Wenn ich computer hoere.....

sokol at jhu.edu sokol at jhu.edu
Mon Feb 22 13:38:44 PST 1999

Following Uncle Sam's urgings to use an electronic tax filing system, boosted by the promises of speedy processing, paperwork reduction etc. I was foolish enough to do what the people who call themselves the government say. I contacted the web site of the Maryland Department of Treasury as instructed in the tax booklet only to learn that the "gummint" does not offer any electronic tax return services, all it does is providing free advertising (which the wired morons must be confusing with free market) for private vendors who offer such a service for a fee.

That was the red flag which I unfortunately ignored. I followed one of those "Government Approved" links leading to the web site of the company named Intuit, Inc. and their web service called "turbo-tax" where I learned that for a modest fee of $40 I can have my both federal and state taxes filed electronically. I proceeded.

The Intuit, Inc. website asked me to lower my machine's defences against running an outside program, which I follishly did, thinking that this after all is a "gummint-approved" site. Ha...

The program started collecting my financial information, complete with my bank account numbers. Initially, everything went smoothly, but after the information collection phase, the program started to malfunction. The video display went beserk, and then the machine stopped responding. I rebooted the computer and tried to continue, only to experience the same problem again and again. In the process, the auto-dial feature on my machine became permanently disabled (even my ISP technicians do not know how to fix it). Finally after 5 (sic!) hours of struggling I gave up in the middle of the state return phase.

Today in my office I used a newer and faster machine (400 MHz Pentium II) to finish my return. The video display still behaved erratically, the program stalled, but I managed to finish my state return in slightly over two hours without any visible deterioration of the machine's functionality.

At the end of that convoluted process, the progream asked me to provide my credit card number, and then submitted and printed the results.

The results of this new time and paper saving technology are:

22 (sic!) pages of printed output 8 hours of my time I still have to mail tax forms (albeit of a different kind) with all supporting documentation.

For a comparison, the traditional paper-and pencil method to file the same return requires:

3 forms about 30-45 minutes of my time Mailing of the the above plus the supporting documentation.

Some "hi-tech savings", indeed.

Postcriptum. The Intuit, Inc. also provided a toll 900 number for technical support to use their software for an additional modest fee of $14.95. I declined. Instead I called the Intuit's toll free (800) number where I requested a refund for their very unprofessional service plus covering the cost of resetting my home machine. They refunded the fee, but refused to cover the cost of fixing my computer. As one Theodore Kaczynski aka Unabomber said - F...C.....

Of course, the "gummint" who is the main culprit here - bears no responsibility for what they "approve" or advertise for free. After all, they are but an executive committee acting to promote collective corporate interests, just as Karl Marx said.

Wojtek Sokolowski Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies Baltimore, MD 21218 sokol at jhu.edu

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