Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's Not Christmas Without...

Porky Pig doing Elvis! With all the traveling over the weekend, I completely forgot.

And new this year (to me, at least): Jim Carrey slaughtering White Christmas!

Merry Belated Christmas!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Pics

A selection of our Christmases (plural because we had more than one celebration, not because I built a time machine so I could relive December 25, 2011) in pictures. We did more this year than we normally do, which isn't saying much as we almost never do anything. Beyond monkey bread and the NCIS Christmas Marathon, that is. We started with early Christmas at my parents' snowbird nest:

And because she's a mom, we had a formal table setting with real plates and everything! It took me a minute to remember how to sit at a table and eat after years of eating on the couch in front of the TV. And yes, the knobbly knees are mine.

Here's Mum slaving away in her travel trailer kitchen. I'd really like to help, but I'm not sure where I would stand.

Christmas at our place was the usual simple affair. Our only Christmas decoration was Herman sporting a rather festive bow.

Because we both had a few days off around Christmas day, we decided that we would drive over to Mobile for Christmas with my niece and her family. We got into Mobile on Friday evening after a 10-hour drive to find that we had scored a sweet suite:

We were completely whacked out, so we made our excuses to my niece and went to bed around 7pm. Ten hours in a car made a very plush bed with a big stack of fluffy pillows irresistible. We are seriously getting old.

Christmas Eve day was spent with my niece, her husband, and the cutest kids in Alabama. I may be slightly biased.

So that was pretty much our month of December other than working and sitting around our ghetto apartment.

Speaking of photos, I'm putting Flickr on probation along with Facebook. I no longer use Flickr for anything other than off-site photo backup. There is certainly value in that, and at $20/year it's cheap. But Flickr is getting nearly as creepy as Facebook, getting all bossy about how I can use my own frackin' photos. According to my Flickr stats, only two people ever look at them anyway; for $20/year, I can zip of all the year's photos onto a couple USB drives and mail them to my two viewers and not have to deal with Flickr's crazy EULA. Like Facebook, I haven't made any decision, but I won't be posting the full set of December pictures just yet. We'll see.

Well, I need to go empty the big green gobs infecting my sinuses. Thank the gods for my sinus pump. The last time I used it, something the size of a hamster popped out.

And yes. You needed to know that.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

...And We're Back

We just arrived back at our apartment after a quick jog up to Mobile, AL to visit with some of my family for Christmas. We're also back in the sense that our internet and telephone crapped out Thursday evening around 7pm, but is now working. I called the help desk, but they were pretty far into the Christmas eggnog when I called Thursday around 11pm. They couldn't fix it remotely (hardly surprising given their obvious inebriation), so I set up an appointment for Monday 8-10am. When we got home tonight, there was a Sorry We Missed You card hanging on the door and the phone and internet seem to be working fine. The card says they came out Christmas day at 9:30am. I guess when you're half in the bag, "Monday" sounds a lot like "Sunday" especially when several of your office mates are merry-making in your cubicle.

My Christmas gift was a raging sinus infection. Thanks Santa; right back at 'cha. So I'm off to self-medicate and probably pass out on the couch.

Oh yea; Happy Whatever Makes You Tingly.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bah Humbug

I'm waiting for Debbie to get home from work so we can get ready for our Christmas weekend. She is making a quick stop for gas at Sam's Club. Unfortunately, the line starts about three miles down the road. I think I hate Christmas a little more each year. We need to start saving up money for a vacation on a desert island during the last two weeks of December.

Having said that, now I want Christmas 2012 to get here NOW!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Looking like Christmas in Florida mostly means plastic wreaths on palm trees and overnight lows in the 50's. At this moment, I'm sitting in the living room in shorts and a t-shirt thinking I should close the windows because my toes are getting a bit cold.

Our Christmas plans are still up in the air; we should have a plan after we do Christmas with my parents over the weekend. Then we can decide whether we sit here and have Christmas in front of the TV or drive up to Alabama for Christmas with some of my family.

As usual for us, not a lot going on other than work and (for me, at least) studying tax code. I scheduled my last test, but due to limited seating and a bum-rush by everyone trying to get their Enrolled Agent testing completed before tax season, the first available day was January 13th. Not ideal, but I'll still get the thing done and move on to the next step. The hardest part will be to keep up on what I need to know for the test. I'm ready now, so I'm stuck forcing myself to review the same material over and over for the next month to keep it in my head. It would suck dead bunnies if I have to make multiple attempts at the easiest of the three tests.

We made a quick road trip over to Tampa on Sunday to do an NCL ship inspection. This is my second encounter with NCL and I'm still not impressed. Part of the deal was free lunch which, like our NCL cruise we did in September, was nothing to write home about. The ship itself is nice enough, although there were bits of it that looked... well... shabby is probably the right word. Maybe they need fewer staff dancing around squirting people with hand sanitizer, and a few more polishing the brass. There are some impressive suites if you have the spare cash, and we loved the Villa, with three full suites, a living area big enough for two seating areas and a baby grand piano, a full kitchen for the butler who brings up your meals, and a private outdoor area with a hot tub, eating area, Japanese koi pond (sans koi; maybe you're supposed to bring your own?), and seating areas in and out of the sun. You could basically pretend you were on a private yacht and never leave your Villa. But even as nice as it was, surely with a price tag to match, there were things like woodwork that needed a good sanding and refinishing that threw the whole thing off for me.

Because it's Christmas:

For nearly four decades, Star Trek and Star Wars fans have been at each other's throats. George Takei is calling for Star Peace so we can all focus on the real threat:

I always suspected Sparkle Tits was a threat to humanity.

More (barely) controlled falling off a cliff, otherwise known as skiing:

Given my hatred of cold and snow, you will never see me on a pair of skis, but it's nice that there are insane people willing to kill themselves for my entertainment.

One for all the doomers that think the world is ending because of the recent spate of earthquakes:

Even the Tohoku, Japan earthquake, as horrifying as it and the resulting tsunami was, is small beans when compared to the 1960's earthquakes in Chile and Alaska. Which can happen again, by the way. Something to consider given the massive increase in population in both areas.

And finally, something that people should be thinking about instead of worrying about the Mayan-Calendar-is-ending non-event (there is nothing in Mayan mythology that gives the last day of it's calendar any more significance than December 31 on the Gregorian calendar holds for us):

The mismatch between the economy we’ve got and the economy we can afford has many implications, but one of the largest is precisely the issue I raised earlier in this post: across the industrial world, there are very few bankable projects to be found, even at a time when there are millions of people who need work, and who would happily buy products if they had the chance to earn the money to do so. Our economy is burdened with an unproductive superstructure it can no longer support. The globalization fad of the 1990s, which arbitraged the difference in wage costs between Third World sweatshops and industrial-world factories, was in effect an attempt to evade the resulting difficulties by throwing the industrial nations’ working classes under the bus, and it only worked for a decade or so; as so often happens in the declining years of a civilization, a short term fix was treated as a long term solution, and a brief remission of symptoms allowed the underlying crisis to worsen steadily.

While I greatly appreciate the bags of shiny rocks I was given as a COBOL programmer, I thought at the time that I could have done more for the accounting departments I wrote code for with a box of Blackfoot #2 pencils and a stack of 13-column paper than I ever did with 10's of thousands of lines of COBOL code, not to mention the millions of dollars in hardware and infrastructure, including (pre-internet) the launching of a communications satellite. Our motto at one job was, "[Name of proprietary software package redacted]: Turning user input into error messages at the speed of light!"

And that's probably enough for now. I need to wrap some Christmas gifts.

Thursday, December 08, 2011


Well a cold front finally hit us in Florida. It got down to 47 last night and right now it is only 49. Today's high is suppose to reach 65. The past few days it has been in the high 70's/low 80's.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Another SWAT Shooting

A Pima County, Arizona SWAT team gunned down an ex-Marine in his home with his wife and 4-year-old son in the house. Some random thoughts in no particular order.

Once again, in a repeat of the Branch Davidian mess at Waco, Texas, military-style tactics that were unnecessary and inappropriate were used instead of police tactics. Instead of a simple arrest outside the home, lets pull out all this cool storm trooper gear we got here in the back room and go make a big media splash. Operation Showtime Part II.

Five supposedly highly-trained officers fired over 70 rounds in a matter of seconds with less than a third of them hitting their intended target located a few feet away. Spray and Pray. With a four-year-old in the house. Ye flippin' gods. Maybe next time they should put their storm trooper helmets on backwards; it may improve their accuracy.

The family lawyer called SWAT "an overly excited group of poorly trained law enforcement agents." I hate to agree with a lawyer, but I have to go with him on this one. The cop retort of "We're not a bunch of country bumpkins... with big bellies and cowboy hats" may or may not be true, but doesn't address the point: You provably are a bunch of "overly excited", "poorly trained" bumpkins in storm trooper gear. As evidence, see above.

All it takes to be a drug kingpin is to be related to someone who knows someone who at some point had been in still-another person's house where marijuana was delivered. And ride in the truck of someone who owns a large roll of plastic wrap. Which is sold at U-Haul. For packing furniture. I have two sizes of the stuff in my closet left over from our last move. I'm also most likely related to someone who knows someone who at some point had been in still-another person's house where marijuana was delivered. I guess SWAT will be smashing in my door at any time now.

The fact that the suspect is a Marine is irrelevant. Plenty of Marines and ex-Marines engage in illegal activity. Being a Marine doesn't remove you from the human race. Especially when you're an ex-Marine trying to raise a family in one of the most economically depressed areas of the country.

The fact that the suspect had a crappy job is irrelevant. In fact, having a crappy job with long hours is just the sort of motivation needed to ask a drug-dealing relative's twice-removed friend if they need a hand with the family business.

The fact that "everyone" says the suspect is a great guy is irrelevant. That's what everyone says about the nice guy next door who coaches Little League. Right up to the moment the cops find the videos he made of himself banging the center-fielder.

I'm not sure what "problems with his vision" would allow the suspect to serve in the Marine Corp, but would disqualify him from any kind of job in the Border Patrol. Unless the vision problem was caused by over-ingestion of his brother's twice-removed friend's product. Maybe he should have signed up for Pima County SWAT; they seem to prefer people with vision problems.


Here's what will happen now: there will be an "investigation" in which SWAT will be found to have acted bravely while defending the innocent citizens of Tucson, and will be given medals and promotions. The investigation into this alleged drug cartel, which may very well exist, will be forgotten. The media will get distracted by Snooki's tits or the next fake Kardashian sister's wedding or bashing whoever the current Republican not-Romney front-runner is, and forget all about our dead ex-Marine and his family. No one will question why we need military units patrolling our streets and gunning down anyone with the misfortune of being related someone with a twice-removed friend in the drug trade.

And I need to go make the donuts....

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Another One Bites the... Hey!!

Thanks for stealing my post title, Debbie!

Anyway, as someone has already mentioned, I passed the second part of the SEE. By all accounts, the third section is the easiest of the three. I started going through the material last night and it does look to be way more straight-forward than part two. If all goes well, I may yet complete the testing by the end of the year. Then it's just paperwork and waiting on the IRS.

We're trying to make holiday plans, but I still don't have my December schedule, meaning as of Wednesday, I don't know whether or not I'm working this coming Sunday. Of course, I also don't know if I'll be getting paid as the time card system appears to be broken, as is the system I'm supposed to use to request time off. Once again, some half-wit computer programmer using the latest in software development tools has made a simple task impossible. Back in the dark ages when we wrote software in such archaic languages as COBOL and RPG, this sort of screw-up would get you fired. Now everyone simply accepts it as business as usual. I've yet to figure out how this is progress.

Anyway, we are planning on doing a ship inspection in Tampa Sunday the 11th and maybe visit the aquarium, but as I mentioned, no word yet on whether we will be able to. We're also planning on doing Christmas with my parents the weekend after that, but, well, ya know. Christmas itself* will be spent as usual; in our apartment watching an NCIS marathon. Anyway, that's the big holiday plans. We are planning to be good little consumers this year and buy at least token gifts for people. I figure as long as I'm sucking at the government teat, we may as well use some of that money to boost the GDP of China.

[*And not to be a Grammar Nazi or anything, but what is up with "it's self" instead of "itself"? I'm seeing this everywhere and not just in blog posts that are done in haste and where no one expects perfect grammar or spelling or punctuation. I'm talking about published books! How is it possible to be functionally literate and not instantly recognize how wrong that is?]

And for no particular reason other than an arbitrary date on an arbitrary calendar:

Well, I need to go de-stress the ol' noggin' with something mindless.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Another one bites the dust!

Ric passed his second of three tests to become an enrolled agent!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Animal Kingdom

The photos from our latest trip to Animal Kingdom are finally on Flickr. I'd forgotten that we had already visited there this year, so the two trips ended up combined in one set. The latest photos start with the picture of Goofy and some people we don't know.

Still Cramming

I'm down to two days until my SEE Part 2 test; I think I'll do OK as long as I don't get a brain aneurysm from trying to squeeze in yet-one-more obscure fact about partnership liquidations or IRC Sec 357. Today's agenda is property basis. Woo. hoo.

We spent Thanksgiving with my parents and had a potluck dinner at their clubhouse. Not surprisingly, we were the youngest of the group by a couple decades. In proper Thanksgiving tradition, we ate way too much, then headed over to one of my parents' friend's mother's house (got that?) so we could eat some more. We came back home Thursday night because Debbie had to work the Black Friday cruise sales, which, for the second year in a row, were a complete bust. But next year for sure!!

Meanwhile, the once-proud nation known as these united States spent Thursday night and Friday in what has become an annual orgy of violence and mayhem, featuring fist fights, shootings, pepper spraying's, muggings and other assorted stupidity in order to "save" money on Chinese-made crap that no one really needs. We saved money by staying home and not spending money. What a concept. I'm sure in the tens of thousands of new diagnostic codes in the updated DSM, one of them describes this annual decent into mass insanity.

The internet is still buzzing over UC Davis campus police hosing down protesters with pepper spray. I'm somewhat ambivalent about the whole thing. Of course, I'm ambivalent about the whole Occupy Everything protests in the first place. But one thing is certain; this is a PR nightmare for the college administration and the campus police. In the age of instant, globally-broadcast video from anyone with a cell phone, the people with the guns are going to have to get a lot smarter. First, lose the storm trooper gear. Like the original Star Wars storm troopers, I can't decide if you look menacing or ridiculous. Second, why after weeks of protest did this particular group have to be removed RIGHT NOW?!? Isolate them from all outside assistance and wait. The protesters will eventually have to pee. Maybe even provide bottled water to hurry along the process while making the campus police (dressed in their standard uniforms, of course) look compassionate. If they are dedicated enough to sit in their own urine, keep waiting and handing out bottles of water while reminding them that all it takes for it to be over is to stand up and walk away. They will eventually get bored or hungry or cold or fall asleep or have to take a dump. Most importantly, it would all make for some incredibly boring video.

From a student perspective, college has become a complete waste of time and money for most of them. Kids, with no understanding of what they are signing up for, are being pushed by the so-called adults in their life to take on ruinous amounts of debt while learning nothing that will enable them to earn enough to ever pay it back. In other words, anyone currently in, or recently graduated from, college has every right to be pissed off. I'm not sure how pitching tents on the quad or volunteering to be hosed down with pepper spray fixes that, but it likely feels more satisfying than writing a strongly-worded essay for the college newspaper. Either way, it certainly helps make the case for the protesters when the cops can be counted on to play the part of heartless storm troopers to the students' wide-eyed and virtuous Princess Leia/Luke Skywalker.

Not that any of it matters much in the big pictures. The United States has been in decline since the mid-1970's and no amount of tent pitching or pepper spraying is going to change that.

And now, property basis. w00t.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Crunch Time

I have exactly one week to cram as much corporate tax information into my head as I can before I attempt to set another $100 on fire... er... pass the SEE Part Two test. There are still some parts that I'm a little shaky on; either I get them down in the next seven days, or hope whatever software algorithm selects which 100 questions I draw from the pool goes light on the parts I'm weak in. Fingers crossed.

We spent a Friday and Saturday visiting my parents' snowbird home. Last winter, my mother asked us to bring our bicycles next time we came to visit so we could all go for a bike ride around their park. I figured my parents' idea of a bike ride would involve a slower pace than what I usually do, but nothing could have prepared either of us for the creeper-gear pace combined with random stops in the middle of the road. Debbie actually went down trying not to ram the back of my mom's adult-sized tricycle when my mom made a sudden stop to snoop on a neighbor. When we started out, my dad had told us that he had switched from two to three wheels several years ago out of self-defense; now I understand what he meant.

Friday night, we took them out to Carrabbas for my birthday (yeah; we take my parents out for our bithdays... long story). My dad is generally not a big Italian food fan, but they had spaghetti and meatballs without "stinky cheese", so he was happy. My seafood cannelloni and my mom's manicotti were both good. Debbie's BBQ ribs were a bit of a disappointment; instead of sauce, they were cooked with a spice rub. They were OK, but not something we are likely to get again. As the Birthday Boy, I got a hunk of free tiramisu more than large enough for myself and my parents. Debbie, not being a big tiramisu fan, snagged one of the dessert shots. We rolled ourselves out to the car and went back to the parental units' trailer for Chicken Little. Saturday was more eating, visiting with some family I hadn't seen since middle school, another bike ride, UP!, and the drive home. It was a nice two-day break from the ghetto.

Finally. A political party I can get behind: The Futility Party:

The best thing — the brilliant thing — is that in the end, the Occupy movement will fail to make any lasting changes in politics, thereby proving its own point.

Follow along. If the vaguely defined “1 percent” have all the power, then no amount of sign-waving, slogan-chanting or locale-occupation will have any influence. It’d be like trying to get the Pope to let someone else be infallible once in a while. So if the protests end in any status other than quo, then the 1 percent is a myth, normal people have plenty of influence, and the protestors were just wasting everyone’s time.

...I’m officially founding a new political party, the Futility Party. Our main platform will be a commitment, once elected, to ending the corruption and cronyism that keeps us out of office. We will reject any funding that might help us get the word out, avoid coalitions and compromises that will turn us into a viable political entity, and make sure our candidates and backers lack the influence to disrupt even the closest election.

Our slogan will be “Unimpeachable. Unassailable. Unelectable.”....

That should be made into a bumper sticker. It could double as the slogan for the Libertarian Party.

[Aside: The brilliant coders behind Blogger have now managed to screw up block quoting. Yes, block quoting. If I have to hand-code all the HTML for this thing, I may as well go back to a straight-up hosting service and writing my posts in Notepad. Is it really that hard to not break things that work?]

I haven't made any recent posts about how uniformly horrible the public schools in the United States are, but there may be a bright spot:

For all I complain about public schools and NCLB, there are occasional success stories. For example, the Dallas News reports on the stunningly good math and reading test scores achieved by third-grade pupils at Field Elementary school. There was a minor downside, though. They achieved those high math and reading test scores by devoting essentially all of their effort to teaching these kids math and reading, which of course meant they had to skip science and other subjects almost entirely. Not to worry, though. The kids still got grades in those other subjects. Of course, those grades were faked, sometimes assigned by teachers who’d never even taught the subjects in question. If I had school-age children, I’d do whatever it took to either homeschool them or get them into private schools. I don’t believe public schools–any public schools–can any longer be trusted to educate kids.

OK; maybe "bright spot" isn't the term I'm looking for.

While I've been a fan of renewable energy in all its various forms since I was a kid, largely because I take issue with running an uncontrolled experiment on the only inhabitable planet we have access to, I also understand that no renewable source or sources of energy will provide us with anything like the amount of energy we currently obtain from fossil fuel. In the past, I've done entire posts showing the absurdity of, say, running our cars on bacterial poo. Another darling of the renewables-will-let-us-keep-business-as-usual crowd is pumped storage. I've been saved the trouble of doing the math by some professor dude who writes a blog called Do the Math. As you can probably guess, pumped storage at the scale needed to replace all fossil fuel is as absurd as every other renewable. But setting all that aside, his closing paragraph is the most important:

Let’s be clear that I am not making any claim that large scale storage at the level we need is impossible. But it’s far more daunting than almost anyone realizes. It’s not a matter of “just” building up when the time comes. We could easily find ourselves ill-prepared and suffering insufficient energy supplies, intermittency, and a long, slow economic slide because we collectively did not anticipate the scale of the challenges ahead.

A nation that cannot contemplate a plan to reduce currently-legislated increases in federal spending from 7% to 6% without going into paroxysms most certainly cannot contemplate the sacrifices that would be needed to undertake a multi-decade engineering feat the likes of which humanity has never seen. Sorry professor; this is impossible for the USA. We cannot even accomplish that which humanity has already accomplished, like flying humans to low earth orbit. And we've been in a "long, slow economic slide" for four decades.

I've been thinking of ways to free up time. I feel like everything is universally neglected: I'm not spending enough time preparing for my SEE test, not writing enough here or at The Tax Geek, not doing enough to make The Tax Geek into something other than a lame website, not reading enough, not getting enough exercise, not getting enough sleep.... I could go on for pages. I started by looking at what I spend my time on and immediately went on a purge of the Hulu queue. Some good stuff likely ended up in the dumpster, but "good" is no longer good enough to make the cut. Flickr is now what I originally used it for: on-line backup of, and internet access to, our digital photos. All the Contacts and Groups and all that social crap is gone. I also need to take a hard look at the list of sites I routinely visit. Just what is it that I get out of them? Do I even enjoy going to them or does it feel more like a chore or obligation to go there and skim through their posts? If so, why do I continue to have them on the list? Expect some of them to disappear. I'm also cutting out Yahoo Finance's Breakout and The Daily Ticker, another hour every day I cannot afford just to listen to people make excuses for why the market isn't doing what economic theory said it ought to be doing.

But the big one is Facebook. Even though I'm not on it anywhere as much as the average Facecrack addict, it's still an hour or so every couple days, plus dealing with the flood of e-mail notifications clogging up my Yahoo account. Not to mention Facebook's assumption that everything you do on the internet is somehow theirs to pull into the Facebook Profiling Engine and sell to the highest bidder. Is it worth it? Is it worth the time and aggravation, the constant threat to my personal data from malicious game designers and Facebook itself, just to know that someone I barely know is going shopping with someone I've never met? Probably not. I don't get the whole social media thing anyway. Sure it was fun connecting with people I hadn't seen in years or decades. At first. Then I realized that other than reliving the Glory Days (Thanks, Bruce!), we have absolutely nothing to talk about. Again, given what I could be doing instead, is it really worth it? I'll be making the decision sometime this week. It's not looking good for Facebook.

Back to corporate taxes.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

I can't sleep, so instead I'm blogging. It's not quite my birthday yet, but it will be by the time I finish this, hence the title. We're heading over to my parents' winter place in Zephyrhills in the morning to spend a couple days with them. No real big plans other than dinner at either Carrabba's or Charlies Steakhouse and maybe a movie or two. We're taking Chicken Little and Up! with us, so it certainly won't be an intellectual weekend, but at the very least, we'll get out of the house.

The library job continues. Not really anything else to report other than I don't think I've ever worked a job where the managers seem so terrified to tell me what to do. It's usually obvious what needs doing, but I always ask in case some other part of the library is short-handed and needs some help. The answer is nearly always the same: "Whatever you want to do." Huh? But other than that little quirk, it remains the perfect job; no stress and no responsibility other than just showing up. Sweet.

I stumbled across a couple videos shot from the International Space Station. The first is a series of time-lapse videos taken from August to October when the Northern Lights were really going at it. If you thought the view from the ground was impressive, well...

Unfortunately, you have to go to Vimeo to view it in HD. You'll want to do that. And view it full screen of course.

The second video is older and doesn't have any Northern Lights, but there are a couple very impressive thunderstorms that can be seen:

It continues to be relatively quiet for us just keeping our heads down, working, and (in my case) getting ready for my second SEE exam currently scheduled for November 29th. I don't feel like I'm prepared, but maybe a serious cram session over the Thanksgiving weekend will fix that. I'll be really pissed if I just end up wasting $100.

Duqu, the bastard son of Stuxnet, is still out there floating around the internet. Who is behind it and to what purpose is still not known, but Microsoft is putting defenses in place to stop it. Yet another means for people to break things. As if one more were needed.

Occupy Wall Street has been cleared out with surprisingly few arrests and no real violence. The eviction was only to be expected, especially once diseases started sweeping through various Occupy camps as a result of people living in close quarters and crapping on the ground. I'm unclear why a movement with a half-million dollars in the bank couldn't use a bit of it for porta-johns. I guess I don't understand modern protest movements. With winter on the way, the camp was likely to be breaking up anyway. What happens in the spring could be interesting, especially when some police departments seem to be spoiling for an all-out fight in the streets. What other reason could there be for an Oakland cop to shoot a photographer with a rubber bullet seemingly for kicks? If you want a possible preview of 2012, check out a timeline of 1968.

Enough. Maybe I can get some sleep now that it's after 1 am.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pale Blue Dot

I missed posting this on his actual birthday by a couple days, but it's always worth a watch:

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Where Does the Time Go?

I just realized I haven't posted anything for over a week. Time flies when you are having fun.

One reason for not spending much time here is that I started working at the library on Monday. As jobs go, it's OK; I show up, I do my list, I barely talk to anyone, I go home, I get a check every other Thursday, and I'm not stuck in a cubicle staring at a computer. It's the perfect job, as far as I can tell. Like any government entity, there is plenty of things that make you go, "Huh?!?!", but I'm so far down the food chain that it really doesn't matter. It's only part-time, but at least it's permanent (or at least as permanent as anything these days).

I'm still working on the Tax Geek thing, mostly trying to cram enough tax code into my head to get past the testing. I'm scheduling the second test for the first Friday in December, which is about a month later than I had hoped, but I'd prefer to take it later than planned and pass, rather than rush things and waste $100. The downside is that I'm unlikely to have my Enrolled Agent status solid for tax season. In any case, my hours at the library are very unsettled at this point and will likely remain so for the next few months, so we decided that instead of spending $6,000 or so on rent plus another $3,000 for furnishings, computer, etc. so I can have an office that is empty most of the time, we will hold off for a tax season. By next year, we will be in a better financial position plus I will have a more predictable schedule (or no schedule given how long most of my jobs last...). So that's the plan for now. It may be different next week.

We didn't bother going down to Animal Kingdom last Friday because it rained the entire day. So we sat around the apartment getting caught up on the bookkeeping, clearing out the Hulu queue, doing some reading, etc. Sunday, the weather was perfect, so we made a run down there and got what we went for:

His name is Jabali ("strong as a rock" in Swahili) and he was born on August 24 and weighed 311 pounds at birth. We had to do the safari ride three times to get that shot. The first time, Jabali was playing hide-and-seek:

The little dude went bookin' behind that rock as soon as our vehicle came around the curve. This was only a few minutes after the park opened and most of the animals were still eating breakfast, so he may have been heading for some food. Our second time through, he was standing in a group with strong back-lighting, so you can't really see him:

Anyway, that was what we did all day Sunday. I have more photos that I'm still sorting and touching up, then I'll toss them up on Flickr. I also had the chance to play with the camera in low light. I've never used the higher ISO settings, so while we were watching the Lion King show, I cranked the ISO up to 3200 and gave it a go. Most didn't turn out because of the wide range and rapid changes in light intensity, but these weren't bad for hand-held shots with our glorified point-and-shoot:

Those are straight from the camera with no processing. I normally don't do much low-light photography other than sunsets (and I have a preset for that), mainly because I've not been impressed with the results I've seen from point-and-shoot digital cameras. But I may have to invest some time playing with our current camera and see what I can get out of it.

And the federal tax code is calling me.

Friday, October 28, 2011

7 Days Without Firefox Makes One Week

I've been using Chrome exclusively for a week. It works well enough, although the zoom thing is still annoying. Setting the page zoom to 144% for all pages works well enough for most sites, but I still miss each domain having its own zoom. It's not a deal breaker, especially given the alternative of trying to use a browser that crashes five times a day. I'll stay put for now.

There has been a lot going on in the tech world recently. Dennis Ritchie died a couple weeks ago. Not that the news media noticed nor are they even aware of who he was. In many ways, he was far more important to the IT world than even the biggest fanboy can make Steve Jobs out to be. But Dennis wasn't in the habit of parading on stage in black turtlenecks, so his passing doesn't unleash a spasm of national mourning.

Speaking of Steve Jobs, it looks like the reality distortion field that enveloped him immediately after his death has began to lessen as of late. Stories of his smelly hippy days when he convinced himself for a couple years that he didn't need to bathe, his violent temper and his autocratic management style are beginning to circulate. Not that any of that diminishes what he accomplished, but it does serve as a useful counterweight to the Saint Steve movement.

Probably the biggest irony of the whole Apple/Steve Jobs story is how by creating the walled garden of "i" products and the Apple Store, he became the very thing he/it were supposed to be against:

Apple right now has the second-highest market cap of all companies in the world and more cash in the bank than almost any country you care to name. Apple has out-IBM'ed IBM.

While we're on the subject of Apple, why is it that every innovation for the iPhone makes people act in ways that are indistinguishable from schizophrenics? Introducing Apple's latest method for pretentious douche bags to annoy us normal people. Gods help us.

Remember the Stuxnet worm? Remember how a number of people mentioned that it might be a bad idea to give everyone on the internet a road map for how to shut down another countries infrastructure? Well, guess what:

The new malware, dubbed “Duqu” [dü-kyü], contains parts that are nearly identical to Stuxnet and appears to have been written by the same authors behind Stuxnet, or at least by someone who had direct access to the Stuxnet source code...

Someone is following the map. Who and to what end is not known. I assume we will find out sooner rather than later. Joy.

Matt Taibbi cuts through the BS about the OWS'ers:

And we hate the rich? Come on. Success is the national religion, and almost everyone is a believer. Americans love winners. But that's just the problem. These guys on Wall Street are not winning – they're cheating. And as much as we love the self-made success story, we hate the cheater that much more.

I have issues with the OWS thing, but portraying people who are pissed off that so-called private businesses are having their losses back-stopped by taxpayers while keeping their profits as anti-capitalists is propaganda aimed at the ignorant. Here is a list of charts that spells out what some people have been saying for a long time: The bottom 80% of America has been in steady decline since the 1970's. That's what has people worked up. Not that some people make more money than other people, but that the 20% get to live by a different set of rules than the 80%; rules that benefit the 20% enormously while killing the 80%.

Because of that, we can probably expect more of this:

The group surrounded the 21-year-old woman's car and began beating on it with an object that shattered her driver's side window. One of the boys involved in the attack also pointed a handgun in the direction of a passenger in the car, but didn't make any threats or attempt to open the door.

The title of the article is Teen Mobs Harass Motorists. Whoever came up with that needs to look up the meaning of the words "harass" and "assault" and see which fits the facts better. Notice also the down-playing of the race angle; if a mob of white teens "harassed" a black woman by blocking the street, smashing her window and pointing a gun at her, it would be all over the national media, the FBI would be investigating the "hate crimes", the victim would be on every news network, the local schools would cancel classes and force the entire student body into sensitivity training... well... I could go on for pages. Instead we have this tepid article in the local paper. But what is really interesting is the action down in the comments. It's still mostly words with maybe a minor scuffle here and there, but it won't take much to blow things into something seriously ugly.

Well, it's late and we're supposed to get up early for a trip down to Animal Kingdom to see the baby elephant! We'll try to get some good pictures!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Buh Bye, Mozilla

I've been running Mozilla Firefox pretty much since the first day it was released. At the time, the only other options on Windows had major issues of compatibility, speed, security, etc. Since then, Microsoft seems to have mostly gotten it together with IE and Google Chrome came on the scene. I have all three browsers pinned to my taskbar, but I still used Firefox almost exclusively. Part of that was inertia; the devil you know and all that. Part of it was annoyances with the other two options: Chrome's zoom feature doesn't remember what you zoomed a page to from one visit to the next, and IE is still noticeably slower than either Chrome or Firefox. So I stayed with Firefox in spite of its recent problems with releases, speed, memory leaks and whatnot.

About a month ago, Firefox and Adobe seem to have gotten into a pissing match, at least on my computer. Freezes, hangs, crashes (both Adobe and Firefox) became a routine part of my web browsing. I've put up with it mostly because I've been up to my eyeballs in tax code and just didn't want to deal with it. Today, I decided to take a break from all things IRS and try to fix the problem. Adobe has a separate uninstaller app that is supposed to remove all traces of Flash from a PC. I ran that, then did a clean install of the latest version of Flash (11.something). As soon as I started Firefox, I knew there was a problem; Firefox informed me that I was missing a plugin. Specifically Flash 10.something "or higher." Now I'm not a math genius, but I'm pretty sure 11 is "higher" than 10. I tried to play some videos; some would play, but fullscreen still showed the Firefox window and the taskbar, or the video would randomly freeze. Others would refuse to play at all saying I needed at least Flash 10.something to play this video. Again, did I miss the memo that made 10 greater than 11?

I still had no idea if the problem was Firefox, Flash, or the combination of the two. I fired up Chrome and... well, long story short, the problem is almost certainly not Flash, unless the folks at Adobe have declared war on Firefox and added code to Flash that borks Firefox. (There is precedence for such a thing; Microsoft's software team's unofficial slogan in the late 80's and early 90's was, "Word's not done until Lotus won't run.") So Chrome it is, annoying zoom malfunctions and all. Maybe Firefox will fix the problem, but by then I may be over my anti-Chrome pissyness and won't bother switching back.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


So while I'm taking a break from taxes this morning, I'm over at The West Virginia Surf Report reading Jeff Kay's latest blog post. He used the line from the song Ironic as part of his post that goes, "Like rain on your wedding day, or a free ride when you’ve already paid." Whenever I'm reading, the little voice in my head is usually what I imagine (or in rare cases, know) the author's voice sounds like, but when I got to that line of Jeff's post, it didn't "sound" right. Some other part of my brain said, "Huh?" and cocked its head to one side like a dog trying to track down the source of a noise. Yet some other part of my brain told the head-cocking part, "Shadup already; we're trying to read in here," made a mental note to check my meds, and kept reading. I made it about two sentences further when the Jeff voice in my head gets interrupted by someone repeating, "Like rain on your wedding day, or a free ride when you’ve already paid." What the...?!?!

At the exact instant I was reading "Like rain on your wedding day..." Songbird was playing that exact line over the computer speakers. It was so closely synch'ed that I didn't realize what was going on until the line came up again in the song. I must have stared at the computer screen for a good five minutes muttering, "How the....  What the....  Holy crap!"

I'm not sure whether this means I should set the apartment on fire and run naked and screaming out into the middle of the street or buy a Powerball ticket.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Five Years Ago Today...

...we began this weird little journey we've been on after leaving behind everything (and everyone) we've ever known. Thanks to technology, we still have contact with all those friends and family, unlike my great-great-grandfather who left everything and everyone behind to (eventually) homestead in northern Michigan. But in spite of that, life has been very different on a day-to-day basis since walking away from our support structure. For one, we now depend on each other a great deal more instead of always looking to others. There are times when working without a net can be terrifying, but I'm glad we did what we did.

What sent me down Memory Lane was a Facebook conversation yesterday with someone I hadn't talked to in 25 years or so asking what I've been up to lately. I realized that October 2006 was five years ago and I wondered just when in October we headed out to Arcosanti via Florida (the shortest distance between two points is sometimes a line in the opposite direction). After digging around in the blog archives, it turns out that October 15th was the day. In some ways, it seems like Michigan was an eternity ago. Yet it seems impossible that it was five years ago when we crammed the back of the Durango with everything we thought we might need for the next year or so and rolled out.

That conversation ended like most similar Facebook conversations I have with long-lost acquaintances: "Sorry to hear things didn't turn out how you planned." While I appreciate the sentiment, it misses an important point; Like the secret ingredient in the secret ingredient soup, there was no plan. We didn't have the first clue what we were doing or where we were going beyond the Arcosanti workshop, which was merely an excuse for me to go back to Arizona. We went and did stuff, until we wanted to do something else somewhere else, then went somewhere else and did something else. Rinse and repeat. Now we're here. Doing this. For now. And our plans always turn out exactly how we didn't plan them. Don't think that isn't a horrifying way for a couple OCD list-makers and planners to try to live, but the longer we do it, the better we get at it. I still make all sorts of to-do lists and time lines, but I now forget about them almost as soon as I write them. When I stumble across one, sometimes months or years later, I note that everything on the list is still not done and all the deadlines made a really cool whooshing sound as they flew by, and yet the universe didn't end in some titanic matter/anti-matter explosion. We're both still standing, together, with a roof over our heads, food on the table and a family-sized bag of crunchy Cheetos on the top of the refrigerator.

At the end of the day, what more is there?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Full Week

The last week or so has been rather full of news. The most obvious is the death of Steve Jobs. I find all the gushing over him to be a bit creepy. Jobs was good, no doubt about that. But the equal of Einstein? Sorry; don't think so. He was a glorified Billy Mays in a black turtleneck who managed to convince 10's of millions of people that they couldn't draw their next breath without an electronic doohickey glued to their hand that didn't even exist five years ago. That was his real genius. And ripping off the Xerox Alto, but then everyone did that eventually, making it hard to find fault with Jobs simply for being the first. It will be interesting to see what happens at Apple over the next five years or so. I don't envy the guy who gets to replace him as the face of Apple.

In her last post, Debbie mentioned us trying and failing to get down to see La Nouba last weekend. Because it was dead at her work on Friday, she came home early. We jumped on line and were able to find two seats together. They weren't the best seats, but they ended up being good enough. So we made a run to Downtown Disney to wander around a bit then see the show. La Nouba was good (I put it not quite as good as O, but much better than Ka), although we saw something not normally seen in a Cirque du Soleil show: a hard crash. One of the acts was four little girls (looked to be maybe 8 at the most) doing acrobatics while working diabolos. The last trick involved one girl throwing her spool 20 feet or so in the air and a second girl jumping up onto the first girl's shoulders to catch it. On the first try, the toss was off, so they made a second attempt. That time she kinda sorta caught it but took a hard fall and was a bit slow getting up. The third try was successful with a great deal of wobbling around, but they held it together long enough to call it good. Of course, they got the biggest applause of the night.

Other big news is that I finally got a job. Sort of. Since we moved down here, I've been volunteering at the library one or two days a week as a page (shelving books, pulling holds, etc.). They had a part-time page job open up, so I went ahead and applied for it not expecting to get it. Typical for central Florida, there were over 160 applications for the part-time job including large numbers of people with freshly-minted graduate degrees in library science. Why would they hire someone who makes all sorts of grandpa-noises when he has to shelve on the bottom shelf when they could have 20-somethings with college degrees? Then I was called for an interview. I went and was my usual charming self during the interview, followed by their standard library page test, which involves alphabetizing six groups of four words, six groups of four authors, and most challenging of all, putting six groups of four Dewey decimal numbers in numeric order. I still didn't expect to get the job. I got a call on Friday just as we were leaving for Disney that I got the job. When I was at the library on Sunday, I found out I was offered the job because I was the only person that managed to get a perfect score on the test. Wow. Knowing the ABC Song and how to count pays off big time. If you can call a part-time job the big time. At least it's permanent.

So now I need to see what my schedule there is going to look like and decide what to do about the whole Tax Geek thing. I'm hoping I can do both, but we'll just have to wait and see. I don't start the library job until the last day of October, so that gives me time to get through the second section of my SEE tests. I figure I've gone this far so why not finish up the Enrolled Agent thing? I can use the library job to backstop the first few years of The Tax Geek and see which one turns into a full-time job first. Or something like that. It's all a bit squishy right now.

The bicycle riding is going much better now that I have a back wheel that turns. My average speed is way up (12.8 mph), so tomorrow I'm getting back to adding miles. Other than three straight days of rain over the weekend, the weather has been much more pleasant as well; 20 degrees cooler and about half the humidity. I may hit my 15-miles-in-an-hour-or-less goal by the end of the year after all.

Well, it's late so I should try to get some sleep. I can't keep my eyes open during the day, then I'm suddenly all perky and awake at 11pm. Grrr.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Beautiful Day

It is suppose to be a beautiful day today -- bit cooler (in the low/mid 80's) and no rain. Last nite I told Ric I wanted to do "something" today -- get out of the apartment and outside.

I didn't join him for his bike ride this morning though and we just finished up going through old posts on FB and seeing the comments on his new Tax Geek caricature. Now, time for him to jump in the shower and then we are heading down to Disney World for the rest of the day. I tried to get tickets for the Cirque show (La Nouba), but they did not have two seats together for either show tonite. Maybe another nite this month while they are running some specials.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cruise Photos

I finally finished up the photos from our cruise. A few samples:

This photo most likely violates a dozen or so federal laws. This was some sort of chase vehicle that followed us out of port as part of the 9/11 10th Anniversary Celebration along with police check points and a bunch of people with Big Scary Guns who would probably kill more bystanders than terrorists if they ever opened fire.

Boat for sale.

Really expensive places for people to live in Miami.

The most interesting thing in Freeport, Bahamas: crumbling ruins.

James Bond lives here. (I saw it in a movie; it must be true.)

Our last night at sea.


Best at full screen and the highest resolution your connection can manage:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Starting Over

I finally got a phone call from the bike shop telling me my bike is ready. I've ridden once in the last 18 days; I wonder how many months of progress that will cost me. But at last I can stop going stir-crazy. Without my morning ride, I can't focus, have zero energy, and spend most of the day pacing around the apartment. It will be nice to get back at it.

And I'm still neck-deep in tax code. September is almost over which means I'm still behind (maybe even a little behinder) schedule. I did build in some slack, but that's now more or less gone. I'm hoping to schedule a test date during the second week of October. Assuming that goes as planned, I should be able to get my application into the IRS before December. It will be tight, but I think I'm still OK.

I'm still working through the cruise photos on my breaks from all things IRS. That little project should be done in the next day or so. We didn't take many photos because we hardly got off the ship, but we did have an awesome sunset our last night thanks to some droppings from Tropical Storm Maria.

I haven't really talked much about Greece and the whole European/Euro mess. The problem is in some ways quite simple. Greece has been on a borrowing binge that makes every other western country look like rank amateurs, largely because the citizens of Greece like to have lots of stuff, but aren't much interested in working for it, combined with tax evasion being the favorite national past time. There is no possible way Greece can ever pay all, or even most, of the money back even if the government completely shut down and all tax revenues went to debt relief. Greece must default. This is familiar territory; countries have defaulted before. The entire South American continent defaulted in the 1970's and the world didn't end. It wasn't pleasant for people living in those countries for a long time, and anyone foolish enough to loan mountains of cash to countries run by men with a passion for funny hats and military uniforms, insisting they be addressed as "General" when the closest they'd ever been to a battle was watching The Sands of Iwo Jima, saw their investments wiped out. But the world went on much as it had been going on. The difficulty with Greece is that so much of their worthless debt is held by banks in other European countries (something that wasn't supposed to happen under the Euro-zone treaties) that if Greek debt is written down even 50% (90-100% being more likely), the entire banking system would seize up. Today, the financial world celebrated the news that the fund that is supposed to prevent that is being increased from a paltry €440 billion to €3 trillion. Not to be the kid who points out that the emperor has no clothes, but just where exactly is this €2.5 trillion going to come from? Germany is tapped out, most of the rest of Europe is running deficits, England is already killing itself with austerity measures, we certainly don't have it, Japan is busted, Russia is East Timor with nukes. China maybe? Warren Buffet? Or will Europe simply wave a magic wand and "leverage" €2.5 trillion into existence? I'm betting it will be that last one, and that it will accomplish even less than our version of wand-waving has over the last three years.

One idea for lowering the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has been to use crystals called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) to absorb CO2 and lock it away. The problem has been that until now, MOFs were created using a lot of toxic chemicals and petroleum, making them expensive to create in bulk and a more-immediate environmental problem than the CO2 itself. College campuses are notoriously short on petroleum, so some students at Northwestern University used materials readily available in any dorm room, sugar, salt and alcohol, to create MOFs. The reaction takes place at room temperature and is easily reversible should our over-due ice age show up unexpectedly. The next step is for the global warming jihad to block further development because it doesn't promise to do sufficient damage to the US economy.

The internet is buzzing angrily like a hornets' nest that's been whacked with a stick because Facebook has made some tweaks to its interface:

It’s not hard to irritate people on a social media site, of course. The two easiest ways to do it are:

1. Change something.
2. Don’t change anything.

...Facebook, ever the traditionalist, prefers the time-tested approach of making constant changes that range from the inexplicably superficial to the confoundingly substantial. By keeping users in a constant state of agitation, and simultaneously providing them with a place to express that agitation, Facebook maintains its huge base of extremely unsatisfied users.

At least it gives people something more interesting to post about than what their last bowel movement looked like.

Everyone is pretty much aware that our medical system is broken. We spend more money per capita and have less to show for it than any other industrial nation. While there are a lot of ideas for how to fix it, I doubt any of them involve upping the number of ICD codes from the current 18,000 to 140,000 under the new ICD-10. As one would expect with such a change, its affect will largely be to increase costs while not providing any new useful information. Note I said "useful":

...a code for recording that a patient's injury occurred in a chicken coop. for injuries in opera houses, art galleries, squash court and nine locations in and around a mobile home, from the bathroom to the bedroom.

...R46.1 is "bizarre personal appearance".... R46.0 is "very low level of personal hygiene".

...W22.02XA, "walked into lamppost, initial encounter"

...W22.02XD, "walked into lamppost, subsequent encounter"

...Code V91.07XA, which involves a "burn due to water-skis on fire"

...72 codes about injuries tied to birds.

...There are separate codes for "bitten by turtle" and "struck by turtle."

And the literal money quote:

Some companies hope to grab business from the shift.

Imagine that. Anyone want to bet that the businesses in a position to grab the most were up to their necks in the creation of the ICD-10?

From the "Holy crap!" department, we have live video reconstructed from brain activity:

UC Berkeley scientists have developed a system to capture visual activity in human brains and reconstruct it as digital video clips. Eventually, this process will allow you to record and reconstruct your own dreams on a computer screen.

The entire process is fairly crude at this point, but the mere fact that it can be done is very cool.

We used to do the Netflix thing back when we lived at Arcosanti, but we stopped after getting tired of a certain individual stealing our movies from our mail slot. We've thought about restarting it several times over the last few years, but just never got around to pulling the trigger. Then the price went up. Then they lost their contract with Starz. Now they've split the company into two separate entities; Netflix for streaming content and Qwikster for the DVD-by-mail business. From the user's perspective, this is a disaster. Now instead of one account, one website, one catalog, etc. there are two of everything. Last I checked, there have been a million cancellations since this was announced and the price of Netflix stock has been cut in half. But there are good business reasons to do this. It's pretty obvious that streaming is the future of movies, and physical DVD's are going to the same place as CD's and paper books are going. Spinning off the DVD-by-mail business to sink or swim on its own is probably a smart business move. Also having people specifically subscribe to the streaming content gives Netflix a more solid figure to use when negotiating with the studios. However, smart business moves that are sprung on your customers with no explanation and look on the surface to be a ten-story middle finger directed at your entire customer base usually turn out to be bad for business. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out over the next several months. Meanwhile, we will continue to wait for a while longer and see how it plays out.

The TSA has always been a joke from day one, but now it seems like a test just to see how ridiculous they can be and still continue to exist. Now the TSA is at war with big hair and people who take too long to take a dump. It's tempting to just write this off as more of the typical government stupidity we all have to live with every day until you take a moment to consider what scrambling an F-16 escort means:

Let's just stop for a second, helpful passengers, and remember that the F-16s are not there to help you. They are there to shoot down the plane if necessary. What else could they do? So the TSA is out there scrambling armed fighters to intercept passenger jets out of "an abundance of caution," just because somebody reportedly spent too long on the john. Does that make you feel safer?

I know I certainly feel safer knowing the level of intelligence necessary to sic an armed F-16 on one of our own passenger airplanes. Ye flippin' gods.

Well, back to the tax code.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Your bike is a POS and you're fat."

After eating for five days straight, I attempted a bike ride on Saturday. I made it through my route, but I would have made better time walking it. I'm sure all the cruise ship food was part of the problem, but a bigger problem was the back wheel wobbling all over the place. Tightening it up didn't help at all, so back to the bike shop where my fears were confirmed: new back wheel. I asked the salesperson why a bike ridden as lightly as mine is blowing out bearings. The short version of her answer is the post title. I only paid $350 when I bought it new over ten years ago, and I'm fat, so I really shouldn't expect more than a couple thousand miles from a wheel. My $20 Schwinn I got when I was six lasted for three generations of serious abuse with nothing more than some rare oiling, but my "mountain" bike that has never been ridden on anything rougher than a graded dirt road needs a whole new back wheel once a year. Nice.

And don't even get me started on why I need to buy an entire wheel to replace the hub bearings. Good thing I took it to the "experts".

And you kids get off my lawn!

I'm not sure what's going on with our apartment. The three women that normally work in the office are gone and have been replaced by some clueless dweeb that doesn't seem to know his ass from his elbow. But everyone now has these really cool matching blue polo shirts, so there's that. As Debbie mentioned, the Blue Polo Shirted Dweeb working in the office seems to have forgotten all about scheduling our carpet cleaning while we were on the cruise. And we still don't have any idea who was in our apartment messing with the smoke detector. I cornered a maintenance guy this morning; he just repeated the party line about how they never enter an apartment without leaving a work order stating why they were there. When I pointed out that we were fully aware of what was supposed to happen which is why Debbie called the office raising holy hell because someone had apparently been in our apartment while we were out of town and didn't leave a note as to why, he responded that the people upstairs must have been jumping up and down a lot and knocked it off the ceiling. Yea. I'm sure that's what happened.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love our ghetto apartment?

Anyway. The cruise. We spent most of the time laying around in the sun on the pool deck except the one day we got off the ship to lay in the sun on the beach. The rest of the time we were in line for the buffet. We were generally disappointed in our first NCL cruise; there wasn't any major problems, just a lot of little things that left us sort of let down. Most of it involved the large number of crew standing around looking puzzled and not doing things that clearly needed doing. Things got better towards the end of the cruise making us wonder if there had been a major crew change when we left port. Debbie always tells her clients not to judge a cruise line by a single cruise and maybe we just caught NCL on a bad week. But even if everything had been perfect. I'm not sure I like NCL-style cruising. Being constantly assaulted by loud music and crew members jumping around yelling, "Let's party!" in my face everywhere we went isn't my idea of relaxation. The rarest of commodities on an NCL ship is peace and quiet. At times the intentional audio assault was simply ludicrous: we hit one of the twenty or so bars on the ship (because NCL is the partyingest cruise line so Let's Party!) late one night looking for something different for our second dinner (or maybe it was our 11pm snack), and they had four TV's, all playing a different station with the sound turned up and music playing over the PA. All in a space not much larger than our living room.

And you kids get off my lawn!

Now that vacation is over, it's back to tax code. I finished up the initial pass through the material for the second test. Most of the basic concepts haven't changed since I was doing this stuff in the 1980's, but there is a lot of little details that I've either forgotten or that have been added. One thing in particular has changed; back in the day is was standard practice to have the business on a fiscal year and the taxpayer on a calendar year so you could defer taxes by floating money between the two. Now there is a whole stack of rules specifically intended to prevent that which I have to learn. Woo. hoo.

Cruise pictures are still on the camera; I want to get to that this week. I also want a million dollars. We'll see. And Debbie is going to be home soon, so I should be looking busy when she walks in instead of sitting here blogging.

Friday, September 16, 2011

We're back

We made it back from our Bahama cruise -- now, we have a week of feeling ever so often like we are back on a ship!

Our biggest complaint coming back (as Ric will expound on later, I"m sure!) is our carpet never got steam cleaned while we were gone. Ric had walked down to the office to tell them we would be out of town from Sunday afternoon until Friday afternoon and to schedule the carpet to be cleaned sometime while we were gone. Before we left on our trip, we picked, moved and stacked as much as we could off the carpet and vacuum, dusted the whole place. Came home and NOTHING WAS DONE! We had to get some things back to their original places, so we could put the milk and insulin in the fridge. We grabbed the mail box key, picked up the mail and headed to the office. The guy working was new to me and apparently the guy Ric talked to about scheduling our carpet cleaning. He had no idea what we were talking about. Just keeps getting better and better here! (yeah, that was sarcasm!) We then came back and put most of the apt back together since they can't steam clean while Ric is here.

Then while sitting for a moment, Ric happened to look up and noticed one of our smoke detector was hanging by the wire. Guessing, maybe maintenance came in to check them and change batteries? Of course, no note that they came in our place. I called the office and said we thought maintenance had been in to check on smoke detector and left it hanging, even though there was no note that came into our apt. He said he didn't think they had. I said well then it magically "fell off the ceiling by itself" and they needed to come fix it. I can't wait to see when one of the "regulars" is in the office and we can let them know how things are!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Finally Got a Round Tuit

Photos from our day at the beach from the end of July. Cleaning off the camera in preparation for hopefully filling it up again in what's left of the Bahamas. At least Maria looks to make herself scarce before we get there, making a nice right turn out into the middle of the Atlantic instead of being in the Bahamas waiting for us. We still expect a rough ride; today Debbie picked up something called Bonine (which sounds more like an OTC version of Viagra instead of sea-sick pills) just in case. None of that stuff does much for me, but it seems to help her. I just need to be able to see the horizon occasionally, and I'm good. The real fun is when we get back on dry land; it takes about a week for us to quit grabbing onto the walls and furniture because the apartment is moving.

Well, we have to get our butts in gear and finish cleaning up and rearranging the apartment. The landlord gives every apartment a free carpet cleaning when you renew the lease, so we figured the easiest time to do it would be while we were gone, meaning we have to get as much off the carpet and shoved into the bathrooms and kitchen as we can. We figure they should be able to get to at least 80% of the carpet and the rest is places like under our bed that never get walked on anyway. At a minimum, it should knock down the worst of the dust in here. Florida is worse than Arizona in that department, which really surprised me. How there can be so much dust when it rains twice a day is beyond me, but we literally scoop it off everything in the apartment with a snow shovel every time we clean.

Anyway, later. Photos sometime after we get back. Hopefully less than six weeks after we're back, like the last batch, but no guarantees.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

One Down; Two to Go

I managed to get through the first section of the SEE covering individual taxes. The best part of the whole thing was the security; I thought for a minute I was going to have to take the test bare-asss nekkid. I had to surrender my drivers license, then empty my pockets of everything else and lock it in a little gym locker. I couldn't even wear a watch. I followed the lady who had my drivers license into the next room where my license was checked against the name on my registration, scrutinized under ultra-violet light, then checked a second time against the name on my registration. I had to stand on a tape mark on the floor, turn all my pockets inside out, get wanded front and back, and sign in and time-stamp my signature. I was issued a calculator, two #2 pencils and an eight-page booklet of scratch paper with the top third of every page filled with a heading informing me in 36-point bold type that it was an official piece of scratch paper, then was led into the test room. The mini-cubicle I took the test in was monitored and recorded in video and audio. I had to leave my drivers license on the desk while I took the test so the person watching the video could be sure I was at the correct computer. When I was done with the test, I turned in my pencils, scratch paper, calculator and drivers license. My letter certifying that I had passed the test was printed, checked against my drivers license, signed, dated, and raised-seal stamped by the monitor, then handed to me along with my license. After retrieving all my stuff from the little gym locker, I was allowed to leave. Missile silos have looser security. Holy. Crap.

The next test will be even more fun to prepare for; it covers partnerships, all three flavors of corporation, estates, etc., which I haven't done anything with since I worked in public accounting back in the 1980's. But before I dive into all that, I need to spend the next couple days getting ready for our cruise. I doubt Debbie will let me take my flash cards on the cruise with us, so it looks like I get a 10-day break from taxes.

We had a bit of a scare last night. While we were in the middle of watching the latest episode of Misfits, the computer did an emergency shut down and wouldn't fully reboot. It is an HP, so I wouldn't have been surprised if it had suffered a catastrophic hardware failure after a mere three years. I already had to replace the video card when it was less than a year old, and I thought that may be the problem again this time. When I could coax a bit of life out of it, the blue screen that flashed by as it powered itself back off had a bit about an invalid video mode or some such. It was late, I wasn't really in the mood, and I didn't have the brain power left after three days of non-stop tax code, so I left everything powered off and went to bed. Today when I came back from my test, I tore the whole thing to pieces and started cleaning out the major dust bunnies. And I do mean major. The heat sink on the CPU was completely clogged with gunk. I just cleaned everything the last time we moved, so Florida must have really gunky air for it to be that bad already. Bottom line is that after a thorough de-gunking and re-assembly, it seems to be working fine. Dodged that bullet. For now.

When I logged into Blogger today, I was greeted with a message asking if I would like to try the new, "lightweight" and "clean" version of Blogger. Because I enjoy pain, I agreed. I guess "lightweight" and "clean" are now synonyms for "butt ugly" and "grossly obtuse". I can only hope that it looks and works better on an iPad, because for the rest of us that still use old-fashioned PC's, it sucks dead bunnies. The good news is that I can switch back to the old interface, at least until They force me to use the "new and improved" one. What would be nice is if instead of wasting resources wrecking what works, maybe Google could fix the problem with the editor tossing the cursor randomly around the text in response to the cursor keys. In the process of fixing what wasn't broken about two years ago, that bug was introduced and has been a "feature" of the text editor ever since.

Well, brain is mush, so off to bed.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Little over a week

Next Sunday we will be heading down to Miami. We have a hotel to stay at, parking our car for the week free and heading to the pier on Monday. We are doing a 4 night cruise to the Bahamas on Norwegian Cruise Lines. (which I won in a contest at work -- not totally free, but close!) Side note, Ric was excited when I told him we both were going -- that it was NOT an agent only cruise!

This will be the first time I've been on NCL. They are the first cruise line to introduce the "freestyle dining concept" and the first time I will experience the "anytime dining". I like the idea of no set table number and set time and set table mates. Though, not too interested in so many "specialty restaurants" with a surcharge.

We've been to Nassau before, but not Freeport. Not sure if we will bother to get off the ship to check out either of those ports. But we will definitely be taking advantage of NCL's private island port of call. I love the to have lunch served on the island and we may be checking out cabanas to rent. One of the ports in the Bahamas did have a Segway shore excursion that sounded interesting that we might splurge on too.

Biggest thing will just to relax and enjoy ourselves. Hopefully Ric passes his tax exam test on Tuesday, so it will be a celebration week for him. He can take time out from studying and testing for a week, before starting on the next set of tax tests.

It will be interesting to see if Tropical Storm/Hurricane Katia tries to interfere with the cruise. Keeping our fingers crossed that it doesn't.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

City of the Future

"Detroit is the city of the future. Either it's going to rise from the ashes, or every other city is going to end up like we are. We get to decide."  -- Tony Barlow, New York Times.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Death on the Highway

The title isn't referring to the short film that every drivers ed student is forced to suffer through. (Aside: Given that most drivers ed students today own the entire Saw series on DVD, I'm pretty sure it has even less of an affect than it had back when I had to watch it. (Aside to the aside: Do they even use Death on the Highway any more, or is it considered too graphic for the little kiddies who own the entire Saw series on DVD?)) Instead, I'm referring to the Interstate of Death, otherwise known as I-4, which claimed another victim early this morning. I had a crazy bike ride this morning with lines of cars everywhere and a three-car pile-up just down the street from our apartment. I had to make a big loop just trying to get across a two-lane residential street that looked more like I-4 at rush hour. Then Debbie, fortunately as it turns out, tried to go into work early only to end up stuck in traffic for half an hour (her work is only five miles from our apartment). Just another day in Sunny Central Florida.

I seem to have hit a wall with the whole bicycle thing. It feels like I've got a boat anchor dragging along behind me all the time and my average speeds seem to indicate that as well. I can barely keep above 12mph average on the best of days; any wind and I'm down in the 11's. I've checked tire pressure, adjusted the brake pads, looked for any indication of some moving part rubbing on some other moving part, etc. I certainly hope that it isn't a bearing problem; there are nowhere near enough miles on this bike for something like that. Maybe it's just the insane heat and humidity and things will get better in a couple months. Or maybe I'm just old.

More "good" news on the human spaceflight front. Since we no longer have the ability to launch humans into space and are instead hitch-hiking rides on the only other spacecraft capable of taking humans to the International Space Station, there is a single point of failure. Which of course, failed. If the investigation into the failure and whatever modifications need to be made take too long, the current crew of the ISS will have to return before their replacements show up, meaning that the ISS will be empty for the first time in in a decade. Coming this close to the end of the Shuttle program, that could be bad news for Americans in space. The only bright spot is that the Russians don't waste a lot of time with competing panels of inquiry pointing fingers; they find the problem, they fix the problem, they get the thing flying again. Let's all hope they can pull off a quick turn-around on this issue. And thank the gods this was a cargo flight and not a crewed mission.

In local news, there is a planthopper from Texas that kills palm trees by puking on the fronds (you can't make this stuff up). There is no cure once a tree is infected and the planthoppers are spreading slowly east from the Tampa area. It's not a big problem, but no one has a workable solution so that's temporary. Yeehaa.

This just in: The sun causes climate. I know! Who knew! Ok, ok; seriously, cosmic rays create clouds, and variation in the sun's magnetic fields alter the number of cosmic rays that hit the atmosphere which affects the amount of cloud cover which affects climate. This would be just another data point, another factor in the climate models. Except:

The hypothesis that cosmic rays and the sun hold the key to the global warming debate has been Enemy No. 1 to the global warming establishment ever since it was first proposed by two scientists from the Danish Space Research Institute, at a 1996 scientific conference in the U.K. Within one day, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Bert Bolin, denounced the theory, saying, “I find the move from this pair scientifically extremely naive and irresponsible.” He then set about discrediting the theory, any journalist that gave the theory credence, and most of all the Danes presenting the theory — they soon found themselves vilified, marginalized and starved of funding, despite their impeccable scientific credentials.

Of course, because nothing says science like good ol' fashioned politics.

Dr. Pournelle has a good what-if:

Suppose that the Global Warming/Climate Change fears are all well grounded. Increases in CO2 will doom civilization and threatens the stability of global climate, and the ability of the Earth to sustain civilization. What is it that we – by we I mean the people of the United States – should do, and what is the meaning for the rest of the world? 

The short answer is, "Nothing good." But you already knew that.

Irene was a bit of a bust in New York City, but that doesn't mean that it just disappeared when the news industry lost interest and went back to discussing what color Lady Gaga dyed her pubes this week. Our old stomping grounds in Swanzey, NH seem to be doing Ok, but Vermont got seriously clobbered. Brattleboro, where I worked the 2010 tax season is a lake. It's going to be a long process to put things back together.

First we had to suffer through Bush's Attorney General, John Ashcroft, and his looney-toons Christian Reconstruction crap. Now we have the New Apostolic Reformation being all cozy with front-runners in the Republican primary race. I know fear makes people do stupid things; lets just hope this isn't one of those times:

Tabachnick says the movement currently works with a variety of politicians and has a presence in all 50 states. It also has very strong opinions about the direction it wants the country to take. For the past several years, she says, the NAR has run a campaign to reclaim what it calls the "seven mountains of culture" from demonic influence. The "mountains" are arts and entertainment; business; family; government; media; religion; and education.

"They teach quite literally that these 'mountains' have fallen under the control of demonic influences in society," says Tabachnick. "And therefore, they must reclaim them for God in order to bring about the kingdom of God on Earth."

Wow. That is so not what we need right now.

Every so often, there is a story about some kid who gets his lemonade stand shut down for not having a business license or violating the homeowners association covenant. Initially, this story looks like yet another one of them, only serving green tea instead of lemonade. But was this really a kid selling drinks on the front lawn? It sounds more like it was Dad's green tea stand that was some distance from home in a public place. Dad leaves his 12-year-old in charge while he runs back to the house and returns to find the operation had been shut down. That's a lot different than a kid selling glasses of lemonade in the front yard. Public spaces have rules and unfortunately, most of those rules came about because of grifters and scam artists making it impossible for the public space to be used as intended. Now certainly, in a nation where less than half of all murder investigations result in even an arrest, I would think whatever version of cop took the time to hassle a kid selling green tea needs to think about his priorities, but there is more to this story than we're getting.

More serious is that Gibson has been raided by the feds for the second time in two years because the feds suspect their wood is improperly sourced. I would think a couple of suits could check on that without the military raid tactics and seizure of Gibson property. The name of the case from the first raid, United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms, demonstrates just how idiotic our "justice" system has become. The federal government is borrowing money from the Chinese to put a stack of wood on trial. At least the prosecutor and the stack of wood are evenly matched in the wits department.

If you want to get a PhD without doing much, head on up to our neighbor to the north and enroll in the University of Manitoba:

The University of Manitoba said it is reviewing its policy on how to accommodate students with disabilities despite winning a victory in court this week over a controversial decision to grant a PhD to a student who failed his courses due to “extreme exam anxiety.”

...The university had defended its decision, saying it was legally required to accommodate a student’s disability, in this case, exam anxiety.

It's nice to know we'll have company as we're swept into history's dustbin.

And Micky's big hand says it's time for bed.