Taxtron – wasting my time on taxes

I have just spent a very frustrating day trying to complete my tax forms, with success only after much gnashing of teeth.

Here in Canada we have until the end of April to complete our tax returns, unlike our american cousins, who must file by the 15th. If you don’t owe any tax, in principle you don’t have to file at all, though in practice the Canada Revenue Agency, the CRA will ask for a return sooner or later. I’m in that position, so I’m not too concerned about not being able to file, but even so it’s been very aggravating.

In the past I’ve been using QuickTax from Intuit on a Mac, but this year in their corporate wisdom Intuit decided not to sell a standalone version for the Mac, and directed us instead to their web-based tax product. That doesn’t fly for me, so my choices were to try another Mac product, Taxtron for Macintosh, or pick up a copy of a PC based product and either use Virtual PC on a Mac or look for a PC box. While I have access to several PC boxes, I try to avoid them outside of working hours as I find the ergonomics of the OS depressing. So Taxtron got the nod.

I expected by this time that the software would have the bugs worked out. The first sign of trouble was when I installed the software following a fresh download. The version number wasn’t the most recent, so I had to upgrade immediately. I’ll accept that when I buy a CDROM copy of software, but when a downloadable version isn’t the most recent I view that as a sign that support is less than it should be.

I went through the exercise of entering the family tax documents, and was pleased to see that, as expected, everyone’s getting a refund. Except my younger daughter had no income – I’m claiming her tuition, so she has to file – but is getting a refund anyway. Another bad sign, I thought, but I moved on to the print stage.

Oops! Yet another problem – my older daughter didn’t declare the province in which she was self-employed. Except she isn’t self-employed. According to Taxtron, she earned 3.36 in self-employed earnings. Digging through the records, that turned out to be ‘Net Foreign Business Income’ from an income trust – T3 income, by the CRA’s forms. Well, perhaps there’s some obscure rule which makes this self-employed earnings–but I don’t think so.

Set the province and continue trying to print. The software asks where to save the .pdf file it’s about to generate, which seems promising, and a popup window appears, telling me various pages have been printed to the file. Except the file doesn’t exist afterwards. I tried various tricks, including reloading all the Adobe PDF libraries,but eventually I had to admit defeat. This is now 4.30 on the afternoon of the last weekday before the deadline. I call Taxtron tech support, and listen to boring music for a while, and eventually I get asked to leave a number where I can be reached, all done automatically. Two hours later I’m still waiting, and I figure tech support has gone home.

I’m wrong: eventually they do call back, and I’m given a workaround. It seems the Adobe libraries are at fault, and if I move the software to my desktop I will collapse a lengthy file name and the functionality will be restored. I try it, and it works. Great, now I can finish printing, and, if the self-employment income deriving from the T3 form isn’t a show-stopper, I can mail off the return (did I mention I’m not eligible for e-filing?) and wait a few weeks for the folks at CRA to tell me how I did.

So, eventually everything got done, but I’m left with a sour taste in my mouth, and I’m not likely to pick up Taxtron next year unless something major comes along to change my mind. Why was the download version an older version, so I had to upgrade right away? Why was a known problem with the PDF libraries not mentioned in the FAQ? What inell is going on with the net foreign business income from the T3? Why is the software still based in Mac OS 9.2? Why is the interface such a pig? Where is the on-line help (there is some, but it’s meagre and mediocre)? Many questions, no answers — but answers at this point would be irrelevant to me — I’m just too frustrated and angry about this experience to care about them.

Water, water , everywhere….

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Well, perhaps not so bad, but still too much rain to be able to observe on any night this weekend. Friday might have been OK, but coming off a work-week I frequently crash at my desk, and this weekend was no exception. I could have sworn I sat down for a minute or two, but when I looked up it was already well into the evening. I persevered for a while, but gave up the fight around 10 pm – I was just too exhausted from the after-effects of the cold and malaise earlier in the week.

Waiting for clearer skies…

The cold from Hell continues, though it seems to be winding down through a nasty cough phase, where my lungs are congested and I cough a good deal (but it’s not, er, productive). As it winds down I can begin to contemplate observing again. Unfortunately it appears from the local ClearSky clock that the next time we’ll have viable skies will be around 3 or 4 am tomorrow morning. I’ll have to consider that carefully – it’s still a working day after the observing’s all done, and I have a strange desire to be awake while I’m at work. Working with this cold has been difficult enough!

A cold from Hell

I’m stuck inside, though the weather is fairly good – a bit hazy with upper deck clouds, but otherwise clear. The problem is the cold I had on Wednesday escalated over Thursday and Friday, and I’m not going to risk a further chill. In any case, I can’t breathe through my nose, my sinuses are chock full, and in general I’m pretty miserable. My blood sugar isn’t cooperating either – 12.3 mmol/l, about double what it should be. And so to bed.

A good night, visually

I opened up the observatory early tonight. I wasn’t feeling well, but I figured I’d grab an hour if at all possible. I was working entirely visually, and I wasn’t expecting much since there had been a set of high cirrus clouds moving in shortly before sunset. The Moon was tack sharp though, so I thought I’d take a peek at Jupiter and Saturn. For Saturn Cassini’s Division was very clear, as was the banding on Saturn itself. From time to time I got a glimpse of the crepe ring, using powers up to about 270x. Tethys, Enceladus, Rhea, Titan and Dione were nicely placed in the view, though I have to confess I needed to check Starry Night to identify them. Jupiter was also quite fine, with the Galilean satellites strung out quite prettily around the planet. The Great Red Spot wasn’t visible at the time, but banding was readily visible. As the evening wore on the seeing deteriorated, and by the time I quit it was no longer possible to make out Cassini’s Division for any length of time, though there continued to be intermittent glimpses.

I managed to destroy the sky model in the Gemini, so I will have to work on this at some point. In any case the model needed to be rebuilt because I have shift the mount slight to try to position the polar axis more precisely. as it turns out the pier has moved again, and is now leaning in the opposite direction than before. I’m hoping this is due to continued settling of the ground and not a fundamental problem with the concrete core under the observatory.

My cold/flu/whatever seems worse now than before, but it was one of the better evenings I’ve had for a while.

Tired and Depressed….

After the white slop melted away we were blessed with clear skies as a high pressure system stalled overhead. I’ve only done a little puttering around the observatory, however, since work-related problems have been chewing up a lot of time, leaving me exhausted by the end of the day. I’d take some vacation time to decompress but I haven’t had time to train backups – and in any case my co-workers are similarly walking wounded – broken bones, persistent flu-like symptoms, and so on. Oof!

OMG! That white slop is back!

A late and major winter storm is blowing through (literally) and is expected to dump 10 to 15 cm of snow, followed by 5 mm of rain. More problematic are the winds, which are strong and gusty. The observatory is closed up, but I had removed the winterization mods I installed over the last couple of months, so I expect to see water inside the building when I go out. I’m just hoping the electronics stay dry and the roof stays on.

Three power outages since midnight, none of more than a few minutes duration. The UPS’s have proven their worth!

All in all, a very unpleasant day, with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark and the weather drifting from snow to rain and back again throughout the day. South of the border in upper New York state the news is full of further storm warnings and reports on which schools will be closed due to either (or both) snow or flooding. I went out a couple of times, but each time returned colder and the worse for wear. Forecasts are for slightly warmer weather tomorrow, and warmer still thereafter, so I hope and expect that the last of this new snow will be gone by Monday evening.

There’s also a prospect of clear sky for tomorrow evening. I can hope that the weather does clear – at the very least I’m anxious to check out the condition of the observatory after today’s blow.