Saturday, March 31, 2007

As I pay my taxes this weekend, numerous complaints about our insane taxation policies come to mine, but the following just seems like there could be no earthly reason to justify: why can we no longer file taxes online for free?? Starting this year if your household adjusted gross income for a joint filing is a hair over $52,000, you are no longer allowed to use a free filing service. So let's get this straight. I have to PAY, in order to GIVE MONEY to the IRS in a method that makes it EASIER for them!? By submitting my taxes digitally, the IRS gets to: handle less papers that take up physical space, they can easily crunch numbers for statistics, they can easily crunch numbers to determine whether an audit might be advisable and most importantly of all, it would cut down on errors on both sides since numbers are automatically calculated for taxpayers and automatically transcribed for the IRS!! I can only come up with two possible reasons why this policy is in effect:

1) Tax preparation companies such as H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt have spent a great deal of money and effort lobbying the Ways and Means committee and others.


2) The IRS is a bureaucracy like any other, i.e. they have an inherent bias to either grow or at least maintain the status quo. After all, it would be very likely that an increase in efficiency for them would mean a reduction in employees and budget.

Meanwhile, it seems all I can really do is cling to my pipe dream of the Fair Tax where this annual headache and waste of time would be abolished.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The now-infamous Aqua Teen Hunger Force bomb scare in Boston has brought to light the recent increase in guerilla and viral marketing techniques from companies. The move makes sense really when you look back at the evolution of advertisements. It began with the simple testimonial approach at the beginning with '9/10 doctors agreeing', celebrities telling you their product of choice, or fellow 'housewives' telling the audience what products work from them. Then around the 80/90s there seemed to be a move towards simply placing products next to sexy images (to the point where advertisers such as Budweiser were satirical of themselves in years to come). It makes sense that this gradual move towards subtlety would eventually result a new emphasis on Word-of-Mouth Marketing (WOM). I can't help but feel this really caught on with Ronco infomercials and his "if you promise to tell just 3 people..." sales pitches.

It's even got to the point where entire companies are devoted to increasing this WOM advertising, such as BzzAgent where consumers are paid to conduct WOM advertising among friends. Does this bring up an ethical question? Companies like BzzAgent claim that there is no condition that forces the product 'ambassadors' to give positive reviews--but is it not somewhat implied? When someone cooks me a free dinner, I don't give them an objective critique of their product. Heck, even at the grocery store where they are giving out free samples, I feel it impolite to say anything negative about the free food I was just given (as if the employee heating the product up in the microwave cares!).

At the end of the day though, as long as people are not being seduced into pyramid-scheme rip-offs or products dangerous to their health, does it really matter? If my friend subconsciously influences me to buy a diet Pepsi instead of Coke next time I'm at the vending machine, does it hurt anyone? (well besides Coca-Cola that is!). Perhaps the best argument against it is that we may be at beginning of a dangerous downhill slope?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Reading about successful business entrepreneurs, the lesson that seems to come through the strongest is that contrary to some public perception, having a successful business is not a easy path to riches, but one of tireless work, long hours, concentration, patience, and absolute commitment to success. Attempting to start one's own business with anything less than 100% commitment to the endeavor is the surest and quickest route to losing one's business, savings and mind. This is nothing new of course in the arena of entrepreneurship as we see in this old photo of an inventor selling his new "bulletproof" vest to the police department.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

An interesting article in the BBC news today how a simple foreign accent can impart so much meaning to someone’s perception of a person, particularly in America. I was lucky enough to do a bit of traveling after high school and it was very interesting at the hostels how the Americans seemed enamored by British/Australian/New Zealand accents while the reverse didn’t seem to be true much at all. My theory is that its due to the overwhelming exportation of the American entertainment industry where other English-speaking countries are inundated with American accents to the point where it’s commonplace. Conversely, in America we only come into contact with the occasional accent in the media and it’s often used purposefully to add something to personality/character, whether the stuck-up Brit Simon Cowell, the friendly Australian Claire (Lost), the English gentleman Jude Law or the posh Robin Leach on Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous. This is where the article is particularly interesting when they interviewed a former real estate agent who used it to market a product to appear upscale which is not a rare occurrence when you think of everything from Lexus car commercials to even Sheba cat food!

Friday, March 09, 2007

I don’t like to mix politics into this blog too much but I feel like this is something any American should be educated about. Whether for or against the current action in Iraq, it is surprising how many of us (government officials included) know so little about the differences between Sunnis and Shiites (or ‘Shias’). This is a great summary of some of the primary differences between the two groups of people who we are fighting and/or helping over there. Surely a better education on this can only help general understanding of the issues often being discussed such as federalism, multiculturalism, secession, civil war, etc.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Time management has always been something that has plagued me, particularly when I was a student. Most time management advice I have read or heard has been mainly fluffy and vague. Recently, however, I came across David Allen and his Getting Things Done (GTD) approach. I’ve had a chance to read some of the stuff in his ‘free’ section (great that he gives away a fair amount of free advice instead of just teasers for his books and seminars) and in contrast to most of what I’ve read before, he has some great concrete advice such as exactly how he sets up and uses his PDA as well as specific categories he uses for organizing incoming work. Its some great stuff that I hope to learn better and try to incorporate into my day to day life. Certainly something that will come in useful should I go into business school and especially in a career in business afterwards.