Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting Grounded in Zero

Almost 10 years later and there is still a debate about what type of effect to put at Ground Zero. We did have two huge spotlights that projected beams of daylight quality up into the sky. All was well until the migratory season of birds arrived. The light was so bright that birds used it as a navigational point of sunrise. They would fly towards the lights, circle them, drop a little message about being tricked and then fly off only to think a few miles later that they saw sunrise in the distance. And like a tourists trapped on the I-95 cloverleaf, they would retrace their path over and over again. After a while, people begin to complain about exhausted birds falling on them instead of being flipped at them. This prompted the powers-that-be to douse the lights for a few weeks so migrating flocks could continue on their predestined trip southward. (So if you live in Florida and are surprised to hear birds complaining about New York, this could be the reason.)

I propose something different. Instead of a visual effect, how about having the city goes for something auditory. Since New York is well known for its noise (which happens to also be one of birds' navigational directives), why not put two huge columns of home theater system speakers at Ground Zero. But not to broadcast noise. Rather, take in all of the commotion, all of the complaining, the angry yelling, all of the anxiety-producing sirens and alarms, then phase invert all that sound and rebroadcast it through our speakers. What happens is a wonderful cancellation! You end up having a zone of virtual silence – a place where you can calmly gather your thoughts and your senses, an welcomed opportunity to quietly reflect, to rethink all the senseless tragedies that have occurred in our short human history, and maybe put our priorities in a better perspective as we try to live with ourselves and with each other.

Congress Gives Me Gas

For the past five years, I've kept track of my fuel expenditures because that's what a divorce will drive you to – counting pennies so you don't end up stranded in the middle of nowhere, hoping for rich old lady to stop, pick you up, and take you home where you live happily ever after in her generous will. Wishful thinking aside, I just want to make sure my car didn't run out of gas and leave me at the mercy of rogue squirrels out to avenge their flattened, road-killed brethren.

Keeping up with this expense has allowed me track my gas mileage as well. As you can see from my MPG chart, there are seasonal trends as well as indications that something expensive was about to break. It was this year’s numbers that had me a little concerned at first. Usually, my mileage rebounds in the Fall time of the year.  Problems?  Fortunately, I have the good fortune of knowing very fortunate mechanic. He looked over the car and said that I was safe from vigilante squirrels for a little while longer. So why isn't my gas mileage coming back up like it should? He wasn't sure and proceeded to blame my faithful car’s youthful 260,000 miles of age. But I think I have a better answer.

As I filled up my car early this morning, the first brand new rays of sunlight ricocheted off of the ethanol sticker on the gas pump. It used to say "may contain up to 10% ethanol." May. As in might have somewhere between zero but not quite 10%. Today, after I recovered my eyesight from the bullets of a brand-new sparkly day, I noticed the sticker now reads "contains at least 10% ethanol but less than 15%."

I know you physics majors are way ahead of me on this but the early morning fog in my mind took a bit to clear. Once my mental process snapped into place like the fragile twigs that they are, I realized that ethanol has much less explosive power than gasoline – a very reduced bang for the buck which unfortunately doesn't show up in the pump price. It isn't my car that is the problem. It has just been corn-fused and I’ve been confused and we all have just been conned.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Medi-flex ... It isn't your money any more

At first, I thought that using a medical flex account was a great idea. The company took some of my untaxed earnings, placed it into a non-interest-bearing account, and I could use it to pay any and all medical related expenses. The gamble was based entirely on my Nostradamus-like powers. At the beginning of the year, if I didn't correctly foretell exactly what my expenses would be for the next 12 months, I would lose all the money remaining in my account.

So last December, I've made my prediction, confident that I had underestimated what I would have to spend in 2010. And so far, my prophecies have had me considering the purchase of that "never work again a day in your life" lottery ticket. That was until a couple of weeks ago. That fatefull day, our company HR person gathered us together and said that, starting on January 1st, 2011, the IRS would no longer accept credit card receipts that show you paid for your doctor visit. Heaven knows that the Paperwork Reduction Act isn't worth all the papers that it was written on. So obviously, you need more paperwork from a doctor to prove that he wasn't charging you to sit around and discuss golf scores. Our HR person also told us that the IRS would also no longer allow our medical flex accounts to be used for the purchases of over-the-counter remedies of any kind. In other words, if you're going to try to cure yourself, you need to be charged income tax along with your sales tax. Obviously an effort to reduce cost of medical care.

Not this would be a problem because we were still in 2010. Or so I thought when I turned in my credit card receipt for June's visit to my doctor and my receipt for over-the-counter melatonin (which my doctor told me was cheaper and would work as well as prescription medicine). Today I received a letter from our medical flex company. They happily informed me that both receipts were rejected. Apparently those helpful regulations into effect on October 1, 2010. Leave it to the IRS to change the rules in the middle of the game without allowing you anyway of adapting to them.

Has anyone else experienced this little change in policy or am I the only one being scammed here?

when good ideas are ignored

This past year, I have been developing a lot of obstacle detection and hands-free accessories for the automotive world. The idea is to make it safer for you (as the courteous, kind driver that you are) by having these handy gadgets in your car. If you're lucky, those wonderful people in the other cars will revoke their title of "supreme idiot" and renounce their worthiness as recipients of the one finger salute by installing the same high-tech goodies in their vehicles. Of course, they get such unflattering titles for a reason -- no incentive to equip their death mobile with the latest protective hardware.

You would think that the automobile insurance industry would encourage obvious commitments to safety (such as yours) by giving you a break on your premiums. But no. At work we've all had the same embarrassing reaction from our respective insurance agents when we bring up this win-win idea. We get a kindly smile, a gentle pat on the top of our ever-so-cute pointy heads, a lollipop that would make any dentist cry happy, dollar sign tears, and a firm "There, there now. Next you'll be ask me to believe that the world is round. Now run along like a good engineer and leave the hard money thinking to me."

So I'm left to my own resources: spending time trying to find cheap auto insurance companies and developing a device that traps overcharging insurance agents in their car. Yes, I will let them out … if they can afford the premiums.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

you are welcome

Yes, I know that the title of this blog is "Adapt, Adopt, and Improve" and I've tried to post entries relating to this motto from the Knights of the Round Table. (Of course, where are they now? A lot of good that saying did them.) Lately, I've been feeling this wariness from the constant challenges of adapting, adopting, and simply trying to improve life's often ridiculous situations. Mind you, I'm not giving up. Good grief, no. The world come to an end (not really, it just seems that way.) All I'm saying is that a little vacation, or a little time off to just play or even just sleep would be most welcome right now. But I don't see that happening in the next few months. There are noses to be wiped, hands to be held, bills to be paid, and posts to write. So if you get up tomorrow and the sun has risen, I just want to say ... you're welcome. Why? I have no idea.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I think I feel a headache coming on

Every paycheck I have a few dollars taken out and put into my Medi-flex account. Perhaps you're familiar with this accounting scam. It works by having you become psychic enough in December to know how sick you're going to be the upcoming year and how much it will cost. You then tell your employer this magical money (along with the winning lottery ticket) so he can take money from your paycheck before it's taxed and give it to an accounting firm to graciously hold onto.

Next, during those 12 months, you submit your medical bills to that accounting firm (who only has your best interest at heart) for reimbursement. If, at the end of the year, you had been too healthy to use up all of your medi-flex money, the accountants get to keep it and go on their own spending spree. So shame on you if you didn't keep track of every aspirin, cough drop, and doctor visit. When I say "keep track of", I mean having a receipt with so much documentation, it would make an IRS agent weep.

Now the bad news. It seems that, after playing this medi-flex game for a few years, most people get amazingly proficient at gauging what their upcoming medical expenses will be. Bad taxpayer! Bad taxpayer! But don't worry. In order for the government and medical accounting firms to make more money next year, they did what any spoiled brat would do when they're losing the game … they change the rules. Starting next year, you can no longer use your hard earned dollars in your account to buy any over-the-counter medicine. All of your receipts have to be doctor related and prescription based, which means none of this trying to heal yourself nonsense. Come December, your psychic powers had better be more powerful than that of a Wall Street broker.

Now the good news. These rules don't go into effect until January 1, 2011. So if you still have a lot of money idling in your medi-flex account, I suggest you go buy one of those medicine cabinets that are the size of an outdoor shed. Then, stock it full with every over-the-counter remedy that you can lay your hands on. If you're lucky, you might be able to write off the medicine cabinet as well.

What if you were a wise steward of your medi-flex resource this year and have nothing left in your account? Then I would suggest buying a box of envelopes. Whenever you or your loved ones or close friends (including the family cat and dog) have the sniffles and sneezes, just make sure to cough hard enough to coat the inside of a few envelopes. Seal this little germ treasure chest and mail it to your representative in government and to your medi-flex accounting firm. There is no reason why you shouldn't spread your wealth around.

Will Work for ... Work!

Apparently, I don't work enough. When I look at my paycheck and look at my bills, there seems to be a minor discrepancy. Minor that is, by Bill Gates' standards but I'm trying to positive here. So I'm doing what any other hard-working American would do, which is to work harder. How else can I compensate for my lack of talent, beauty and brains? By working twice as hard to make up my lack of skills, there is no end to the things I can't accomplish.

In any case, I have been submitting job applications about the town in hopes of some part-time work. After all, the holiday season is almost here and someone has to help these overpriced stores sell their substandard merchandise to bleary-eyed shoppers who are hyped up on coffee and the overwhelming drive to get their snotty nosed kids the latest and greatest fad. Of course, I mean that in a good way. At least, that's how I hope the store manager took my comments during today's interview. Otherwise he must have been lying when he said he was looking for a hard-working and honest worker -- and there's nothing dishonest about what I said. As for hard-working ... well, I'm looking, aren't I!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Another Reason to Avoid DST?

Attention, all iphone users! Want to know where the closest Starbucks is? There's an app for that. Want to know if you're about to bounce a check? There's an app for that. Want to have your iPhone alarm automatically update to the change in daylight "savings" time (DST) this weekend? There's ... no app for that. You'll have to do it yourself. This bug, sorry, undocumented feature, was supposed to be fixed in iOS 4.2 but no one told the programmers. Besides, they're busy making big, better versions of the iPad, iPod, iMac, and for the nostalgia crowd, Ricky Ricardo's I-Yai-Yai-Yai-Yai! SOOOOOO.....

All is not lost. You could think of this as a bad thing as you miss crucial appointments. Or you can be positive and think of this as an wonderful opportunity to become very wealth. Got fired because you over slept since your alarm is off by hour? Sue! Missed that life changing appointment because of a wayward alarm? Sue! Upset because you're a guy with a girl's name? Sue!

So smile and remember to set that appointment for yourself to fix your iPhone alarm. Just make sure it set for an hour earlier.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Buying verses living in a tent

There’s nothing like the joys of home ownership in America. You get to spend your almost joyous days collecting the trash and doggie offerings left by your fellow, responsible neighbors. You get to reconsider the value of voting as your friendly neighborhood politician raises your property taxes. (After all, you own a home so you must be well off enough to fund the latest vote-getting project.) And don't forget your ever so helpful bureaucrats at City Hall who justify their jobs by legislating what you can and cannot do with your own property. Add to all of this the recent revelations that banks may not have been as honest in their dealings with you as you hoped they would be.

But we Americans seem to be addicted with buying homes. The latest goings-on in the news almost make you want to reconsider and check into a residential rehab for homeowners who are ready kick the habit. Of course, this means moving into a tent somewhere deep in the woods. But no one said rehabilitation is easy.