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YouTube / Computer Chronicles

What Tax Prep Software Looked Like in 1991

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YouTube / Computer Chronicles

For most of us, "doing our taxes" means using some kind of tax preparation software -- whether it's using a website, a desktop app, or having a professional run some fancy system for you, it is rare these days to do your taxes entirely on paper from start to finish. But in 1991, things were different: a thriving market of competing tax prep packages were on the market (at about 1:50 in the video below, the host plops nine different boxed tax prep packages on a desk), and they marked the beginning of a massive shift from filling out forms manually to filling them out digitally. Although IRS e-file existed then, it wasn't widely used -- and you still had to mail in a signed form anyway.

In this episode of Computer Chronicles, we see what tax prep software looked like in 1991. It wasn't pretty. For the most part, the competing software makers took the IRS forms and put them onscreen, adding help text and ways to search for the forms. While this was arguably an improvement (since the computer could at least do the arithmetic for you), it was a far cry from today's "Let me ask you some questions about your finances, then fill in all the details for you" model seen in modern versions of TurboTax and similar apps. So while you procrastinate and avoid doing this year's taxes, take a peek at what things were like more than twenty years ago:

It's also interesting to note the cost of these software packages in 1991. They ranged from $70-100, whereas today's (much more sophisticated) apps start at around $30.

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Kano
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Control the World With a Wave of Your Hand Using This $30 Motion Sensor
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Kano

"Learn to code" is all the rage in kids' toys—even those aimed at preschoolers. As educational toys go, though, Kano's are pretty fun. Earlier this summer, Kano released the Lite Brite-esque Pixel Kit, an LED board that kids (or anyone, really) can program to change and visualize information using the coding tutorials on the Kano desktop app. Now, the company has come out with a stand-alone motion sensor that allows you to see the impact of your code with a wave of the hand.

The $30 sensor kit is only a little bigger than a 50-cent piece, and set-up is as easy as attaching two pieces to a USB port and plugging the cable into a computer. The Kano app will show you what to do next, walking you through a series of "challenges" that hold your hand through the process of coding the sensor to change what you see within the app, whether it's changing the color of an image or playing a virtual game of Pong by waving your hand in front of your computer. The sensor can register three axes of movement, so that you can control different actions by moving your hand left-right, up-down, and forward-backward.

A blue Kano booklet of instructions sits next to a small blue sensor that looks like a periscope.
Kano

The tutorials vary from the very simple (make an arrow rotate according to gestures) to the slightly more involved (build a Pong game). But all of them are made extremely simple with drag-and-drop blocks of JavaScript code, step-by-step instructions, and highlights on the correct choices. If you put your code in the wrong place, the tutorial won't move on. No matter what your real level of understanding of the underlying code, you're going to build that Pong game. Hopefully, you'll pick up a few tricks on the way, though, which will eventually allow you to build your own games.

The motion sensor kit is the most accessible of Kano's products, both in terms of its price (the Pixel Kit is $80 compared to the motion sensor's $30) and the number of things you can do with it. The gesture-based controller can be used to play games, make moving art, or control music. You don't have to have any other Kano equipment, but if you do, you can plug it into other kits to make, say, a motion-activated Pixel Kit light show.

You can buy the Motion Sensor Kit on Kano's website starting today.

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Meet the 17-Year-Old World Champion of Excel Spreadsheets
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If you spend hours creating spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel for your office job, that work may one day pay off. The Excel World Championship recently awarded its winner a $7000 prize for demonstrating his “skills and creativity” while completing a series of tasks in the program. But the new champion doesn’t come from the professional world—he’s a student at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, Virginia.

As the New York Post reports, John Dumoulin has won a total of $10,000 in prize money for his Excel expertise. He first discovered his talent when he took a Microsoft Excel 16 certification exam for an IT class at his high school. His score was the highest in the state and it qualified him to join other spreadsheet aficionados at a national competition in Orlando, Florida.

After snagging the $3000 cash prize at that event, he moved on to compete with pros from around the world at the Microsoft Excel World Championship in Anaheim, California. The competition included 150 participants from 49 countries. Never in its history has an American taken home the grand prize, but this year Dumoulin became the first.

The teenager first became acquainted with Excel in middle school, when he made spreadsheets to track the performance of his favorite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. He told the Associated Press that he’d like to one day make a career out of doing data analytics for baseball teams. For now, his focus is on graduating from high school.

[h/t New York Post]

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