Saturday, January 09, 2010

Done (Sort of)

I finished up my tax class today. Either later tonight after my brain stops hurting, or tomorrow morning, I need to take the certification tests. They are on-line and self-grading, so I'll know how I did as soon as I submit each group of questions. There are three tests in all; one that takes four hours, and two others that take about an hour. Yippee. Six hours of multiple-guess testing. It's like a real boring version of the SAT's.

And a job is a job.

Actually, I think it's going to be a fun place to work, if anything that has to do with taxes can be described as "fun." And yes, I realize the training class was as much sales pitch for the company as it was training, but it seems like the guys running the show are looking for more than just data entry mules to sit in a dingy room and crank out 1040's for 16 hours a day. The only thing that is rather annoying is that they have been very tight-lipped about pay, hours, etc. I have no idea if this is full-time, part-time, minimum wage, whatever. I assume all of that comes after I pass the tests and the managers decide what to do with everybody next week. It sounds like they are not getting as many people attending these classes as they expected. I don't know if that's necessarily good, but it surely can't be bad.

Nothing else really going on with both of us working (well, Debbie working and me training) six days this week, and I don't expect us to do much tomorrow given that I have to fit in six hours of testing and catch up on a couple weeks of accounting, and Debbie has to catch up on card-making and learn how to use her new toy from Stampin' Up. (I call it a Salad Shooter; it's a hand-cranked dohickey for embossing card stock and making die-cut shapes.) Adding to the lazy-Sunday incentive, I'm still recovering from my flu and pneumonia shots; I forgot how much the pneumonia shot kicks my butt. I've slept 10 hours the last two nights (instead of my normal five to seven), which seems to have helped. I have no idea if a day of complete non-activity will fix it or not, but I intend to give it a go.

Something different from my usual rantings: 3-D printers. Now, Star Trek replicators they ain't, but these things are still pretty amazing. 3-D printers that work in plastic have been around for a while, but they were crazy-expensive. Now you can get one in kit form for the price of a PC. Working directly with metal is possible, but still involves crazy-expensive equipment. Now, Shapeways will accept a file, print out your whatchamacallit and mail it back to you. I'm sure the fees are, um, impressive, but I would guess less so than a traditional foundry doing a one-off casting. I expect this will become one of the most disruptive technologies that we have seen in a long time.

It's the time of year for the Detroit Auto Show. This year, there will be an "Electric Avenue" devoted to straight-up electric vehicles (EV's) as well as various hybrids of the traditional Prius variety, plug-in hybrids, range-extended EV's and probably a few categories that will be made up on the spot. Every one of these vehicles suffers the same shortcoming: the batteries. New battery technology, driven largely by cell phones, has over-come some of the limitations of electrical storage, such as too-short life-span and the dreaded memory effect. But batteries are still bulky, made from toxic and/or corrosive materials, and cost a lot. Really cost a lot. Like somewhere around $30K for a typical all-electric vehicle. Obviously the car companies cannot charge enough for these cars to even cover the cost of building them and expect to ever sell more than a handful. So in one of those wonderful ironies, the only way for car makers to be able to sell electric vehicles is if they can continue to sell internal combustion vehicles at a high enough profit to off-set the cost of selling EV's at a loss. The picture for hybrids is not much better; Chevrolet is struggling to keep the price of the Volt under $40,000, and a Prius will set you back at least $30K; twice what a Corolla will cost you and 50% more than a Camry. In every case, the problem is the cost of the batteries. They are expensive and the costs have not come down as production has ramped up like they were supposed to. To say nothing of the giant pink elephant of a problem: what are we going to do with millions of highly toxic and corrosive batteries when all these cars hit end-of-life, given that we don't have a handle on how to deal with dead cell phones and iPods? Everyone is looking for simple, cheap solutions to our transportation problems. Unfortunately, they don't exist. There is no, "Just do X." X is inevitably expensive, difficult, and full of trade-offs and unintended consequences, many of which will not be apparent until significant resources have been expended.

Peggy Noonan's column this week warns Democrats that health care is shaping up to be a "catastrophic victory." She also warns Republicans that victories in this year's elections could be equally catastrophic for their party. An optimist would expect both parties to get their act together and begin to act like adults. A pessimist (I would call them a realist, but we've been over that ground before) would expect political collapse (outlined in three parts here, here and here).

Unemployment went back up in December. The percentage would have been higher, but over a half million people gave up looking for work. (The actual percentage of unemployed in the US is over 17% rather than the 10% figure the MSM keep uncritically chirping.) Many of the reports state that (unnamed) persons were "surprised" by this. I'm not sure why anyone would be. Even assuming the current smattering of green shoots are the first signs of a true recovery (they're not, but that's a whole 'nother post), employment always lags in a recovery. Even the optimists are saying not to expect the labor market to improve until summer 2010 or later. The only people I can imagine being "surprised" are the ignorati in the press.

A bit of advice from a professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan: Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go:
I still get letters from undergraduates.... They tell me about their interests and accomplishments and ask whether they should go to graduate school, somehow expecting me to encourage them. I usually write back, explaining that in this era of grade inflation (and recommendation inflation), there's an almost unlimited supply of students with perfect grades and glowing letters. Of course, some doctoral program may admit them with full financing, but that doesn't mean they are going to find work as professors when it's all over. The reality is that less than half of all doctorate holders — after nearly a decade of preparation, on average — will ever find tenure-track positions.

A Ph.D. is a lot of work and money to wind up waiting tables at Hooters or bustin' suds at Ryan's.

And because I can't resist poking the global cooling deniers with a sharp stick at every opportunity:

Midwest bracing for heavy snow, wind chills of -50.
Texas power usage sets second record in two days.

Well, I'm all done using my brain for today. I think I'll curl up under my blanket (temps are supposed to drop below zero tonight) and do some Facebooking.

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