Give the Feds more money? (living well, on less)

July 28, 2008

Even in the days when I was making $15,000 a year, I always wanted to have a nice holiday with my family.  If you feel the same way, here’s what you do.  First, burn your credit card(s)…  They are not the way to have fun.  Taking a vacation on one, then having a bill each month as a reminder isn’t my way of celebrating the joy of life…  It can lead to extended hospital stays.

Here’s what you do…  If you are employed, tell your boss, or the accounting department, to withhold the MAXIMUM amount from your taxes each pay period (and see if they will take out $50 more on top).  Let’s say you are married, with 2 kiddies.  NO!  Have your deductions set as though you are a single swinger, WITH NO DEPENDENTS.  This is perfectly legal.  My accountant hates it, but it’s entirely legit.

What then happens is, tax time comes, and you have massively overpaid the IRS/SSI, entitling you to a phenomenal refund, with which you can take a happy holiday without thinking you’re breaking the bank.  I’ve done this for 20 years.  The Bahamas, Disney, Jersey Shore — tons of great memories and no lingering debts.  Some (like my CPA) say, well why not keep the money in the bank through the year, and gain interest?  Here’s why not.  Money I have in my possession is cash I tend to spend.  Plus, I have learned how we really can live on less than we think.

Perhaps travel isn’t your thing.  OK, so go buy a 78″ Plasma. 

This brings to mind my CRT.  I wanted HDTV, but I didn’t want to spend $3,000.  So we got a Panasonic Cathode Ray Tube Widescreen HDTV.  In other words, it wasn’t a flat panel…  Yes, tubes are heavy, but I let a table hold my set, instead of having one of the kids do it, and the clarity, color, and performance still blows the doors off any LCD.  We spent $500. on technology that studios STILL USE to edit video.

This then raises the saga of my Olympus OM-4T, one of the best 35mm cameras ever made.  I wanted one, but didn’t feel like spending $1,700.  So I called Olympus and got a refurbed sales demo for… $500.  I used this baby for 10+ years, then, because it is a classic, sold it for $450 on Ebay when I went digital.

And of course we can’t forget my beloved Subaru SVX (look it up).  The SVX was a concept car WAY ahead of its time, and when it was first released in 1992, I really wanted one.  But at $32,000, it was a tad too high.  So, as I always do, I waited and bought a 1992 pristine conditioned model in 2002 for $5,000.  I then put another 80,000 miles on it, as my daily driver, and only let her go (she’s STILL purring along) because my mechanic said any unique parts would now have to come from Japan.

NEVER buy a new car, unless you are forced to at gunpoint.  Keep in mind that the Hondas, Toyotas, Nissans and Subarus often go to 200,000 miles, without valve jobs or transmission work.  Look up the various models’ repair history in Consumer Reports.  Then, for example, go for a well-treated Acura with 100k on it, have it fully checked out by your own mechanic, walk away from ones that don’t make the grade, buy the one that does, and drive in style, comfort and panache for a fraction of those paying a fortune on leases they can’t really afford.  In 20 years of doing this, I have NEVER needed major work on ANY of the vehicles I’ve bought.  And even if I had, they’d still have been much cheaper rides than most people assume you have to have.

A friend of mine who buys new, and sells every two years, laughs at my high mileage beauties, tendering the fear that I am bound to have a major break-down.  I tell him I’ll worry about this the next time I’m scuba diving off a beach in Nassau.


Babel-On… When the Interface interferes with the Art

July 25, 2008

I am a terrible writer.  BUT I enjoy it.  While I know none of the “rules” relative to proper grammar, my parents were very articulate, and, early on, I learned to write like they spoke, with my favorite punctuation tool being, the comma.

My first PC was a monochrome 386, 30MB powerhouse loaded with WordPerfect.  Since composing via keyboard accesses a different part of the brain than pencil and paper, it took me a few days to feel comfortable with this new paradigm of verbal expression.  Even so, I came to love WP, mainly because it never felt as though it was interposing itself between me, andmy desire to articulate on screen, what was kicking around inside my heart and soul.  Not to mention the fact that Corel tech support was unbelievable.  More than once their operators freely (literally!) and patiently directed me with instructions like, “OK Bill, on your left is the CTRL key…  Applying light pressure, direct your gaze to the right and notice the INSERT key…  Isn’t that something!?  You’re doing fine!  Really!…”

So, like many others in the herd, I’ve moved on to WORD, and have learned to relatively subjugate it to accomplish my comparatively meager tasks.  Still, in the midst of that transition, primarily in other areas, it appears to me that our present day processor based programs have become more like walls getting in the way of art, than tools enhancing our capacity for expression.

Case in point — a major image processing program that has had several updates in the last six months, with one such mutation changing the entire on-screen layout!  Such an approach sets a premium on adaptability to morphing interfaces, adding no more potential for an artist to tease out a tantalizingly better image.

From a biblical perspective, as in Genesis 11, I would go so far as to say that with increasing regularity, instead of galvanizing our predilection for personal communication, our technology is beginning to get in the way.  Quite apart from strengthening our ability to convey our innermost thoughts and feelings, it has now started to interpose itself between our creativity and the blank canvas standing before us.

Be honest.  How many times have you upgraded a perfectly good program, only to find that the “improvement” resulted in several calls to India, just so you could accomplish the most mundane tasks that, prior to, you were doing in your sleep?

Imagine Van Gogh or Gauguin unable to splash color because their brushes were unrecognizable, or changing in response from one day to the next!  Imagine driving in a car, using a steering wheel one day, then a joy-stick the next, then touch pads, then waves of the hands, then thoughts in the mind!  Would this progress lead to better driving, or more agitation andinvolvement in a process bound to separate the driver from close affinity and familiarity with the road?  

In the fields of recording, graphic design, accounting, you name it, examples abound where the computerized technological interface has become an intractable tower, promising salvation, yet standing over the innovative genius in a way that an IBM Selectric never did.  Back in the day, the worst machine-based malady one might face was difficulty in changing ribbons or that tacky, translucent corrective tape.

Personally, I loved WordPerfect.  Just because of its intrinsic ease of editing, it freed me to be a much more prolific and proficient writer than my previously purchased, undeniably stylish, Olivetti ever could.  I would NEVER wish to return to the days of Mylar tape recording, film based photography, or legal pad composition.  Fine.

However, it seems plain to me that while Windows 98, 2nd Edition was GREAT, Millennium was truly awful.  XP is phenomenal; Vista scares me, and it appears to be a nightmare for a number of people I know who are no techno-phobes.

Our digital age is here to stay.  Excellent!

Yet the task remains for us humans to be the masters of our tools, so that our new toys will not be seen as an end in themselves, thus leaving us adrift in a world where powerfully creative technology stands imposingly, and impassably, in the way of profoundly expressive art.

Motorcycles should be Illegal

July 17, 2008

We were driving down I-91 South, noticing that the Northbound side was suddenly empty…  Bad omen.  Then, our side of the highway began to slow, almost to a crawl, not because of anything in our lanes, but because of a horrible event that had taken place on the ashphalt 50 feet across the median.

With ambulance lights flashing and fire trucks on-site, there, on the pavement, were two motorcycles lying abandoned, with chalk lines drawn in frightening remembrance of their absent pilots.

I thought of this again today as I whisked down a main artery, legally bound to travel in a car that has passed federally mandated crash tests, surrounded by air-bags, wearing a seat-belt, (lest I endanger myself, not to mention incur a $50. fine!).

So, how is it that motorcycle riders can sit astride an engine, pass me on the expressway, perhaps carrying a passenger and wearing little more than cotton pants and plastic flip-flops?

Learning to ride on a Suzuki 850 was, for me, a thrilling experience.  Twist the wrist, pronate the ankle, release the clutch, and, WOW!  What power!  It’s incredible.  On passenger motorways, I don’t think it should be allowed.  Not because I don’t like bikes, but because I like people.

Unfortunately, I have personally known several bikers who’ve had minor accidents, just in small residential areas.  One has no spleen, another experienced traumatic brain injury and another is still undergoing surgery to emplace pins inside his fractured ankle.  And these were small bingles that would have been most forgettable had these individuals been sitting in a car, even a tiny sled like a Fiat, or a beatup rusty Yugo…

Blazing backwoods trails is one thing, but even on small town streets, with a motorcycle, fender benders can easily be fatal.  I can’t see why this should be legal.

My Blog

July 17, 2008

So, my good friend Bruce says I should have a blog.  Then he tells me how I can start one via WordPress.  Well, after kicking it around a bit, I thought, “Why not?”  Even though my opinionated meanderings might be of little value, putting them out into cyberspace sure beats watching TV.

So, I’m off!  And straightaway let me promise that I will try to never use words like amazing and awesome.  Realizing of course that I just did…

Now that that’s out of the way, I feel rad!  Like totally!

OK Bruce, now you’ve done it!