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The (TV) Taxman Cometh

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A few weeks ago, my husband got us a digital cable box, despite the fact that we don't have a television.

The reasoning behind the cable box is that should we ever decide to get a television, using it would somehow be free, with our cable plan. But one of the reasons we don't have a television has to with the fact that watching broadcast television, like many other things in this fair country, comes with a yearly tax; in 2008 to 2009, that tax was around £140. Not a ton of money, but more than I, an American who assumes that television should be free, want to pay.

Now, we'd heard about this TV tax well before we even moved here. But I'll be honest, I didn't really know exactly what it was or how it was collected.

It's simply a tax on any device, including laptops and mobile phones, that is used to receive a television program at the same time its being watched or broadcast to other members of the public. It's set annually by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sports, the BBC has the right to collect the tax, and the money goes to pay for their broadcasts. All well and good "“ the BBC does some great programming and while they make most things available on iPlayer, their web-based radio and television streaming program, it's not all there.

But the question is, how do they determine whether there is a television on the premises, and that it's being used for watching broadcast TV, not just DVDs and video games?

The answer: They have surveillance vans.

TV-licensingFor decades, TV-tax dodgers have been foiled by the TV licensing patrols "“ essentially, vans with large antennae atop them sniffing out TV signals. And if they, the licensing patrols, determine that someone is using a television unlawfully, they can levy a fine of up to £1,000. The first such vans hit the streets in 1926, trying to catch radio listeners who were dodging the obligatory 10-shilling license fee. The invention of TV brought a new generation of vans, but it's only been in the last 17 years or so that the vans have really been effective, able to not only determine if there's a television receiver in use, but to cross reference the information with an on-board database of TV license holders as well. In 2007, the TV licensing department unveiled a new weapon in the fight against TV-tax dodgers: A handheld device that can detect if a television is on within a radius of 29 feet.

The larger triumph of the vans, however, isn't so much in catching dodgers outright, but in the fear they're able to conjure. Even televised public service announcements warning potential TV-tax dodgers were designed to strike a note of paranoia in TV viewers:

In this one, from 1970, a TV license patrolman says, "Yes, there's a TV set on at No 5. It's in the front room "“ and they are watching Columbo." It is no surprise that George Orwell was British.

Despite the fact that the TV tax is ingrained in British media culture, there have been some rumors of revolt lately "“ in the last few years, polls have shown that people would like to see the BBC funded in some other way, or to do away with the tax all together. At the same time, watching television programs on the internet, specifically those that have already been broadcast to the TV viewing audience, is a bit of what media watchdog group OfCom considers a TV-tax grey area and one that, as people continue to rely on the internet and digital cable recording for TV, will need to be figured out.

As of now, we haven't decided what to do with the digital cable box, which remains in its box, unopened, in our spare room. And though the BBC does air some great shows, programs like Clever v. Stupid and Strictly Come Dancing are making me wonder "“ what exactly are 25 million Brits paying for?

[Image courtesy of TV Licensing.]

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A Simple Way to Charge Your iPhone in 5 Minutes
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Spotting the “low battery” notification on your phone is usually followed by a frantic search for an outlet and further stress over the fact that you may not have time for a full charge. On iPhones, plugging your device into the wall for five minutes might result in only a modest increase of about three percent or so. But this tip from Business Insider Tech may allow you to squeeze out a little more juice.

The trick? Before charging, put your phone in Airplane Mode so that you reduce the number of energy-sucking tasks (signal searching, fielding incoming communications) your device will try and perform.

Next, take the cover off if you have one (the phone might be generating extra heat as a result). Finally, try to use an iPad adapter, which has demonstrated a faster rate of charging than the adapter that comes with your iPhone.

Do that and you’ll likely double your battery boost, from about three to six percent. It may not sound like much, but that little bit of extra juice might keep you connected until you’re able to plug it in for a full charge.

[h/t Business Insider Tech]

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Trying to Save Money? Avoid Shopping on a Smartphone
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Today, Americans do most of their shopping online—but as anyone who’s indulged in late-night retail therapy likely knows, this convenience often can come with an added cost. Trying to curb expenses, but don't want to swear off the convenience of ordering groceries in your PJs? New research shows that shopping on a desktop computer instead of a mobile phone may help you avoid making foolish purchases, according to Co. Design. Ying Zhu, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, recently led a study to measure how touchscreen technology affects consumer behavior. Published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, her research found that people are more likely to make more frivolous, impulsive purchases if they’re shopping on their phones than if they’re facing a computer monitor. Zhu, along with study co-author Jeffrey Meyer of Bowling Green State University, ran a series of lab experiments on student participants to observe how different electronic devices affected shoppers’ thinking styles and intentions. Their aim was to see if subjects' purchasing goals changed when it came to buying frivolous things, like chocolate or massages, or more practical things, like food or office supplies. In one experiment, participants were randomly assigned to use a desktop or a touchscreen. Then, they were presented with an offer to purchase either a frivolous item (a $50 restaurant certificate for $30) or a useful one (a $50 grocery certificate for $30). These subjects used a three-point scale to gauge how likely they were to purchase the offer, and they also evaluated how practical or frivolous each item was. (Participants rated the restaurant certificate to be more indulgent than the grocery certificate.) Sure enough, the researchers found that participants had "significantly higher" purchase intentions for hedonic (i.e. pleasurable) products when buying on touchscreens than on desktops, according to the study. On the flip side, participants had significantly higher purchase intentions for utilitarian (i.e. practical) products while using desktops instead of touchscreens. "The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers' favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers' preference for utilitarian products," Zhu explains in a press release. The study also found that participants using touchscreen technology scored significantly higher on "experiential thinking" than subjects using desktop computers, whereas those with desktop computers demonstrated higher scores for rational thinking. “When you’re in an experiential thinking mode, [you crave] excitement, a different experience,” Zhu explained to Co. Design. “When you’re on the desktop, with all the work emails, that interface puts you into a rational thinking style. While you’re in a rational thinking style, when you assess a product, you’ll look for something with functionality and specific uses.” Zhu’s advice for consumers looking to conserve cash? Stow away the smartphone when you’re itching to splurge on a guilty pleasure. [h/t Fast Company]

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