2008 Taxes: Filed

A few weeks ago I filed Benjamin’s taxes. Given that he had virtually no income, no deductions, and no credits, and only one IRA conversion his taxes were very simple. He didn’t get anything back, but that isn’t surprising since he didn’t pay anything all year either. I was glad to get his taxes done so I could fill out his FAFSA as early as possible.

I’d been holding out on submitting my taxes for weeks now anticipating getting a 1099-B in the mail showing me information regarding the RSU sale to cover transaction that occurred last year. I finally called Smith Barney yesterday to discover that the RSUs were done in a withhold to cover instead of a sale to cover transaction which the agent said didn’t require a 1099-B. After a bit of searching online I came to the conclusion that you don’t need a 1099-B for a withold to cover because you don’t sell the stock, per se, but when the RSUs vest the company withholds some of the stock back and “swaps” it for cash that they pay on your behalf to the government for the taxes. At least that’s how it looks on paper. Unlike the excellent tax information I was able to find for RSU sale to cover transactions, I didn’t find much at all for withhold to cover telling me that either it is more rare than the former or just so intuitive to everyone else that I’m one of the few that didn’t grok it immediately.

Anyway, with that one remaining piece I was able to submit my taxes last night. I’m getting a couple of grand back from the federal government and about $800 from the CO state government. The state refund has me shaking my head. Last year I had to pay something like $300 to the state and that was for a partial year. Putting pen to paper I calculated that due to my self-employment I was going to need to make tax payments throughout the year for 2008. I proceeded to send 4 quarterly payments of $242, only to have almost that entire amount refunded to me. The big miscalculation? The offset provided by the mortgage interest of the new house. Nothing like providing the government with an interest free loan for an entire year.

So I expect to get my refund from the Feds and the CO government here within a few weeks — just in time to send it to the Denver Tax Office for our 2008 property taxes!

Layoff ripple effects

I found out today that one of my virtual-team peers, Ray, was impacted by the layoffs last month. Luckily he has three internal job opportunities and three external job opportunities so the odds of him finding another job look promising. I’m very sad to see him go and wish him all the best. I’m under the impression that this Friday is his last day in his current position. It no doubt sucks for him.

It also sucks for me. Up until now Ray handled the performance and sizing for one set of Tivoli Security products, I handled the performance and sizing for ITIM, and all the other acquisitions and miscellaneous products got dumped on Dave. All three of us interact with development, test, support, and work with customer crit-sits. With Ray gone, not only do we loose all of his expertise but Dave and I gain responsibility for his workload. His very extensive workload.

The next few months could be very, very painful.

Food poisoning sucks

Last night while Benjamin was involved in school activities and not at home, I partook of an Amy’s burrito while watching Bedrooms and Hallways. After the movie was over I got out a DDR pad and danced for about an hour. Then things went downhill very quickly as I began vomiting and having diarrhea — things I can only attribute food poisoning.

Last night if it wasn’t coming out of one end it was coming out of the other. Every. Single. Hour. I was unable to keep anything down, including water and gatoraid. Benjamin was a dear and made me as comfortable as possible. As of 7am this morning I was still having problems. B called my manager to let him know I was going to be MIA all day, and then called my doctor’s office to set up an appointment. It was obvious to me that I was dehydrated given that my mouth felt like the sahara. I was also very lightheaded, no doubt due to low blood pressure caused by the dehydration.

Sure enough, my doctor recommended I get a liter of saline solution put in, but they don’t do that in their offices. Instead he directed me to a MedExpress nearby who could. An hour later I was feeling much better but still not 100%. Luckily my 7am episode was the last one thus far. Since then I’ve been able to keep both water and gatoraid down. I just had a bowl of chicken noodle soup and I’m crossing my fingers it stays down too.

So here we are almost 24 hours later and while I don’t feel back to normal, I certainly don’t feel near as miserable as I did when it started. Throughout it all B was by my side and taking excellent care of me.

Self-responsibility, government intervention, and nanny states

I’ve long been an advocate of self-responsibility. Everyone should be held accountable and responsible for their actions and inactions. It is not up to some entity (church, government) to protect you from yourself. For example, I think non-driving adult vehicle passengers should not be required to wear their seatbelt. Drivers would still be required to wear their seatbelts to increase the odds that they are able to maintain control of the vehicle to protect passengers in other vehicles should an accident occur. Similarly I think motorcycle drivers should not be required to wear helmets. It is commonly known that both seatbelts and motorcycle helmets help prevent injury in the case of accidents. If you’re not smart enough to heed that advice, you’re better off being removed from the gene pool before you reproduce — ala the Darwin Awards.

But what happens if they’ve already reproduced and have young children? Or what happens if they are seriously injured but not killed? Then instead of removing themselves from the gene pool and saving humanity from their stupidity, we may end up providing for them or the rest of their family at the taxpayer’s expense. So instead lets say that only those people without dependents are able to go seatbeltless as non-drivers and helmetless as motorcycle drivers. That solves that problem at the expense of another: enforceability.

Laws need to be enforceable to aid both the police doing the enforcement and the judicial system. How are police suppose to know which helmetless motorcycle drivers have dependents in order to pull someone over and/or give them a ticket?

Thus despite my shoot-from-the-hip desire to give stupid people the liberty of killing themselves, I acknowledge that it is better for the government to require all drivers to wear a seatbelt and all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet with the intent of reducing the financial liability of me, a taxpayer.

Consider another nanny-state law being considered here in Colorado: Carbon monoxide detectors. The law would require carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in new, sold, or rented private residences. The impetus for the bill is, I assume, the rash of recent carbon monoxide deaths in the state. Unlike the seatbelt issue, in this case I fully support the nanny-state law. The reason is that I believe the bill will better protect renters of older homes and apartments. While even new furnaces and stoves can malfunction and emit lethal amounts of carbon monoxide, furnaces in older homes are much more likely to do so.

The next logical question is, why don’t I view this as a “survival of the smartest” issue like I did the seatbelts? Unlike seatbelts that are provided with every vehicle, carbon monoxide detectors don’t come bundled with your house — yet. Obtaining one requires 1) knowing that you need one and 2) the finances to obtain one. Ill-educated families may be ignorant of the need for these detectors as might the elderly who may be unaware due to failing mental facilities. Lower-income families and seniors who are renting and know they need one may be ill-prepared to pay for a detector, particularly in this economic environment. The law would require apartment complexes and landlords of other properties install CO detectors prior to renting the property to a new tenant. The cost of the detectors are minimal and because they need only be installed at the start of a new lease, the landlord could incorporate the cost of the detector in the lease if necessary. Heck, the expense might even be tax deductible!

Even getting off the high road of requiring that help be provided to those who can’t help themselves (or don’t know that they should be helping themselves), we have the issue that while CO exposure can be lethal, it can also be non-lethal but debilitating and the taxpayer may end up footing the medical bills.

All that said, I think this would be an excellent opportunity for churches to pitch in and ensure that their members have ready access to a CO detector and provide one either free or at a discount if they fall into the group most likely to be unable to help themselves (low-income families and the elderly). This holds true if CO House Bill 1091 ends up becoming law or not.

Hermit Prevention Program

The day after I posted my blog entry containing my guidelines for 2009, Wally commented saying that she too had a goal of getting out more and being less of a hermit. Knowing that hermit prevention is easier accomplished when accompanied by a friend, we formed our own little lunch group that meets once a month.

Last month Benjamin and I met Wally and her friend Ruth down at Rio Grande Mexican food restaurant near the Park Meadows mall. We had such a great time we opted to make it a monthly event. Today Ruth and Wally drove up to our neck of the woods and we went out to La Sandia (another Mexican food restaurant) in Northfield. Once again we had a wonderful time — time that flew by much too quickly! We’re already working to schedule our March luncheon, this one back in south Denver. The restaurant hasn’t yet been chosen but no one has ruled out Mexican food!

While I’m making great progress on my hermit goal, the other three goals have had varied success: I’m blogging a bit more (good), only cut down my receipt collection rate by 50% (decent), and have yet to finish the house shoes (bad). Speaking of which, off to do a bit more work on those I think.

Forget Quicken – lets Moneydance

I’ve been an avid user of Quicken since before I graduated from college. For those keeping track that’ll be 9 years come June. I use Quicken to keep track of everything from our checking accounts, to our house loans, car notes, 401ks and other investments. In short, Quicken contains the entire snapshot of our entire (meager) net worth.

That said, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the software. I love what it allows me to do but I hate the restrictions it places on me to do them. I can only run the software on Windows. If I were to be so gregarious as to switch to a Mac, you can’t just open up the data file from the Windows version on the Mac, no you have to cross your fingers and convert it. Being a Linux user I’m out in the cold regardless of how you slice it.

But that isn’t the core of what burns my buns. The kicker is that Intuit has coded a timebomb into each and every version of Quicken. Once a version is 3 years old that version will stop allowing the auto-downloading of data from supporting institutions. To get this feature “back” you have to shell out money for a new version of the software. They tout it as a way to ensure customers are getting the best experience but really it’s a mafia tactic to get more money out of you at least every 3 years.

Two years ago was the first time this became a big problem. I got the mafia warning from Quicken in January and bought the new version of Quicken 2007. It sucked so bad, it could pull a monkey through a garden hose. I was so pissed off that I got a refund for my purchase, got on eBay and bought a secondhand copy of Quicken 2005. That bought me a year’s worth of time. Last January I got the warning again. This time I looked into alternatives and came across Moneydance. I played with it some but decided it wasn’t quite up to a Quicken replacement and went to eBay and bought Quicken 2006.

That brings us up to the here and now. Given how terrible Quicken 2007 was – buying a copy of that off eBay isn’t an option. I could fork out for Quicken 2008, that’s at least a viable option. I can’t, however, purchase Quicken 2009 because it only runs on XP and Vista and the only VM image I have is Windows 2000. And really, who enjoys dealing with the mafia?

So I looked around at other non-Quicken options. This year there were two strong contenders: GnuCash and Moneydance. Some highlights:

  • Both are available for multiple platforms, Linux, Windows, and MacOS. This is because GnuCash is written with GTK+ libraries and Moneydance uses Java. This way if I ever do opt to purchase a Mac, I can run it natively there.
  • Both support importing of QIF data from Quicken, and I’m told MS Money, so I can import my existing data.
  • Both can direct-connect to supporting financial institutions and can import “web connect” files for institutions that use that method instead.
  • GnuCash, being 100% open source, is free. Moneydance is a ~$30 purchase and includes free upgrades for 4 years and discounted upgrades after that.

I played with both of them and opted to go for Moneydance. GnuCash appears to be more an accounting package, not a personal finance package. I think it would be great for when we need an accounting package for Benjamin’s business however. Moneydance provides a bit more Quicken-esque experience and appears to be gaining momentum — they’re even hiring Java programmers and support staff.

I’ll be playing with Moneydance for the next couple of weeks and see how it goes. I expect that I’ll be purchasing it at that point in time and forever saying goodbye to the Quicken mafia.

Latin Gumbo

Tonight B and I took an existing side-dish recipe we had and turned it on its head. I present to you, Latin Gumbo.

Latin Gumbo

1 package beef sausage
2 16oz cans black beans
1/2 to 1 small red onion, chopped finely
2 jalapeños, deseeded and chopped finely
olive oil
1/3 c cilantro, chopped
2 t cumin
2 t balsamic vinegar
1/8 to 1/4 t cayenne pepper
salt and pepper

Thinly slice the beef sausage and place it into a skillet to brown, stirring occasionally. While the sausage is browning, chop the jalapeños, red onion, and cilantro. After the sausage is browned, drain the grease and set the sausage aside. In the skillet that the sausage was browned in, sauté the red onion in the olive oil. After the onion is almost done, add the jalapeños to cook them slightly.

Drain one of the cans of beans about half way and add it to the onion/jalapeño mixture. Add the entire contents of the second can. Continue adding the rest of the ingredients (cilantro, cumin, balsamic vinegar, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper) and heat covered until cooked through. Allow to simmer uncovered until the desired consistency is obtained.

Serve over Benjamin’s famous white rice with slices of french bread (or flour tortillas if you’re wanting to stick with the Latin theme). Possible additional serving suggestion: sprinkle with feta cheese.

Change out the beef sausage for chunks of chicken for a leaner meal or leave it out altogether for a still-hearty vegetarian recipe.

We started cooking the Gumbo right after Benjamin started cooking his white rice and they finished up about the same time so estimated cooking time is about 30 minutes. It probably won’t be near as good with your plain jane everyday white rice, but given that even I don’t know his secret, don’t expect to get that recipe anytime soon.

Norah Jones, musician — and actor?

Benjamin and I are big fans of Norah Jones. We saw her in concert at Red Rocks last year and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. She is a wonderful entertainer as well as singer-songwriter. Her song My Dear Country (and Pink’s Dear Mr. President) got heavy airplay in our household over the past 4ish years. I particularly enjoyed her duet with Dolly Parton in Creepin’ In although something about Rosie’s Lullaby always pulls me in.

At some point the movie My Blueberry Nights was added to our Netflix list for the sole reason that she was in it (Jude Law and Natalie Portman also star in it). We watched it last night and decided that she’s a decent actor but that the plot was a bit sloggy (as in, “we slogged through it”). It’s telling that the highlight of the movie was the opening and closing song which she wrote and performed.

I’m unsure I would recommend the movie, even for Netflixing, but I would recommend the soundtrack in a heartbeat.

Today’s emotion: J

I’m guessing that most of you Windows users have no idea what this post’s title is about. Chances are, however, that Mac and Linux users are well versed in the J emoticon.

Day in and day out I receive emails from friends and family members that are often peppered with Js. You might be wondering if the use of this letter is suppose to convey “joke” or “jest” or “joy” or some other word that starts with J. But no, that isn’t it.

Is it instead some secret code known only to my family and friends? Some reminder of a shared memory? No, that isn’t it either.

No, the Js convey the juxtaposition between HTML email and Microsoft’s arrogance. You see, HTML email is the technical means by which email contains fancy things like bold, italics, graphics, and yes even different fonts. Microsoft Outlook designers thought it would be clever to autocorrect the standard :) emoticon into an actual smiley face using the Microsoft-provided Wingdings font. In this font, the smiley face is represented by the character J. If a receiver of an email does not have the Wingdings font, the character is displayed in a different (usually non-symbol) font and you get the Js. Most Linux users, iPhone users, and I believe Mac users as well, do not have this Microsoft font installed on their systems and I often receive emails with seeminly-random Js scattered throughout.

I’ve been half tempted to start writing J instead of :) in my emails back to these users of Outlook but decided that would only confuse them. Besides, it isn’t their fault — it’s Microsoft Outlook’s and its failed assumptions that all email will be read on Microsoft platforms.

So if you, gentle reader, use Outlook to write your emails, consider disabling this ‘feature’ and make your emails a bit more clearer to the broader world. J