Doing my Taxes Online

March 13, 2010

This year I decided to do my taxes entirely online. I used H&R Block‘s internet service for doing taxes and overall it worked very well. I don’t know how complex of a tax operation their service can complete, but my taxes are still fairly simple as I don’t have many deductions and own very little. More frequent readers of my blog might be surprised to learn that I used such a service. After all, they have to store lots of personal information about me in order to complete the tax return!

It is true that I had to put a lot of personal information into this service, and I was quite nervous about that. Sure, they use SSL, but so what. If there’s one thing reading security news has taught me it is that a dedicated enough hacker can essentially get any information they desire. The sad reality I came to terms with is that as long as I am submitting electronically, I will already have to send important data over the internet.

Additionally, how handy the service is partially convinced me to take such a risk. It is true that they sell software which can be installed on my local computer and in theory, if I mailed in my return, I could keep all of my data roughly within my possession. In fact, I am still considering doing it that way, but I am not sure if that is really that much more secure. However, the ability to just a open a web browser and pick up where I left off is not something to leave out of this equation.

At any rate, the damage is already done, so to speak, and overall I was happy with the process. I still feel a bit uncertain as to whether this will come back to bite me or not, but I suppose we’ll see. At the heart of the matter is the fact that organizations use one’s social security number in exactly the wrong way (credit card companies, banks, etc). It’s true that’s it’s a great unique identifier for a database, but there are other and better ways to do things.


Back Home Again

May 8, 2009

Well, it seems as though the school year is basically over. I am still waiting to get grades in two of my classes, but I don’t expect any surprises from either of them so I guess that means I will graduate! I’m glad that I was able to get through college in 4 years. About half way through I decided to add Math as a major in combination with Computer Science. During the time I had to deal with the coursework, I second guessed my decision, but I am glad that I choose to do that. Certainly I plan to find a computer science related job, but I think the skills I have learned from my math classes will come in handy depending on what I do with computers. Even if they don’t, learning mathematics has taught me to think much more logically than I used to. As many programers know, being able to think logically is quite helpful when writing code.

The feeling of being “done” with school hasn’t fully set in though. I’m sure it will eventually, but I can’t really predict when that will be. Right now it just seems like another semester has ended and I have gone home to try and figure out what to do for the summer. Though, in my case, it’s what to do in terms of a job. I still have some time from now until there are a couple senior events and then graduation. I hope to make some more posts and work on my personal webpage in that time. Those plans aren’t really set it stone though so I may up doing something else instead.

It’s good to be back on Lightflame (my desktop computer) again. For the past weekish I was using only my laptop since I wanted to bring the motorcycle back to school and needed to bring Lightflame home when I had the car out at college. It was fun having the bike at college though, so it was worth forgoing the full power of my computer for a time.


A LaTeX User in a Microsoft Office World

April 2, 2009

It has been quite a while since I wrote my last post, but school has been keeping me as busy as always. Thankfully I have had more free time this semester than in past years, but I still seem to keep myself quite busy, and too burned out at the end of the day to write anything terribly thoughtful on the blog. However, I still keep a list of topics to write about for when I have the motivation ๐Ÿ™‚ .

Today I wish to write about a recent trouble I have had relating to my usage of LaTeX. I have been using LaTeX for a little over 3 years now and I love every minute of it. The level of control that it gives me over documents is perfect for my needs. Table of contents, works cited, picture placement, and many other time wasting tasks are mostly automated by LaTeX. As such I can focus in on the true content of my document, which is usually all I care about anyway. Also, with the use of packages such as LaTeX Beamer I can also do PowerPoints with LaTeX. Finally, the fact that you can define custom commands is another huge time saver, and for a programmer, who loves functional decomposition, this is a wonderful tool.

So, now we have established why I use LaTeX, but here is where the trouble with LaTeX lies: most people don’t use LaTeX (shocker… I know). In many situations this does not matter due to the ubiquity of the PDF file. However, there have been times when I have been expected to simply have things in .doc (or these days .docx) format. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a history paper in LaTeX and right before the due date our teacher said that we needed to send our paper, in .doc format, to someone in the class for peer review. Thankfully it was only a history paper and didn’t need much modification to get into OpenOffice. Still, it was an inconvenience and it was due to the assumption that “everybody uses Microsoft Word”. In another instance, I have seen companies that will only accept your resume in .doc format, which seems a little funny considering these are all technology companies I am applying to and I would hope they could accept a PDF file at least. Luckily I had known this in advance and have my resume typed up in OpenOffice.

At any rate the point of all this is that it seems I may be forced, at some point, to use either Microsoft Word directly or preferably something like OpenOffice. It is not as though I cannot use these tools, but that I think LaTeX is far superior to them. This is a disappointing realization, but hopefully I will still have chances over the years to use LaTeX so that my skills won’t grow dull. I realize that LaTeX looks intimidating to new users, but it is quite empowering once one gets the hang of things.

Well, that’s all I have to say for now ๐Ÿ™‚ .


Just Begin Curious? Or a Skeptic?

February 24, 2009

Well, it is no secret, especially to those who know me, that I often like to inquire as to why people think in certain ways. At times this results in further discussion or debate, and at times I simply find their response interesting and that is the end of it.

As it turns out not everyone finds this to be one of my more charming attributes. I can’t really say why I am always interested to engage in deeper conversation about a particular topic with people. In fact it seems that it only gets me in trouble with some people. I find myself wondering if I should maybe abandon hope of attaining a reasonable explanation out of people for how they view the world. Today one of my friends responded with “Fine Tim, dissect my statement, I’m just full of crap” after I asked him to explain why he thought the tootsie roll ad campaign was one of the most successful in history. I don’t know… but I was genuinely curious as to the grounds by which he was basing that statement. It seems that many people would have me just take that sort of statement for granted and immediately say something like “Yeah, you’re right” and indeed, if I did think that I would have gladly responded with something to that effect.

I am wondering if people think I am constantly looking for a way to debate with them, which would causeย  defensive statements such as the one mentioned above to come out instead of what I was actually looking for. I don’t try to be argumentative with people, but I can’t deny that a lot of my friends think I come across that way. I have tried in the past to “stop arguing”, but I always find that even things I consider light discussion turn out to be debate for some people.

Even after all this consideration I am left wondering what the best course of action is. Do I try my best to change and not attempt to ask people to explain the reason they feel certain ways, or do I pass it off as being an issue that only certain people have, and just avoid getting in to debate with them? After all I have met people more than willing to have a good debate with me about things. When is there good enough reason to debate with people and when should one let things drop? This is where I have trouble drawing the line. To me, sometimes a question I find to be very innocent is taken to mean that I am looking to start a lengthy discussion about some “trivial matter”.

On a more humorous note it is tough for me to have a discussion with people about my argumentative nature because as soon as I ask for more details about what they are saying I receive the response similar to “There you go again, this is exactly the problem”. Basically, if I try to defend myself that turns into the other person’s main argument against me.

Still, after this level of introspection I am left in a state of confusion about what the best course of action is to take. Certainly, I don’t want to be irritating my friends all the time. If that were the case I could hardly consider myself a good friend by any stretch of the imagination. On the other hand, what do I do if they have led themselves down a path of thinking which is just flat out illogical or otherwise incorrect? Do I let them continue living with that issue, or do I try and let them know that I think there is a problem?

Well, I still don’t have the full solution to my troubles, but it is nice to sit down and lay out my dilemas.


My Experiences with Mozilla Prism

February 11, 2009

I have been quite busy lately trying to keep up with my school work, but I decided that I had time for a quick post to the blog.

Recently I have been playing around with the Mozilla Labs project known as Prism.

Prism allows one to easily turn any website into what appears to be a standalone application. The advantage of which is that you can ditch things such as the menu bar and forward and back buttons which typically take up an unnecessary amount of screen space just so you can do something like… edit your WordPress blog.

So far I have only used this for WordPress and for access to my GMail account. It is nice to be able to just click on an icon and load up either WordPress or GMail in a nice and contained format. This is especially nice for GMail since I almost always have that open in a Firefox tab and now I don’t require all of Firefox just to check mail.

For now I had to install it by downloading the tar.bz file and just unpacking it. You don’t need to do any special installing because it can simply runย  as a normal user. For ease of use I just put the files in a .prism directory under my home directory and sys linked that to a directory which is include in my PATH variable.

Presently when you run prism you just enter the website and prism turns it into an easy to run desktop icon and then from that point on you use the icon.

Use This To Create a "New App"

Use This To Create a "New App"

After doing this one gets a nice desktop icon:

Now we can access GMail from here

GMail Icon

Once you click on the icon the application is run:

Notice the lack of navigation or address bar

Notice the lack of navigation or address bar

It should also be noted that there is a Firefox extension to do this same thing, but I couldn’t get that to work even after playing with it for a good deal of time.

If you would like to download and play with Prism for yourself you can check it out here: http://labs.mozilla.com/projects/prism/ . I should also mention that Prism is still in the testing phases so it might not be too surprising if there were some bugs.

I have many more things I’d like the write about especially my awesome experiences for KDE 4.2, but those will have to wait until my motivation and free time have increased ๐Ÿ™‚ .


Internet Culture — Good, Bad, or Indifferent?

December 13, 2008

Originally I was going to give a more formal write up about KDE 4.1, but this topic has been on my mind a lot so KDE 4.1 will have to wait for now.

Since I have had access to the Internet I have understood or taken part in all of the strange happenings of the Internet. I’m talking about things such as Rick Rolling, Leet speak (l33t speak), watching strange flash videos, watching strange YouTube videos, etc. I have also been parts of more specialized Internet cultures such as those people who watch anime, or those who love old video games (such as Chrono Trigger). It has definitely been a big part of my life, and I still keep up on some of the random happenings of the Internet through slashdot and other random places.

However, last night I had the unique opportunity of meeting a fellow who also was into these sorts of things. Now, the reason this was so strange is that my current set of friends [that I live around/with] do not follow many of the random events that happens on the Internet. Further, with some of them, should I even mention Internet references they just give me a look to the effect of “why are you so randomly weird?”. Consequently, I don’t bring up random Internet stuff too often. Though I admit it does come out on occasion (some might argue more than “on occasion” ๐Ÿ™‚ ). This leaves me in an interesting position. On the one hand they don’t really care about this stuff so me talking about serves little purpose. On the other hand it basically means that a whole portion of my life is not a point of conversation.

Anyway… back to the person I met. This fellow found out that I was into Albatross 18 and wanted to talk with me at length about it. However, we were at our Professor’s house for an end of the year Christmas party with lots of other people who had no idea what we would be talking about. I opted to play ignorant to all his Internet related references, which were frequent. It seemed as though he could only really relate well to people on this level. Now, I don’t particularly mind toning it down around those who could care less about the weirdos on the net, but this guy wouldn’t even sit down and play card games with us. It saddened me to see this for a couple of reasons.

The first is that I see very much of myself in him, and I totally know how it feels to have everyone ignore you and just think you are weird. All through high school I really could only talk with people who knew about video games, the Internet, and and anime. My friends in high school were all in to that, and to this day I still talk to them over the Internet about these things when I have the time. However, when I came to college there were really no people like that. At least people that I met. Apparently, I changed so much since college that one of my current friends could not believe I had ever been “like that” (that mentality about “Internet people” sort of irks me, but that is another story). In hind sight it would have been nicer if I had broken away from that more in high school as it has since given me a chance to meet people I would not have otherwise. Some of which are now really great friends ๐Ÿ™‚ .

Secondly, I think that fellow is going to have trouble making friends for himself. Whether he likes it or not there is this “taboo” sort of feeling I get from a lot of people if I cross over to talking about Internet culture. I’m not entirely sure why. To me pop culture is just as foreign and strange as Internet culture. Yet, folks seem to think the best thing since sliced bread.

Ultimately, I have to wonder how healthy it is for people such as myself to be part of Internet culture. It is great for talking to people online, but these sorts of ways of relating to people don’t hold much weight in the real world. On the other hand, for whatever the reason, I find internet culture much more exciting than pop culture and the things most people talk about. At the end of the day I am still uncertain whether I think Internet culure is good, harmful, or something inbetween.


KDE 4.1

December 11, 2008

I recently had the chance to play with KDE 4.1 and it has impressed me enough that I wish to install it on my Gentoo setup. I would be lying if I said I didn’t like all of the eye candy it has. However, it also feels more snappy than KDE 3.5 which I currently run. Also, I have a strange setup where I forward my entire desktop session over ssh and KDE 4.1 does much better with this than KDE 3.5.

I can’t wait to get it setup on my desktop machine and play around with it some more ๐Ÿ™‚ .


The Nice Thing About GUIs…

December 7, 2008

Is that you can open more terminals at once!

Remotely working on a computer

Remotely working on a computer

I often find it funny when I am using a GUI to do things with a terminal. There is just something strangely amusing about how much system reasources you are using to do it ๐Ÿ™‚ .


Theme Change

November 25, 2008

Yeah… I changed the theme. I actually liked the old one more, but it made Firefox lag like crazy when I tried to view my posts. I put up with it for a while, but I got sick of it. Luckily WordPress has a good deal of pre-made themes that look nice. I’m not sure how much I like this one. Perhaps it will grow on me… or perhaps I will change it again.

I heard it has something to do with what happens one someone takes a small sliver of a graphic and repeats it a bunch of tiles. Typically this happens when someone wants to make a gradient. I tried to load the page in Konqueror and it loaded great. I can only assume Konqueror caches a larger graphic or something along those lines… It’s a shame Firefox loads pages like that so poorly.


Euler Project

November 20, 2008

As pointed out by Wes it has indeed been some time since I posted anything on this blog. About once a week it occurs to me that I would really enjoy writing about this or that, but I just haven’t had the time lately. Part of the reason is how long it actually takes me to get a post up. It typically takes me around 30 to 40 minutes to write something mildly interesting, and then another 10 or 20 to proof read it. It is not as if I couldn’t find that sort of time, but typically I only have it at night, and when I am tried I find it very hard to concentrate on what I am writing ๐Ÿ™‚

In any case I want to write about Project Euler today. About a week ago my Professor introduced to to Project Euler. They have a list of computer science and math problems that they ask you to solve, and typically the problem involves you needing to have some sort of mathematical intuition as well as coding skill. One simply makes an account on their site and when you think you have a solution to the problem you submit your answer and the site tells you if you got the right answer or not. So far I have been working on the earlier problems in the list when time permits. For a lot of them I tend to hack together a solution in Python within 5 to 10 minutes. I have heard the later problems get harder, and I await the challenge. Project Euler meets the strange need to write random small computer programs that perform an operation which is “cool” to only a small group of people. I also like the mathematical challenges that some of the problems provide, and it gives me a good test of my problem solving skills, which I think are very important to any computer scientist. The other interesting part to these problems is that Project Euler guarantees that your program should find a solution in under one minute of run time. This adds an extra challenge because you can’t necessarily brute force the answer :).

While writing solutions to these problems I have noticed how much slower Python is than C in certain cases. I have read many different guides to optimizing Python code and applied optimizations everywhere I can, and still the C equivalent to my solutionsย  runs drastically faster. I am not suggesting that C is necessarily a better language or something. Certainly, one expects a compiled language to outperform a scripting language, but since I had never done any formal study before I found this quite interesting. I do enjoy the speed at which I can throw together the solutions in Python, and I’m glad I taught myself Python a year or two ago because I have used it many times since then.

Anyway, I have a lot more to write about, and have been keeping a list. Hopefully over Thanksgiving break I will be able to put in an entry or two. At the very least when this semester ends I will have plenty of time to write blog entries and plan to be more active during that time.