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Government

Slashdot Asks: How Do You Pay Your Taxes? 366

Posted by timothy
from the what-you're-billed-and-what-you-owe-aren't-identical dept.
April 15, 2014 isn't just a full moon: it's Tax Day in the U.S. That means most American adults have already submitted a tax return, or an extension request, to the IRS and -- except for a few lucky states -- to their state governments as well. I filed my (very simple) tax return online. After scanning the free options, since I live in a state -- Texas -- that does not collect personal income tax, I chose Tax Act's free services. That meant enduring a series of annoying upgrade plugs throughout the process, but I could live with that; I have no reason to think it was better or worse than TurboTax or any of the other e-Filing companies, but I liked Tax Act’s interface, and it seemed less skeevy in all those upgrade plugs than the others I glanced at. The actual process took an hour and 19 minutes once I sat down with the papers I needed. My financial life is pretty simple, though: I didn't buy or sell a house, didn't buy or sell stocks outside of a retirement account mutual fund, and didn't move from one state to another. How do you do your taxes? Do you have an argument for one or another of the online services, or any cautionary tales? Do you prefer to send in forms on paper? Do you hire an accountant? (And for readers outside the U.S., it's always interesting to hear how taxes work in other countries, too. Are there elements of the U.S. system you'd prefer, or that you're glad you don't need to deal with?)
Businesses

How Amazon Keeps Cutting AWS Prices: Cheapskate Culture 138

Posted by timothy
from the mining-the-couch-for-change dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Amazon Web Services has cut its prices on 40-plus consecutive occasions, at times leading the charge, at other times countering similar moves by Microsoft and Google. This article at CRN includes some interesting behind-the-scenes trivia about how Amazon keeps costs down, including some interesting speculation — for example, that perhaps the reason Amazon's Glacier storage is so cheap is that maybe it might be based at least partly on tape, not disk (Amazon would not comment). The article also explains that the company will only pay for its employees to fly Economy, and that includes its senior executives. If they feel the need to upgrade to Business or First Class, they must do so from their own pocket. And instead of buying hardware from an OEM vendor, AWS sources its own components – everything from processors to disk drives to memory and network cards — and uses contract manufacturing to put together its machines."
The Almighty Buck

IRS Can Now Seize Your Tax Refund To Pay a Relative's Debt 584

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the dead-...-beat-relatives? dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Just in time for the April 15 IRS filing deadline comes news from the Washington Post that hundreds of thousands of taxpayers expecting refunds are instead getting letters informing them of tax debts they never knew about: often a debt incurred by their parents. The government is confiscating their checks, sometimes over debts 20—30 years old. For example, when Mary Grice was 4 (in 1960), her father died ... 'Until the kids turned 18, her mother received survivor benefits from Social Security ... Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family in 1977. ... Four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. ... "It was a shock," says Grice, 58. "What incenses me is the way they went about this. They gave me no notice, they can't prove that I received any overpayment, and they use intimidation tactics, threatening to report this to the credit bureaus."' The Treasury Department has intercepted ... $75 million from debts delinquent for more than 10 years according to the department's debt management service. 'The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.'"
Transportation

Will This Flying Car Get Crowdfunded? 154

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-about-my-jetpack? dept.
cartechboy (2660665) writes "We all just have too much money on our hands, and we really want a flying car, right? Well that's what Skylys thinks, as it's trying to crowdfund a flying car. According to its website, 'In detail we aim to create an urban dual-mode, hybrid flight and electric drive motorized vehicle that fits into sustainable mobility.' How much money does it need? Oh about $3,111,075. Apparently the company has run out of money and needs more to 'start construction on our two prototypes to confirm our technical specifications; pay the chaps in the legal department; industrial engineers and take up occupancy of our future offices in Silicon Valley, where our backers can of course pay us a visit.'"
Transportation

The Best Parking Apps You've Never Heard Of and Why You Haven't 162

Posted by samzenpus
from the park-that-anywhere dept.
Bennett Haselton writes "If you read no further, use either the BestParking or ParkMe app to search all nearby parking garages for the cheapest spot, based on the time you're arriving and leaving. I'm interested in the question of why so few people know about these apps, how is it that they've been partially crowded out by other 'parking apps' that are much less useful, and why our marketplace for ideas and intellectual properly is still so inefficient." Read below to see what Bennett has to say.
Google

Mr. Schmidt Goes To Washington: A Look Inside Google's Lobbying Behemoth 111

Posted by samzenpus
from the mr.-president-we-seem-to-be-alone dept.
barlevg (2111272) writes "In May 2012, in the midst of an FTC investigation into Google's search practices, the law school at George Mason University in Northern Virginia hosted a conference attended by congressmen, regulators and staffers. The topic: competition, search and social media. What none of the attendees of the conference knew was that Google was pulling many of the strings behind the event, even going so far as to suggest invited speakers. This event, as documented in The Washington Post is just a snapshot of the operations of one of the largest and highest spending lobbying entities in DC, a far cry from the one-man shop it started out as nine years ago, from a company "disdainful" of Washington's "pay-to-play" culture."
GNOME

The GNOME Foundation Is Running Out of Money 665

Posted by samzenpus
from the coffers-are-bare dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The GNOME Foundation is running out of money. The foundation no longer has any cash reserves so they have voted to freeze non-essential funding for running the foundation. They are also hunting down sponsors and unpaid invoices to regain some delayed revenue. Those wishing to support the GNOME Foundation can become a friend of GNOME."
Businesses

Apple's Spotty Record of Giving Back To the Tech Industry 265

Posted by samzenpus
from the giving-back dept.
chicksdaddy (814965) writes "Given Apple's status as the world's most valuable company and its enormous cash hoard, the refusal to offer even meager support to open source and industry groups is puzzling. From the article: 'Apple bundles software from the Apache Software Foundation with its OS X operating system, but does not financially support the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) in any way. That is in contrast to Google and Microsoft, Apple's two chief competitors, which are both Platinum sponsors of ASF — signifying a contribution of $100,000 annually to the Foundation. Sponsorships range as low as $5,000 a year (Bronze), said Sally Khudairi, ASF's Director of Marketing and Public Relations. The ASF is vendor-neutral and all code contributions to the Foundation are done on an individual basis. Apple employees are frequent, individual contributors to Apache. However, their employer is not, Khudairi noted. The company has been a sponsor of ApacheCon, a for-profit conference that runs separately from the Foundation — but not in the last 10 years. "We were told they didn't have the budget," she said of efforts to get Apple's support for ApacheCon in 2004, a year in which the company reported net income of $276 million on revenue of $8.28 billion.'"
PC Games (Games)

PC Gaming Alive and Dominant 241

Posted by Soulskill
from the from-my-cold,-dead-hands dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Ars reports on a panel at PAX East which delved into the strength of the PC as a platform for games, and what its future looks like. The outlook is positive: 'Even as major computer OEMs produce numbers showing falling sales, the PC as a platform (and especially a gaming platform) actually shows strong aggregate growth.' The panelists said that while consoles get a lot of the headlines, the PC platform remains the only and/or best option for a lot of developers and gamers. They briefly addressed piracy, as well: 'Piracy, [Matt Higby] said, is an availability and distribution problem. The more games are crowdfunded and digitally delivered and the less a "store" figures into buying games, the less of a problem piracy becomes. [Chris Roberts] was quick to agree, and he noted that the shift to digital distribution also helps the developers make more money — they ostensibly don't have everyone along the way from retailers to publishers to distributors taking their cut from the sale.'"
The Almighty Buck

Can You Buy a License To Speed In California? 322

Posted by Soulskill
from the downside-is-that-you-have-to-be-in-california dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: "Alex Mayyasi reports that in the parking lots of Silicon Valley's venture capital firms, expensive cars gleam in the California sun and a closer look reveals that the cars share a mysterious detail: they nearly all have a custom license plate frame that reads, 'Member. 11-99 Foundation.' Are the Bay Area's wealthy all part of some sort of illuminati group that identifies each other by license plate instead of secret handshakes? The answer is the state highway patrol — the men and women that most people interact with only when getting ticketed for speeding. A number of the frames read 'CHP 11-99 Foundation,' which is the full name of a charitable organization that supports California Highway Patrol officers and their families in times of crisis. Donors receive one license plate as part of a $2,500 'Classic' level donation, or two as part of a bronze, silver, or gold level donation of $5,000, $10,000, or $25,000. Rumor has it, according to Mayyasi, that the license plate frames come with a lucrative return on investment. As one member of a Mercedes-Benz owners community wrote online back in 2002: 'I have the ultimate speeding ticket solution. I paid $1800 for a lifetime membership into the 11-99 foundation. My only goal was to get the infamous 'get out of jail' free license plate frame.'

The 11-99 Foundation has sold license plate frames for most of its 32 year existence, and drivers have been aware of the potential benefits since at least the late 1990s. But attention to the issue in 2006-2008 led the foundation to stop giving out the frames. An article in the LA Times asked 'Can Drivers Buy CHP Leniency?' and began by describing a young man zipping around traffic — including a police cruiser — and telling the Times that he believed his 11-99 frames kept him from receiving a ticket. But the decision was almost irrelevant to another thriving market: the production and sale of fake 11-99 license plate frames. But wait — the CHP 11-99 Foundation also gives out membership cards to big donors. 'Unless you have the I.D. in hand when (not if) I stop you,' says one cop, 'no love will be shown.'"
Government

Cost Skyrockets For United States' Share of ITER Fusion Project 172

Posted by Soulskill
from the burning-plasma-and-benjamins dept.
sciencehabit writes: "ITER, the international fusion experiment under construction in Cadarache, France, aims to prove that nuclear fusion is a viable power source by creating a 'burning plasma' that produces more energy than the machine itself consumes. Although that goal is at least 20 years away, ITER is already burning through money at a prodigious pace. The United States is only a minor partner in the project, which began construction in 2008. But the U.S. contribution to ITER will total $3.9 billion — roughly four times as much as originally estimated — according to a new cost estimate released yesterday. That is about $1.4 billion higher than a 2011 cost estimate, and the numbers are likely to intensify doubts among some members of Congress about continuing the U.S. involvement in the project."
Businesses

Michael Bloomberg: You Can't Teach a Coal Miner To Code 577

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can't-teach-an-old-dog-how-to-use-a-for-loop dept.
theodp (442580) writes "Gigaom reports that while speaking at the Bloomberg Energy Summit on Wednesday, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he gives 'a lot of money to the Sierra Club' to help close dirty coal plants, but added that as a society we have to 'have some compassion to do it gently.' Subsidies to help displaced workers are one option, said Bloomberg, while retraining is another option. But, in a slight to the tech industry's sometimes out-of-touch nature with workers outside of Silicon Valley, he said retraining needs to be realistic, 'You're not going to teach a coal miner to code,' argued Bloomberg. 'Mark Zuckerberg says you teach them to code and everything will be great. I don't know how to break it to you... but no.'"
NASA

NASA Setting Up $250,000 Mars Lander Competition 44

Posted by samzenpus
from the build-it-for-us dept.
coondoggie (973519) writes "NASA this week said it is exploring setting up one of its iconic Centennial Challenge competitions for companies to build a robotic Mars landing spacecraft. NASA said it would expect to have about $250,000 worth of prize money for a robotic spacecraft that could land on the Red Planet, retrieve a sample and return it to orbit."
The Almighty Buck

Comcast PAC Gave Money To Every Senator Examining Time Warner Cable Merger 133

Posted by samzenpus
from the best-government-money-can-buy dept.
An anonymous reader writes in with news about money and politics that is sure to shock no one."It's no surprise that Comcast donates money to members of Congress. Political connections come in handy for a company seeking government approval of mergers, like Comcast's 2011 purchase of NBCUniversal and its proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable (TWC). But just how many politicians have accepted money from Comcast's political arm? In the case of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held the first congressional hearing on the Comcast/TWC merger yesterday, the answer is all of them."
Businesses

MA Gov. Wants To Ban Non-Competes; Will It Matter? 97

Posted by timothy
from the conscionable-vs.-unconscionable dept.
curtwoodward (2147628) writes "Entrepreneurs in Massachusetts say the state's legal enforcement of non-competition agreements hurts innovation — if you're going to get sued by Big Company X, you're probably not going to leave for a startup in the same industry. But those contracts have powerful supporters, including EMC, which is by far the state's largest tech company. Gov. Deval Patrick is finally picking a side in the debate by introducing his own bill to outlaw non-competes and adopt trade-secrets protections instead. Just one catch: he's a lame duck, and will be out of office in January."
Communications

New French Law Prohibits After-Hours Work Emails 475

Posted by timothy
from the annual-non-performance-review dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Lucy Mangan reports at The Guardian that a new labor agreement in France means that employees must ignore their bosses' work emails once they are out of the office and relaxing at home – even on their smartphones. Under the deal, which affects a million employees in the technology and consultancy sectors (including the French arms of Google, Facebook, and Deloitte), employees will also have to resist the temptation to look at work-related material on their computers or smartphones – or any other kind of malevolent intrusion into the time they have been nationally mandated to spend on whatever the French call la dolce vita. "We must also measure digital working time," says Michel De La Force, chairman of the General Confederation of Managers. "We can admit extra work in exceptional circumstances but we must always come back to what is normal, which is to unplug, to stop being permanently at work." However critics say it will impose further red tape on French businesses, which already face some of the world's tightest labor laws." (Continues)
Crime

Hewlett-Packard Admits To International Bribery and Money Laundering Schemes 139

Posted by samzenpus
from the was-that-wrong? dept.
First time accepted submitter CP (1315157) writes "Hewlett-Packard has admitted to [bribery and money laundering] in order to profiteer off of lucrative government contracts in Russia, Poland, and Mexico, according to court documents. HP's guilty plea carries with it a $108 million penalty — a combination of SEC penalties, as well as criminal fines and forfeitures paid out to the Department of Justice. Thus far no criminal charges have been brought against American HP executives. The multi-agency investigation, which was conducted by multi-national law enforcement partners, the FBI, IRS, and SEC, has revealed kleptocracies in the three foreign governments and corruption and dishonesty among HP corporate fat cats."
Businesses

Do Free-To-Play Games Get a Fair Shake? 181

Posted by Soulskill
from the pay-seven-cents-to-agree-or-disagree dept.
An anonymous reader writes "This article makes the case that most gamers treat 'free-to-play' games with derision and scorn when they really shouldn't. The author refers to it as 'snobbery.' We've all either encountered or heard about a game company using shady business practices to squeeze every cent from their users through in-app purchases (a.k.a. microtransations, a.k.a. cash shops), or a simple pay-to-win format. But these stories don't represent all games — by a long shot. It's something endemic to shady developers and publishers, not the business model. Think about traditionally-sold games, and how often you've seen a trailer that horribly misrepresents gameplay. Or a $60 game that was an unfinished, buggy mess. Or a Kickstarted project that didn't deliver on its promises. The author says, 'When something is new, when it isn't aimed at you, when it is created by strange people in strange places, when it breaks established norms and when it is becoming hugely popular... it's scary for the establishment. The ethical critique is an easy way to fight these changes, a call to protect the children or protect the irrational people who obviously can't like these games on their own merits. We begin to sound as reactionary as the ban on pinball or the fears over jazz music corrupting the minds of our youth.'"
Mozilla

Mozilla CEO Firestorm Likely Violated California Law 1109

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-ok-california-laws-aren't-like-real-people-laws dept.
theodp (442580) writes "While the rise and fall of Brendan Eich at Mozilla sparked a debate over how to properly strike a balance between an employee's political free speech and his employer's desire to communicate a particular corporate 'culture,' notes Brian Van Vleck at the California Workforce Resource Blog, the California Labor Code has already resolved this debate. 'Under California law,' Van Vleck explains, 'it is blatantly illegal to fire an employee because he has donated money to a political campaign. This rule is clearly set forth in Labor Code sections 1101-1102.' Section 1102 begins, 'No employer shall coerce or influence or attempt to coerce or influence his employees through or by means of threat of discharge or loss of employment to adopt or follow or refrain from adopting or following any particular course or line of political action or political activity.' Corporate Counsel's Marlisse Silver Sweeney adds, 'Mozilla is adamant that the board did not force Eich to resign, and asked him to stay on in another role. It also says that although some employees tweeted for his resignation, support for his leadership was expressed by a larger group of employees. And this is all a good thing for the company from a legal standpoint.' As Eich stepped down, Re/code reported that Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker said Eich's ability to lead the company had been badly damaged by the continued scrutiny over the hot-button issue. 'It's clear that Brendan cannot lead Mozilla in this setting,' Baker was quoted as saying. 'I think there has been pressure from all sides, of course, but this is Brendan's decision. Given the circumstances, this is not surprising.' Van Vleck offers these closing words of advice, 'To the extent employers want to follow in Mozilla's footsteps by policing their employees' politics in the interests of 'culture,' 'inclusiveness,' or corporate branding, they should be aware that their efforts will violate California law.'"

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