Saturday, April 14, 2007

Blog update and other thoughts

As is obvious, I haven’t been very active with this blog lately. I've been busy with other things, and there just hasn't been anything I've felt a pressing need to write about. After all, it's too early in the season for me to begin fretting about the Astros, even though they stumbled out of the opening gate (and yes, I know that they're now on a three-game winning streak), and I just haven't had much to say about anything else that passes for news these days, whether it be the real father of Anna Nicole's daughter or the furor over racist comments made by a has-been radio shock jock or the latest round of American Idol voting. I do have a few random thoughts I wanted to throw out, which I'll get to in a moment.

As is also obvious, I've finally decided to upgrade to the "new" version of Blogger. This allows me to assign topic tags to all of my blogs, and I've done so for the entire archive. It's interesting to see which topics I've written about the most: college football comes in at the top, which is no surprise (I hadn't realized that I'd written so many posts about Dubai, however). I've also taken the opportunity to update some old links and add a few new ones. I'll probably add a few more new links in the coming weeks.


• Lori used one of those ubiquitous online tax programs to figure our 2006 taxes. After entering all of the required information and letting the program do its thing, she discovered that we apparently owed money to Uncle Sam this year, to the tune of about $250. When she announced this to me I thought I was a bit odd; last year, after all, we received a tax refund well in excess of $1000, and no changes to our financial status had occurred between 2005 and 2006.

So I took a look at the online return myself. It appeared that Lori had entered all of the data correctly. Maybe we did owe money this time around. Nevertheless, I decided to work out a tax return by hand as a way of confirmation.

And I'm glad I did. The result I came up with was much different than the result the online program provided. I double-checked my math; I had calculated everything correctly. So we took a closer look at the online program and eventally found the problem: while the program had correctly figured in the personal exemptions for Lori and myself, it did not do so for Kirby. The reason it did not do so is because Lori overlooked a small and barely-noticable box on the program that dealt with Kirby's residency. Even though she had filled out all of Kirby's other information correctly, the fact that she didn't check the box asking if Kirby lived at home with us caused the program not to count him as an exemption. Lori checked the box, and voila! The program's outcome immediately matched mine; instead of owing $250, we were due a refund in excess of $1,600.

We filed the corrected return online, and should be getting our refund in a few weeks. It will go towards our home's biggest need at the moment, which is a new roof for the sunporch which we intend for Kirby to use as a playroom.

The moral of the story is this: if you're using an online program to figure your taxes, be sure to carefully check evrything you've entered and make certain that you haven't overlooked anything. These programs aren't always perfectly-designed; in this case, one small, poorly-placed check box was the difference between a $250 debt and a $1,600 refund. And although it's a pain in the ass, it's never a bad idea to calculate a return the old-fashioned way even if you're using one of these easy online programs to do your taxes. The program Lori was using, like many online tax return programs, simply collects your data and spits out a few resulting numbers: your adjusted gross income was x, the taxes you paid were y, your refund or amount you owe is z, etc. It doesn't really show you the process it used to arrive at the result, and therefore makes errors or omissions harder to spot.

• Believe it or not, the only Kurt Vonnegut book I've ever read is Galapagos. People have recommended Slaughterhouse-Five or Breakfast of Champions to me, but I've never bothered to read them and that's pretty sad. I guess I need to start reading more.

In spite of the fact that I've only read one of his books, I was saddened to learn of his death earlier this week. Although Vonnegut himself always dismissed such flattering evaluations, the comparisons being made between him and another acerbic and darkly witty American author - Mark Twain - are probably apt.

• You know you're getting old when you discover that the younger generation has begun to develop its own sense of nostalgia. Such was the case when I ran across this "Tribute to Old School Nickelodeon" on YouTube. I was expecting to find clips or scenes from programs I consider to be the "old school" Nickelodeon of the 1980s: Mr. Wizard's World, Belle and Sebastian, Pinwheel, Out of Control, Danger Mouse, Turkey Television, and, of course, You Can't Do That on Television. Instead, the clip turned out to be a montage of shows Nickelodeon aired during the '90s that, aside from a few like Ren and Stimpy, I didn't even recognize. One of the YouTube commenters pointed this out on the clip's page, and the creator of the clip responded that all those "old old school" Nickelodeon shows were before his time. What a youngster!

If you're my age, however, you'll probably appreciate this classic bit of childhood television nostalgia, from Sesame Street:

I've always liked that funky 70's synthesized music.

Hopefully I'll be able resume regular (or at least semi-regular) blog postings in the near future. In the meantime, be sure to check out my brother's account of his recent trip to San Francisco, which included a long train ride from Denver.

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