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How to Make Sure Your iPhone Sends iMessages Instead of Texts

I have an iPhone 5, and have iMessage turned on; however, when I send a message, sometimes the iMessages are switched over to texts even though I have the “Send as SMS” setting turned off in Messages settings.

To avoid your iPhone using SMS when you wish to send an iMessage, you will want to be sure that a few items are set correctly in Settings > Messages.

Howto Imessage
Try sending iMessages to recipients’ email addresses instead of their phone numbers to avoid potential SMS messaging charges.

First, you’ll want to check that iMessage is turned on, and confirm that your iCloud account and receiving addresses are correctly set in the “Send & Receive” section. Also, you’ll want to set “Send as SMS” to Off.

To ensure that all of your messages are ever sent through the iMessage network, consider sending iMessages only to the email address of the iMessage recipient instead of their iPhone phone number.

Howto Imessage2
When sending a message, a blue send button in the Message app denotes the message will be sent via iMessage; a green button denotes SMS or MMS.

Finally, iMessage does have a tendency to go offline on occasion. You can keep a track of when iMessage is experiencing an outage by bookmarking this support page on Apple’s website.

Got a tech question or a helpful tip to share? Email us at ask (at)

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Studio Artist 4 Review

A new canvas for your masterpieces

In a world studded with Photoshop-style image editors and Painter-like natural-media tools, it’s really tough to find a new kind of artistic software that brings something truly unique and innovative to the table. But the little-known Studio Artist 4 totally pulls it off, delivering a one-of-a-kind creative application that can craft visuals like nothing else—if you’re prepared to spend some time mastering its intricacies.

Studio Artist 1

Getting an organic oil-paint look is practically effortless.

The moment you launch Studio Artist, you quickly realize it’s not your daddy’s paint program—the normal array of brushes and editing tools is replaced by a series of preset combinations, organized by groupings such as abstract, AutoCloning (which redraws a source image in any number of artistic styles), chalks, lighted tubes, dry brushes, and many, many more. The program ships with thousands of presets, and for plenty of users, that’ll be as deep as they delve into the available tools. You can base your work on an existing image or start from scratch—open an image, and Studio Artist converts it into a series of vector shapes that are then used to re-create the image by “redrawing” it with custom brushes. This process can either be done automatically—filling in the image while you watch—or manually by painting the image with brushes using colors derived from the source. The vast array of brushes is especially luscious when using a graphics tablet as you can radically alter the characteristics (color, thickness, shape) by tilting the stylus or changing the amount of applied pressure. The results are wonderfully organic—drippy paint, rough edges, all the entropies of reality. Turning a photo into a gorgeous oil painting is almost effortless, but when we took a picture and rendered it as a pile of colorful, dimensional glowing jellybeans, that went well beyond what we expect from a painting program.

We love Particle brushes—imagine painting with a brush that spawns pixie dust. We’ve never seen anything like it, and that’s literally just the tip of the iceberg. Built-in vectorization capabilities give you some amazing options for converting bitmapped images to vector-based EPS files, perfect for advanced print and animation tricks. Ever want to expand a web-res image into a poster-sized, stylized masterpiece? No problem! You can pipe live video into the paint engine, letting you paint with a brush that sprays video frames all over the screen, which is even more fun than it sounds. Then there’s an entire programmable set of Photoshop-style image-processing filters that far supersede those found in Photoshop, as well as a texture generator capable of gorgeous organic patterns that you can even apply to video, creating rotoscoped effects that belong in a bleeding-edge music video. Morphing, warping, custom distortions—it’s like a visual candy store with both familiar indulgences and wildly colored offerings you’ve never even imagined.

Once you decide to move beyond the presets and try customizing things, prepare to be intimidated. Studio Artist is wickedly complex under the hood, and we saw signs that this program was created by someone who has some serious math on the mind. Some of the options dialogs in Studio Artist look like they were lifted from alien spacecraft flight manuals. Quality time spent with the comprehensive documentation is a worthwhile investment.

The bottom line. At $399, Studio Artist isn’t cheap, but it delivers an intensely deep set of creative tools for visual artists and video animators. It’s as much graphic fun as you’ll ever have on a Mac.

Review Synopsis









Mac OS 10.3.9 or later


Unique painting tools. Extensive graphics tablet support. Deep toolset.


Can be daunting to master. Interface sometimes cryptic, especially for new users.

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How To Make the Most Out of VLC for iPad

It's called the Swiss Army Knife of video players, and not for nothing. VLC is your standard go-to software when you end up with some bizarre codec-locked movie file that just won't play in your standard players. With the news that Apple was relaxing its App Store regulations and letting in all kinds of video players, we prayed to see VLC show up. It did, and we grabbed it the moment we could.

Vlan Ipad


First off, we've got nothing but great things to say about our desktop and laptop installations of VLC. Even with DVDs we've rented that won't play on our friends' PCs, VLC rides to the rescue. Simply put, we've never had a file format that could stump the software. And when CineXPlayer came to the App Store, we prayed our VLC iPad dreams would come true. That day has arrived.

However, unlike our the desktop counterpart, this mobile iteration of VLC might be a bit different for some users. For that reasons, we've compiled a small selection of tips on how to get started with the VLC Player for iPad.

Adding Videos to VLC

To begin, you can queue up videos in the client by hooking up your iPad to your computer, selecting the device in iTunes, and going to the Apps tab. There, in the lower File Sharing part of the screen, you select VLC from the list of programs that support USB syncing, click Add, and then select the media files to add--that's all there is to it. (You can even drag and drop if that's more your style.)


As easy as 1, 2, 3, 4


Sorting Files

There's a surprising lack of tweaks you can perform on the VLC app. Videos auto-populate a row of shelves in chunky block icons, and you scroll through them by running your finger along the screen. Videos seem to fill in randomly and are not sorted alphabetically, nor are there options to view them as a list. You'll need to make sure your titles indicate what movie you want to view because if you upload several short files, they can get lost in the shuffle. Longer titles trail off into ellipses, so short and sweet is your friend.

Video Playback

Touch the icon and the video loads and begins to play. On the shelf, below the image of the video is the title, along with the length of the video, the size, and the aspect ratio, though not the format. This last piece of information would be especially helpful if you have multiple formatted versions that you're testing.

The video controls are the usual ones--fast forward, reverse, pause, drag to advance, and volume--and can be accessed by tapping on the screen. Turn your iPad horizontally, and you can watch movies in landscape or portrait mode. Clicking the OK button in the top left corner takes you back to your shelf of videos, and video playback picks up where you left off when you return to the app.




The Usual Control Button Scheme

As far as we could tell, there were few files that VLC would play that the iPad couldn't. The app did manage to open a DivX encoded AVI file, so if you only want one alternate video app, VLC might be your choice. However, Ogg Theora was unsuccessful, as were Windows Movie files, digital video (.dv) files from a camcorder, FLV, MKV, and MPEG. iTunes claimed that they were loaded on to the iPad, but the app refused to recognize them. If you're a longtime Handbreak junkie, you may wish to steer clear of any of the aforementioned formats if you're planning an iPad video party.


While playback was often good, there were some videos that froze the app or caused image ghosting and freezing while the audio continued to play. Some experimentation with the bitrate settings in your ripping software may be neccessary for optimal performance.

Vlan Ghosting

Ghosting Images Make Strange Art

Despite some of the limitations of the VLC app, we'll be eagerly looking forward to updates, with the hope for a bit more functionality and an ever-increasing list of compatible formats.

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Bull Market for Stocks Keeps Going in 2014

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Richard Drew/APThis photo from the New York Stock Exchange shows five years of the Dow Jones industrial average on July 3, the first time it topped 17,000.

By Steve Rothwell

Stocks delivered again in 2014. Even after a poor start in January and wobbles in October and December, the U.S. market climbed 11.4 percent and ended the year close to record levels. The solid gain pushed the bull run for stocks into its sixth year, the longest such streak since the 1990s.

Investors have been encouraged by rising corporate earnings and a strengthening U.S. economy, which helped stocks overcome a brief winter chill in growth and tensions with Russia. The stock market also overcame worries about the impact of the end of the Federal Reserve's stimulus program.

Those who stuck out the market's ups and downs were rewarded with double-digit returns for the fifth year out of the last six. "Companies delivered and the ability to produce on the bottom line remained resilient," said Jeff Kleintop, Charles Schwab's chief global investment strategist. "Ultimately, that's what stocks track."

All the major stock averages are ending the year with respectable returns. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) has returned 13.7 percent including dividends, after a return of 32 percent in 2013. The stock market also experienced its biggest bout of volatility in more than two years. Stocks plunged as much as 9.8 percent in October on concerns about global growth and worries about the spread of the Ebola virus.

The market also managed to climb despite a big drop in oil prices that hit energy companies. Geopolitical tensions flared as Russia seized Crimea, war broke out in eastern Ukraine and the Islamic State group seized swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. These were some of the biggest themes in the financial markets in 2014:

A Resilient Economy

The backdrop for the stock market's gains was a gradually strengthening U.S. economy. Hiring and consumer confidence continued to improve. Despite a big contraction in the first quarter caused by an unusually harsh winter, the economy kept growing. The average pace of growth climbed to 2.7 percent by the end of the year, up from 2.3 percent a year earlier.

Don't Count Out Bonds

A widely forecast demise for bonds failed to materialize. Bonds had been expected to slump as the Fed neared the end of its bond-buying stimulus program and economic growth accelerated. Instead, they rallied as investors became more pessimistic on the outlook for global growth as economies overseas weakened.

Bonds also gained because they looked attractive to overseas investors. Their yields, while close to historically low levels, are still higher than in countries like Germany and Japan. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note ended the year at 2.17 percent, after starting 2014 at 3 percent. The Barclays Aggregate Index, which measures the performance of a broad range of bonds, returned 5.9 percent, its best year in three.

Still Looking for Income

The biggest beneficiaries of lower bond yields were companies that pay rich dividends as investors looked to them as an alternative source of income. "Investors still want bond-like returns," said Krishna Memani, chief investment officer of OppenheimerFunds. So "the more bond-like parts of the equity market have done quite well."

Those sectors included utilities and real estate investment trusts. The utilities sector is the year with a gain of 24 percent, the best performance of the 10 sectors that make up the S&P 500 index. Utility companies in the index have an average dividend yield of 3.4 percent. U.S. REITs pay about 3.6 percent.

Deal Revival

It was also a good year for deal-making. The value of global mergers and acquisitions rose to the highest point since 2007, while the number of initial public offerings was the highest since the technology bubble days of 2000.

Among the notable tie-ups announced were Actavis' (ACT) agreement to buy fellow drugmaker Allergan (AGN) for $66 billion in November, and Comcast's (CMCSA) deal to buy Time Warner Cable (TWC) for $45.2 billion in February.

In IPOs, China's e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA) raised $25 billion in its stock market debut in September, making it the biggest U.S.-listed IPO in history. Strong demand for the stock sent the market value of the company beyond that of Amazon (AMZN), eBay (EBAY) and Facebook (FB).

Keep the Growth Coming

U.S. companies, benefiting from low interest rates and a gradually improving economy, have become adept at driving their profits higher since the recession. Those rising earnings are underpinning the rally in stocks.

Earnings at S&P 500 companies are projected to reach a record of $116.97 per share for 2014, an increase of almost 8 percent from a year earlier, according to S&P Capital IQ.

"If you look at the cash flow and profitability of companies today, especially in the U.S., it is just darn impressive," said Seth Masters, chief investment officer for Bernstein Global Wealth Management.

Cheap Oil Isn't All Good News

Fears of weak growth overseas and worries of a supply glut combined to push oil down 50 percent in six months. After trading at a peak of $107 a barrel in June, oil ended the year at $53.27.

Falling oil prices lead to lower gas prices, which is a good thing for consumers. But there are also losers when crude slumps. Energy stocks, which account for about 10 percent of company earnings in the S&P 500 index, plunged.

As the losses in oil accelerated this fall, investors also worried about the wider implications. If prices stay low, some producers could go out of business, costing workers their jobs and prompting defaults in the bond market. The fall in oil also created the year's biggest winners and losers.

Transocean, a provider of offshore drilling services to the energy industry, was the year's biggest loser among S&P 500 stocks as demand for its services was expected to fall. The stock price slumped 63 percent. Airlines, which are heavy users of fuel, were big beneficiaries of the slump. Southwest Airlines' stock has climbed 125 percent, the biggest gain in the S&P 500.

Central Banks Go in Opposite Directions

The Fed ended its bond purchases in October and is inching closer to its first rate increase since 2006. At the same time, other central banks around the world started to introduce more stimulus as growth in their regions slowed.

The Bank of Japan stepped up its efforts to revive that country's economy, as did the European Central Bank. China also lowered a key interest rate.

Investors debated whether the U.S. will pull the rest of the world up, or be dragged down by it.

Stocks Aren't Cheap Anymore

After big gains in recent years, stocks are no longer a bargain. At the same time, they haven't yet reached vertiginous levels that would keep investors up at night.

The average price-earnings ratio for S&P 500 companies, which measures the price of a stock against the company's expected earnings over the next 12 months, climbed to 16.5, from 15.3 at the start of the year. That's above the 10-year average of about 15, according to FactSet data, but still a long way off from the levels seen during the technology boom fifteen years ago, when the average ratio was as a high as 27.

The slight rise in valuations suggests that investors have moved from being skeptical to being "pragmatically optimistic," said Anastasia Amoroso, global market strategist for J.P. Morgan Funds.


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The $65 Billion Tax Credit You Don't Have to Be Rich to Get

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200120288 001Getty Images
It's almost tax time again, and before you know it, you'll be looking for every way you can find to cut your tax bill. All too often, though, many American taxpayers pass up available tax credits and deductions simply because they don't realize they're eligible. Moreover, those who are cynical about taxes often believe that all the best tax breaks are reserved for high-income taxpayers, leaving those in the lower income brackets without access to any provisions that will make a significant dent in their tax bills.

Fortunately, there's a tax credit that's designed for ordinary taxpayers to receive, with more than 27 million Americans receiving a total of more than $65 billion in 2013. The tax break is called the Earned Income Tax Credit, and it's designed to help low- and middle-income Americans get some relief at tax time. Best of all, the credit can put more money into your pocket -- even if you wouldn't otherwise owe any income taxes at all.

The Basics of the Earned Income Tax Credit

The EITC is available to anyone who files a tax return, with varying credit amounts depending on your income level, your marital status and how many children you have. Small credits of up to about $500 are available for taxpayers without children, but families with children can get much larger credits that max out at more than $6,000 for those with three or more kids.

The EITC is designed to encourage workers to earn income, and so the credit amount gradually rises with wages and salaries until it hits the maximum amount. In 2014, earnings of $13,650 for those with two or more children, $9,720 for those with one child and $6,480 for those without children represent the point at which the EITC reaches its maximum amount. If your income goes above higher limits -- for those with children, $17,830 for single filers and $23,260 for joint filers -- then the maximum credit amount starts to decline gradually, as the EITC's phase-out provisions take effect.

Source: Tax Policy Center
In practical terms, the average EITC paid in 2013 was just over $2,400. Even better for taxpayers, the EITC is one of the only credits that is refundable, which means that even if you have zero tax liability before using the credit, you can get a check back from the government in the amount of any unused EITC amount available.

Getting the Word Out

Unfortunately, the Earned Income Tax Credit can be complicated to figure out, and so many eligible taxpayers don't ever claim the credit to which they're entitled. Moreover, mistakes in claiming the EITC are common, with a recent study from the IRS estimating that about a quarter of all EITC payments made last year were in error. When those mistakes force the IRS to reverse credits that taxpayers were counting on, it can be financially devastating to those living on limited incomes.

To encourage more people to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit and to provide more useful information about it, the IRS has named Jan. 30, 2015 as EITC Awareness Day. By giving basic information on how the credit works as well as pointing taxpayers to free options to get tax preparation help and filing assistance, the IRS hopes that more people will take full advantage of the provision and get much-needed money in their pockets.

Moreover, if you didn't know about the EITC until now, it's not too late to go back and claim it for past tax years. If you qualify, you can amend your tax returns all the way back to 2011 to get the credit you were due. The IRS has plenty of basic information on how to claim and whether you qualify at its EITC website.

It's rare enough for ordinary taxpayers to qualify for tax breaks that you have to make the most of any opportunities that come your way. The Earned Income Tax Credit is one of the most generous tax breaks available to many Americans, and it's worth some effort to get your share of this $65 billion pie.

Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger isn't eligible for the EITC but hopes that you are. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger or on Google Plus. To read about our favorite high-yielding dividend stocks for any investor, check out our free report.


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10 Things That Used to Cost Money but Are Now Free

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By Maryalene LaPonsie

Did you like the post about 15 things that used to be free but now cost money? It's time to flip that, and discuss what you used to pay for but can now get as a freebie.


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