It’s generally an honour to be appointed to serve as the head of a federal agency. After the revelation this morning that President-elect Trump will nominate a S&C partner to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, the whole law firm’s website appears to be down because of the increased interest:
Microsoft’s Facebook ad for new features in Excel highlights the Treemap visualization, but gets it totally wrong.
A treemap is supposed to visualize relative size in a hierarchy. But in the illustration here, the data don’t fit this type of visualization (it’s a time series of one flat variable—without hierarchy).
But it’s even worse than that. The relative sizes don’t make sense! Why would the 31 MPG box for January be so much larger than the 32 MPG box for May?
This seems like a great illustration of why math/statistical education should be required for everyone—even visual designers and marketers. Or at least, the people selling the product should understand what the software actually does.
While trying to file my Canadian taxes as a nonresident, using the “Income Tax and Benefit Return for Non-residents … of Canada” — since I live in the United States and am a tax resident of the United States — I ran into a really frustrating bug in the first 5 form fields.
The form doesn’t accept non-Canadian provinces/territories and postal codes!
It’s really foolish, because many of the people who would be filing this form are likely residing outside of Canada. That’s why this version of the T1 return has an added Country field in the address block.
This is the kind of situation when PDF forms should just step back and allow free-form, unvalidated input.
There’s a provision that allows aliens in the U.S. to choose to be treated as a U.S. resident for tax purposes even if they would not otherwise qualify as a resident. Income tax rules themselves are already really confusing — and they are even more complicated for foreigners in the U.S. — so a typographic error could really confuse a taxpayer.
I think the IRS made a typographic error, but I’m not even sure how to get in touch with them to fix this.
Suppose you arrive in the U.S. for the very first time on October 1, 2015 to work for the foreseeable future on a TN-1 (NAFTA Professional) visa. Because the period from 2015-10-01 to 2015-12-31 is insufficient to meet the Substantial Presence Test, you would otherwise be a nonresident alien for tax year 2015. This would mean your income in the United States might be subject to taxation in the U.S. as well as in your home country. What if you wanted to be treated as a resident alien starting on October 1, 2015 — despite not satisfying the Substantial Presence Test?
This is the First-Year Choice, and it’s documented in Publication 519 (“U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens”) by the IRS.
I got a little confused when I first read the rule, because it seemed to require an impossibility:
Let me excerpt that to show why it’s so self-contradictory: “If you do not meet either the [GCT] or the [SPT] for 2014 … but you meet the [SPT] for 2014.”
Huh? Clearly they meant 2016 there. Moreover, if you met the SPT for 2014, the current tax year — 2015 — wouldn’t be your first year in the U.S.
This is confirmed by the bulleted list on the following page:
Motivating example resolved
If you are going to satisfy the Substantial Presence Test in the following tax year — 2016 — you can choose to pretend to be a U.S. resident from 2015-10-01 to 2015-12-31 as well, if you meet all of the requirements in the bulleted list above.
I am publishing this post as a hobbyist, because I find barcodes cool (as demonstrated by a prior open source project using 2D barcodes that I worked on). Do not attempt to use this information for any illegitimate purpose. Counterfeiting postage is a federal crime. 18 U.S.C. § 501.
This post ties together some of my favourite things: 2D barcodes, high speed automation, printers, cryptographic signatures (!), postal mail and postage, fraud prevention, and even a little bit about patents!
Over dinner this week, I was revealed as one of those weirdos who actually read the fine print. Yep, once in a while—embarrassingly often—I’ll actually dig right into those long documents that come with the health insurance, the credit card offer, or the website signup.
Why? Because the purpose of these “Terms and Conditions,” or “Cardmember Agreements,” or whatever else they’re calling these lengthy, prewritten, one-sided contracts, is to modify default legal rules/rights in such a way that benefits the parties that wrote them. So, even if I don’t have any practical choice in whether or not to use Facebook, even if I can’t really negotiate with American Express and rewrite the terms of the extended warranty, at the very least it’s useful to know what my rights are—and what hidden benefits there might be that most people don’t know about.
So a friend thought it might be fun if I just occasionally write about these things. Perhaps a sort of Bad Terms & Conditions section on my blog, or … Digging through the Fine Print…
Still working on the name.
I’ll try not to fall into the bad habit of labelling companies “fascists” or something similarly colourful, which other blogs highlighting these issues inevitably find themselves doing. (I mean, literally every company that deserves any business does it, so what’s a conscientious consumer to do?) For what it’s worth, Consumerist already writes about this and does a pretty good job of it.
A friend directed my attention to a startup-y website selling “cheap smartphone [insurance] coverage” for “as little as $3 a month”. Right at the top of the Penn-branded subdomain (penn.getcovered.co) was an iPhone mockup showing the Penn shield:
Outside sponsors of University programs or activities often seek to use University names or insignia in promotional or advertising materials. While the University is pleased to recognize the contributions of sponsors, such recognition must not suggest University endorsement of the sponsor’s activities. Therefore, University names or insignia may not be used in connection with any outside entity’s name or logo without prior approval of the Secretary of the University. In general, the Secretary will approve uses which recognize or acknowledge the sponsor’s contribution to the University program or activity. Uses which, in the Secretary’s judgment, may suggest University endorsement or approval of the sponsor’s goods or services will not be permitted.
The big issue, of course, is the risk of confusion — by consumers, etc — who might think that the service is sponsored or endorsed by the university. There would be a pretty good prima facie case for trademark infringement, especially since the registrant behind the domain name appears to be a Stanford grad with no connection to Penn.
But to top it all off, the site seems to be lying on its face. The Penn page includes a quote from a “Leah B, Philadelphia, PA”:
but the exact same quote is used on the non-Penn-branded homepage of GetCovered, this time from “Leah B, Washington, DC”!
As an alum, I certainly don’t want the university’s shield to be used in connection with this company. What they’re doing is strangely reminiscent of the Campus Backup service that OCM was marketing a few years ago — which shut down after my blog post overtook their site in search engines.
Update (2015-11-02): a quick Google search of the opening sentence of the quote directed me to the source — a 2012 comment on a Gawker post by a Gawker contributor, no obvious connection to GetCovered.