Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Checking In

I'm still slogging away at tax season. The crazy rush seems to be mostly over; now it's dealing with the aftermath. Being typical Americans, our clients only have one demand: I want it NOW!!! Meaning their refunds, of course. Because of all the problems the IRS is dealing with, we've been telling everyone to not expect their refund for three weeks. Two days after they file, they start calling every half hour asking if they have their money yet because some friend-of-a-friend got their refund already. I only filed one tax return today; the rest of the day was on the phone answering the same damn question over and over and over again. The worst of that should be over by the end of the week. Then the rest of the tax season will be the longer, more complex returns for somewhat rational people.

I never got to use one as they were a little before my time, but someone dug up a photo of one of the first hard disk arrays. The platters were over three feet in diameter and held a whopping 8 megabytes each. Sweet.

Gotta love that Laura Petrie in geek glasses look-alike.

One of the big debates among renewable energy geeks is if solar panels are really all that "green". Usually, the talk is about net energy, or the number of years a panel has to sit in the sun generating electricity before it "pays back" the energy (mostly fossil fuel) used to mine and refine the raw materials and then use those to build the thing. I've seen paybacks ranging from 7 to 20 years with the larger numbers being more credible from what I can see. But something I've not heard discussed is the toxic waste generated in the manufacturing process. Combine that with the net energy issue and solar looks more and more like an expensive way to generate electricity that is as bad or worse than burning coal. There is certainly a case to be made for solar electric in certain circumstances, but they are not the solution to all our problems.

Well, before I fall asleep sitting in front of the computer, I should head off to bed.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Killer Kats

There is a new study out that attempts to put some numbers on the devastation that cats have on the environment. According to the study, these natural-born killers that people insist on having in their homes, then ditching when they become inconvenient, kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion small mammals every year. I've never thought about this much because we've never lived somewhere with large numbers of feral cats wandering around.

Until now.

We have probably 20-30 cats wandering loose in our park, many descended from cats that have been ditched here when people leave. Six of those cats "belong" to one year-round resident who allows them to wander free. Another six belong to a snow-bird who likewise allows her cats to roam. (We will leave aside the discussion of what sort of sick, crazy cat lady lives in an RV with a half dozen cats.) This being Florida, cats can have litters any time of the year. Several people are now live-trapping cats and taking them to the local humane society. Given these are feral cats and have been for many generations, they will most likely be destroyed. Others have been setting out poison bait or antifreeze. All in a desperate attempt to reduce the number of cats spraying around their trailers and shitting on their cars. (Not sure why cats so enjoy taking a dump on the hood of a car, but every morning you can find a couple old dudes scrubbin' and cussin'.)

The fun part of living in an RV park is that your business is everybody's business. (Don't worry; we'll get back to feral cats in a bit.) Usually it's relatively innocent, like the steady parade of old people on giant tricycles who come by to look at the new porch and other changes we've made since moving here. It seems the previous resident was well-liked and that we're expected to honor his memory in some way by only making changes that meet with the approval of everyone else in the park. So far, that seems to be the case other than the bat-shit crazy lady next door who expressed her disapproval of us by pretending we didn't exist when we tried to introduce ourselves the day we bought the place. But there is a darker side to all this "closeness". A couple that lives nearby that we hang with said that they heard I was trying to scare the cats off by shooting them with a pellet gun. They quickly explained that they were all for it and had no intention of trying to rat me out. I told them that I was raised that it was OK to kill animals when necessary, but you didn't torture them. If I were shooting cats, it would be with a 44 Magnum, not wounding them with a toy gun meant for kids. They wouldn't tell us who the source was, but promised to inform said person of the reality of the situation. We're pretty sure we know the source of the rumor and who was doing the talebearing. We haven't heard any more since, but I'm sure this won't be the last attempt by bat-shit crazy lady to get us out of the park.

Back in the days of old when dinosaurs roamed the earth and credit cards were rare, it was common for retailers to charge a fee for using one. The retailer has to pay a percentage of the purchase to the bank, so it made perfect sense to put the cost on the person using the credit card rather than spreading it out over everyone. Then the Fed opened the floodgates of easy credit and within a few years, anyone capable of holding a pen and making an "X" had a credit card. At the same time, the credit card issuers made not charging a fee for credit purchases a condition for a business to accept their credit card, meaning that everyone was paying the credit price even when paying with cash. Now, thanks to a recent settlement between merchants and the credit card companies, retailers will be allowed to add a surcharge for credit card usage. All the self-appointed consumer watchdogs are outraged, of course. I can't for the life of me figure out why given these very same groups are outraged by the interest and fees credit card companies charge. I would think anything that encourages people to live within their means would be a good thing. Are we not still trying to dig ourselves out of the rubble of the collapse brought on by too much debt? Did I miss a memo?

And just in case anyone thinks The Cloud (tm) is a safe place to store your data:

Any security expert will tell you that there is no such thing as 100% secure data. Any system can be hacked. That combined with the poor habits of users, the bad-joke level of security on most "secure" websites, and the ease of tapping into the constant stream of data being blasted in all directions from smart phones, and you have the above scenario.

Oh, yea. I'm doing taxes again this year. It may lead to something more. Or not. It wasn't my first or even second or third choice for a place to land, but it will fluff up the bank account some. Of course, given the extra money of driving back and forth to work, the extra laundry, the extra eating out, etc., etc., I'll probably lose money on the deal.

Speaking of work, I need to get off the computer and get ready.