As many of you know, I'm a huge Formula 1 fan, and will be attending the US Grand Prix in Indianapolis in July (tickets are in section J- right by turn 1). One of the things I do every year is compile an Excel sheet with all of the dates for the series I watch during the year. (This includes F1, IRL, Nextel Cup, LeMans, ALMS, Busch, WRC, and the Craftsman Truck Series.) Being the good accountant, I have assembled this all in Excel, and since I'm such an Excel geek, I can get this whole schedule assembled in about 15 minutes(including reformatting dates, style formatting, etc.) Use sorting and autofiltering (search Help in Excel if you don't know about these) to figure out who is racing on a particular day.
Another resource for TV listings which I've used is www.titantv.com. It lets you have up to 3 locations in there - and all you need is a zip code to get the local TV schedules. I have my home, my parents' home (300 mi away), and a 'floater' I use for hotels set up. Geek bonus points: If you have a TV card in your PC (also called a PVR, or Personal Video Recorder), you can use TitanTV to program your software to record TV to your PC. Really cool stuff. (BTW, TV cards seem to be on sale a lot lately - check salescircular.com, ableshoppers.com, or techbargains.com for the current deals in your area.
You know you love them, even if you won't admit it publically. Elf Bowling. Joe Cartoon. The Jib-Jab video of Kerry and W singing "This Land is Your Land". Yes, they're silly, but they are fun. And a sense of humor is the key to surviving busy season - anywhere.
PayCycle, a web-based payroll company, has recently created a humorous Pc-based ad promoting their online payroll service. It's pretty amusing, and may reduce your stress in this very busy time of the year. You can see their video by clicking here.
Sage has finally come through on my request for a Treo 650-compatible version of Act! for Palm OS. (Tip o' the hat to Laura Costa of Sage for tipping me off on its release). The new version seems nice (I've just had it installed for a couple of hours, so I can't give you a full review on it yet), and requires the latest version of Act!, Act! 2006 (v. 8.0.2 or later required). I just happened to have a copy of Act! 2006 laying around, and installed it today as well. I'm looking forward to getting back to my old routines.
Many of you probably are K2 participants who have other apps which use MS SQL Server Desktop Edition installed, so I'll go ahead and give you the secret for getting Act! 2006 to work on your PC. Follow these steps, and you shouldn't get the database issues which come from having incompatible versions of SQL server on your PC:
1. Instead of installing the version of ACT! on the ACT! 2006 CD, go to the ACT! website Support Downloads page (http://www.act.com/support/updates/index.cfm??) (registration required), and download the 30 day trial version of Act! 2006 (8.0.2) off of the website.
2. Uninstall any versions of ACT! on your PC.
3. Install the version of ACT! 2006 you downloaded, and enter your serial number into this program after it's installed.
Congrats! You should now be ACT'ing normal.
Summary: Sage Software good. Averatec bad. Film at 11.
So my Averatec laptop broke down about six weeks ago. I still don't have it back, and I've spent about $300 "fixing" it so far. I recommend that you stay as far away from Averatec Computers as possible. Here's what has happened on this issue thus far:
2/13/06: Laptop won't boot when I'm changing out the hard drive.
2/15/06: I (finally) navigate tech support, and they agree to give me an RMA. I shipped the PC out on 2/17 (Friday). Averatec tells me to remove the hard drive from the PC before I send it back to them.
2/21/06: Fed Ex delivers my PC to Averatec.
3/1/06: Averatec sends my PC back to me.
3/2/06: My laptop finally arrives in Knoxville (have been down for 17 days at this point). I open the box, install the hard disk, and it won't do a POST (power on self-test). You would think this would have been due to a problem with the repair - but this (of course) was wrong. They put a cryptic note saying, "We will not cover future repairs to this computer since you opened the case to change out the hard drive."
3/3/06: I get another RMA from Averatec, ship the notebook back, and wait. This time, I include a prepaid FedEx label with my return for Averatec to return when sending my PC back. I explained to the tech support reps that I'm a CPA, and it's tax season. I need the box back ASAP. Naturally, they just hurry right along.
3/11/06: I receive an e-mail from Averatec saying that my repair isn't covered by warranty since I installed the hard disk, and they want $228 for replacing the motherboard on my PC. Mind you, it never WORKED after they sent it back. Wanting this whole nightmare to be over, I give them my credit card and tell them to just send the darned thing back to me. I had to be out of town on business the whole week of 3/13, so I didn't get that upset about any of this. Just have it back to me when I return from my trip, as I need to get some work done. At this point, I've squandered about a day and a half on this problem - 12 hours I really didn't have to spare.
3/20/06: I look up my RMA, and call Averatec (actually, FremontTek, their contract repair facility). They goofed off all week last week, and didn't ship the laptop back until Friday. In addition, they ignored my request to return the laptop to me at my expense via FedEx overnight, and shipped it FedEx Ground. Ground. To Tennessee. From California. In the middle of tax season. I call FedEx, and there's no way to get the package moved to overnight from the FedEx Ground shipping queue. (Sorry, Brian. You lose. It's only money, right?!?!?)
3/23/06: Hopefully, my laptop will arrive by March 23rd, the date listed on the FedEx Ground website as when my package will arrive. Hopefully it will work when it gets back (unlike last time). This, after only 38 days out of service. As you can imagine, I'm not exactly holding my breath.
Summary: Avoid Averatec. No way, no how. A non-starter. Buy good gear with real warranties and support. Don't buy a cheap l.aptop like me, and end up aging three years because of the frustrations of the repair process.
Ahhhh.... It's that most wonderful time of the year - March - when a young accountant's mind turns to... MUSH.
Yes, busy season is here, and like all of us, I'm frantically trying to get stuff done for clients. The good news is that I have a spare PC with a TV card in it, so I can at least run Formula One in the background while I work 24x7. With my trips to Seattle and Detroit next week, I'm not sure my wife and son will even know that I'm out of town (even though I usually work out of my home office).
As a sole practitioner, my clients ask me to deal with many different issues for them - Quickbooks, Peachtree, taxes, compliance, IT support, dealing with vendors, etc. As such, there are some things that, although I am professionally capable of dealing with them, it's a lot easier to find someone to take care of the details, as the value of the service to the client is not what I would like to make on an hourly basis. That having been said, I want to take care of my client - but I don't want to be in the business of stuffing envelopes, nor do my clients want to pay my rate for that service. Accordingly, I'm trying to identify specialists who deal with these details for a reasonable fee.
One service which has been recommended to me is FileTaxes.com. This is a service which will prepare 1099's, W-2's, 941's, and the like for you, and keep you from going nuts trying to find that one copy of a "red" W-3 or 1096 on February 28th. PayCycle (mentioned below) also offers a service for up to 50 1099's which gives you e-filing capabilities, and prints the recipient copies on your PC for $10 wholesale(e.g. CPA Firms) or $40 retail (e.g. end users).
Another service which I've seen a demo of is Paycycle's payroll service - an outsourced payroll solution which lets accountants rebrand their web-based payroll solution, mark it up, and sell it to their clients. (It appears to be similar to some of the services provided by AccountantsWorld, which is another company helping small firms rebrand automated services). It costs $14.99/client/month, and their webinar was pretty impressive. I've got a couple of small companies who are using ADP and some other services who I'm thinking of switching over to see how well it works. The website speaks of imports into Quickbooks, Peachtree, and other formats, alt. Bad news here - there's a limit of 50 active employees, so my client with 75 actives who needs a solution is out.
How are you helping yourself and your clients provide more value in less time? If you're not thinking about how to constantly do more with less, you're sitting still - and in today's dog-eat-dog world, that's a great way to end up as the prey instead of the predator we all aspire to be.
P.S. If you have a few minutes and haven't laughed enough lately, there's some hilarious new music on iTunes from a fake band called "Van Heffer". The whole tragic saga of Van Heffer has been played out in Wichita Rutherford's podcast, "Five Minutes with Wichita" - but here's a thumbnail sketch: Sissy Elvis impersonator sings Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne songs backed by a Bluegrass band. Now this is no cheap imitation - Randy Rhoades guitar solos are repeated note-for-note on a mandolin. My favorite track: The Bluegrass version of Iron Man. Check it out - the whole album is $9.90, and as Wichita would say, "It's just precious."
So I'm looking over the daily deals this evening, winding down from a 14 hour pre-dawn to post-dusk day of trying to catch up from my insane life, and I ran across the following deal:
OnSale.com has the 6.1lb HP Business Notebook nx6110 Celeron M 360 1.4Ghz, 256MB/40GB, DVD/CDRW, 15in screen, 802.11g wireless, 1 yr worldwide limited warranty on sale for $499 after rebate. $11.70 shipping. Limit 5. Item 200292 (tip o' the hat to www.techbargains.com).
As most of you know, I like the personal laptop as a concept. Heck, I like it enough that I have two of them, plus a couple of servers I work with every day. In my estimation, this is a great deal. First off, it's business grade hardware. For those of you who are non-techies, there are various grades of computer hardware. Those of us with a little gray hair remember the venerable Packard Bell PC's - now they were cheap. Inexpensive yes, but cheap. More than one techie pulled their hair out because of proprietary hardware and other things that drove us nuts about these doorstops. (full disclosure: I owned one, and swore a lot when I had it). Packard Bell was the Yugo of computing - cheap, flimsy, and inexpensive enough that everyone could own one. On the other end of the scale is the latest and greatest business grade hardware. It's over-engineered to allow for better performance, and the service on it is a dream. When I think of my old Dell Latitude 600 laptop (got it in 1991), I think of this class. Lightweight, takes abuse, and generally comes back from a diet coke spill with some help from a hair dryer. And for $3,000 each, it darn well ought to do all of that, plus toast your breakfast bagel and slather cream cheese on it so that it's ready when you wake up Generally, you either get something fabulously cheap, or you get something that's good quality. The HP Compaq line of laptops is a place where these criteria meet (disclosure: I use a tricked out HP Compaq nx6125 laptop, the sibling to this deal, so I have a little experience with the Compaq Business line of hardware. For the record, I also work with an HP xb31 projector, a HP Color Laserjet 2550L, and an HP Officejet 7310. It's all good stuff).
The other nice thing about business grade hardware is that it's easier to replace parts with standard gear. An example: I have a home grade laptop which I bought for cheap, and I got what I paid for. While it meets my needs for most things, adding RAM or replacing the hard drive requires removing no less than 20 screws, removing and reinstalling five crimped cables, and doing all of this without letting static build up on it. We're talking about something that's a serious pain in the hind quarters here - it takes me about an hour to swap drives on this PC. Needless to say, it's probably on the move list soon. Business grade hardware is different. With my HP Compaq nx6125 notebook, I mount the spare drive on the rails for the notebook chassis with four screws - one time. I remove two screws, slide out the old tray, slide in the new tray, reinsert the two new screws, and I'm ready to go. Five minutes if I'm talking on the phone and taking notes while I do the swap - my Mom could do hardware work on this laptop. Same thing with the RAM on the HP Compaq - two screws in and out, and it takes three minutes if I'm distracted.
The cases are also very different. The cheap laptop has a thin plastic case, and is flimsy. It feels like I'll break it if I ever drop it off of my lap while surfing on the couch. The HP Compaq is different - it's a little heavier, but it feels much more substantial. Mind you - this is a 6 pound laptop here - so it's not one of the laptops out there which should come with a free visit to the Chiropractor so you can get over carrying the darn thing around - but it will take some abuse. My notebook got about 40,000 Delta miles last year, and it's going to get around 100,000 this year, so it definitely takes the abuse.
A final difference in Business grade hardware is the quality of the components. The computer companies use a metric called MTBF to track the expected life of a piece of hardware. Most business grade hardware has a much longer MTBF rating than the home grade hardware. This is why your hard drive on your home PC has gone out twice in the last seven years, while your office PC has only gone out once, even though your use your office PC five times as much as the home unit.
The display on this one is 1600x1200 according to the site, and 15". Trust me - it's awesome. Mine is 1400x1050, and it's so clear my blind eyes can see it from far away. And I've got enough screen real estate to get some serious multitasking done.
Anyway, back to the deal. In this case, HP is selling these business grade laptops inexpensively. Now don't get me wrong - you CAN buy a home grade laptop from Best Buy or Circuit City for the same price with better specs, but this one will take more abuse, and will complain less about working all of the time. Additionally, you can pick up things like dock stations on the cheap from corporate customers as they phase them out. Admittedly, it's not for the gamers in the audience, but for the budget-conscious family on a budget, this is a decent deal. If you're going to do online banking, Word, Excel, and some internet surfing, look at this deal. You do need to jack up the RAM in the device (I'd look at taking it to 1GB RAM, which you could do for around $100 or so - check salescircular.com for your state - but this seems to just work better).