Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Free e-file with no strings attached.

I have always felt that the ability to electronically file your taxes for free should be a right as a citizen of the United States. If the government makes you pay taxes, you shouldn't have to pay someone an additional fee to figure out how much you need to pay. It looks like the Free File program has finally achieved something close to how I think things should be.

For years there have been ways to e-file taxes (both federal and state) for free, but there have been stipulations that limit access to these options, such as caps on income. For the past couple of years I have semi-manually filled out my tax returns because I refuse to pay to have my taxes done. Thankfully, the IRS had PDF forms that you could fill in, though you had to perform the calculations yourself. Missouri went a step further and provided PDF forms that automatically performed the calculations. The drawback was that I had to print out my tax returns and mail them in.

It now looks like the IRS is offering Free File Fillable Forms that perform calculations and allow e-file! It is completely free for the federal return and there are no limitations, including on income. I should note that this option is similar to filling in the paper forms, except that it is all done electronically. People who are not comfortable with crunching the numbers or deciding which schedules to fill out are probably better off with the commercial software packages/websites that guide you through the process, though usually at a cost. In any case, you can bet that I will be utilizing this service this year. Unfortunately, this does not apply to state returns, so I would have to either pay for a Missouri e-file (head shake) or mail in the state forms as I have done in the past (head nod).

Monday, January 19, 2009

An interesting take on the U.S. rail system.

I've been an advocate for enhancing the national rail system in the United States, especially after riding the trains in Japan. I knew at least one person (Michael Schwartz) shared my sentiments. I now know that there are others. This article has some interesting ideas on the issue. The guy who is interviewed basically wants to create a system modeled after the European one. It would be viable, more efficient, and more eco-friendly alternative to flying.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

That's why you get a battery back-up.

I was using my office PC almost 2 hours ago when the power went out. This was the first time I had experienced a power outage since I moved into my house. I didn't understand why it had happened, because there was no snow or rain outside, though it had drizzled a bit the night before. Fortunately, I have a battery back-up for my office computers and my media center PC, so they did not experience a power interruption. Since I no longer had a working Internet connection, I decided to shut down my computers.

I called up Ameren, and their automated system helpfully informed me that there were about 650 houses without power in my area, and that the problem was being worked. The estimated completion time was 15:00, which wasn't too bad. I'm now at my mom's house, but hopefully the power has been restored at mine.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Everybody's got an online social network.

...even Boeing. Only theirs is supposedly for networking and collaboration within the company. It's called inSite, and it was rolled out the last scheduled work day last year...which is good cuz you can't expect productivity to be very high at that time. Unfortunately my productivity has not improved this year because of it. In order to help put an end to my addiction, I set a goal of 100 connections by the end of the week. I already reached this goal at 15:59 Tuesday afternoon, so I guess I have to go back to doing real work for the rest of the year...