Scott's Column
New Computer, Taxes, and Land

March 1, 1999
By Scott Lewis

The green light is very green. I am getting a new computer. In fact, I am building it piece by piece. I have ordered everything and I am just waiting for it all to arrive. The UPS driver is going to get tired of seeing my house over the next couple of weeks.

Building vs. Buying a Computer

I won’t go into a lot of detail in this column. There is so much information that I decided to break it up into two columns for my Feature Article. The first article is in this month’s column, so read about it there. In a nutshell, I ordered all the parts through a total of 4 mail order vendors.

I was very close to ordering a Dell, but when my wife heard the final cost with shipping and sales tax I cancelled the order. This let me build my own system. My wife was apprehensive about me building one. I have never done it before, and she didn’t trust me. With the over $300 in shipping and tax from Dell, she let me build it. The specs for the Dell are in this months Feature Article, as well as the components I selected and why. Next month’s Feature Article with tell about building the machine and document the entire building process.

Tax Time

It is also tax time. I used Turbo Tax to do my taxes this year. This is the 7th year in a row I have used Turbo Tax. The first five years I used to enter in the information as I got it in the mail. I found that Turbo Tax’s biggest problem was trying to get back into the middle of an interview session that you competed without all your necessary forms.

Last year, and this year, I waited until I had all the W-2 forms and the form from my mortgage company, before starting Turbo Tax. I received the final form in the mail on Jan. 23rd. It was a Saturday, so I spent about an hour and a half getting all the info into Turbo Tax.

This year the IRS sent me an E-File number as part of a trial for paperless electronic filing. In the past, if you wanted to use tax software to electronically file, you still had to print out a special form, and mail it to the tax software-processing center with your signature. This is a CYA (Cover Your Ass) thing so that your signature is on file somewhere to verify you did (or know about) your taxes.

This made it impossible to have a paperless tax return. This is the reason I never electronically filed before. The E-File system the IRS came up with gave me a number to enter into the software that identifies me. I just plug this number in at the appropriate time, and I don’t have to sign anything. Just connect to the Internet and file away.

Well I got my refund on Feb. 4th, just 12 days after filing. It was electronically transferred to my checking account. This is the fastest I have gotten my refund. It is a great time to be alive and into computers. I also electronically filed my father-in-laws, and one of my brother-in-laws taxes.

The only downside I see is the $9.95 fee per filing. Turbo Tax charges $9.95 when you file your taxes through their system. Their system is supposed to check your return for possible errors, and covert it to the format the IRS wants it. Then they send it to the IRS.

Why can’t their software do the error checking on my computer? It already checks for errors, and even checks for errors specific to electronic filing. What errors does it look for after it was checked for errors on my own machine? Also, if they know the format the IRS wants the data, why don’t they save it that way on my machine and then send it directly to the IRS? Then I wouldn’t have to pay the extra $9.95. Not that I mind getting my refund two weeks faster than ever before, but why?

Needless to say, but I will, I love Turbo Tax. Each year it gets a little better. I only wish the interview process had less reading. I read slowly, and that is the longest part of the process. Highly Recommended.

New Briefing

My new client/server briefing is going along well. Only very minor problems came up this month, but they are going to release it on March 1st. That’s when the real bugs will be found.

The new briefing has been a huge hit at demos. I am looking forward to feedback from real users.

We have had very few errors loading the software to client workstations. We have not had any errors that were a result of the load I built. All errors so far can be blamed on SMS. Cool. SMS is going away here anyway. They are looking at Tivoli. I am not familiar with it, but will have to learn it someday. Until then we struggle with SMS.

Palm III Development

I gave up thinking I could develop for the Palm III. There is so much commercial/shareware/freeware out there that I couldn’t even think about doing something no one else is. The only thing I would have tried to program was a way for the Palm III to program my CD Changer. Currently I have a Visual Basic application that prints out the instructions for me to enter into the remote. These instructions let me program 32 random songs from ones that I have selected as favorites.

I would rather let the Palm III generate the list of 32 random songs, and then it could program the CD Changer through its inferred port.

My boss just got a 300 Disc CD Changer. He says he can add songs to a list of favorites on the fly. Just push a button while listening to a song to add it to your favorites. He says it holds up to 50 songs this way. And he can program songs from this list. I will have him bring in the instruction manual so I can read about it. I won’t replace my CD changer, but I might want to think about a new one for my game room.

We got the land

Speaking of game rooms… We got the land. We are going to start building next year. A little sooner than I hoped. I want to have time to pay the land off before building. But that would interfere with our 3rd, and last, baby. My wife wants to have our next child in two years. She would like to be in the new house while she is pregnant. This way she can help with the building of the house. I don’t think she will be able to help. My guess is that she will already be pregnant by the time we get to the point where she can lend a hand. We will see.

I bought 3D Floor Plan Deluxe. It comes on two CD-ROMs. It has 1001 home plans. These are just like the ones you see in the books on the magazine racks at the supermarket. You can by the plans to build your house. It is a good deal. I am using the software to draw my own floor plan. We look at the plans, and find ideas we like. Then I use the floor plan software to come up with something very close to what we really want. When we are done we are going to have a designer take what we have done and draw us blueprints.

There is a possibility we will buy one of the plans. There are two we really like a lot. But my brother-in-law says it would be cheaper to go with the architect he knows. He says he will design any house we want for $0.30 sq. ft. That’s around $1,000 for our 3000-3200 sq. ft. range. The plans in the books (CD-ROM) usually cost close to that or more if you plan to make any changes. The only way we would go with a plan from the CD-ROM is if we don’t want to make any changes that would have us going to a designer anyway.

The Floor Plan software is a lot of fun, but slow. I am running it on a Pentium 100, so we will see how much better the software runs on my new machine. I recommend this software if you are looking to have a house built. Even if you don’t use the software toward your house, you can draw your house in it, and fill it with furniture to get your ideas for what the house will look like.

When I finish our plan I will put copies of the floor plan we decide on here in this site.


That about covers this month. Remember to read next months Feature Article to see how my computer turns out. I may try to get a copy of benchmark software to see how it compares to the computers reviewed in the magazines. Stay tuned.