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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reasons for Chick-fil-A's ascent in the fast food market

Chick-fil-A retail sales
Chick-fil-A has a competitive business model in the fast food market
Chick-fil-A has climbed the fast-food market with efficient marketing, location, menu items and operations per Forbes; this has lead to a strong $2 million average in store sales. The restaurant chain also surpassed its largest competitor in the retail chicken market with a 2013 sales eclipse of KFC. According to data cited by Bloomberg-Businessweek,

Chick-fil-A finished the 2013 fiscal year with revenue that was $78 million higher than KFC's. Moreover, KFCs 2013 revenue was $4.22 billion, whereas Chick-fil-A's was $5 billion, and sales of around $3.2 million per store eclipsed KFC's $938,000 average store revenue. This change in the retail chicken market also shows a drop in KFCs annual sales along with a rise in Chick-fil-A's.

Although companies such as KFC and Chick-fil-A do not occupy the top positions for U.S fast food chains, they are within the top 10 per QSRmagazine. Moreover, 2011 data put KFC in the lead with $4.5 billion in sales and Chick-fil-A next in line with $4.05 billion in revenue. In the U.S., Chick-fil-A operates or licenses less than half the retail locations that KFC does. A clue to Chick-fil-A's success is its target marketing. Chick-fil-A's branding includes being closed on Sunday per AdWeek. This appears to be a religiously-motivated decision that could appeal to its largely Southern demographic.

Unlike KFC, Chick-fil-A is a privately owned company. This means the corporation does not have to grant public access to financial statements, quarterly reports and the like. The company lists its “secrets to success” on its media web page, and they include: a focus on quality over growth, attention to balanced nutrition and brand building, among other things. Whether or not Chick-fil-A can attribute its new top spot to its combined "secrets to success" is a qualitative evaluation. However, the business' dedication to customer service and quality make it a market game changer.

KFC is owned by Yum! Brands Inc., a large multi-national and publicly traded company. In fiscal year 2013, the Yum Brand's net cash flow from investment activities was $886 million, some of which is linked to the development of its overseas vs. U.S. market. Moreover, the company's 2013 10-K report states the following:
“KFC operates in 118 countries and territories throughout the world.  As of year end 2013, KFC had 4,563 units in China, 9,460 units in YRI, 4,491 units in the U.S. and 361 units in India. Approximately 78 percent of the China units, 11 percent of the YRI units, 5 percent of the U.S. units and 47 percent of the India units are Company-owned.”
Despite Yum! Brands' global strategy, its 2013 total sales were $11.18 billion, down 5.5 percent or $649 million from the previous year. Yum! Brands owns and operates both KFC and Pizza Hut locations around the world and also franchises them out.
The Chick-fil-A story indicates that international marketing and more franchises open for more hours do not necessarily mean more sales. Since both KFC and Chick-fil-A are in the same market and have similar products, the advance of Chick-fil-A demonstrates that marketing prowess and dedication to its unique branding is effective in competition against larger firms with higher capitalization and greater available resources. In an industry where technological innovation is not a top priority, a core strategy that involves quality service is a potentially prosperous marketing objective.

Image: Mav, "A series of Chick-fil-A trucks at the Airport West Distribution Center", GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How artificial intelligence writes news

artificial intelligence and news
Automated news is made possible with algorithms and data transformation

The story of humans versus robot-computer has reemerged from the realm of information technology with editorial practices firmly fixed in its focus. Some of the news already being delivered to consumers is auto-generated using technology designed by an innovative company named Narrative Science. According to Kris Hammond, Chief Technology Officer of the business, news is created when the algorithms “...take data and transform it in to stories and insight...completely automatically, with no human intervention.”


The method used to create otherwise human generated communications involves appropriately compiling data, then breaking that information down in to its component parts for re-configuration as a news story. This configuration process is accomplished by using a technique called “angular characterization.” Moreover, this methodology matches pre-programmed “angles” such as a home team victory narrative with relevant data. In this example, an identifiable win by one team over another would be expressed via the narrative template by pulling from a suitable phrase database.


News written by algorithms produced by Narrative Science is literate, accurate and even analytical. Furthermore, according to the business' CIO, the characterization of extracted data is outputted as headlines, narratives, earnings previews, Tweets and reports. Furthermore, the Securities Technology Monitor states a software developed by Narrative Science called “Quill” frames information in terms of “best practices,” “specialized version templates,” and “agnostic data analysis.” In other words, it customizes the content for audience beliefs, objectives and preferred styles of presentational tone.


Andy Rooney, the late 60 Minutes reporter once said the following per Brainy Quote: “Computers may save time but they sure waste a lot of paper. About 98 percent of everything printed out by a computer is garbage that no one ever reads.” Whether or not those print outs were derived from information typed in by a human or a computer is up for debate. In other words, regardless of which news is better, over time the advantages of a high-capacity news generating program outweighs the pension, salary and overhead costs required by numerous news reporters and “level one” analysts.


At a rate of thousands of stories per week, intuitive fore-thought still has an edge over narrative engineering per Securities Technology Monitor's interview with a capital management firm executive. Journalists, writers and narrators will be challenged by technology that makes a large portion of basic news delivery efficient. This means, more streamlined corporate operations with lower costs at the expense of the traditional news industry. Any implications on society, culture and human functionality are possibly grouped with the word ontology, which is banned from being used by the CIO of Narrative Science.

Image: Geralt/Pixabay; US-PD

Monday, December 29, 2014

How much you can save by increasing car insurance deductibles?

Car insurance deductibles
Raising a car insurance deductible typically lowers monthly premiums
You will hear or read experts talking about buying sufficient coverage. It would be the thing to do if you had no money pressures. However, most of us have a fixed income which needs to cover all of our expenses. So, something has to give at times to make it to the end of the month. In such situation you should try to reduce the risks by finding a good balance between keeping the costs down and covering almost all the risks. 

What are car insurance deductibles?

Generally, auto insurance policies come with deductibles for the collision and comprehensive coverage. These are the parts that cover material losses suffered by the policyholders. Deductibles serve several purposes for the insurers. One of them is to reduce number of small claims. When people realize that they will have to pay some of the losses out of their own pockets anyway they are likely to give up on making a claim. This is especially true for small claims and fender benders.

Use deductibles instead of cutting coverage

Increasing deductibles is still controlled risk. Their value can be better understood when you consider that increasing auto insurance deductibles can actually allow you to keep larger coverage. You would need to reduce some of the essential coverage to get the same savings. Especially dropping certain covers completely is not advisable unless your vehicle isn’t worth much money.

Even you think that you wouldn’t need coverage unless you have a big accident it is a safety net to fall onto. One of those covers that you should have plenty of is liabilities coverage. You have no way of predicting how much the losses suffered by third parties can be. They have the potential of reaching to thousands of dollars that you should have enough cover to provide the security you need.

How much you can save by increasing deductibles?

There are several studies and calculations to figure this amount. However, it is important to note that the actual figure will change depending on your personal circumstances and the company you apply to. Not every company will offer large savings and a few of them will offer higher than the usual.

Still, it is not difficult to estimate how much you would save. For example, if you increase your collision deductible from $500 to $1,000 you would save around 10% on average. This may not be a lot of money when you are already getting low premium offers. However, it could be significant when your premium is too high for you to manage.

If you increase the same deductible from $500 to $2,000 you could save about 15% percent. But $2000 is not a small out to pay out of your pocket in one go. So, you need to think about if you can pay this money when you have a claim. 

You should be prepared when you increase deductibles

As mentioned above increasing auto insurance deductibles has a downside as well. When the money is tight you may not have enough money in your savings account to make one deductible payment. If you were to have two accidents in one term you will definitely be paying a lot more than you saved. If you think that you may have more than one claim in the next six month or a year you should think twice before you increase deductibles.

Image: Biswarup Ganguly, "Multiple car accident", GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0

Saturday, December 27, 2014

5 ways to secure your property against theft

Home theft protection
Theft avoidance technology and services  reduce robbery risk
By Oscar King

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, about 2 million homes are burgled every single year in the US. Most of these burglars typically target electronics, gadgets, TVs, jewelry and wrist watches. The average dollar value of items stolen from every burgled home is over $2,000.

That is over $4 billion lost annually as a result of people’s homes being broken into. Now, if it were just about the monetary values of the stolen items, the loss would not be that much. However, the stolen items frequently have sentimental value and are often irreplaceable.

The sad thing is that many of these break-ins are preventable. With a few security steps, the victims of these burglaries could have deterred the thieves from breaking in or scared them away. If you want to secure your property properly against theft, the following tips can help you do just that.

Install a security system

By security system, we mean alarms and cameras. These can be set up in such a way that they are triggered once there is an intruder on your property. While alarms may not physically deter or stop a thief from dashing in and out of the house, it will surely cause them to hasten up.

This means less time in your home, and less time in your home means they probably won’t be able to find well-hidden valuables. If you want, you could install a silent alarm system that’s quietly triggered when the break-in happens and reflects at the security company’s office.

This is effective because the thief might think there’s nothing to worry about meanwhile the company would have called the police to report a break-in. Apart from this, a security system means lower insurance payments for you as you are considered a low-risk client by the insurance firms.

Get a guard dog

While the security system works, it is not as efficient as a guard dog. Having a guard dog in the yard patrolling the grounds when you are not around will most scare all but the most determined and experienced burglars. However, even an experienced thief would prefer to target a home without a guard dog than one with. In the end, it is not just about security that works: it is about making your home a less attractive target. 

Take care of your windows

The one thing that attracts thieves and burglars is broken or cracked windows. To them, it is simply an invitation to come in as they believe that homes or properties with cracked windows are easy to break into. So, fix your windows, secure your burglary and make sure that your windows are not inviting the robbers.

Get the surrounding properly lit

Most break-ins happen at night in homes and properties without proper exterior lighting. Fix this by simply installing adequate lighting in the compound. If you want, you could install motion detectors that would automatically trigger your halogen lamp’s glare and the alarm, or install heat-sensing lights that come on only when humans come within the proximity of your compound at night.

Put away your valuables

If you have valuables in the house, do the smart thing and put them in unlikely places. Most thieves have an idea of where people keep their valuables. Disappoint them by changing from regular locations like under the mattress, in the jewelry box, cookie jars and refrigerators to other less thought-of places. Be creative and smart about this, and you just might find your valuables intact even when there’s a break-in.

Finally, take care of your yard. Cut the grasses, trim the shrubs, hedges or bushes and keep the line of sight clear and unobstructed. Most thieves will hide in these places to monitor and observe their mark’s house. Don’t encourage them.  

About the author: The writer, Oscar King, is himself a home owner who looks for the various ways to protect his home from threats that may come from people or even natural disaster. As a last measure of defense, he has a solid homeowner's insurance plan, and for those looking for coverage he recommends insuranceland.org. You can learn more about Oscar on Google+.

Image: Tzunghaor/Open Clip Art; US-PD

Friday, December 26, 2014

How voice recognition technology is changing medical transcription

Medical transcription software
 Evolving medical transcription software improves record keeping
By Mary Lynn

As hospitals update their information processing systems, voice recognition software is one of the new technologies being implemented. This technology makes it possible to feed voice commands to a computer and then use software to automatically transcribe audio into text. In a hospital environment, doctors can use voice recognition applications to dictate patient notes and seamlessly create written documents without having to type anything. The prospects of including such automations into the patient record management systems of hospitals are indeed significant.

With speech recognition software, hospitals can process patient details more efficiently and reduce overhead costs that go towards paying salaries of transcription staff. But, what does this mean to audio typists and the role they play? Is voice recognition replacing manual audio typists? How feasible is this technology in the first place? This post will discuss these issues in order to paint a clear picture of just how voice recognition technology has changed the medical transcription industry.

The evolving role of MTs

It has been said time and again that speech recognition applications will wipe medical transcriptionists (MTs) to oblivion. That notion though is far from the truth. Even as the medical transcription industry continues to evolve with new technology, the demand for qualified audio typists is very much alive.  Although advances in technology have given doctors smart voice programs to automate record entry tasks, these applications aren’t as dependable as the human ear. Because of the complexity of natural language, most voice recognition apps are not accurate when it comes to transforming text into audio. These applications create transcripts that are more of a draft than a final document. Much of this has to do with how they operate, which makes it difficult to capture every word accurately in an audio file.

Typical speech recognition software usually stores a database of words that correspond to voice signals. These applications then try to match words with voice data fed to a computer. Due to differences in accents, homophones in language and the complicated nature of how people speak, errors are inevitable in any software generated transcript. In a medical report, these errors can mean the difference between life and death. This is why medical transcriptionists still need to listen to medical related recordings and proof transcripts for factual, grammatical and spelling errors. This therefore means that as hospitals continue to implement speech recognition technology, medical transcriptionists have taken more of an editorial role.

Efficiency in transcribing dictations

In spite of the limitations that voice recognition programs have, many hospitals benefited a lot by using them. With an accuracy of between 60 to 90 percent, speech recognition applications can indeed add an element of efficiency into the patient record entry process. These applications also do an excellent job with dictations that have only one speaker. Such recordings are easy for the voice recognition software to decipher. In most cases, these applications learn voices, hence increasing accuracy after getting used to a particular voice.

As technology continues to advance, perhaps voice recognition technology will make it possible to transcribe complex audio recordings with flawless accuracy.

About the author: Mary Lynn is a blogger based in Aberdeen who loves to write about technology and its impact in various careers. If you want to learn more about transcription and where Lynn outsources her personal audio typing needs, click here.

Image: Dr. Harry Gouvas, "A Medical Software International Logo"; CC BY-SA 3.0

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A world without finance

What would the world do without finance? Probably lots of things because contrary to popular belief, money does not make the world go around, things like gravity and inertia do. Just as there comes a time in everybody's life when the end is clear, one day, perhaps far in the future, there will be a day where the Earth no longer has finance. This will either come about by forces of nature such as the death of the sun, or it will be the result of cultural changes.

Nowadays, many face their financial demise alone, others do it with family by their side and others get by with the help of acquaintances, friends or loved ones. Those with jobs frequently brave the world of corporate exploitation with notable resilience, others either choose to be homeless out of disgust or out of  lack of options. In some cases, homeless people have psychological issues that prevent them from being functional within a somewhat dysfunctional and off-balance ethos, which might actually make them more balanced than most in a round-about way, which brings the topic back to a world without finance.

The truth is, the end of finance is always near, all around us, all the time. Focusing on this reality is hard to do, unpleasant and unnecessary, yet not paying attention to it is potentially harmful if not socially destructive, ill informed and negative. So where is the balance? In a world with no balance, there is none. A better question is, how can we attain balance when that balance is sought? Finding balance in an unbalanced world is like trying to run faster than a 20 foot tall giant. It can't be done unless something changes; either the giant has to slow down with an intentional handicap or some artificial way of accelerating is required. In both cases, unbalance creates disadvantage.

Can you make your own balance? Yes, if you're lucky, and that's the truth. There is a good chance you will not have a balanced life with meaningful opportunities and a hopeful future. They don't tell you the success rate of high school graduates for a reason. What they do tell you is where your best chances for success lie. Usually they are with all the driest, uncreative, difficult academic pursuits on the planet. Of course opportunities will exist when the work is grueling, soul sucking and generally unbalanced and if you just happen to be born in to wealth.

In short, your life has a high probability of sucking, especially if you're not designed to be average or even above average in an average unbalanced world. But what if money did not make the world go around? That's a pipe dream these days, but it does not mean it has not been a reality in the past. In fact, money has existed for only a fraction of human time on Earth. Humans existed without money for tens of thousands of years, then, approximately 5-6,000 years ago, things changed, a lot. As the bronze age ended and the iron age began, the concept of non-financial world deteriorated in to nothingness. It could take many thousands of years more for money to lose its importance, but for now, we're stuck with it.

The pastoral state

Thomas Cole; The Course of Empire: The Arcadian or Pastoral State
The days of the pastoral state may actually seem utopic in our world of economically restricted free will. Within the agricultural industry, pastoralism still exists, but not without hefty property taxes, insurance policies and other fiscal limitations.

The days of tax-free pastoralism are for the most part gone, and the few that continue this lifestyle are encroached upon by modern civilization. Perhaps if we colonized another planet and designated it for pastoral use only, then humans could have a choice. Until then, it's highly unlikely you'll live out your pastoral dreams without a well financed range or farm.

The spiritual democracy

If they could be proven as real, Lemuria and possibly Atlantis come close to the description of spiritual democracies. Although Plato describes Atlantis as being ruled by Kings, the true nature of this civilization can only be gleaned through the lens of epochs. Moreover, these were states of the golden age, when spiritual being was closely connected to physical life. It was allegedly a time when balance was far more possible, and in ways that we could hardly imagine now. Humans focused their energy on a whole different set of skills that enabled them to transform matter with their thoughts and change their energy frequencies with ease so that they could transcend dimensions. It was a time that may seem inconceivable without scientific explanation.

The spiritual autocracy

The Egyptian Book of the Dead
Ancient Egypt is known to have existed in the last golden age and into the silver age starting with the pre-dynastic and protodynastic eras. Some research that dates the construction of the Sphinx suggests the culture may have existed as far back as 26,000 years ago. In any case,  just after Egypt entered into the bronze age starting around 2800 B.C., the building of the Great Pyramids took place; it is speculated that they served the purpose of maintaining or preserving spiritual energy.

Ancient Egypt was a spiritual autocracy or at least it seems to have been one. The pharaohs and priests who ruled and the agrarian-spiritual economics would seem confusing in modern day. Food, art and spiritual life were priorities, not automobiles, houses and iPhones. Yet these concepts were enough to drive a whole society for thousands of years, even if money played a less than dominant role as it does today. What the spiritual autocracy of times passed teach us is that money really is not the most important thing in the world because if it was, people would literally not be able to exist, coordinate and become civilized without it. Yet, many of us think human life cannot exist without it. In our current global zeitgeist this is true, but if one believes things cannot change for the better, then a useful perspective on life is missing.

The technocratic technological non-homogeneous economic democracy

It is a mouthful, but what was will be, at least in the fictional imagination of "Gandhar", or "Light Years". Whether or not what existed in the past includes the technology of the future would confirm or deny an echo of the phrase "history repeats itself". If it does, then a technocratic balancing of a sustainable nexus of a simultaneous use of varying economic models is possible. In other words, integration of eco-friendly and commercially perpetual business models.

What is more, if this occurrence takes place alongside technological advancements that support human interests and existence outside of purely profit driven motives, then humanity will see a whole new perspective on life sometime in the future. Some call this a change in the ages or epochs. Just as the older of the ancient Egyptian eras saw the silver age yield to the bronze age and the bronze age become the iron age, the wheel keeps turning and our spiritually dark position in the iron age will give way to an ever expanding ray of light from the coming of new ages.


What these examples of society, culture and human existence demonstrate, is that finance really is not as necessary as people think. It is like many things, a human construct, regardless of whether or not the society being envisioned is a fictional portrayal of the future or not. Life is a gift, existence might even be a right at the cosmological level and the social, scientific, cultural and existential possibilities in our universe are many. This means, a great deal of things are possible in a universe such as ours, some things, lifestyles, ways of thinking and being have barely seen the light of day and others that have are buried in the annals of time. Still more have yet to be actualized in our reality. Whether or not finance is involved in any future way of life is at the societal level, it is a matter of choice and can be on the individual level as well.

Images: 1. US-PD; 2. DBachmann, "Lemuria", CC BY-SA 3.0; 3. US-PD; 4; Geralt/Pixabay US-PD

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tax filing mistakes to avoid when filing IRS extension Forms 4868 and 7004

Tax filing extension
More time to gather paperwork facilitates accurate tax filings
By Phyllis Sten

One of the most stressful times of the year, for many people, is tax season. Whether people are filing a personal tax return or a business tax return, many will say that tax filing can be a stressful and confusing experience. 

Sometimes people feel even more stressed because they might have to rush to file their tax return on time. What many people might not realize is that it is possible, and quite easy to extend the tax filing deadline. 

Still, a tax deadline extension will not do any good if people are filing their returns incorrectly. Here are a few tax filing mistakes to watch out for when filing a tax return.

Mistake 1 - Failing to file a tax return

In an article about filing taxes, this might seem like an obvious statement, but every United States citizen who earns over a specific amount of income in a year is required to file a personal tax return with the Internal Revenue Services (IRS). Additionally those who operate a business, or who are self-employed will have to file a business tax return. Some people might mistakenly think they are exempt from filing taxes, for example those who have moved abroad and are earning income in a foreign country, however, if they are still US citizens, people still need to file a tax return. Depending on the amount of income people earn in a foreign country they may not have to pay US income tax, but they should still file a return to avoid having to pay any tax penalties.

Mistake 2 – Filing the wrong tax return

For people who are employed by an employer they will likely only need to file a personal tax return, however, those who are operating their own business or company, and those who are self-employed and are claiming business or operating costs will need to file a business tax return, as well as their personal tax return. To help make things easier during tax season those who are self-employed should be sure to keep a record of their business income and operating costs (for example equipment costs) to help make filing business tax returns easier.

Mistake 3 – Not claiming all deductions and tax credits

Many people might be surprised to learn that many expenses and costs they pay, either personally or through their business (if one is a business owner and filing a business tax return), can be claimed on their Federal income tax. There are many tax credits offered by the government. For example, parents who have adopted a child can get a credit for qualified adoption expenses, and high-level learning students (those in university, college or another post-secondary program) can claim an education tax credit for themselves, their spouse, or their dependents. People who have made a donation to qualified organizations can claim a tax credit for their donations. For people who are filing a business claim there are also tax credits worth noting like the small business health credit, or the research tax credit. As well, it is worth noting that business owners and those who are self-employed can claim business expenses on their tax return.

Mistake 4 – Not double checking the return

Sometimes it can be easy to overlook simple mistakes when filing a tax return, and many of these mistakes can easily be avoiding by double their tax return before filing. People can help to ensure an accurate return by keeping records of business costs and expenses, if filing a business tax return. For a personal return people should be sure to keep records like charitable donations and medical expenses. People should be sure to check their tax return thoroughly and may want to apply for a tax filing extension to ensure their tax return is filed correctly.

About the author: Phyllis Sten discusses about the benefits of filing tax extension forms 7004 and form 4868 in this article.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Newsletter: Life insurance in financial planning

Monday, December 22, 2014

How would a small company claim an R&D tax credit in Texas?

R&D tax credit
R&D work must be qualified to earn a tax incentive
By Brandon Zachary 

Many companies across Texas do not claim the R&D Tax Credit, which they are entitled to. This is due to the fact that they believe they are not entitled to this incentive. Many small businesses believe that in order to receive the R&D Tax Credit, they must be a large corporation with big manufacturers and projects. 

The company must simply provide documentation that shows they are entitled to the Tax Credit. Moreover, companies must ensure that they follow the right steps to claim their R&D Tax Credit. It is especially important for small businesses to keep up-to-date with new and innovative ideas in order to compete with other small businesses.

Ensuring qualification

Companies carrying out research and development are likely to qualify for this tax credit incentive. Businesses must have some form of R&D outlined in the IRS guidelines. Businesses must be designing and developing new products, enduring change to workflow and processes, designing and installing of computer systems and software, development of new products that have not yet gone under production, and improvements to existing products. It is important to look at retainable credits as well as credits that the company can claim.

Preparation is key

The IRS requires particular documentation when claims are made for this tax credit, and it is important that the company has the most efficient strategy and knowledgeable team members to prepare these documents. Utilizing company resources, involving in-house knowledge to process it correctly, or having the expertise of specialist tax advisors at hand can be some ways to achieve this. These specialists can make the tax claims process less time consuming and therefore less costly to the company.

Combine expenses used for R&D

Pool qualifying expenditures and carry over deductions that the business does not currently need. Choose between getting an immediate tax credit or carry over the credit for later years. The small business will be able to better budget its’ funds, lowering overall costs of research and development, thus, lowering the amount of payroll needed to obtain in order to receive investment dollars. Invest in new technology for the business and benefit from being up to date with the latest research technologies.

Problem solving

There is often a lack of understanding within companies aspiring to access these R&D Tax Credits and to keep them. The right support is vital in order to ensure that documentation requirements and processes are in place to avoid mistakes that are costly to the business. Professionals of tax assessment can advise the business on what they require to have in place to ensure that all claims are easily dealt with and that payments can be maintained if the company undergoes a financial examination. Companies have been under serious scrutiny since the IRS made the R&D Tax Credit Tier 1 issue in 2007, as businesses are made to ensure that their tax credits were evidenced correctly and with a high level of documentation required. Many companies do not have the expertise to provide the IRS with what they are looking for and so, small businesses require R&D Tax Credit claiming services.

Receiving your incentive

A company can receive their R&D Tax Credit after completing Research and Development on a regular basis. It is designed to encourage and industry for innovation and development. No limit is put on the type of industry that can be eligible and this is a credit that is applicable to the public sector companies as it is to the private sector companies who currently benefit from it a great deal. In order to ensure a company’s eligibility, they can complete the step-by-step wizard that helps to check eligibility for the R&D Tax Credit.

Claiming R&D tax Credit can not only improve the financial wellbeing of a company but also boost the Texan economy. In fact between 2002 and 2012, Texas manufacturers grew from $97 billion to $211 billion, which accounted for 18.6% of US manufacturing exports. As a result, R&D Tax Credit encourages innovation and manufacturing while improving processes and products within a business. It creates more jobs based in Texas due to the added growth of the population. Businesses will be reimbursed the money that they deserve through hard work and innovation. Provide the business with as much efficiency and financial flexibility as possible.

About the author: This article was written by Brandon Zachary, who is a qualified chartered accountant with experience in claiming R&D tax credit on behalf of clients.

Royalty Free or iStock source: http://pixabay.com/en/time-tax-office-hand-leave-pen-481450/

Saturday, December 20, 2014

How governments monitor the public via Twitter

Governments around the world are stepping up their requests for Twitter user account information and content removal. Year-over-year data provided by Twitter indicates a 36.28 percent increase in global governmental information requests for the first half of 2013. Moreover, in the United States alone, 1,319 user accounts were publicly targeted for information by Uncle Sam between Jan. 1 and June 30 of 2013. Of these requests, 10 percent were made without valid legal process per Twitter.

government spying

The data released by Twitter does not include all information requests. According to Reuters, “The report did not include secret information requests within the United Sates authorized under the Patriot Act...” If similar laws exist internationally, then it is possible an undisclosed amount of additional information requests exist outside of public knowledge. Such requests make it difficult for individuals to invoke their constitutional rights because they would never know if they have been potentially violated. 

In an effort to improve transparency, Twitter and other corporations are seeking to make the volume of secret requests more transparent per The Guardian. However, until those intents are met, a more complete picture of government requests will remain unknown. Currently, of the two kinds of government requests Twitter reviews, China has the largest amount of inaccessible reports, but the U.S. accounts for the largest number of publicly disclosed requests.

A similar rise in government requests is also evident in data released by Google. More specifically, in the second half of 2012, Google had close to 2,400 content removal requests compared to around 1,000 in the second half of 2010. Of the court ordered and executive requests, 39 percent have been related to defamation and 18 percent were privacy and security related. Of the remaining 43 percent, 14 percent were classified as “other” and 1 percent had no specified reason.

In some cases, the public also have the ability to request information from the government via the 1966 Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974. For example, the Legal Information Institute states, “The Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. § 552a) protects personal information held by the federal government by preventing unauthorized disclosures of such information. Individuals also have the right to review such information...” Whether or not disclosure requirements are trumped by other laws such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA is largely a matter of internal bureaucracy to decide and therefore a matter of trust.   

Government requests for information and content removal force corporations such as Twitter to walk a fine line. On the one hand, they have an obligation to do their part in protecting the rights of people and government. However, they also have to be reasonable and fair in determining whether or not such requests should be granted if there is no legal basis for it. Moreover, should Twitter or any other social media firm find themselves in the cross-hairs of a whistle blower case, privacy lawsuit or other public relations calamity, their performance as for-profit entities is at risk.

Image: Asrafil/OpenClipArt; US-PD

Friday, December 19, 2014

How to check your pay stub to make sure you're getting paid correctly

By Andrew Fujii

Pay Stub
Double check paystub math to ensure correct withholding and payment
One of the most important things to do every pay period, is to check the paystub you are given. Often times, employees happily accept their check and cash it without a second thought. Unfortunately this means that you are naively putting all of your faith into your employer. While a good majority of employers are trustworthy and have the right processes in place to prevent payroll errors, there can still be discrepancies as to what you should be making.

Looking at a pay stub can be a little confusing. There are numbers everywhere and abbreviations for a lot of other things. Let’s start from the top of the check and work our way down so that there is a clear understanding of what you can expect to see on your check.

The Header

The header of your pay stub is pretty straightforward. Generally this will show your place of employment including its address. If the address differs from the address you work at, this is probably the corporate location where human resources manages the payroll.

The header should also include the company that processes your pay employer’s payroll. Take note of this in case you ever witness an error on your pay stub. The payroll processing company is one of the main sources of errors. However, you should always get in touch with your employer’s human resources department prior to reaching out to the payroll company.

The header will also include the check number. This is typically listed fairly prominently and should be kept for your records. Finally, the header also includes the pay period, listing the period start and end date, as well as the pay date.

Earning Section

Moving down your pay stub, we come to the earnings section. This is of utmost importance to you as it tells you your earnings for the pay period. One of the first numbers usually listed is the gross pay. This is the overall amount you earned from your employer prior to deductions being taken out.

If you are an hourly employee, it will also have the hours/units you’ve worked at a regular pay and if applicable, any overtime or holiday pay. As an hourly worker this is where you want to check how much you earned. It is vital to keep track of the hours you work within the pay period so that you can match it up to the hours worked during the period. The gross pay should equal your rate multiplied by the hours you worked within the period.

If you have worked overtime, this figure will also be listed along with the hours of overtime you accumulated. If your overtime wages don’t seem correct, you should get in touch with your manager or human resource department. If they refuse to assist you with remedying the situation, you should get in touch with an attorney that specializes in overtime wages such as Vethan Law Firm in Texas.


In the same area as your gross pay, will be an itemized list of all of your withholdings. This is the portion of your check that is taken out for taxes and other government withholdings.

The first itemized deduction should be from the federal government, sometimes abbreviated as “Fed Tax”, “FT”, or “FWT”. There are usually two columns after the itemized list that specify if “this period” and “year to date”. The first column, “this period” shows how much federal tax was withheld within this pay stubs particular pay period. The “year to date” column shows an accumulation of the federal taxes withheld over the course of the financial year.

State and local income taxes will also be incorporated into this itemized list. Again, this is often abbreviated as “St Tax”, “ST”, or “SWT”. The taxes are based on where you live.

Once you’ve examined past the standard government deductions, you may also see an area for voluntary deductions. These available provided that your company offers voluntary deductions. For example, if your employer offers you health or life insurance, it will be deducted here. Additionally, if your company offers a retirement plan such as a 401K, the deduction you specified will be listed here.

In short, keep track of your hours worked, compare that to your paystub, verify your deductions, and keep the pay stub for your records. Doing say will help to ensure that you are getting paid correctly.

About the author: Andrew Fujii is a marketing professional with expertise in digital/web and content marketing. He is also a copywriter for multiple agencies producing copy for blogs, articles, websites, product packaging, mobile apps, and more.

 License: Bugshideout, US-PD 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Blackberry offering iPhone users a big pay-out to switch to the Passport

By  Alex Viall

Blackberry Passport
The Blackberry Passport has a functional keyboard
Just as the Nokia 3210 once dominated the pockets of people all around the world, the iPhone is now sitting happy amidst some of the best-selling phones in the world. Back when Nokias were big though, the hardware and software was updated less frequently and it was easier for them to stay at the top of the game. Once smartphones made an appearance, and once Apple and HTC made their break through, Nokia struggled to retain its place as one of the world’s greatest mobile phone manufacturers.

Blackberry is having similar problems. While other companies have chosen to adapt their phones to be all but fully touch screen, Blackberry retains its miniature keyboard (yes, the one that makes your thumbs feel fat), and a pokey little screen. It seems Blackberry simply isn’t keeping up with the times, and its tactics betray its struggle.

Cold hard cash

If someone told you that, if you bought a holiday to Disneyland Paris, they would reimburse you for your devalued holiday to DisneyWorld Florida, I imagine you’d soon tell them where to go. But all the same, that seems to be what Blackberry is offering iPhone and Android users – if you buy their new Blackberry Passport, they will take your current smart phone and reimburse you, up to $550, depending on how well you’ve looked after it.

Blackberry sent out an open letter prior to this tactic asking Blackberry users to remain loyal, a letter that perhaps betrayed some desperation. John Chen, Blackberry’s CEO said ‘there’s something to be said for the old adage – if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.’ Sadly for John, it seems he wasn’t aware that just because something isn’t broken doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

It is quite a bleak outlook really, for a phone that perhaps deserves a little more credit than its company is perhaps giving it. After all, these aren’t the tactics of someone that is fully confident in their product. That isn’t to say, however, that this isn’t a good deal.

Making the swap

The new Blackberry Passport isn’t a bad phone, and a cash offering for an old phone, although crude, isn’t such a bad deal. Effectively you can swap in your old phone, and get a significant reduction on the price of a brand new one. With a payback of $550, a new Blackberry Passport would only cost you $49 in the US.

With a wider screen (and potentially smaller keyboard than before), the Passport is, for lack of a better word, unique. And perhaps its marketing campaign is quite apt in that respect. It looks a little awkward and it doesn’t really look like something you want, but once you’ve done it, it might very well have been the right choice for you. With Android app capability, the Passport looks past the Blackberry’s comparatively bleak app shop and the BB hub is quite good at keeping you organised. Ultimately you just have to decide if this unusual deal and square smartphone are for you.

About the author: Alex Viall is the Director for London’s leading IT support companies for SME’s – Mustard IT.

Image: Maurizio Pesce, "Blackberry Passport", CC BY  2.0

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Opening a retail store: 5 things to know and remember

By David Woodburn

So you have developed and marketed a new widget and things are taking off. You have been building your own business out of your home office or your garage or basement or whatever. And maybe your marketing has been highly successful where your widgets can’t stay on your shelves and your house and neighborhood are being inundated with traffic of enthusiastic customers.

At this point, you could well be thinking, this can be a good time for me to find a retail space to sell my widgets. And you could be right, but you can’t just spontaneously call up a commercial real-estate agent and have them immediately find you a space to lease so you can clear out your garage and thin out the neighborhood traffic in the next month. Opening a retail store is a big decision and there has to be a lot of things to consider, think about, research and understand. You do not want to go into this kind of operation blind or ignorant. That alone will cost you the business before you even open the doors for the first time.  Since you are supported in your efforts, here are some things for you to consider and keep in mind not only as you open your store but also to keep your store profitable.

Have a plan

Retail business startup tips
Category management streamlines operational efficiency
1. OK, if you’re smart (and if you have a business, you are definitely not stupid), you already have a business plan. And it’s possible that a retail space was featured somewhere in that plan. Well, now you have to not only review the plan as a whole, but you should also create a plan inside the plan that deals specifically with the retail space. This includes doing some market research to determine if your desired market can support a retail space for your widget. This will also include looking at the demographics of your market and seeing whether your widget can get some penetration in the market according to the desired or target demographic.

Know your customers

2. This isn’t just on first-name basis. This is about knowing their backgrounds, spending habits, why they buy your widget and why they come back, and also knowing their age, location of residence and other key marketing information. Knowing as much as you can about your customers will help you market more effectively, and ultimately can help you with the fourth thing on this list – you can make more sales if you are closer to your customer base.

Start slowly

3. This is more of a reminder for you. You likely started slow in the first place – that is why you made your widgets in your garage. Moving into a retail space does not mean it’s full speed ahead. You should probably dial back your expectations and think of your retail space as another “garage.” Build slowly and don’t bite off more than you can afford to chew, if you get the drift. 

Location, location, location

4. Especially if you are opening only one retail space, picking the right real estate could make or break your operation regardless if all other factors are in place. The keys are to know where your customers generally come from and find a location that is as central to that group as possible, and it’s probably a good idea to find a space that is along a visible and well-traveled roadway to increase visibility. You can also determine in your business plan whether it will make sense to lease or buy an existing space, expand or build out a space or to build a new store.  Of course, which you choose will likely have a bearing on the permits and licenses you need in order to operate, so that should be put into the equation as well. The most visible you are, especially with signage like that from Industrial Sign Installations, the better you will be in the long run.

Find the right people

5. Once you have your plan and your site ready to go, you will likely have to hire some people to run the store with you. And really, no matter what role each person has in the store, good customer service will go a long way toward your success. It’s one thing to hire people with the best skills for the job you want to fill, but if that person does not know how to handle customers and meet their needs, those great skills will be on the streets when you shutter your doors.  And when you find the right mix of skill and personality to meet your customers’ needs, you will have to have considerations about the salaries you offer and if you offer benefits. You will be in competition for the workers just like you are for customers, so you have to make sure you can compete with other businesses in the compensation area. On the other side, you need to make sure to develop a strong and thorough interview process so you find the truly good people, and not just able, breathing bodies. There needs to be a fit between you and the candidate not just in terms of how the candidate is better at a skill than you, but that he or she gets along with you and the culture you want to project in your retail space. 

About the author: David Woodburn has been working in retail for the past several years and has a lot of knowledge when it comes to finding your perfect retail space.

Image: GifTagger, US-PD

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New OASIS C1/ICD-9 version to begin January 1, 2015: Are you ready?

ICD-9, ICD-10
ICD stands for international classification of diseases
By Andrew Fujii

Hopefully you’ve been doing your due diligence and preparing for all of the changes that are imminent with the upcoming implementation of ICD-10. If you haven’t been, you may have dodged the proverbial bullet.

ICD-10 was delayed, meaning the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014 (PAMA) was enacted on April 1, 2014. This states that ICD-10 cannot to be adopted prior to October 1, 2015. This delay caused the delay of the new OASIS C1 which had been scheduled for implementation on October 1, 2014.

The reason that ICD-10’s delay caused the delay of the new OASIS C1 data set, is due to the fact that five of OASIS C1’s data items require ICD-10 codes. Without these codes the data set would result in a lot of errors.

Therefore a new data set was constructed that combined elements of both versions. This hybrid is known as OASIS C1/ICD-9. In this new data set ICD-10 specific items will be replaced with the original ICD-9 counterparts.

Getting ready for the transition is no easy feat. There are a lot of moving parts that have been made more confusing due to the delays. Understanding the different changes and revisions will help your team better prepare for new OASIS C1/ICD-9 implementation. Make sure that your staff understands the timeline, the initial changes from OASIS C to OASIS C1, and the five ICD-10 codes that are being replaced in the hybrid data set.

The Timeline

In order to prepare for the new OASIS C1/ICD-9, it is important to get a clear picture of the timeline that will be used. The most prominent date to remember is January 1, 2015 when the new version officially takes over. However, there are other dates that will surely be important to all staff members as it relates to how and which data to process.
  • OASIS submissions to the state discontinues: December 26, 2014 - 6:00 am EST
    • Home health agency state submissions will no longer be used for OASIS submissions
  • Use of OASIS C continues until: December 31, 2014 - 11:59 pm EST
  • Use of OASIS C1/ICD-9 begins: January 1, 2015 - 12:00 am EST
  • OASIS assessment data submitted to CMS via Assessment Submissions and Processing System (ASAP): January 1, 2015
  • For all M0090 assessments, the new OASIS C1/ICD-9 version is to be used: January 1, 2015
  • OASIS C1 begins at the time of implementation of ICD-10-CM.

OASIS C Changes

A handful of OASIS C items were altered in the new OASIS C1 and OASIS C1/ICD-9 versions. Understanding and taking into account these changes will help prepare you for the upcoming transition. The following table outlines those changes:

M1012 NA Inpatient Procedures Completely Deleted
M1032 M1033 Risk for Hospitalization Item wording change; changes to Item Intent and Response-Specific Guidance
M1040 M1041 Influenza Vaccine Item wording change; Skip pattern change; changes to Item Intent and Response-Specific Guidance
M1045 M1046 Reason Flu Not Received Item wording change; changes to Item Intent and Response-Specific Guidance
M1050 M1051 Pneumonia Vaccine Item wording change; changes to Item Intent and Response-Specific Guidance
M1055 M1056 Reason PPV not Received Item wording change; changes to Item Intent and Response-Specific Guidance
NA M1309 Worsening in Pressure Ulcer Since SOC/ROC New item
M1310 NA Pressure Ulcer Length Deleted
M1312 NA Pressure Ulcer Width Deleted
M1314 NA Pressure Ulcer Depth Deleted
M2100 M2102 Types and Sources of Assistance Item wording change; changes to Response-Specific Guidance
M2440 NA Reason Admitted to a Nursing Home Deleted

ICD-10 replacements

The ICD-10 specific items will be replaced with their ICD-9 counterparts as stated earlier. The five codes affected are M1011, M1017, M1021, M1023, M1025. These five codes will be important as you adopt the new hybrid OASIS C1/ICD-9 version.
  • M1010 (inpatient diagnosis) will be used instead of M1011
  • M1016 will be used instead of M1017
  • M1020, M1011, and M1024 will be used instead of M2021, M1023, and M1025

Staff training

In order to transition smoothly to the new hybrid version beginning in the new year, it is vital that you staff be made aware and trained regarding the modifications. Additionally, your staff should review the information on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website, such as the OASIS User Manual.

Additional information about the OASIS C1/ICD-9 data set can also be found on the CMS website.

About the author: Andrew Fujii is a marketing professional with expertise in digital/web and content marketing. He is also a copywriter for multiple agencies producing copy for blogs, articles, websites, product packaging, mobile apps, and more.

Image:  Przesłany przez użytkownika Luk4ward,"ICD9 Codes Logo"; CC BY-SA 3.0

Monday, December 15, 2014

Musicians build marketing awareness as industry changes

Music marketing
Technology has changed the way music is marketed
The world of music marketing has changed significantly. A part of this has been a result of new technology. It has also opened up opportunities for distribution companies such as Spotify and Pandora, both of which have experienced an increasing market share.

Musicians themselves have the opportunity to shape how their creations are ultimately passed on. This requires them to be as aware about marketing practices, music trends and contractual arrangements as music management firms and distributors are within the industry.

In the recent past, musical artists grew impatient with unrealized financial pledges from the digital music streaming firm Spotify. Many artists such as Radiohead's Thom Yorke have removed their work from the company in protest. Several entertainers are also distraught because of meager royalties that are far less than offerings from competitors such as iTunes. National Public Radio reports that some bands, including the Black Keys, have refused to use the service at all.

Several artists have spoken out about their grief with Spotify. According to The New Yorker, musician Nigel Godrich states, “It’s an equation that just doesn’t work. Plus, people are scared to speak up or not take part, as they are told they will lose invaluable exposure if they don’t play ball.” In an attempt to rectify the low-paying advantages of Spotify, unionized musicians have sought a better pay deal per The Guardian. Fractions of a penny per play on streaming music is simply not enough money for artists to support themselves.

Counter claims to musicians' concerns are rooted in the entertainment industry. According to Time Magazine, services such as Spotify offer artists an alternative to piracy that is better than nothing. Moreover, a WBUR Boston interview with Greg Sandoval, senior reporter of The Verge, reveals that music production companies have actually shrunk due to piracy. A result of this is that they are being more particular about which musicians they promote; this makes it more difficult for artists to gain exposure via traditional music management.

If artists are motivated by money, then they will not be incredibly inspired by Spotify royalties. This is more the case if the company pays higher play rates to artists with label contracts and does not help facilitate relationships between listeners and artists. In addition, Spotify claims it will not be transparent about royalty payment rates per Digital Music News. This means relationship building with musicians is being passed off for stronger deals with music labels and more corporate financial control.

Musicians are becoming more aware of how their talent is exploited via corporate management of their product marketing. Spotify's revenue comes from advertisers and subscribers. Currently, Spotify has 24 million users, six million of whom pay for a subscription per Spin. The company claims it will have paid members over $1 billion by year's end, but it averages just a fraction of a penny per play; this nets many artists whose songs are played a million times just a few thousand dollars.

These days artists of the music industry are now more responsible for marketing themselves, and are also tasked with becoming better aware of product placement via various forms of media, multi-tiered distribution networks and broader delivery options. Recorded music that is streamed via digital media helps build exposure, but live performances and alternate distribution channels remain a better paying market. Furthermore, other sources of music financing such as crowd-funding or entertainment orientated venture capital firms may serve musicians more than traditional “labels” such as EMI.

Image: Aerokay, "Geddy Lee", CC BY-SA 3.0

Friday, December 12, 2014

Non-profit tax exemption filing guide

Nonprofit organizations are required to file tax information with tax authorities, however these types of companies and organizations may be exempt from taxes because of the nature of their business (managementhelp.org). These businesses perform a wide range of social services that can benefit a community or groups of people in a way that cannot be easily profited from. The current tax deadline for nonprofits is May 15, which is near a month after the individual tax-filing deadline. This article will discuss the tax return preparation for these types of organizations in terms of nonprofit classifications, tax filing forms, filing procedures and nonprofit tax filing tips.

Types of nonprofit organizations

A complete list of nonprofit classifications can be found at the following reference link and typically include the 501 number designation followed by a letter and another number in brackets. These numbers represent the type of nonprofit organization for tax filing, governmental and funding reference purposes. To avoid confusion, to be officially recognized as a tax-exempt nonprofit, the organization must be registered as such with the appropriate government entity in addition to applying for tax exemption with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Several 501 nonprofit label designations are given to the various types of nonprofits.

RS filing forms

IRS Form 1023There are many forms that are used for nonprofit corporations and/or organizations.

These forms are designed for those business types and include the '990 series', applications for tax exemption and other organizations such as tax exempt political organizations.

A list of several of the IRS forms that may be needed for tax filing are provided below as sourced by the Internal Revenue Service.

Form 1023 "Application for Recognition of Exemption" (For 503(c)'s)
Form 1024 "Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(a)"
Form 1120-POL "U.S. Income Tax Return for Certain Political Organizations"
Form 8868 "Application for Extension of Time to File an Exempt Organization Return"
Form 990 - "Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax"
Form 990-N "Tax filing form for nonprofits with annual income is $25,000 or less"
Form 990-EZ "Short form Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax"
Form 990-PF "Return of Private Foundation or Section 4947(a)(1) Nonexempt Charitable Trust Treated as a Private Foundation"
Form 990-BL "Information and Initial Excise Tax Return for Black Lung Benefit Trusts and Certain Related Persons"
Form 990-T "Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Return"

Filing procedures and online nonprofit IRS forms

Filing IRS forms for nonprofit corporations online or e-filing is a similar process to individual e-filing. Either a known online tax filing preparation software is used or one is found through the Internal Revenue Service. The same forms and documentation requirements are needed for online tax filing, however this expedites and records the information in the IRS database(s) faster than filing via mail and paper.

Procedures for filing a nonprofit tax return involve  identifying the type of nonprofit, locating the necessary filing forms and properly completing and submitting tax forms. In cases where tax status and/or financial circumstances are blurred, uncertain or complex, the assistance of a professional tax assistant may well be worthwhile as the consequences could include audits, or refilling or additional information requests which can cost valuable time.

Nonprofit tax filing tips

  • Verify nonprofit status and type
  • Gather all appropriate documents
  • Record all charitable donations and documents
  • Read filing instructions such form 990 instructions, form 557 and 598
  • File online for faster returns and/or processing
  • Consult tax preparation services if need be
Nonprofit corporations and businesses are required to report annual income, asset and expense information just like for-profit companies, however, nonprofit groups may be tax exempt, freeing them from the tax burden since profit is not a primary motive for these types of businesses. Several forms and procedures exist for filing taxes as a nonprofit, some of which are provided in this article. The deadline for filing taxes as a nonprofit is May 15 and online tax preparation software and/or services exist to expedite the process and make it more efficient.

Image: USGov-PD