Digital Inequality and the IRS

Inequality is “an unfair situation in which some people have more rights or better opportunities than other people.”  The definition of inequality is “the quality of being unequal or uneven” and can include social disparity and disparity of distribution or opportunity (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inequality).

In terms of digital inequality, this can also be referenced as a technology gap.  I understand this very personally, because I was raised in a blue-collar family that was largely against computers when I was growing up.  I think my parents either hated or were scared of computers, and my Mom as a postal carrier never had need of a computer.  Today she gets upset when coupons are e-mail only since she doesn’t do e-mail, however, now that she is retired she surprised me when she took an entry level computer class with her friend at the community college.  Personally, I never owned a computer or laptop in college.  I would sometimes borrow my friend’s or my boyfriend’s computer, but mostly I would live at the library or computer lab when I needed to write papers.  Finances were an issue, and my first real computer came once I graduated with my Bachelors and Masters degrees and bought an old computer from an acquaintance for $100.  I know my experience may not be typical, but it is important to note that not every family can afford computers and technology, which can be very expensive.  This reality does set a child behind in school and can be a learning disadvantage.  A pencil and notebook is much less expensive than a laptop and affording home internet, and for parent’s struggling to put food on the table, technology is most likely not a priority.

Tonight I was disappointed and concerned when I went to my local library that is a star library in my state (Illinois) to pick up my federal and state tax forms and booklets.  Earlier in the week I had no success picking up the tax forms at the main post office that always stocks them, so I figured that perhaps I was thinking about my taxes late this year and the post office was just out of everything.  However, the sign at my local library said that the IRS decided to not send federal tax booklets this year to places that they always send them, like post offices and libraries. An extremely helpful woman at the library reference desk pointed out that the IRS also did not send supplementary forms like years previously, and a library staff member had to repeatedly call and ask for tax instruction booklets, only to be given 10 booklets that were quickly gone.  Also, there were no IL-1040 forms or booklets at all, and it was unclear to me what the library was given regarding state forms.

People looking for tax booklets were instructed to go online to look up the information.  This is not a good option for people who want to use a tax booklet and a paper form to mail their taxes in the old-fashioned way, which many older people still do.  Also, the library had a sheet with a phone number to call to have tax forms mailed to you.  That is a decent option for people that aren’t trying to do their taxes that night or at the last minute.  However, it is a hardship and a hurdle for taxpayers to jump through when instruction tax guides are not free and easily accessible to people of all income levels.  Many people may not have access to the internet at home, and most people would not like doing confidential tax information at the local library. I think this situation is inequality since it is social disparity and a disparity of opportunity for people of lower income levels.

Libraries and post offices are hubs of their community and provide services to people regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, or other factors.  While I can understand the IRS wanting to save money in the costs of printing and mailing forms, which is good both economically and environmentally, it still troubles me that this move results in an inequality that epitomizes the technology gap that is a way of life for many citizens in the United States of America.  I am a fan of freedom, and my hope is that people who are comfortable with old school paper tax forms can easily find and use them, while people who are comfortable with internet tax filing can utilize the internet to file their taxes.  I do not want to see either option cease to exist.

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Week in Review: Fab Lab visit, Kickball game, and an Amazing Omelet!

This past week was a unique one in ways which were fun.  On Palm Sunday I visited the C-U Community Fab Lab, which may perhaps fly under the radar as an innovative place to visit and merge technology and your creative side.  It’s a free community place where you can utilize a laser and an open source computer program to create your own key chain, make a magnet, or do more intensive things such as 3D printing and creation of your own designs.  It appeals to various ages, and while the young boy next to me seemed to do slightly better with his project than I did, with the help of three awesome volunteers I was able to solve some issues I was having and emerged victorious with a pretty blue heart key chain with my initial inside that I created.  I even got a pretty purple key ring to go with it!  See my photo below and the website links (including Flickr group for project ideas) if you are interested in learning more about the Fab Lab +/or visiting.

http://cucfablab.org/book/about-us

https://www.flickr.com/groups/1847246@N22/pool

Heart Keychain that I made at the Fab Lab!  (Photo and design by Julie A. Smith)

Heart Key chain that I made at the Fab Lab! (Photo and design by Julie A. Smith)

Next was an amazing omelet that I made heavy on the cheese which turned out good.  I’m not Betty Crocker or Rachel Ray, but that’s ok.  I get excited when I cook something and it turns out well, because my forte is in areas other than cooking.  So I was definitely proud of my omelet!  Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo to illustrate, because I ate the omelet exceedingly fast and was not thinking of photo-journaling.

Finally was the fun kickball game that was competitive and took me back to childhood.  It was between my small group and another small group from my church (note: our huge small group had actually split several months ago into 2 groups due to our size, but we still regularly get together for social outings).  Honestly, I don’t think I have played kickball since grade school, and I found my self asking questions as the game went on, such as “do you have to wait till the ball is kicked before you run from your base?”  However, unfortunately, I got out immediately three times when I kicked.  My balls always seemed to fly high, and the other team were stars at catching them.  My team was great at that, too, but we were vastly outnumbered, and I think that made a difference in our loss.  But fun was had by all it seemed, and I was happy that ONE TIME I ACTUALLY GOT ON BASE!  I DIDN”T EVEN GET OUT UNTIL RUNNING TO THIRD BASE!  I have always appreciated the saying, “it is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game.”  It was a ton of fun.  See photos below to illustrate.

Small group Kickball! (My team)

Small group Kickball! Fun times! (My team)

 

Kate and me (Small group Kickball)!

Kate and me (Small group Kickball)!

 

Our tough picture! (Small group Kickball! My team)

Our tough picture! (Small group Kickball! My team)

Finally, while there were some not fun issues to the week (re: multiple doctor’s visits & health issues, etcetera),  but the week was good overall.  Now I’m looking forward to Easter Sunday and my Dad visiting.  We’ll get to attend church together and have quality father-daughter time.  Sweet!

The Almost Never-ending Story, Literally (Tax Return Lessons 101)

Am  I the only person in the world who has never heard of “Tax Literals” before?  I am a literal person, but I think that title leaves something to be desired.  Here is the chronological breakdown of my tax time saga (a.k.a. Tax Return Lessons 101):

1. I decide to again do my taxes myself this year. Perhaps I am still scarred from my bad experience at H&R Block several years ago, and how they misquoted me the amount that I would pay as a single person with a very easy return.

Form 1040A, 2005

Form 1040A, 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. I gather my tax forms from the library, do a rough draft of my 1040A form, and get delayed in finding and printing the amount of interest I paid on qualified student loan payments.  I speculate about the IRS updating tax codes to be more fair to the tax payer.  I think it is 100% unfair that the 1098-E is not furnished by mail to individuals if the lender doesn’t receive interest payments of $600 or more in a year.  Plus, why is the Earned Income Credit (EIC) for people who work so vastly different for single people vs. people with children?  A single person doing a 1040A for 2012 must make less than $13, 980 (per 1040A, line 22, adjusted gross income or AGI), but a person having one child living with her or him can make an AGI of less than $36, 920.  (Note: this is actually just step 1 to pass to see if a person qualifies for the Earned Income Credit).  Why the disparity?  It seems the American tax code greatly favors people with children over single people on multiple levels.

3.  I file online using free fillable forms.  They are essentially the electronic version of paper federal tax forms, but they can enable you to get a much faster refund since you electronically file.

4.  I dislike how some of the free fillable forms are counterintuitive.  You can’t actually add your W-2’s when clicking on the upper tab to add forms, because you must click step 2 to do that.  In addition, (from what I can tell), you can’t move to step two by clicking “done with form” at the bottom of your 1040A, you have to click on the top “step 2” to go to step 2.  This seems illogical to me, because if you are done with a form, then you should be able to click “done” and move on to the next step.  Plus, am I the only one who noticed how when a person types in her information on her W-2’s and uses the tab key, then it will jump numbers and not be perfectly chronological around the 12-20 fields?  I don’t like that filling out the W-2 seems to work backwards and out-of-order.

5.  I am happy to have my refund submitted electronically to the IRS after time spent surfing FAQs to answer e-file questions using free fillable forms.

English: Speech balloons. Question and Answer....

English: Speech balloons. Question and Answer. Icon for FAQ or Help. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6.  What?!!!  My refund was rejected?  I have e-filed my own taxes for around 5 years, and that has never happened.  Here is part of the e-mail to tell me of my refund rejection: “To see a list of the most common reasons for a rejected return go to http://www.irs.gov/uac/Common-Free-File-Fillable-Forms-Problems   You will need to fix the issue in your return and e-file again. If you are unable to fix the issue you will have to print the return and file by mail.” (E-mail from customer_service@freefilefillableforms.com)

7.  Thus begins my search for why my refund was rejected.  I realize how”Tax Literals” seem to be at the root of my rejection problem. Essentially, tax literal problems are caused by putting something into the small grey box areas on the tax return that does not belong. A person has to be instructed to place information in those areas.  Utilizing the link sent to me in my rejection e-mail about common tax problems, I link to the IRS website and find a helpful link, the FAQ document for Tax Literals.  However, I notice this IRONIC line about tax literal information on the official IRS government website.  (Note: editing done to bold typographic error).

“In the example above, the rejection was caused by using an incorrect state abbreviation on Form W2-G and yopu would look on that form to correct the information.” (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-utl/2012_4f_faqs.pdf)  (Free File Fillabe Forms FAQS and Limitations, February 28, 2013).

8.  I realize that line 7 (wages, etcetera) was where my mistake was made, so I fix the error and re-submit my tax return.

9.  Yay!  My return was accepted!  Is this the never-ending story, or what?  Finally, my tax return saga is over!

How to Exasperate a Single Christian or make them laugh Video

I appreciate this video about things people say to singles who are Christian.  Unfortunately, singles are often marginalized or forgotten by churches and a wide spectrum of society, which is not cool.  Many of the things in this video have been heard by myself and my Christian friends.  While the video is related to Christians, some of the things mentioned are universal.

Text Messaging is taking over the world!!!

 Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Text messaging is taking over the world!!!  I did think that honor was unofficially bestowed to Facebook, but text messaging may actually usurp Facebook, which is a high honor, indeed.  Case in point: we all know that we can send text messages to our family and our friends, or get free promo codes by text from companies like Redbox, but now text messaging has gotten a foot in the door in the library and information science field.  This foot in the door phenomenon may revolutionize customer service as we know it.

Tonight I was searching my local public library catalog by utilizing their iPhone app.  I had a question about a library item that I desired.  Thus, I clicked on “contact us” in the library app and saw the normal phone and e-mail contact information for my local library.  However, my interest was piqued when spying “text” as an option to answer my question.  It is important to note that I am a text messaging convert (i.e. I was against text messaging for a few years before I finally gave in, changed my phone service plan, and began text messaging).  Now, I think text messaging is amazing, and I find it quite helpful in a plethora of ways like sending friends encouraging messages, for social planning, for information sharing, and for various functional purposes.  So it may come as no surprise to you that I used text messaging as my happy and instant solution to my library query.  Within minutes a library staff member answered my question, and I was moving forward with my library request.

I must say that this whole experience has made me wonder if text messaging is taking over the world? 

Text a Librarian Booth Artwork

Technological Speed Bumps, Excitement about a day off work, and a prayer request

TECHNOLOGY CAN BE LIKE RIDING A ROLLER COASTER

Technology is amazing.  Technology is progressive.  Technology is cool.  Technology is fun.  Technology is frustrating.  Technology is tricky.  Technology exists in many diverse facets and faces.  Technology can rule your life if you let it.  I must admit, sometimes I have purposefully left my laptop turned off for a weekend in order to get away from the internet when I am burned out on it and when I long for more simple times.  No, I don’t want to be Amish.  But, I do think that simplicity is not always a bad thing.  Argue with me if you will.  Sometimes life can be quite complicated.  Sometimes technology can be quite complicated.  Sometimes there are technological speed bumps when you long for smooth sailing, a beautiful beach, and a glorious sunset.

One thing that I have kept quiet on my blog up until now was regarding a situation that completely upset me, and I was afraid that if I blogged about it in the moment, then my blog would have been one long lament.  Hopefully, that is not the case now.  While I am trying to not be superstitious, it does seem that bad things happen to me around Thanksgiving.  Last year, there was a fire at my church right before Thanksgiving that actually the investigators said appeared to be arson.  From my understanding, someone set the cross behind our church building on fire and threw it through our window.  It was a horrible situation, and resulted in my church being displaced and relocated to a hotel for 4 months.  Then, right after that, my Grandma passed away the Sunday after Thanksgiving of last year.  I missed most of a week of work in order to be with my family and attend my Grandma’s funeral.

This year, I had a nice Thanksgiving and was really looking forward to my new laptop that was soon to be delivered by FedEx.  It was the first time that I had ever actually bought a new laptop on my own, which was a big step for me, especially considering that my first “real” computer I actually bought used after college for a $100 from a girl who used to go to my old church in college (side note: I actually survived college without owning my own computer, but at times I lived in the library and computer labs, and I was exceedingly grateful for friends who would let me borrow their computer).  My current laptop was overheating even while utilizing a cooling mat, and it had been an ongoing ordeal for months, making any writing that I tried to do on my laptop amazingly difficult.  I had argued with HP about it, especially since thousands of batteries had been recalled that were fire hazards.  My battery was actually listed as next in a series of batteries that had been recalled, but HP would not make amends. Thus, I decided that HP would NOT be a brand that I would buy my new laptop from, especially after many wasted hours trying to rectify the situation.  HP advised me to not use my laptop and made it a crisis case, then never contacted me like they said they would.  Finally, I realized that I just needed to invest in a new laptop.  I REALLY want a Macbook Pro, but I am trying not to covet everyone that seems to own MacBooks.  Unfortunately, it seems like MacBooks are just for the wealthy, but I would like to own one in the future.

After researching laptops and searching online for deals, I purchased one online from Wal-mart before Thanksgiving.  I was happy not to have to brave the Black Friday crowds, plus HP seemed to be the major brand with cheap Black Friday sales, and I was unofficially boycotting them.  Anyways, I figured that my laptop would not be delivered while I was out of town, because FedEx could not leave my laptop unsigned for outside of my apartment.  Well, I was wrong.  My expensive laptop cost over $500 was delivered without a signature confirmation.  The next day, when I came home, my laptop was gone.  I can only deduce that it was stolen.  It is a long story, but after hours spent with FedEx, the police,semi-interviewing my neighbors, and even scouring hopefully every apartment in my complex to see if my laptop was accidentally mis-delivered, I finally gave up.  The police said this  happens all the time in my community, and there are people that purposefully go to the wealthy neighborhoods and steal unattended laptops while people are working.  The problem is that you do not have a serial number to prove that the laptop is your laptop, and you have not set up a login password  to make it more secure.  It is  a scary situation.  Plus, there was no way that I could tell that the free shipping that Wal-mart gave me due to the expense of my purchase was would not require a signature confirmation.  It makes me wary to order online anymore, but I may ship site to store or to my workplace in the future, where someone is always available to sign for packages during the day.  Unfortunately, I feel like the whole situation robbed me of my trust in people, many hours of my time, as well as my laptop that I was so excited about.

Since my stolen laptop was such a good deal, of course it was out of stock with Wal-mart, meaning that I could not get it replaced.  One shining thing amidst the sea of horribleness was that Wal-mart gave me a refund without argument.  However, they pointed the finger at FedEx, who had pointed the finger at Wal-mart in terms of responsibility.  Honestly, Wal-mart did NOT require FedEx to get a signature, so they did not.  I want to caution anyone who orders online to be careful of this type of situation, because I would not want this to happen to anyone else.

However, I must note that while it is not the laptop that I really wanted, I did buy a different laptop that was almost $200 cheaper than the laptop that was stolen.  It does not have as much RAM though, but you win some and you lose some.  The really funny part of the situation is that I purchased it from Toys R Us.  Who knew that they sold laptops?  I receive e-mails from Toys R US, since I have shopped there for my niece and nephew, and they had an adult laptop that was $80 off recently, which is the one that I purchased.  I am adjusting to it.  I like it.  It is different because the keys are quite a bit wider than my old laptop, making it harder to type and causing me to make even more typing mistakes than normal, but all is well.  I am just so thankful to have a working laptop again after the long road and long ordeal thatI have been through .  Also, because of Toys R Us having a holiday promotion for people who are in their free rewards program, you can get $10 back on every $100 you spend, so that really is quite beautiful.

logo.

Finally, on a non-related note, I will end by saying that I am really excited about a day off work on Monday.  I have semi-stockpiled my vacation days at my job, and I decided to take a Monday off in order to have a three-day weekend and to catch up on things before the Christmas holiday.  Also, I want to mention a prayer request.  I think it is good to keep the families and friends of those who lost loved ones in the horrible tragedy in Connecticut in prayer.  My heart goes out to the families, and I can only pray that God will comfort them with peace in this time of grief and loss.

Pinterest Top Ten Tips (a.k.a. Pinterest is more than just Home Decor and Party Ideas)

For the last few months, I kept hearing about Pinterest.  I went to a baby shower and the creative and innovative food ideas were taken from Pinterest, and then at a good-bye party, one of the good-bye gifts was a blow-pops sucker knick-knack with a sign saying “You’re leaving here blows.  We will miss you.”  Thus, I sufficed that Pinterest was a hot new social networking site devoted to home decor and party ideas, and it essentially was a digital bulletin board (or pinboard).

However, it was only about 2 weeks ago that I realized that Pinterest had a much broader basis.  My friend, Amber, told me that she was on Pinterest, and she showed me a glimpse of her site.  She had a really pretty hairstyle that she had pinned that was inspiring for a wedding she was a bridesmaid for.  However, she explained more about Pinterest, but I have to admit that I was sold when she told me how she had repined a pin called “Books Rory Gilmore read.”  I used to be a huge Gilmore Girls fan, and I loved to watch the show, especially the early seasons.

Gilmore Girls (season 1)

As you can probably see from where this blog is going, I am on Pinterest now.  I find it inspiring, fun, artsy, cool, hip, interesting, and thoroughly diverse.  Here is my mini-tutorial on Pinterest, with personal insights gleaned from over two weeks of being semi-addicted to Pinterest.

Top Ten Helpful Tips and Info for Getting Started with Pinterest:

Pinterest: Why should we be interested? [infog...

1. Please note the name is not pronounced Pin-interest, as I keep trying to pronounce it.  It is Pinterest.

2. You can get a free app for it or use it on a desktop computer or laptop.  However, the Pinterest website has a great deal more features than the iPhone app.

3. It is possible to login with Facebook or Twitter, but for those who are not connected that way (me and two other people), you can login with e-mail, which makes it more inclusive, in my opinion.

4. Fun things about it: you can follow people and have followers, like Facebook and MySpace.  You can comment.  You can like things. (Important tip from my observation and what a friend told me: when you “like” something on Pinterest but do not pin it, then you are AUTOMATICALLY signed up to follow the creator of that pin.  I had wondered how I ended up with over 60 people I was following initially.  I believe automatic followers may have also come from the pictures you Pinterest has you like at the beginning when you are creating your account.

5. You can add a profile photo or info about you.  The iPhone app does not have this capability (unless maybe it syncs with your Facebook profile pic?), but on the website for Pinterest you click under you name, then click settings, and then upload an image.

6. You create thematic electronic bulletin boards, and you pin things onto your bulletin boards.  You can repin other’s content (always with a link back to the original site for credit), download items like photographs, or pin content found on the internet.

Pinterest

7. It is possible to change the comment under something you repin.  If you just repin, then the comment is automatically the same comment as the person you repined from.  I find this slightly confusing and potentially problematic.  I felt like I was plagiarizing other’s comments, so after a while I started specifying something like “original pinners comment” to clarify.

8. One fun thing about Pinterest is you can explore many categories when you click explore, such as DIY and Crafts, Films, Music, & Books, Geek, Home Decor, Kids, Photography, Quotes, Technology, Travel, and Women’s Fashion.  Note: you can lose hours surfing around categories and repining things, so be careful.

9. You can set the cover of your bulletin board by editing it. This is helpful if you have a photo/pin that you particularly are fond of.  Otherwise the cover is the latest pin for that bulletin board category.

10. Finally, here is the link to my Pinterest site. Feel free to check it out and see what Pinterest is all about or for getting started ideas.  I only have 3 followers, so followers are appreciated, as well.  Happy pinning!

https://pinterest.com/hopeandheart/#