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Happy Birthday, Willy Wonka!

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Friday, February 29, 2008

Place Your Guesses


As is consistent with her competitive personality, MonkeyPig will be running the El Paso Marathon this Sunday!! MP regularly runs 8 miles about 3 times a week. Last year, she just decided to run the marathon one morning and registered on the day. She finished 3rd in her age group for women, at 4 hours and 30 minutes. This year, I am taking guesses on how long you think MP will take to finish the race. Guess the time (first come first serve basis) and the winner will receive an undisclosed prize applicable to a future TWoNN game!

...there's more to this story--click me!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kitty Korner (2/28--Talking Cat)

<--The photo has been edited. Click to see Kash's true powers.

I want you to prepare yourself for what I'm about to tell you. I know that some people (like those who call the Nu residence a "house o' cat dander") will immediately declare this impossible and dismiss this as the ravings of cat-obsessed lunatic, but this is only because they don't understand the joys of being owned by a cat. I am calling upon all cat lovers to attest to the following fact and to tell your own stories here:

Cats can (literally) speak English!

Yes, you read right. How do I know this? I know this because KASH SPOKE TO ME. As you know, every morning, I get up at 7am to feed the Nu kitties. That means, around 6:45am, Kash and Skillet start meowing to wake me up. Skillet sits on the window sill above my bedside table and waits. Kash, however, gets in my face. He will nuzzle his way under the covers, or he'll sit right next to my face so that I am breathing in his fur. Most of the time, though, he'll sit right in front of me and meow.

Well, two mornings ago, there I was sleeping soundly when I heard him meow at me. But, this wasn't any old meow. Kash actually meowed, "Momma." No, he didn't say, "Meow." He actually said, "Momma." That's right--"MOMMA." I immediately woke up Mr. Nonny Nu to share the experience!

Look, I know what you're thinking. No, I'm not crazy and have never been diagnosed as having any mental problems. I'm telling you that Kashmir called me "momma." Yes, that's right. It was clear as a bell. "Momma." You don't have to believe me. Mr. Nonny Nu will back me up on this.

...there's more to this story--click me!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

The Nu household is no longer dependent on Starbucks! Check it out, people! Our very first cappuccino! Look at the foam on that thing. We made a cup last night around 11:15pm as a nightcap for myself. Mr. Nonny Nu was worried that I wouldn't be able to fall asleep afterward but I was out like a light by 12:30. That's what drinking tea as a child does to ya. But, really, check out that foam. Honestly, I didn't know what was the big deal about foam until I tried that cup. OMG, it was so creamy!! Previously, all the foam I tried was just watery tasting and not creamy at all, which is why I always opted for whipped cream. But, last night's foam? YUM. I'm going to have another one tonight. We are all stocked up on the coffee pods, too. Mr. Nonny Nu ordered around 200 pods, so we are all ready for Stillman's and MonkeyPig's visits! The Nespresso people gave us a decorative box and with descriptions of each coffee flavor in the top of the box (that's Kash's tail behind the lid).

Skillet and Kash just looked on as I enjoyed that piping hot and fresh cup of joe. These two are just too cute.

Remember yesterday when I told you about the new book I am reading (Predictably Irrational)? Interestingly, when I read some more of it in bed before I went to sleep, it talked about Starbucks!*cue Twilight Zone theme* In the following excerpt, the author uses the term "anchor" to refer to a price that, for whatever reason, has been anchored in our minds as a starting point of comparison for a particular product or service:

Now that we know we behave like goslings, it is important to understand the process by which our first decisions translate into long-term habits. To illustrate this process, consider this example. You're walking past a restaurant, and you see two people standing in line, waiting to get in. "This must be a good restaurant," you think to yourself. "People are standing in line." So you stand behind these people. Another person walks by. He sees three people standing in line and thinks, "This must be a fantastic restaurant," and joins the line. Others join. We call this type of behavior herding. It happens when we assume that something is good (or bad) on the basis of other people's previous behavior, and our own actions follow suit.

But there's also another kind of herding, one that we call self-herding. This happens when we believe something is good (or bad) on the basis of our own previous behavior. Essentially, once we become the first person in line at the restaurant, we begin to line up behind ourself in subsequent experiences. Does that make sense? Let me explain.

Recall your first introduction to Starbucks, perhaps several years ago. (I assume that nearly everyone has had this experience, since Starbucks sits on every corner in America.) You are sleepy and in desperate need of a liquid energy boost as you embark on an errand one afternoon. You glance through the windows at Starbucks and walk in. The prices of the coffee are a shock--you've been blissfully drinking the brew at Dunkin' Donuts for years. But since you have walked in and are now curious about what coffee at this price might taste like, you surprise yourself: you buy a small coffee, enjoy its taste and its effect on you, and walk out.

The following week you walk by Starbucks again. Should you go in? The ideal decision-making process should take into account the quality of the coffee (Starbucks versus Dunkin' Donuts); the prices at the two places; and, of course, the cost (or value) of walking a few more blocks to get to Dunkin' Donuts. This is a complex computation--so instead, you resort to the simple approach: "I went to Starbucks before, and I enjoyed myself and the coffee, so this must be a good decision for me." So you walk in and get another small cup of coffee.

In doing so, you just became the second person in line, standing behind yourself. A few days later, you again walk by Starbucks and this time, you vividly remember your past decisions and act on them again--voila! You become the third person in line, standing behind yourself. As the weeks pass, you enter again and again and every time, you feel more strongly that you are acting on the basis of your preferences. Buying coffee at Starbucks has become a habit with you.

But the story doesn't end there. Now that you have gotten used to paying more for coffee, and have bumped yourself up onto a new curve of consumption, other changes also become simpler. Perhaps you will now move up from the small cup for $2.20 to the medium size for $3.50 or to the Venti for $4.15. Even though you don't know how you got into this price bracket in the first place, moving to a larger coffee at a relatively greater price seems pretty logical. So is a lateral move to other offerings at Starbucks: Caffe Americano, Caffe Mistro, Macchiato, and Frappuccino, ["Ah, the Oxford comma--a man after my own heart!" --Nonny Nu] for instance.

If you stopped to think about this, it would not be clear whether you should be spending all this money on coffee at Starbucks instead of getting cheaper coffee at Dunkin' Donuts or even free coffee at the office. But you don't think about these trade-offs anymore. You've already made this decision many times in the past, so you now assume that this is the way you want to spend your money. You've herded yourself--lining up behind your initial experience at Starbucks--and now you're part of the crowd.

However, there is something odd in this story. If anchoring is based on our initial decisions, how did Starbucks manage to become an initial decision in the first place. In other words, if we previously anchored to teh prices at Dunkin' Donuts, how did we move our anchor to Starbucks? This is where it gets really interesting.

When Howard Shultz created Starbucks, he was as intuitive a businessman as Salvador Assael. He worked diligently to separate Starbucks from other coffee shops, not through price but through ambience. Accordingly, he designed Starbucks from the very beginning to feel like a continental coffeehouse.

The early shops were fragrant with the smell of roasted beans (and better-quality roasted beans than those at Dunkin' Donuts). They sold fancy French coffee presses. The showcases presented alluring snacks--almond croissants, biscotti, raspberry custard pastries, and others. Whereas Dunkin' Donuts had small, medium, and large coffees, Starbucks offered Short, Tall, Grande, and Venti, as well as drinks with high-pedigree names like Caffe Americano, Caffe Misto, Macchiato, and Frappuccino, Starbucks did everything in its power, in other words, to make the experience feel different--so different that we would not use the prices at Dunkin' Donuts as an anchor, but instead would be open to the new anchor that Starbucks was preparing for us. And that, to a great extent, is how Starbucks succeeded.

...

Descartes said, Cogito ergo sum--"I think, therefore I am." But suppose we are nothing more than the sum of our first, naive, random behaviors. What then?

These questions may be tough nuts to crack, but in terms of our personal lives, we can actively improve on our irrational behaviors. We can start by becoming aware of our vulnerabilities. Suppose you're planning to buy a cutting-edge cell phone (the one with the three-megapixel, 8x zoom digital camera), or even a daily $4 cup of gourmet coffee. You might begin by questioning that habit. How did it begin? Second, ask yourself what amount of pleasure you will be getting out of it. Is the pleasure as much as you thought you would get? Could you cut back a little and better spend the remaining money on something else? With everything you do, in fact, you should train yourself to question your repeated behaviors. In the case of the cell phone, could you take a step back from the cutting edge, reduce your outlay, and use some of the money for something else? And as for the coffee--rather than asking which blend of coffee you will have today, ask yourself whether you should even be having that habitual cup of expensive coffee at all.*

We should also pay particular attention to the first decision we make in what is going to be a long stream of decisions (about clothing, food, etc.). When we face such a decision, it might seem to us that this is just on decision, without large consequences; but in fact the power of the first decision can have such a long-lasting effect that it will percolate into our future decisions for years to come. Given this effect, the first decision is crucial, and we should give it an appropriate amount of attention.

Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Perhaps it's time to inventory the imprints and anchors in our own life. Even if they once were completely reasonable, are they still reasonable? Once the old choices are reconsidered, we can open ourselves to new decisions--and the new opportunities of a new day. That seems to make sense.

*I am not claiming that spending money on a wonderful cup of coffee every day, or even a few times a day, is necessarily a bad decision--I am saying only that we should question our decisions.
Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions 37-39, 43-45 (2008).

...there's more to this story--click me!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chinese Idiom of the Day IV

Other editions of Chinese Idiom of the Day:
Chinese Idiom of the Day I
Chinese Idiom of the Day II
Chinese Idiom of the Day III
Chinese Idiom of the Day V

If you are using your new TWoNN calendars, you will see that Chinese New Year is this Thursday, February 7. In honor of the occasion, I will be posting a new Chinese idiom every day in the scrolling marquee at the top of the blog until my brain runs out of them (currently, I have 11 lined up). I've done the first one (畫蛇添足) and provided the literal translation (Draw snake, add legs.). I have also provided the meaning (You are being unnecessarily extravagant and spoiling the whole thing in the process.).

Starting tomorrow, I will update this blog entry every day to give you a new idiom and its literal translation. But you have to guess its meaning! (Good luck to the non-Cantonese speakers out there, mwahahahahahahahaa!!!)

P.S. There will be a "click me" link in the marquee that will bring you to this blog entry.

Feb. 26, 27, 28: 食火藥 (Ate dynamite.)
Meaning: Mad as hell. (credit: Man from U.N.C.L.E.)

Feb. 29: 跌左個橙, 執返個桔 (Dropped an orange, but picked up a tangerine.)
Meaning: You got rid of one good thing, but still got something good. (credit: Man from U.N.C.L.E.)

Mar. 1: 你做初一, 我做十五 (You do the 1st, I'll do the 15th.)
Meaning: Tit for tat. (credit: Man from U.N.C.L.E.)

PLEASE NOTE: PLAY ON THE CHINESE IDIOM GAME IS SUSPENDED UNTIL APRIL 16.

...there's more to this story--click me!

Friggin' Starbucks, Man...

The Nu household is very happy with their new $500 toy--the Nespresso D290 coffee machine. But, I bet a lot of you guys are wondering what spurred this expensive Nu investment. "Come on, $500 for drinks, really?," said the little cheapskate refugee in me. But, yes, really, and here's why.

Today, I read about MonkeyPig's boycott of "StarSuck as well as any coffee house that charge an arm and leg." Now, I know something about MonkeyPig. She is definitely cheap but, in the past several years, she has learned to "live a little." By that, I mean that she does treat herself to some luxuries, one of them being store bought coffee. In fact, she is so into her coffee that she makes it a point to treat her sisters to coffee whenever we go on reunion. To be honest, I have never really been a constant coffee drinker or Starbucks customer. I'll go with my pals from work or with MonkeyPig, but I've never made a point to go to Starbucks for my own sake. The last time I went with MonkeyPig, I remember cringing at the prices. Is a cup of coffee really worth $3.00+ to me? NO.*

So, it's sad to see that MonkeyPig, even though coffee was one of the few luxuries in her life, give up store bought coffee because of the outrageous prices. This realization has only strengthened my resolve to not buy overpriced coffee, but it's not why I decided not to and it's not why I didn't put up a fight at all when Mr. Nonny Nu suggested we get the Nespresso. Mr. Nonny Nu didn't grow up in a refugee family. By all accounts, he was well off compared to us. But, after thinking about how much each cup of coffee cost and the total cost in a month, Mr. Nonny Nu suggested that we just buy the darned thing. This wasn't a case of "why buy the cow when you can get milk for free?" It was a case of "why not buy the cow when the milk costs more than the cow itself?"

When did we start paying out the nose for a stupid drink? And, from Starbucks? It's not even all that good. They are never consistent. I ordered the same exact thing for Mr. Nonny Nu everyday, and it would always turn out jacked up. After a few times, it was getting annoying because Mr. Nonny Nu was complaining to me about it when I had no control over how they were making the coffee beyond giving my order. So, that's why we got the Nespresso--partly because of the price that we were paying anyway and partly because of the lack of consistency in the product, even though we ordered the same thing every time from the same store.

Anyhow, in researching the Nespresso and how to make different types of coffee, Mr. Nonny Nu stumbled upon something called "the ghetto latte." Just this weekend, Wikipedia had an actual entry for it, but today, it has been deleted! Anyhow, there is a short description of it in the "latte" entry:

The complicated pricing schemes offered by some establishments have led to the practice of ghetto latte (sometimes called bootleg latte), whereby some customers use the free milk and other condiments to convert a cheaper latte to a more expensive one.
Apparently, this is an unwelcome practice. I googled "ghetto latte" and found this site where Starbucks personnel exchange ideas. In this case, a Starbucks barista posted an entry to complain about customers making ghetto lattes. Many of the responses were along the lines of, "Ah, it's okay. I don't mind. Milk doesn't cost that much. Good for the customers who know how to get what they want at a lower price." But, there were some pretty rude remarks dissing customers for not being able to afford the drinks (Dude, you're working at a STARBUCKS. You're not exactly one of the pillars of the community.), complaining about having to refill the milk jug (Um, isn't that part of your duties?), calling it "stealing" (Doesn't Starbucks advertise the condiments as being free?), etc.:
The custome (sic) can't afford the actual drink, then get a smaller size, or don't get it at all.

Say no to this going on. It's not fair to your other customers who use those creams too.

i love how people "applaud" this sort of thing when it happens at starbucks, but if this happened at any other retail establishment it would be, well, stealing...

If these ppl are ok with being looked down and judged for being penny pinchers then fine. wouldnt it be great if they would tip the difference?
Quite frankly, I am appalled at these comments. If only the whole world knew what Starbucks was saying about us behind our backs. But, these comments finally answered something for me. I previously explained that I am not much of a coffee drinker and, when I get the daily morning coffee for Mr. Nonny Nu, I'd experiment with different drinks, hoping to find one that I really liked. So, one day, after ordering a full-blown venti Caramel Macchiato every single day for weeks, I order a grande iced Americano in a venti cup. UH OH. At this point, I hadn't even heard of a "ghetto latte." The reason I ordered this way is because I wanted to add the cream and sugar myself. I didn't know how much should be in there for my taste, so I wanted to taste while I mixed, and you can't do that when you have the barista adding the sugar and cream behind the counter for you, right? And, I needed extra room in it, which is why I ordered the grande in a venti cup.

Well, what do you know? I order Mr. Nonny Nu's drink and then, after having ordering a "proper drink" for days on end, I also order the beginnings of a "ghetto latte" (unbeknownst to me at that time). The cashier, whom I'd seen many mornings, gave me a dirty look. Huh? I thought I misinterpreted, so I just went on my merry way, mixed my drink, and left. I never ordered it again because it just didn't taste good to me, and I have never gotten a dirty look again. But, now, I understand why I got the dirty look in the first place. You know, I could kinda understand if I had been making a habit of this. But, I thought I had established myself as a "regular customer" after having ordered "proper drinks" for weeks before. I guess not. With Starbucks, you are in the shithouse upon your first ghetto latte drink order.

As far as I am concerned, Starbucks has been overcharging all these years. For them to even blink when a few out of the millions of customers decide to order intelligently (as opposed to conveniently) is rather disturbing. For these reasons, I am extremely happy with the Nespresso purchase and am joining MonkeyPig in her boycott of overpriced coffee chains. If you are a serious coffee drinker, I recommend making the investment and getting your own coffee maker at home. Screw Starbucks.

* I am currently reading Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. It is about humans' irrationality and how this irrationality is predictable and therefore exploited by (among others) marketers. I highly recommend this book and will lend it to anyone who is interested in the concept. It has really opened my eyes to how we are manipulated every day--and I'm only on chapter 2!

[edit] I encourage everyone to go read the comments by Starbucks employees. I can't believe these people. How dare we pay for overpriced coffee and work within the rules that they themselves set up? I am NEVER going back to a Starbucks again. I am actually considering shamelisting these people. This one is my favorite:
What a bunch of assholes the SB people are to bitch that much about milk and customers. I really have to wonder why I bother spending money at all at SB. Maybe if I'm such a terrible person I should just drink it at home. There's barely a difference between SB and Folgers at this point anyway.

Telling us we're taking advantage of your condiments (ps - it's just milk and sugar packets, not gold, pearls and treasure you've got spread out) by spending $2+ for a drip coffee??? And you're upset that customers are adding milk? Are you serious? Does SB brainwash you into thinking you invented ... coffee with cream ... and that somehow that's some trademarked/branded product you're supposed to be so serious about upselling?

I go every day and spend $2 to get a grande drip in a venti cup. I then go to the condiment bar and put in an inch of milk and two Equals. Why? Because I like coffee with a lot of milk, the way my grandma used to make it for me, and two equals makes it taste just right. And I'm happy. And I keep coming back.

Yes, I could order some dopio triple cream vanilla frappe with chocolate sprinkles or whatever, but guess what ... it's just coffee that I want ... I don't want an americano, I don't want a latte, I don't want anything fancy, just a goddamned cup of coffe to start my day off. And it's drip for god's sake! I'm paying $2 for $.20 of coffee beans and hot water.

Here's a little perspective for you SB corporate brainwash victims (oh, sorry, what are they telling you to call yourselves nowadays ... owners? partners? shareholders?) about where you really fit in in the rest of the world now that your little summer job has magically stretched into your "career": You work in a coffee shop pouring coffee, so you can lay off the attitude. You're one step away from asking if we want fries with our burger.

Posted by: Coffee Drinker in Seattle | Sep 7, 2006 11:54:25 PM

...there's more to this story--click me!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ditching

Do you guys remember how fun it used to be to ditch school?? Don't get me wrong. I always took care of business and was in all the AP classes offered. But, there was something about ditching school that was SO FUN, even when you didn't have anything in particular planned!!

It all started when I was in 2nd grade.* I missed the school bus going from school to daycare one day (because my My Melody backpack's strap got loose and I had a hard time trying to re-string it), and I was so freaked out that I ran all the way to daycare. Unfortunately, I ran too fast and got to daycare before the bus arrived. But, from then on, I had a taste for "deviating from instructions." (I'm sure Mr. Nonny Nu is nodding his head right now and thinking, "Yes, I am very familiar with her 'deviating from instructions' approach to life...") So, now and then, I would just not take the bus after school. Instead, I would walk home and I would stop on the way at the liquor store where they had soft serve ice cream and other treats and candies. This place even had the dual-cone soft serves. Yummmm...

But then, I had to change school districts (they figured out that I wasn't in the right one, so I had to go the one nearer to my house), and that was when MonkeyPig and I were in the same school district. By then, I was in 3rd grade and MP was in 11th grade. I couldn't deviate from instructions at that time because I had to be home at a certain time (before MP got home). However, after she went away to college, the world was mine! I regularly walked home from school so that I could stop by yet another liquor store for treats.

Then, in junior high** and high school***, those were the best times. My best friend, DT, lived within walking distance of school, so we would ditch and hang out with his mom all the time. I distinctly remember one day when we three just did aerobics all day! From 6th grade onward, I don't think my schools ever saw my parents' actual signatures--it was all me on those excuse notes and report cards. I think I might have ditched at least one class per week. It was so fun.

* Check this out!! I went to Monterey Highlands School for 1st and 2nd grade, and my teacher for those two grades is still teaching there! Her name is Ms. Yamabe.

** Whoa, my junior high used to be called a "junior high school." Now, it's a "middle school" (I've always hated that name). Also, Thursdays used to be Hamburger Day and they even got rid of that.

*** Ha! They're still playing badminton there! (Go to "Sports Calendar" and see the month of March.) Did you know that, in my last year on the Varsity team, I was Most Improved?? Yeah, after 3 years of playing, I finally figured out how to "whip" the birdie. What a maroon. Back in those days, our biggest rival was Arroyo. If I am not mistaken their uniform was black and white. Okay, I am going to revise my statement about Arroyo being our biggest rival. Whichever school has the black and white uniforms, THAT was our biggest rival. (I'm pretty sure it was Arroyo.)

...there's more to this story--click me!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscars: Best Song

I watched the entire Oscars broadcast today and Mr. Nonny Nu was gracious enough to watch with me. For the most part, I can't really agree or disagree with the Academy's choice of winners this year because I haven't seen most of the performances for myself. However, there is one category upon which everyone who saw the broadcast can opine--Best Song. As you probably know, every year, the Best Song nominees perform their nominated songs during the Oscars show. So, if you watched all of the performances of the nominated songs, then you can fairly form an opinion as to whether the winner is indeed the best out of all of the songs. This year's winner is the song "Falling Slowly" from the movie Once:


Nice song. I think it wasn't bad, and I don't disagree with the Academy's choice this year. However, nominees for Best Songs are usually weak and from "feel good" movies (Disney's movie, Enchanted, had three candidates in the running this year). For me, the Best Song category is one of the most boring (right up there with Science awards--sorry, scientists!) but only because the nominees are so, well, bland. The only song that I truly felt deserved to be recognized as the Best Song winner was from 2003 (Eminem's "Lose Yourself" from 8 Mile):

...there's more to this story--click me!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Phleger Has Competition

Last Sunday, Stillman and I went on a new hike at Fall Creek. The Phleger Estate has been a long time favorite for Stillman, so I was very surprised when, halfway through this hike, she announced that Fall Creek might now be her favorite hike.

Fall Creek is in Santa Cruz County so we expected to see many of its mascots there. Unfortunately, we only saw three banana slugs. But, there was lots more to see at Fall Creek. Some wild flowers had started to bloom. And, the really fun thing about the hike was that it wasn't just walking. We had to go over and under a lot of trees and also cross little foot bridges over the creeks. It was more of a scramble than a hike.

We started off along the creek:


Along the way, there were lots of stumps with exposed roots, some of which were growing through rocks. We saw many examples burnt out old stumps surrounded by new growth. One example was interesting in that the burnt out stump had fallen over and was held back from falling into the creek by the new growth. Another example had the new growth growing straight out of the old stump!

The area was very wet and the water wasn't restricted to the creek. In some parts, trees were cut down and their stumps formed stepping stones across wetter portions of the trail. As we started to move away from the creek, we came upon the barrel mill area. Fall Creek used to be the location where trees were cut down to create barrels for the local limestone quarry. The barrel mill area had old equipment strewn throughout. ["Look at those jagged edges. That's a lawsuit waiting to happen." --Stillman]

After visiting the barrel mill area, Stillman and I sat down for a bit of lunch. Stillman had a meatloaf sammich and I had a hoagie. Unlike the time when she kept all the bacon to herself, she offered to share her sammich this time. She passed the test!

When lunch was over, we got on our way and started moving away from the creek. We encountered a drier trail with shady lanes and woodlands. Unlike the old fallen trees we saw along the creek, a newly fallen tree blocked our trail here. This resulted in a couple of horses turning back along the trail. We went around the tree and went into a sunny area with a manzanita grove. The soil there had a yellow tinge to it.

Towards the end of the hike, we started to head back towards the creek. We saw a screaming tree! ["ooooohhhhh...creeeeeepyyyyyyy..." --Nonny Nu] The creek was alternately rushing along and relaxed. At the very end, passed over a proper bridge.

...there's more to this story--click me!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Happy Birthday to Ghetto FOBulous!!

We are having an eventful week. In fact, we are having an eventful month. Who would have thought that the shortest month of the Year with have the highest concentration of holidays? Today, we are celebrating Ghetto FOBulous' 40th birthday. Geez, that is so old!! I have to offer him a "sow toh" (longevity peach) birthday cake for this one:
As a child, Ghetto FOBulous was known for his snazzy fashion sense and incredible dedication to exercise. His foray into the porn industry was short-lived, however, so he decided to hit the books and financed his legal education by moonlighting as a drug runner. Even now, Ghetto FOBulous relaxes after a hard day at the office with a puff or two.

...there's more to this story--click me!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

No More Starbucks Runs!

Today, we got a Nespresso D290. Starting tomorrow morning, Mr. Nonny Nu will make his own caramel macchiato's! What does this mean? This means that I will have 20 more minutes of peace and quiet in the morning to watch my BBC shows or harass the Nu kitties. I may even spend 10 of those extra minutes on the stationary bike (totally 50 minutes). I got to sample one coffee tonight. It wasn't too bad. We have to learn how to fiddle with the settings, but I think this will work out just fine. And, now that I imagine the coffee with a couple slices of Safeway's almond poppyseed pudding ring (yes, that's really what it's called!), yummmmmm... Just think. With venti Starbucks caramel macchiato's costing $3.95 a pop, we will be flush on cup number 125. That's not even 6 months away.

...there's more to this story--click me!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Chinese Idiom of the Day III

Other editions of Chinese Idiom of the Day:
Chinese Idiom of the Day I
Chinese Idiom of the Day II
Chinese Idiom of the Day IV
Chinese Idiom of the Day V

If you are using your new TWoNN calendars, you will see that Chinese New Year is this Thursday, February 7. In honor of the occasion, I will be posting a new Chinese idiom every day in the scrolling marquee at the top of the blog until my brain runs out of them (currently, I have 11 lined up). I've done the first one (畫蛇添足) and provided the literal translation (Draw snake, add legs.). I have also provided the meaning (You are being unnecessarily extravagant and spoiling the whole thing in the process.).

Starting tomorrow, I will update this blog entry every day to give you a new idiom and its literal translation. But you have to guess its meaning! (Good luck to the non-Cantonese speakers out there, mwahahahahahahahaa!!!)

P.S. There will be a "click me" link in the marquee that will bring you to this blog entry.

Feb. 20: 口水多過茶 (She/He has more saliva than tea.)
Meaning: One who talks too much, like my mother. (credit: Freelance Midget)

Feb. 20: 上得山多终遇虎 (If you go up the mountain often enough, you will eventually meet a tiger.)
Meaning: If you flirt with disaster long enough, you're going to get caught. (credit: Cl. Panic)

Feb. 20: 鬼影都冇隻 (Not even the shadow of a ghost)
Meaning: What you find inside an SDA church any given Sunday. (credit: Mr. Nonny Nu)


Feb. 21: 知唔知道個死字點寫? (Do you know how to write the word "death?")
Meaning: A statement used as a threat (e.g., "If you don't clean your room RIGHT NOW, young man..."). (credit: Cl. Panic)

Feb. 21, 22, 23, 24: 一竹篙打死一船人 (One stick of bamboo kills one boatload of people.)
Meaning: Do not generalize (e.g., do not use one stick of bamboo to kill a boatload of people, do not use one statement to categorize an entire group). (credit: Mr. Nonny Nu)

Feb. 25: 借刀殺人 (Borrow a knife to kill a person.)
Meaning: Use someone else to do the job you wanted to do, thereby keeping yourself out of the list of suspects and pinning the blame on someone else. (credit: Man from U.N.C.L.E.)

...there's more to this story--click me!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

TurboTax: The Encore Presentation
by cl. panic, caller of Shenanigans!

Last week I called Shenanigans on TurboTax Deluxe 2007. In response, Bob Meighan, the VP of TurboTax*, commented in response and in defense of his company's product. His comments on TWoNN, like his comments elsewhere, were more directed at "correcting" me rather than assessing problems and investigating possible solutions. Some credit is deserved for a V.P. who trolls cyberspace to get a feel for customers' thoughts. But correcting customers instead of correcting their problems is the wrong approach.

Based on Mr. Meighan's comments, I engaged in a more thorough review of TurboTax Deluxe 2007's shenanigans. Not expecting such an esteemed visitor at TWoNN, I didn't originally see the need to pile up mountains of evidence in support of my rant. My apologies to our regular viewers now that this becomes necessary (though you can now skip the details thanks to NN's mad HTML skillz).

In short -- not only did TurboTax Deluxe 2007 not meet my needs (mainly with respect to ESPP stock sales):

  • TurboTax Deluxe 2007 over-promised and under-delivered;
  • TurboTax support did not provide accurate solutions;
  • although Intuit offers a "choice" of products, it failed to inform when a more appropriate product was available;
  • TurboTax withholds some features from Mac users that are available to PC users of the same software.


While Mr. Meighan "corrected" a number of my "misperceptions" and assertions about TurboTax, he did not address several of the underlying issues. I should pause briefly to note that even if a customer incorrectly perceives something, perhaps there is something to be said about the fact that the perception occurred in the first place.

When I called shenanigans and noted that Intuit had been removing features and raising prices, I didn't mean to limit my assessment to a single year. The shift to extracting more for less has been an ongoing process. Like dropping rebates for e-filing, raising e-file rates, and shifting features to more expensive products.

Although I commend Intuit for offering free tax prep and filing to lower-income individuals (and appreciated it as a student), I noted that over the past five years things have changed. Since I happen to have used TurboTax for the past 5 years, I decided to do some comparisons. (The photo is actually from my Mac's Application folder.)

C.P.: TurboTax Deluxe 2007 misleads the user regarding its ESPP capabilities.
At least in TurboTax Deluxe 2007 on the Mac**, TurboTax Deluxe affirmatively states that it will handle ESPP for you. Even though it really doesn't.

TurboTax 2007's big improvement is the "life changes" section that is supposed to help narrow the issues. Well, one of those questions is about ESPP.
  • TurboTax Deluxe 2007 specifically asks if the user participated in an ESPP in one of the very first "life changes" questions. Deluxe even responded "Your Employee Stock Plan - TurboTax will walk you though your purchase and/or sale for tax purposes to make sure you get all the savings you deserve."
  • In spite of its promises, TurboTax did not walk me through my ESPP sales; instead, it offered very basic assistance, treating the transaction as a standard stock sale.
  • TurboTax did not recommend an upgrade to Premier, even though Mr. Meighan notes that it would be a more appropriate product (see below).
  • TurboTax did not list ESPP in the income list at all this year; the ESPP entry completely fell off the map (see below).
TurboTax Deluxe 2007 specifically informs the user that it can and will handle ESPP share sales even though it does not (notice the Deluxe logo at the top left). This is either a misrepresentation or a very serious bug. The user is left thinking everything will be taken care of ... even though it won't be.

Don't believe me? Check out a screencast of the entire process. (You may need to hit full screen and then drag to enlarge the video to see it clearly; thanks to OmniDazzle for the highlighting feature).

Bob said: "Deluxe has not changed from last year in this [ESPP] area."
Bob is right; aside from the defects noted here, Intuit did not substantially deviate from its treatment of ESPP in Deluxe. There has been a slow decline in services offered by Deluxe in this regard (links to screencasts):
  • TurboTax Deluxe 2003 fully supported ESPP sales, including detailed interview topics.
  • TurboTax Deluxe 2004 dropped interview support for ESPP sales, recommended using Premier instead, but still listed ESPP for manual entry and allowed the user to designate whether allocations were included on a W2.
  • TurboTax Deluxe 2005 did not recommend using Premier, though it still listed ESPP for manual entry, and had the check box for wage allocation on a W2.
  • TurboTax Deluxe 2006 recommended Premier and then just tells you how to enter manually (as an investment) without even limited support.
  • TurboTax Deluxe 2007 asks about ESPP early in the life changes section of its interview. It says it will handle ESPPs, never warns that Premier is a better option, and then completely omits ESPP from the income choices later in the interview (it can be handled manually as a stock transaction).
I hadn't noticed these before because my previous participation in ESPP was limited to buying shares, which does not require any special treatment on the tax return (nor could I tell that TurboTax says to consider Premier once you start selling all of your hard-earned stock goodness).

So it appears that true interview support for ESPP in Deluxe was killed in 2004. So Deluxe 2006 was almost as bad as Deluxe 2007. Except that 2007 over-promises (above), and ...

Bob said: "However, if you want additional guidance and help in this complex area, then we recommend TurboTax Premier."
But ...

TurboTax Deluxe 2007 does not warn when Premier is more appropriate.
One of my complaints was that users were not warned that Premier was a better choice for certain areas (i.e.: ESPP). Mr. Mehigan did not address that issue; I believe that it remains a problem (apparently limited to Mac users) -- especially since the interview process promises that it will handle everything.

Prior versions had mixed success in warning users that Premier was a better choice for ESPP sales; Deluxe 2007 falls flat.

TurboTax Deluxe 2007 does not allow Mac users to immediately upgrade to Premier, and TurboTax support does not clearly indicate this fact.
So far, a user is left thinking everything is handled, and hasn't even been warned that another (more expensive product) is a better solution (since it might actually work). But even if a user knew he needed to upgrade, a Mac user cannot immediately do so (as a PC user can).

And Intuit's support is currently inaccurate. Just ask TINA (Intuit's Automated support agent) for help, and she'll give you the wrong answer (note that I specifically asked "How to upgrade to TurboTax Premier for Mac").
There's video of an attempt to follow TINA's directions to upgrade.

If you go digging in the support site, hidden at the bottom of a support document is a note that Mac users cannot upgrade within the software, but must contact Intuit for help. But a user reading about "Deluxe" may be unaware of the disparate treatment of Mac users, and may not scroll to the bottom -- especially since Mac users buy the exact same TurboTax Deluxe box as PC users.

Bob, please let TINA know she's wrong. And make that disclaimer in the support doc a little more apparent. Better yet, add full functionality to the Mac version!

Bob said: "
If you had continued on to Final Review, our diagnostics would have picked up the incomplete information."
Remember, this complaint was about TurboTax's failure to note that it didn't get basis information when it sucked information down from E*Trade. Quite frankly, addressing this issue during the Final Review is hardly a solution.

Based on TurboTax's behavior, I was presented with a screen indicating I owed three times the amount actually due. Suggesting that I should continue clicking on, and proceed to submit the return before an error is flagged is ridiculous.

I hardly think my behavior was abnormal when, suddenly presented with $20,000 in extra taxes due, I panicked and tried to figure out what the hell was wrong. The last thing I considered doing was saying, "aw shucks!" going on to the Final Review. Instead, I set about re-entering the information manually.

Thankfully, it appears that the issue has been resolved, because when I tried to duplicate the error tonight, I received the necessary warning about the missing cost basis.

Bob said: "Most retailers charge $30 extra for Premier (over Deluxe). However, by law we cannot dictate the price retailers charge. The fact that you found Premier at a discount is good in that there is a lot of competition in the market."
This was responding to my complaint that, after two tries to contact customer service in order to manually upgrade from Deluxe to Premier, I declined the agent's offer of $30 to upgrade when it was cheaper to do so in a retail store.

Bob's answer may be true from a inside/outside sales perspective, but it ignores the customer experience entirely. It seems that a more customer-friendly solution would be to match the price -- or give the upgrade for free due to the frustration endured by: trying to overcome TINA's stupidity, locating the correct answer hidden on Intuit's website, a failed initial attempt (an e-mail agent that doesn't even specify the price of the upgrade), and then overcoming the overseas contract agent's language barriers to actually communicate the problem and determine a solution.

Bob said: "Oh, by the way, I'm always looking out for the most outrageous and absurd blogs about TurboTax. No, just kidding. I actually use Google to help me troll for TurboTax postings so I can listen and respond."

I'm hope that Bob really was kidding and doesn't think that this is "outrageous" or "absurd." I believe that there are some serious issues regarding Intuit's implementation of TurboTax Deluxe 2007. Perhaps these are limited to the Mac versions of the software -- even so, they should be fixed.

Hopefully this post will help. Bob: send me an e-mail and I'll let you know where to send me my fees for the Q.C. work. "No, just kidding."

* I assume that the individual claiming to be Bob Mehigan of TurboTax is, in fact, Mr. Mehigan for purposes of this post.
** All comments are based on TurboTax Deluxe 2007 (TurboTax Engine v. 07-91), installed on a Mac.

...there's more to this story--click me!

Officemade Soft-Boiled Egg Experiment

In keeping with my New Year's resolution of getting into shape and eating better, I have been trying to eat breakfast everyday. I'm not normally a breakfast person.* But, everyone has been telling me that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so I've been trying to eat breakfast everyday.

Last week, I discovered that I really liked toast with peanut butter and dunking that into coffee with plenty of cream and sugar. This week, I am experimenting on officemade (as opposed to homemade) soft-boiled eggs. The photo at the top of this blog entry is my goal (though I would like the yolk to be even runnier than that). Today, I put an egg into a coffee cup (the insulated fuzzy kind that is so popular in offices everywhere), and poured hot water from the coffee maker into the cup. I let it sit for 10 minutes, then drained out the water and repeated. Then, I cracked open the egg on one end.

The egg white was done on the outer most layer, but the "inside" of the egg white was still runny. (By "runny," I mean it was still in that cottage cheese phase and had not progressed to the Jello Jigglers phase.) However, the egg yolk was done. It was still the color of a sunnyside up egg yolk, but it was definitely just done. (I couldn't have sopped up the yolk with my toast.) Now, why would the yolk be done, but the white be still a bit runny? What should I do if I want whites with the consistency of Jello Jigglers, but a runny yolk with the consistency of sunnyside up yolk?


* This is related to my naturally late waking hour. Eating at 10:30am may ruin my appetite for lunch at the standard noon hour. Plus, if I am starving by noon, then I feel "justified" to pig out. However, I always get up at 7am to feed the cats. Before, I would feed them and go back to bed for an hour but, lately, I've been riding the stationary bike and watching my BBC shows instead of going back to bed.

...there's more to this story--click me!

Happy Birthday, Freelance Midget!!

Oh, our little one is growing up. In lieu of a birthday cake, I am giving you a photo of something you love much more:
That's right--family time with a hot pot! Yes, look at that broth:

Look at those meats:

I am drooling as we speak.

...there's more to this story--click me!

History Repeats Itself

So, the Nu Kitties are a very spoiled pair. They get morning feedings at 7am sharp and dinner at 5pm sharp. They also get all day dry kibble buffet (hypo-allergenic, $26.00 for a small bag stuff because of Kash's throw up troubles), pure chicken breast snacks and catnip infused dried shrimp snacks. And, they get all this just because I feel guilty for never having treated Sushi to anything good while she was with us. Check out their breakfast and dinner selections--WERUVA. Click on "Cuisine," then scroll down on the left frame to see all of the new flavors:

Polynesian BBQ (red bigeye)
Mediterranean Harvest (tuna)
Outback Grill (barramundi)
Asian Fusion (shirasu)
Mideast Feast (tilapia)
Meow Luau (aloe)
Marbella Paella (calamari)
Mack & Jack (skipjack)
ETC.

The other night, they were served Steak Frites (shredded steak with potatoes, carrots, and peas). But, Kash didn't finish his dinner. He left all of the peas on his plate. When I saw this I quickly retrieved my camera, but when I got back to his dish, Skillet was there scarfing up the peas. There was only 1.5 left when I swatted her away:
The point is, though, that someone else had a battle with peas when they were young. Can you guess who?

...there's more to this story--click me!

Monday, February 18, 2008

No, I am not dead.

I am just tired.

...there's more to this story--click me!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Music of the Week: You're My Best Friend (Queen)

To Sushi...





Ooo. you make me live
whatever this world can give to me
It's you, you're all I see
Ooo, you make me live now honey
Ooo, you make me live
You're the best friend
that I ever had
I've been with you such a long time
You're my sunshine
And I want you to know
That my feelings are true
I really love you
You're my best friend
Ooo, you make me live
I've been wandering round
But I still come back to you
In rain or shine
You've stood by me girl
I'm happy, happy at home
You're my best friend.
You're the first one
When things turn out bad
You know I'll never be lonely
You're my only one
And I love
The things that you do
You're my best friend
Ooo, you make me live.
I'm happy, happy at home
You're my best friend
You're my best friend
Ooo, you make me live
You, you're my best friend.

...there's more to this story--click me!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fogerty Winery

This year's Nu, Nu, & Nu LLP associates' retreat was a Kitchen Challenge at the Thomas Fogarty Winery (no relation to Tom Fogerty of CCR fame). The drive up to the Santa Cruz mountains was rather treacherous. Very very foggy. I wanted to stop and take some photos of the fog, but was too scared to. It lifted when I finally got to the winery, though.

I got to the front door, drove down the drive, and immediately felt very welcomed. I drove past some vines and got to some sort of building. Right about that time, the fog started to roll back in. I parked Dolly.* (eBay was also there!) The others were there already (see Green Thumbs McGillicutty in the middle front in the black sweater and jeans, and Cl. Panic in the back in the blue and grey baseball shirt). The place was decorated with winery decorations, including barrels in the kitchen, old-style grape crushing equipment, and wine and cheese stained glass windows in the bathroom (which included an old-style toilet).

The main ingredient was flank steak and we were given all sorts of other ingredients to work with. I was totally surprised to see all sorts of Asian ingredients, including the world-famous Sriracha. One thing that was missing was Maggi Sauce. Very disappointing. We could have really shined with that one. Anywhoo, we were then split into teams and cooked. Sorry, I don't have photos of that, but I do have a video of Cl. Panic cooking (he was on my team):


In the end, our team won! By that time, the fog had rolled back in. Here's what had happened in only 1 hour:

(before fog)


(after fog)


*Notice the tafoni rock under the sign! That's something we learned about on a previous hike.

...there's more to this story--click me!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Kitty Korner (2/15 -- Guest Stars)

Well, the Nu Kitties are as cute as ever. They love to sit in the window sill, awake or asleep:


Really, they just like to sit in places where they aren't supposed to be:


Lately, well, not really just lately but for a while now, I've been worried that Skillet is getting a bit chubby. You all know about her so-called "megadump" from a couple weeks back. So, is Skillet getting fat? I worry for her. Here's a bird's eye view of her body shape:


Here's sideview:


Mr. Nonny Nu says that Skillet is just built that way, like a bulldog. We'll see. She is the most agile and unpredictable acrobat/ninja I've ever seen, I'll give her that.

Anyhow, we have two special guests today! First, here is Winston, Willy Wonka's pooch, in some cool shades being photographed for the Santa Cruz Sentinal. This poor doggie has had to endure reindeer antlers and now this:


Also, we had a special guest at the truly pettable Backyard Petting Zoo a couple nights ago:

...there's more to this story--click me!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Backyard Petting Zoo* on Steroids
by cl. panic, the Dr. Doolittle of Guest Bloggers

The other weekend I made a trip down to San Diego, which is apparently known for having a quaint little zoo. My favorite adult associate and I signed up for an annual membership. And since that means I now own a little piece of the zoo, I get to call it my backyard.

Holy crap, is it a big backyard! Complete with tour buses and a sky tram (just like Michael Jackson's backyard)! But not even Mr. Jackson can compete with the sheer number of animals that the world famous San Diego Zoo has amassed.

While you might be able to see a dik dik in Mr. Jackson's backyard, good luck finding a takin.


The most entertaining part of the visit was watching the swamp monkeys play with spotted neck otters. Shenanigans all around!
We also saw Mr. Nonny Nu. Who knew he loved carrots so much? I always thought he was more of a "baby seal" eater.
We waited in line to see the panda. It just sat there eating bamboo. No lessons about sexual harassment, no playful behavior, not even any eye contact with the enamored crowd. MMD IMHO. Since the zoo has to pay China $1 million a year for having the panda, you'd think it could at least do some tricks or something...

Oh well, there's still a lot to see. Good thing we got a pass, because you really can't see everything in a day. It's that big!

* Note: You cannot pet the animals.

...there's more to this story--click me!

What am I missing here?



I recently rented Love Story and Ordinary People because they seemed to be such legends in film goers' minds. But, when I watched them, I couldn't figure out what was the big deal about these two movies. I was not moved by either one. The chick in Love Story didn't make me feel sorry for her when she died, and I didn't feel sorry for the dude, either. I just didn't get my heart wrenched out by watching this movie. Same with Ordinary People. This one was better than Love Story because the characters were at least not annoying. But, again, I didn't really feel anything much for them.

Now, when I go to IMDb, Love Story got 6.5 (which is expected), but Ordinary People got 7.8. Really? 7.8? You know what else got 7.8? Stuff like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Mash, Adaptation, The Machinist, The Magnificent Seven, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Longest Day, and Fanfreakingtasia.

But, no, apparently, Ordinary People is better than:
Out of Africa (6.9<--HAHAHAHHAHHHAHAAA!!! Riiiiiight. *roll eyes*) Gosford Park (7.2)
Friday Night Lights (7.2)
Gangs of New York (7.3)
Coalminer's Daughter (7.3)
Terms of Endearment (7.3--HA!!)
Best in Show (7.4)
Kramer v. Kramer (7.6--now, this was a heartwrenching movie; I really recommend this one)
Midnight Express (7.5)
Open Range (7.5)
Shine (7.5)
Marathon Man (7.6)
Empire of the Sun (7.6)
American Grafitti (7.6)
Babette's Feast (7.7)
The Last of the Mohicans (7.7)
My Left Foot (7.7--HAHAHHAHAHAA!!!)
The Verdict (7.7)
The Outlaw Josey Wales (7.7)
Giant (7.7)
The Sound of Music (7.7--OMG, KILL ME NOW, I BEG YOU.)

Of course, if you want something just a bit better than Ordinary People, try these:
In the Name of the Father (7.9)
The Remains of the Day (7.9--this one made Mr. Nonny Nu want to kill himself more than usual)
Captains Courageous (7.9--cripes...)
Young Frankenstein (7.9)
The Searchers (7.9)
Roman Holiday (7.9)
This is Spinal Tap (11--Just kidding, this got a 7.9)
Rope (7.9)
Harold and Maude (7.9)
Rocky (7.9)
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (7.9)
Hud (7.9)
Dances with Wolves (7.9)
Papillon (7.9)
United 93 (7.9--yeah, this one is only a tad more interesting than Ordinary People)
Almost Famous (7.9)
The Exorcist (8.0)
Spartacus (8.0--Don't listen to him; I am Spartacus.)
The Killing Fields (8.0)
All the President's Men (8.0)
Sling Blade (8.0)
Planet of the Apes (8.0)

What is this world coming to? I really don't get what is the big deal about Ordinary People, and why it's so "moving." What am I missing here?

...there's more to this story--click me!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"No, it di'int!!" --Bob Meighan

Good grief. So, as you all can see, Cl. Panic's shamelisting of TurboTax has brought the illustrious (and prolific) Bob Meighan to our humble little blog. When I first saw his comment, I was honestly flattered. I mean, the VP of TurboTax here?? ["no way" --Freelance Midget (via Gmail Chat)]

Upon further research, however, it became quite evident that TWoNN means nothing whatsoever to Mr. Meighan. Mr. Meighan seems to be everywhere these tax days. ["he's all over google" --Lucy's Mom (via Gmail Chat)] It's hard to find a review of TurboTax that goes uncorrected by him. For example, on Amazon, he has three comments.* So, I guess we at TWoNN aren't all that special after all.

The photo at right shows Marvin the Martian's dramatic portrayal of Bob Meighan.

* Notice that, in the third review, Mr. Meighan rated the TurboTax product at 3 stars, which is above the midpoint, even though he characterizes this as "the midpoint." I guess, like 50 cents on TurboTax, the half-star gets rounded up on Amazon. I don't know though. That's a possible shenanigans.

...there's more to this story--click me!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Shamelisted: Intuit's TurboTax Shenanigans
cl. panic, guest finance blogger

In keeping with the shame listing theme, Intuit is getting added to the list for its TurboTax shenanigans -- another in a long list of profit-mongering, customer-screwing move by those good folks down the street in Mountain View. You listening Tom Cook?

Step One: Confuse the consumer.
So you're thinking of doing your own taxes with TurboTax? Great. Just pick your product and get started right away: TurboTax Basic, TurboTax Deluxe, TurboTax Deluxe + State, TurboTax Deluxe + State + e-file, TurboTax Premier + State, TurboTax Home & Business + State or TurboTax Business. Or, instead of buying and installing software, you can use TurboTax Online Free, Deluxe or Premium.

If you get the right software CD, it includes a free download of a state program, but probably doesn't include an e-file. Do it online and it includes a free e-file, but doesn't include a state product. But not all boxes include state. But some do include e-file. But even then, only the federal e-file and not the state e-file, even if they say they include State. Oh, and state is always a download, so you better have an internet connection no matter what.

And here's the thing: these all do basically the same thing. It comes down to the nuances, and Intuit's hoping that you'll be so confused that you'll just overbuy out of fear. Or they'll stick it to you on the back end.

Step Two: Remove features.
Being the ignorant consumer that I am, I purchased TurboTax Deluxe + State from a local reseller. Why? Well, I've purchased and installed TurboTax Deluxe for the past five years. It's always done everything that I need, including options for stock and ESPP sales.

But not this year. Intuit stripped out some of the investment capabilities, including complete and total removal of any help for people with ESPP. But it was in prior versions; I went back and checked (though with decreasing ease of entry)*. This year it's gone completely.

Step Three: HA! Upgrade, asshole, and get those features back.
Well that was the plan. Make the user upgrade to get all of the features that we removed. We'll just prompt the user, take some credit card details and restore the lost functionality.

Except that it didn't prompt me to let me know that there were more features to be had. After searching to learn that I was missing features, I asked TINA for help upgrading, and followed her steps, clicking on the appointed links. Nope. No choice to upgrade. As it turns out, they never added that feature for Mac users. So even though the support site says you can directly upgrade, you actually can't on a Mac.

Unless you deal with tech support. In India. And are able to successfully convey the problem. (That took an e-mail and a chat). And then? $30 to upgrade when there was only a $20 difference in price from the retailer to have purchased Premier originally.

Step Four: Do Taxes with the WRONG information.
So TurboTax is really cool and just sucks in your information from banks, employers and brokers. No manual entry. No mistakes. Quick and easy. Until it imports incomplete information without warning.

TurboTax sucked in my stock sale from E*Trade and went on its way. One problem: it didn't receive any cost basis or sale date information. Fine, that's E*Trade's problem. But TurboTax didn't warn me that there was missing information. Nor did it tell me that it defaulted the the most conservative treatment possible. Instead, it just assumed the basis was zero, and that it was a short term capital gain. Translation: Triple the tax on that stock sale.

Only when Cl. Panic exclaimed "WTF!" and started digging into the forms did he find the error. Thanks a lot TurboTax. Deduction maximizer my ass.

Step Five: E-File.
Oh, that'll cost you. $17.95 for your federal return and another $17.95 for the state return. (Or you can use the online, e-file included version, and pay an extra $29.95 to file the state return ... a fee not originally disclosed unless you look for it.)

Postage and certified mail with electronic return receipt will cost you a mere $4.47 for each return if you trust it to the boys in blue shorts with tube socks. And you can still get a direct deposit of your refund with a paper return.

Step Six: Call Shenanigans!
It took about 3 hours of wasted time to try and get TurboTax to do everything correctly. And granted, if I had purchased Premier originally, things probably would have been smoother. But Deluxe correctly handled ESPP sales in prior years, and I trusted my past experience.

I'm sending it back under the money back guarantee. If I'm going to spend $80 and three hours of time trying to get the damned thing to work, I'm better of paying someone else to do it. Especially since blindly trusting its import feature would have resulted in an extra $20,000 in tax liability.

Hey Intuit--thanks for nothing.

If you have really basic taxes, consider the truly free I-CAN online filing brought to you by the good folks in Orange County. Free federal and state (several states available) e-filing regardless of income status.

* Compare 2007 Edition (no ESPP option), with 2006 Edition (with ESPP option).

[Edits for readability spurred by recent status promotion.]

...there's more to this story--click me!

Shamelisted: Lazy Employees

Hello, world. So, I just got back from the DMV. Well, not really. To be accurate, I just got back form the DMV's parking lot. You see, it's Abraham Lincoln's birthday today, so the DMV is taking off so that their employees can celebrate. Now, I love Lincoln like he was my own president, so I'm feeling a bit of mixed feelings right now, but is it just me? Or, is laziness pervading the workplaces of America? No doubt, they will also get President's Day off as well as Washington's Birthday off. I think that's unfair. They get three days off for only two presidents' birthdays. What's up with that, huh?

As I was driving into work today, I was reflecting upon my observations at [an extended meeting] last year. Near the end of the day (I'm talking about 4:45pm), [an employee of a meeting participant] would just get up and leave. IN THE MIDDLE OF [A MEETING SESSION]. Yeah, you read that right. [Everyone else, including the most important participant that everyone was trying to convince] would stay, but the [employee] would just literally shut down her computer, get up, walk out of her little "station" in front of the [main dude], and stroll from the front of the [room], past the [participant] tables, open the little swinging half door, go through, pass through the [observers' seating area], pull open the two large wooden doors, and take off. Just like that. Everyday at 4:45pm, we'd see this happen. Now, if I were to just get up during a meeting at 4:45pm and leave, I'd be out of a job.

But, it gets worse. I was hung up on the lazy government employee (even though it's really just laziness in general, not specifically associated with government work), so I was looking for some funny photo of a government employee today to do this blog entry, and so I image googled "government employee." I found something far worse than a degrading depiction of these so-called public "servants".* Now, I don't know what kind of data the following graphs are derived from, but in my fit of government employee rage, I am going to believe anything that paints a lazy, over-compensated picture of the government employee (i.e., for all of my intents and purposes at this moment, these graphs are COMPLETELY ACCURATE). Just take a look...

There are A LOT of government employees and they are multiplying like rabbits:
















They get paid more than your average Joe (both in Canada and in the US):










Their salaries increase more rapidly than our salaries do (in the private sector):










Now, I guess I was targeting the government employees in this post because of my DMV experience.** But, it's really not just them (though it really does look like they have it better than the civilian worker). It's just laziness in general.

* Ha! "Servants" my ass... You have to be present to serve.

[edit] I'm shamelisting this.

[edit] Edited to remove offensive/identifying stuff.

[edit]
** Oh, this reminds me. I tried not to generalize the government employee, but I am very willing to generalize the DMV employee. These are, by far, the laziest people I've met. The last time I went to the DMV (not this morning's ride through their parking lot, but the last time I actually went there and was provided "service"), I watched this chick sit at her desk for 8 minutes doing nothing. I'm talking nothing. She wasn't surfing the net. She wasn't reading a book. She wasn't tidying her desk. She wasn't filing her nails. She was doing nothing except breathing and allowing other involuntary bodily functions to proceed as they tend to do when a live person is doing absolutely nothing. Now, as usual, there were lines and lines of people waiting to be served by these public servants. But, I guess she wanted her full lunch break. I watched her watch the clock. At exactly 1:30, she calls the next number and then starts to work. I guess she didn't want to be cheated out of her 8 minutes of lunch time.

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