Monday, March 30, 2015

I Hate Pencils

2014 is the last year that I have W-2 income from my 27-year gig.  There was some severance pay.  I appreciate that.  Every year from 1965 through 2014 I had "earned income" shown on each successive W-2.  For no particular reason I have all those tax returns despite the only requirement for seven years of retention.  The last ten or so are all electronic courtesy of TurboTax and PDF retention.  It is strange that I have all the paper copies but might actually be missing my 2012 TurboTax working files.  That's about the time I started to utilize more cloud storage and it's entirely possible in configuring each of the computers to share the appropriate directories I may have deleted a directory.  If my memory serves me correctly saves deleted files for 30 days.  Given that there are 365 days between one April 15th and another you can see the potential for a problem.

Now I use which does backups behind the scenes and given the assumption that I keep paying my bill I should have copies forever.  Retrieval is not as quick and simple but that's fine.    All of this is getting more complex.  Becoming a total nerd I now travel with the $249 Samsung Chromebook, my daily goto PC, a loaded Thinkpad with a few specific applications and all all sorts of backup power things, cables, etc.  Also in regular use are a couple of desktops, a great Compaq notebook with a chronic battery problem and a couple of repurposed notebooks running Ubuntu and Fedora Linux.

Some of those computers have external backup USB drives, there is a terabyte or two of Seagate backup hanging off the network and a drawer full of thumb drives and CDs.  One of my tasks is to get all this together is a reasonable content management system.   That's been my goal for a year and there's only been a very small start.

Here's my recap of taxes for 2014.  We have a small business which is an LLC.  Taxes are filed on the federal 1065 form.  Turbotax Business also produces the K-1s which show the income/losses for the business.   I'm using TurboTax Premier or Platinum or Titanium or Kryponite (which is the name of another good backup solution) which intakes K-1, W-2, 1099-INT, 1099-DIV, 1099-B, rental, other small business and farm income.  Rental property is interesting because it's considered passive income, more or less all the time despite however many hours you put into repairs, dealing with tenants, etc.  There is a cap on how much loss you can claim.  The consulting business come through as well and more or less loses money.  The farm is a sinkhole.  Each year as I close in on APR 15th it strikes me that most farms and beekeeping operations must lose money and if your food business/cafe makes money it's a fluke.

I spent most of the weekend on taxes and most of that time on the parts that lose money.  Finally at 11PM I'd have enough.  Unfortunately I'm reminded that last year, this year and other years around this time I start to dream about tax forms and TurboTax and checking all my lists that remind me to check passive loss limits, farm conservation expenses, property tax allocations, insurance costs, etc.  It seems that I spend more and more time working on tax issues that simply don't apply to my particular situation.

This leads me to restate my closing Facebook post of yesterday:  "by the time I finish my taxes I hate pencils."  Obviously I don't really hate taxes.  It's simply that Quickbooks, TurboTax files, spreadsheets, etc., all get to be a bit much, and why is it that banks don't recognize my pain and keep all transactions and check images and credit card transactions online for eighteen months to ease the pain.  My credi union likes to respond to that query with "we recommend that you download your transaction history every three months."  I simply stare and think about hating pencils.

Fifty years of W-2 income might be enough.  Late last week I had a good conversation with another co-worker who I respected.  He's 64 and I offered to share everything I know about Social Security with him.  He asked if I was doing anything "professionally."  I am but certainly there is no evidence that anyone is going to give me a W-2 or a 1099 for 2015.  It's possible I'll get a 1099 from Google or Amazon.  That's my single income goal for 2015.  I think that 1099 income might represent more enthusiasm, more expertise, more innovation, simply more intellectual opportunities than W-2 income.  Some people figure that out much earlier in life.

Taxes will be complex for 2015 but I see more focus and simpler rewards for 2016.  By then I will not make ridiculous statements about hating pencils.

Of course in the dark, not sleeping, thinking about tax forms, I thought "why don't your just get a gig doing taxes."  Why didn't I think of that before?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Reminder Regarding 'Level'

Small Business...
During the recent tiling of the bathroom I needed to draw some guidelines on the wall.  One of my tool bags has a laser level that would work.  Another, a gift from someone I no longer talk to, sits unopened on top of a refrigerator in the basement.  Frankly, I should just put it in the donation box.  Despite the cost and usefulness of the gift it's always going to remind of some family members that just are not worthy.

Big Business...
It's interesting how difficult it is for organizations to define (and continually refine) their mission, create a morphing vision of future trends and customer needs and keep employees focused and on track.  Each manager needs to coach, cajole and leverage their resources in the general direction of the future.  There are not a lot of shortcuts but you do need to move quickly and stay on task.

Re-visiting the big Target layoff I did confirm that those laid off were given severance packages that were reflective of years of service and were quite generous.  They also contained a provision that employees laid off be 'available.'  If Target reached out to you after the layoff and you could not be reached you'd be in breach of the severance agreement and ... well, you'd lose some of the benefits.

At first I thought that a bit harsh.  I believe it's reflective of Target's admission that they were not 100% positive of the people and the timing of the layoff.  Organizations need to be humble and admit that their judgement is not always correct.  That's where Boards of Directors come into play; they leverage their experience outside the organization, question current practices and make recommendations on senior staff and major business strategy.

Outplacement Services...
This past week I did reach out to my outplacement firm.  Due to small business demands, settling some real estate issues, finances, etc. I put myself on a sabbatical from using their services.  Over the next 3-4 months I want to use some of their online resources and training to refresh myself and then thank them and move on.  The executive consultant assigned to me has been a good help.  In some ways I wish I'd waited a year before starting the engagement there.

Much of their work centers on getting the person making the job change excited, structured and motivated.  I'm tough to motivate or structure.  I liked one of their recommendations which was sort of a one page marketing plan for yourself.  Don't just throw a resume in everyone's face.  Give them your marketing plan and ask what they think.

Mentors are important.  Organizations have started to figure that out.  Typically bright rising stars will be assigned a senior person to be a resource.  I think that we should all have individual Board of Directors to guide us.  Apparently some families can do that.  If you come from a dysfunctional family or a family of tradesmen and you want to be a Doctor or a farmer or an academician they might not be much help.  Friends are a potential but friends are often best left as friends.  Women seem to do well in keeping friends.  Men seem to lose their friends as they work themselves towards heart attacks, paid off mortgages and death.

I'm going to re-visit this board of director concept with the outplacement service.  Some of the consultants there are totally full of themselves.  Others seem like people struggling to just develop their own future.  It does appear that those of the second group are more open to suggestion and guidance.  That will be added to what may be only a couple of additional conversations with my executive coach.

The Level...

My mother was the youngest of four sisters.  Always she was close to the next oldest and quite distant from the other two.  Her close sister was married to Don Nelsen who was born in the same town and grew up a few blocks from the four sisters.  His father was a 14 year old Danish immigrant who started a business harvesting ice from the local lake and distributing it throughout the summers.  Following WWII when refrigerators began to replace ice boxes he started a house moving business which was logical given his experience moving heavy things that did not  want to move.

Don and his brother Russ worked with their father Chris in the house moving business and took it over as Chris aged.  My father died when I was three.  My mother's sister and Don became another set of parents.  When I purchased my first home in 1978 Don gave me a two foot level.  In the house moving business there was more frequent use of levels than one might imagine and keeping things level and plumb in life is good advice.  I've used that level on every home and property I've used and pulled it out in lieu of the laser levels when setting tile.  Don always referred to levels as "whiskey sticks" since the fluid did not freeze.  Thirty-seven years after the gift I'm still using the gift whiskey stick.

When Don passed away 25 years ago I took his Stanley level which still had his name on it.  In a symbolic gesture I checked the accuracy of mine against his.

I'm going to work on this concept of applying a level to organizations.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

No Job "Alumni"

The outplacement service...
It appears that I've been moved to 'alumni' status with my outplacement firm.  They are really a valuable resource and very helpful in getting one's head around the next phase or job in your life.  As advice I would recommend that no job last longer than five years.  For many reasons, some stated or alluded to here, my gig
Pope Francis - Five Year Job
was 27-years.  Leaving that takes some getting used to.  Had I won the lottery it would have been simple but that was not part of the program, not that I did not try.

It's not clear what the 'alumni' status means.  I'd like to re-visit some of their resources so I'm checking with my personal consultant.

The five year advice idea is pretty standard.  Even Pope Francis has stated that he may follow Benedict's lead and head back to South America in a few years to get back to what he likes to do, not what others' want him to do.  That's good advice.

Small Business...faced with changing standards...

The small business is a cafe.  Everyone's home kitchen needs updating every few years.  Certainly refrigerators and microwaves die and you drop something hot or heavy on the floor, etc.  The cafe is like having 200 people a day come in your kitchen to eat.  They all spill things.  Food falls out of them from who knows what orifices and it gets ground into the carpet.  You schlep hundreds of pounds of food into the prep area and set it all on the same counters and floor locations.  Parts wear out.

There were a number of broken floor tiles.  This space was built out at least twenty years ago.  The cracked tiles in the prep area were unsightly and perhaps something the next inspector (health/food) would decide to be the source of the next plague.  Matching tiles is problematic.  Apparently 8x8 ceramic tiles are no longer in style.  Unable to find grey tiles I found red, black and white options.  White seemed logical.

Installing tile does have sense of reward and if you are methodical it is something everyone could do.  Not having removed tile I checked out YouTube which had a number of nice videos suggesting that with an inexpensive grout saw and a few other tools this would be a simple process.  Over the past few years I've found that the more I have to work with older equipment, vehicles, tools, etc. the more I've had to reach for a big hammer.  Now every garage sale is a search zone for another three or five pound one-handed hammer or sledge hammers or picks or that really are about brute force.

The grout saw seemed worthless.  In the video a few strokes caused the tile grout to easily be removed, be swept up and made quickly into the trash bucket.  Perhaps the effort at least 'scored' the grout.  The BFH was called into play with the risk that it might do more damage than good.  The YouTube videos suggested that not removing all the grout, followed by a 'smash' attack might break more than you want.  Fortunately no new damage was caused during the removal of twenty tiles.  Replacement was straightforward and painless...except that I'm drawn to the white tiles in a sea of grey...but I'll get over it.  The tiles cost about $22, the grout was $16.  I miscalculated on the thinset adhesive and had to make a run to the hardware store but kept the cost under $25.  The grout saw was $8 and $4 for some extra blades.  The three pound hammer came for $2 at a garage sale about six years ago on a hot August Saturday.  A couple was selling their lake home and the man had all his tools laid out on tables in the garage.  Other shoppers were offering far less than the marked prices.  I knew that some day I'd be selling my tools and paid him $2.

Brute force has it's place.  Ideally you have equipment that you maintain.  You deal with the problem aspects before they become big problems, and replace worn and broken parts.  Organizations need the same attention.  Target did not make the sounds and performance of a tuned machine for a long time.  The new guy Cornell is fixing Target with a three-pound hammer.  That's what happens when coaching and managing fails.

Early Spring...

Work, Annoying...

  • my 98 year old aunt was paying ATT for long distance service.  it took 30 minutes to get that disabled and the $34/month charge stopped.  five minutes with Centurylink and $8/month solved the problem.
  • I needed to change my eBay password and telephone contact info.  the phone number was 18 months old and from the 27-year gig (old job).  I spent 20 minutes trying to change, actually find the number change option in my eBay profile.  Were it not the case that I spend a lot of time online I'd find that OK.  The customer service rep was fine and walked me through the process, certainly thinking I was some sort of neophyte, not a former CIO.  well...I did pass on the opportunity to suggest 'user experience' testing.
  • I do use Keepass for my password.  It seems implausible but I have over 400 entries.  How would I explain that there was a time without passwords that require upper and lower case letters, special characters, no letters that spell a word and nothing similar to any previous password or user ID.  My Google password is the only one that I don't routinely have to look up in Keepass.  In 1978 I worked for a state agency doing statistical analysis.  My recollection of the user name or our primary system is long gone but the password was 'evaltinu.'  
  • passwords that expire with no online method of re-setting is quite annoying.  Organizations that fail to realize that it's a 24x7 computer world are not worthy.  "Your password has expired.  Call our office between 8:30 and 5:30 M-F."
  • Today (March 17) I received a letter from a financial institution  mailed March 10 confirming my election to receive all statements and communication electronically.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Working at Miscellaneous

Impending bathroom upgrade....

I could have written down the measurements or emailed them or texted them or entered them into Gtasks or Evernote but I took a photo.  It's not clear that that makes any sense.

Farmhouse plumbing....

Apparently you use whatever you have on hand and skip the standard essentials that you don't have.  The plumbing in the cellar was unbelievable.

The half-life of remodeling/upgrading...

The last seven trips to my daughter's new (old) house for "little things" to fix have all been described as the "last trip."

Strategic Plan Review...

As a courtesy I reviewed a strategic plan.   I used to write sections starting with a blank screen, a sense of history, broad perspectives on the future and a big can of green Monster.  It's not really my plan to read too many more plans; I'll write a few.


It's starting to make sense.


Thursday I need to focus before Amazon cuts me off.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Impending Work and Work Impediments

Daylight Savings Time
For whatever reason changing our sleeping patterns is disruptive.  Exactly why to we wait until a particular day to "change the clocks" and adjust.  After all these years you'd think that I'd start this change a few days early, perhaps in 15 or 30 minute increments.

This leaves me a bit crabby.

Impending Work
The last decade has included a number of ventures, including expanded beekeeping, some rental challenges, the "small business" of my wife and daughter and "the farm."  For years we drove past a small farm on the way to our rural property.  Over time you pick up on things, noticing the movement of cars or equipment, tracks, or the lack thereof, in the dirt or snow.   There was a small farm house, a metal clad legacy barn and a Quonset hut.  As they say, we "bought the farm."  It's been an interesting project.  We've producec significant quantities of fruits and vegetables and have begun some restoration projects.

In the mid 1800's every county in Minnesota east of the Mississippi was covered with 150' white pine trees.  By 1900 or so all of those white pine in Minnesota and those of Wisconsin and Michigan had been taken by the lumber barons who left massive amounts of debris in their wake.  We're close to Hinckley, MN, which was the general location of a massive post-logging fire which killed many people and which torched the earth.  The farm is in that zone of devastation.  We've been planting white pine and red pine trees for over twenty years and for the last eight on this farm property.

The farm house is occupied by a caretaker couple who are there primarily to keep the meth heads from stealing whatever copper is left in the house and the barn.  We've done a few upgrades for the caretakers.  The next project is to replace the bathroom floor.  For whatever reason this one is waking me up.  Not knowing what's under the floor, worrying about the bolts holding the commode, facing the certainty of bad shutoff valves is disturbing my sleep. 

Bad Night's Sleep...
Sunday afternoon I took down a half acre of small poplar trees which will be the site of further red pine plantings this spring, following the frost departure.  This left me a bit tired.  I went to bed about
midnight which was eleven yesterday and anticipated having trouble getting up at seven which previously was six.  Instead I'd awake at 4:30 AM trying to figure this out.  Last night I replaced DVR for or satellite TV system which had previously been mailed to two wrong addresses.  I'd like to eliminate that cost given my current dependence on Amazon Prime and Netflix.  There appears to be no reason to continue.  at 4:30 AM there was nothing I wanted to watch in the wide range of weird reality shows.

Replacing the DVR took much linger than I expected but it was somewhat flawless and the online
chat option did get three questions answered.  Given my lack of interest in having the second TV work I skipped that.  Now at 4:30 AM I did have to reach for three remotes to watching something.  I cannot get the Satellite system remote to work with the TV so used to TV remote to start that and cycle through the input options.  The Satellite remote showed me 150 channels of nothing.  There should be a reality show about people trying to get their remotes to work.  Finally the Roku remote presenting "classic" films from Netflix.  I'm not sure who I'm enjoying more, Patton or George C. Scott.

The fourth device is a temperature sensor.  It's cold in MN.  We're 100 miles away for our rural property.  I have two systems to keep me abreast of temperatures that notify me when in-house temperature drops below 40 degrees. 

Work Impediments...
So much for my past serious interest in images.  

All this video stuff is nice but I believe it's the written word that really sticks.  I'm distracted from work and from writing, about work and other.

The most positive accomplishment recently was further progress on eliminating the tedium of grinding.


No photographs
No Grinding