Monday, August 18, 2008

Greetings from Madison, WI! I'm here for the Midwestern States Association of Tax Administrators (MSATA) annual conference. Before you start hee-hawing, I have to say that this conference is a LOT more fun than it sounds. There are 13 states involved, and hosting it revolves between these 13 states. Nebraska hosted it last year (in Omaha), and I was one of the three coordinators. I have a whole new appreciation for people who plan these events -- I couldn't believe how much work it was.

To save money and send as many people as possible (12), we drove here in mini-vans. I was dreading the drive, but was pleasantly surprised. It was only about an 8-hour trip, and mini-vans are quite comfortable. I had my audio books, and the people in my van were nice, so no worries.

Madison is an amazingly beautiful city. Tom and I were here maybe 15 years ago (or more) for our buddy Ken's wedding, but that was in November and the weather sucked. This time, the weather is perfect. The hotel is right downtown, so there are all kinds of cool places to walk to -- but no time to walk to them. [Hannah, there are at least three vintage clothing stores within spitting distance of my hotel -- I'll try to check them out tomorrow.].

Last night's activity was a reception at an art gallery down the street. It was very nice. Tonight was a "tailgate" party at the governor's residence. Not being a football fan, I didn't enjoy this too much. They had bratwurst & shredded pork (neither of which are on my "desired foods" list), as well as the University of Wisconsin Marching Band, and BUCKY BADGER. Other people were really enjoying it, though, so I was just my curmudgeonly self and caught the first bus back to the hotel. The beer was free & from local breweries, so that made it worthwhile. Tomorrow night will be the Big Banquet, and then home on Wednesday,

Next year's conference will be in Fargo, ND. They have a booth set up here, with twice-a-day drawings. I actually won the first one, and have a bottle of chokecherry wine & box of chocolates to show for it. I had a chat with the tax commissioner from ND this evening, and he told me that he's a Montana native and grew up with North Dakotan jokes. I hope I get to go -- I've never been to North Dakota, and have sort of a negative image of it in my brain. He assured me that I'll like it, and said he'd tell MY commissioner that I need to go next year.

Lest you think this is just a junket for state employees, I have to tell you that I spent the entire day today being entertained by such scintillating topics as "Issues with State Business Taxes" and "Economic Trends for Tax Administrators." Tomorrow, I get to hear about "Outreach to Non-English Speaking Customers" and "Creating a Customer Focused Organization," among others.

I have to say that, despite the less-than-inspirational daytime sessions, I get a lot out of these types of conferences -- primarily from the breaks, meals, and evening activities. I know that "networking" is one of those annoying buzzwords, but it's really true that there's a huge benefit in personally knowing people that have similar jobs to yours in other states. If you're faced with a problem or project and know that another state has just done something similar, it's a huge benefit to know someone you can call and ask how they did it. It's a classic "why re-invent the wheel" scenario.

I'll blog again when I have something more curmudgeonly to say.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Who thinks about a furnace in August?

We just bought a new furnace.

When we bought our house 22 years ago, the furnace was 8 years old. Now it's 30 years old. Every fall, we hold our breath and don't release it until we feel the blessed warm air coming through the vent.

Now with warnings of heating bills being twice as high as usual this winter, we decided not to take a chance on our old workhorse Rheem for another year. We're pretty conservative with the heat here, and our heating bills are consistently lower than most of our friends, but we certainly don't want to pay twice that much, and we don't want to wait for cold weather to do it.

Enter Sears. We fully intended to get several estimates, but ended up going with the Sears guy, who showed up first. We might have been able to get a better deal, but this guy was here for over 3 hours and wore us down. Plus the idea of going through that 2 more times was pretty off-putting. So, we're getting a Kenmore high-efficiency furnace, which he told us would pay for itself in about 3 years.

We'll keep you posted on that.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Late Summer Miscellany

Besides just being curmudgeonly in general, I don't have anything to be specifically curmudgeonly about. I've been told, though (by 2 of my 3 readers) that I'm a bad blogger by not posting more often. It just seems silly to me to post even when I don't have anything to say.

I could be curmudgeonly about summer, I guess. I hate it. People complain about getting cabin fever in the winter -- well I get it in the summer. I just can't bring myself to get excited about anything if it means having to be outdoors. That's why my gardens always go to hell by late summer -- I start out great guns in the spring; but once it gets hot, forget about it.

Hannah loaned me a book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which is all about a family's effort to eat only locally-produced food. It's really interesting, and less than 50 pages into it, I started feeling guilty. I can't really see us becoming farmers (or giving up our bananas, pineapples or seafood), but I have to say that I'm paying much more attention when I shop. Given a choice between a melon from Mexico, or a melon from Ashland, NE, I will choose the Ashland one. Here's pertinent quote:

If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 barrels of oil every week. That's not gallons, but barrels.

Pretty thought-provoking stuff. There must be some other people paying attention, too, because I've noticed that even the supermarket carries local produce and advertises it.

I have something else to post, but I'll do it in a separate entry, since my beloved brother told me to keep them short.