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Tech "Toys" for Tax Season Distraction

It sure is a busy, heads down time of year. Taxes, Audits, Business Planning are all on the agenda between January 2 and April 18. With all that is on to be done lists, it is important to recognize what it means that April is coming. For example:

• April 1 - MLB Season opens
• April 4 - NCAA March Madness ends
• April 10 - NHL regular season ends
• April 13 - NBA regular season ends
• April 28 - NFL Draft captivates prime time
• April 29 - Prince William gets married
• Other - Post Tax Season Vacation; My wife's birthday 

So here are a few bits and bytes about technology related things that should be on your radar screens throughout 2011. Thinking about them now can move you a few steps ahead as you prepare to make decisions in May.

Images and audio are no longer just for funny pet tricks on YouTube. Creating, modifying and distributing images is important. Professionals, non-professionals, clients, not yet clients, staff and future staff all expect moving pictures to be part of their interactive days. Some are already implementing pictures on web sites, blogs, newsletters and more. Current users will expand. Not yet users will be compelled to participate in the video world.

The first step in almost every process of technology adoption is to pick your head up and observe what is being done by others. This is to learn, not just to select a few really good ideas that you can do. Take a quick view of who is sending images and audio to you. Are these images just entertainment, games or one-way messages such as advertising that do not require any response? Are these images a form of interactive conversations that require your video/audio participation?

Examples of current video use includes: conference calls, video conference calls, Skype video calls, group Skype video calls, Facebook chats, online education courses, webinars, teleseminars and product demonstrations. The applications will continue to expand.

This is time to gather some basic knowledge of what is happening that can impact your practice - as a consumer, as a provider, as a communicator. This does mean you are way ahead or way behind or need to start creating a story board, writing the screenplay and enrolling in a local or university movie school.

The essentials for video start with an understanding of what to convey. Choices include:
• Information - tax, audit, business operations and regulatory issues
• Friendly chats about items that matter to recipients
• Training for staff and clients
• User group meetings
• Other

The basic equipment needed to participate is a single shot image camera, digital video camera and a microphone. Knowing how to use these devices is assumed. The camera and microphone built into laptops are functional and usable. They are at the very lowest level of quality. Because digital imaging and recording are some of the hottest products today, the delivery of the next vendor and the next version will be announced every 1-3 months. Know that you will not emulate Steven Spielberg. Therefore the latest and greatest is not necessary.

The basic functions needed for video camera functions include: rechargeable batteries, direct cable connect to USB port for transfer, view screens that display what is being recorded and provides for playback review. Here are two compact cameras that fit these criteria. They are under $200, available everywhere, and can be carried in any pocket. Other cameras for more money and more features can be found.
• FlipHD - small, not expensive, works everywhere, microphone is OK. Pictures stored in memory
• Toshiba Camileo S30 - can flip between video and still image. Video is clear, still images a lower quality. Comes package with accessories, uses SD card.

With a video camera, holding it steady prevents giving everyone a headache as the pictures shakes like an earthquake. There are many different small tripods that fit on a desk and big ones that go to the ground. Most of the time, the desktop size will suffice. For less than $20, the Joby Gorillapod provides lots of flexibility. Upscale from Joby is Camtrol. This device offers a large supply of shooting options. The quad pod legs are retractable and can be used for an editing stand along with attaching other gear like lights and microphones. This tripod can be used for office conversations all the way up to extreme sports.

Microphones need to be near the source of the sounds. Cameras and laptops pick up sound just OK. Any distance of more than 5 feet will decline a lot in quality. Separate microphones will deliver the best sound capture. Headsets and lapel microphones are good. But, mu suggestion for very clear sound recording, use a quality, not cheap microphone.
The Yeti and Yeti Pro microphones from Blue Microphones,, deliver a near studio quality recording. The Yeti is $150 and its pro brother is $250. Recording with these devices is also good for multiple voices, such as in interview. Music can be recorded with clarity.


Blue Microphones also has a small microphone, Mikey, which is an accessory specifically for the Flip camera. This greatly improves the sound quality along with range of pick up. $70 if you already have a Flip.
For over one year, I have used the Blue's Snowflake which is a combination camera and microphone that attaches to a computer through a USB cable. It raises the clarity of any voice and picture imaging with your laptop. And, it can be moved to any position the USB cable, with or without extension, can reach. $60.

Another microphone to consider is the Samson Meteor Mic. This studio style microphone has features similar to the Yeti for a few less dollars. The key, of course, is how it works with you and your application. Later this summer, Samson will have their H1 Handy Recorder available. This completely portable microphone records on microSD cards and comes with a 2GB microSD card. Back in the office, the Hi-Speed USB 2.0 connector allows for fast transfer of audio files to your computer.

Video captured, audio recorded now it is time to assemble everything. It is slightly more effort than converting a word document to a PowerPoint presentation. A company that has all of the features you need to create, edit, expand, contract your video show is CyberLink, With CyberLink, a little practice will support whatever you need to do with video. This includes editing, inserting still images, transition from one scene to another, adding a music track, changing the volume, putting titles and captions on pages. Then you can upload the file to YouTube, your website or cut a DVD.

There are other video editing software products from Sony, Adobe, Muvee, etc. And those who have a Mac know all about iMovie and more. Review, assess, try and decide.

You can easily create and send a video email. Yes, your picture, your voice sent and received with nothing installed on your computer or receiver's computer. The company is EyeJot, There are 3 membership levels - free for 1 minute emails, $30/year for up to 5 minute emails, and the $100/year for lots of extras and limitless video emails. It is free to try. See if it works for you.

It is possible that you did not read about Skype's service expansion. You can now do video Skype calls for groups up to 10. One person has to pay $9/month and then make the call to other group members. Skype continues to prove its value even when the call is between just two people.

Listening to all the sounds from the digital age can be disturbing and fill a room with a cacophony that will disturb everyone in the Starbucks. Headphones are useful, usable and enable you to listen with a quality not available from computer speakers. You can buy external speakers that make things better. They are harder to transport than a set of headphones.

Here are a few of the headphones that have features you should consider. Please know my bias against button ear plugs that come with every iPod and smartphone. The buttons never stay in my ear. That is my bias, here are few headphones that will enhance your hearing.
Audio-Technica,, Quiet-point with power assisted noise canceling, less than $100
Sennheiser,, Variety of styles from $50 - $250

Able Planet,, the range includes low end, sports variety $30, to high end noise canceling and very upscale at $350. They also have very good headset/microphone conversation for use with office telephones.

And when you want to print pictures, scan photos, make copies, all manufacturers have all-in-ones that fit nicely with the budget of a home office and small office. The key calculation is how many pages your will actually print in any given month. There are a lot less trees being chopped down just so we can print another draft. Listed alphabetically, Epson, HP and Lexmark are providing all of the features for just a few hundred dollars (or less). Lexmark has the deal that black ink cartridges will be $4.99 for the life of the printer.

How about your keyboard? Are you typing more and enjoying it less? Check out the products from Smartfish Technologies, Their Engage Keyboard has built-in monitoring intelligence to prevent Repetitive Stress Injury. This is accomplished through a patented motion system that studies your current typing frequency and moderately changes the keyboard positioning to deliver relief to hands and wrists.

Smartfish also has the Whirl mouse in two sizes - small for laptop portability and a slightly larger one for office use. I have used the original version for almost one year with no glitches and no sense of discomfort. I highly recommend replacing your tired old mice. Out of the box, this wireless mouse is ready to go with no installation issues. Leaving sex out of any comparison, this is one of the best hand accessories I have used. For $49, it makes sense at the office, at home, or on the road. You may want to buy one for your road warrior accessory kit.

Last on my list is a portable laptop stand that almost disappears. The AViiQ portable laptop stand,, folds to fit anywhere and then opens to deliver a better working position for you and your laptop. $80 and you will keep heat off your lap and an angle for your typing.

Have some fun learning about the potential of of these new products. Go ahead finish the tax return, file the audit, or help a client with their business plan. As April approaches, you will be ready to put this information to use. And yes, it is OK if you decide to assess these ideas sooner.



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