Jan 28, 2011

Taxing Matters

Here are a few of the tax changes you might be affected by this year.

• Income taxes. Same as 2010, but the brackets are a bit higher Expires: end of 2012.

• 'Stealth' income taxes. Affluent taxpayers won't have deductions reduced. The old Pease limit cut 3% of itemized deductions and PEP cut the personal exemption, which is $3,700 for 2011. Expires: end of 2012.

• Investment taxes..For taxpayers in the 15% income tax bracket and below, the rate is zero. For those in the 25% bracket and above, the rate is 15% Expires: end of 2012.

• Estate and gift taxes. Top rate of 35% and one exemption of $5 million per individual for estate, gift and generation-skipping taxes. Expires: end of 2012. The annual exclusion for tax-free gifts remains $13,000 per donor. A giver may make an unlimited number of $13,000 gifts, as long as they are to different individuals. Gifts of tuition and payments for medical care also are exempt.

• Payroll taxes. A temporary two-percentage-point cut in the employee's share of Social Security taxes, saving a maximum of $2,136 per worker.No upper limit and each partner of a married couple can get the rebate. Expires: end of 2011. Will show up as an automatic adjustment to withholding. For the self-employed (whose tax rate falls to 10.4% from 12.4%), it will be built into a quarterly withholding worksheet the IRS hopes to release soon.

• Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). The AMT exemption limit is $47,450 for single filers and $74,450 for married couples Expires: end of 2011.

• Roth IRA conversion. The income limit for conversions has been permanently removed, so this year all taxpayers may still convert ordinary IRAs into Roth IRAs. But taxpayers who convert to Roth IRAs in 2011 no longer have the option of deferring conversion income into later years, as was true for 2010 conversions. Those who converted in 2010 do have until next Oct. 17 to decide whether to use this deferral.

• Foreign-account reporting. A new IRS reporting requirement on those with foreign financial assets above $50,000 in 2011. Details remain unclear, as the IRS hasn't yet issued regulations.

• Medical expenses. Workers with Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) may no longer use pretax funds to pay for many over-the-counter medicines—aside from insulin—without a prescription. But FSA funds may still be used for other, nonprescription medical items such as crutches, contact-lens solution or a wig after chemotherapy, if the individual plan allows it.

• Energy tax credits for homeowners. Extended the "25(C)" credit for energy-efficient improvements, but in a way that will be useful to few. The amount of the credit has shrunk to a maximum of $500 per taxpayer per lifetime, so those who took last year's $1,500 credit under this provision don't qualify. The current version expires at the end of 2011.

• Other changes. A deduction for state sales taxes in lieu of the state income tax deduction; and the tax-free donation of IRA proceeds to charity. They expire at the end of 2011. The American Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $2,500 for education expenses was renewed for 2011 and 2012.

Arkansas Tattoo Tax

Since 2005, anyone in Arkansas wanting to get a tattoo or a nose ring has to pay an additional 6 percent, as the state included tattooing and body piercing in its list of services subject to sales taxes.

Looking Back

Rrrewind provides a way to look back at social media's past, letting you browse the archives of the most popular items posted to sites like delicious, Reddit, YouTube, Hulu, and more.

Using Rrrewind is pretty simple. Upon visiting the site you'll be presented with the popular posts from yesterday, currently defaulting to delicious. You can switch between different sites via the left hand menu, or visit the archives by clicking the link in the upper right hand corner. Currently Rrrewind's archives date back to June 29th, 2009 for delicious, but it varies depending on the site. If you're looking for old, popular social media, Rrrewind is a great place to find it.

What's in a Name

Austin, Texas was originally named Waterloo until the capital of the Republic of Texas was moved there in 1839. That same year, Texas became the first nation in the world to enact a homestead exemption, under which a person's primary residence could not be seized by creditors. In 1845, the United States annexed Texas. As part of the deal, Texas dropped claims to parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Wyoming,

Jan 25, 2011

Nutrition Labels

Another benefit of the new Healthcare Reform (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) mandate is more labels for us to read. Get ready for those small print signs and menus in fast food places and restaurants to get smaller. The new government labeling for nutritional value is upon us. Restaurants are required to post mandated nutrition labels on menus if they have 20 locations or more. Rules vary by state. Home delivery packages are exempted from the label rules.

According to "Choices" magazine, 54 percent of consumers say they read nutrition labels and use the information to make purchasing decisions. That number is up 24 points since 1990, but there's been no observed decrease in obesity rates.

If it is true that two thirds of the people in this country are overweight, then it is logically also true that the remaining third are abnormal. Maybe this is really a reverse psychology to bring them up to normal.

Letting consumers know exactly how many calories are in their food is likely to do little to change their eating habits. Study results show that adding nutritional information to menus does not change consumer behavior. Average sales and average calories per sale did not change. One study suggests that some restaurants may reduce their portion size to keep the calories down. Hmmm, do I really want that juicy steak that I came here for, or should I just have a celery stick? Maybe I should stick to places with less than 20 locations.

Speaking of Nutrition

Bottled water companies are notoriously loathe to provide any information on their labels, other than saying the bottle contains water. This site LINK shows what follow-up calls from the 'Environmental Working Group' to various makers of bottled water phone numbers as listed on the labels. I will sum it up for those who don't have time to read the details. No Information, Nothing, Zip, Nada, Zero, Bupkus - Seems like a whole bunch of deception to me.

Mass Murder

Decided to look this up after the Arizona incident a few weeks ago. Mass murders are usually described as four or more murders in a particular location during a relative short period of time. There were three mass murders in 2010. Eight people were killed in Appomattox, Virginia on January 20, 2010. Nine people, including the killer were killed on August 20, 2010 in Manchester, Connecticut. Four people were killed in Buffalo, New York on August 16, 2010. (Fort Hood murders took place in 2009)

The person credited with killing the most was Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao). From 32 to 45 million people were worked, starved, or beaten to death in China during four years from 1958 - 1962. For comparison, the worldwide death toll of the Second World War was 55 million, and Hitler's total was between 11 and 17 million, While Stalin's number ranged between 20 and 60 million, but has not been completely documented.

High Tech Glasses

Virginia-based PixelOptics takes that notion quite literally. It produces emPower or what it says are the world's first "electronic corrective eyeglasses" capable of replacing conventional progressive lenses and bifocals.

Hidden in the frames of the otherwise normal-looking glasses, are a microchip, micro-accelerometer and miniature batteries. Each lens has a transparent LCD layer that can electronically change its molecular structure, changing the focus only as needed. If you tilt your head down say to read a book or peek at an object up close, the accelerometer automatically detects the motion, sending a signal to the LCD that alters how light is refracted, change the prescription quietly and in, well, a blink of the eye. You can also put the glasses in manual mode.

I briefly donned the glasses to sample the effect, which worked, but of course I was not wearing a pair that matched my actual prescription.

So why would you choose these glasses compared to conventional progressive lenses? One answer: With ordinary progressives, you might be lying on a couch or bed and tilting your head up to watch TV, which would otherwise be a challenge if you're peering out of that portion of the lens that isn't meant for distance viewing. With emPower, you'd only summon a lens optimized for reading or closeups when you needed to.

PixelOptics has been teaming up with Panasonic Healthcare in Japan for about three years. A pair of glasses based on its technology will be available in the southeastern U.S. in March, the company says, for about $1,200 at retail or about a 30% premium compared with regular glasses. The price includes the cradle that charges the glasses up.

Jan 21, 2011

Happy Friday

Man is in possession of his own life when he can control his thoughts, rule his passions, and govern his habits.

I can hardly control my thoughts about my passion for the habit of making a Happy Friday!

Modern Medicine

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when nearly 1,700 patients were discharged for heart failure and had intensive telemonitoring (daily call-in to deliver weight and symptoms info), there was no benefit in mortality or hospital-readmission rates. Seems the government and  insurance companies love new bureaucratic rules because it makes them feel good.

What's in a Name

Many of us have employer benefits that include some healthcare coverage. Since the healthcare bill, companies have looked at their coverage and have been making changes. Two words you will be seeing more and more are Defined Contribution and Defined Benefit.

A "defined contribution"  is a payment toward your coverage. We will give you $1000 a month to go buy insurance. A "defined benefit," guarantees specific coverage regardless of cost. We will give you this kind of insurance, it has co-pays, deductibles, and covers these illnesses, etc.

Are you Happy

I Feel Better Now

There will be no more narcissists or paranoids by 2013. The upcoming fifth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which has not been updated in 10 years, will exclude "narcissistic and paranoid personality disorder" from its list of designated psychiatric diagnoses. I knew they would eventually find out how great I am and stop coming after me.

This Book is Awesome

This is the first time I have mentioned a book, but there is something in this book for everyone. 'The Book of Awesome' has a thousand awesome everyday things, like  #335 Catching someone you love admiring you from across the room. It adds detailed explanations to each item. 

If you can't find something fuzzy here, you are hard as a rock. Read some of the entries here. LINK

What Did You Say

There are 292 spoken languages in China. I thought the US had many at 175. That's not even counting local dialects, Y'all.

Work Out

Prostate cancer patients who routinely engage in modest amounts of vigorous physical exercise appear to lower their risk of dying from their disease, according to new research published in the Jan. 4 online issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Three hours a week or more of vigorous biking, tennis, jogging or swimming seems to improve the prognosis among such patients, the research team found, but they added that even moderate physical activity appears to lower the overall risk of dying from any cause.

"We observed benefits at very attainable levels of activity, and our results suggest that men with prostate cancer should do some physical activity for their overall health, even if it is a small amount, such as 15 minutes of activity per day of walking, jogging or biking. Vigorous activity may be especially beneficial for prostate cancer, as well as overall health, at levels of three or more hours per week."

Jan 18, 2011

Power Balance Wristbands

You have seen the advertisements on TV. One of those companies was caught and the result is: "In our advertising we stated that Power Balance wristbands improved your strength, balance and flexibility. We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.If you feel you have been misled by our promotions, we wish to unreservedly apologize and offer a full refund." Nuff said.

Old Spice Takes on Bacon

Completely useless, and very funny. The old spice man speaks of heart attacks, zeppelins, and bacon. LINK


I like the old name better than the new 'breathalyzer'. Police in Indianapolis first used the drunkometer in 1938 on New Year's Eve.

The drunkometer, which had you breathe into a balloon, was invented by Dr. Rolla N. Harger, an Indiana University biochemist, in 1931. He patented his device in 1936 and helped draft the act that made it the legal method for helping establish blood-alcohol level. It was the first tool to successfully measure alcohol levels using breath analysis. The subject blew into a balloon and the captured air was then mixed with a chemical solution, which changed color if alcohol was present. The darker the solution became, the more alcohol contained in the breath. The level of alcohol in the person’s bloodstream was estimated using a mathematical formula, which Harger also developed. 

Attempts to measure alcohol levels by measuring breath content date back to the late 1700s, but prior to the drunkometer, the only effective method was through the direct testing of blood or urine samples.

In 1954, the breathalyzer, which replaced Harger’s drunkometer, was invented by Dr. Robert Borkenstein, a laboratory technician with the Indiana State Police. Probably not a good idea to drink and drive in Indiana.


Had to throw in this one because it is just silly. LINK  It is a beta site that people write in and share what they would do for five dollars. I would delete the site for nothing if I had the power.

Jan 14, 2011

Shoe Sizes

Did you ever wonder why some shoes of the same size fit different? A size 10, can be 8, 9, 27, or 42, depending on where you live in the world.

Shoe sizes were devised in England by King Edward II in 1364, who declared that the diameter of one barleycorn, approximately one third of an inch, would represent one shoe size. The measurement is still used today in the UK and US, but some other ways of measuring shoes are used in different parts of the world.

The Paris point equals to ⅔ centimeters (6.6 mm or about 0.26 in). Usually, only full sizes are made, resulting in an increment of ⅔ centimeter. This unit is commonly used in Continental Europe.

Metric measurements in centimeters (cm) or millimeters (mm) are used. The increment is usually between the step size of the Parisian and the English system. It is used with the international Mondopoint system and with the Asian system.

The A-E width indicators used by some US and UK shoe manufacturers and range from narrow to wide - 4A to 6E. Interestingly, the male shoe size in Australia is based on the female shoe size in the US.

Richard Simmons

He was born Milton Teagle Simmons on July 12, 1948. Yes, he is still around and sweatin' to the oldies.

Top Three Markups

According to Reader's Digest, here are the largest markups for the things we buy.

Bottled water: 4,000 percent markup - Come on, it's just water

Text messages: 6,000 percent markup.  A typical text message costs you 20 cents and the phone company 0.3 cents to transmit.

Movie theater popcorn: 1,275 percent markup - Lots of greasy phony butter and salt makes up for it

Cost of Money

As of 2009, it costs the government 1.62 cents to produce a copper plated zinc penny (up from .008 cents in 2001), 6.03 cents to produce a nickel, 5.65 cents to produce a dime, 11.31 cents to produce a quarter, 30.4 cents to make the 'gold' (manganese/brass)dollar, and 6.4 cents to make a dollar bill.

In 2008 a bill was introduced known as the Coin Modernization and Taxpayer Savings Act of 2008. This bill had proposed changing the composition of the cent to steel, although it would be treated to impart a copper color. The bill would have also provided the Secretary of the Treasury with authority to change the metallic content of the five cent coin. This bill was passed in the House, but never voted on in the Senate.

The 2011 Budget revives the issue and expands the scope to include the dime, quarter, and half dollar, in addition to the penny and nickel. The Department of the Treasury will have authorization to approve alternative weights and compositions for any of these five denominations. It hasn't passed yet, but a penny saved. . .

Three Interesting Coin Facts

A blind child read Braille on an American coin for the first time, and it was the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar.

The United States Mint produced fewer coins in 2009 due to so many coins being cashed in from savings because of the bad economy. It was the lowest production in 45 years.

The mint made up for other losses by selling 1.7 billion dollars worth of gold bullion, eighty percent higher than 2008.

Jan 13, 2011

What's in a Name

Twitter - A small group of employees from Odeo, the San Francisco podcasting startup where Twitter initially began, had a brainstorming session. They were trying to come up with names that fit with the theme of a mobile phone buzzing in your pocket with an update. After narrowing down the options (which included Jitter and Twitter), they wrote them down, put them in a hat, and let fate decide. Fate decided on Twitter as the name was literally picked out of a hat.

Yahoo - Founders David Filo and Jerry Yang started what would become Yahoo when they were Ph.D. candidates at Stanford University. The project originally consisted of categorized lists of favorite links on the web, which made its original name, “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web,” at least accurate if not so catchy. Yahoo is actually an acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.” According to the company, the team chose the name for its definition: “rude, unsophisticated, uncouth.”

Toilet Talk

Had to share this strange, but useful web site 'where do i put the paper' for travelers. LINK  It provides a guide to toilet and use of toilet paper habits around the world. Don't expect pictures or fancy text, just a black and white text of what to expect. You will be surprised at how many cities do not have facilities for flushing and how many do not provide paper. For instance, in Greece you should use the bin next to the toilet, because the plumbing system can't handle the paper. OK, if you are not planning to take a trip, skip it. If you are planning a trip, it could provide some good advice to save a bit of embarrassment.

Off Road Vehicles

For those of you who like unusual off-road vehicles, this site is very fascinating. 

You can waste a few hours looking at these strange and unusual vehicles and robots. LINK

Top Ten Congressional Districts

Have you ever seen a map of Congressional Districts? As we approach this year and the resulting restructuring of Congressional Districts due to the new census results, you might enjoy some that have already been jiggered in interesting ways. Check the Illinois, Congressional District #4. It looks like two distinct districts, but is really one connected by a median along the highway. Leave it to those folks in Illinois. I wonder if it was done when Rod Blago was still in office? LINK


Those of you who read my missives know how much I like Google, but I have found something that might provide some more relevant and limited results. It is called Blekko and the way it works is with use of slash tags. Those are those words preceded by a slash / to narrow your results. Many of us never get past the first few pages of results, so the limited pages is not an issue, and it does a fairly good job of filtering out spam pages. Super for searching business information.

If you want to search for pneumonia, and follow it with /health, you wind up with only 200 or so sites, but they are relevant sites. Each result also has a 'spam' button, so you can click the button to forever ban that site from your results. There is a few minute demo on the upper left side of the screen. It is in beta, but working now. Not completely ready for prime time, but getting close. Very cool stuff. LINK

Jan 7, 2011

Happy Friday

Buddha said - Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

I do not dwell in the past or dream of the future, I am concentrating on having a Happy Friday!

Paying For It

Here is an interesting site as we jump into the new year. It is called daystopay. The site provides a calculator that helps you find out how many days you have to work to pay for things you want to buy. For instance, if you want to buy a new television and it takes 100 days to pay for it, is it still worth the price. Fun site, easy to use, and provides for some fun budget discussions. LINK  

iPhone Applications

Be careful with that new technology in your hand. An examination of 101 popular smartphone apps (games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones) showed that 56 transmitted the phone's unique device ID to other companies without users' awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone's location. Five sent age, gender, and other personal details to outsiders.

The findings reveal the efforts by online-tracking companies to gather personal data about people in order to build databases of information about them. Many companies don't have privacy policies and there isn't much you can do about it.

iPhone apps transmitted more data than the apps on phones using Google's Android operating system. Apps sharing the most information included TextPlus 4, for text messaging. It sent the phone's unique ID number to eight ad companies and the phone's zip code, along with the user's age and gender, to two of them.

Both the Android and iPhone versions of Pandora, a music app, sent age, gender, location, and phone identifiers to various ad networks. iPhone and Android versions of the game Paper Toss each sent the phone's ID number to at least five ad companies.

Millennial Media lists 11 types of information about people that developers may transmit to "help Millennial provide more relevant ads." They include age, gender, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and political views. MySpace also sent a user's income, ethnicity and parental status. Bottom line, the more you play, the more you pay is even more true in the information age.

Teeth Brush

How about this to brush all your teeth at once. Should save minutes per year.

Brain Stuff

The Ten Habits of Highly Effec­tive Brains

   1. Learn the “It” in “Use It or Lose It”. A basic under­stand­ing will serve you well to appre­ci­ate your brain’s beauty.
   2. Take care of your nutri­tion. Did you know that the brain only weighs 2% of body mass but con­sumes over 20% of the oxy­gen and nutri­ents we intake?
   3. Remem­ber that the brain is part of the body. Things that exer­cise your body can also help sharpen your brain: phys­i­cal exer­cise enhances neurogenesis.
   4. Prac­tice pos­i­tive, future-oriented thoughts until they become your default mind­set and you look for­ward to every new day in a con­struc­tive way.
   5. Thrive on Learn­ing and Men­tal Chal­lenges. Chal­lenge your brain often with fun­da­men­tally new activities.
   6. We are the only self-directed organ­isms in this planet. Aim high. The brain keeps devel­op­ing, no mat­ter your age, and it reflects what you do with it.
   7. Explore, travel. Adapt­ing to new loca­tions forces you to pay more atten­tion to your envi­ron­ment.
   8. Don’t Out­source Your Brain. Make your own deci­sions, and mis­takes. And learn from them. That way, you are train­ing your brain.
   9. Develop and main­tain stim­u­lat­ing friend­ships. We are “social ani­mals”, and need social inter­ac­tion.
  10. Laugh Often. Espe­cially to cog­ni­tively com­plex humor, full of twists and sur­prises.

Did You Know

Van Gogh sold only one painting during his life.
Romeo had more lines than Juliet.
Wilt Chamberlin was never fouled out of a game.
Q is the only letter that does not appear in any US state name.
Starting this month, more than 10,000 baby boomers a day will turn 65, a pattern that will continue for about the next 19 years.

Niagra Falls Without Water

TRUE - Here is a LINK  and another LINK to the rest of the story from 1969 and more pictures.

Record Firsts

Everyone likes to show the top ten lists from the past year, but for something different, here are top ten sports firsts from days gone by.
• The first to swim 100 meters in under a minute: Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan), July 9, 1922
• The first sprinter to break 10 seconds in the 100m: Jim Hines, 9.9 seconds, at the 1968 AAU Championships
• The first high school student to break the four-minute mile: Jim Ryun, 3:58.3, in 1965, for Wichita East High School
• The first NBA player to reach 20,000 career points: Bob Pettit, 1964
• The first baseball player to reach 3,000 career hits: Cap Anson, 1897
• The first golfer to reach $1 million in career earnings: Jack Nicklaus, 1970, after taking second place in the Bing Crosby Pro-Am
• The first woman golfer to reach $1 million in career earnings: Kathy Whitworth, 1981, after taking third place in the U.S. Women's Open
• The first million-dollar gate for a fight: 1921, Georges Carpentier vs. Jack Dempsey
• The first Indianapolis 500 winner to average more than 100 miles per hour: Peter DePaolo, 101.27 mph in 1925, in a Duesenberg Special
• The first winning Super Bowl coach to wear headphones on the sidelines: Bill Walsh, San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XVI, 1982


Researchers at the University of Nottingham created a special birthday present for Martyn Poliakoff, a professor of chemistry. It’s a periodic table of the elements inscribed on the surface of one of his own hairs.

Professor Poliakoff said, “Although the application was lighthearted I felt that it enabled us to show people how such nano writing is done. Our microscopist, Dr. Mike Fay, made the whole operation seem so simple and really demystified it in a most appealing way.” Too bad they didn't wait to do it with the atomic weights just added to the periodic table for the first time in over a hundred years.

Ginseng Benefits

Although this Asian herb is taken mainly to boost energy, stamina, and overall health, researchers have begun to examine its efficacy in fighting the common cold. A study conducted by Canadian researchers found that taking ginseng every day reduced the severity and duration of cold symptoms, and appeared to prevent colds as well. Caveat Emptor

The Taxman Cometh

States have been feeling the pinch from unemployment causing them medicaid outlay increases and tax income decreases, and the budgets are being squeezed. Rather than rein in spending as we are forced to do, states are looking for ways to increase current or make new taxes.

Cell Phone charges
are up up 2% in 2010 over 2009. The tax hikes, which could amount to as much as 75% in some localities next year. On average, 15% of a monthly cell phone service bill is already made up of taxes and fees, compared to 7% for most other goods and services

E-book charges could start to be taxed not just by the state you live in, but also by the state where the server that you're downloading from is located. A buyer living in New Jersey who purchases a $10 e-book housed on a server in Texas might pay $1.52 in taxes (7% sales tax in N.J.; 8.25% in Texas). Taxes could add up to 21% of the total price, assuming multiple states apply taxes to the same transaction.

Cable Bills have already seen increases, such as Denton, Texas, where the city council voted to increase the public-access television fee (which pays for public, education and government channels) from 50 cents each month to 1% of the subscriber's bill. At an average cable bill of $75 per month, it goes to 75 cents from 50 cents.