Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wireless merger?

This concern over the AT&T and T Mobile merger is a little over rated. I doubt that in Alaska we’re going to see much change if any. AT&T is the only national wireless company in Alaska. Verizon has announced plans to move here in the future but as of yet hasn’t set a date.

AT&T pulled out of Alaska about 8 years ago in a trade with Cellular One. What a horrible time in wireless history. Cellular One was terrible. Rates increased and service dropped. Customer service was next to non-existent. When AT&T bought out Cellular One we were warned of how bad their customer service was. I couldn’t believe it was worse the Cellular One, and it wasn’t. I’ve never had a problem with AT&T customer service.

I do feel that cell phone rates are high. I use a Blackberry Torch and use all of the bells and whistles. I’m changing companies where I’ll be working and probably won’t need all of them, but I’ll keep them anyways. Email and internet is all ways nice to have at hand. I can’t wait for 4G to make it to Alaska.

The charge for those bells and whistles I feel is a little high. I do have unlimited minutes, data, unlimited texting, bb service, roadside assistance and insurance. I think my cell phone bill is my highest utility bill. If it were to increase, I’d have to trim some of those services for sure.

It’s nice that I’m changing companies and I don’t have a company cell phone. All of my contacts go with me. They’re synced to my PC. That’s part of the reason why I got a quality smart phone. I guess it’s true when they say you get what you pay for.

If the merger goes through, I guess it will be up to Sprint and Verizon to raise the bar, to make the next big move. Like the airlines, mergers might be where it’s at for wireless companies.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Being Charitable

I am cautious when I give to charities. I’m sure everyone has wondered about some of their past donations.. You here of scandals, embezzlement, frivolous purchases and such, it makes you wonder how your money is used. I tend to stay with the big boys when it comes to national or international disaster relief. I feel I can’t go wrong with the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army. I’m not saying it’s not safe to go with others, I just feel comfortable with them.

I do donate all year long, but I keep it local. The ones that tear at my heart usually get into my wallet. Kids and animals are the usual ones. They both get sick and injured usually through no fault of their own, but through us adult humans.

The biggest cause I support is the rehabilitation of wild birds by the Bird Treatment and Learning Center here in Anchorage. Most of the birds they get in are sick or injured by some type of human interaction. Birds that are electrocuted on power lines, caught in traps, hit by a car, got into some type of toxin discarded or even flew into a window. Last year they took in over 50 bald eagles and over 600 other types of wild birds. Over half of them were able to be returned back to the wild. The rest were placed in facilities to where they could be used for educational purposes or passed away.

Their volunteers work at their clinic every day of the year. They also take their education birds around the state of Alaska to schools and different organizations, teaching people about the species and the dangers presented by man that they can face. They do all of this with no government funding. They do it with donations from individuals like you and me and some corporations.

I support them with both time and money. I see what a supporter’s money goes to and I’ve never seen a dime wasted. With a small and extremely talented staff, they perform the unthinkable. They piece the largest and smallest birds back together so they can have a second chance. I’ve seen three people struggle to hold an eagle while it is cared for and one person struggle to handle a chickadee because it’s so small. No matter what the species, they all get an equal chance.

There are many good charities out there and they all have a good cause. You need to pick one that is right for you. Money is tight, so I try to make it count. Bird TLC gets my money because they make a difference. Make sure whoever you donate to makes a difference. I don’t do it for a tax break; I do it so they get a break.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bohemian Rhapsody

These guys are amazing to watch. They're Bohemian Waxwings
 and they are all over Anchorage this winter.

They congregate in large flocks and eat the frozen berries from the trees during winter. They are the largest species of waxwings.

Click to enlarge the photos and you see that they have really cool plumage. I describe them as very stylish bandits.

To learn more about Bohemian Waxwings, click here for a really informative site.

And as usual, click here to see more of my photos.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tax Time!

Like many people, I am anticipating a tax refund this year. But I don’t expect it to be a lot. At my part-time job, my pay was a little less last year. It’s partially based on commission and sales were off for 2010. For the amount of taxes that I do pay, sometimes I feel that I’m financing my military retirement pay.

I am a procrastinator when it comes to filing my taxes. I wait at least until April 1st, but I do file it on line. It just feels like I’m doing it at my own pace when I wait to file. I have waited until the 15th and even filed extensions, but that’s when I knew I had to pay a large sum.

I have used tax advisors in the past, but it’s hard to find one I feel like I can trust to give me good information. I’ve consolidated my investments and even my 401k is all in one location now. At one time I had four different 401ks out there from different jobs over the years.

The IRS has relaxed some over the years, but there was a time when I thought they had way too much power and no sympathy for the little guy. I was going through a divorce when I was a young buck sergeant in the 1980’s. All of a sudden I had no dependents and owed a lot of taxes for that year. I made payment arrangements with the IRS, but later that year they changed their mind and wanted it all right away. No matter who I talked to at the IRS didn’t matter, there was nothing they could do. So I decided to visit U.S. Senator Ted Stevens’s office and plead my case. His staff came through for me and my payment arrangement with the IRS was back on track. After that, I called him Uncle Ted like all of the other Alaskans. We won’t talk about what I call the IRS.

Alaska doesn’t have a state income tax or a state sales tax. The revenue from oil production takes care of that for now. I’ve lived in other states where you had to file your state return about the same time as the federal return. It felt like double dipping to me and I never felt like I got my return on my dollar.

Everyone says that Uncle Sugar needs to get his share. I like to hang on to my share as long as I can.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Spring break?

Spring break will come and go without notice this year. The recession might be over, but the rising cost of goods is not. I stopped this morning and filled my gas tank up. The price was $3.65 a gallon. I drove by the same station after lunch today and the price had gone up to $3.75 a gallon. Any kind of trip by vehicle will have to be a good one, if and when I decide to take it.

Traveling by plane won’t be any less expensive this year either. Several years back when the fuel prices spiked, the airlines raised pricing accordingly. When the price of fuel went down, they didn’t adjust the price down a penny. Now with it going back up again they are raising the prices because of fuel. If it continues to rise, don’t be surprised if there’s some big shake ups in the airline industry.

I prefer not to burn up all of my vacation time at one shot. I like breaking it up and taking a number of long weekends. Time off is essential to me. I have a lot of things I prefer doing when off the clock. Most of it usually means a trip out of town, but things might get reeled in a little closer to home.

Winter is still in full swing here in Alaska. I believe we hit the high of 11° today. For the next week it should be in the mid 20’s during the day and single digits at night. Even though the first day of spring is in 2 weeks, it really won’t feel like spring for about another month and a half. But once the snow is melting and we start to get other colors besides black, gray and white, there will be no time for setting still.

The daylight hours are longer now and getting longer every day. Right now we have about 10 ½ hours of daylight and gaining about 10 minutes of daylight a day. When winter starts to break up, the sun is out most of the day, the birds migrate back, the colors come alive and I will too!