So I’m here at home (in Houston), watching TV, and we saw a commercial for a sermon at a Baptist church about the “se7en” deadly sins. I’m not sure what they were going for, because they showed a lot of freeways – are those sinful somehow? I must have missed that…Anyway, that was weird enough, but right after that was a quick screen advertising Girls Gone Wild. Hah!

Hope people have a good weekend!

My eventful day

Doesn’t that sound like it should be the title of a middle-school essay? Anyway, yesterday was quite eventful for me – nothing earth-shattering, just a lot of atypical things. So I thought I’d share them.

Morning was pretty uninteresting, except I’m just starting on a new project that looks like it’s going to be difficult and I’m worried about completing in the time I said I could. Plus it’s at a weird intersection of like three different things, so there are few people who can really help me on it. We’ll see how it goes…

Barbara was in town for spring break (she left this morning), so she, Jonathan, David and I met for lunch at Bangkok Cuisine, which I hadn’t been to. It was pretty good stuff! We had the lunch buffet. With fried bananas. Mmm…

Then I did some more unproductive work, and left around 3:00 for our release party (we released a bunch of stuff in January, yay!) It was at Austin’s Park ‘n Pizza, which I hadn’t been to, but it’s a pretty cool place, kinda like Celebration Station. I was a little wary of the whole thing (we had been assigned teams for “team-building exercises”), but we played laser tag and did go-karts, which was a lot of fun. After that we were free to do what we wanted, but I had to leave to go volunteer at the tax center.

Volunteering was…well, it was really depressing. I only saw two people. (being delibrately kinda vague here for privacy reasons) The first was a lady who didn’t make much money and had lost her job in October and hadn’t found one yet. (at least she came to us instead of going to H & R Block like she had done last year) She was obviously lonely and so she chatted with me for a while, but she seemed sad. Not only that, but although she got a decent refund, she owed the IRS back taxes, and so all of it was going to them (and she still owed them more). So that was depressing.

The second was a lady with a really complicated return – she lived in Massachusetts and had moved down here in 2004, so I told her we couldn’t do the Massachusetts state taxes. We did the federal ones, though, and things seemed to be going fine (she got a decent refund). But she knew that she was going to owe state taxes, and so she wanted to send the info to her daughter, who’s going to school there, so she could file for her (I didn’t know if you can do this or what). And then she just sounded more and more desperate, and she said she was leaving the country soon to work at KBR (sounded like she was going to Iraq), and she didn’t want her daughter to know, but she really needed the money.

So I left the tax center really really depressed, and grabbed some food on the way home, and listened to Frou Frou in the car. Frou Frou is great great stuff, and it helped some. I got home and met up with David, Barbara and Teresa & Lucas, who is as cute as ever (he’s really growing – he can understand commands now and stuff. Fun!). So we played with him for a while, then Teresa & Lucas left and Christi and David showed up, so we chatted for a while, then played a game. Later we watched some TV with Barbara & Jonathan. Anyway, I guess the point was that it was nice to just hang out with friends and such – we haven’t been doing a lot of that lately for various reasons (mostly other people’s reasons, really)

So now I’m worried about my project again since I can’t seem to make any progress at all. Hopefully that will change soon.

I see amorphousplasma has an on-site interview at NI – good luck! I’d be happy to talk to you about the whole experience, except I really have no idea what tech writer interviews are like. But the weekend is fun… 🙂

tax volunteering

It’s Friday! Yay! And Barbara’s coming down to visit, which should be fun.

Anyway, David and I have been volunteering at a community tax center (http://www.claimandsave.org) where we do people’s taxes and file them for free. It’s a really neat service, and I’ve learned a lot about the tax code. Some random thoughts that I’ve had about it:

  • The tax code can indeed be complicated, but it doesn’t seem in such dire need of “simplification” as some think. Situations in real-life are complicated, and it does a decent job of dealing with that.
  • The IRS isn’t evil, as far as I can tell. In fact, they sponsor the community tax center, when the vast majority of people get a refund.
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit is a wonderful thing for those who qualify. It apparently has pretty wide bipartisan support – Democrats like it because it gives money to the poor, and Republicans like it because it encourages people to work (if you don’t earn any income, you don’t get the credit). It’s a refundable credit, which means that you get a refund even if your tax is reduced to zero (most credits are non-refundable, which means that if they would reduced your owed tax to less than zero, it is just reduced to zero). My only big complaint is the disparity in income limits – if you have no qualifying children, the income limit is $11,490, which is really really low (and the credit declines as you get close to the limit), while the income limit with one qualifying child is $30,338.
  • The Child Tax Credit is pretty good too, especially because there can be a refundable portion (the “Additional Child Tax Credit”).
  • Poverty is real – I’m amazed at how little some of these people can get by on.

Um, that’s mostly it. Anyway, it’s good stuff.

Raise the minimum wage!

I just wrote an email to both of my senators asking them to raise the minimum-wage (the issue is coming up for debate soon), and I would encourage you to do the same. It’s really very easy – you can find your senators websites from http://www.senate.gov, and most of them have a contact form where you can paste in the text of your letter. Here’s my letter if you want a model:

I would urge you to support increasing the minimum wage. The minimum wage is currently $5.15, and in fact has not increased since 1997, which means that, in effect, it has been going down since then. A full-time worker earning minimum wage would make only $10,712 a year, which is well below the poverty line for a family of three. An increase of the minimum wage to even $7.00 would help to eliminate this disparity.

On a more personal note, I have been volunteering with Foundation Communities in their Claim + Save Community Tax Centers (http://www.claimandsave.org) to help low income people and families in the Austin area do their taxes. I can assure you that many of these people do make minimum wage, and an increase of the minimum wage to $7.00, while still a relatively low amount, would boost their incomes by 36 percent. Not only that, but it will also help to stimulate the economy, as lower income workers tend to spend more of their income.

I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on raising the minimum wage. Thank you for your time.

Feel free to use it, except for the personal part, unless you do volunteer there 🙂 There’s some information available at http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/issueguides_minwage_minwagefacts and http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/issueguides_minwage_minwagefaq.

Keeping in touch with your elective representatives is a great way to stay involved with what’s going on in politics and the world around you, and it’s pretty easy to do. Go democracy!

frustrating radio

So I drove to work this morning, listening to NPR as I usually do, and the following two things irritated me to the point of coming here and posting about them:

– There was a story on how Thai officials are trying to stop the bird flu from spreading by killing infected chickens and animals near them, etc. But the story was really about how the people who owned cock-fighters were complaining about the new restrictions. A little perspective would maybe help here – if the bird flu gets into humans and mutates into a virulent strain it could kill millions upon millions of people. Yikes! The most frustrating part was the guy who talked about the restriction that they’re considering to only let chickens be raised in enclosed pens (to limit contact with other animals) – the guy went on about how to be a good fighter, they need to be raised as if in the wild. I can’t even come up with an analogy to illustrate how ridiculous this is.

– There was a traffic accident at Guadalupe street downtown, which they pronounced as “Gwada-loop”. Dang it, it’s “Gwada-loo-pay”! This one bothers me whenever I hear it. Grr!