…and to all a good night

I’ve just (barely) beaten my self-imposed deadline of “before Christmas” for turning in my MSF application. They say that I should hear back from them in 3 or 4 weeks. The next step would be an interview. Don’t know how soon it would happen.

I haven’t sent out an update in a while, so here’s where I am… I am visiting my parents in Roseburg, Oregon. While house-sitting in Redwood City during December, I worked a week and a half as a consultant. I also refinished the bathroom of the place I was staying. (Here’s where it gets complicated: it was actually the bathroom in a building I partly own, but I was there as a housesitter, not an owner. Get it?) I couldn’t mention in my updates that I have been refinishing a bathroom, because it was a surprise gift for Karl (my fellow owner).

Working as a consultant reminded me that I’m glad I’m not in IT anymore full time. The job was interesting enough, and it was a good fit for me. I was able to deliver value to the client equal to the insane price they had to pay for my time. But within the first two hours or so I glazed over as someone was explaining the same old office politics to me, and realized, “I’m really glad this is not my life.”

Kat the dog is doing fine. I found her a chew toy that really occupied her (a real-life Leg O’ Pig) but she finished that one in a few days in California, and they don’t have the same thing here in Roseburg. So, we’re back to the old game of my pleading with her to chew any of the other toys she is bored of instead of my arm. Perhaps Santa will bring Kat something new to chew on tomorrow.

Happy Holidays to all of you, all around the world. Thanks for reading of my adventures this year and encouraging me in person when you see me. Hope you are with loved ones right now and enjoying a festive holiday season.

Kat the Dog: Cuter on video

Last night I made a video out of the random video clips I’d gathered with my and other people’s digital cameras. Instead of emailing the 45 megabyte movie to y’all (Bad Idea), I put the video on Google Video (Good Idea). The other nice thing is that instead of being in the stupid Windows-only movie format that Windows Movie Maker gave me (Bad Idea), Google translates it into a format that virtually any web browser can use (Good Idea).

The 3 minute video is on this page on Google Video.

So, you could go another day without seeing how cute my dog is (Bad Idea) or you could click on that link and go see my dog and how cool Google Video is! (Good Idea)

Update: Videos on Google Video can now be added to web pages:

Feature wish

I want a Firefox extension that lets me select some text on a webpage, right click, and get that HTML in a box to edit. Once I edit it, I want the extension to compute the diff between my edited copy and the copy in the web page, find an address to send it to the author of the page via e-mail, and send the diff to them. To find the e-mail address, it will look in the HTML for a hint via some standard HTML or some semi-standard HTML dealie that it defines itself. If it doesn’t find the e-mail address that way, then maybe something like trying to send e-mail to the technical contact for the domain name, according to Whois. Or maybe just “webmaster@$domain”.

I want this because it is just completely stupid that I see little typos on websites and can’t easily report them to the authors. What’s really infuriating is when you see them on big news organization websites, and can’t easily send a nastygram asking them to please refrain from destroying the English language. The gall of these assholes, who lecture bloggers about how only real journalists should be allowed to write, then they publish articles with errors any copy editor should be able to find. I see them several times a week, and have been seeing them for years. It still pisses me off every single time.

The format of the message should be easy to parse automatically, too. That way, people who want can set up scripts that take the e-mail in and apply the diffs directly to their website. It’s an e-mail powered, only-on-approval version of a wiki, but for all websites, not just wiki ones.

It just might work.

I love the IRS

I like the IRS. I’ve never really minded paying taxes, and though I have some complaints with the complexity of our tax code, I know that’s not the IRS’s fault. They do the best they can with the mess given to them each year by congress. I think the way the IRS does e-filing is stupid, but I suspect it’s one of those things that simply can’t be any better than it is, for a bunch of reasons out of control of the reasonable people at the IRS. (There are unreasonable people everywhere, even at the IRS.)

I don’t mind paying taxes, and in fact I’d be happy to pay more. I believe we are undertaxed, and though I can’t remember where I saw it, I have seen apolitical analyses by neutral economists that show that Americans are undertaxed, when you compare our expectations of government to the objective cost of delivering that government.

Due to some unnecessary complexity the Congress added to the tax code, I had a problem with my IRA contributions in 2002. I filed for an extension, and promptly forgot about it. Quite a while later, I got a reminder from the IRS that I hadn’t filed my taxes, and then I got things fixed up, almost. It appears I either didn’t send in the fixed tax return for some reason, or I did send it in but it got lost. I was a bit distracted, as it was between trips this year (I think between London and Guatemala, but I don’t really remember). Also, I was irritated that the tax preparer I had used (this being the first year I owned a house) had definitely not made things easier for me. Never going to use a tax preparer again, ever. Karl was right: human interaction is bad; e-file via TurboTax is the only way to go.

So, when I got home I had a tax bill for $37,000 from the IRS. I didn’t really panic too much because I know my rights, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they owed me, if anything. And though I was aware I had pushed things into the penalty zone, I figured the penalty would likely be less than what they owed me. I finally sat down and figured out where their number came from today by comparing their return to the one the incompetent tax preparer from hell begrudglingly gave me once I threatened to sue her. The problem was that the IRS was missing the basis price on a stock sale I made to help buy the house. Instead of showing my profit as $2000, they were showing it as $70000. Right, like I went out and picked the stock shares off the money tree in my front yard.

I called the IRS to clarify how to get this fixed, and to make sure I understood the state of all my other returns. The lady who picked up the phone there was really nice, and explained things very well. She did a really good job of telling me what deadlines were coming up, and what to expect to happen. And she agreed with me that though I have really screwed this up so far, I can still get our of trouble by just doing the paperwork right. Which I did today, sending it with certified mail and return receipt, just to be sure.

The mail from the IRS was politely worded. It was evidentally written my humans, not lawyers or compters. It was easy to understand what they were threatening to do, and how to make it stop. They also included several useful pamphlets I could have read, and an 800 number to call an agent and talk one on one. I was on hold for less than 5 minutes, and the lady was courteous. The hold music sucked, but you can’t really have everything, right?

I just wanted to post this so that if I ever get audited (or if this self-imposed fiasco triggers an audit) I’ll remember how nice the collections/late filing part of the IRS is. Hopefully the audit people will be as nice. (My grandfather was audited one time, and the auditor found some tax savings for him. She wanted to re-file to get him his rebate, but he said, no, let’s just get this over with, keep the extra money. Smart man.)