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Comment: Re:base it around my OS (Score 1) 385

by Macman408 (#46763977) Attached to: Slashdot Asks: How Do You Pay Your Taxes?

To be fair, it's linked from the IRS's website, so you shouldn't need to know the URL or have it advertised to you. But yeah, it's a pretty lame name.

It's apparently required by the IRS's agreement with the Free File Alliance for there to be an unbranded fillable form-type option for people whose income is above the 70% threshold that is set for other free file options.

It's also not the first industry-coalition-(somewhat-unwillingly)-supported website with a stupid name - how about annualcreditreport.com for another?

Comment: Re:base it around my OS (Score 1) 385

by Macman408 (#46758483) Attached to: Slashdot Asks: How Do You Pay Your Taxes?

I've been using freefilefillableforms.com for the past few years for federal, and it works fairly well. Nothing fancy like remembering data from previous years, though; the fanciest thing it does is compute some of the math for you.

My state does offer a couple different e-filing options, one of which is basically a pre-populated form that's ridiculously easy. Sadly, my taxes became about an order of magnitude more difficult this year, and so I didn't qualify for any of my state's online filing options, so I downloaded the PDF forms, filled them out, and mailed it in.

Comment: Re:Cue the IRS kicking my door down in 3...2...1.. (Score 1) 385

by Macman408 (#46758371) Attached to: Slashdot Asks: How Do You Pay Your Taxes?

Actually, the direct deposit will go through regardless of whether you screwed up or not - they'll just come knocking in about a year and a half if they find any mistakes, and ask for you to pay the difference, plus interest.

I had that happen twice - once when I legitimately made a simple mistake (they just told me how much to pay), and one other year; first, they questioned my earnings (my employer overpaid me, took back the difference, and then reported my original earnings on my W-2, and did not submit the corrected W-2 to the IRS); then they questioned one of my credits, for which I was allowed a special rate for living in a federally-declared disaster area. After I submitted proof for each item (and waited a month or two for a reply each time), they accepted my return as originally written.

So in general, it's usually not too painful a process even if you make a mistake. But I'm sure somebody will be happy to share their story below where it WAS a painful process... :-)

Comment: Re:But Terrizm! (Score 4, Informative) 233

by Macman408 (#46667739) Attached to: Most Expensive Aviation Search: $53 Million To Find Flight MH370

If it's an electrical fire (or if the pilots think it might be), they would turn off all the electrical systems; so ACARS, transponder, and radio are gone. Meanwhile, they're trying to extinguish the fire - it's still under control, they're just unable to communicate for fear that the electrical systems are causing the fire. And before they can either restore partial electrical systems or land, they become incapacitated by smoke.

Screaming for help is not a top priority. The priority is Aviate, Navigate, Communicate; first, you fly the plane, because that gives you time to do everything else. Then, you figure out where you're going; if you fail at this, you might end up somewhere unexpected, but at least you're alive. Finally, you communicate; if you're alive, it would probably be useful to tell somebody where you are and what's going on. Telling ATC that your plane is on fire and you're about to die of smoke inhalation is useless - FIRST you get the smoke and fire under control, at least long enough for you to navigate to an airport or piece of flat ground. Once that is manageable, THEN you communicate your distress. Even if they had communicated their distress early on, there's nothing that could have been done; there's no way for firefighters to board the plane and extinguish the fire while in midair, obviously.

If you listen to the "Miracle on the Hudson" ATC recording, the pilot is very brief and succinct; he communicates that he lost both engines and is returning, then that he is unable to return, then asks what the airport is on his right side, and then that he can't make it to that airport either and is heading for the Hudson River. There's lots of dead air when ATC asks him a question and he doesn't have time to respond.

I think the fire scenario is a pretty reasonable explanation, but it's by no means the only possibility.

Comment: Re:no groping please? (Score 1) 141

by Macman408 (#46374347) Attached to: Live Q&A With Ex-TSA Agent Jason Harrington

This is all good advice. To that, I would add this: Pay attention to what causes you to get slowed down as you're going through. I've carried a number of odd items that have caused the TSA to flag me for a bag check - cheese, a game that contains hundreds of playing cards, a bowling ball, etc. When I'm carrying one of these items, I remove it from my bag and place it separately in a bin; if the X-ray operator can see it on its own, they usually won't call a bag check. Even if they do ask for a bag check, it only applies to that item by itself, which might get re-run or swabbed for explosive residue or something - meanwhile, your other bags make it through and you can start putting your shoes on and packing up your liquids while $agent does a brief check of $item (without having to search your bag for it).

As an example, take some cheese. (I was visiting home in Wisconsin, and needed my fix of good, inexpensive cheese, dammit!) It looks a bit like a liquid or an explosive. I can leave it packed in my carry-on bag, and sometimes they'd ignore it, but more often than not they won't. They call a bag check, so I have to wait for an agent to come over, then they have to wait for me to grab the rest of my items to meet them at the table. They dig into my bag looking for what the X-ray operator found (although they won't normally tell you what). Once they find it, they'll look over it a bit to make sure it's safe, then send both the bag and the item back through the X-ray, and then send me on my way if both look OK the second time through. On the other hand, if I take 10 seconds to pull it out of my bag BEFORE the X-ray, (and especially if I mention to the operator or agent next to the operator that I'm putting cheese through) then they don't need to do any extra inspection, although they may glance at the item on its way in or out of the X-ray tunnel.

Of course, all this is neglecting the best way to make it through: don't bring anything with you. Go to the airport barefoot, with no coat, belt, watch, or anything else. Check all your bags - hopefully you're flying Southwest so you don't have to pay for checked bags. The less you have, the less they are able to inspect. (Obviously, it's probably pretty difficult to do it to this extreme - but if you check a bag with your coat and liquids and belt, and only carry a tablet onboard with you, it's more likely to go quickly.)

Comment: Re:well i'm reassured! (Score 2) 393

by Macman408 (#46135335) Attached to: Confessions Of an Ex-TSA Agent: Secrets Of the I.O. Room

There are *vast* stretches of highway that are just as the GP described them - completely and without any barriers other than the median. Apparently you have driven on a select few roads in this country. I've driven many very long distance trips, and about the only region I have yet to drive through is the PacNorthwest.

Yes, of course there are many locations without barriers. In my area, there is insufficient space to have a grass median, and so every highway has a barrier between directions. It's a calculated equation of cost of land versus cost of a barrier, along with accident rates and traffic density. Of course, these aren't always updated, since the interstate system was designed so long ago and receives only few updates due to funds that are typically limited. I'm sure many places would warrant barriers now that did not when originally designed.

Thanks, Captain Obvious. I think the GP already stated "while driving the posted speed limit or less". I've hydroplaned at speeds of 15 mph in extremely heavy flow on I-35 near Dallas. Do you think either I or the GP continued to drive at that speed?

The point is, neither of you should have been driving that speed in the first place.

For normal traffic, there's no need to travel at 80 mph. In fact, it reduces gas mileage usually to go significantly above 55 or so, because air resistance increases much more rapidly and you have to fight that at high speeds.

Cite your sources for this often repeated tripe. My own MPG continues to rise until it peaks when my speed exceeds 110 mph. Most any car that I've owned (and none of them were your big honking pointless SUVs or any other sort of passenger truck) continued to increase in performance up to at least 80 mph. Even in the case of a Toyota Prius, the efficiency won't peak until approximately 75 mph. This statistic that you quote is a relic of the 1970's oil embargo years and the types of cars typically driven at that time. I somehow doubt it even applies to diesel big rigs these days either.

I would suggest a high school physics class. Aerodynamic drag at high speeds is proportional to the square of your velocity; so going from 55 to 110 mph doesn't double your drag, it quadruples it.

Also, I drive a Prius. There is a direct correlation between low speed and high mpg. Somebody even made this handy dandy graph of mpg at a variety of constant speeds in his Prius. The faster you go, the worse your fuel economy, full stop.

It is true that the optimal speed for mpg varies by vehicle; a lot of things go into the calculation, but you typically want to be at the lowest efficient speed in your highest gear; the efficient speed may be higher if your engine is particularly inefficient at low speeds. A good example of this was Top Gear's "race" of a Prius versus a BMW, with the Prius at top speed (~110 mph) getting 17 mpg, compared to the BMW which was getting 19 mpg (because it is optimized to run at much higher speeds).

So it may be possible that your car does very well at high speeds, because they optimized it for high speeds (did you buy some type of sports car?). But most passenger vehicles are optimized for the speeds that people normally drive - or rather, they're optimized for the EPA test cycle, which in turn is meant to be representative of what people normally drive.

Comment: Re:Except for the fact that... (Score 1) 114

by Macman408 (#46122021) Attached to: Engineers Invent Acoustic Equivalent of One-Way Glass

Yeah, this. The real "acoustic equivalent of one-way glass" would be to play some loud noise near the people who shouldn't be able to hear you - they have to yell really loudly to hear each other, which everybody else (including you) can hear over the noise. But they can't distinguish sounds you make from the noise because the noise is much closer and louder than you.

Comment: Re:Questionable Numbers? (Score 1) 397

by Macman408 (#45988857) Attached to: Electrical Engineering Lost 35,000 Jobs Last Year In the US

Not likely. I don't know a single EE that has gone for flipping burgers when unemployed (especially when unemployment in your field is still below 5%), although I'm sure that a few do. There are certainly lots of possibilities here; retirement, moving to management or another field, moving to a different country, measurement inaccuracies, etc. The point is, they don't say. They use the "10.4% of jobs were lost" to prop up the 1.4% unemployment increase as significant, but it's really not clear that it is.

Comment: Re:Questionable Numbers? (Score 4, Informative) 397

by Macman408 (#45983431) Attached to: Electrical Engineering Lost 35,000 Jobs Last Year In the US

Yeah, there's more too: Last year, there were 335k employed EEs with 3.4% unemployment, so about 347k EEs total. This year, there are 300k employed EEs with 4.8% unemployment, so about 315k EEs total. So by their numbers, sure, jobs declined by 10%, but the people looking for said work declined by 9% as well.

It's also worth noting that in their linked article from the year before, job numbers were up 25k; so the net from 2011 is a loss of 10k. Also, this variability makes me wonder if their method of counting is subject to a lot of noise, and we should be looking more at long-term average trends rather than year-to-year variability.

Comment: Re:Shocking (Score 1) 409

by Macman408 (#45959475) Attached to: Lawsuit: Oracle Called $50K 'Good Money For an Indian'

Wages are NEVER on individual merit, unless your HR department is incompetent (given the generally-accepted definition of competency). The company's goal with setting wages is to pay each employee the minimum amount that will keep them happy. A star performer from the midwest or India (of any race) or anywhere else with a low cost of living probably has lower salary expectations than a mediocre performer from, say, California. The HR department is perfectly justified in coming up with a number to offer that they think will meet the individual's expectations - it's up to the individual to do their own research and decide if it is a fair wage or not. If it is fair to them, great. If it's not, then it's up to them to say "hey, I know other people in this position get paid $60k; I want that much too, plus I want relocation assistance and a bonus for uprooting myself and moving to a new country." This is called negotiation.

This is why almost nobody will publicly list all their employees' salaries; it's very demoralizing to find out that the schmuck next to you who stinks at his job did a better job at negotiating and is being paid 10% more than you are, despite your superior performance.

There are some exceptions to this rule; the idea is that the tradeoff of paying their employees more (to match both their expectations and their performance) might buy additional loyalty or satisfaction. I have no idea if this has been proven, but I doubt it. It probably just makes some ethically-minded executive feel better about the whole process. Meanwhile, the vast majority of executives know that ethics has no place in an efficient workplace.

(My university, which is a public state university, also published its employee salaries, as part of a state law requiring every agency to publish employee salaries for all state jobs. This was very helpful to the other universities so they could find the best and brightest, and offer a 10% raise to move.)

Comment: Re:4 sheets of A4? How much is it in a sane unit? (Score 1) 79

by Macman408 (#45711507) Attached to: Fully Autonomous Flapping-wing MAV Is As Light As 4 Sheets of A4 Paper

Pssssh, get rid of all those silly metric units like Dynes and A4 paper. A large number of us here are in the good ol' US of A and hereby demand that this be rewritten in terms of Imperial or US customary units - how about sheets of Letter paper?

Comment: Re:Regulations a bit premature (Score 1) 1146

by Macman408 (#45701543) Attached to: US Light Bulb Phase-Out's Next Step Begins Next Month

I'm with the sibling post - if it's really the electrical conditions socket, that could be the result of a dangerous wiring defect. On the other hand, it could be unrelated - like an enclosed light where not enough heat escapes to keep the electronics in the CFL from overheating. Or a crappy brand of CFL; I used some dirt-cheap Ikea CFL bulbs in a bathroom fixture in an apartment about 5 years ago, and about half of them burned out. None of the other CFLs I bought around the same time or earlier (even the ones that were used just as often, if not more) had any issues. The ones that didn't burn out became so dim when first turning on that I had to turn them on at least 15 seconds before they were really beneficial relative to the ambient light most of the time.

But yeah, I have some incandescents hanging around too, for sure - mostly in areas that hardly see any use (like a laundry closet), or where I figured I'd just let the current bulb burn out before replacing it with something else.

I'm keeping a bunch of the old incandescents around, though. Maybe I'll use them if/when I sell my house, or maybe they'll appreciate in value now that they're becoming extinct...

Comment: Re:Regulations a bit premature (Score 1) 1146

by Macman408 (#45698911) Attached to: US Light Bulb Phase-Out's Next Step Begins Next Month

After replacing most of the lightbulbs in my house with LEDs, I calculated the total lifetime cost of the downlights I replaced. Surprisingly, the cost of the bulbs is about even in my case for LED ($30), CFL (3 * $10), and incandescent (12.5 * $2.37), taking into account the shorter lifespan of the cheaper bulbs. So there's really no minimum amount of energy savings needed to make it worthwhile. Over the 23-year lifespan (25,000 hours on, 3 hours per day) of an LED bulb, it will cost $39 in energy, compared to $48.75 for a CFL or $211.25 for an incandescent.

LEDs are also now available in a variety of color temperatures and shapes - some traditional, some slightly less so. Many of the ones in my house are Daylight temperature - about 6500K - because my wife likes the bluer (and often, perceived "brighter") light. Similar bulbs are also available in warm and cool white (2700-4500K).

The only thing they don't do is become warmer when dimmed; many people might be used to incandescent dimming, where it gets yellower as you dim it - LEDs will remain the same color, and that might not have the same effect, although I like it a lot - that makes it a lot easier for me to keep my kitchen and dining room lights at half brightness (further saving electricity) without looking like the rooms are being lit by the same yellow sodium vapor lights out on the street. If only I could climb the light pole and replace those too!

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