1099 woes

Jennie has a mutual fund with Smith Barney. And they didn’t bother to send us a 1099-INT this year. Again.

They did send us a “combined forms 1099”, so I thought we had everything we needed. But when I started entering all of our assorted tax goo into our tax software last night, I found that this “combined forms 1099” was not, in fact, all of the 1099s we needed; it was just a 1099-B (Proceeds From Broker And Barter Exchange Transactions). Important, but I kinda need to know how much interest we earned, too. So I can, like, figure out how much tax we owe (and how much refund we get).

So I called the phone number on the back of the form, navigated through a maze of twisty little touch-tone menus (all alike), got transferred, waited through fifteen rings, and got disconnected.

What outstanding customer service you have, Grandma…

I called back, picked a subtly different path through the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure that is their tax-form assistance line, and this time got an actual human being. I explained that we hadn’t gotten our 1099-INT. She asked for the account number and looked it up. And it turned out that she didn’t have the 1099-INT information either.

She asked me if we had made less than $10 in interest on the account, because they won’t send out a 1099-INT in that case. (To which I answered, “I don’t know how much interest we made — that’s what the 1099-INT is supposed to tell me!”).

She tried to be helpful, but she simply didn’t have access to the information I needed. Final resolution: we need to call Jennie’s broker. He’s in Hawaii, so we have to wait until this afternoon to call. I’m hoping he’ll be in the office this time (as opposed to last December, when we needed to withdraw some money from the mutual fund, and he was out of the office for two weeks, and nobody else could help us).

I don’t get it. Somebody at this multinational megacorporation has to know how much interest we earned. #1, why didn’t they tell us? (They did send us the 1099-B, so they’re already paying the postage — why not print something on the back of the second page, for crying out loud?) And #2, why didn’t they tell their call center that they set up specifically to answer questions about the tax forms?

I swear, you’ve just gotta admire a company with such an unwavering focus on customer satisfaction.

Not me, the other Joe White

I’m stunned.

I’ll start from the beginning. Somebody named Ooogabooga sent me a weird e-mail message a few hours ago. It said, and I quote:

Your performance at the Kirksville K-Life House blew completely, nerd.

I didn’t know what a Kirksville K-Life House was, so I googled and dug a bit. What I found is that K-Life Ministries is a Christian youth ministry organization; that they have a chapter in Kirksville, MO; and that yesterday (Saturday) night, that chapter had an event called “PURE EXCITEMENT”, led by somebody named Joe White.

I actually know who this other Joe White is, in a vague way. Several years ago, I briefly joined a Baptist men’s group (obviously this was before I discovered the Unitarians), and one night they showed a video of a Promise Keepers event, where this Joe White character was speaking. I watched the video, and then forgot about him for a while.

Much later, I started blogging, and after a while of that, I started to get curious about my blog’s Google rank. And found that I had to go through many pages of this other Joe White before getting to me. (Actually, we were both pretty buried by some country singer named Tony Joe White.)

The guy I saw on the Promise Keepers video a few years ago is the same guy who ran the K-Life session last night. So. Mystery solved: mistaken identity. Ooogabooga went looking for this other Joe White, stumbled onto me instead, and called the wrong guy a nerd.

I almost left it there. But then a little thought wandered into my head. And that little thought was, “I wonder why he found my Web site instead of this other guy’s.”

And on a whim, I did a new Google search on my name; something I haven’t done in a couple of months. And this is where the stunned part comes in.

I’m a guy with a blog. I don’t run my own business. I’ve never spoken at a conference. I’ve written two novels, neither published, both still in rough draft form.

This other Joe White runs a set of Christian summer camps that draw 20,000 kids every year. He spoke in front of 10,000 people at a Promise Keepers convention last year. He’s published 13 books.

On a Google search for our name, he first shows up at result #10.

My blog is result #2.

Wow.

Hope for world toast

I help out with my church youth group, and I’m also mentoring one of the youth in the Coming of Age program. We had our monthly CoA meeting this evening, and the topic was “What Brings Me Hope?”

As always, the group had an interesting and lively discussion. Suicidal depression came up, as did music, and faith. Good session.

The book chapter we read talked about two different kinds of hope: hope in something particular (whether short-term, like I hope I’ll get over my cold soon, or long-term, like I hope to end discrimination), and unfocused, general hope. A lot of what we talked about was the general hope, the thing that gets you up in the morning even if you’re not thinking of a specific goal. (That’s where we started talking about faith, as being perhaps the same thing.) Several people said that other people give them hope; several mentioned nature. I mentioned “The Blessings“, a Dar Williams song about finding hope even out of pain. (I mentioned that song last month too, when we were talking about how we deal with death.)

I was going to mention (but forgot) that generalized hope can have its downsides… like when you hope you’re going to be able to pay off your debt next month, so you go out and spend more money. (Not that I would know anything about that.) But then again, if not for hope, I probably wouldn’t have bought a new toaster yesterday. (Well, hope, plus a bunch of uneaten waffles in the freezer.)

The new toaster (Black & Decker Toast-It-All Plus T123 — I’d post a link or a picture, but there doesn’t seem to be an online store on the planet that knows this toaster exists, including Wal-Mart’s online store even though Wal-Mart is where I bought the freaking thing) does seem to be working okay so far, though. And it has some very pretty blue lights. I told Jennie we’d have to hang the toaster on our Christmas tree next year.

XP: Round Three

Since we’re now an XP shop, I just added an Extreme Programming category to my blog.

Brian Marick is back in our office this week, and Ron Jeffries is here as well. It’s too bad I was sick for a day and a half out of the week, but I wanted to make sure I was well in time to get back by this morning, and I beat that by half a day.

We just finished our second XP iteration yesterday (with working lava lamps, by the way — they got integrated into the build last week). It’s a little odd to end an iteration midweek, and a little odder that we made that iteration six days long (instead of either two weeks or three weeks), but we wanted Brian and Ron to be able to see the end of one iteration and the start of the next. The planning game — the reason I wanted to be back — was this morning; Brian had facilitated the planning game for our first iteration, and now both Brian and Ron facilitated this one to start off our third iteration.

It was pretty cool. Our first planning game, around three weeks ago, was pretty grueling; it took three and a half hours. (Brian said, before we started, that he expected that first planning game to be a disaster. Afterward, he said it had gone better than he’d expected.) Our second one was much better, at only an hour and fifteen minutes and mostly on-topic (though it was for a short iteration). Today’s meeting took an hour and a half, and a lot of that was because a lot of us were woefully underprepared. (Especially me. The lead guy for my project was out today, so I wound up writing some of the major stories for the next iteration. And we didn’t decide what those stories would be, even on a broad scale, until ten minutes before the start of the planning game. I had to duck out in the middle of the planning game to do some spot research, so I could come up with halfway-sane estimates for the six stories I finally managed to scribble out.)

We had a lot of side discussions at the meeting, and one point where I think we had at least five or six different discussions going on in the room at once, and a lot of tangents, and a lot of talk that should have been taken offline, and we should have prepared a lot better, and we still need to work on writing our stories in a way that clearly shows the business value (we still have too many technical stories, especially on my project — which, unfortunately, is tough to avoid when your project is a port to a different architecture).

Despite all that, Ron said this was the best planning game he’s ever seen for a team as new to XP as we are. So there’s hope.

Actually, it’s going pretty well. I paired (trioed?) with Brian and one of our other devs yesterday afternoon, and finished the story they and Sam had started while I was out sick. Then this afternoon I got to pair with Ron on one of the stories I had scribbled out this morning (story: spend two beans trying to figure out the best way to crack a particularly thorny problem). We wound up writing some new code test-first. I liked some of his suggestions for the code, and he liked some of mine, which I think was pretty cool. We wound up with what we both agreed was some pretty good code, good enough to check into VSS, and a decent idea of what to attack tomorrow morning. And I caught him off-guard more than once today, by doing the simplest thing that could possibly work.

All in all, this has been a very good week so far. The part I’ve been in the office, at least…