General and Varied Topics
Consumer information, general advice, tax tips.
All articles (c) Copyright 1997-2003, Allan W. Jayne, Jr. unless otherwise specified or other origin stated.
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Swamped By Too Much Mail Or E-mail? (Updated 6/98)
"Scribble a reply." That is, just sketch out some things you would like to say. Don't bother to spell check. End your reply with the statement that you will follow up and will get into more detail later.
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Phonetic Alphabet (Updated July 1998)
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Perhaps you were taking an airplane trip and the pilot let you listen in on the cockpit to control tower conversations before and after the movie. You may have heard such things as " United 580 on runway Alpha two turning onto runway Foxtrot six.
Or you may have been talking on the phone and someone asks, could you spell that please, and you say something like Smith, S, M as in Mary, I, T as in Tom, H. Here are the words used by the military and also by commercial airlines to identify the letters of the alphabet.
Catchy sayings published ca. 1971 and courtesy William S. Crosby, technical writer for Dartmouth College's former Kiewit Computation Center. Slight modification by yours truly, 7/98.
Alpha A for horses
Bravo B for mutton
Charlie C for thy landers*
Delta D for dumb
Echo E for an esphesia
Foxtrot F for pheasant
Golf G for gosh sakes
Hotel H (be)for' beauty
Indigo I for nigh
Juliet J for so neon Democrat
Kilo(gram) K for me, dahblay!
Lima(bean) L for leather
Mama M for sis*
November N for stain activity
Oscar O for there
Papa P for prophylaxis
Quebec 'Q for a lovely time
Romeo R for more
Sierra S for boatin'
Tango T for two
Uniform U for mystic
Victor V for la France
Whiskey W for chewin'
X-ray X for breakfast
Yankee Y for mistress
Zulu Z for wrench man*
* Lander -- Manned or remote control go-cart for exploring underwater or extraterrestrial surfaces.
Sis -- Female sibling.
Wrench man -- firefighter in charge of the hydrant.
"Razzle", or "One Hundred Points" (Nov, 97)
Don't play this carnival game; it goes something like this: You match up a number on a chart to see how many points you get. You play again and again to accumulate so many points (usually 100)
Also called "Football"(1) or (erroneously) "Pitch 'Till You Win"(2).
Methods of play, and also the rules, vary according to the operator. In the carnival trade, a controlled game is one that the player cannot win unless the operator deliberately lets him win.
Below is our own experience and observations.
The object of the game is to play repeatedly until you accumulate (usually) 100 points.
Almost nobody wins a big prize unless the operator deliberately lets him.
There are several methods of play but all of them involve a conversion chart with numbers, usually colored red and black where getting a red number gives you some points while getting a black number does nothing or in a few instances deducts points.
Typical play sequence for one round:
1. You pay the operator.
2. You make the play which might be any one of:
2a. Pick a ping pong ball out of a Bingo machine or bubble machine and hand it to the operator,
2b. Throw one or more rings onto an array of raised pegs or clothespins and the operator removes the first one you hit,
2c. Throw a few marbles onto a grid and the operator adds up the numbers(3) next to the holes the marbles land on (the marbles don't fall all the way through),
2d. Roll a few golf balls down a ramp where they eventually go into numbered channels. You or the operator add up the numbers where the balls went. For example if two balls were in the number 1 channel, that adds 2 to the total.
3. The operator recites a number.
4. You find the number on the conversion chart and that tells you how many points you get in that play. If you haven't reached 100, you may either quit or play again. In all sessions that we observed, if/when the player departed, the score was cancelled; he could not return later and pick up where he left off.
One problem is that none, or very few, of the balls or pegs are labeled with point winning numbers. Periodically during your session, the operator will recite to you a winning number without showing you the ball or peg. If he recited to you a losing number, he will show you the ball or peg if you ask, and the losing number will be there. In the case of play method 2d, the chances of getting any winning number are much smaller than of getting "do-nothing" numbers or even numbers for which points were deducted from your total.
We have observed that the operator never recited winning numbers after the player got to about 97 or 98. We also observed operators giving away points at the beginning of the session, sometimes as many as 50.
5. Double the stakes.
When certain numbers are drawn or totalled, the amount you must pay to play another round is doubled (and also the number of prizes you can select if you win is doubled). These numbers are usually labeled with some cryptic code such as HP on the conversion chart. Occasionally, if you get one of these numbers and have played several rounds, the operator also gives you a medium sized prize.
(1) Macho guys who can't play real football are attracted to the game and the chance to advance "100 yards" for a touchdown, winning a TV set on which to watch real football.
(2) The real "pitch 'till you win" game has pegs of different sizes (difficulties) and you pay one fee per game. Once you ring any peg, you win the prize corresponding to that peg and the game is over. There is no conversion chart or point count. Almost always one of your rings will bounce around and accidentally land on an unwanted peg before you succeed in ringing the peg you really wanted to.
(3) It is ambiguous which numbers correspond to which holes.
Prizes -- Taxes (Sept. 1997)
Prizes are taxable income unless specifically designated tax exempt..
Lete's say you won a car. Sticker price is $20,000.; dealer cost is $15,000.
Generally you may compute the taxable value yourself based on the lowest prices, fares, rates, etc. you can get on your own for comparable items. You can go down to the discount car dealer who sells cars at $50.00 above invoice, verify the price of that model to you as being $15,050., and that is the value on which you pay income tax. If you won a Chevy but the discount dealer only sells Fords, you might even find the Ford model that most closely matches your prize and regard it is being comparable.
Or let's say you won a trip to Disney World.
Again you can comparison shop. For example, round trip air fare from Boston to Orlando can be had today (Sept. 1997) for about $225.00 per person. If received as a prize, that would increase my income tax by approximately $75 per ticket assuming 28% federal bracket and Mass. 5.95% income tax. (I live near Boston.) Whereas if you reported full fare coach value, the tax may well be more than the entire cost of a super saver ticket. If you are required to travel on certain dates, I believe you can still use the 21 day advance purchase fare as the value even though you will travel sooner or that the limited seats at that fare might be sold out.
Once in awhile the prize winner deliberately asks to substitute a lower cost component for the express purpose of reducing the taxable value of the prize. Your income tax increase after receiving a prize consisting of a room at the Grand Floridian may well be more dollars than paying for the entire stay at one of the All Star (least expensive) resorts out of your own pocket. I'm not absolutely sure whether this works in lowering your tax; you will have to consult an accountant or tax preparer. But at the very least, you will have to ask for the downgrade and either receive it or a (written) letter stating it was sold out or otherwise unavailable.
Save evidence of how you arrived at the taxable value of a prize, including newspaper ads. If you have Internet access at home or at your public library, you can use www.travelocity.com to obtain and print out air fares. AAA and most travel agents have Disney brochures that list tour packages.
If you accept a prize and sell it immediately to a non-relative, you may use the proceeds of the sale after advertising costs, if any, as the taxable value.
It is a good idea to submit with your tax return a page showing the value of the prize as the donor reported it, together with your own computations.
Keep in mind that there are a lot of scams involving prizes. Don't pay any kind of fee or shipping charge or tax in advance when dealing with prizes from strangers. You do have to give out your social security number but you may refuse to write it on anything other than an official IRS form. Never give out bank account numbers or credit card numbers to strangers. If fees and charges are advertised as being necessary, and you agree to accept the prize anyway, inspect the prize carefully and see it work before paying. It is safe to let the donor deduct fees from the prize itself, if cash is included. Don't pay tax to strangers without first getting a Form 1099. This means you must not send payment by mail.
When E-Mailing Don't Forget the Subject Line (July 2002)
Be sure to fill in the subject line with something very descriptive. Otherwise the recipient may think your message is junk mail (spam). Usually I delete messages with no subject line without looking at them.
It is a good idea to type e-mail messages into a word processor and ssve them there, and then cut and paste them into the e-mail program. This way, if a message was lost or accidentally deleted by the recipient, you don't have to type it all over again.
Tired of and annoyed by spam? (Nov. 97)
Every now and then some wise guy decides to send out e-mail, usually advertising, to large numbers of people at random and if you and I are included, we get annoyed.
Here's one way to get back. Simply send back an ordinary looking reply of at least one hundred words. If this wise guy sent his one message to one thousand people and they all responded, he will get back one thousand messages he himself has to wade through. Chances are he won't send another batch of spam for a long time.
Why at least one hundred words? Because some e-mail browsers (such as Microsoft Outlook) display the first few sentences of each message without your having to "open" the message. If we make the replying message long enough that this wise guy has to open it, he will "get the message".
By the time I have begun my reply with:
To: Joe Blow, John Doe, Jane Roe etc. (1)
From: Allan Jayne, Jr.
Date: November whatever
... I will have filled up the previewing space, forcing the spam sender to open the message to see the body of text.
If you are under 40, you probably haven't had a lot of Spam in your diet. But whatever your age, you have probably heard the term "mystery meat", particularly in the high school or college cafeteria. Made from ground pork remnants, Spam might be considered "mystery meat". Because it at least now has a somewhat rigid (and proprietary) recipe, it really does not fit the definition of "mystery meat". Back around World War II, fresh meat was in short supply and Spam was served on the family dinner table more often. (Spam is not preserved meat and therefore must be refrigerated after the can is opened and then must be finished in the same time frame as a similar quantity of fresh meat.) In Hawaii, the meat shortage lasted longer and Spam remained a regular part of the diet. The next generation of children took a liking to Spam and to this day you will find Spam on the menus of lunch counters and modest restaurants in Hawaii. Why the meat shortage lasted so long in Hawaii is a good question since there is a lot of cattle and pig farming in that state.
Years ago when I was in college (Dartmouth), I created a chat room program (possibly the first in the world) that ran on a time sharing system. A group of us students were using it one evening when all of a sudden someone started cracking jokes about Spam. Things like "Do you like green eggs and Spam?" after Dr. Seuss(2) who, incidentally, also attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Spamshire. Then, one after another, corny(3) and usually meaningless sayings about Spam went flying back and forth. I remember sending this one:
If I had(4) a Spammer
to which someone else replied,
I'd Spammer in the morning ...
[Sounds like the first bout of spam that was ever transmitted electronically]
Heard on Paul Harvey News and Comment. mid-Feb. 2001
"Hormel profits are down this year, down five percent below a year ago, that's easy to figure. Back then, Y2K had frightened people into stockpiling so much Spam which they have not yet been able to eat up."
(1) Extra fictitious names may be added to consume space. In one actual example, someone at my office sent a valid e-mail message to everyone but numerous replies meant only for the sender were sent to everyone as well. I sent one message naming as recipients all of the senders of the messages useless to me.
(2) Theodor Seuss Geisel, class of 1925, who, as an undergraduate, signed "Dr. Seuss" to his cartoons and articles in the college humor magazine. The year I created the chat room was probably the year the college themed its winter party weekend "How the Grinch Stole Carnival" with appropriate Dr. Seuss figures sculpted in snow.
(3) How many of you remember the "Cornfucius Say" jokebook published by Kellogg's? (probably a collector's item in 2001)
(4) Today we might say "If I was ..."
With apologies to the Hormel Company.
If I Had a Spammer
by Rob Walker
[you stole my line, Rob]
This is a time of healing. It's the holiday season, and all partisan bickering is being set aside. But still. I was intrigued by a sentence at the end of the Wall Street Journal's "Work Week" column this morning indicating that the AFL-CIO is making available on its Web site various grump e-greeting cards intended for the spamming of America's corporate leaders.
It's true: There's a link, http://www.aflcio.org/ecards/index.htm [ed.note: subject to availability], of six mostly snarky greetings featuring cartoons by Ted Rall. Card 4, for instance, is designed for "a Bad Boss" and features a member of management informing an employee that "I had to choose between paying myself a year-end bonus and firing you." "I'll clean out my desk," the employee responds. The site is set up in such a way that you can supposedly send this electronic greeting to Jack Welch of GE ("Soon after setting a contract with workers at a GE facility in Indiana," the site explains, "Welch promptly closed the plant, leaving 2,500 people in the street"), Dick King of Labor Ready, or John Rowe of Commonwealth Edison. It's also apparently possible to send it to any other CEO or manager whose e-mail address you happen to have.
There are also cards for sniping at compassionate conservatives (ready-made for delivery to Marvin Olasky and others), union-busters (including Delta Airlines' CEO), free traders (such as Phil Knight of Nike), and "health and safety villains." Grudgingly, there's one nice card, earmarked for Kaiser Foundation Chairman David Lawrence, Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, and, curiously, Al Gore. (Something tells me that whatever e-mail accounts these cards go to are not accounts checked on with any great regularity by the alleged recipients.)
I guess it's damning with faint praise to observe that the cards are amusing by the standards of union discourse. Funnier than the cards themselves, actually, is the idea of the virtual protest, downgrading the threat of labor unrest to a round of labor peskiness. Perhaps it's difficult for the workers of the world to force management to hear their concerns, but at least they can try to force management to hit the delete key.
There are several formulas you need to use.
1. Determining whether the primary purpose of the trip was business or pleasure,
2. Determining whether you need to pro-rate the airplane fare between business (deductible) and pleasure (not deductible),
3. Determining how much of the airplane fare is allocated (pro-rated) to business and is deductible.
This part governs how much of the airplane fare is tax deductible . For trips within the U.S. excluding certain exotic destinations such as in Hawaii, it is either all or none (1 above). Otherwise. you need 2 and 3 above. You must allocate (pro-rate) it depending on how much time you spent on business activity versus pleasure (personal) activities. However you do not have to divide your time as business versus non-business. Instead you can divide your time business versus pleasure, or maybe non-pleasure versus pleasure. Exclude from pleasure those activities that you can do just as well at home, such as watching TV or shopping.
If you compute time by hour instead of by whole days, time spent eating nonfancy meals and the hours you are sleeping or doing things needed for work (bathing, shaving, etc.) are not considered all pleasure. Whether you exclude them, apportion them, or pro-rate them, the mathematical result is about the same. Excluding them from the calculations is simplest. Commuting and flying is not pleasure. Lunch at work is not pleasure just because you couldn't find a colleague to eat with. Some business travelers consider that eight hours at the workplace in a day means that day was 100% business; 40 hours excluding commuting in a week means that week was 100% business. Weekends and holidays between required business appointments are 100% business, no need to account for what you did.
Run it for a minute outdoors before using
Sweep up as much as you can before using your vacuum cleaner.
Don't vacuum up copy machine toner.
Make yourself an exhaust pipe.
When the vacuum cleaner sucks up dirt and junk, it also sucks in a lot of air. All this air is blown out the back end of the vacuum cleaner, hopefully filtered clean. The vacuum cleaner dust bag is (and must be) porous to let all the air through to be blown out the back end and allow more air and dust to be sucked in.
Try to sweep up as much as possible using dustpan and brush or broom before turning on the vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner bag is not tremendously large, so the more that you suck up, the more often you have to change the bag. Of course, on carpet, sweeping is much more difficult so you won't capture as much with your broom before you use the vacuum cleaner.
Try not to suck up hard objects like screws. These get whipped through the vacuum cleaner hose fast and they slam against the far end of the bag, possibly tearing a hole.
Large stuff, small stuff
Ordinary dust and dirt, animal hair, sawdust, dried bits of cereal and spaghetti, etc. are large stuff. It is collected in the bag but air can still pass around the particles and on out the porous bag surface.
Some material, notably flour, or plaster dust if you have a workshop, is small stuff. It catches in the tiny holes in the bag so that the bag becomes non-porous. Then you lose sucking power and you have to replace the bag even though it is almost empty. If there is a weak spot in the bag, the bag, after being so clogged, may tear while inside the vacuum cleaner and the contents, large and small, escapes out the back end. A lot will catch inside the mechanism and spew out little by little as you use the vacuum cleaner in the future. Some parts inside the vacuum cleaner are hot, and dust mixed with all that air will ignite easily and become sparks and flame.
Don't use your regular home vacuum cleaner to vacuum up the black powder (toner) found in photocopiers and laser printers. This is so small it goes right through the bag and is spewed back out into the room. It is also magnetic, and some of it sticks to the motor and other internal parts of the vacuum cleaner. It is abrasive and causes wear to the motor. Use tape, such as masking tape, to pick up the powder.
A popular odor reducing suggestion uses baking soda sprinkled on your rug. This is not recommended because the baking soda is small stuff. Exactly what bad things it will do depends on how fine the pores are in the filter bag (varies with make and model) when you use your vacuum cleaner. (Also, if it is humid, the baking soda will dissolve and stick to the carpet until you wash the carpet with steam or shampoo.)
Specially designed vacuum cleaner bags (not available for all makes and models) will capture toner and pollen.
Make yourself an exhaust pipe!
Except for those with the most expensive dust bags, all vacuum cleaners will spew some dust and pollen back into the room.
The do it yourself exhaust pipe works only if your vacuum cleaner exhausts air through a single round opening in back. Some vacuum cleaners have slits all around their bodies to let out the exhaust air. Some uprights have a cloth bag or bag cover with no specific vent opening.
Buy a length of clothes dryer vent hose, usually four inches in diameter. Attach one end to the vent opening of the vacuum cleaner. Feed the other end out the nearest window. Now all of the air sucked in by the vacuum cleaner is blown outside the house and you don't have to buy the most expensive super fine filter bags. Don't use standard vacuum cleaner hose or garden hose, that slows down the air flow and can cause the vacuum cleaner to overheat.
Dust Mites -- Run the "vac" outside before using
Have you noticed a stale odor when you change or empty the bag of your vacuum cleaner? Each time you "vacuum" you capture some, or a lot of, dust mites. You know, the disgusting looking critters in your carpet they show magnified in the TV commercials.
The dust mites live in the vacuum cleaner bag, feeding off of dandruff and pollen and dander. Their droppings are so small they go right through the bag and float out of the back of the vacuum cleaner in a big puff the next time you turn it on.
So take the vacuum cleaner outside and run it for a minute before you use it. "Air it out", you can say.
By the way, the dust mites the vacuum cleaner did not pick up are still down in the carpet feeding on dandruff that the vacuum cleaner did not pick up. Their droppings bounce up an inch or so every time you step down onto the carpet. If you use the dryer vent hose we mentioned up above, you can eliminate most of this from your house also.
More topics on cleaning
Let's Play Grade the Weatherman!
(article has been moved, click here to view it)
Americans: Are You Patriotic
Are You Prudent ? (Nov. 97)
(Moved, click here to see this topic.)
(c) Copyright 1997-2003, Allan W. Jayne, Jr.
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