Friday, February 27, 2009

The Taxman Cometh

One of the downsides to being an amateur mathematician with a background in Computer Science is that sometimes you get asked to do something uncomfortable every now and then.

Like taxes.

The Lord Giveth, and the Lord Hath Taketh Away...

That's the withholding tax table for the family bakeshop, and the source of my accounting misery every now and then.

I have nothing against taxes, mind you. Yes, I do live in a country where the government sees fit to take portions of our hard-earned money and spend it on such things as congressional pork, foreign junkets, and endless political hearings... but hey, who doesn't?

What I do have, however, is a problem with the government's endless fiddling with the amounts and the percentages. I feel that the current withholding tax system is complex enough, for example: You start out having to identify yourself as "Married with Three Dependents", or "Head of Family with One Dependent", or the ominous-sounding "Single". From there, you grade your monthly income according to a hardcoded scale of brackets, then take its difference from the given lower bound, calculate the corresponding percentage, then add a fixed-tax amount to the result.

And once you manage to figure out all that, just think of how you'll feel once you realize that that's the amount that you have to pony up to the tax collectors. But I digress.

I mention this now because the government has a bad habit of shuffling around the numbers every couple of years or so. I suppose that it's logical to do this with such a complex system — I mean, there's inflation and all to consider — but that's a wall of numbers we're talking about. That's almost a hundred numbers that you need to replicate exactly, then double-check to make sure that your calculations don't get screwed up for the next eight months.

And then, what really twitches my eyebrows is the fact that we've had two large-scale withholding tax refunds for the bakeshop in the last two years. While I normally wouldn't complain about the prospect of getting our money back from the government, the fact that I'm calculating withholding tax payments and giving them back at the same time is not lost on me.

What's stranger is that, earlier this evening, I found out about Republic Act 9504. This was apparently passed in the middle of last year, and is an amendment to the old 1987 National Internal Revenue Code. Its primary point of interest is that it exempts minimum-wage earners from paying income taxes. (Yay for all minimum-wage earners!) For the purpose of this article, however, it also happens to exempt these same people from paying withhholding tax. (Yay for all... huh?)

About half the bakeshop's employees are on minimum wage, I must add. And I must point out that we're still paying off thousands of pesos from the last withholding tax refund.

And all that boils down to our current scenario: The government is actually paying money to about half our employees.

That just feels wrong on so many levels. And it screws up all of my calculations — which are now a patchwork of cobbled-together wage hikes, allowance increases, and rate changes from all the adjustments that the government has forced us to put together... just so that they can put on a good face to the public at large.

No wonder my college classmates tore their hair out whenever the prospect of accountancy classes came to mind.

Years ago, I remember opening a magazine and learning that there was a country somewhere whose income tax schema involved charging citizens exactly five percent of their monthly income. Yes, that's it... five percent. No muss, no fuss, no headaches that won't go away at two in the morning. Why can't we have a system like that?

On the other hand, I suppose that it gives our bureaucrats something to do every day. That's if they're not conducting their usual series of endless political hearings, that is.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

All Work and No Play Makes Sean a Dull Boy

At the rate at which I'm going, this month looks to be a sparse month with regards to posts.

There are a few reasons for this, of course. First, there's the work — I'm engaged in something that requires quite a lot of attention at the moment, and the spectre of such details follows me even when I'm home and sitting in front of the computer. In short, it's hard to think of other topics when the work is jockeying for space in your mind. There's probably a disconnect somewhere in this regard, but I have yet to find it.

Second, there's the medical condition. I just learned that the levels of fat in my liver decided to skyrocket again, and I suspect that it's because I pulled myself off the prescribed medicine and stuck with some over-the-counter remedies. (Yes, Virginia, my brain is indeed on drugs.) It looks like I'm going to have to switch back amidst a chorus of dietary constraints and other unfunny stuff.

Finally, there's the games. It's far easier for me a squeeze in a board game or two within a fifteen-minute timeframe than sit in front of the computer typing stuff, so I've been hitting those pretty hard. The fact that the office has opened a game room of sorts most definitely does not help, but at least I now have a Helix Pinnacle deck that irritates the heck out of everybody it plays against.

Adding to that are a couple more considerations: There are a few writing deadlines that are still in the works, for example, and my publisher has been openly wondering just where that supplementary textbook manuscript went. So even if I had the time to write, there would still be the question of exactly what I'd write first. (The manuscript looks good, as I imagine that skipping its deadline would speak volumes about my work ethic.)

Or maybe I'm just tired. I don't refer to the fatigue, mind you, as much as I refer to being in a rut somewhere. Perhaps I'm stuck at the moment. Maybe I'm stagnating, maybe I'm melting in place, maybe I'm turning the exact same issue of the exact same newspaper to the exact same page each day, and finding the wrong horoscope pages staring back at me.

That was an interesting line, by the way. I should try to write like that more often.

Alternatively, I could just be looking for interesting stuff. It's not easy to find interesting stuff when you don't get out much... come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I went out with friends. And Watchmen's coming out in a couple of weeks already — it's the kind of movie that you want to see with friends and a bag of popcorn, in that order.

Yeah, it's about time I set something up to get my thoughts out of the lurch. There's too much stuff floating around my mind right now. It might be time to go out and do something mindless.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Dictionary of Text Anomalies

Animatopoeia — A word or a phrase, often separated by asterisks, that signifies a physical gesture performed by the author at that given point in the text. *rolls eyes*

Bovine Ignorance — It behooves us to admit the practice of using complex words in simple statements... despite the fact that the writer has no idea what the words might mean.

Censtar —
An asterisk placed in the middle of a d*mn word in order to disguise its profane intent. (Often to no obvious effect.)

Dirty Harry — A single statement that, for the purpose of emphasis, has been. Split. Into. Multiple. Sentences.

Extriclamation — The practice of placing more than one exclamation point at the end of a statement!!! This often has no visible effect other than reader annoyance!!!!!

Foot-in-Mouth — A sentence that contradicts itself, unless it happens to be true.

Gravel — ... Scattered... areas... of... ellipses... often... found... in... examples... of... excessive... usage...

Hyperdislocation — The unexplained presence of code in Internet text./p>

I-Syndrome — I mean, I believe that this describes a condition where I constantly use or I unconsciously write the word "I" five or more times in a sentence where I have no involvement otherwise.

Jinx Rule — The theory that there will always be at least one stupid spelling error in a work, regardless of how closely one editts it.

Knitted Text — A statement where the spacesbetweenwordshavebeenremoved, often to imply rapid speech patterns.

Llewelyn — An incidence where two consecutive words fittingly, unwittingly manage to rhyme.

Mouthed — "It's a dialogue attachment where the author has clearly gotten tired of using the word 'said'," Sean mouthed.

Neoscopy — The mankind-regulated practice of combining two completely unrelated ipso-factorial words (often via hyphenation) to form a new, fallacio-pretentious term.

Once Upon a Time — And Little Red Riding Hood said, "What strange discussions you hide in your stories!" To which the Wolf replied, "The better to get attention for otherwise monotonous topics, my dear."

Packaged Punctuation —
The habit of combining two or more punctuation marks at the end of a sentence to create a... mixed emotive effect!? Huh?!

Quietus —
The technique of erasing the fir— no, the second half of a word in order to imply an interruption or continuation of action.

Boring speeches are a waste of time / But not when they're seasoned with a pinch of rhyme / It sounds like Shakespearean rap in part / And not recommended for the faint of heart.

Supercalifragalism — Praeternalinguistically, it's the general term for the ability to use a word that is over twenty letters in length in a sentence.

Throwdown — It's an open challenge to you the reader! And I'm gonna do this because there's no obvious method by which you can challenge my authority! So... wanna make something of it, ya pansy?

Underbreath — The use of two obviously different font sizes for two succeeding sentences, in an attempt to imply a lesser degree of attention for the one in smaller font. Yeah, and your mother wears army boots.

Vocamnesia — The sublime condition of acquiring a level of vocabularial magnitude so detrimentally excessive that even the most primal of dedicated dilettantes shall suffer discorporate lapses in certainty that will cause him or her to subconsciously forget those matters to which you have originally summoned their attention.

Wrestling Yodel — ...A declaration whose vowel sounds are drawn out to create the illusion of voluuuuuuuUUUUUUUMMMME.

Xenoconstruct — Der zentens in veyk vokal akshent dun vy changing latters. Das ist gud, yah?

Ye-ese — Prithee forgive thine subject, for thy observation finds that this is merely an unconscious use of faux Olde Englishe.

Zag — A sudden, abrupt halt in a statement, which implies that something suitably horrible has happened to the writer other tha

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Whither the Topic?

I'm aware that most bloggers write about whatever's on their mind at the moment. I figure that this is the diary- or journal-type mentality in effect: these are our personal sites, and when faced with the task of populating these with content, we naturally gravitate towards the stuff that's going on in our lives.

Just taking a quick look down the line of previous posts, I note that I've written about my new godson, my voice, my personal dislike of plagiarism, my opinion about reusing old works, and my take on a bunch of upcoming deadlines... all in the last two weeks.

I find that there's one catch to this style of blogging, however, and that's the fact that, if nothing interesting is happening in your life, then you end up being at a loss for topics. The same situation results if, say, work is the foremost thing on your mind, and you don't want to break your non-disclosure contract. Or if you're engaged in hobbies that need some significant explanation before you can talk about them (mathematics and Magic come to mind).

When faced with this situation, I think that most bloggers would turn their attention to outside events. We hold opinions on just about everything, after all, and it makes for a legitimate discussion point for our web sites. Maybe it's the Australia wildfires today. Maybe it was the Madoff scheme yesterday. Maybe it'll be the excessive Dumaguete rains tomorrow.

The beauty of writing based on outside events is that there's always some change in the mix. Whatever you're writing about today will almost certainly not be the same thing that you'll be writing about six months from now. Political bloggers know this by heart, I suppose, so much that they can make careers out of this kind of writing. Readers, for their part, are usually willing to delve into organized opinion... no matter how far-leaning or out-of-the-ordinary it might be. (And those out-of-the-ordinary things might even get a better audience.)

Even if there isn't much happening on the outside, I suppose, there's also another direction where one can aim his personal opinion. I find that reviews are common nowadays, for instance — if we're not talking about movies, then we're talking about books. If we're not talking about books, then we're talking about electronics. And if we're not talking about electronics, then we're snapping photos of our favorite dishes at our favorite restaurants. There's a constant question as to whether or not our own personal opinions contribute something to the welfare of the world — one man's treasure is another man's trash, I imagine — but they do help feed our passion for expression.

One thing that puzzles me, however, is the current spate of commercial blogging. I understand this to some degree, mind you: It doesn't take much to realize that some people tend towards moneymaking efforts, for instance, and it's not too far-fetched to imagine that some companies can just as easily use blog services as a cost-effective resource. Profit and personalism don't necessarily conflict, which means that commercial blogs can easily exist in the current community without much issue.

The odd thing, however, is that I see more than a few SEO blogs advocating themselves as "personal" efforts. I mean, is this a move to get more readers? Resolve a strange crisis in identity? Get attention? As much as I'd like to see it, I usually don't find that much in the way of personal contribution among the tide of syndicated content here. But, well... whatever gives them the content that they need, I suppose.

Corporate blogs are even more strange to me, if only because they walk a very fine line between the need for public promotion and the privacy of corporate secrets. The result is a site that gives a glimpse of the inner workings behind an organization without... actually... giving... away the inner workings behind an organization. At worst, there's the question of how they expect to provide updates on a regular basis: Apart from the writers' expected "standard" workload, there's also the question of what they're supposed to write about on a regular basis.

In that sense, personal bloggers have it easy. Assuming that they can draw upon topics completely at random, they can simply write about the first thing that comes to mind. Often, this comes in the form of personal experience or insight — the diary- or journal-type mentality, if you will.

There's a whole slew of people out there, all tapping away at their keyboards for certain portions of each day, and there's just a slew of variations in each and every one of the words they write. Exactly where we draw our content from is anybody's guess, despite everything that I've written above. Maybe we all just pull it from the hands of some master manipulator, some titanic dragon who clutches the primordial servers of the world in his talons and telepathically compels us to use LOLspeak.

But that's a story for another time, and perhaps a dandy piece of content for my next post.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Marlon Brando

Folks, I'd like you to meet Fernando Miguel Tan Cantor.

He's my first godson, by the way. It's been a bit of an adrenaline rush for me for a while now.

I mention this here because his first birthday and baptism was last Sunday at the Shrine of Jesus church in Manila, after which we sat through what was most likely the most complex childrens' party on record.

It feels good having a godson... almost like having your own kid. I might regret saying this one day when all the yearly birthday and Christmas presents finally get to me, but I hope you won't mind if I revel in the moment for a while.

Pay no attention to that hideous-looking man on the right, by the way. He just decided to butt into this photo for some reason.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sotto Voce

With a number of high-level managers visiting our office this week, some of our work discussions turned to how we were going to showcase our presentations. I don't know how the "talk show" theme came up then (because I wasn't in any of the meetings), but when someone brought up the question of a "voice" to do the guest introductions, there was a particular writer / systems analyst / mathematician / blogger who came to mind.

To be honest, I'm not a proper voice talent. I've had a deep baritone voice since sixth grade, which meshes rather well with my fluency in English... but I haven't really taken advantage of this to the fullest. Nevertheless, I end up doing a few favors for people every now and then: I've got about three or four multimedia presentations and one TV commercial to my credit so far, not to mention a few communications theses. I've even played God in a couple of skits for theology class. (It's amazing what a little reverb effect can do.)

I also get the occasional inquiry about once or twice a month. Someone once thought that I was an actor, for instance. A couple of call center managers have asked me for a resumé. And for some reason, Starbucks baristas have this tendency to ask if I'm a radio deejay of some sort.

I have no intention of using my voice as a means to get by. I think of it as a finite resource that ebbs and flows with my general health: If I use it too often, it'll run out. If I develop a sore throat, it'll be too rusted for use. If I even so much as go without a glass of water for too long, it'll reflect the same measure of dryness.

With my workload from last week, however, I wasn't able to have a proper sit-down session where I could do my recordings. I've tried to do them this weekend, of course, but I've encountered some obstacles. It's difficult to find a place that's completely silent, for one, and I've had to reword my spiel every five minutes just to avoid any awkward pieces of text ("the sixth service occurrence that still threatens seats"). In addition, I'm working without any proper sound-editing software available, which means that I can't take advantage of any denoising effects. The temptation for my speech to degenerate into a series of wrestling-style introductions ("Director X, LET'S GET READY TO RUUUUUUUUMBLE!") has been pretty hard to resist.

And all that boils down to the fact that I have to do my spiel live in front of the entire company tomorrow afternoon. I don't like the implications here — because you have to admit that it's not a proper way to stand out at work — but it does get a bit of attention. And it makes things interesting. I just have to hope that I don't screw it up.

Strangely enough, the only people who don't seek to take advantage of my voice are the people in my immediate family. I mean, you'd probably expect that they'd all be falling over each other to use the "homegrown" (read: "free") resource. But no... it turns out that there are quite a few people in my family who have similar vocal structures, and it seems that we have enough of them who are willing to preside over familial discussions. We get baritone voices on a daily basis, yes.

And just think — this sort of thing is hereditary. If I end up having kids, they might have voices low enough to move mountains. They could just be the harbingers of the apocalypse, mind you... and Lord help them if they're female.

You have to play life with the hand that you're dealt, I suppose, even if it's the Cosmic Joker who's holding the cards. And the voice does have its advantages, if only because it turns heads whenever I join in the religious hymns on the occasional Sunday.

But please... no more requests to do karaoke. I'm a little tired of all the urgings to perform songs by the Bee Gees, thank you very much.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Disclaimer: February 2009

Every†h1ñg øñ †h1ş bløg w@ş ¢øñ¢ep†ed @ñd exe¢u†ed by 5e@ñ (hereby ñø†ed @ş “@u†hør”). Th1ş øñl1ñe dø¢umeñ†, repe@†ed @ş †he ƒ1rş† pøş† øƒ every møñ†h, ¢er†1ƒ1eş †h@† şu¢h ¢øñ†eñ† l@wƒully @ñd w1llƒully beløñgş †ø †he @u†hør @ş ñø†ed 1ñ †h1ş ş1†e’ş prøƒ1le.

The øñly elemeñ†ş øƒ †h1ş ş1†e †h@† @re ñø† †he prøper†y øƒ †he @u†hør @re †høşe †h@† @re @¢kñøwledged †ø be †he prøper†y øƒ ø†herş. Theşe eñ†r1eş @re @††r1bu†ed, m@rked @ñd ñø†ed @† @ll †1meş. Iƒ by şøme ¢h@ñ¢e yøur wørk 1ş exh1b1†ed here w1†høu† †he prøper @††r1bu†1øñş, yøu @re eñ¢øur@ged †ø ¢ørd1@lly ñø†1ƒy †he @u†hør şø †h@† †h1ş m1ş†@ke ¢@ñ be re¢†1ƒ1ed.

8y †he ş@me †økeñ, yøu @re ñø† @lløwed †ø †@ke ¢øñ†eñ† ƒrøm †h1ş ş1†e @ñd exh1b1† ør uşe 1† w1†høu† †he perm1şş1øñ øƒ †he @u†hør. Dø ñø† @¢qu1re @ñy 1†em here w1†h †he 1ñ†eñ† øƒ @††r1bu†1ñg 1† †ø yøurşelƒ, dø ñø† uşe 1† ƒør m@l1¢1øuş ør uñl@wƒul purpøşe, @ñd dø ñø† quø†e 1† øu† øƒ 1†ş ¢ørreşpøñd1ñg ¢øñ†ex†. Shøuld yøu w1şh †ø uşe @ñy ¢øñ†eñ†, ple@şe ¢øñ†@¢† me şø †h@† we m@y beg1ñ ñegø†1@†1øñş. I w1ll uşu@lly ñø† @şk ƒør @ñy†h1ñg 1ñ ex¢h@ñge, beyøñd @ l1ñk †ø †h1ş web ş1†e.

Th1ş ş1†e ƒølløwş †he †ermş øƒ †he Cre@†1ve Cømmøñş L1¢eñşe @ş @ gu1del1ñe ƒør 1†ş 1ñ†elle¢†u@l prøper†y ¢øñ¢erñş. I† m@1ñ†@1ñş @ l1ñk øñ †he r1gh†-h@ñd ş1deb@r øƒ †he m@1ñ 8løgger ş1†e ƒør †h1ş purpøşe. Yøu @re h1ghly eñ¢øur@ged †ø re@d †hrøugh 1†ş †ermş @ñd ¢øñd1†1øñş; †h1ş 1ş ñø† @ ¢ømplex †@şk.

Δñd 1ƒ by şøme ¢h@ñ¢e yøu m@ñ@ge †ø re@d †h1ş whøle †h1ñg @ll †he w@y †ø †he eñd, g1ve yøurşelƒ @ ¢øøk1e.