Your Tax Dollars at Work

Not exactly a newsflash; just restating how the IRS wastes time and money.

I just got off the phone with the IRS. I’d called them because I needed a confirmation letter with my company name and EIN. I’d had a document like that, but it was likely among those destroyed when my wasband stored cardboard boxes of my personal and business documents, books, and software on the floor of my hangar and the hangar flooded, thus destroying everything in those boxes. If he still wonders why I threw so many of his personal items into random cardboard boxes in the garage during the 10 months I lived in our Wickenburg home last autumn/winter/spring, that should give him a clue. He should consider himself lucky that I didn’t leave those boxes outside or turn the hose on them.

Confirmation of Sin?
Searching for “confirmation of ein” results in this interesting suggestion — on the IRS website?

Anyway, I tried to get the document I needed online. I got some comic relief from the search system on the IRS website before zeroing in on a document with instructions that I thought would help.

Instructions

You can read as well as I can. The third bullet point tells me to call the Business & Specialty Tax Line at a toll-free number. So I dialed it up on my cell phone, pressed 1 when prompted to get English (really?), and then pressed 3 to tell them I needed an EIN certification letter. The machine then warned me I’d have a 30 minute wait time.

I got out my bluetooth earpiece, plugged it into my ear, and turned it on. And then I went about my business while on hold.

I waited more than 30 minutes. It didn’t really bother me because my cell phone has unlimited minutes and the music they were playing was tolerable. I did some banking and wrote a few email messages. I washed the dishes. I updated my to-do list.

58 minutes after dialing, a series of beeps and clicks told me something was happening. After a moment, a woman got on the line.

I told her what I needed. She asked me questions to confirm my identity. Then she said she’d “generate a letter” and that I’d get it “in the mail in 5 to 7 business days.”

I asked if it were possible to have the letter generated as a PDF and emailed to me. She said they didn’t have the ability to do that. That didn’t surprise me in the least. An organization that takes nearly an hour to answer a phone call isn’t one that’s likely to be too technologically savvy.

We talked briefly about my hour-long wait on a toll-free number. It didn’t cost me a dime — directly. But as a taxpayer, it cost me money. If you pay taxes in the U.S., it cost you money, too. After all, toll-free numbers might be free to people who dial them, but they’re not free to the people who answer them. I don’t know what the going rate is, but even if it’s only 5¢/minute, the IRS spent $3 to make me wait on hold. Assuming I wasn’t the only one with an hour-long wait today, that’s $3 for every call they take.

We also talked about the cost of generating that letter, stuffing it into an envelope, putting a stamp on it, and sending it to me. That’s another buck or two in materials cost and labor, no?

Of course, she doesn’t care. She’s got a job and she’d doing it. I understand that and told her I didn’t blame her in the least. I just told her I wished our government could step up into the 21st century with the rest of us.

They could do that, of course, by giving business owners access to the database. Have a front end that asks me the same questions she asked to give me the ability to generate the document onscreen or as a PDF for immediate access. The phone call wouldn’t be necessary, the wait wouldn’t be necessary. I’d have my document now instead of having to wait a week to get it.

Why do I need this particular document? Ironically, so I can upload it to a website as documentation for opening a new account. At least someone is using technology right.

Interesting Links, March 24, 2013

Here are links I found interesting on March 24, 2013:

  • How Apple invites facile analysis – "Conjecture and misunderstanding can trump actual knowledge when it comes to evaluating a company; the hubbub surrounding Apple is a case study."
  • Hey! You! Get off of Google’s cloud! – "The death of Google Reader should remind all of us how vulnerable 'free' software services can be to market pressures…. Free software served from the cloud can vanish overnight, or its features can be altered … without much warning. The same isn’t ordinarily true of software that you install on your own computer, or services that you purchase."
  • Sarah Palin and the rejection of scientific method – "She is like a member of a religious sect that does not allow medicine yet cannot understand why the patient’s condition continues to deteriorate." I still can't understand why they keep letting media whore morons like her speak in public to represent their party. Are they trying to chase away the few educated supporters they have left?
  • Fines Slashed In Grain Bin Entrapment Deaths – A tragic story of deaths due to repeated and willful OSHA violations.
  • The Cash Register Rings Its Last Sale – How mobile devices in the hands of sales staff and customers are replacing traditional cash registers and check-out counters.
  • The Mayor’s Geek Squad – Big data in New York City.
  • Can Wind Turbines Make You Sick? – Or is it just another example of the nocebo effect?

Mind Boggling

One definition.

Today, while sitting at my desk in an RV parked in the middle of Central Washington State farmland, I watched a live, full-color feed from outer space on my phone of the historic docking of a privately developed commercial spacecraft to the multi-government built International Space Station. Here’s a screen capture from my phone:

Dragon Docks with ISS

I am old enough to remember when the Apollo astronauts landed on the moon. It was 1969 and I was almost 8 years old. (Aw, come on, don’t do the math.) My mother made us stay up to watch it on the family TV — a big TV console that stood on the floor and required you to get up to change the channels because there was no remote control. The picture we saw of that historic moment looked like this:

Apollo 11 First Step

Do I even need to point out that my phone has more computing power than NASA had when it launched Apollo 11?

We’ve come a long, long way.

I call that mind-boggling.

Why I Can’t Just Enjoy My New 13″ MacBook Pro

It really is a business expense.

13Last week, I finally broke down and ordered a new MacBook Pro. I’d been wanting a computer like the 13″ MacBook for a while, but what I really wanted was a Mac netbook. When Apple unveiled the 13″ MacBook Pro at the Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference earlier this month, I finally stopped denying the truth: that there would be no Mac netbook in my immediate future. Instead, I saw the new 13″ MacBook Pro as a reward for my patience. Not only did it have more features than the MacBook I’d been looking at, but it would cost less money.

Apple also announced some new features in Snow Leopard. While I’m not prepared (because of NDA stuff) to write publicly about Snow Leopard, I am in the middle of a revision to my Mac OS Visual QuickStart Guide for Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. One of the hurdles I was facing was not being able to show and discuss features of Mac OS X that work on the new MacBooks. About two years ago, I bought a 15-inch MacBook Pro to use as my “test mule” for writing about Leopard. That computer simply doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the newer models I need to write about.

It looked as if I’d have to buy a new MacBook Pro so I could write about it for my book.

This is both good and bad:

  • Good because having to buy a new computer for work means I can deduct the cost of it from my taxes. (I use my computers for all of my various business endeavors — I don’t play games on my computers. If I’m not working, I’m out having fun somewhere or sleeping.) And let’s face it: it’s always nice to have a computer with the latest technology.
  • Bad because having to buy a new computer means having to come up with the money to pay for it. Just because I can deduct it as a business expense doesn’t mean it’s free. (So many people don’t understand this simple fact: you still have to pay for business expenses; it’s just like being able to buy them at a discount equal to your tax bracket percentage.) In this case, the final price tag came to just under $2K. Ouch.

It’s also bad because I never seem able to buy a new computer and just enjoy it like a normal person.

Believe it or not, this is my first “unboxing” video. Let’s just say it doesn’t completely suck. The weird noises you hear in the background are coming from Alex the Bird.

Most folks buy a computer, open the box, fire it up, and start exploring. I, on the other hand, buy a computer, open the box, fire it up, erase the hard disk, and install beta operating system software on it. I then get to spend several weeks exploring the minutiae of the operating system’s elements, including every single window and dialog that might appear to the average user. I take screen shots of everything I see and write about it in an unbelievable level of detail.

So right now, as I type this, I’m waiting for the Developer Preview of Snow Leopard to install on my brand new, just-out-of-the-box 13″ MacBook Pro’s freshly erased hard disk. I’ll put some sample files on it, set it down on my workspace table beside my 24-inch iMac, get them talking to each other via AirPort network, and start exploring the current topic I’m writing about, which is the Dashboard and Widgets. I’ll put my old 15-inch MacBook Pro away in its case and set it atop the Dell laptop I’ve also brought along with me this summer to revise another book for another publisher.

When I get back to Arizona, if I’m not too busy doing other things, I’ll use the discs that came with the 13″ MacBook Pro to restore it to its factory hard drive configuration. Then maybe — just maybe — I’ll put it back in the box and have a reopening, trying my best to pretend it’s brand new again.

I’m Not as Dumb as Most Cars Think

And I don’t like cars bossing me around.

This week, I had the dubious pleasure of driving a Dodge. In all honesty, I don’t know what kind of Dodge it was. It seemed to be a kind of cross between a station wagon and an SUV. The car was a rental and I didn’t rent it so I can’t complain. I do feel bad for the company that rented it for me. They got ripped off. The 6-day rental cost them nearly $400.

I will make some comments about this vehicle:

  • It is designed for short people. I’m 5 feet 8 inches tall and my eyes looked almost directly into the top frame of the windshield. Slouching while driving was required.
  • The car was a dog. That means it didn’t want to go. I spend a lot of time with my heavy foot pressing down hard, just to enter or pass on the freeway.
  • It seemed like a perfectly workable family car. Four doors, storage in back. I could imagine kids sitting in there with dirty soccer uniforms on.

Check Tire Pressure?

Check Tire Pressure

After leaving Burbank and starting my long drive to Ventura on the 101 freeway, I noticed that one of the idiot lights was on. We used to call them idiot lights because they used to warn drivers about the obvious problems with a car: overheating, low oil pressure, out of gas. But these lights have apparently graduated to the next level of reporting. Now they report about more advanced problems — or potential problems. I thought the symbol was referring to the oil, but I didn’t pull over to check. After all, I’d just picked it up at Enterprise and they should have checked the oil. Instead, I ignored it.

On the third day, I got tired of looking at it. I pulled out the manual, which was in the glove box, and looked it up. It was a tire pressure indicator. The light on meant one of two things:

  • The tire pressure in one or more tires was low
  • The tire pressure monitoring system was broken.

I walked around the car. The tires looked fine.

I spent the rest of the week ignoring the light.

Stop Nagging Me about My Seat Belt!

I wear my seat belt — at least most of the time. I don’t wear it in parking lots, especially when backing up. I also don’t wear it on the extremely rough roads I sometimes drive in my Jeep. And no, I don’t wear it while driving around town, since my speed seldom tops 45 MPH. My 2003 Honda S2000 and 1999 Jeep Wrangler both have airbags. In the unlikely event of a collision at 30 MPH, I’ll let the airbag protect me from the steering wheel. I don’t think a collision at that speed is going to throw me out of the vehicle, either. I’m more likely to get trapped in my seat when some senior T-bones me at an intersection.

I’m fortunate. Neither of my primary vehicles (or the two secondary vehicles — a 1987 Toyota MR2 and 2994 Ford F-150 Pickup) has one of those annoying seatbelt reminders. Sure, an idiot light goes on on the panel. It might even flash — I’m so good at ignoring it that I just don’t know. But it doesn’t repeatedly beep until I fasten the damn seatbelt. It gently reminds me and then allows me to make my own decision.

The Dodge this past week was a nag. It got so annoying that I fastened the seatbelt behind my back on Tuesday and left it there until I departed Ventura today.

It could be worse. It could be one of those automatic seatbelt things. My sister had a car with one of those. What a pain in the butt.

I’ll Shift When I’m Ready to Shift!

My Jeep thinks it needs to tell me when to shift gears. An idiot light comes on when I accelerate, apparently to signal me when it’s time to upshift. As if I can’t hear the engine or feel the power of the engine. As if I’d prefer watching the instrument panel for the cue than the road in front of me.

I don’t shift when it tells me to. I like to wind things out a bit. My Honda redlines at 9000 RPM — and yes, I’ve been there.

And that’s another thing: engine cutoffs. Both my Honda and my Toyota cut power if I enter redline territory. Okay, so maybe that’s not such a bad idea. It certainly keeps me on my toes when Mike and I race home from Scottsdale or Phoenix. I have better reaction time at traffic lights, but if I don’t shift before redline, the car gives him an advantage. (The fact that he’s driving an AMG doesn’t help me much, either.)

I’m Not Quite Out of Gas Yet

My Jeep also likes to beep when the fuel level gets low. That’s a good thing, since I have become an expert at ignoring idiot lights. The audible warning is a real help. Unfortunately, the Jeep’s idea of low fuel and mine are very different. The Jeep tells me I’m low when the 19 gallon tank gets down to 5 gallons. That’s not low, even for a Jeep.

My Honda uses a series of lighted bars on the digital dash to indicate fuel level. When it gets down to two bars (out of about a dozen), the low fuel light goes on. But I’ve taken it down to zero bars and have only put 11 gallons in the 13 gallon tank. At 25 miles per gallon, I still had 50 miles left.

Of course, I have completely run out of gas in my Toyota. I was on my way to work, wearing a suit and heels, and had to walk about a half mile to the nearest gas station. Then I had to beg them to loan me a container for the fuel. Sheesh. So I’m more careful now. And I use the odometer on that car to judge remaining fuel.

I almost ran out of gas in my redneck truck. (That’s the 94 Ford.) You can read about it here, if you’re curious. That vehicle doesn’t have low fuel lights. It has two fuel tanks, though, and only one fuel gauge.

And Another Thing…

What is it with driver controls these days?

My Honda has buttons near the steering wheel to control the stereo and climate control. But the main control buttons for both devices are less than 10 inches away from the steering wheel. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find it a hardship to reach 10 inches, even when I’m driving.

The car’s cockpit — and yes, it is a cockpit, with less room for the driver than my helicopter has for the pilot — has everything clustered around the driver’s side of the dashboard. And some things are clustered there twice.

At least that car doesn’t tell me when to shift gears.