Sunday, January 13, 2008

Expense Calculator v2dot1 released

Announcing the release of the new and improved Expense Calculator.

What you get?
Go out a lot? Spend time and money with friends? What about trips? Do you always have trouble calculating and setting accounts with friends? Worry no more - in comes the expense calculator.

Just key in every expense - what is the expense? who paid for it? what category? who were involved? - and whenever you want to complete and settle the accounts, just click a button and itz all done. No more hastles - life made simpler :)

How is it improved?
The all-new Accounts Calculator is highly customized to suit your needs. Start-up is now so simple - just key in the names and the various categories of accounts that you want to track. And you are set to roll.

Categorize your accounts now - add a category to every expense. The rows are colored based on the category (Excel 2007 only). And whats more - once you settle your accounts - you get to see how much was spent for each category. Helps you to review and plan future spendings.

The hallmark feature - Auto settling of accounts. Previous versions merely show the net up/down position of the individual people involved in the accounts. This one will now only do that but also give a list of how to settle (i.e. who pays whom) the accounts. And whats more amazing is the Shortest Settlement Algoritm (SSA - patent pending), which ensures the least number of payment transfers for settlement. Now - thats cool.

Screen Shots
1. Start-up screen (Setup users)

2. Accounts screen

3. Settlement screen (Just a click away)

Download Links (Best viewed with Excel 2007)
Account Calculator 2.1
Sample sheet

Feel free to give it a go. Would very much appreciate comments and suggestions for improvement. After all, there has to be a v3.0 in due course of time.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Curious Corner: Unwarranted bloodshed - Blu Ray vs HD-DVD

This is one of the biggest battles in the world of technology - Blu Ray vs HD-DVD.
And I decided to take a peek...

The ironic fact - Why is there no clear winner - not because both of them are equally good - just that both are equally bad and exist just due to the big names that back them.

So what do they offer? The next step to DVDs - a smart storage disc which can hold 25-100GB of data. Both format provide high-definition video quality (not available on DVDs) and great interactivity for movies. Blu-ray has a slight edge when it comes to disc capacity but the fact that the cost of the same is almost 50% more than that of the counterpart nullifies the advantage. With the influx of HDTVs into the consumer market, both the formats take movie watching to a new level. Though both the formats allow a good range for interactivity and menu options, neither have defined a standardized way for the same.

Blu-ray was developed by Sony and HD DVD by Toshiba. What is astonishing is the fact that both the formats use similar encoding techniques and offer almost similar benefits. But still they are rivals and will be. An attempt to unify the two into a single standard (a year back) was a miserable failure.

Now the question that every consumer will ask - Which one should I buy? Blu-Ray or HD-DVD Player - since both of them have their own players and are incompatible with the other. The answer is NEITHER!!! The battle has become so big that even movie studios have started taking sides and support only that format. Some movies come ONLY in Blu-Ray while other only in HD-DVD - totally absurd as far as the customer is concerned. Some manufacturers have started to make combined Blu-Ray & HD-DVD Player - but ironically the price of the device is more than two separate players put together.

So for the near future - till a concensus is reached, it's advisable to wait. The battle has gone for long and the more it goes, the worse it is for the industry. Even now, some analysts say that if we create a unified standard and move towards the goal, it will take atleast 2 years to revert all that has been done and move forward. Or will it be a case that one side will lose?

In the very recent days, Blu-Ray got a shot in the arm when Warner Bros moved from HD-DVD to Blu-Ray movie supportability (due to bad HD-DVD sales) but this single event will not entirely tilt the scales.

Let's wait n watch!!!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Credit Cards: The saving angel or the devil in disguise?

Well, every one of us invariably has a Credit Card. But how many of us actually stop to think whether it is a saving angel or a devil in disguise. Not many :) . The truth is - it is a double edged weapon - if you are clever and master the game, Credit Cards can be the saving grace. But on the other hand, ignorance mixed with a few goof-ups here and there can result in half your paycheck sliding stealthily into the bank's pockets.

So the advice for the day is - Be aware and play the game sharp. I have three credit cards and one fine day realized that I was paying exorbitantly out of my pocket for two of the cards. Finally decided to dig deep and see how they actually work.

Here's an interesting article I came across - it explains every thing a person should know and should keep in mind before apply for a credit card.

A few tips
Though I should put in my two cents on understanding credit cards. The biggest advice - PLEASE READ THE FINE PRINT - in fact, the fine print ain't so difficult to comprehend. In fact, as explained in the article above, every credit card company is required to explain all the essential facts (like APR, balance transfer, cash back, basic rewards, APR calculation cycle, etc) in a standard table in the 'terms & conditions' page. So the simple rule is - Learn what they imply and read the fine print.

Secondly don't blindly choose a credit card - play it smart. Every credit card has a lucrative offering based on the type of card. Some of the common types
- Zero/low intro APR
- Zero/low balance transfer
- Cashback rewards on purchases
- Gas cards
- Airline/hotel points cards

So play a clever game. Eg. choose a card with zero intro APR and use it extensively for 12 months and help to eliminate/minimize your interest payment. If you are paying very high interest on one of the cards, pick up a card which offers 0% balance transfer APR and pay the balance transfer amount in that period. And well, maybe have a card which maximizes rewards/cashback on purchases. For people who travel a lot by car, pick up a good gas card. For those who accumulate frequent flyer miles, pick an airline card which accumulates points from purchases. Maybe go to the extent as to ensure that you have product protection on atleast one of the cards (means that you can get a replacement for the product if the same is stolen or damaged within 90 days of purchase!)

Final advice - read read read the fine print. Some examples of slippery tracks to avoid
- Don't always fall for a 0% intro APR card. Check what the APR will be after the offer expires. Some cards carry ridiculously high APR once the offer period expires
- Verify what the grace period is for the card. Usually cards offer a grace period of 21 days after which the purchase amount will be added into interest calculation. But there are cards which specify in fine print that this is true only if there is zero balance amount from the previous month. Watch out!

It's a cunning world out there - so be sharp and be smart...

Micro Ideas: Rack your brains, a flash of brilliance might just slip by

A great idea is but a flash of brilliance. But often that flash of brilliance does not just occur out-of-the-blue. What it needs is excavation. Consider this - an archaeologist never knows what he's going to find - but that doesn't mean that he digs holes at random places waiting to hit upon something. Based on careful analysis and scientific research, he decides on places to dig hoping to find something.

You cannot find an ExtraTerrestial until you search for one. So is a great idea. It's time to tune the brain to constantly be in search for this flash of brilliance. And what better way can be it than starting off this section - Micro Ideas. May it be that one of the Micro Ideas is 'The One'.

Educational Activity Kits
'The best way to learn is to experience it'. When I was a kid - what used to amaze me the most were the tiny activity kits. I used to harp upon these difficult-to-get science activity kits - they are fun. Finally I could see and experience what these boring science books mean to drive in. This is so much easier - and this is the right way to learn. How many of us have actually taken the effort to see white light split into the multple colours of vibgyor on passing through a prism? How many of us have actually tried to carry out some of the tons and tons of chemical reactions that we read in our childhood. Why do we need to merely accept things without experiencing it. This is where the Educational Activity Kits come in - as I started playing with them, not only did I find understanding the profound concepts so much simpler but I also started exploring beyond the horizons of the Kits - I went on to have a mini Chemical laboratory to run though the reactions I learn in textbooks.

Today, all these look a distant past - but even today when I walk past through the 'toys and games' section in one of these US supermarkets/toystores, I am amazed that there still exists no commercial Education Activity Kit. The target market is quite open and the feasibility of implementation is not too bad. One can bring out an exclusive line of Education Activity Kits (a new brand like Lego). These boxed kits should contain scientific concepts and related experiments. In addition, they should contain all materials required to carry out these simple experiments. For eg: the activity kits can be organized under three categories - Physics, Chemistry & Biology. Under the Physics category will be a kit on 'Light' where concepts like diffraction, diffusion, etc can be explained. This kit will contain a Prism to explain the components of white light, a set of color filters to explain colors & filters, etc. Similarly one can have a Biology kit on observing plants and animals which will include experiments with microscopes and growing mustard plants.

Slowly it would be possible to explore into other areas outside core science like geography, arts & crafts, etc.

The world of EAK (Educational Activity Kits) waits, with doors wide open.