Thursday, April 21, 2016

Doing your taxes on AWS

I have been using a mac for about 10 years now.  A few years back I switched to using TaxAct to do my taxes and their installed product is PC only.  At first I used Virtual Box and an old Windows XP install I still had to do the taxes. Last year I had to rebuild the Virtual Box image of XP and spent half a day getting it configured properly, updated, and antivirus installed (security being paramount when doing taxes).   In my day job I use AWS regularly, at the end of that day I did a face palm to myself and said I could do this in AWS spinning up a Windows Server for the weekend, do my taxes and blow it away.  I'll have a fast up to date version of windows with no licensing issues.

So this year that is what I did.  I was expecting this to cost less than $5 for a windows server for the weekend, but due to my personal account still being eligible for Amazon's free tier pricing, I ended up with a charge of less than $1 for the work.  Initially I spun up a 2 CPU 4GB ram VM (t2.medium) that AWS charges $0.072/hour for, including the Windows Server 2012 license.   I got firefox installed, updated the machine, installed the tax software and started my taxes.

Then I noticed that Windows 2012 was so memory efficient I could probably get by with a server half that size.  So the next day I started a 1 CPU 2GB VM (with the same 40GB SSD drive mounted) and continued my taxes there with no problem.  AWS charges half the rate for the smaller VM.  Eventually I found I could run TaxAct without trouble in a 1GB VM, even though I can't imagine running a windows laptop with just 1GB of ram.   However that is only true if you are just running TaxAct, if you start any thing else like a web browser or Windows starts running update, then the 1 CPU 1 GB VM is just unusable. And I used that tiny VM just for the experience to write about it in this blog post. It was very usable, except when windows did updates.

When you just need a windows machine or a bigger windows machine for a few hours, I highly recommend considering AWS where you can rent by the hour.   My total bill was $0.62 due to the free tier usage on the last day of my tax prep.  Even if I had used the 2CPU and 4GB VM the whole time it would have been less than $2.

Given that I was working on my taxes I locked the machine down from a networking perspective using the AWS security groups (like firewall rules).   Definitely better than my struggles getting a Virtual Box windows machine created to use for a weekend of tax work.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Notes on Small Business Accounting

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Explaining a billion years to a 7 year old

While many people are trying to figure out how to explain the Sandy Hook shooting to their children, I'm struggling to explain something a little different.

A few nights ago I watched a documentary on Mysteries of the Universe with my 7 year old, not realized that the show ended with a discussion of how the universe might end. We are given 3 likely options: big freeze, big rip, or big crunch. Each of these are likely to occur tens of billions to trillions of years in the future.

Since then I have been asked at least twice when we needed to plan for the end of the universe, or if we needed to worry about it. As much as I'd like to say "Don't worry your little head about it." I don't want to be so condescending and shut off discussion.  So I explain that I am around 1 billion seconds old. I hope this helps her understand these are far far off in the future.  But I am very proud of how calmly she can wonder about the end of everything.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Science Cafe

I just got back from the Science Cafe talk on black holes given at The Irregardless Cafe in Raleigh NC. I don't normally do an on-line "shout out." But I wanted to thank everyone involved. That includes the staff at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science, the local chapter of Sigma Xi, the staff of The Irregardless Cafe (which was PACKED), and the presenter Dr. John Blondin of North Carolina State University.

The talk was wonderful, entertaining, and explained concepts in an easy to understand manner. The food at The Irregardless was great and the staff was friendly even while being over worked.

I only wish there had been a projector, as I'm sure John could have blown the audience away with some cool visuals. Perhaps one more local (read Big Boss) beer options at The Irregardless. Really no complaints on the evening at all!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Job's Companies

I just listened to Business Week's podcast on Apple without Jobs. What surprised me is they didn't look at the history of the company Jobs did walk away from. Like Apple that company had a long string of hits. It was a late to its industry and set an impossibly high bar for the rest of the industry. Of course I am talking about Pixar.

Pixar was a division of Lucasfilm, and George was going to shut it down if the division leader didn't find a buyer. In 1986 Steve Jobs bought the division from Lucasfilms for $10 Million.

When Jobs became CEO of Apple in 1997 he began slowly stepping away from Pixar. During those 9 years Steve was focusing more and more on Apple, even though his wealth growth was coming from Pixar. It wasn't until 9 years later in 2006 that Disney bought Pixar for $7.4 Billion.

I don't doubt that Jobs was involved in any and all negotiations between Disney and Pixar. But you don't have to be the "mythical Jobs" to be good at negotiation. Pixar has proven that it can keep making hits with Jobs gone or focused on Apple. Pixar's worst movies still hold their own against the best from competing studios. Using Pixar as an example it is possible for Apple to keep making hits after Jobs retires.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Blogs - How many should you have?

I just got through watching Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk on Creativity. During the day I find thoughts flit through my mind that I want to expand upon. The trouble is that I almost never have a notepad or computer with me at the moment to capture them. Or perhaps I lack the discipline to capture the outline without going through the details or job flexibility to devote an hour or 2 to and idea when it strikes me. (That's the great thing about twitter, you only have to produce one short sentence.) Either way, my creativity wants an outlet and so I plan to restart blogging again.

The prevailing school of thought on blogs and twitter accounts is that they should stick to one topic. I have a wide range of topics I'm interested in writing about, and would like to find a way to manage all of that in as small a number of blogs as possible. The list of general subjects would look something like the following:

  • Computer Science and Information Technology - This is my profession and educational back ground. Today I was thinking about writing about problems that can be solved by buying more hardware and those that have to be solved with better software, and how the non-computer-scientist (management) could learn to tell the difference.

  • Technical solutions to problems in Computer Science and Information Technology - A place to put solutions I have found that I couldn't find easily elsewhere.

  • iPhone development - Like above but specific to iPhones

  • Music, Audio, and Classic Speakers - I love music. I have the affliction of being an audiophile. I collect classic speakers and occasionally build my own. If you have never sat in the dark and listen to music you loved, do yourself a favor and do it tonight. I'm serious find some music that speaks to your soul, cut off the lights, put down you gadgets, close your eyes and just listen for 5 minutes or 50. One of my resolutions is to make the time to do this more often!

  • Investing and Financial Planning - Sometimes I wish to make a radical career change and go into money management. I actually enjoy pouring over 401K options and making investment decisions.

  • Taco/Food Trucks - I did work on this iPhone app after all.

  • Things like my last post here.

So can I put all of this together in 2 to 4 blogs without totally alienating the readers?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Reasons to be Optimistic

All too often I find the news depressing. Today I started thinking of the glimmers of light in the daily news. Here is my list of news items that should makes us all optimistic about the future.
  1. Over 50 billionaires are pledging to give most of their wealth to charity. Read about it in the Wall Street Journal or at the pledge site.

  2. The wheels of justice sometimes turn very slowly, but they do turn. Jim Morrison was pardoned today of a crime that he was apparently charged with based on a news paper report in 1969.

  3. The Navy is investing heavily in more energy efficient equipment and renewable energy options, because having to deliver less fuel to the front saves soldier's lives. You can read or listen to Science Friday's coverage of this subject. Much of science funding has come from military or strategic spending, over hundreds of years, perhaps thousands of years. The internet is a direct result of US military research.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Before Buffet

Before Warren Buffet there was John Templeton. I plan to read Investing the Templeton Way in the coming few weeks. (I'm a slow reader.)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Link I plan to read

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuning Eclipse on Mac OS X

Taken from my other blog: pwbrewer.blogspot.com

After you downloaded the Eclipse package, decompress it. Locate your Eclipse.app.
Right-click it and select Show Package Contents.
Under Contents/MacOS, locate the eclipse.ini file. Open it with a text editor.
At the end of the file, add two lines:

Save and close the file.

To that I would add the server option to the same file:

And I suggest changing the following settings: