Monday, April 25, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Days Off

In keeping with our recent tradition of using our days off to spend money we don't have on medical procedures, we hung out at the ghetto dentist for several hours Friday. Also in keeping with tradition, I was taken back 20 minutes after my appointment even though I was the second person of the day. Luckily, my cleaning only took half an hour, which put the hygienist back on schedule. Unluckily, there was another person between my appointment and Debbie's. Luckily, he got done on time and Debbie didn't take very long as they were only doing half her mouth. (Long story that ends with, "Yet another scam to milk extra fees in any way imaginable.") Now they want me back in a couple weeks for a follow-up. It was a cleaning! What the frack is there to follow up on?!?!

Anyway, when we got home I had two letters from the ghetto lab where I had blood and urine tests done last week. The first letter informed me that my urine was completely normal and there was no need to schedule a follow-up appointment. Thank the gods; I can still pee straight. The second letter informed me my blood results were in and I needed to schedule an appointment ASAP. I'm guessing the news isn't so good. I was hoping to get the results without paying for an additional office visit. While I was out to the ghetto clinic to visit the ghetto pharmacy to see if we was po' 'nough to get a discount on my insulin, I asked if there was any way I could get my lab results. The answer was an emphatic, "NO! Someone has to explain them to you!" I started to say that maybe there wouldn't have to be so much splainin' to us simple po' folk if they would stop printing everything in the Windows Wingdings font, but after 12 years working in healthcare, I knew it was pointless. A priesthood maintains its power through obscurity; hence the persistence of the Latin Mass, speaking in tongues, and medical paperwork written in pure gibberish.

Ran across this video of Cookie the Ticklish Penguin:



I note that our lease allows us to keep a bird. Might have to crank the AC a bit, though. And I want that sound he makes as a ringtone.

While we were out and about in Lake Mary, we cruised around collecting phone numbers in the windows of empty offices. We found a couple promising ones. Given that it was Good Friday, I didn't have a lot of luck getting in touch with people, but I was able to get a few figures. They ranged from the reasonable ($.80 to $1 per sq ft including trash and all utilities) to the silly ($3 per sq ft not including anything) to the sublimely ridiculous ($15 per sq ft; couldn't stop laughing long enough to asked if that included a weekly massage with a happy ending). This may yet work out. I'm certainly not going to jump into anything just yet. I'm still looking for that perfect place that can we can live in, have an office in, and have room to get our stuff out of the U-Haul locker. We had one that looked promising from the outside, but I don't think we can live in it due to zoning.

Florida is a weird place. More precisely, Florida is full of deeply weird people. The number of times a resident of the state of Florida is featured on Lowering the Bar (a blog devoted to bizarre court cases) should be disturbing to those in charge. But it most likely isn't:

Workforce Central Florida spent more than $14,000 on the red capes as part of its "Cape-A-Bility Challenge" public relations campaign. The campaign featured a cartoon character, "Dr. Evil Unemployment," who needs to be vanquished.

That's just... um... wow. I have no words.

We've all known the Fourth Amendment is dead, buried, forgotten and rotted away to dust. But yet-another story to just hammer that home:

The Michigan State Police have a high-tech mobile forensics device that can be used to extract information from cell phones belonging to motorists stopped for minor traffic violations. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan last Wednesday demanded that state officials stop stonewalling freedom of information requests for information on the program.

..."Complete extraction of existing, hidden, and deleted phone data, including call history, text messages, contacts, images, and geotags," a CelleBrite brochure explains regarding the device's capabilities. "The Physical Analyzer allows visualization of both existing and deleted locations on Google Earth. In addition, location information from GPS devices and image geotags can be mapped on Google Maps."

And just in case you think you only need fear the government:

Security researchers have discovered that Apple's iPhone keeps track of where you go – and saves every detail of it to a secret file on the device which is then copied to the owner's computer when the two are synchronised.

Follow-up stories have Apple claiming the whole thing was just a bug. Yah. Uh huh. And my name is Kate Middleton and I'm off to jolly ol' England to shag Prince William.

Meanwhile:

The U.S. government plans to sell a significant share of its remaining stake in General Motors Co. this summer despite the disappointing performance of the auto maker's stock, people familiar with the matter said. 

Never mind the $10 billion in taxpayer money flushed down yet-another rat hole. That's loose change swept up by the night janitors in the Senate chamber these days. The simple fact that the federal government of these United States owns shares of General Motors is astounding. That not one WTF has been forthcoming from... well... anyone, ought to be terrifying.

Generally, I don't pay much attention when someone on the internet starts screaming that something people have been consuming for decades is somehow magically responsible for everything from cancer to bad breath. (The aspartame hoax e-mails, for example). When I started reading this New York Times article with the unfortunate title Is Sugar Toxic, my first thought was, "Great; here we go again." But instead of yet-another no-nothing running around screaming like their hair was on fire, the author lays out a pretty good case that it is possible that ingesting too much fructose does more than make you fat, that there is some research into that possibility but it isn't conclusive either way, and that follow-up studies are badly needed. In the meantime, good luck cutting out all sources of fructose outside what occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables. I read this article Thursday night, so I paid attention to what I consumed all day Friday. It was a little frightening. Other than beverages (water, unsweetened ice tea, Diet Coke) and some grapes (which naturally contain fructose), everything I stuffed in my pie hole had added fructose. I'm not sure how we would even go about avoiding the stuff. It's not like we can grow our own food or even make food from scratch living in our little ghetto apartment.

Because gas prices are getting up to the level that people are starting to squawk, energy is a hot topic. The typical conversation starts with "Well, if we'd just [insert impractical idea], we could go on consuming energy as if the earth were infinite," then goes downhill from there. One problem is that it's difficult to wrap your head around just how much energy we use and how it gets used. A second problem is understanding how inefficient our methods of energy use are. Here's a picture that helps:


You will need to click on that to view the full-sized image unless you're big into eye-strain. There are two things to note: all renewable sources amount to 8% of energy consumption. If you limit that to wind and solar, it's .8%. We cannot continue business as usual on renewable energy. The second thing to note is the amount of energy we consume that drifts off into space as waste heat without doing anything useful on the way. Nearly 58% of the our energy use goes up the chimney. Maybe instead of spending billions flying politicians to climate conferences for free food, booze and whores, or subsidizing energy sources that will never contribute anything meaningful, could we work on nudging that percentage down? I'm aware that most of that is the inevitable result of converting energy from one form to another and can't be eliminated any more than we can save energy by eliminating gravity. But can we do better? Are there inefficiencies that can be eliminated? Can we remove some of the conversions?

Or maybe we need to use less energy?

Nah! What am I thinking? This is America! It's a basic human right to leave lights on when we're not home, drive around in circles, hop on an airplane at the drop of a hat, and annoy the neighbors with our giant, lighted plastic Santa heads. We just need to drill baby, drill!

And speaking of which, we're off to visit Mickey again today while we have some time off.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Done

Another tax season is in the bag. It wasn't much of one; the office did more tax returns the first full week than we did the last six. I don't expect the franchise owners will bother with it next year. I'm guessing we barely made enough to cover payroll. Not that it matters; I won't be there either way.

Finishing up tax season also means I have to get my butt moving to make The Tax Geek more than just a pricey bit of paper in the file cabinet. I have a good idea of where I want to set up shop, but I have no idea what the rent is going to be. I'll likely do a bit of driving around on Wednesday and get some hard numbers. I should have the software I plan to use sometime today. [UPS dude just dropped it off! Woohoo!] Intuit gives the 2009 version away for free as part of their sales pitch. I was completely underwhelmed by their on-line version for tax preparers. I'm hoping their stand-alone software is more what I would expect from using QuickBooks and TurboTax. And of course, I need to find a starving artist somewhere than can come up with artwork for business cards, etc.

[Aside: I hate when I can't remember something I've seen a hundred times. I know there is a website where you can put work out to contract; virtualsomethingorother.com. The "somethingorother" part is an old word for someone you hire to get stuff done (like "majordomo" only more Southeast Asian). It's been discussed endlessly for over a year on Scott Adam's blog and now because I'm trying to think of it, it's just gone. Normally I write stuff like that down or at least toss it into my bookmarks, but for some reason I didn't. Or I did, but now can't remember where I wrote it down or in what folder I stuffed the bookmark. Getting old sucks dead bunnies.]

The government didn't shut down, but we still don't have a budget six and a half months into the budget year, and won't likely have one before summer. If there is any question our federal government is broken, there is no better sign than the fact that the single most important bit of work will still be incomplete nine months after the due date and a mere three months before the next version is due. If the reason for the delay involved coming to a middle path over some deep philosophical divide, I would likely be less harsh. Instead, we have over-grown children quibbling over crumbs while the nation slowly grinds its way down the slope of decline. I'm waiting to hear some adult conversation about what in Afghanistan is of such strategic importance to the US that we continue to borrow billions from the Chinese to fund our bumbling around in that particular hell hole. I would love to have it explained to me what penumbra formed by an emanation obligates me to pay for someone else's healthcare. Or make them whole after they lose their ass gambling in the derivatives markets. Or to pay for three meals a day for school students whose "parents" trade their food stamp cards for cash to piss away on drugs and alcohol. But our president claims that anyone who dares question the neo-liberal agenda is a stomper of puppies and strangler of babies, and advocates killing anyone over the age of 30. Returning the federal government to the size it was for two centuries will be a disaster. Thus Speaketh The One. Hear ye subjects and tremble.

And we accept this with barely a murmur.

Meanwhile, Big Sis says that adults can stuff their hand down the front of a six-year-old girl's pants and call it "proper screening procedures" as long as the adults come two by two with hands of blue. I think we all know what I would be called if I made a habit of stuffing my hand down the front of little girls' pants, disposable nitrile gloves or no.

And we just line up and take it.

We so deserve what is happening to us.

Speaking of which, we are up to 34 banks closed so far in 2011. That's significantly off last year's pace and the size of the banks involved remains of the small and regional variety. That may be due to the slower pace of foreclosures, or it may be due to smaller banks not being able to borrow billions for 0% interest from the Fed then use it to purchase T-bills paying 3.5% like the too-big-to-fail banks.

So, enough of my babbling. Here is someone that makes me look optimistic:



And a couple essays that run along similar themes:

Gaming Our Own Asses by James Howard Kunstler:

...Barack Obama has waited a bit too long to change the national storyline using the authority of his high office. It's not about "growth" and "recovery." It's about managing contraction and becoming a different sort of American society. Observers of the scene have made a mistake about Obama. He's not "eloquent." He's merely respectable. Being able to speak in grammatical sentences is not the same as having anything to say. It will be a sorrowful day when he is replaced by a genuine idiot like Michele Bachman, but it will happen because he wasn't able to set the tone for his times with something like a straight story....

Alternatives to Nihilism, Part One: A Dog Named Boo by John Michael Greer:

Any of my readers who would like to see how much of this fixation on hunting for scapegoats unfolds from an uneasy conscience need only suggest in public that ordinary Americans might bear some modest degree of responsibility for the unwelcome trends of the last few decades. The shrillness with which most Americans will insist that all the blame lies elsewhere makes it tolerably clear just how sensitive a nerve has been touched. What Carl Jung called "projecting the shadow" has become a potent political reality in America, but you don’t need a degree in Jungian psychoanalysis to realize that people who spend their lives pointing fingers at other people are trying to paste a villain’s mask on the rest of the world in order to avoid seeing it when they look in the mirror.

As usual, the real fun is in the comments. Greer's commenters are generally polite and provide useful input (something enforced mercilessly by JMG); Kunstler's are... um... not. Which just increases the unintentional humor factor to the stratosphere.

Well, I should go find something useful to do with my unemployed self. Maybe a nap.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's Official


Now all I have to do is find cheap office space in a better part of town than I now work in.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Federal Budget Pie

Just in case anyone isn't already aware of just how worthless the Congress and our president really are:

Friday, April 08, 2011

Pay Cuts and Gettin' Sued

Debbie found out on Wednesday that her work is "restructuring" their pay system; a turd-polishing way to say everyone is getting a 25% pay cut for all but the busiest three months. So we may be hitting the road again this summer. Our lease is up in August and if either of us can find something in the way of paying work over on the "good" side of Florida, we'll likely jump.

In other news, I received a letter addressed to me at the office where I work informing me that I'm being sued by one of our upstanding clients. It seems back in 2002 she stole money from the bank we use, and has been dodging them ever since. This year, they caught up with her and grabbed her entire Federal refund as repayment. There are at least three places in the paperwork that say applying for a bank product means that you agree that the bank has a right to do this. Of course, because I'm not psychic and didn't know that she owed the bank money from nine years ago, it's all my fault. So she is going to sue me. Not my employer or the bank that actually took her money. Me. Personally. Good luck with that.

And just because this tax season hasn't already been the Tax Season from Hell what with all the IRS software glitches and delays triggered by the large number of fraudulent tax returns we filed back in January, now we are looking at a government shutdown just in time for what is supposed to be the second-busiest week of the tax season. (I have my doubts on that score; one return for the entire office last week and only four returns so far this week.) It isn't supposed to affect most returns, but you can believe as much of that as you want.

The price of oil continues to creep upwards, toying with $112/barrel. No real surprise there other than the complete lack of any adult conversation regarding energy use. Obama's energy speech is the same speech made by every president since Nixon; business-as-usual must continue because we say it must and the energy necessary will fall from the sky because we are the Chosen People. Declining fossil fuel supplies combined with increasing global demand means nothing. We will burn food in our gas tanks while millions starve, and power our homes by magic pixie dust (otherwise known as nuclear fusion, a technology that has been 20 years from widespread deployment for my entire lifetime).

Yes. I'm in a bit of a mood.

I'm also bored out of my skull. In three-and-a-half hours, I've had a single phone call. Woo. I've already read all my regular web sites and read all the stuff I had in my backpack. I'm cranking through books like crazy with 4-5 hours of uninterupted reading time every day. There's a good chance I may have to make an emergency library run before I work there on Sunday. Ah well, in ten days, I'll have a great deal of free time.

I did run across a cool bit of video:


A Cosmological Fantasia from BDH - Burrell Durrant Hifle on Vimeo.

There is some amazing stuff in there. Watching is good for perspective. With titantic events like these happening in the universe, nothing that happens on this insignificant ball of mud really matters. I especially like the bit about three minutes in where our sun goes off its main sequence and burns Earth to a speck of soot. Right now, that makes me smile.

Have a great day!

Not a winner

Well, neither myself or any family member won the HUGE Powerball drawing Wednesday night. That means we all still have to go to work. Darn!

I got news Wednesday at work that they are changing our pay structure once again. This is the third time since I've started (Aug 2010)! So much for that pay raise for a few months! Ric is in the last part of tax season with [name of big-box tax place redacted], so his job is about done for the year. He is not too sure what will happen next. He would like to start his own business doing taxes. This will involve looking for "office space" since we can not "operate a business" out of our apartment. It will involve a bunch of other things too, but the office space will be one of the first to figure out. If we could find a place that has living space also that would be a bonus. Or at least big enough to have the extra storage room that would mean we could get rid of the storage space at UHaul we are currently paying an extra $65/month for.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Marjoe

A 1972 documentary of the "ministry" of Marjoe Gortner. The video quality isn't the best, but the content is... interesting.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A Bit of "Me" Time

I actually have a day completely off. No reason to drive anywhere, no to-do list; just a day to spread my butt on the couch. Woohoo!

Yesterday was International Weirdo Day at work. The first one was an old one-armed man, driving himself naturally, who didn't want to spend money on a lawyer and asked me to help fill out his divorce papers. When I told him as politely as I could that there was no way in hell I was doing that, he demanded that I tell him who would. Um, a lawyer maybe?

Weirdo number two was another old man lugging a hockey bag around full of stuff he was selling; queen sheet sets, remote control toy helicopters, etc. He became rather pissed when I told him no thanks; I was all set on helicopters and sheets purchased from dubious sources.

Weirdo number three was one of our fraudulent tax clients. Imagine Chris Rock if Chris cut his hair with hedge trimmers and lived on a nothing but meth and you get a good picture of how this guy looks and acts. He was coming back with a great deal for me: a whole trunk-full of pizzas from Dominoes (which were oddly enough in Papa John's pizza boxes; I guess Dominoes ran out...) for $20. I told him no thanks; I was about to leave and I didn't have any money anyway. He stood there staring at me for nearly a minute, then finally left, also pissed to the teeth. What gives? Just because I bathe regularly and wear a tie doesn't mean I have my pockets stuffed with $100 bills to buy random crap with.

Other than the weirdos, work is getting slower by the day. As of yesterday afternoon around 2pm, the entire office had managed to complete exactly one tax return for the entire week. The upside is I'm getting a lot of reading done and getting paid for it. The other upside is that I'm nearly 100% certain I'll be out on my own next tax season; I'm getting that together to the extent that I can while still working. Once tax season ends on April 18th, I'll be motivated to kick it into high gear given that I won't have a fall-back next year. The real trick will be finding office space. There's a lot of empty places around here, but based on the prices I'm seeing, you'd think empty office space was at a premium. I'm sure it's just a matter of looking around. Or maybe everyone around here really is delusional.

Speaking of delusional, does anyone sincerely believe the government is making money from owning General Motors? To paraphrase another honest politician, I guess it depends on what the meaning of "is" is:

In Obama's world, success means taxpayers only lost as much as $84 billion.

There are two possibilities; our president is either delusional or he is a liar. Given that he's a politician, do I really need to say which I think it is?

More delusion: we can continue to live our current lifestyle using only renewable energy sources:

Eco-campaigners who built a classroom powered by the sun believed they were paving the way for the future.

...But there is snag - its solar panels only provide enough energy to power a few lightbulbs.

As a result the classroom is bitterly cold and uninhabitable for lessons.

To begin with, whoever wrote this article clearly doesn't understand the different between photovoltaic panels and solar heating panels, unless he thought they were going to use electric heat run by photovoltaic panels. Given the level of delusion (and lack of basic math skills; calculating the amount of sun you have at any given site and what you can do with it is hardly rocket science), that may be the case here. Or just the usual lack of basic understanding we've come to expect from the media.

The cynic in me says the contractor likely knew full well that there was no way the thing would ever be usable and took the £25,000, minus a kick-back to the school official that signed off on the project, and ran. Looking at the photo, I don't see any possible way it could have ever worked as a classroom.

A study of who is most likely to cheat on their taxes:

The typical American tax cheat is male, single and under the age of 45.

I'm sure the local demographics skew things a bit, but the typical tax cheat in the office I work in is as likely to be a married Mexican couple working in the US illegally as a young single male. Both are cheating for the same reason: refundable tax credits. Get rid of those, I'm willing to bet that billions in fantasy income will evaporate from the economy over-night, and illegal Mexicans can stop wasting everyone's time and money, and go back to not filing tax returns like in the old days. I really need to do a post on tax reform one of these days.

Well, Debbie should be calling in a few minutes to tell me to get dinner started. Vacation is over.