IQ-tips: tax returns (oy gevalt)

Yup, it's that time again"¦ perhaps the worst time of the year for everyone except accountants, right?

But there's a least one bit of good news this year, courtesty of moneygirl's podcast.

The IRS is refunding more than $10 billion for a federal excise tax on long-distance telephone service. The tax started all the way back in 1898 to help fund the Spanish-American War and has helped fund wars since then, yes, including the one we're in now, it seems.

But it was repealed recently after the IRS lost a series of federal court cases showing the tax no longer applies to long-distance service. (Cheering! Arsenio Hall-hooting!) (I know, I know, Arsenio references... you're now thinking I'm as ancient as the Spanish-American War. Well maybe I am.)
Now, while $10 billion may sound like a lot, don't forget there are 300 million people in this country. So"¦ at the end of the return, we're only talking about $60 bucks, unless you're a big-time talker. But hey, $60 is $60 right?

Here's how the credit works: The IRS will refund the 3% long-distance telephone excise tax you paid from March 1, 2003 to August 1, 2006 plus interest. The refund applies to anyone who had long-distance or bundled service (whether landline, wireless, or voice over IP).

You can either go through your old telephone bills from that period and add up the tax you paid plus interest and claim a refund for that amount. Or, take the easy path: simply claim the standard amount set by the IRS.

Using Your Headphones as a Mic

So here's something you probably didn't know: If you're ever in a pinch for a microphone, to record something quickly when the quality doesn't really matter, you can always use a pair of headphones. Say WHAT? Yep, it's true! A microphone is the same as a speaker. The diaphragm of the driver of the headphones is moved by the molecules of air that make up a soundwave. This driver is attached to a coil of wire (voice coil) which rests between a magnet. As the coil moves through the magnetic field, a current is produced.

So how do you do it?

Simple! Just get a pair of headphones and plug them into your laptop's input. Or plug them into whatever recording device you're using. Then hit record and start talking into the earpiece.

It seems to work best with cheaper iPod type headphones. And it doesn't always work. Sometimes it depends whether the mic jack supplies voltage and whether that voltage is as limited as it should be. But give it a try! You have nothing to lose.

IQ-tips: Computer Timesaver Tips

Some of you may know some of these tips, but if you're like a lot of people out there, you may not know them all. Today, I present 4 tips that will help speed your life along while working at the computer. If you know some other PC timesaver tips, by all means, don't hesitate to drop them down in the comments and let us all in on them.

1. No need to type www

That's right! When typing a URL into a Web browser, there's no need to waste time typing the www part. Don't believe me? Go ahead and type into the browser and watch what happens. [ed. note: As some readers have correctly pointed out, this is only mostly true. Some URLs still require the full www. But that shouldn't stop you from trying it first without!]

2. Alt + Tab (Apple key + Tab)

alttab.jpgThis is an easy way to toggle between the applications you have open. So let's say I'm typing a document in MS WORD and want to copy and paste some of the document into a spread sheet open in EXCEL. No need to take your fingers off the keyboard, just hold down the ALT key (for Mac users it's the Apple key) and TAB through your open applications until the highlighter lands on the EXCEL icon. When you let go, presto! you're in EXCEL. This trick is also great for switching quickly when your boss comes up behind your cubicle and wants to talk to you. If you happen to have loaded on your browser (and why wouldn't you?), just TAB to that PowerPoint presentation without touching the mouse and he'll have no idea you were goofing off on company time. (Not that anyone actually goofs off by reading mentalfloss!)

3. Tab through forms

Let's say you're in the middle of filling out a profile on our site. You're confronted with dozens of empty fields that need filling in (First Name, Last Name, Address, blah blah blah, you've done it a million times in your life already). What a pain in the neck it is to use the mouse to move through the boxes. You don't have to, though! Just hit the TAB key and shazam! you're in the next box. Make a mistake? Hold down the SHIFT key and then TAB back a box. HUGE time saver.

4. No need to go to to perform Google searches

google.jpgThis is something my wife just can't get through her (every-once-in-a-while) thick skull. In the upper right-hand corner of every browser, there a search bar that lets you name your default search engine. Plop the cursor in there and search just as you would if you were my wife, typing every time she wants to look up something.

Your turn! Hit us back with some shortcuts of your own.

Check out previous IQ-tips here.


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