fighting the lack of good ideas

reference materials

I learned recently that my wonderful wife was never taught how to use a dictionary, thesaurus, almanac, or encyclopedia as a child in school.

Not all of that can be because she went to public school whereas I was homeschooled. Nor can it merely be that she grew up in KY and I in NY.

I’ve seen myriad others younger than her that can’t use those resources, either ūüôĀ

Most people have the basics of how to search online down – but barely the basics*. In many ways, I think online tools are killing our ability to think critically in some areas – learning to ask questions well is one of those areas..

Why are these tools still important in a digital age? Well, what do you do when you need to find something and you don’t have your iPhone, Android, tablet, laptop, etc handy? Do you wait until you have internet access again?

What about when you are looking for something at a library or book store – do you exclusively rely on the staff’s knowledge to help you find what you want, or can you start to locate it yourself?

Part of the problem is that schools, because of the misguided legislation that is NCLB, all teach to the test. Tests can be wonderful tools – but they have no bearing at all on the “real world“. Your ability to score a perfect ACT, ASVAB, GRE,¬†SAT, etc means precisely bupkis.

Being able to find what you need when you need it once you’re out of school, however, will be your daily lifeline to keep from drowning at work and in life.

I remember many times having to learn how to use new reference materials – and how to use ones I already had been introduced to in better, more efficient ways (I still look for better ways to find what I need with tools I have). I remember an entire class day devoted to learning what an almanac is (the Information Please, to be specific), and then doing “information scavenger hunts” through it (for prizes, mind you – yes, my team won first place).

I remember learning how to use the Funk & Wagnalls and Britannica Encyclopædias (my aunt owned the Britannica, my parents the F&W). I remember learning how to use World Book at the library.

I also remember my first semester at HVCC¬†in 1999 where we went to the school library to learn how to search for materials online for our English class – and no one knowing what search engines were … nor even how to use the catalog the school had!

I think that was my first worry about the state of education and how ill-prepared most people are out of high school to be ready to function in further schooling. And I have only seen it get worse.

There is a fundmental breakdown in the education system in the United States. Is a solution redecentralizing? Homeschooling? Montessori? Private/parochial schools? Eliminating teacher unions^? Performance pay for teachers?

I think all of those will play important roles in improving the future of the country.

Something needs to be done – because the state of education today is very bad.

For the record: my wife does know how to reference materials at least at a cursory level – but those skills weren’t learned until she had to have them in college.

* search is broken, but that’s another problem
^ specifically, abuse of power, lobbying, etc

more fixes for patents

An addition to my previous post on patents is due.

If you are a non-producing entity, ie you have a patent “just to have it” (you’re a company, not a person, and you only have patents to use as legal ammunition), you relinquish rights to sue over infringement.

If you are not producing anything the patent covers, just like with a trademark, you lose it. Holding a patent to use as legal weaponry is at the least unethical, and likely worse – add-in the fact that the legal system currently makes it [relatively] simple for trolls to operate … and you have a totally messed-up system.

Wired has a great article on patent trolls in issue 20.12 (see also this article on patent drawings).

tax day

Tax Day in the US is “late” this year because the 15th of April was a Sunday.

I was able to prepare and file my taxes early-ish (January) thanks to a proactive employer who got our W2s out quickly.

Every month I look at my pay stub, and am appalled at how much the various governmental agencies claim is “theirs” of MY¬†worked-for pay:

  • 11.3% – Federal
  • 4.7% ¬†– State
  • 3.8% – Social Security
  • 2.3% – Lexington-Fayette
  • 1.3% – Medicare
  • .5% – Fayette County
  • 23.9% total taxes claimed

And it’s only that “low” because I participate in (completely legal) programs to reduce my taxable income (401(k), FSA, etc which reduce my taxable income by about 12%).

We have not yet added-in the state and local sales taxes that are claimed, nor the federal, state, and local fuel taxes (over and above sales taxes in most states). Currently I am not a home owner, but when that eventually changes, I’ll be paying property taxes – a fee to the city/county for the¬†privilege¬†of living there!

Of my take-home pay, if I spend $2000 per month on “stuff” (groceries, eating out, gas, shopping, whatever), about 7% of that is going to the tax coffers of the county and state (and maybe city, depending on where you live). 7% of $2000 is $131 (or if you want to add 7% on top of¬†the $2000, it’s an additional $140).

I am a proponent of pay-as-you-go – in all areas of life: if I want to make use of something that belongs to someone else, or that is maintained by the “people” (eg roads), I do not at all mind paying for that opportunity.

However, I despise double-dipping and multiple-paying on the same service/product. A prime example is the concept of a toll road: if the road is owned/operated by the “government” (which is really the people, but with a delegated responsibility to maintain the facilities), it makes sense to me that it should cost something¬†to have to take care of that road. However, if the government wants to charge a toll for a road, then it must eliminate the fuel tax that every driver pays: by charging a toll and¬†a fuel tax, drivers have double-paid for the privilege of using the road.

Double-dipping affects all consumers in every other purchase they make as well because corporations are charged taxes on their income, and since businesses are in business to make money, they have to cover that cost from somewhere, which means it comes from their customers.

Several years ago I wrote a paper on implementing a flat tax in the United States. In the intervening years, I have become convinced that the premise on which I wrote that paper is not the best (ie, taxing income), but that it was a solid start in the Right Direction‚ĄĘ.

What needs to be done instead is far simpler, and would in the process also eliminate the need for most of the IRS, and give substantially more power directly to the people over the direction their government takes.

Abandon the concept of an income tax entirely.

Eliminate taxation on gifts (including estates). Eliminate the “special” Medicare and Social Security taxes.

Implement a flat sales (or “consumption”) tax on all non-food purchases in the country.

One of the beauties of the sales tax is that everyone¬†pays it – whether you are “rich” or “poor”, it is equally, and fairly applied to all – and it’s shown every day on transactions around the country: you buy a $20000 car, you pay $1400 in sales tax. You buy a $40000 car, you pay $2800 in sales tax. That’s a simple, easy-to-understand model, and one that everyone¬†can follow straightforwardly.

According to Wikipedia, in 2007 total tax receipts (income, employment, corporate, excise, gift, estate) to the Federal government was just under $2.7 trillion. That’s trillion – with a “t”. According to this site, total personal¬†income in the US in 2010 was $12.3 trillion (in 2007 it was $11.9 trillion)*.

IF¬†every American who earned an income paid a flat tax on that income (with no deductions, no special categories, no “loopholes”, etc) of 23%, that would *completely* cover the tax receipts of the Federal government. That would be a simple solution – if it wasn’t for what one of my favorite entertainers said:

The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has. –Will Rogers

Let’s end that lying now.

In 2011, the US spent $10.9 trillion. Subtract out non-durable goods for the moment (a quick way to distinguish food out of the mix,¬†though¬†I’m sure people didn’t spend $2.5 trillion on food^). That brings us down to $8.4 trillion.If every person who bought something new in the US paid a sales tax of 37%, that would more than cover the tax receipts of the Federal government. With the far more probable $0.5 trillion spent on food at home, that gives $10.4 trillion spent. A sales tax rate of %26 would cover the Federal tax receipts.

Businesses already collect sales tax. Collecting a different rate is simple.

If the “average” citizen saw that on top of his $10 meal at Applebee’s he needed to pay $2.60 in taxes, it might help him budget better. It’s certainly more transparent – and easier to track.

Yes, it would put all kinds of tax attorneys, accountants, and the like out of work – but it would also mean that folks wouldn’t have to spend hundreds of millions and billions of dollars per year to worry about their taxes: pay when you buy. It’s really that simple.

Eliminate the overt, unnecessary complexity of our tax code, and make it the simplest to understand and comply-with in the world.

Oh, and make the US an enviable target for corporations wanting to headquarter/operate here: no taxes on business income would be a clarion call to start/operate here.

*See for more recent numbers
^according to, the average 2.5 person household spends $3750 per year on food at home (untaxable in my plan); there are 325 million people in the US; that’s 130 million households and $487.5 billion (just under $0.5 trillion)

why have email confidentiality notices?

Lots of corporations automatically append something like the following to emails sent outside their own servers:

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This email communication is intended only for the personal and confidential use of the recipient(s) designated above and may contain information which is subject to Federal and/or State privacy laws. In the event that you are not the intended recipient or the agent of the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any review, disclosure, or use of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited. Do not copy or use the information contained within this communication, or allow it to be read, copied or utilized in any manner by any other person(s). If you have received this communication in error, please notify the sender immediately, either by response e-mail or by phone, and permanently delete the original e-mail, any attachment(s), and copies.

I’ve never understood this – if you were NOT¬†the intended recipient, why would you keep the message, and not just think it was spam? Or, if you’re feeling charitable, why would you not reply to the sender and tell them they have the wrong person?

I think message like this are added by administrators who don’t grok how email works – it’s an electronic postcard: there is no special security, so if you¬†misaddress¬†it, then who ever gets it, gets it.

Email stops, and potentially is collected, at some many different places along its delivery path that such a “disclaimer” is completely pointless.

nj man suing the port authority

From NBC New York, “NJ Man Sues Over Toll Hikes, Claims Bias“.

A New Jersey man has filed a federal lawsuit in New York over the Port Authority’s toll increase.

Yoel Weisshaus of New Milford claims the increase is an abuse of power and discriminates against him because he is poor.

Cash tolls on the George Washington Bridge, Holland Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel, Goethals Bridge, Bayonne Bridge and Outerbridge Crossing went up from $8 to $12 on Sunday.

Weisshaus claims the tolls are targeted to restrict minimum-wage earners and will be used to complete the World Trade Center project instead of improving bridges and tunnels.

Sounds like a USA Today story from 3 years ago.

staybridge replies – the next week

In follow-up to my post from last week, two members of the Staybridge staff contacted me on Wednesday of this week. Their replies are posted below. Also, a disclaimer: I never asked for anything to be done in recompense for the situation РI just wanted it fixed.

Mr. Myers:

Please accept my apology for the delay in responding to your email. I have received it through IHG Guest relations and was not aware of it until this morning. I have copied the email to go over with the executive housekeeper. While we have been challenged with very large sports groups, staying one week or longer, it is no excuse for poor service. I was not aware that the complimentary room was not a direct benefit to you. In lieu of the issues you encountered I will add 10,000 priority club points to your account. The description of your stay, by no means, represents the type of service we strive to present to all guests. Thank you for taking the time to let me know. If I may be of any further service please do not hesitate to contact me directly my cell phone number is 317-640-2708.

Gary W Miller

General Manager
Staybridge Suites
Indianapolis/ Fishers

And from the other manager (quoted as sent, including any typos):

Hi Warren,

I was reading over your comments in regards to your recent stay with us. I want to sincerely apologize for the problems that you encountered. I understand that the company was paying for your stay and that the comp night was not an actual benefit to you. I have included a free night certificate for you to use in the future. While it doesn’t make up for the problems you had, I hope that you and your family can use it for personal use next time you are in the area. I have also upgraded the room type to a one bedroom suite for you. I will be sure to address these items with housekeeping and the front desk, so that the same mistakes doe not incur. Again, please accept my sincerest apologies.

Natalie Page
Guest Services Manager
Staybridge Suites Fishers-Indianapolis
317-712-5101 direct dial
317-577-9500 front desk
317-712-5200 fax

When I emailed Gary this morning asking why he had not replied to the emails I sent him directly, this was his reply:

Mr. Meyers

That is the correct email address. However, I am having issues with my email account over the last few weeks. I am receiving an exceptional amount of ‚Äúspam‚ÄĚ. It is not unusual for me to have over 150 emails every morning. Yours may have been deleted by mistake. I did however receive your email through IHG Guest Relations. That is what I was responding to. I hope we can be of service to you in the future.


Gary W. Miller

Yeah, I get a lot of “spam”, too – but when the subject line includes not only the reservation, but my Priority Club number, and is addressed directly to you from a¬†corporate¬†address… it sounds like a weak response.

Regardless, at least there was some¬†form of reply to the situation – not what I would have expected, but I suppose it’ll do.

personal vs professional blogging

A friend of mine recently pointed me at the newspaper-associated blog of a “recent Appalachian State University graduate and now a freelance reporter for The Charlotte Observer”.

Ms Penland seems like a nice person – but her writing is not at all what I would expect for a blog associated with a newspaper – it is far more like a personal journal of a teenager than a professional blog of a reporter.

I’m all for personal voice showing-up in folks’ writing (it certainly does on all of the blogs I follow – and on the ones I write ;)) – but when you’re writing reviews for a newspaper, it would seem like you’d try to be a bit more … professional in your writing.

Besides the myriad grammar errors (I know – we all have them, but certainly some proofreading should be done to catch things like “was is“), it seems she has a routine dislike for “chains” – and yet visits many. She also refers to her boyfriend in many of her reviews: a¬†perfectly¬†fine thing to do in passing, but she ends up¬†making¬†some of them more about him than about the place they went.

As a “recent graduate”, I wouldn’t necessarily expect Brittany’s writing to be on par with, say, Malcolm Gladwell, but I would¬†expect it to be at the level of, well, a college graduate. (I have seen some collegiate writing that appalled me when I was in school – writing submitted by 4th year English Majors that looked like it was pulled from a 6th grade student’s portfolio: but those folks don’t [typically] get hired by newspapers… do they?)

I hope Ms Penland’s writing improves dramatically through her “freelance” association with the Observer, but I also hope that the Observer doesn’t have too many folks like her writing in association with them: it reflects poorly on their editorial staff and hiring practices if they do.