Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cold War... History?

Read a fascinating story about the United States' missile tracking systems that were developed in the 1960's, entitled BMEWS - 510 Full Days. I'm sure many have read this site already, but for me, it was a very interesting to see how the author believes that mutual assured destruction (MAD) was necessary to keep the United States, the USSR, and the rest of the world safe for over thirty years.

Few people are probably aware of the sale of US missile launch and guidance technology under the Clinton administration during the 1996 election cycle. Even fewer are aware that monies given to the Clintons were laundered through a Buddhist temple southeast of my church's location -- was that money given to ease the transfer of US satellite technologies into Chinese hands?

Guess what was actually occupying the minds of the American populace in the late 1990's? Monica Lewinsky.

Historians have a LOT of work to do - a lot of ground to cover - when looking at the politics of the previous decade. So, just how clean is Hillary Clinton's nose, I wonder?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Never start a business in January

As a small business owner, determining methods to avoid taxation is not an issue of principle; it is an issue of survival. The easiest example: suppose you score a six-month contracting gig, followed by a year of no work. If you begin the contract on the first of January, you report all $100,000 of your income in a single taxable year. As a result, your tax bracket is ridiculous. Now, suppose you began the work on the first of June, and are paid weekly. In one taxable year, you make $50,000, and in the next, $50,000. As a result, your income more accurately models reality.

That said, I read a Wikipedia article about Hollywood accounting, and found it unscrupulous.

Oh, if there were something that I could do to increase the overhead costs associated with the production of software!!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Going "Postal"

I hate waste. As an engineer, few things infuriate me more than what I perceive as waste (my perception of waste, however, is of course subjective, and is a different topic).

That stated, I hate going to the supermarket and buying stamps in indivisible monetary increments; e.g. I need to ship a $.69 letter. So what do I do? I put two $.39 stamps on it for a total cost of $.78, and pay over 13% more than what I actually need to pay to send my letter. This actually infuriates me every time I contemplate sending a heavyweight letter (I swear, I'm going to die of an ulcer). Now, compound that with the knowledge that I purchased my stamps at a Wells Fargo ATM at over an 8.5% mark-up; it seems to be a little-known fact that Wells Fargo does charge you extra for stamps at any of their convenient ATMs, but people assume that they're just getting as many stamps as they're paying for. According to a business article published in 2000, Wells Fargo is the leading seller of postage in the country (aside from the USPS itself). And, not surprisingly, it is very difficult to obtain figures on how much Wells Fargo actually marks up the cost of postage at the ATM. Talk about a betrayal of a "good-neighbor-supermarket" mentality.

So, a while back, I noticed that the USPS was now authorizing vendors to print custom stamps with two-dimensional bar codes. I have always thought that was a brilliantly dumb move for the USPS, since people could order postage conveniently and instantly at any needed value; however, it made me feel better knowing that I could make things more efficient -- if indeed I cared to.

Today I decided enough was enough, and, since it's been several years since their online postage went live, I thought that I would figure out how to send my letter using online postage. So, I did some Internet searches, and found that almost all signs, all banner ads, all former online postage companies, point to the evil

According to other websites, used to offer some different price plans that didn't include a monthly subscription to their wallet-sucking service. And truthfully, it would be convenient if I sent, say, $150 worth of correspondence through the mail every month. But I know of no consumer that sends 300 letters out in one month. So here begins my rant concluding is to be avoided.

The first thing you notice is that the website forces you to put in your mailing and credit card information in for your "free trial" of their service. There really isn't much other information available without having an "account." This tactic is really associated with slick, unscrupulous Internet businesses. At this point I would have immediately aborted, if I wasn't so fed up with the aforementioned postal wastage. Continuing: formerly appears to have been targeting mass-market consumers. But recently, they have restricted price plans so that they require a $15.99 monthly fee. This move seems to indicate that their pitch to mass-market failed, and now they are getting more desperate. I don't trust the service based on this intuition.

Furthermore, in order to even find this out, you have to insert your personal information into their registration form and click "submit." This scares me as a consumer -- this information should be freely available without having to provide personal information.

And the final (and most horrifying) concern is that the procedure for canceling your account is deeply buried and is not automated. It requires a phone call into a call center. The call center was efficient, however, at canceling the account, but I wonder just how much of my personal information they have retained...

All I really wanted to do was to print one stamp. One stamp. I would have gladly paid 5% more to do this online, because it saves me a good amount of money at that price point. Sadly, it seems that the USPS still has no convenient, viable alternative to standard, indivisible postage that is targeted at the casual consumer. For the USPS, this makes sense for the aforementioned reasons. However, the sleazy feeling I get from's website makes me quite uneasy.