Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Firefox Beta 3.05 for Mac: Crash me a River.

I've been trying out the latest Firefox 3 beta (Beta 5) on my various Macs. In many ways this is a huge improvement, but in one pretty important way it's a step backwards: I now get many, many crashes per day. So many that I'm starting to have a Windows flashback. Today, for example, I can't work with it at all. Every second time (approximately) that I enter a search term in on Google, it crashes. Looks like I'll have to reinstall, which is a bummer. This is all par for the course, after all I'm voluntarily testing software. What scares me, though, is a rumor I heard that Beta 5 is the release candidate. It is very far from stable enough to be the release candidate, and I'd hate to see the Firefox Corporation damage their reputation by releasing beta software as final.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bank of America (BofA) Screws Up Your Taxes

Update: after wasting a bunch more time talking to robots and robot-like people on the phone, I got half an answer. The 1099-INT was, correctly, not filed for my savings account. However, what happened to the "Keep the Change" 1099, if it exists, is a mystery. I could not find any reference to it beyond the blanket statement that a 1099 gets filed on "Keep the Change" refunds. I had to file without that information. And oddly enough, as far as the savings account goes, the robot on the phone was perfectly happy to tell me what the robot on the website kept secret. So this may all come down to bugs, bugs, bugs. I bank with BofA, and in general I'm pretty happy with them. They screwed up once and charged me an incorrect late fee, but then I was too lazy to call them on it so I can't complain too much ($40 doesn't buy a lot of my time these days). But outside of that, they've been about as pleasant as you could expect from a bank. However, for a procrastinator like me, their tax service is simply horrible. It turns out that if you receive more than $10 in interest, you bank is supposed to send you a 1099-INT form. Except of course I've opted into "paperless" service from BofA, so I never get any statements etc. in the mail. Nor did I get a 1099-INT. So, doing my taxes at the last moment, I went looking for the information online. You know, electronic banking and all that. Quoth the bank:
How can I get a copy of my 1099 form? IRS 1099 forms (also called "Year-end interest-paid statements") are mailed out by the end of January. You should expect to receive your statement in early February. If you have not received your form by February 15, please contact us at the number found on your statement. Your 1099 form is not available online.
Awesome. Of course it's April 13th, two days before the deadline, and I'd really like to get this done. More specifically, I'd really like them to honor their promise of a paperless account. We're talking about a whopping $70 or so, and they can't add that up for me and present it in a "Tax Info" box by my account summary? Oh, but it gets worse. You probably wonder why I don't just add it up myself. I would, except BofA only keeps one year's worth of records. I realize disk space costs money, even if it isn't much money. But must I honestly accept that nobody at the nation's largest bank thought about the fact that one does one's taxes, at the earliest, in the 13th month? Is it really so hard to save two years' worth? Are your valued online customers not worth the extra few pennies a year? Sorry, BofA. This all fairly reeks of incompetence. You have no excuse, really, none. And you know what? You can keep your $70, I'd rather opt out of the interest than have to file for a tax extension just to get you to send me this simple bit of arithmetic. Now I have to make the odd choice of guessing (and overpaying) on my taxes, or putting them down to the wire in the hope of getting my information over the phone tomorrow, or requesting an annoying extension due to the shortsightedness of some bone-headed luddite manager at Bank of America. I'm more or less locked into BofA for payroll reasons, so I can't just ditch them. But I will certainly take a good look around this year and see if I can't find someone else to handle the rest of my banking. Someone, perhaps, who can do sums online; someone, perhaps, who can be bothered to live up to their own hype about "paperless" accounting. Maybe it's time to at least sign up for Mint, where I bet they keep your records for as long as their capital holds out. It's sad, really. They're pretty good at other things, and I didn't expect them to drop this ball so badly.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Support the Idea Tax

The music industry is pushing for a "music tax" -- that is, they propose that essentially everyone in the US should pay to support the companies that support musicians. This is stupid on many levels, from the exclusion of non-signed musicians to the assumption that the government should shore up a very rich industry's lack of business-model agility to the notion that commercially viable musicians are somehow more "artists" than we painters. However, I have an even better idea, an extension of the same theme only with Logic on its side: the Idea Tax. It's simple. Lots of people have good Ideas. Some of those people share them freely with the world, others patent them in an attempt to intimidate their fellow-thinkers and make a buck without doing any real work. But as more and more people choose to simply share -- for example, on blogs -- less money accrues to the Idea Artists. And since the overwhelming majority of verifiable, registered Idea Artists have placed their Ideas in the care of corporations, those corporations suffer disproportionately: in short, the amount of money they make through intimidation as opposed to effort might be decreasing, and if you ask them they will happily provide statistics proving that case. No corporation, no matter how lacking in initiative or creativity or viable business models, should be forced to give up the money it takes away from the public good. So the public should make up for the difference. And the public, as they say, is us. The Idea Tax works just like the proposed Music Tax: everyone who uses Ideas, no matter what the source, puts $10 per month into a common fund. This fund is then distributed quarterly to the holders of patents, on a simple per-patent basis, so the more patents a corporation (or, in rare cases, an individual) has, the greater their share of the fund. This tax is completely voluntary. Nobody will force you to pay. The cost will simply be added to your phone bill, and your phone company will pay on your behalf. If your phone company doesn't pay it will be barred from using Ideas of any kind, so of course it will pay. (Since it's impossible to know exactly uses Ideas and who just muddles along without them, we'll just assume that people who communicate by phone use Ideas, that's close enough.) If you really don't want to pay, you can opt out for a simple, annual processing fee of $120. Support the Idea Tax: because without Ideas, you'd be dumb! For more on the music tax, see: http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/03/28/the-music-tax-details-of-the-plan-they-dont-want-you-to-know/ http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/04/12/sorry-im-not-buying-this-new-touchy-feely-approach-to-the-music-tax/

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Google Blogspot UI Failure -- *sigh* business as usual.

The big G has my cookie. I'm OK with that. I figure the day they mishandle the Gookie they'll take down so many Senators nobody will notice what I was up to. But the funny thing is that they still, still screw up the Blogger UI. Shall I enter your CAPTCHA? Or shall I enter my login credentials on your blog-hosting site? Or shall I do both? Answer: to post a comment on blogspot.com you must do both. At least if they already have your cookie. Because Google, being itself a multi-billion-dollar robot, thinks its users must also be robots. Better check on that.

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