Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Family Events

July so far has been Family Event Month. On Sunday, July 5, Debbie's niece got married:

Jerrica and Mike

Jerrica doing her "I'm shy" bit

I wasn't able to attend due to prior commitments at the Moose Lodge, so Debbie flew up on Saturday, attended the wedding on Sunday, then flew back on Monday.

Then on July 11, we had another of Debbie's niece's graduation open house. When we checked on airfare, the prices completely sucked, as in over $300 each. Why airfare was reasonable on a major holiday weekend, then completely out of sight the weekend after a major holiday weekend is something only the Gods of the Airline Computers can really answer. So we decided to drive up and back to save on money. We left Thursday night after Debbie got off work, drove all night and landed at Debbie's mom's place Friday afternoon. We slept there a bit, jumped up early Saturday to drive the rest of the way to Alpena for the open house. We couch-surfed there, then up Sunday morning to drive straight through all the way to Zephyrhills. We managed it, but it took a toll on our aging bodies. I remember being able to do silly things like this when we were in our 20's like it was nothing. Not anymore.

In any case, a couple pictures:

Devin

Polacks doing what polacks always do in groups: eating, drinking, and BSing.

Today is a rain day, which is why I'm doing this instead of working outside. Before we left, I got a fresh coat of stain on the porch which is finally dry enough to move all the porch furniture out of my shed and back on the porch. If it ever stops raining. It will be a joy to finally be able to get into my shed again.

John Oliver hits another one out of the park, so to speak. This segment is on the insanity of taxpayer-funded sports stadiums:



Maybe I'm turning into a curmudgeon, but I find myself caring less and less about professional sports. Not that I've ever cared that much in the first place, but I would at least watch a game or two and have some vague notion whether the home team was doing well or not. Now I can't even muster that little bit of interest. Most of the players and all the team owners act and talk like narcissistic sociopaths rather than someone that ought to be looked up to or celebrated in any way. The massive amounts of money sloshing around, not just in professional sports, but college and even high school sports as well, has corrupted everything and everyone involved to the very core. Players suffering permanent brain injuries seem to be the rule rather than the exception, no matter how much padding you wrap the them in. And all so some lard-ass who can't walk ten feet without running out of breath can live vicariously through "his" team, and spend weekends screaming such uplifting sentiments as, "Rip his head off, Kowalski!!" while spraying everyone in a ten-foot radius with half-chewed nachos.

And that's probably enough on that.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

All Done with F*&King IRS (and some other stuff)

I'm officially done with the IRS. I'm tired of the constant bullshit and expense with this whole Enrolled Agent thing and it turns out that it's been all for nothing anyway. All done. Kiss my ass.

In other news, we went to Alaska and tramped around a bit:

Anchorage, Alaska

Denali from Mt. McKinley Lodge

Talkeetna

View from our room at the Denali lodge

Denali from inside the park

Margaret Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

Ketchikan Lumberjack Show

The weather was completely unbelievable. We went packed for 50's and rain and instead got 80's and sunny skies. We were able to see all of Denali the entire five days we were there. Normally, there is only a clear view of Denali for something like eight days a year. We managed to dodge the wildfire as well, although our train from Denali to the cruise ship did get held up for a couple hours because the fire was burning near the tracks. We finally got through and they held the ship for us (advantage of using the cruise line's transfers), so it worked out, but we were getting a little nervous. These are from the train:




Since we've been back, I've done a whole lot of nothing. I need to get outside and get things in shape. The jungle took over a bit while we were away and I need to get things back under control, get a coat of stain on the porch, get some painting and caulking done, etc. Lots to do, just not a lot of motivation to do it.

Over at John Michael Greer's Archdruid Report, he's had a series of posts on the five phases of the decline and fall of a civilization. He calls the phases the Eras of Pretense, Impact, Response, Breakdown, and Dissolution. Our current western industrial civilization is firmly in the Era of Pretense, but as John Michael repeatedly points out in his books and on his blog, the process isn't linear or coherent. Different places will run through these phases at different times and rates and on different scales. For example, right at the moment, Michigan is in a later phase than the rest of the US:
One city neglected to inform its residents that its water supply was laced with cancerous chemicals. Another dissolved its public school district and replaced it with a charter school system, only to witness the for-profit management company it hired flee the scene after determining it couldn’t turn a profit. Numerous cities and school districts in the state are now run by single, state-appointed technocrats, as permitted under an emergency financial manager law pushed through by Rick Snyder, Michigan’s austerity-promoting governor. This legislation not only strips residents of their local voting rights, but gives Snyder’s appointee the power to do just about anything, including dissolving the city itself -- all (no matter how disastrous) in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”

I knew it was bad, but not living there anymore, I hadn't realized just how far gone things really were. I'd put Michigan as a whole in Greer's Era of Response; frantic attempts to prop up the status quo by any means necessary; fair, foul, unconstitutional, etc., while failing to realize that the status quo is the root cause of the state's problems.

But, in keeping with Greer's idea of the fractal nature of decline, most of the state is still a blooming paradise when compared with Detroit:
Highland Park is a tiny 3-square-mile municipality located within Detroit. Extremely dangerous, blighted, and 94% black, Highland Park is a concentrated example of the conditions in Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods—what some call the “Detroit of Detroit.”

In late 2011, the impoverished little municipality was so deep in debt to its public electric company, DTE Energy, that the local government was forced to decommission all streetlights on its residential streets. Not only did DTE cut the power to street lights in Highland Park, it sent out workers to physically dig up and remove nearly 1,000 light-poles from the neighborhood. Highland Parkers now live in permanent, debt-induced darkness.

Six miles away, in Detroit’s rapidly gentrifying downtown area, DTE Energy runs a very different public policy. The same company that repossessed 1,000 streetlights from Highland Park, condemning its residents to permanent darkness, has recently launched a pro-bono security program in the increasingly white area.

And here we see the fractal pattern being repeated at the level of individual neighborhoods, with different parts of the Detroit Metro area in different eras of collapse.

So what about where you live? Is everyone still gliding along with their head in the sand pretending all is well, or are things a bit further along? It's a fun little game the whole family can play!!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Before May is Gone...

Not sure where the month of May went to, but I thought I'd post something here before we slip into June.

The primary reason it's been quiet on the blog is that we've busier than one-armed paper hangers for some reason. I seems like every time we think we have some spare time, something comes up that we have to head out on some errand or take care of some emergency or another. Even when we do get a day to ourselves, we're so far behind on the normal household crap that our "day off" winds up being consumed with dishes, laundry and other such fun tasks.

Most of the busy has involved the Moose Lodge. As I mentioned last post, I went and got myself elected Treasurer, so now I'm working in the office for a few hours in the morning one or two days a week, plus meetings, meetings and more meetings. As well, there are various expectations made of all elected officers to show up at certain events, volunteer for this, that and the other, etc. On top of that, we've had a pretty significant dry spell this month. Other than a couple sprinkles that didn't even get through the leaves on the trees, it didn't rain from April 29 (the day I headed out for Michigan with my parents, natch) until Tuesday evening. That means that for the first time since I've been on the Moose landscape crew, we've been able to get out into a large, overgrown area between the lodge and the highway. So lots of fun stuff there cutting neck-high grass and pulling out scrub and trees that have been growing since the last time anyone bothered to cut out there. It doesn't help that in Florida, any area with tall grass is assumed to be a public landfill; we've pulled truck-loads of garbage, broken concrete, chunks of asphalt, steel posts, you name it. We are making some serious progress, but I'm also spending about twice the usual time on the job. The hope is that with all the vegetation cut back, the sun will dry things out between rains instead of the water just piling up all summer. We're also working on drainage issues, like a blocked culvert, so all the runoff from two miles of highway will go down the ditch instead of flooding the front yard. We'll see if any of it does any good once the rainy season finally gets here.

One thing I did get to do was play with the new mobile hotspot while I was in Michigan. I did all the driving, so other than an hour or so during our stop in Alabama, I didn't get a chance to mess with it until we were in Kalkaska. After we stopped at G's for lunch, I let my dad drive out to the house and I crawled into the back seat and jumped online. I wasn't sure what sort of coverage I would have in northern Michigan, but it worked great all the way out of town, was still going good on the two-lane county road, even kept working on the dirt road. Then about halfway up my parents' driveway, "BEEP!" No signal. It's like my parents' place is a little cellular back hole. But at least I had something to do while I was sitting at the Traverse City airport waiting for the flight home, then sitting in Detroit waiting three hours for my connection to Tampa. I've also been using it on-and-off here at the trailer. The data is use-it-or-lose-it after 60 days, so I may as well burn it up. Besides, Brighthouse is trying to say that the reason that Debbie's work phone (an IP phone) works like crap is because I'm sucking up all the bandwidth reading blogs on my Kindle. Of course the real problem is that IP phones SUCK!! Businesses get talked into the things because they are so much cheaper than traditional phones. As with nearly everything in this universe, "cheap" and "works" rarely go together. So I get to listen to Debbie spend an hour asking some poor sot how to spell their last name over and over and over and over because their voice keeps cutting out or there is so much line noise she can't hear what they are saying. It doesn't help that the person she is talking to is usually on one of the New and Improved smart phones, which are neither smart, nor are they intended to ever be used as a phone. Our ten-year-old flip phone has ten times better voice quality than any "smart" "phone" on the market. Add in that the moron she's talking to is invariably driving down the expressway while trying to book a cruise. With the radio on full blast. And kids in the backseat watching a movie with the volume cranked even louder so they can hear over the radio.

Yea, I spend a lot of time at home with my headphones on trying to drown out the endless stupid with something soothing like System of a Down's Chop Suey so I don't go postal.

One of these days, I need to do a post on our attempts to grow small bits of food here in the Land of Poisoned Soil, but that will have to wait for next time. Right now, it's time to start getting things ready for tonight's stir fry chicken.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Recovering

I'm still recovering from one of the busiest tax seasons I've seen in a while. Our numbers at the Walmart location were completely off the charts this year. But it's finally over, and, like I say every year, over the next nine months, I'll forget the hell of the 2015 tax season and eagerly sign up for 2016.

In the meantime, we're trying to dig out of the accumulated chores that we've both neglected since January. It mostly involves sweeping, raking, mowing, trimming, weeding, planting, etc. Our dry season this year really wasn't all that dry, then summer showed up a month early and everything went kind of crazy on us. But we're slowly getting everything beat back into shape. Today should be the final push, then we can return to maintenance mode.

And because there isn't enough going on already, I'm now the Treasurer of the Zephyrhills Moose Lodge. There's some sort of installation thingy tomorrow, then another meeting on Monday. There's also the regular meeting on Tuesday, but I'll be missing that as I will be in a car with my 'rents somewhere between Florida and Michigan. With some luck, I should be back here by Saturday evening. We decided that it's OK for my dad to drive around locally, but the snowbird thing just ain't gonna happen no more. I'll drive them up in the spring and fly back, then fly up in the fall and drive them down. The male parental unit is gripin' about it, but it's happening anyway.

So yea, don't expect a flood of updates here. Or maybe there will be. I bit the bullet yesterday and ordered a mobile hotspot to cart around with me. It's all part of The Plan to allow me more flexibility doing taxes under my own EFIN, along with now being able to process credit card transactions, offering over-priced "bank products", and all the rest. At some point over the summer, there may be a laptop/tablet acquired and a digital signature pad. (Any recommendations appreciated for the laptop/tablet; keep in mind this will be used for data entry, so a good keyboard with ten-key is a must.) Printing is still a bit of a stumper. I understand that with all the other stuff, it shouldn't be necessary, but I know I wouldn't want my tax information being sent to my e-mail account as a PDF file, so I doubt many of my clients will either, even if the PDF is password-protected. I guess a wi-fi ink-jet running off an inverter plugged into the car is a possibility. Still thinking on that part. Anyway, if the hotspot shows up before Tuesday, I can at least use my Kindle on the trip up to Michigan to post updates here as well as keep up with my famous witty Facebook repartee. I fully expect that it will be delivered about two hours after we pull out of the park, along with the books I ordered so I would have something to read on the trip.

Well, need to get off my butt and go get stuff done.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Missing Everything

I missed that Friday the 13th was on a Friday in February.

I also missed that Friday the 13th was on a Friday in March.

And I missed that yesterday was π Day out to four decimals places, something that only happens once a century.

(Not sure what font this thing is using, but that's the crappiest looking letter pi I've ever seen.)

But I filed a lot of tax returns!!!

I've gone from crazy-insane-holy-crap-why-don't-they-stop-coming-in busy to just being steady at Ye Ol' Tax Booth. I think we've already beat the number of tax returns we did all last tax season and we're only about halfway through. Because "only" four or five people a day are sitting down to have their taxes done, I've been focusing on our "mail-in" clients; people who do contract work all over the country (mostly welders, pipe fitters and IT guys) and can't come into the office. I crank out half dozen or so of those on a typical day between walk-ins. Things will likely stay "slow" until the end of March or first week of April, then all the procrastinators will come flooding through the door in a full-blown panic because Holy Crap!!! April 15th is on April 15th this year!! WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TELL ME!!! And they will of course be missing some vital piece of paperwork that will prevent us from getting their taxes done on time. And it will be all my fault. Or the IRS's fault. Or Obama's fault. 'Cause ya know, we NEVER had to file taxes before that Filthy Muslim became president!

Ahem.

Yea, it's been one of those tax seasons.

Debbie is still kickin' it to the curb in the cruise business. And dealing with lunatics. The other day, she spent 20 minutes repeating to some lady, "Ma'am, if you didn't purchase the travel protection insurance, you can't make a claim under the travel protection insurance." I kid you not, she must have said the exact same thing to this crazy person 50 times. I finally had to snap on my headphones and crank some Sleeveless Meeks and the Right to Bare Arms so I wouldn't grab Debbie's head set and start screaming at Crazy Lady to go do something anatomically impossible to herself.

In between all the work craziness, I've made a couple big steps in my personal tax preparation abilities. As of yesterday afternoon, I can now accept credit cards. I had bought a Kindle Fire a while back and Amazon now has one of those cool swipey thingies that plugs into the headphone jack. It's all set up and ready to go as soon as the physical swipey thingy shows up today or tomorrow. I'm also now set up with a bank so I can take my tax prep fee out of the clients refund, just like the big kids. That won't be "live" until Monday as I had to fax them some signatures yesterday. But it's getting there. I've already done twice the returns I did last year and may actually make money at it. What a concept.

[Update: Before I could hit the Publish button, I received notification that my signature form has been received and I am as of now live for banking products. Woot!]

[Update to the Update: My cool swipey thingy just arrived and I was able to charge myself $1.00!! Woot!! Woot!!]

And that is pretty much our life at this point.

Over the last month, I had accumulated all sorts of political and economic articles that I was going to post comments on, but I got tired of having 20 tabs open in Chrome reminding me that I hadn't posted anything here is weeks, and closed them all down. And it turns out that Wolf Richter pretty much summed it all up earlier this month:

The price of oil did today what it has been doing for a while: it waits for a trigger and plunges. As I’m writing this, West Texas Intermediate is down 4.4%, trading at $44.99 a barrel, less than a measly buck away from this oil bust’s January low. It’s down over 20% from the peak of the most recent sucker rally.

US oil drillers have been responding by slashing capital expenditures, including drilling, in a deceptively brutal manner. In the latest week, drillers idled 56 rigs that were classified as drilling for oil, according to Baker Hughes. Only 866 rigs were still active, down 46.2% from October, when they’d peaked at 1,609. In the 22 weeks since, drillers have taken out 743 rigs, the most dizzying cliff dive in the data series, and probably in history....

You’d think this sort of plunge in drilling activity would curtail production. Eventually it might. But for now, the industry has focused on efficiencies, improved drilling technologies, and the most productive plays. Drillers are trying to raise production but with less money so that they can meet their debt payments. Thousands of wells have been drilled recently but haven’t been completed and aren’t yet producing. This is the “fracklog,” a phenomenon that has been dogging natural gas for years.

So US oil production hit another record of 9.366 million barrels per day for the week ended March 6, according to the Energy Information Administration’s latest estimate.

In other words, expect low gas prices to continue for a while. If you work in fracking or anything related to it, expect a pink slip. And then we have all that fracking debt and derivatives piled up in everyone's pension funds....

Enjoy the Ides of March.