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.