Thursday, January 27, 2011

Some Thoughts for the Day

I hope you all enjoy these. Sometimes it's the simplest ideas that bring us the most understanding.

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The power of Love isn’t the miracle… the miracle is Love its self. ~ F Woodman Jr.

He who gains victory over other men is strong but he who gains a victory over himself is all-powerful. ~Lao-Tze

The man who follows a crowd will never be followed by a crowd. ~ R.S. Donnell

A hug is truly the most powerful way to subdue an enemy. ~ F Woodman Jr.

People don’t judge you on the basis of your mistakes but the manner in which you own up to them ~Jason Fried


Bank of American and Countrywide Finally Face Fraud Charges

Finally we see some legal action on the Countywide mortgage scandal as Bank of American (now owner of Countrywide) faces law suites over questionable ratings of the mortgage backed securities Countrywide sold during the last few years before the mortgage meltdown.

Lets hope that someone is finally held accountable for part of this mess and is made to admit that greed and corruption were the underlying causes of the current mortgage mess we are in.

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Bank of America sued by mortgage investors for “massive fraud”

Bank of America’s Countrywide mortgage operation was accused of “massive fraud” in a suit by big investors who say they were misled about the quality of mortgage-backed securities.

A dozen institutional investors, including TIAA-CREF Life Insurance Co. and New York Life Insurance Co., filed the complaint Jan. 24 in New York state Supreme Court, according to Bloomberg News.

The litigation is the latest salvo in a battle between BofA, the largest bank doing business in the Wichita area, and institutional investors over mortgage-backed securities and the quality of the loans backing those investments.

“We will review the suit, but on first glance these sound like large, sophisticated investors who now want to blame someone for the fact that the declining economy caused their investment to lose value,” said BofA (NYSE: BAC) spokeswoman Shirley Norton.

In the suit, the investors say they purchased Countryside’s mortgage-backed securities, seeking a low-risk investment. But the plaintiffs allege that Countrywide’s documentation on the mortgage-backed securities was knowingly false. BofA acquired Countrywide in 2008.

“Countrywide was an enterprise driven by only one purpose — to originate and securitize as many mortgage loans as possible into MBS to generate profits for the Countrywide defendants without regard to the investors that relied on the critical, false information provided to them with respect to the related certificates,” according to the suit.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is a Site to Opt Out Of?

A recent post by Jared Brickman caught my eye as I’m always looking for new security issues and online privacy dangers and problems. And with sites like FaceBook always challenging our online privacy I was more than interested to hear about And while I hadn't heard of Spokeo before Jared’s post it only shows the rapid growth of information brokers’ sites and services that can be found on line.

Now with this information comes the confusing question of what if anything I should do about it?

For this is an example of the confusing nature of privacy on line. Many of us spend our online time blogging, tweeting, commenting, and getting Google and others search engines to index it all so it can be found. Then along comes a site like Spokeo that is set up to compile data from many sites, blogs, indexes, and data bases that provides just such public access. But since it’s a site we know little about and have no control over what they show and can only opt out of being listed or leave any search results available we have to decide; Do we opt out of being listed on, or leave our listing there and available?

And while Jared elected to opt out, honestly, I personally am still considering what I want to do.

For on the one hand it's a site that is kind of scary as it is a very comprehensive collection of information that I'm not sure I want available all at one site. But on the other hand it's all information that's available anyway and most if not all of it is on Google or other search engines already. And I’m also sure that even if I opt out of Spokeo another site just like it is either out there now or soon will be.

So does opting out of Spokeo really changing anything or do I just have to accept that mega personal search sites are something I have to learn to live with?

Right now I’m just not sure which choice I will end up making.

Anyway you might want to check out and see what info they’ve collected on you. And if you find that information something you don’t want to share the instructions on how to opt out of Spokeo are included from Jared’s post.

Just let me know did you decide to stay or did you decide to opt out?
And do you think is a danger to online privacy or just another search engine?

Instructions on opting out of from Jared’s post.
1) Go here:
2) Search your name or user name
3) Click your listing
4) Copy the full URL from the browser address bar
5) Click privacy (in the footer)
6) Fill out the form
7) Click the link in the confirmation email
And feel the relief of being weirdo-directory site free (at least until the next one comes around).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Angel Investors List for Twitter and FaceBook

If you're searching for an angle investor this list should help. It's nice to know and follow such investors before you contact them. And if you are an angel investor they will add you to the list so contact them.

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Angel Investors on Twitter and Facebook

One of the best ways to develop a relationship with an angel investor is to stalk them on Twitter, their blogs and Facebook. Before contacting an angel, you should read everything they've written, tweeted, blogged or said (publicly)--that's just startup 101.

We've complied lists of some of the world's most notable angel investors (sorted by location), their Twitter handle, Facebook page and links to a sampling of their investments.

Angel Investors by Region

Are you an angel (or do you know one) who'd like to be on our list? Fill out the form below and we'll make sure to include you.

If you spot an error or omission, please email us at and tell us about it.


Watch out for GPS Problems in the Southeastern US

This article shares some interesting information (though sketchy) about GPS problems that will exist in the Southeastern US between January 20th and February 22nd.

It seems the government will be doing something (they call them tests) that will make GPS in that area be either off or unreliable for a large part of the time.

And while they say they will notify pilots of when these test will take place they don't mention how or even if they will alert drivers and others.

So be warned and watch out using or relying on GPS in that area during that time and mention it to anyone you know that might be affected.

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FAA warns of ongoing GPS issues in southeastern US due to Defense Department 'tests'

Don't panic, but anyone planning on using GPS in the southeastern US for the next month or so will likely want to make sure they have a fallback option. That's according to a flight advisory just issued by the FAA, which warns pilots that their GPS signal "may be unreliable or unavailable" due to "GPS tests" that the Department of Defense will be conducting between January 20th and February 22nd. Details are fairly light beyond that, but the FAA does note that when the "tests" occur they will be active for 45 minutes, and be followed by 15 minutes of off time -- additional notices to pilots will apparently be issued at least 24 hours prior to any test. Of course, while this particular advisory is directed at pilots, it will presumably will also affect all other GPS devices, as the FAA doesn't mention any GPS issues specific to aviation. The real question, however, is just what those mysterious "GPS tests" are -- if they're, in fact, GPS tests at all...

[Thanks, Brady]

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Robotic Manufacturing a Blessing... or a Curse?

As we see in this video robotic manufacturing today is something right out of Star Trek. And it's given us so many of the amazing technological toys and tools we have came to use and enjoy everyday that it's hard to find fault with it.

But this video also shows the amazing amount of manufacturing work that never sees the touch of a human hand today. And while that's good for the cost and efficiency of the products being made it's a disaster for the people who now have no job due to automation.

So how do we both keep our technology and all the wonderful things it provides for us and still find enough employment to keep everyone working. That is a question that will trouble us for some time to come and will only become worse as we see more and more jobs taken over by the very technology we have came to love.

As with so may of our questions today the answers will not come easy and while we have came to love our technology we will also come to hate it's encroachment into our lives and lively hood.

So take a few minutes and enjoy the video. That's still something that a machine can't do for you, at least not yet!

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Two of the major themes in the public eye here in the US are the outsourcing of jobs abroad and the current economic crisis. We’ve recently explored how workers in the US are (rightfully?) concerned about losing jobs to robots as well as to overseas factories. I think the video above shows that these are, in fact, competing interests. Look at the work done in Asia: is there any doubt that many of the steps humans are performing could be automated? The plugging in of cards for testing, the assembling of components, the placement of products in packaging – I could imagine a robot doing any of these tasks. Which probably means that, in a few years or so, they will. Asia, with its relatively cheap labor markets, is where we have exported manufacturing jobs. Yet if these processes become as automated as the wafer factories in Utah would labor costs still be the deciding factor?

When you watch the following video, I want you to compare the creation of the silicon wafers in Utah to the rest of the assembly and testing performed in Asia. The wafer building at Micron Technology (which owns Lexar, by the way) displays a minimum of human presence, even if it has “thousands of workers.” The factories in Asia are very different. Starting around 3:28, the process goes from being almost purely robotic to relying more on human-machine cooperation.
Every product in your home tells a story. Listening to the memory card in your camera or computer will give you a sneak peak into the international world of automated manufacturing. Lexar Media is one of the largest producers of memory chips (SD cards, memory sticks, keydrives, CompactFlash, etc), and they recently released a promo that shows the start to finish process for their goods. What does this video demonstrate? Total automation domination. From the creation of the silicon wafer in Utah to the packaging of the final product in Asia , machines are center stage. Watching these slick industrial robots do their thing is something else. You have to check out the video below and see what I mean. Considering how crucial automation is in modern production, maybe the big surprise at this point isn’t the robotic dominance but that Lexar still employs so many humans.

As robots get cheaper and better you have to pay your workers less and less to compete. At some point, machines win. And not just in manufacturing – automation is creeping in at all levels of the economy, including research science. In the years ahead, human labor is likely to be removed from any repetitive task. Manufacturing, tech services, legal research and other fields could try to make their way to even cheaper labor markets, but I think that robots will ultimately make such geographic concerns a thing of the past. Watching Lexar’s tour through their creation process leaves little doubt that the domination of automation is well underway. It’s only going to get more robotic from here.


For What It's Worth a Little Humor

I think this revision to the 1040 is long over due.

Google Voice Now Offers Number Porting

Google voice has taken another big step forward with the announcement of existing number porting. And that ability to port numbers is going to really allow the service to gain traction.

I know that from my use of Google voice it's a great service but it lacked the ability of people to port existing numbers over to it which greatly limited peoples interest in using it due to the hindrance of its requiring a new number.

With this limitation gone it's going to finally come of age and it spells lots of potential trouble for other phone service providers. For Google voice is both free and allows for calls to most other phones in the United States. So unlike services like Skype that only allow free calls to other Skype users Google allows free calls to about 90% of the US.

So I predict that once this service and its features really become know to more people it's going to take off like a rocket. This is just another area Google is using to gain even more ground in becoming an all inclusive player in just about every area of our lives.

And its things like Google voice that will keep other sites and services from gaining on Google. For none of their competitors not even Microsoft or FaceBook combine so many services as does Google. And unless FaceBook or Microsoft buys a service like Skype or Vonage they certainly have no easy way to enter into the phone market.

It's amazing to me that Google has quietly entered the areas of phone service, internet TV, online business apps, cell phone OS's, and kept its ranking at the top of search and yet few have taken much notice. For IMO it's Google's diversity and growth into a company that is everywhere that dooms all the companies and services like Microsoft or FaceBook from ever pushing it out of number one.

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Google Voice Is About To Take Off: Number Porting Coming Soon For $20

We’ve been huge fans of Google Voice for quite a while now — it makes screening calls and managing multiple phones a breeze — but there’s always been a huge thorn in its side: it didn’t allow people to port their existing phone numbers over. In other words, in order to take advantage of all of Google Voice’s benefits, you’d have to get a new phone number. Now, after years of waiting, that’s finally changing: Google has quietly enabled number porting for Google Voice.

Update: Google tells us that this is currently just a test available to some users and is not rolling out to everyone yet. However, it seems likely that a wide scale launch is coming soon.

Here’s a statement from Google:

“We’re continually testing new features to enhance the user experience. For a limited amount of time, we’re making the Google Voice number porting process available to users. We don’t have any additional details to share at this time, but plan to offer this feature to all users in the near future.”

The feature was first noticed by Engadget, and I’m seeing it in my Google Voice account as well. The process appears to be fairly straightforward (and yet terrifying at the same time): tell Google your existing cell phone number, agree to some strongly worded warnings, pay $20, and you should be in business.

You can see screenshots of the process below.

Oh, about those warnings. Transferring your number to Google Voice isn’t exactly painless — depending on your current carrier agreement you may have to deal with some steep early termination fees (ETFs) that can run hundreds of dollars. That means you should think twice about doing this (as the warnings make clear). And all of you who are about to buy shiny new Verizon iPhones may want to consider doing so under a new phone number, so that you can transfer your existing number to Google Voice.

This could be a turning point for the service. Up until now many people have only been able to take advantage of a limited set of Google Voice’s features (namely, voicemail) because they didn’t have a way to port their ‘real’ phone numbers over. Google Voice supports deep integration with Android, and comes pre-installed on stock Android builds, so plenty of people are going to be exposed to it, too.

I’ve been using Google Voice with my primary phone for over a year now, after the team offered to port my phone number over to the service (I was under the impression that it would be released for ‘everyone else’ much sooner than this). My experience has generally been quite positive, save for a series of downtime issues a couple months ago.

Yes, Google Voice will probably be a bit confusing to some people — it takes some getting used to the idea that one number can ring multiple phones. But think about where this is heading. Right now, you can make and receive phone calls using your Google Voice number directly from Gmail (which is awesome). Now imagine being able to do the same from your Google TV (which sports Android), your tablet computer, or any other Internet-connected device. It’s not there yet, but it’s only a matter of time.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Reporting Issues for Small Business Corporations Will Catch Many Unaware

Working with taxes and the business reporting requirements for small businesses is a little like being a life guard during shark season. There are the usual dangers of drowning and all the swimmers know about those but there are also the special dangers of shark attack and many of the swimmers aren't aware of those dangers.

Well the sharks (IRS) are at again and with the help of new government regulations will be requiring new reporting requirements for stock and business indebtedness activities.

These are issues that can result in sever penalties but will be missed by many small business owners and sadly even those who have their taxes prepared and their accounting done by professionals won't be advised of these dangers.

So be aware that it's changes like those described in this post that show the need to be sure that you are not only receiving accounting and tax advice but overall advice on all areas of business compliance.

These new Organizational Actions regulations along with the new health care provisions are going to make some of the biggest changes in reporting and compliance requirements for small businesses that have ever taken place.

So be sure that you keep abreast of and consult with advisers that can help with all areas of your business.

Other wise the sharks may come calling.

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Are You Ready for New IRS “Organizational Actions” Regs?

The United States has a “voluntary” tax system, which means that taxpayers must compute their own tax liability and report (and pay) it to the IRS. Unfortunately for Uncle Sam, not everyone volunteers. The result is a “tax gap”– the difference between tax liability imposed by law for a given tax year and the amount of tax actually paid. For calendar year 2001 (the most recent year for which data is available), the IRS estimated the tax gap (prior to any enforcement activities) at around $345 billion. That’s a 16.3 percent noncompliance rate.

One approach that Congress has used to close the tax gap has been to impose additional require-ments for reporting information to the IRS. These requirements often get little publicity and can catch taxpayers by surprise. One recent example is new Code section 6045B, enacted in 2008 and effective January 1, 2011.

This provision requires any issuer of stock or indebtedness to file a return within 45 days de-scribing any organizational action that affects the basis of that security. It must also describe the quantitative effect on the basis of the security resulting from the action.

What counts as an “organizational action”? Distributions in excess of a corporation’s earnings and profits, stock splits, mergers, and acquisitions, among other things.

The requirements apply to almost all shares of stock — public and private, domestic and foreign — of any entity treated as a corporation for Federal income tax purposes. The only exceptions are for stock of money market funds and of corporations whose shareholders are “exempt recipients” (such as other corporations, tax exempt entities, or governmental entities).

What if you can’t determine all the facts you need to make the “quantitative effect” calculation within the 45-day filing period? The rules allow you to use reasonable assumptions, provided you file a corrected return within 45 days of determining a different result. If you can’t determine what portion of a distribution is a dividend, you must treat the entire amount of the distribution as a dividend.

Statements regarding the basis change must also be made available to holders and nominees. The IRS may waive the filing of a return if the information is made publicly available (for example, if it’s posted on the company’s website for 10 years).

S corporations and certain mutual funds and REITs can be treated as having met the filing re-quirements if they properly report the information on their timely filed tax returns (including in-formation reporting, such as Schedule K-1s or Forms 2438 and 2439).

Because failure to file the required returns and statements can result in penalties, companies should examine their internal processes to ensure that they can obtain the necessary data to comply with these new requirements on an ongoing basis.


Todd Weiss Three Steps to Starting a Franchise

A CFA I've recently started following wrote this article and it does a wonderful job of helping to remind us of some of the important steps that we need to perform as we start or acquire a business.

And while he addressed his advice to franchises it applies to businesses in general and is well worth the read. For I see people all the time that start or acquire businesses that they just don't understand and have no idea what the needs and demands of this business are.

But a business is like any other purchase or expense. What you are acquiring needs to fit your needs and you must be able to afford it. Otherwise you will soon find that things just aren't going to work and by then it's too late to avoid major problems.

So be sure to research and understand all aspects of any business you are looking at acquiring or starting.

That research and planning includes at least the following areas.

What does the business do and does it really fit with my abilities and interests? Remember any business you buy or start that you end up hating or finding you can't manage isn't going to work out for long and it certainly isn’t going to end as a happy experience.

What exactly are the needed funds, resources, and assets to both acquire and start this business as well as to run it day to day? If you can't come up with the money to support a business’s daily operation until it returns a sustainable profit you will finally be forced to give it up.

What are the expected returns on that investment and will that amount of return provide for your total support or will you need to continue to have other sources of income? Many people find that their new business just doesn't provide an income level that will support them without other income. If that is the case are you prepared to work two jobs or take income from savings or investments to support yourself? If so, for how long is this arrangement going to be necessary?

And last but not least…. the question that most people never address when starting or acquiring a new business.

What are your plans on how to eventually either sell or recover your equity in the business when that time comes? Everyone starting or buying a business seems to want to forget that someday you will either have to have provided for that business to continue to operate without you or it will have to be sold. The time to consider those issues is at the beginning not when the time finally arrives. That’s because it affects everything from what business structure you decide to use to run the business to how you might structure it to be able to pass it on to heirs or stockholders. And remember your children or family might have no interest in running this business once you are gone. So consider the fact that under many circumstances without planning you well may see most if not all of your owner equity going for taxes at some point in the future. And I would bet paying a big part of what you get out of your business to the tax man is not what you had in mind when you started or acquired that business.

So do your research and seek professional help before you get started as it will avoid many unpleasant mistakes and miscues. Remember good advice doesn’t cost nearly as much as it saves.

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How much income do you need to support your lifestyle?

Think of it this way, if you were looking for a new job, what is your salary requirement?  The process in franchising is the same approach.  The concept must be able to generate the income needed to support your lifestyle.  The first step is to determine the income you need from the business.

What is a suitable investment level?

There’s no sense researching concepts until you know what you can afford.  If you’ve ever purchased a home, chances are your first step was to get pre-approval for a loan.  Once you figured out what you can afford to invest, you search for houses or condos in that range.  If you are looking at a franchise, it’s a similar process.  Determine a suitable investment level, and then target your search for franchises within that range.

When do I want to open my business?

I generally advise clients to start the formal due diligence process if they want to open within six months or less.  It typically takes between 30 and 45 days to determine if a franchise concept is right for you.  Depending on the type of business (retail, food, etc.) it may take some time to find a location and build out the space.  If your time frame is a little longer, its best to wait before formally engaging talks with a franchise.

Owning a franchise can be a fun and exciting experience.  It’s normal to want to seek new information.  If you’re curious, by all means start looking at different concepts to get a feel for what’s out there.  Focus on the types of businesses you like.  Don’t spend time seeking the details until you’ve addressed the above questions.  This will save time, frustration and help you target specific opportunities to help achieve the ideal lifestyle.  You want to keep your options open.  A targeted approach can help achieve your goals.

Most people who are interested in buying a franchise start the process with a Google search for info on specific concepts.  Since food and coffee are part of our everyday lives, when we think “franchise”, we generally think of food and coffee concepts like McDonalds, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, etc.  While these are all successful businesses, there are other options out there that may be more suitable depending on your personal interests.  It’s estimated there are over 6,000 different franchises available in the United States today.  Almost every industry has a franchise model actively seeking motivated people to invest in their system.  If you are serious about franchising, you don’t want to limit your options.  Rather than researching concepts, your best bet is to start by asking yourself the following questions:


Monday, January 17, 2011

Flying Quad-rotor Robots Build Structures Autonomously

Another amazing robotic accomplishment as a team of students designs autonomous flying robots that can work together. It's going to soon be possible for robots to do all of those amazing things only dreamed of in science fiction. What this brave new world is going look like only time will tell.

Anyway enjoy the video and imagine what a wonderful Christmas present these copters would make as soon as they can work with Lincoln Logs or Lego's.

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Construction with Quadrotor Teams

Life in the FaceBook Fish Bowl... A lesson in Security

This story is about both a hacker who abused people and in many cases caused damage that's impossible to repair and people who were foolish in what they allowed to be kept on line and potentially available for a hacker to obtain.

For to see someone's reputation destroyed by another with information they obtained by stealth or even just their being embarrassed in front of family, friends, and co workers is a tragic thing. And while this story again shows the dangers of not keeping safety and security in mind it's not the whole story.

As it's a story that also shows the danger of leaving photos or data on line that could prove damaging or embarrassing. Remember it's always possible that someone can break into any site or service. And of course there is also the chance of a mistake by a site or service provider that allows access to an account by someone with bad intentions.

So we see both the value of strong passwords and being careful of what you use as a security question as well as the use of good judgment as to what you leave "lying around" on line. Both are vital pieces in any online security and privacy strategy.

Just let this story serve as a wake up reminder of the dangers and pitfalls that not only FaceBook but all social networks expose us too. Keeping your passwords secrete and strong helps but so does not having incriminating or damaging things available to hackers if they do get into your accounts.

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Calif. man used Facebook to hack women's e-mails

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – In a cautionary tale for users of social-networking sites, a California man has admitted using personal information he gleaned from Facebook to hack into women's e-mail accounts, then send nude pictures of them to everyone in their address book.

The California attorney general's office said Friday that George Bronk, 23, commandeered the e-mail accounts of dozens of women in the U.S. and England. He then scanned the women's "sent" folders for nude and seminude photos and videos, and forwarded any he found to all the women's contacts, prosecutors said.

Bronk coerced one woman into sending him more explicit photographs by threatening to distribute the pictures he already had. One victim told authorities the intrusion felt like "virtual rape."

Bronk, who lives in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights, pleaded guilty Thursday to seven felonies in Sacramento County Superior Court, including computer intrusion, false impersonation and possession of child pornography.

Prosecutors said Bronk would scan women's Facebook accounts looking for those who posted their e-mail addresses. He would then study their Facebook postings to learn the answers to common security questions like their favorite color or father's middle name.

He contacted the women's e-mail providers and used the information to gain control of their accounts. He also often gained control of their Facebook accounts by hijacking their passwords, then posted compromising photographs on their Facebook pages and other Internet sites.

Investigators found 172 e-mail files containing explicit photographs of women when they searched Bronk's computer in September, according to a court affidavit. They were able to track his victims to England, Washington, D.C., and 17 states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

Piscak said one of her friends alerted her that nude photographs she had sent privately to her husband were posted on her Facebook page last fall. Facebook removed the photos the next day.

"I have a network of like 1,500 people, so they all saw my pictures. So my graduating class of 2007 saw that. I'm in the military, so all my army friends saw that," Piscak said. She had to explain the embarrassing situation to her family and husband, from whom she is separated.

Piscak used a different e-mail account to contact the person who had hacked her page.

"I said, 'Why are you doing this?' and he said, 'Because it's funny,'" Piscak said in a telephone interview. The Associated Press does not identify victims in sex cases as a matter of policy, but Piscak gave permission for her name to be used. She also said she has agreed to tell her story on a nationally televised talk show.

Piscak said she fears the postings could harm her future in the military and her plans for a career in criminal justice, though most people who saw the photos were understanding.

A second victim, Stephanie, 24, of Los Angeles, said she, the FBI and other authorities tried for seven hours to remove an album of 10 photographs that Bronk posted on her account before Facebook took it down.

"Then he wrote just crass, racist, disgusting comments on people's walls that I was friends with," said Stephanie, who did not want her last name used for fear the story could harm her career. She said she felt violated, "kind of a rape-like situation."

Stephanie said she originally had sent the private photos to a boyfriend, only to have them seen by her college professors and co-workers.

Both of the victims, along with Bronk's attorney, said Facebook should have caught Bronk's activities more quickly. Facebook spokesmen did not return telephone or e-mail messages Friday.

Bronk began his hacking in December 2009, prosecutors said. He will have to register as a sex offender because of his guilty plea.

Investigators caught on after a victim called Connecticut State Police, which referred the complaint to the California Highway Patrol. They used information from Bronk's confiscated computer to e-mail questionnaires to 3,200 of his Internet contacts, asking if they had been victimized.

Forty-six women said they had. Bronk was arrested in October and remains jailed on $500,000 bond.

The attorney general's office advised those using e-mail and social-networking sites to pick security questions and answers that aren't posted on public sites, or to add numbers or other characters to common security answers. Additional safety tips are on the California attorney general's website.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Now if We Could Just Get "Beam Me Up Scotty" to Work

Google has released their beta (do they have any other kind of release) program that promises to one day translate speech directly in real time as two people talk to each other. This is something right out of Star Trek and if they ever get it beyond two languages and working with any degree of accuracy it will be a wonderful tool. Anyway it's something I've sure got to play with.

Mean while I've got some Romulans to check up on so I'll catch you later... "Beam me up Scotty."

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Conversation Mode in Google Translate for Android

Google Translate's app for Android added a feature that has previously announced by Google: conversation mode. The new option is experimental and it only works for English and Spanish, so it's more like an early preview. Conversation mode is a fancy name for making it easy to have a conversation in two different languages.
"In conversation mode, simply press the microphone for your language and start speaking. Google Translate will translate your speech and read the translation out loud. Your conversation partner can then respond in their language, and you'll hear the translation spoken back to you. Because this technology is still in alpha, factors like regional accents, background noise or rapid speech may make it difficult to understand what you're saying," explains Google.

See more at

Twitter Fights for User Rights

In this article by the author brings to our attention how Twitter responded to government pressure and court orders to reveal information on WikiLeaks and some of it's main personal.

And while many may not agree with how WikiLeaks did their release of classified information (I count my self in that group) we can all be proud of how Twitter stood up for the user rights of all of us who use Twitter.

For in this case as in most cases the government acquired their court order for the release of the information on these Twitter users through their normal rubber stamp channel and it contained the standard gag order they ask for in such cases as well.

This means that unless Twitter fights to have that order overturned they not only have to turn over the information requested they can't tell the user or anyone else it's been served with the order. So the user has no chance of even knowing that their information has been requested much less turned over to the agencies involved.

That goes against the whole principal of due process and the presumption of innocence as well as denies the right to protection against unwarranted search and seizure. People, except in the most damaging or dangerous of cases, including those involved in WikiLeaks deserve to know when and by whom they are being investigated. And they should have the right to appear and face those who accuse them in a court of law and in so doing have the right to demand their constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Only then can a court order be said to have been obtained lawfully in such cases. And Twitter defended that principal by going to court and having the gag order overturned. Once that order was removed they then notified those named in the court order so as to allow them to both protect their information and to appear in court to fight their information being released.

For that Twitter deserves our respect and support. Taking on the government and protecting the rights of it's users from these kinds of stealth government fishing expeditions for information took courage and a stand for principal not often seen by companies today.

So thank you Twitter. You've shown remarkably great courage and strength of convection in taking on the fight for all of your users and I for one applaud you.

Now if we can just get other companies to quit rolling over and playing dead we can begin to have the privacy we are untitled to once again protected from those who seek to destroy it.

Amplify’d from

Twitter’s Response to WikiLeaks Subpoena Should Be the Industry Standard

Twitter beta-tested a spine.

On Friday, it emerged that the U.S. government recently got a court order demanding that Twitter turn over information about a number of people connected to WikiLeaks, including founder Julian Assange, accused leaker Pfc. Bradley Manning, former WikiLeaks spokeswoman Birgitta Jonsdottir and WikiLeaks activist Jacob Appelbaum.

The request was approved by a magistrate judge in Alexandria, Virginia, where a federal grand jury is looking into charges against WikiLeaks related to its acquisition and publishing of U.S.-government classified information.

The court order came with a gag order that prevented Twitter from telling anyone, especially the targets, about the request’s existence.

To Twitter’s credit, the company didn’t just open up its database, find the information the feds were seeking (such as the IP and e-mail addresses used by the targets) and quietly continue on with building new features. Instead the company successfully challenged the gag order in court, and then told the targets their data was being requested, giving them time to try and quash the order themselves.

Twitter and other companies, notably Google, have a policy of notifying a user before responding to a subpoena, or a similar request for records. That gives the user a fair chance to go to court and try and quash the subpoena. That’s a great policy. But it has one fatal flaw. If the records request comes with a gag order, the company can’t notify anyone. And it’s quite routine for law enforcement to staple a gag order to a records request.

That’s what makes Twitter’s move so important. It briefly carried the torch for its users during that crucial period when, because of the gag order, its users couldn’t carry it themselves. The company’s action in asking for the gag order to be overturned sets a new precedent that we can only hope that other companies begin to follow.

The decision would be laudable in almost any situation, and may even be unprecendented by a massive tech firm. The only other gag orders I can think of that were challenged in court were those served on the Internet Archive, on a small library and on Nicholas Merrill, the president of the small New York City ISP Calyx Internet Access, who spent years resisting a National Security Letter order seeking information about one of his clients.

Even more remarkable, Twitter’s move comes as a litany of companies, including PayPal, Mastercard, VISA and Bank of America, follow the political winds away from the First Amendment, banning donations to WikiLeaks. And voluntarily threw the site off its hosting platform, even though there’s nothing illegal in publishing classified documents.

By standing up for its users, Twitter showed guts and principles. Much of it is likely attributable to Twitter’s general counsel Alexander Macgillivray. As security and privacy blogger Christopher Soghoian notes, Macgillivray was one of the first law students at Harvards’ Berkman internet law center and at in his previous job at Google “played a major role in getting the company to contribute takedown requests to”

Of course, it’s not the first time tech companies have stood up to requests for user data. Google beat back a government order to turn over search logs in 2006, after AOL and Microsoft quietly acquiesced. We’ve seen ISPs stand up for their users when movie studios try to force ISPs turn over user information in mass peer-to-peer lawsuits. And just last year, Yahoo successfully resisted the Justice Department’s argument that it didn’t need a warrant to read a user’s e-mails once the user had read them.

But there’s not yet a culture of companies standing up for users when governments and companies come knocking with subpoenas looking for user data or to unmask an anonymous commenter who says mean things about a company or the local sheriff.

In the WikiLeaks probe, it’s not yet clear whether the feds dropped the same order on other companies.

Regardless, Twitter deserves recognition for its principled upholding of the spirit of the First Amendment. It’s a shame that PayPal, Amazon, Visa, Mastercard, Bank of America and the U.S. government all failed — and continue to to fail — at their own versions of that test.


Monday, January 10, 2011

How to Become More Intelligent - by Dumb Little Man

How to Become More Intelligent - by Dumb Little Man

In this article the writer points out some simple but basic thoughts on how to keep the mind sharp and stay abreast of events in the world.

And while none of it is earth-shattering or new he does remind us of those basics we need to think about to stay on top of our game.

I would only add that he's got caught up in detail and missed the important fact that it's staying mentally active that underlies all of these and other activities that we can find to keep us sharp.

For it's not so much if we spend our time reading, checking out things on line, or even as he says watching TV. It's that we keep our minds nimble and active by challenging them.

So while for some it's a good book for others it's a video game. And often just some time to reflect and consider the world around us with a moment of inter reflective though can bring the mind to grasp new thoughts and ideas. Remember thinkers like Einstein and Gandhi used only their own thoughts to expand not only their minds but the minds of the world.

That means we have to spend our day doing more than just killing time it means working at find things we like to do that expand and challenge who we are, what we know, and how we use that information in our daily lives.

So while this writer's topics are fine and thought provoking they are not inclusive enough to touch all the areas that we can find to stimulate our minds and our lives. But he's sure right that we need to make it a common practice and a daily goal to seek and find new ways to challenge ourselves.

For on any day we fail to learn something new we fail to expand our world and become just a little less than we could have been.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Surveying the Use of Technology and Social Media by Small Business

According to a Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute survey owners still trust and value business software and their company website(s) more than social media sites and services to operate their businesses more efficiently and acquire new customers.
Social media currently is an important tool primarily among women, millennials (under age 28), companies with 10 or more employees, and businesses that have experienced or expect to experience growth in revenue; the importance of social media drops with the age of the owners and businesses surveyed.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Important Small Business Tax Changes Under Affordable Care Act and Small Business Jobs Act of 2010

As most of you know the recent and last minute changes to the tax laws affecting small businesses were only part of the overall comprehensive change in tax laws, reporting requirements, and accounting procedures passed by our federal legislatures during this last year.

And good examples are both the Affordable Care Act and the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010.

Both of these bill passed into law contain regulation covering many areas especially in regard to the issue of health care and its costs and reporting requirement for small business and the important area of deprecation deductions and allowances under 179 rules.

So it’s important to take the time to read and understand the issues that they both bring up for you and your business. And as always a good place to start is with the IRS and their guidance on these bills and how they are going to interpret and enforce them.

With that in mind I call your attention to the flowing IRS postings on these issues.

And while they are not complete in describing all the issues or areas of compliance that are raised by these new tax laws they do give good guidance on the subject in general and should help you to better understand what these laws effects are for both you and your business.

Amplify’d from

Tax Changes for Small Businesses

During 2010, new laws, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, created or expanded deductions and credits that small businesses and self-employed individuals should consider when completing their tax returns and making business decisions in 2011.

Health Insurance Deduction Reduces Self Employment Tax

With the enactment of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, self-employed taxpayers who pay their own health insurance costs can now reduce their net earnings from self-employment by these costs. Previously, the self-employed health insurance deduction was allowed only for income tax purposes. For tax year 2010, self-employed taxpayers can also reduce their net earnings from self employment subject to SE taxes on Schedule SE by the amount of self-employed health insurance deduction claimed on line 29 on Form 1040.

Taxpayers can claim the self-employed health insurance deduction if the insurance plan is established under their business and if any of the following are true:

• They were self-employed and had a net profit for the year,

• They used one of the optional methods to figure net earnings from self-employment on Schedule SE, or

• They received wages from an S corporation in which the taxpayer was a more-than-2-percent shareholder.

During tax year 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, the self-employed health insurance deduction was claimed on 3.6 million tax returns, reducing taxpayers’ adjusted gross incomes by $21 billion.

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

In general, the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit is available to small employers that pay at least half of the premiums for single health insurance coverage for their employees. It is specifically targeted to help small businesses and tax-exempt organizations that primarily employ moderate- and lower-income workers.

Small businesses can claim the credit for 2010 through 2013 and for any two years after that. For tax years 2010 to 2013, the maximum credit is 35 percent of premiums paid by eligible small businesses and 25 percent of premiums paid by eligible tax-exempt organizations. Beginning in 2014, the maximum tax credit will increase to 50 percent of premiums paid by eligible small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid by eligible tax-exempt organizations.

The maximum credit goes to smaller employers –– those with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) employees –– paying annual average wages of $25,000 or less. The credit is completely phased out for employers that have 25 or more FTEs or that pay average wages of $50,000 or more per year. Because the eligibility rules are based in part on the number of FTEs, not the number of employees, employers that use part-time workers may qualify even if they employ more than 25 individuals.

Eligible small businesses will first use Form 8941 to figure the credit and then include the amount of the credit as part of the general business credit on its income tax return.

The IRS has developed a page on devoted to this credit with answers to frequently asked questions and with explanations of the credit through various tax scenarios.

General Business Credit for Employers

The general business credits of eligible small businesses in 2010 are not subject to alternative minimum tax The new law allows general business credits to offset both regular income tax and alternative minimum tax of eligible small businesses as described in Section 2012 of the Small Business Jobs Act. The provision is effective for any general business credits determined in the first taxable year beginning after December 31, 2009, and to any carryback of such credits. For a list of the general business credits, see Form 3800.

Small Businesses Can Benefit from Higher Expensing / Depreciation Limits

For tax years beginning in 2010 and 2011, small businesses can expense up to $500,000 of the first $2 million of certain business property placed in service during the year.

In general, businesses can choose to treat the cost of certain property as an expense and deduct it in the year the property is placed in service instead of depreciating it over several years. This property is frequently referred to as section 179 property, after the relevant section in the Internal Revenue Code.

Section 179 property is property that you acquire by purchase for use in the active conduct of your trade or business, including:

• Tangible personal property.

• Other tangible property (except buildings and their structural components) used as:

1. An integral part of manufacturing, production, or extraction or of furnishing transportation, communications, electricity, gas, water, or sewage disposal services;

2. A research facility used in connection with any of the activities in (1) above; or

3. A facility used in connection with any of the activities in (1) above for the bulk storage of fungible commodities.

• Single purpose agricultural (livestock) or horticultural structures.

• Storage facilities (except buildings and their structural components) used in connection with distributing petroleum or any primary product of petroleum.

• Off-the-shelf computer software.

Section 179 property generally does not include land, investment property (section 212 property), property used mainly outside the United States, property used mainly to furnish lodging and air conditioning or heating units.

The Small Business Jobs Act (SBJA) of  2010 increases the section 179 limitations on expensing of depreciable business assets for tax years beginning in 2010 and 2011 and expands temporarily the definition of section 179 property, for tax years beginning in 2010 and 2011, to include certain qualified real property a taxpayer elects to treat as section 179 property. Qualified real property means qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property, and qualified retail improvement property.  

The $500,000 amount provided under the new law is reduced, but not below zero, if the cost of all section 179 property placed in service by the taxpayer during the tax year exceeds $2 million.

For tax years beginning in 2012, the maximum amount is $125,000; before enactment of the 2010 tax relief legislation, it was set at $25,000.