. This is one of the best jobs for people who have a flare for writing on myriad topics. But before you earn your coveted pocket money, make sure that you are thorough with the copyright laws and the employee agreement annexures of the project you have opted to work for. In certain cases, some rights may also be offered to you for selling the piece of information, which happens to be your indigenous write up.

Do Research

Many websites today are in dearth of people who can research well, because researching requires a lot of patience and diligence to assimilate information on a particular topic. Of course, this is a good start for people who are extremely net savvy and enjoy Internet surfing a lot. For this, however, one must be knowledgeable in web programming and HTML tags. Also, an Internet researcher must be well versed about Internet terminology and other aspects like search engine optimization. To start from home, all you need is your own website with your own DBA. Once done with the setup, there are a lot of free homepage services that will provide other design tools, web space, and email as needed. Start your job by marking the presence of the site on the Internet.

Merchandise Shopping

This is a new concept in itself. If you have gone through many online retail review stores telling you what to buy and what not to, it is because it hires people as merchandise or mystery shoppers to evaluate a store's performance. The merchandising is inclusive of retail and grocery stores as well, where you may be required to follow the planogram to do the assessment for the firm. A planogram is nothing but a descriptive version of the products, on how they must be installed, stacked, restocked, and maintained. The same kind of a procedure can be followed for restaurants, where parameters like customer service, food service, and management can be taken into consideration for the assessment. The best aspect of this job is that, one can choose it at convenience, including the place. The same concept can be used for e-shopping as well.

Try Hands at Craft

If your kid has a good hand at craft work like origami, then nothing like it! Making greeting cards with the most innovative designs, or Christmas lanterns with beautiful patterns, or making exquisite paper bag puppets can fetch your child a bounty. Making designs for Halloween costumes or whitewashing the neighbor's fence can add on to your piggy bank.


Blogging is a place where the passion to write can be combined with the urge to earn. It is the best way of doing business at home. With minimal start up costs, one can gain a loyal and an impressive readership that can add on to your daily income. Depending on the network traffic, its ranking, and the way it is advertised, it sure is a tangible source of income for you. This is a good option for the teen crowd who are very much interested in Internet advertising of their blogs.

Culinary Skill at its Best

Trying out new recipes and advertising them, is not a new concept but is not easy either. If one knows the right way of advertising his or her culinary skills, one can really make a fortune. Try out some simple recipes and demonstrate it in front of a crowd, and it is bound to get your talents rolling back in the form of money.

Stocks, Bonds, and Affiliate Marketing

Stocks and funds is another good option to consider. But before one enters into this domain, he or she has to do a thorough study on the working of the stock market. Another good choice is Internet affiliate marketing. If you are good on this subject, minting money on eBay and other similar online shopping stores will be fun.


All children at some point in their life nurture a passion for dancing, and a few are born with the talent which shows out in the crowd. Teens who are passionate about dancing can start off with a dance class. The resources needed are bare minimal. All one needs is to rent a large room depending on the number of students, and a music system.


Teaching happens to be the noblest of all the professions. One of the best means to earn from home, it is also a liberating experience for those, who have a passion to teach. It also happens to be one of the best ways for teens.

Go Designer

If you have an uncanny art at designing clothes, then you might as well like to give a try at starting a clothes boutique at home. This may also give you further ideas for starting a clothing line in future.

Apr 20, 2016 at 00:22 o\clock

Silicon Insider: AOL-aholics Anonymous - ABC News

Hi, I'm Mike and I have a confession to make: I use AOL Mail.

I know, I know. A Silicon Valley childhood, 30 years as a tech journalist unforgivable. And I'll make it even worse: Six years ago, when I was running the world's largest circulation tech-business magazine, I assigned, edit and ran a cover investigative story describing how America Online screwed over all of its early volunteer Web masters that helped create the company.

Oh, and did I mention that I always thought that the AOL/TimeWarner deal was going to be a disaster? And ditto for AOL's purchase of Netscape?

In other words, I have absolutely no excuse whatsoever to remain connected to such a poorly run, technologically backward company, especially one with such a checkered history.

So, why have I stuck with AOL -- even as every other Web outfit started offering e-mail for free? Even when it took six minutes to load my e-mail on the screen as I sat two weeks ago in the business center of a hotel in Windhoek, Namibia? Even as my son Tad drags me in to show me on his computer how fast and spamfree his GMail account is? Even as I start each morning having to purge all my overnight e-mails from Nigerian con artists, porn merchants and drug peddlers?

Therein lies a story. I'll give you the long, slightly phony explanation first. Then I'll tell you the short, embarrassing but honest explanation after that.

Going a Long Way BackThe long version is that I signed on to America Online way back in the early 1990s when AOL essentially was the Internet. Being a good Silicon Valley boy, I had actually tried the Internet, back when it was still Arpanet, at SRI, Xerox PARC and NASA's Ames Research Center. At the time -- this was the early 1970s -- I thought it was interesting, but not very practical for anyone but government researchers. The e-mail program I saw at the time seemed even less promising, requiring a bunch of code to operate, and typically used only to send data or technical papers.

A decade later, as I was running around playing newspaper reporter, I noticed that more and more senior scientists and executives in the Valley were talking about the Internet. I assumed it was just the latest version of the old Darpanet/Arpanet technology ported over to the commercial world, but these guys assured me that there was this new technical overlay for the Net, called the World Wide Web, that made the process a whole lot easier.

As it happened, I had all of the equipment at hand, having been running a private newspaper syndicate sending my stories to the Boston Globe and other papers via a Hayes dial-up modem attached to my Apple III (another brilliant technology choice). So I gave it try. I tried lurking on the Well, but it proved to be a bunch of tiresome old hippies and Whole Earth Catalog types -- and I'd had enough of them in real life.

But then I found CompuServe, and suddenly the whole magical world of the Web was opened up for me. In retrospect, the Internet was a comparatively small and lonely place back in those days, but at the time it was a revelation. It was then that I first learned that some of my Valley counterparts were using the Web for a form of electronic mail, and I resolved to join them.

I don't remember how I first heard about America Online. The company itself was only a couple years' old at the time. I assume I visited the site, thought it was appealing, and signed up, mostly for the chance to get e-mail. I don't remember even using one of those diskettes the company used to confetti the country a few years later (eventually replaced by those ubiquitous CD-ROMs that seem to litter every post office and coffee joint in the worldb until you need one). I may have simply downloaded the program from the Web site -- which must have taken hours in those days.

Anyway, that's how I got AOL e-mail. It's basically the same story as 30 million other people, though mine was likely a few years earlier -- which of course makes my case even more embarrassing. So the real question is, why did I stay with it?

Handling the Shame, Peer PressureI remember about a decade ago running into the well-known business author/venture capitalist/public speaker Guy Kawasaki at his office in Palo Alto. We'd known each other for a long time, and we were talking about something or other when he asked me for my e-mail address for his mailing list. I told him. "AOL??" he scoffed. "Dude, what are you doing still on AOL, for God's sakes? Nobody in Silicon Valley uses AOL!"

I remember placing my hand on my heart and saying, "I remain a man of the people."

We laughed and went on to something else, both of us knowing that what I said was bull. Still, the line worked well enough that I used it for years -- as if I could only be a true high-tech reporter if I shared the lousy access speeds, puerile home page and overpriced user fees with the hoi polloi of computer neophytes, senior citizens and the chronically duped.

The years passed. In fact, there was only one time when I seriously considered dumping AOL. That's when other services began offering fixed monthly rates while AOL continued to exploit us power-users with stratospheric usage fees. But, at the last moment, AOL caved, introduced a fixed monthly rate, and I didn't have to think about my e-mail service again for years.

For the next decade, even as I was hammering AOL in print for lousy service, killing Netscape, crippling TimeWarner and ripping off its part-time employees, I continued to use AOL e-mail. I had never really used AOL except for e-mail and as a portal to the Web, and as broadband came along, first at the office and then at home, I effortlessly shifted over to AOL.com simply as an e-mail portal. I never gave it much thought -- even when, four years ago in Africa, I went online after a month away and found 1,800 e-mails, of which all but 35 were spam. I merely shrugged and started erasing.

With the turn of the new century, I once again briefly considered switching e-mail providers. But a survey of the competition only left me depressed. Writing a big profile of Yahoo for Wired Magazine, I suddenly realized that the company had merely become what AOL had set out to be -- and just like AOL, all Yahoo wanted to do was to use freebees like e-mail to draw me into its little kingdom, and then pull up the drawbridge behind me. Forget hotmail too, for moral reasons: Every sleazeball drug pusher and porn purveyor seemed to have a hotmail account. And, despite Tad's urgings, I wasn't interested in Google's Gmail -- having survived one Microsoft, I wasn't interested in subsidizing another.

And so, despite everything, I stayed with AOL for its e-mail. And there I stay today.

Laziness, Comfort the Biggest FactorsOK, that's the long, suspect version. Here's the short, truthful one. I'm lazy. I have never changed - - my e-mail account because it is too much trouble to switch all my records, notify everyone on my mailing list, and learn a new password.

More than that, even though I am utterly dependent on e-mail, I don't want to have to think about it ever again. Getting my e-mail from AOL is now so automatic, so embedded in my subconscious and my fingertips, that I merely have to think about my mail and somehow I find myself there. And I like that.

Now, as you may have read, AOL is bleeding customers and is about to institute -- five years too late -- free e-mail and other services. The press has made much of the fact that AOL lost nearly 1 million subscribers in the last quarter alone.

Here's what I say: There is no sane reason why us 18 million AOL subscribers still remain -- except for stupidity and inertia. I plead guilty to both.

Who would have thought that the first great Web application would prove to be the stickiest of them all?

And now, starting tomorrow, AOL is going to give me my e-mail for free. Great. Now I can return to my happy intellectual slumber and not have to think about AOL again for another decade.

Tad's Tab: The latest from the teen tech trenches from my 15-year-old son, Tad Malone.

Despite the occasional concerns about accuracy, I love Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia created by users themselves. I can sit for hours looking up topics ranging from number theory to Tony Sinclair (the foppish British club guy in the Tanqueray ads who turns out to be a Philadelphia actor named Rodney Mason). But what most people don't realize is that you can download Wikipedia onto your iPod and create the ultimate portable reference library. Note, however, this works only on the cheaper iPods -- iPod Photo and under -- giving you something to be smug about with your richer, Video iPod-owning friends.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michael S. Malone, once called the Boswell of Silicon Valley, is one of the nation's best-known technology writers. He has covered Silicon Valley and high-tech for more than 25 years, beginning with the San Jose Mercury News, as the nation's first daily high-tech reporter. His articles and editorials have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, the Economist and Fortune, and for two years he was a columnist for The New York Times. He was editor of Forbes ASAP, the world's largest-circulation business-tech magazine, at the height of the dot-com boom. Malone is best-known as the author or co-author of a dozen books, notably the best-selling "Virtual Corporation." Malone has also hosted three public-television interview series, and most recently co-produced the celebrated PBS miniseries on social entrepreneurs, "The New Heroes." He has been the ABCNEWS.com "Silicon Insider" columnist since 2000.

Apr 19, 2016 at 22:40 o\clock

Donation Request Letter

The best thing about donation request letters is that not only can they be used to reach a large number of potential donors by sparing very little effort and minimum monetary investment, they have a very personal human touch to them that works in favor of the donation seeker. However, the likelihood of a donation request letter achieving its objective is not only dependent on the worthiness of your cause, but also the manner in which the letter has been written. A good donation-seeking letter will be clear, concise, and informative. Some points that must be included are:

Who is seeking the donation

In what form is the donation being sought - monetary or in kind

The purpose behind seeking the donation

Who the donation will benefit

How the donation will stand to gain the donor (optional and if applicable)

A word of gratitude in advance https://www.evernote.com/shard/s711/sh/6d74efa2-eca5-4e34-852d-4ed71a28bb99/fe6abeb79f204f345dba996a4681d34d - android market - for a possible donation coming the seeker's way

Name and phone number of the person to be contacted in case of queries/potential forwarding of the help sought

Signatures of either the president/chairman or the person heading the group

Work on a prose styling that will draw the reader in. Definitely close the letter by thanking the recipient for considering donating to your cause. This will send a message of humility across without seeming too pushy and yet convey the importance of supporting your cause.

To get you started, given below are some donation letter ideas.

Donation Request Letter - - Template

Date (Format: November 11, 2009)

Address of the Recipient

Dear Mr. (Surname of recipient),

I am writing to you on behalf of the Basic Necessities Fund. Basic Necessities Fund is an organization that I started along with three friends from Roswell High School. Our objective is to raise awareness about the lack of basic amenities in the countryside, and raise funds to build wells that would supply the people with drinking water. Our way to do this is to stage a play, that carries a social message, every three months. Proceeds from ticket sales go to local NGOs there who will be responsible for building the wells.

On January 1, 2009, Basic Necessities Fund will be staging a play titled "The Other Side". In order to stage it, we will incur a lot of expenditure - from the cost of resting lights and sound equipment, to arranging costumes, sets, and advertising costs. Any monetary help towards these expenses would be appreciated, however small the amount. It will go a long way in forwarding our cause. (If recipient is a business, add 'In return for your generosity, the name of your company will appear on our posters, banners, advertisements, and brochure).

Thank you for considering our request. If you have any questions or need further information, please feel free to contact me. I will follow up with a phone call in the next couple of days.




(Your address, telephone number, and email id)

Solicitation for Donation Letter

Date (Format: November 11, 2009)

Address of the Recipient

Dear Mr. (Surname of recipient)/To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing on behalf of Atlanta Law School to request your help in supporting Atlanta Law Students. This December we are holding a "Callathon", during which present law students will call alumni of Atlanta Law School and request them to support the Annual Fund. The Annual Fund provides funding to a wide range of vital areas, including academic scholarships, operations, student services, new technology, library resources, and academic programs. These donations are critical to maintain the standing that Atlanta Law School has always held as well as made strong forward strides.

As our students are dedicating their time, energy, and enthusiasm to work for this cause, we would like to show our gratitude in the form of gifts and prizes. Given that most of our students live and work in the District, and are likely to become future permanent residents, we request your support by considering a donation. It could be in the form of gift certificates for products or services available at your facility.

If you decide to contribute, please send your donation to:

Director of Annual Fund


Alternately, if you would like us to pick up your donation, or want more information about this initiative, please contact me at (number and email id). We appreciate your considering our request.




Director of Development of the Annual Fund

I hope these donation request letter samples will help you in formulating your own letter. You can change it around, possibly make it more informal or formal depending on your organization and cause. However, make sure you write the letter neatly and choose you diction very carefully. Avoid grandiloquent verbiage and jargon of any kind. Make sure that you use crisp and clear language so that the letter is easy to read and comprehend. Remember, brevity is of essence in such cases, but don't be so sketchy that the reader is left befuddled. Master the art of balancing and donations from all directions shall pour in for your good cause.

Apr 19, 2016 at 21:18 o\clock

So who’s making money publishing on the web?

FORTUNE The web has given rise to a number of notable digital publishers serving almost everyones tastes, from straightforward news to guilty pleasures. For every Pulitzer-winning 10-part series on wounded war veterans, there are just as many frothy posts like the 10 funniest cat GIFs of the week. What about earnings? Some like The Awl have been profitable from the outset; others like Vox Media predict theyll be in the black soon.Heres a snapshot of just several new media businesses and how theyre doing.

Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington. Credit: Twitter.The Huffington Post

New York

Founded: 2005

Readers: 73.1 million worldwide

Employees: Not available. (Estimated:Up to 500.)

Who runs it: Greek author, columnist, and influencer Arianna Huffington

What its known for: Whatisntit known for? In eight years, HuffPost has become one of the most popular news websites in the U.S., with a wide array of content, from hard news and celebrity commentary to aggregated stories from outside outlets and award-winning reportage. In 2012, it was awarded a Pulitzer in National Reporting for a 10-part series on war vets by senior military correspondent David Wood called Beyond the Battlefield.

Backstory: Launched by Huffington, businessman Kenneth Lerer, deceased commentator Andrew Breitbart, and Jonah Peretti, creator of Buzzfeed, as a hub for news, commentary, and select third-party articles. Think Drudge Report, but more mainstream.

Backers: $1 million in initial funding with an additional reported $20 million later, followed by the $315 million acquisition by AOL in 2011.

Business model: Largely composed of digital advertising but also content syndication and e-commerce.

Revenues: Not available, but the outlet once aimed to triple sales from $30 million in 2010 to $100 million last year.

Profitable: Briefly in 2010, but not since its acquisition.

Whats next: Aggressive international expansion and more video across the entire site, according to a HuffPost spokesperson.

Gawker Media

New York

Founded: 2002

Employees: 150

Readers: 40 million worldwide

Who runs it: Founder and CEO Nick Denton.

What its known for: Todays gossip is tomorrows news, is the mission statement theGawkerwebsite likes to go by, and indeed the site made a name for itself with snappy and sometimes laugh-out-loud snarky blog posts riffing or reporting on the latest events. AsThe New Yorkeronce put it, Gawker relied on elegantly jaded bloggers who considered themselves outsiders with nothing to lose. Since then, its expanded with properties like the popular womens blogJezebeland the gadget-orientedGizmodoand remains one of the best examples of successful web publishing.

Backstory: Denton started Gawker in his SoHo apartment, where he ran it for years. The outfit now operates largely from Manhattans Nolita neighbhorhood.

Backers: Self-funded during the companys early years.

Business model: Led by brand advertising programs, but the publisher is also currently developing e-commerce, licensing, and international revenue stream opportunities.

Revenues: Not available, though Denton has said he is looking to grow revenue 40% this year and thinks sales will top $100 million someday.

Profitable: Yes, according to third-party reports, possibly as early as 2006.

Whats next: The launch of a new publishing and discussion platform called Kinja. According to a Gawker spokesperson, Kinja should make authoring content easier for anyone (editor, reader, or marketer) and for discussion to reach new levels of truth and quality.

The Awl co-founder Choire Sicha: It was a terrible recession for people in our field We finally just decided to stop working for those people who didnt care about us. Credit: Jonathan Snyder.The Awl

New York

Founded: 2009

Employees: 15

Readers: 3 million monthly visitors as of this past January. (We only want smart people to read us, co-founder Choire Sicha jokes.)

Who runs it: Ex-Gawker writers Sicha and Alex Balk.

What its known for: Smart, snappy blog posts recapping the days happenings in news, politics, and entertainment. The tone borders on snarky but never crass.

Backstory: It was a rather terrible recession for people in our field, recalls Sicha. Though theyd worked at Gawker, magazines, and newspapers, Sicha and Balk found themselves unemployed. We finally just decided to stop working for those people who didnt care about us.

Backers: Self-funded by Balk and Sicha.

Business model: Advertising.

Revenues: Not available.

Profitable: Yes.

Whats next: A brand-new - - site joining recent additions like the female-focused The Hairpin. Says Sicha: We have the talent and the name, and were looking for a really smart brand. In other words, stay tuned.

Vox Media

Washington D.C. and New York

Founded: 2003

Employees: 200, with 700 freelance writers

Readers: 50 million worldwide

Who runs it: Jim Bankoff. The ex-AOL execs biggest claims to fame include AOLs acquisition of the tech blog Engadget and the creation of the hit Hollywood blog TMZ.

What its known for: Vox operates the sports blog SB Nation, the rapidly growing tech site The Verge, and the recently-launched videogame-focused Polygon. In an age where some sites lean on gimmicky content and endless slideshows to bolster traffic, Bankoff says Vox bucks that trend with quality online journalism and cutting-edge web design.

Backstory: Vox was originally founded by political activist Jerome Armstrong, freelance writer Tyler Bleszinski, and Daily Kos creator Markos Moulitsas as a sports site.

Backers: Accel Partners, Comcast Ventures, and Khosla Ventures, among others, have reportedly chipped in $40 million or so total.

Business model: Primarily display advertising.

Revenues: Not available.

Profitable: By the end of the year.

Whats next: Vox Creative, a digital ad division aimed at helping marketers create attractive and effective online ads. Who really likes web advertising now? No one, because it sucks, Bankoff half-jokes. Advertisers want to shift to digital, but in some cases, the content is not worthy of their brand, and in some cases its just not performing for them. The pairing of high-quality online content and now, a digital ad agency, makes Vox unique, he says.

HuffPost co-founder and Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti. Buzzfeed

New York and Los Angeles

Founded: 2006

Employees: Not available

Readers: 40 million-plus, as ofMarch 2013

Who runs it: HuffPost co-founder Jonah Peretti as CEO, Politico alum Ben Smith as Editor-in-Chief.

What its known for: Lists that go viral like40 Things that Will Make You Feel Old.

Backstory: Peretti built BuzzFeed with the mantra that smart people will carry his property, not unpaid bloggers or unknown Internet users, matching companies like LinkedIn. Now these platforms are all saying, How can we get good content that goes beyond user-generated content?' hetoldFortunelast fall.

Backers: SV Angels Ron Conway, Lerer Ventures, Buddy Media co-founder Michael Lazerow, Softbank Capital, and others contributed $46 million.

Business model: Native advertising, or ads that blend in with the other stories on the site.

Revenues: Not available, although Peretti has said revenues quadrupled through most of 2012. The Wall Street Journal suggested Buzzfeed could generate $40 million in sales this year.

Profitable: Not available.

Whats next: More original videos thanks to web video pioneer Ze Frank.

Business Insider

New York

Founded: 2007

Employees: Not available

Readers: 24 million-plus*

Who runs it: Ex-Wall Street stock analyst Henry Blodget.

What its known for: Swift business news analysis and recaps of third-party news items, but also sensational headlines and extensive slide shows.

Backstory: Ex-Gilt Groupe CEO Kevin P. Ryan and Blodget first drummed up the idea of a tech site, which became Silicon Valley Insider. The site has since expanded into what Business Insider is today. I wasnt thinking, Heres [my] next act, Blodgetrecently toldUSA Today. I was thinking, Heres a real opportunity to do what Ive been doing.'

Backers: Amazon AMZN CEO Jeff Bezos, Andreessen Horowitzs partner Marc Andreessen, and RRE Ventures, to name a few.

Business model: Advertising and more recently, conferences.

Revenues: Roughly $12 million in 2012, according to aNew Yorkerprofile on Blodget.

Profitable: A small,undisclosed profitduring the first quarter of this year.

Whats next: Acquisition at least eventually. Blodget allegedly expects the site tobecome part of a larger enterprise or become the larger enterprise.

SAY Media co-founder and CEO Matt Sanchez: Youre going to see us now get really focused on what weve been building more so than vast expansion. Credit: SAY Media.SAY Media

San Francisco and New York

Founded: 2005

Employees: 400

Readers: 20 million

Who runs it: Co-founder Matt Sanchez.

What its known for: An umbrella of style, tech, and lifestyle websites including the tech site ReadWrite, acquired in 2011, SplatF, a tech blog penned by former Business Insider founding member Dan Frommer, and the female-focused xoJane, from Sassy Magazine founder Jane Pratt.

Backstory: SAY is the result of VideoEgg, a video publishing and sharing network, co-founded by Yale alums David Lerman, Kevin Sladek, and Sanchez.We were selling a lot of advertising on lots of fun sites, and wed done a lot with the ad experience but couldnt control the rest of the page, explains Sanchez, who felt somewhat shut out from the burgeoning personal publishing movement and saw an opportunity to evolve the online reading experience just as much as VideoEgg had done with advertising. Soin 2010, VideoEgg acquired the software company Six Apart and rebranded itself to SAY Media. The focus became its ad network and online editorial content with what Sanchez emphasizes has a point of view.

Backers: NEA, Maveron, and First Round Capital and others have reportedly invested over $60 million since 2005.

Business model: Ad-based, although SAY is beginning to dabble in commerce also, with the goal of enabling readers to more directly purchase items they read about on various sites.

Revenues: Not available.

Profitable: No, later this year.

Whats next: Besides the recent acquisition of the teenage online mag Rookie? Building out the brands we have, says Sanchez. The last two years have been transforming from ad network to media company. I think youre going to see us now really get focused on what weve been building more so than vast expansion of our front line. Layoffs too. Today the company said it was laying off 10% of its staff as it transitions from an ad network to a more editorially driven site.

*Source: Google Analytics

Apr 19, 2016 at 19:54 o\clock

How the Maker of TurboTax Fought Free, Simple Tax Filing

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. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Update, April 14, 2016: In 2013, we detailed how Intuit has lobbied against allowing the government to estimate your taxes for you. So this week, we called Intuit and asked if they still oppose free, government-prepared returns. The answer: Yes. Our legislative, our policy position on that hasnt changed, said spokeswoman Julie Miller. She called Intuit a staunch opponent to government prepared tax returns. Meanwhile, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a bill yesterday to allow free government-prepped returns. Her office also released a report on the tax industrys opposition to simpler filing solutions. It cited the article below as well as another story we did on how a rabbi, civil rights activist, and others were misled into supporting Intuits campaign.

This story was co-produced with NPR.

Imagine filing your income taxes in five minutes and for free. You'd open up a pre-filled return, see what the government thinks you owe, make any needed changes and be done. The miserable annual IRS shuffle, gone.

It's already a reality in Denmark, Sweden and Spain. The government-prepared return would estimate your taxes using information your employer and bank already send it. Advocates say tens of millions of taxpayers could use such a system each year, saving them a collective $2 billion and 225 million hours in prep costs and time, according to one estimate.

The idea, known as "return-free filing," would be a voluntary alternative to hiring a tax preparer or using commercial tax software. The concept has been around for decades and has been endorsed by both President Ronald Reagan and a campaigning President Obama.

"This is not some pie-in-the-sky that's never been done before," said William Gale, co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. "It's doable, feasible, implementable, and at a relatively low cost."

So why hasn't it become a reality?

Well, for one thing, it doesn't help that it's been opposed for years by the company behind the most popular consumer tax software Intuit, maker of TurboTax. Conservative tax activist Grover Norquist and an influential computer industry group also have fought return-free filing.

Intuit has spent about $11.5 million on federal lobbying in the past five years more than Apple or Amazon. Although the lobbying spans a range of issues, Intuit's disclosures pointedly note that the company "opposes IRS government tax preparation."

The disclosures show that Intuit as recently as 2011 lobbied on two bills, both of which died, that would have allowed many taxpayers to file pre-filled returns for free. The company also lobbied on bills in 2007 and 2011 that would have barred the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, from initiating return-free filing.

Intuit argues that allowing the IRS to act as a tax preparer could result in taxpayers paying more money. It is also a member of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which sponsors a "STOP IRS TAKEOVER" campaign and a website calling return-free filing a "massive expansion of the U.S. government through a big government program."

In an emailed statement, Intuit spokeswoman Julie Miller said, "Like many other companies, Intuit actively participates in the political process." Return-free programs curtail citizen participation in the tax process, she said, and also have "implications for accuracy and fairness in taxation." (Here is Intuit's full statement.)

In its latest annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, however, Intuit also says that free government tax preparation presents a risk to its business.

Roughly 25 million Americans used TurboTax last year, and a recent GAO analysis said the software accounted for more than half of individual returns filed electronically. TurboTax products and services made up 35 percent of Intuit's $4.2 billion in total revenues last year. Versions of TurboTax for individuals and small businesses range in price from free to $150.

(H&R Block, whose tax filing product H&R Block At Home competes with TurboTax, declined to discuss return-free filing with ProPublica. The company's disclosure forms state that it also has lobbied on at least one bill related to return-free filing.)

* * *

Proponents of return-free filing say Intuit and other critics are exaggerating the risks of government involvement. No one would be forced to accept the IRS accounting of their taxes, they say, so there's little to fear.

"It's voluntary," Austan Goolsbee, who served as the chief economist for the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, told ProPublica. "If you don't trust the government, you don't have to do it."

Goolsbee has written in favor of the idea and published the estimate of $2 billion in saved preparation costs in a 2006 paper that also said return-free "could signicantly reduce the time lag in resolving disputes https://penzu.com/p/caf9e627 - arcade hacked games - and accelerate the time to receive a refund."

Other advocates point out that the IRS would be doing essentially the same work it does now. The agency would simply share its tax calculation before a taxpayer files rather than afterward when it checks a return.

"When you make an appointment for a car to get serviced, the service history is all there. Since the IRS already has all that info anyway, it's not a big challenge to put it in a format where we could see it," said Paul Caron, a tax professor at University of Cincinnati College of Law. "For a big slice of the population, that's 100 percent of what's on their tax return."

Taxpayers would have three options when they receive a pre-filled return: accept it as is; make adjustments, say to filing status or income; or reject it and file a return by other means.

"I've been shocked as a tax person and citizen that this hasn't happened by now," Caron said.

Some conservative activists have sided with Intuit.

In 2005, Norquist testified before the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform arguing against return-free filing. The next year, Norquist and others wrote in a letter to President Bush that getting an official-looking "bill" from the IRS could be "extremely intimidating, particularly for seniors, low-income and non-English speaking citizens."

Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, declined to comment, but a spokesman pointed to a letter he and other conservatives sent this month to members of Congress. The letter says the IRS wants to "socialize all tax preparation in America" to get higher tax revenues. (Update 4/18: Norquist's spokesman, John Kartch, disputes that "Norquist declined comment." During the course of reporting the story, we contacted Kartch to get a comment from Norquist, to which Kartch simply referred us to the letter.)

A year after Norquist wrote Bush, a bill to limit return-free filing was introduced by a pair of unlikely allies: Reps. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the conservative House majority leader, and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a liberal stalwart whose district includes Silicon Valley.

Intuit's political committee and employees have contributed to both. Cantor and his leadership PAC have received $26,100 in the past five years from the company's PAC and employees. In the last two years, the Intuit PAC and employees donated $26,000 to Lofgren.

A spokeswoman said in an email that Cantor "doesn't believe the IRS should be in the business of filling out your tax returns for you," and that the bill was designed to "prevent the IRS from circumventing Congress."

Lofgren did not respond to requests for comment.

* * *

Intuit did not issue public statements on the return-free filing bills, but CCIA President Ed Black has called return-free filing "brilliantly Machiavellian." When Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Dan Coats, R-Ind., introduced a bipartisan tax reform bill in 2011 that included a return-free plan called "Easyfile," Norquist blasted it.

"The clear goal of this measure is to raise taxes in a way that leaves politicians with clean hands," he wrote in a letter to the two senators.

Political opposition hasn't been the only hurdle. Supporters say return-free filing has been overshadowed in a tax debate that has focused more on rates, deductions and deficits.

Further, return-free filing would not be available to everyone. It's best for the slice of taxpayers with straightforward returns who don't itemize or claim various credits.

Still, past studies estimate that this group might include 40 percent of filers or more; the IRS expects to process 147 million individual returns this year.

In separate reports, the CCIA and a think tank that Intuit helps sponsor argue that potential costs outweigh return-free filing's benefits. Among other things, the reports say that not many taxpayers are likely to use return-free, that new data reporting requirements could raise costs for employers, and that taxpayers could face new privacy and security risks.

The reports and Intuit also note that many taxpayers can already get free tax filing through the Free File Alliance, a consortium involving the IRS and a handful of companies. But last tax year, only about 3 million filers had used Free File, according to a Treasury tally through April 28.

In an SEC filing, Intuit said it provided about 1.2 million free federal returns for the 2011 tax season. The company and competitors typically advertise free federal filing on the Web but also pitch other paid services, such as filing certain state returns.

Government studies have split about whether a return-free system would save or cost the IRS money, according to a 2003 Treasury report. Unless the tax code was simplified, the report said, it would add work for employers and the IRS, which would have to process tax records sooner.

Some independent tax experts see potential problems with a return-free system.

Eric Toder, co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, said the IRS, "an overpressed agency that's being asked to do a lot of things," shouldn't be asked to do what software companies could easily do.

James Maule, a professor at Villanova University School of Law, said the average taxpayer probably wouldn't scrutinize a pre-filled return for accuracy or potential credits. "Some people might get this thing that says this is your tax bill and just pay it, like with property tax bills," said Maule.

* * *

So far, the only true test case for return-free filing in the U.S. has been in Intuit's home state.

In 2005, California launched a pilot program called ReadyReturn. As it fought against the program over the next five years, Intuit spent more than $3 million on overall lobbying and political campaigns in the state, according to Dennis J. Ventry Jr., a professor at UC Davis School of Law who specializes in tax policy and legal ethics.

Explaining the company's stance, Intuit spokeswoman Miller told the Los Angeles Times in 2006 that it was "a fundamental conflict of interest for the state's tax collector and enforcer to also become people's tax preparer."

The following month, an ad in The Sacramento Bee, paid for by the CCIA, cautioned "Taxpayers beware" and said ReadyReturn "could be very harmful to taxpayers." The ad pointed to a now-defunct website, taxthreat.com, opposing ReadyReturn.

Former California Republican legislator Tom Campbell recalls being surprised at the opposition.

"The government imposed the income tax burden in the first place," he told ProPublica. "So if it wants to make it easier, for heaven's sake, why not?"

In a Los Angeles Times op-ed at the time, Campbell wrote he "never saw as clear a case of lobbying power putting private interests first over public benefit."

Joseph Bankman, a Stanford Law School professor who helped design ReadyReturn, says he spent close to $30,000 of his own money to hire a lobbyist to defend the program in the legislature. Intuit made political contributions to scores of legislative candidates, Bankman said, and gave $1 million in 2006 to a group backing a ReadyReturn opponent for state controller.

ReadyReturn survived, but with essentially no marketing budget it is not widely known. Fewer than 90,000 California taxpayers used it last year although those who do use it seem to be happy. Ninety-eight percent of users who filled out a survey said they would use it again. The state's tax agency has also praised ReadyReturns, saying they are cheaper to process than paper returns.

Bankman thinks national return-free filing could make many others happy, too. "We'd have tens of millions of taxpayers," he said, "no longer find April 15 a day of frustration and anxiety."

GET INVOLVED:Help us chart the cost/benefits of federal income tax prep services by telling us how you are filing.Want to keep up with stories like this? Follow ProPublica on Facebook and Twitter.

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Apr 17, 2016 at 10:57 o\clock

Top Sites to Submit Your Coupon Code Promo for Free

The best way to focus your marketing efforts locally is by creating mini cards or folded business cards and handing them out around town.

How to Create Business Cards

Moo.com is little online printing company that I use to create mini cards. They have some great-looking designs that you can use, or you can create your own by uploading pictures and editing the text. If you choose the second option, you can easily import your favorite photos from social sites like Facebook, Etsy, Flickr, Picasa, and Smugmug. On the other side of the card you can add your - - business information, phone number, coupon code, and website. There are many customization options to choose from including font, colors, size, and text background.

Places to Promote Your Business Cards

The best way to use business cards is to define your target market and focus your efforts on putting your cards in front of those people. Your target market will depend on what type of product or business you are promoting. Make a list of the type of people likely to use your products and services. For example, if your business is related to nutrition and exercise, you would list things like outdoors enthusiasts, healthy parents, runners, cyclists, gym goers, doctors, etc.

The next step is to make a list of places where you can find the type of people who would be interested in your company. Using the health and nutrition example, you can find the types of people in the previous list in places like gyms, health food stores, yoga studios, stores that have a fitness equipment section, coffee shops, etc.

Next is the fun part! You get to go around to these types of places and reach your target market. Visit these businesses and ask to leave a couple of cards with a special discount for their customers. Most places are happy to display your cards. The only time one may have a problem is if you are competing with it directly, perhaps by selling something that it already sells.

After you have reached your target market, you can start advertising to other areas as well. Sometimes you can get away with setting up your cards in busy public areas without asking. The best places to try this is the airport, public libraries, restaurant bathrooms, colleges and universities in their student lounges, mall food courts, waiting rooms (auto repair shops, doctor's offices, hair salons etc), magazine stands, grocery carts, and as many other places you can think of.

Another great way to get your business cards and coupon codes out there is to send them with your shipments to customers, gifts to friends and family, and any other piece of mail you send out. Family and friends are usually willing to help (if they need further convincing, you can try baking them some cookies) by bringing your cards with them to their workplaces or churches and handing them out to their friends. You can also enlist younger people to bring your business cards to school with them.

Apr 16, 2016 at 12:49 o\clock

Clear-cutting destabilizes carbon in forest soils, study finds

Clear-cutting destabilizes carbon in forest soils, study finds

Clear-cutting destabilizes carbon in forest soils, Dartmouth study findsClear-cutting loosens up carbon stored in forest soils, increasing the chances it will return to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and contribute to climate change, a Dartmouth College study shows. Credit: talaakso via Foter.com / CC BY

Clear-cutting loosens up carbon stored in forest soils, increasing the chances it will return to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and contribute to climate change, a Dartmouth College study shows.

The findings appear in the journal Soil Science.

Soil is the world's largest terrestrial carbon pool. In northern hardwood forests in the United States, mineral soil pools store up to 50 - - percent of total ecosystem carbon. Logging and other land-use changes are a major cause of soil carbon release, but there has been recent interest to further understand soil carbon dynamics in forested ecosystems after logging. This is of particular importance in the northeastern U.S. because of the great potential for the use of biomass as part of a diversified renewable energy portfolio.

The Dartmouth researchers explored whether clear-cutting changes the strength of the chemical bonds of carbon stored in mineral soils in hardwood forests in the northeastern United States. Clear-cutting involves harvesting all timber from a site at once rather than selectively culling mature trees. Carbon is stored in soil by binding only to certain soil structures.

The researchers collected soils from recently clear-cut forests and from older forests, and pulled carbon from the soil in a sequence of gentle to stronger extractions. The results showed that mature forest stands stored significantly more soil organic carbon in strongly mineral-bound and stable carbon pools than did soils from cut stands.

"Clear-cutting forests has an effect of mobilizing the carbon, making it more likely to leave the soil and end up in the atmosphere," says senior author Andrew Friedland, a professor of environmental studies. "These findings are important because differences in the relative distribution of carbon in organo-mineral pools in mature and cut forests may inform our understanding of soil organic matter stability and bioavailability, microbial decomposition and carbon dioxide production in ecosystems after clear-cutting."

Explore further:Wood not so green a biofuel

More information:Soil Science, dx.doi.org/10.1097/SS.0000000000000147 , journals.lww.com/soilsci/Abstract/publishahead/Evidence_for_Losses_From_Strongly_Bound_SOM_Pools.99634.aspx

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Apr 13, 2016 at 22:57 o\clock

Promotional Products & your Business Logo by Michiel Van Kets

There are many aspects to running a business and one of the most important is to get your business noticed. Advertising, promotional products, and marketing campaigns are central to every business if you are to make people aware of you and your products, remember you, and get those all important sales.

Promotional merchandise can do wonders for sales, but first you need to identify your target market and choose items they will appreciate and welcome. Known to be successful as a marketing tool, items can be imprinted, embroidered, or embossed with your logo to get the brand seen and recognised.

Putting your name on something as normal as a pen or mousepad might not sound like a particularly effective way to promote your products, however it is often the simplest ideas that work the best. Promotional items are popular with the general public and if they are given them for free then you really can't go wrong. Some of the most popular items popular as giveaways are useful products, such as t-shirts, mugs, bags, and keyrings. They can really help promote your business, use them to raise awareness of a new product, draw attention to sale items, show you are a sponsor for a particular cause, or as giveaways at a special event.

Choosing effective promotional products is particularly important in your campaign, otherwise you are just throwing money away. If your target audience is schoolchildren then coffee mugs aren't really going to be relative, consider colourful stationery items or money boxes to get their attention, whereas if you want to attract males in their 20's or 30's you could look at car products, handyman items, or sports bottles. Selecting the right promotional gifts for your intended audience will make the difference between whether it is a success or not.

Marketing departments want a strategy where they get maximum exposure, in a competitive market where there are so many other companies selling the same or similar items it's necessary to get your name and logo out there where it is instantly recognizable. The more exposure you get the greater the publics trust in your products and, even if you are more expensive than competitors, the public will be inclined to spend more buying your goods as they know and recognize your brand name. Trust in your products will give you a larger share of the market and push those sales up.

A marketing strategy might incorporate a number of methods to advertise, including advertising on TV and radio, placing ads in newspapers and magazines and renting billboard space. However these all cost a considerable amount of money and mostly they are seen for those few seconds/minutes and then forgotten about.

Imprinting your brand name or logo onto promotional merchandise is well-known for being one of the most effective marketing techniques around, and companies the world over use them. Ensure you invest in items that are going to be used, otherwise they will simply be placed in a drawer and never looked at again.

Everybody uses promotional pens, and you can't go wrong with this kind of practical item, buy highlighters, plastic or metal pens, or board markers in a range of shapes and colours in bulk and give them out to your clients, customers and staff to be seen by thousands. Keyrings are also ideal for promotions and trade shows and an item needed by everyone, with their house and car keys attached your logo will be seen every day. Keyrings can be purchased in plastic or metal and double as a bottle opener, with a flashlight attached, or even engraved. Give coffee mugs, diaries or folders out to your clients to distribute amongst their offices, used on a regular basis they're guaranteed to get your brand seen without costing you a fortune. Promotional polo shirts are another popular option for companies to get their logo advertised for next to nothing.

Sending the right message out to your target audience is crucial for a successful business. Promotional products can help you achieve this. Look online and you'll find a broad selection of items to choose from.

Apr 10, 2016 at 10:56 o\clock

The best promotional lunch bag giveaways for your advertising needs!

For the best bang per buck from your promotional budget, look no further than the cool range of lunch bags from Woven Lunch Bags. These stylish items are a great way to increase your visibility in the community and to create a long term brand recall for your organization. These lunch bag coolers are quite the perfect gift for a wide range of demographics among your clients and customer base.

These non-woven lunch bags are made of 80 gram non-woven, coated water-resistant polypropylene. They have foil laminated PE foam insulation to keep the contents hot or cold as required. They have two pockets, zippered closure, and 21" handles, and are available in Royal Blue, Lime Green, Red, Orange, and Purple. Whether they are for your employees, as performance awards or for giveaway promotional drives at conventions, trade fairs, health fairs, community festivals, or home shows, the lunch bag coolers are true value for your money.

Promotional products and giveaways are a great way to maintain a high visibility in the community, and to enhance your brands recall and callback rates at the lowest possible expense. It keeps your brand name and logo in the public eye on an almost daily basis, and practical gifts like these tiffin coolers have a large appeal for a cross section of demographics within your target groups. Whether the recipient is a school age person, a student, a commuter, a soccer mom, or almost anything else, chances are that they need, and use, a lunch bag cooler.

In addition to the normal advantages of a promotional item, such as increased visibility and longer recall for a lower cost, these lunch bag coolers also add an eco friendly dimension to your organizations image. Globally, corporations and clients prefer to do business with a reputation for environmental responsibility. With these lunch bag coolers you can join those ranks by demonstrating to your clientele that you are committed to reducing the use of paper and plastic bags, and are encouraging the use of reusable products. These items are eminently useful, completely practical, and very definitely reusable. So, choosing your promotional item from the long list available at Action Printing Inc., could be just what your brand needs.

This range of lunch bag coolers will set your brand apart, make them distinct from all others in your peer group, and give you a much better exposure than all other items could. Being less commonly used as promotional products, lunch bags give you an extra edge in a market where everyone is trying to make their mark. They also give you a wide range of exposure at a wide range of locations from kids soccer games to office picnics, from school lunchrooms to the beach. Being really useful items, they tend to also get adapted to numerous other uses, from keeping veggies fresh on a road trip to bringing ice cream home from the store. Useful for keeping anything hot or cold for longer, they are more likely to be retained by the recipient, maintaining your visibility for longer.

Apr 6, 2016 at 22:57 o\clock

An Easy Way To Make Money From Home With No Experience

There are thousands of ways to make money from home. All you need is a computer, an Internet connection, and the willingness to commit some time and do some work. Those are the only qualifications you need. You don't need to be super intelligent. You don't need any specialized computer skills or knowledge, and you don't need a website. Following are a few easy ways to make money from home.

One quick and easy way to make money is by filling out surveys online. Manufacturing companies and service providers companies are always researching techniques to improve their products. One way that they do this research is by having people fill out surveys. And they are willing to pay people to provide them with this information.

In most cases, the companies themselves don't send out surveys, they pay a survey company to do it for them. You can find these survey companies by doing a search for paid surveys. My daughter made some easy money using these programs. When selecting which companies to deal with, be mindful of the minimum amount required before they will send you a check. Look for companies that have the lowest minimums. Before registering, you should get a throw away email account, and use that account to sign up. Do not use your primary email account with these companies because you will get tons of spam. You can get an email account through Yahoo or Gmail.

After - - signing up with a survey provider, fill out the information regarding your likes, dislikes and hobbies. Be honest and thorough when providing this information as this is what determines which surveys they will send you. To maximize your earnings, register with several survey providers. You will not get rich filling out surveys, but you can easily make $20 or more per month, depending on the time you are willing to commit.

Do you want to learn how I make money from home? Get all the details in this free ebook!

Apr 3, 2016 at 10:57 o\clock

Can I use 2 manufacturers coupons on 2 items theyre both $1 off 2 so technically I won't be using 2 coupons on one item?

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