Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bad help can be worse than no help at all

Yesterday we finally filed our income taxes using H&R Block's At Home Deluxe edition.

Overall, it seemed pretty good - Jocelyn had entered most of it a while ago and just wanted me to have a final check.

Unfortunately, after having the program check everything there was a final validation before the filing was submitted to the IRS, and that validation squawked. Apparently, there was an address to the left where there was a zero on the right (for "Other Mortgage Interest", which we didn't have, there was an address entered), and that would just not do. Sort of makes sense, if you didn't want any number on the right, why would you enter stuff on the left? Of course, WE didn't enter anything on the left, the program had done it on our behalf, and wouldn't let us delete it even using the override function.

OK, things don't always go right, so we called their tech support line. Did not have to wait very long even though it must have been a very busy time for tax season. The only problem was their suggestion: the undesirable entry must have been a result of importing the previous year's data, and maybe something having been wrong in the previous year's data that wasn't caught then and that this year would not be allowed - so START ALL OVER AGAIN WITHOUT IMPORTING LAST YEAR'S DATA.

That answer was just so shatteringly unpleasant that it took me a while to continue the conversation, but it came down to that. Just start all over again, shrug, sorry, but there is nothing we can do.

Jocelyn was willing (had no choice really) to type it all in again and asked me just to print what we had out for her so she could laboriously re-enter it. I wanted to go over things first, because this just seemed so unpalatable, and in the process of going over things manually I found a place where Jocelyn had checked a wrong checkbox (suggesting we had other mortgage interest) and after unchecking that everything went through.

So my verdict: their tax package is not bad at all, but their assistance is worse than useless. You are on your own.

A Night at the RPO

An enjoyable evening, but very different from the usual RPO experience. This night was designed to showcase the various components of the orchestra: usually you can see mostly the strings, with the wind instruments, and even perhaps a percussionist or two, visible only through a forest of raised bows. This night, the strings weren't even on the stage until after the intermission (when it was ONLY strings).

(links here are generally NOT for RPO performances, but for what I can find on Youtube)

It started out with a line of brass performing "Second Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman" by Joan Tower. A good choice for an introduction, although I find the theme slightly offensive. Remmereit has decided to include at least one piece by a female composer in each performance in the first season. Of the ones I've heard so far, any of them could have been included simply for being there is no actual negative effect. I try to tell myself it is no different from including one piece with the letter "M" in the title rather than blatantly sexist, and there seems to be the positive side effect of getting some music out there that has been unjustly neglected.

A couple of longer wind pieces followed, Richard Strauss's Serenade in E-Flat Major and Stravinsky's Symphony of Wind Instruments. The latter of these was sort of a farewell to Debussy from his friend, and featured an instrument that was described at the pre-performance chat by the principal clarinet, a sort of cross between an alpenhorn and a clarinet - I would have sworn they called it a "bassinet" but I can't find any evidence on the net that such a thing exists. Essentially it seemed to be a very long clarinet curved like a saxophone at the end, with a protruding rest like that of a cello.

Then the winds all left the stage to the percussionists, who played Christopher Rouse(a local!)'s Ogoun Badagris. Even without the groullière (quoting from the program notes, "a highly erotic and even brutally sexual ceremonial dance") this was quite stirring. This is inspired by Voodoo ritual. Apparently the worship, when properly performed, requires a sacrifice of human blood, so I suggested to the conductor on his Facebook page that he might work with the Red Cross for a Blood Drive on some future performance. At the end, the whole audience chanted "Reler!" eight times to the conductor's up-beat.

After the intermissions, the strings got to play their part, first in a quirky Mozart serenade in which various of the players got to perform solos, mischievously sampling from Beethoven's Fifth, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Happy Birthday To You, etc. While playful, this really gave the players a chance to show off their skill, the material might have been mocking but the effort was dead serious. Lest anybody take his playfulness for slackness, the evening ended with a haunting Tchaikovsky serenade.

Time well spent.