Author Archive

Tax Day: apply for an extension

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

So I spent last evening trying to e-file for an extension to complete my Federal taxes.  I am just a teensy bit disorganized, and haven’t gotten my accountant all the information needed to prepare them.  She suggested I file for an extension, saying “it only takes a minute…”  So I went on line to the web site recommended by the IRS for e-filing, and proceeded to attempt to file for an extension.  Now of course we all know that people who file for an extension have a reason to file for an extension.  In my case, it was because I hadn’t completed it. Big surprise there, eh? Guess what?  The form used to apply for an extension requires that you figure out what your tax liability is, how much you have paid over the year, and what you owe.  Basically they want you to compute your taxes in order to file for an extension.  Hello?  IRS?  Are you insane?  I need an extension to finish doing my taxes!!!  If I have to finish my taxes in order to file for an extension, I don’t really need the extension, now do I? Jeesh.

Anyway, I’m on this web site trying to fill out a form to apply for an extension and it says I need either my 2008 AGI or e-file PIN, or my 2009 e-file PIN. So I went back to the IRS Website to apply for a 2009 PIN, having no idea of my 2008 AGI or PIN, and they had an option to call a special 800 number for a PIN, which is what I did.  After a few minutes of entering bits of info that anyone with a tiny bit of knowledge could obtain from the internet I was all set with my new PIN. Taking it back to the first site I continued to enter the data they need to process my extension.  It didn’t work. According to the IRS, a person can file for an extension using specific pieces of information on the correct form.  I had the information and entered it on the form, but the web site went into a spiral of death (yet tried to keep me entertained) while attempting to calculate what I owed. Now I understand that computers are really dumb, and that they only know zeros and ones, but really, all the thing had to do was subtract one 5 digit number from another, and enter the remainder (or zero, whichever is larger) into a final box on the form.  Simple huh? Apparently not. After ten minutes I had to use the task manager to shut down the instance of IE. I ended up writing an email to my accountant asking her if she could help me get it done, or if I needed to print out the form and send it in using snail mail.  the next day (today) she wrote me back saying “Oh, sorry I didn’t make that clear, I’ve already filed for an extension in your stead, you don’t need to do anything.”  Feh.   What a waste.

Roborodentia Contest

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Cal Poly, my alma mater, holds an annual open house where the general public can go in and see what new stuff is going on at the school. All the colleges and clubs put their best face forward and show off, and some try to make a few bucks by selling stuff to the attendees. This is also when the IEEE Computer Society holds their Roborodentia contest, where students make robots and compete with them against other teams. The first year of the aforementioned contest I built a robot as my senior project and hoped to use it to compete in the contest. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get it programmed in time but I did get an ‘A’ on my senior project, and I got the programming done for the following year’s contest. I came in second place, because although my robot did finish the course and do everything that was asked of it, another robot did the same thing in about 30 seconds less time. a year or so after that I built another robot for the competition, and it also did very well, but didn’t win again. Since then I have gone to watch the contest annually, but haven’t really been serious about competing, at least not for more than an hour or so at a time. Usually the hour coincides with the time I’m actually at the contest watching enviously all the other teams with their robots compete. Hmm. Something seriously wrong with this picture. Yes, now I’m all fired up about the roborodentia contest because last weekend I went to Cal Poly and watched it. Hopefully next year will be different, and I will be able to finish a robot and get it programmed in time for the contest.

Gigapan Robot

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Ok, I found this cool site on the intertubes-, and both my wife and I think it’s the greatest thing since baked bread… ok maybe not that great but still really really cool. We got a gigapan robot and took it to Monterey the weekend my Brother graduated from the Naval Postgraduate school there, and used it to take a few gigapan images. Note- gigapan images of waves don’t really come out looking all that hot. Don’t ask me how I know this. Anyway, the images are cool but not really great because the only camera we have that fits the robot is a little point and shoot Canon, with a 3x zoom ratio. not really enough to get good gigapan images, and it doesn’t have the full manual setting capability that the instructions suggest. Hopefully this weekend I will get a chance to modify it a bit to accept one of our larger DSLR cameras, probably Tammy’s because she is the only one with a big zoom lens. I’ve been planning on getting a telephoto lens but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. When we get the knack of making great gigapan images, I’ll try posting some of them on my web site. Until then, you can see lots of cool gigapan images at

Car Wash

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Always the slacker, I once picked up a product that promised to “make washing my car as easy as spraying it a couple of times”. It was a plastic bottle of super concentrated sudsy stuff with an integral mixer/sprayer selector that you attach to your hose and use to wash your car. You set it to “wash”, point it at the car, and it mixes the soap with the water and sudsifies the vehicle, then you set it to “rinse” and it sprays plain water. Sort of like a power washer without the power. Simple, huh? Except the mixing was a little messed up, at first the mixture was heavy on the soap, and then when the soap reservoir was a little bit depleted, the soap concentration fell off big time. At any rate, once I got it connected to my hose and started trying to wash my car with it, there were more pressing issues than merely poor control of soap concentration. To be specific, the whole device kept falling off the hose! I mean the internal threads on the device were a little too large so when you screwed a hose into it tight enough to seal against water leakage, the slightest movement of the device (as in moving it to spray the vehicle) would cause the hose to pop out. Then you had to go chase down the hose and shut it off to re-thread it in there. It didn’t really matter at that time because by then the soap was all gone, the reservoir had leaked when the thing fell off the hose, and the selector switch was really difficult to operate under pressure so I couldn’t get the spray mode selected in order to rinse off the car. I gave up and washed the car by hand. When I got finished, I called the company to complain, and they were very nice about it. They apologized for my troubles, and they sent me a coupon for another one- free! Later I received a letter from the company asking me to give them a call and do a customer satisfaction survey. When I called again they asked me if I was satisfied with their resolution of my problem. I said “Well, I did get a coupon for a free replacement. Did your R&D department modify the thing so that it wouldn’t pop off the hose?”  They told me no.  Hmm. “Then how can you expect me to be satisfied with your resolution of my problem? If the car washer is just the same as it was before, What makes you think I won’t have the same trouble I had the first time?”  Well, they hemmed and hawed, but weren’t able to provide a reasonable explanation. “But we gave you a free one? Why aren’t you satisfied?”  Duh.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

I’m a baker. I especially enjoy baking dessert. Recently I started making my own frosting. I used to just buy the stuff in the plastic tubs and spread it around, but I find the better frosting is what you make yourself. One of the first experiences that brought me to this new level of bake-ification was when I needed cream cheese frosting. I bought a tub of a famous brand of cream cheese frosting. Actually I believe it was cream cheese flavored frosting. Whatever, I expected it to taste something like cream cheese. It didn’t. At all. I mean it was just this sweet whitish substance with no real flavor, not cream cheese or anything else I could identify. It was disgusting. then I saw on the label that I could make comments or ask questions. Never one to shy away from an unwanted task, I took the plunge. The person who received my call had me explain what I had purchased, and what I thought was wrong with it, and then she said something I’ll never forget: “Well sir, it isn’t supposed to taste like cream cheese.”

Wait… What? I said: “Ok, uh, the label says it’s cream cheese flavored frosting. Maybe you can tell me what it is supposed to taste like. I kind of figured that cream cheese frosting would taste something like cream cheese.”

Apparently I sounded a little too irate for her to explain what it should taste like, because she took my name and address and said they’d mail me a coupon for a free tub of frosting. Any flavor.

Lemon Juice

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

OK, I like lemon in my tea. Is that so bad? Unfortunately, in order to put the lemon in the tea I now I have to supply myself with lemon juice. I don’t have a lemon tree. Well, I do but it’s at my rental and I’m pretty sure my tenant wouldn’t want me going over to his house to get lemons from his back yard. I mean he said he’d be happy to have me get the lemons from the tree because there are plenty and he doesn’t use them, but I think he was just giving me lip service and doesn’t want me anywhere near his house. But we’re really getting away from the topic, so back to the lemon juice. If you don’t have a source of lemons, you need to buy lemon juice at the grocery store. Go ahead, pick up some lemon juice. I’ll wait. Got it? Now, read the ingredients. See that line about lemon oil? That’s not lemon juice. It’s a bitter oil from the lemon peel. They mix in lemon juice, water and lemon oil to make this concoction, and then they try to pass it off as lemon juice. I got some that said 100% lemon juice on the front, but the back had a list of ingredients, one of which was lemon oil. Hey, it’s a bitter oil! It makes the lemon juice bitter. One time I wrote to the email address of one of the bigger brands (think Real…) saying that I thought it was a shame that they had to advertise that it was 100% juice and that they put so much lemon oil in there it made the lemon juice bitter. they replied with an apologetic missive that stated: “We’re sorry you don’t like the lemon oil in our lemon juice. We’ll send your comments to our marketing department.” The marketing department? Hello? How about the research and development department? Wouldn’t the guys who make the product want to know that it sucks? What are they gonna do over in marketing, try to figure out how to label it so I won’t mind the bitter taste of the product? I’m seeing the memo now: “Try to draw attention away from the fact that our lemon juice is bitter and doesn’t taste at all like actual lemon juice.”


Junk Mail

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

My wife and I got some junk mail today from a very popular roadside assistance company. I tend to throw all junk mail out, but only after ransacking them for anything of interest. And here it is- the pitch for me to sign up for roadside assistance. Oh, won’t you sign with us? It’s really cheap, and just think of the peace of mind you’ll have! Gee we know how you can’t sleep nights just agonizing over the next time your car breaks down… you know, on the road. Just think how happy you’ll be when you call for our assistance! They didn’t even know what name(s) to put on the envelope, but whoever we were, we were official ‘member elect(s)’ in this grand organization that had only our safety and peace of mind at heart… So I’m throwing papers rapidly into the recycle bin, and the last one says (in imitation handwriting) “About to throw this out? That could be a BIG mistake. Here’s why…” with an arrow pointing to the fold of the paper. Always ready for a good laugh, I open it and proceed to read a supposed appreciation letter from a customer to the very popular roadside assistance company which describes how this customer had just signed up with them because he had read a note from a member who had signed up for membership and had to use the service even before receiving his membership card. And this letter told how the new customer had ‘unbelievably’ locked his keys in his car only days after mailing in his application, and had received nearly instantaneous service from the very popular roadside assistance company even before receiving his membership card!

Uh huh. you can bet that I’m not about to mail in my application. Apparently a percentage of the people who become subscribers to this service immediately acquire a cavalier attitude and start doing stupid things with their vehicles that require availing themselves of the service! I’ll protect myself and my family in the only way I know how: by NOT becoming a member. And hey, it’s less expensive, too. Maybe I’ll write them a letter thanking them for setting me back on the straight and narrow…

Vex Explorer

Friday, January 16th, 2009

So i got this Vexplorer robot that has some cool parts, wheels, gearmotors, a camera, etc., it’s kind of like a radio controlled erector set. Not really a robot, in the sense that a robot is a mechanical device that is controlled by a computer, but for the price, the parts will be useful for building a robot. not having to reinvent the wheel is nice.Their web site is Vex Robotics. I’m planning on using the base as a test bed for one of my robot projects, if I can just get the time to do it.

The Vex is in my opinion not really a robot, as I understand the definition to be. It’s more of a radio controlled Erector Set. It wasn’t really expensive, and it does have the wireless camera and receiver, as well as the complete radio control system, and a host of other useful parts. For someone who doesn’t want to build a robot chassis from scratch, it would be a nice platform. I got it put together and drove it around a bit, now I plan to remove the radio control system and use a microcontroller to turn it into a real robot that will do stuff on its own.

Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx

Monday, January 12th, 2009

OK, this has got me steamed. I bought this new Garmin handheld GPS and part of the reason I selected it was for the expansion capability. I mean the thing comes with a 64 meg micro SD card, a software CD and a USB cable, so one would reasonably expect that they could connect to a web site, download map data, and then connect the GPS device to the computer using the supplied cable and download the map data to the supplied memory card. Am I wrong? Apparently yes. The software, when you read the fine print on the envelope it comes in, is ‘…not able to download additional maps to any Garmin GPS…’ Ok, fine so how do I download the maps to my device? Well, it’s like this: first you have to buy the map data, either on a DVD or CD and have them ship it to you, or you have to buy it on a micro SD card, and have them ship it to you. did I mention the key words? Yes, I did. You may have caught them, I wrote them twice for you. I’ll recap: “and have them ship it to you” Right. Garmin has decided that you can’t download the map data from the internet and then download it to your GPS. Ok, my first question is “Why not?” Second question: “Why do they include a micro SD card with the device?” So I wanted to use the thing tomorrow, but I can’t get the map data I need, even though the infrastructure necessary to let me give Garmin my money right now, get the map data right now and load it onto my device is in place and ready with nothing to do. How irritating!