Monday, March 30, 2009

Funny Quote from Former Job

A while ago I found this odd quote from a research paper. Here's the quote (emphasis added):
Online courses provide scheduling flexibility to students facing scheduling conflicts. Also, they afford opportunities to at-risk students, elite athletes and performers, dropouts, migrant youth, pregnant or incarcerated students, and students who are homebound due to illness or injury or homeschooled, allowing them to study outside the classroom. (Watson, 2007)
Why on earth would a someone write a sentence linking pregnant and incarcerated students? I realize it says "or," but it's still just a bit strange to grammatically combine these two types of students. There are other students listed, so why not separate them? Is there something similar about being pregnant and incarcerated?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Tax Man

Instead of hiring a tax agent or using software, we decided to put our little boy, Luca, to work. Here he is, trying to figure out our deductions:

"You want ME to do your taxes?!"

"How on Earth do you organize your receipts??"

Actually, we used TaxCut Online to do our taxes. I'm sure Luca would have done a great job, though. He did seem awfully interested in my W-2s while I was working on it. Maybe he just wanted to eat them though.

TaxCut Online worked very well. For basic tax needs, it's quick and reliable. I spent about 2 hours working on it, and if there hadn't been a slightly confusing question about the Alternative Minimum Tax in Wisconsin, it probably would have been faster. Oh, and it would have been faster had I not been trying to complete it with my son on my lap, who likes to hit the mouse and keyboard! I also cleared my cookies on accident and had to log back in. Oops!

I used the software last year and it went very smoothly this year with the addition of my wife's tax information and our new deductions for our son. The software remembers data entered from the previous year and restores specific answers from last year's return for review. It does not allow a direct import of last year's data without review as a safety mechanism.

All in all, I could probably have saved a buck and done it on my own for the State and Federal taxes, but having the software to check over your work and the addition of on-demand support and assistance in case of an audit is a definite plus. Last year I did both TaxCut and the free State submission form, and I discovered that there was a difference in the return that was exactly the amount I paid for use of the software. There is a discout for tax preparation that TaxCut submits with you taxes!

Submitting taxes online is also incredibly fast. We received our State return in less than a week and our Federal return will arrive 9 days after I submitted it. Overall, I would definitely recommend this software to anyone willing to submit your tax information on the internet. Of course, if you have a complicated tax return, a professional is always the best and safest bet.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My Home Computer Desk

I have a bit of an unusual work space for my computer at home. On the right of the keyboard, I have a trackball mouse. On the left, I have a regular mouse that is not used for moving the cursor. I also have a wireless mouse on the monitor area of the desk and a video game controller. Here's a photo:

The trackball mouse aids with avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome and it saves space. The small left button is set to the middle button and the small right button is set to "Back" for internet and file browsing. The mouse on the left side serves two purposes: First, this style of mouse has a better scroll device than the trackball mouse, which doesn't really have one. Second, if it's ever necessary to get the precision of a regular mouse (editing images, for example), then it is available for use. The laser is currently covered with a small sticky pad to avoid any cursor movement from it. The wireless mouse is used for viewing the computer desktop on the TV, away from the computer monitor. It's great when watching internet TV shows on an actual TV ( is great for internet TV).

Also note the USB extension cord, which is useful for any other peripheral devices one would need to plug in temporarily (a camera, for example), and the wireless headphones, which allow for freedom of movement and less cord clutter. The small device under the monitor is a CRYPTOCard, used for accessing remote computers at work. The monitor is on a base that rotates and adjusts vertically, making it perfect for getting just the right position for the user. The combination of the trackball mouse and vertically adjustable monitor have significantly improved the ergonomics of my computer desk, making me a lot more comfortable, especially during long hours of work (or play!).

Here's an older version of the setup with an older left mouse and keyboard and without the wireless mouse.

I (thankfully) upgraded the monitor from the bulky, unadjustable CRT monitor. Since I spilled juice on the keyboard (not recommended!) I had to get a new one of those too, although I went with a cheap keyboard. Actually, the only component I would change about the current setup is the keyboard, which isn't exactly comfortable and the extra buttons on the left and right sides are not prominent enough to be very useful. I liked my old one, but I spilled juice on it...

By the way, all of these devices except the keyboard are from Logitech. I really like their computer input devices. The software isn't completely bug free, but once I got the settings where I like them everything works just fine. I haven't used the wireless mouse as much, but I advise getting a USB extension cord with it, as its range is limited.