Moral dilemmas: Would you pay cash?

I have no problem with businesses that require cash payments (except for the inconvenience to me) but I recently found out that a small business I work regularly with asks for cash to avoid taxes.

Now there’s several legitimate reasons a business might require cash. One of our favorite restaurants only accepted cash. People living day to day on odd jobs or paying daily contractors might find cash more convenient. I wouldn’t normally question why they wanted cash other than random curiosity.  Would I worry that they weren’t paying their taxes? No, I’d consider that their responsibility, not mine.

But now that this business wants cash to avoid taxes? Now I pay with a check.

Is it my job to enforce US tax law? Nope. (Or at least I don’t think so.) Is it my moral obligation to not enable a crime? Yes. Am I being a too goody-goody? I feel like I might be perceived that way. Especially since in the eyes of many taxes are necessary evil and would think not paying taxes is a less evil crime than stealing from a neighbor even if they were for the same amount.  If I really want to do the right thing, I should probably stop doing business with them.

I feel it’s not fair to society that some don’t pay taxes. They use the public roads and schools and need to contribute like everyone else. (I do believe there should be exceptions for those that don’t make enough money to survive comfortably. But that should be worked out fairly across society.)

It reminds me of all the social experiments on cooperation. People are willing to take a personal hit (like pay money) in order to punish people who don’t cooperate. I don’t have a link for the studies but see the Tit for Tat strategy in Prisoner’s Dilemna experiments for an idea of what I mean.


Please solve the problem, not the symptoms

[This is not a pro-choice or pro-life post. I would feel exactly the same whether I was pro-life or pro-choice.]

I was reading the Economist and was astounded to see that funding for abortions was a big enough issue to be mentioned as part of an article about the Washington DC economy:

But the latest budget deal largely spared the region’s economy. The federal government will continue to chip in for the city’s rail transit system; but as part of the deal the District can no longer use its own money to pay for abortions. This will hurt the city’s poorer residents

(What the Economist doesn’t say is that the real reason people are upset is not because it will hurt poor people but because (a) it’s a case of the federal government trying to control the city’s budget and (b) it’s part of the whole abortion debate we’ve been having for years.)

But what really struck me was, “wow, how many women in DC get abortions?” I mean, if it’s big enough to impact the city budget, shouldn’t we try to help them not have unwanted pregnancies?

I wasn’t able to find an answer I trust but this obviously biased site claims that DC has 265 abortions for every 100 live births. Wow. And people are worried about whether abortion is legal or not, funded or not, … that’s not the issue. How come so many women end up pregnant that don’t want to? Is it lack of education? Lack of birth control? Relationships that are ending prematurely? Did they want to get pregnant and changed their minds? Did they get pregnant accidentally? Do many women have more than one abortion? What is going on here? Why aren’t we addressing that?

So I think the issue of how the federal government controls DC’s budget is important. But I also think it’s really important to help these women not get pregnant, if they don’t want to be.

There are still wild animals out there

The elk in Rocky Mountain National Park have gotten used to people. But they are still wild animals and these people seem to have forgotten that.

In spite of all the signs and warnings not to approach these 400+ pound animals …

Perhaps the tracking collar was confusing?

Maybe she thought all animals are domesticated like cows and horses?

This 400 pound doe kicked right before she took off. If the girl had been any closer she would have gotten kicked.

Maybe she would have respected this guy more. (Not that both aren’t equally dangerous to curious tourists!)

It did give us a chance to discuss wild animals with our 4 year old who wanted to know why he couldn’t go out there too … Unfortunately, he came to the conclusion that the only way you can pet an elk is if you shoot it. I’m not exactly sure that’s the conclusion I wanted him to come to …

How to use interruptions to your advantage

When I first started public speaking, I loved when I had technical difficulties. Focusing on them – problems I was familiar with – calmed me down.

Today started out with quite a few technical difficulties. First my SO's car broke down on the way to work and I had to go get him. (About an hour roundtrip.) Then an hour later daycare called and said my 3 year old was sick so I had to go get him. (About 40 minutes roundtrip.)

So I'm trying to use these technical difficulties to my advantage. I'm squeezing all important work into nap time. I have to be very productive for two hours!

And then I think I might just take the rest of the day off. (Which can be productive in a different way.)

What do you do when you run into too many "technical difficulties"?

Focus on doing good things, not just having good ideas

I love Seth Godin's analogy for how to protect your ideas in the digital age:

Focus on being the best tailor with the sharpest scissors, not the
litigant who sues any tailor who deigns to use a pair of scissors.

Or make the best scissors for sale. Or have the best scissor company customer service. But don't block good ideas from changing the world. Don't prevent people from using scissors because you thought of them first. (Others thought of them too!)

I think more emphasis should be put on implementation and not ideas. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Actually implementing the idea is where the work is.

The dangers of URL shortening tools …

I recently posted a dent/tweet to Nokia N900 Delay Highlights Maemo's Importance. Usually when I create a link, I test it before I send it out, but it was Friday afternoon and I was in a hurry, and it was just a link to an article, so I didn't test it.

… and I missed the last letter when I copied the link …

I posted without the last letter. Without the last letter the link redirects you to a site that most of us would prefer not to open at work, instead of a nice Business Week article about Nokia, Maemo and the N900.

So be careful when using url shortening tools!

And have a good weekend! It's time for me to go see if I can transform myself into Ms. Incredible for my son's Halloween Party. At least she wears all her clothes.

7 things that sure make me feel safer – NOT

I think we've crossed the line on safety. The inconvenience to safety ratio has gotten way out of control.  Pretty soon we'll all be wearing body armour to leave the house just in case an acorn is going to fall on us.

1.  Car seats for kids until they are six! You can't tell me those booster seats do much. And reverse facing until they are a year old? What baby wants to stare at the back seat for ever? But I have a friend that bought the additional safety story and now her two year old is still in a reverse facing car seat. Poor girl! Did you have to sit in a car seat when you were little? How many accidents have you been in in your life time? I think the car seat manufactures are responsible for the lobbying that brings us our current set of our car seat laws.

2.  Bike helmets.  I always wear my hockey helmet – I've hit my head hard playing hockey. Same with skiing. But biking around the neighborhood? I can't tell you the last time I fell on my bike much less fell hard enough to hit my head. And I (and most of my friends) have made it to adulthood without wearing helmets when biking.

3.  No pillows or blankets! Did you know that babies (in the US at least) aren't supposed to sleep with pillows, blankets or stuffed animals? Don't you sleep with a blanket? Can you imagine sleeping on top of your bottom sheet with nothing else for a year? I wish I'd never heard about SIDS. I think my baby would have been much happier.

4.  Tuna. Eggs. Milk. To eat or not eat? Eggs are good for you. No, they're bad. No they're good. Or "Pregnant women shouldn't eat any fish." "No, they should have at least three servings a week or their baby will be stupid." Just eat. In moderation.

5. Seatbelts on airplanes. I've used my seatbelt in a car. By "used" I mean it's tightened up and held me in place. But on the airplane? I think they just want to keep us in our seats.

6. Electronics on airplanes. Actually, it really worries me that they think my cell phone might interfere with the aircraft. Because half the time I leave mine on. Are we going to crash some day because of that?

7.  Airport security.  Do you really feel any safer now that nobody can take more than 3 oz of any one liquid on the airplane? Or that their shoes all got xrayed? (FYI, they can take much more than 3oz, they just have to take the time to put it in separate containers.) Personally, I'd rather have the hours this year that I've lost standing in line waiting for my laptop to get scanned. Not to mention getting the airport early. I used to get there just in time to get on my flight. Now I'm there in time to wish chair massages at the airport weren't so expensive. Oh, and to spend money eating expensive sandwiches.

And I could go on and on … what's your favorite safety pet peeve?

What would you ask these guys about the desktop?

Tomorrow I'm also moderating a panel at OpenSource World, The State of Installed Desktops and Netbooks 2009.

What would you ask these guys?

  • Todd Finch, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Dell
  • Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier, Community Manager, Novell
  • Jono Bacon, Community Manager, Canonical
  • Rao Yeleswarapu, Marketing Manager for Moblin, Intel 

As a reminder:

  • Intel, a hardware company, recently launched Moblin, a software project that offers a whole new user interface for computing on netbooks.
  • Dell is one of first to offer Linux preinstalled on PCs and laptops.
  • Novell has employees using Linux desktops internally and offers it to customers.
  • Canonical has been working with different companies customizing the desktop to meet their customer needs.

So what would you ask them?

The Desktop or the Browser: Is the Netbook Escalating the Battle?

Wednesday I'll be speaking at OpenSource World on The Desktop or the Browser: Is the Netbook Escalating the Battle?

One of the things that has worried me is how people are living more and more in their browser. I myself am guilty of this. I use the browser to check my mail, calendar, read news, track my todo list, check my bank account, check on friends, upload pictures …

People doing everything in their browser scares me not because I think everyone should use the desktop but rather because I don't think the browser is the best user tool for doing all those things.

I think the browser is great. I use it all day, every day. But by limiting ourselves to the browser, we are limiting our user experience and the power of the desktop. I think Fabrizio Capobianco stated it really well in his post A World without the Browser:

I haven't seen one single implementation of a browser on a mobile
device that actually makes the experience good (not great). […] Clicking is a pain.
Zooming and panning is a super-pain. You click when you want to scroll.
You yell.


let's talk about Mobile Apps. They are built for interaction without a
mouse. With one finger (the other hand holding the device). They are
quick, immediate, intuitive, interactive.

If I have to choose
between checking the weather on my PC or on my iPhone, what do I
choose? The iPhone. One click. Done. I do not have to sit, open the
browser, click and re-click and maybe even type my zip code. It is
there when I need it.

Applications running natively on the desktop can provide a much better user experience than running an application inside a browser on top of the desktop. Mobile devices like phone and netbooks may make this obvious but the same holds true for a full size desktop.

If you use Twitter or Identica, do you use the web page interface or do you use Gwibber or Thwirl or Twidroid? (If you said the web page interface, I strongly recommend you try one of the apps as you are missing out.)

Devices with small screens will ultimately make the desktop experience better for everyone but only if we deliver applications that make the experience better. A desktop and a browser are not enough. "Web applications" that you access through the browser are not enough. We need applications that take advantage of the power the desktop has to offer.