16 February 2008


I admit it freely: I am addicted to iTunes and my iPod.  I used to buy an album and rush to play it on a discman or a shelf player; whatever was the quickest way of getting to listen to the music.  Now, the first thing I do is import the album into iTunes so I can play it on my iPod.  Sure, I could play it on my CD player and get to hear it quicker.  There's something about actually seeing the songs catalogued that help cement the idea of new ownership, though.  Plus, the iPod frees me up entirely; I can listen to a new album while doing the dishes.  No one else has to hear the music, and I don't have to hear anyone else.  Everyone wins!

One of the appeals of the iTunes store is the free Single of the Week.  Oftentimes, the Single of the Week is accompanied by a Discovery Download and a free Hispanic/Latin track, too.  Granted, they are pre-selected by iTunes and not all of them have been interesting.  The Hispanic/Latin tracks, though, generally tend to be fun (even if I have no idea what the lyrics are).  It's nice to diversify, if nothing else.

Beyond music, there are the podcasts.  Podcasts are great, because they're free.  Sure, many are too amateur-ish and can be grating.  Sifting through them can yield some gems, though.  Each month, I highly anticipate the new episode of HealthTalk: Crohn's Disease, from which I have learned much about my condition and the work being done to help those of us with it.  On a weekly basis, I find myself enjoying Sex Is Fun, which is partly a sex ed. series and partly talk radio with fairly entertaining speakers.  Between learning about the dangers of phalates and laughing frequently, it doesn't matter that most of what they're discussing hasn't and probably won't ever really be part of my life.  Lately, I have also discovered Wine for Newbies, each episode of which is designed to educate the listener on a different subject of wine.  The host may lack charisma, but the information seems good and I do feel I've learned things about a topic I find interesting.

I am not a big fan of watching movies or TV shows on the iPod; I figure I own an HDTV for a reason.  Still, I readily confess to enjoying a video podcast I found a couple of months ago, Vintage Tooncast, which presents public domain cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s.  Predominantly, the 'toons are WWII-era propaganda, though I was thrilled to discover that they not only included all seventeen of the Fleischer studio Superman cartoons, but at Christmastime, they included Christmas Comes But Once a Year, my brother's favorite Yuletide 'toon.  It was nice being able to play that for him at Christmas this past year.

Another video podcast I greatly enjoy is The Midwest Teen Sex Show.  No, it's not going to get anyone arrested.  It's a very comical sex ed. series targeted at a younger demographic that has questions, and few trustworthy sources of answers.  I already know everything they're teaching, but it's too funny to not watch.  Besides, as I already stated, it's free.  It's hard to pass up free entertainment.

As someone who was thrilled the first time I owned a walkman that would automatically switch sides on the cassette for me, I greatly appreciate every work of music in my library being on a player roughly the size of a cassette.  No more carrying a case with tapes or a wallet with CD's; no more skipping if I walk too roughly.  Before my time, I am told that radio stations used to be more varied in their playlists; George Jones would be played between Led Zeppelin and Frank Sinatra, for instance.  Now, when I select "Shuffle Songs," he is again.  It's not a feature unique to the iPod, but it does make going to the laundro-mat far more enjoyable.

Incidentally, the thing that lets you tell what you're reading, viewing or listening to is acting up right now.  For the record, I am listening to Men in Black: The Album.  "Here come the Men in Black..."  You know you like it, too.  Go on, admit it.

01 February 2008

The Joys of TurboTax

I debated whether this belonged in the News & Politics category, but then decided to relegate it to the generic Blogging category.  Anyhow, I know some people are touchy about product endorsements in blogs because it commercializes what is supposed to be a more personal forum.  Still, for the third consecutive year, I have elected to use TurboTax to file my taxes (the second year my wife has used it, as we elected to file together) and I have to say I love it.

Like most people, I am neither completely incapable of doing my own taxes nor am I completely confident in my ability to do them.  What I like about TurboTax is that it makes the filing process quick, and it gives me the reassurance that everything is done right.  Plus, it calculates my tax return each step of the way, so I don't have to guess what size return I'll be getting.

Paying for the software includes the federal filing fee, though state is usually extra.  You can elect to have the cost of all fees deducted from your return, but they charge an extra $29.95 to defer payment; I don't know about you, but I'd rather front the $40 some odd dollars and save.  You can also choose between having your return mailed in, which gets your return to you in five to six weeks, or you can pay an additional $17.95 to e-file and get it in about nine days.  I recommend spending the $18 to expedite the federal return, but waiting the extra time to get the state return, which is usually a lot less money.

Why am I praising TurboTax, here on the first of February?  Because last night, my wife and I completed e-filing and have already been notified that both our federal and state files were accepted and our returns will be issued forthwith.  Not only did we save on fees by not going to have a paid tax preparer go over our files, but we were able to do it at our convenience during A Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.  It's always nice when you can go from laughing at a CNN blooper depicting a guy dressed as SpongeBob SquarePants to typing in your W-2 data and back again in a matter of minutes.

I haven't used H & R Block's software, but I hear good things.  This will likely disappoint President Bush and Congress, but we have no intention of going shopping with our return, or our eventual rebate.  They will, however, be pleased to know that those funds will be applied directly to our credit debt, thus ensuring we will not be among the numerous Americans that have defaulted or declared bankruptcy or laughingly sent a hand-written "I.O.U." to the creditors.  It's not the sexy thing to do with the money, but it's the most responsible thing.