HOLY REFUND!

In a previous post, I wrote about how I failed to buy RRSPs for the last tax year, thus limiting my tax deductions by a significant amount. I was almost sure that when it was time to do my tax return I would have to pay taxes instead of getting a refund.

With such a fear in my mind, I hesitated to start my return. The deadline for filing is a week away, so this evening I decided to bite the bullet and do the whole thing straight away. It was odd doing a tax return without having to enter any RRSP slips. My only deductions came from charitable donations and bus passes, which made me quite leery of the final number.

Much to my surprise, however, the end result was a huge tax refund, probably one of the largest I’ve received, if not the largest. In fact, had I bought any amount of RRSPs this year, the refund would have been even larger and easily would have been the largest amount in my tax paying years. Why did I receive a huge refund when I was expecting to pay taxes? I guess after all the math was done, I discovered I had a large sum of my income deducted as tax already. My tax credits, both refundable and not, were large enough (even without RRSP help) that I was able to get money back.

The refund wasn’t even the most interesting part of the exercise. The tax program gave me a comparison of my financial situation year over year between 2012 and 2013. In both years, I had four months where I did not work, yet in 2013, my income was 45% higher than 2012. I made way more money last year than I did in 2012, yet still had the same amount of time off (the “summer of me”!). This happened because of a few reasons. For four months of 2012, I had a job that paid me significantly less than what my market salary dictated. The final four months or so of 2012 I worked at PopCap, which paid me a much more reasonable salary. For 2013, I only worked eight months but I received a massive severance package from PopCap/EA which worked out to be about four months salary. In terms of financials and probably everything else, 2013 was a great year and much better than 2012 was.

Now the question turns to what should I do with this refund money? My first thought is to buy RRSPs immediately so that I won’t forget again for the end of 2014. I have some slight hesitation, however, since my RRSPs are usually tied with mutual funds. It’s usually better to buy mutual funds when the market is at a low. Right now, most markets, Dow-Jones and NASDAQ for example, are near their year-to-date highs, which doesn’t make it the best time to buy. So perhaps waiting is the right thing to do. My other use for the money is to make a privilege payment on my mortgage. I haven’t made one of those in about two years even though I easily could have. This option is easily a sure bet and the only unknown is how much will the payment will be.

Perhaps this also calls for a fancy steak at the end of the week!

THE POWER TO FAIL

More power!

Like many of you, I have numerous power strip or power bars around my home. These wonderful electrical devices allow you to plug in more devices than you have outlets. I’ve always thought that if these things break or fail, they do so completely. By that I mean, if they don’t work anymore, you don’t get any power to your devices. I found out that is wrong.

I had a particular power strip that was being used to power my Xbox 360 and my A/V system (speakers and receiver). One day I popped in a Blu-ray disc and I couldn’t hear anything once the movie started. My receiver said it was decoding DTS but there was no sound. Once I returned to the menus, I was back in Dolby Digital and I could hear that fine. Weird. I popped in another disc and the same thing happened. No audio once I was playing DTS.

Next, I tried playing a video game. I powered on my Xbox 360 which seemed fine as I could see the dashboard come up. I then pressed the button to open the disc tray. The motor whined a bit but nothing happened. I tried several more times but I couldn’t get the tray to open. It looked like I wasn’t going to watch any movies or play any Xbox 360 games.

It took me a day or so but I thought it was crazy that both my A/V system and my Xbox 360 somehow broke at the same time. It was just too much of a coincidence. I then looked to see where these two items were plugged in. They were both plugged into the same power strip and were the only items in that strip. Trying a hunch, I re-arranged somethings and plugged both my A/V system and Xbox 360 into either a different strip or right into the wall outlet. Wouldn’t you know, I could hear DTS audio again and my Xbox 360 was able to open the disc tray again.

I discovered that power strips can fail and still provide some but not sufficient power to your devices. I’m no electrical engineer but I’m thinking it was giving enough voltage but not enough current. My Xbox 360 could run its pure electronics but once it needed juice to turn some motors, it failed. Now I know my A/V system requires more juice to decode DTS audio than it does Dolby Digital.

I replaced the power strip with another one and everything is working great now. And I learned something interesting about electronics.

ONE YEAR AGO

One year ago, on April 26, 2013, the “summer of me” began. On that date, PopCap Vancouver shutdown, taking my employment with it. Kind as they were, however, Electronic Arts gave me a huge chunk of money to go and do as I pleased. I didn’t know it on that first day but it was the beginning of four and a half months of absolute joy. It’s not very often people look upon losing their jobs with such wistful nostalgia but in my case, it was such fantastic thing to happen to me.

As I look back upon it now, I was so lucky to get that job at PopCap, if only because when I was laid off, it allowed me to spend the loveliest four months of year without having to work. I had money in my pocket, sunny and warm weather, freedom to do whatever I wanted, and a well-rested body with which to do all those things.

Time certainly flies and I cannot believe a year has passed since that wonderful time of my life started. Though I’m so pleased to be employed where I am now, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to experience that freedom again this summer. I look upon last year’s “summer of me” with such fond memories, it’s only natural to want that again.

I’m hoping this summer will be good too but I’ll always remember how things got started last April.

EARTHQUAKE

According to news reports, an earthquake of magnitude 6.6 on the Richter scale occurred west of Vancouver Island tonight around 8:13pm PST. From my social media accounts, it appeared many people in the greater Vancouver area felt the quake, especially those in high rises. At the time, I was paying for some dental floss at a ground level drugstore. I know this because I went back and checked the time of my receipt. I felt nothing out of the ordinary.

To date, I have only felt one earthquake that I’m aware of and that was sometime around the year 2000. Tonight was exciting for some people but not for me.

STEPHEN COLBERT DROPS BY

On Tuesday, Stephen Colbert dropped by the Late Show with David Letterman, presumably to inspect the place before he takes possession sometime next year. During his appearance, he told Dave and the audience about an earlier run-in with Dave’s show. I wonder who the girl was.

AN INTERVIEW

By my count, I’ve had six jobs since the end of 2010. For most people, that’s a lot of job in four years. As you can imagine, I’ve been through many a job interview in that time. Of course, in all those interviews, I’m the job applicant and not the interviewer. The last time I actually was on the other side of the table was probably in 2008 if my memory serves me right (which sometimes it doesn’t). Since then, I haven’t conducted a single interview. That will change tomorrow.

The project I’m on requires some extra help and since we can’t throw extra time on it, we need to hire more people. My team is also quite small and by that virtue there aren’t that many software engineers available to conduct interviews. I’ve been chosen by our technical director to sit in an interview tomorrow for a software engineer position. I used to know what to ask and get the most of out my questions but I’m a bit rusty at this now. I’ve reviewed the applicants resume but I still need to come up with a few questions that will help assess this person’s fit for the job.

As you can imagine, I’m thankful to be on this side of the table for once. It’s never easy applying for jobs.

THIS WEIRD BODY

I woke up to some discomfort this morning and my condition was difficult to explain. It was like my eyes hurt but not really. Like I knew my eyes weren’t really bothering me but it felt like the discomfort was somewhat near my eyes. I couldn’t figure out what was going except that it was only slightly bothersome and that I needed to get going on my day. I was headed to the last day of Fan Expo Vancouver where my primary goal was to sit in Karl Urban‘s Q&A session in the afternoon. So I sucked it up, took an Advil left for the convention centre.

I felt totally fine throughout the day thankfully. By the way, the Q&A session with Mr. Urban was fantastic. He was delightfully charming throughout, even though he was suffering from a cold. I give him much respect for being so energetic during the session even though he probably wasn’t feeling so great.

Near the end of the day, a general feeling of being unwell swept through my body though, which had me concerned that I might be in the early stages of a cold. I took refuge at a restaurant where I had dinner with a friend. The pleasant dinner must have been answer because I felt much better after eating.

I’m still feeling fine now but I’m concerned that I might wake up tomorrow feeling bad again. I’ve just recovered from my sinus infection so I don’t need a cold.

IT’S BOK CHOY

It's a vegetable!

As some of you know, I bought a wok over the holidays. After an initial furry of activity with it, I put it away for a while. Last evening, I pulled it out to stir fry a new adventure: vegetables. I specifically chose a bok choy recipe.

The recipe was very simple and called for very few ingredients other than the bok choy. I first stir fried three slices of ginger in some vegetable oil. I then added the bok choy, about a pound, and stir fried that. Next came about 1/4 cup of chicken broth mixed with some rice wine, salt, and some sugar. A few minutes of stir frying and it was all done. It wasn’t that bad. I liked how it wasn’t greasy and felt like a light dish overall. It also didn’t take very long to prepare and cook. My only concern is that I didn’t impart enough wok hei into the dish but I’m still working on that skill.

LIFT THE VEIL

So obviously I’m working on some sort of video game at work. It’s in one of those unfortunate phases where I can’t say what the game is. I have, however, been informed the game will be announced at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo or as it is better known, E3. This year, E3 will take place June 10-12. So about two months before I can divulge more details. What I will say is that it’s one of the more higher profile titles I’ve worked on in many years. Some could argue it is the clearly the highest profile intellectual property I’ve been associated with in my career. My part on it is small but I’m ok with that.

CHRONICALLY BAD TACOS

About two years ago, a Chronic Tacos restaurant opened up by my place. At first, I was very enthused such an establishment was so close to me. I had eaten at a Chronic Tacos in Vancouver proper several times and the food there was great. I came to realize the quality control at Chronic Tacos leaves something to be desired.

I tried the location near my home about three times. Each time, I was very disappointed. I just couldn’t understand why the food wasn’t as good as the Vancouver location. Then I realized it wasn’t me, the food did actually suck at this location. The people there just didn’t know how to make the food properly. The reviews also indicated I wasn’t the only one to dislike the place.

Fast forward to tonight. After hearing that management had changed, I decided to give Chronic Tacos a try again. I ordered some chicken nachos, which to me, didn’t seem that complicated to make. I knew I was in trouble when the person making the nachos told me she’d never made nachos before on the job. Great. She then proceeded to put about 3g of cheese on my tortilla chips. This was not hyperbole, it was literally about ten small shreds of cheese. This person then asked me if I wanted a particular topping on my nachos and then promptly forget to put them on. I ordered sour cream and guacamole as extra and paid for it but she was about to give me my food without actually giving me my sour cream and guac. There was only one other person in line with me and they managed to mix up our orders. The person behind the counter wanted to give me some other person’s quesadilla with me order.

I walked away from this place not impressed as usual. I see no reason to give this restaurant a chance again.