False Shutter

(An excerpt from some journal entries in Spain. 4/5/2006)

They asked me to take their photo.

I don’t know why.
They are complete strangers on the street.

The first words they said to me:
<<¡Un Foto!>>
They would never see it.

Why do they want me to have a record

of them

of their stupidity

of their drunkenness

of their narcissism?

Why waste my film, my time, my money for them?

But I pointed the camera, adjusted the lens, pressed my finger on the shutter release.

<<OK>> I tell them, and smile.

Except it’s a lie, I never released the shutter

released the mirror
revealed the film

They were doubtful.

<<No hay flash>> I explain to them. That was true.

And they went off satisfied with my lie.

And I am OK with that.

Except that now I don’t remember how they look.

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Time to break up with H&R Block Online (formerly TaxCut)

You know, as much as I hated filling out all of my 2009 taxes in H&R Block’s new “At Home Deluxe” online product, I think I may just go ahead and try filing with TurboTax anyways.

Last year, I was wowed at how great their online TaxCut software was. It was quite helpful, easy to use, and seemed to take care of all of my investment needs.

This year – quite the opposite. When trying to find information about wash sales the site provided no helpful input, no automated calculations – nothing. It is really just a beautified IRS form. I had to research the web for hours and do my calculations manually in a spreadsheet. Even then, because they don’t show you what fields you’re actually filling in in the IRS form – there is not way to be sure I was doing it right.

Then, finally, I got to a point where I thought it was time to submit. And – it finds an error.

“Error 1 of 1: Remove the non-alpha characters in %P in order to electronically file this return.”

%P? Oh gee thanks, that is useful. Who knows where that is. So it brings me to a random spot in my return – all of the characters such as $’s and ,’s are automatically put there by the software. If it is complaining about those – I don’t even have the option to change them. After going through the portion in the survey that it takes me to multiple times with no success, I finally ask tech support:

Welcome to H&R Block At Home technical support. Please wait while we find a technical support agent to assist you.
You have been connected to Kelly A..
Kelly A.: Hello BRIAN, welcome to H&R Block’s At Home Live Chat Support! How can we assist you today?
BRIAN SAGHY: Hello, I’m trying to submit my return by e-file, and it is giving me an error message that appears to be broken:
BRIAN SAGHY: Remove the non-alpha characters in %P in order to electronically file this return.
BRIAN SAGHY: %P definitely looks like the backend code is somehow broken and is not being filled in correctly
Kelly A.: That means somewhere in the return there is a letter that is where a number should be or a number where a letter should be. You will need to review the entire form to find it. I apologize for the inconvenience.
BRIAN SAGHY: That is pretty awful
Kelly A.: I agree.
Kelly A.: Is there anything else we are able to assist you with today?
BRIAN SAGHY: i guess thats it

Tech support agrees – their product sucks. So why should I pay for it? We’ll see if TurboTax or TaxACT 2009 is any better this year.

Cat and Squirrel

So back in January, I got a cat from Austin Siamese Rescue named Parker. He is rather awesome, and cute, and all of those things that cats generally can be. He’s about 12 years old, they say, but he acts like a kitten sometimes, batting around toys and doing the cartoonish running-but-not-moving on my slick hardwood floors.

There are pictures of him here.

Today while I was out on the balcony I heard a rather odd noise. It was a squirrel being rather aggressive towards my cat, making all kinds of funny disgruntled noises.

Luckily, I was able to get my camera before either decided to give up their territory.

Parker vs Squirrel

And video:

Barcelona & Nice

So… I’m in Europe. I knew this was coming, but it wasn’t real until I got out of the airport in Barcelona. Then, it REALLY settled in when I woke up and was still in the same place, confirming I wasn’t dreaming.

Much detail could be gone into about the voyage… but all in all it went smoothly. I didn’t end up in Australia and I kept all of my baggage. There was a slight delay on my last flight, and a family of 4 sitting a row ahead and to the left of me had some very bad hygeine problems that caused many on the plain to gag. I left my bags with another Arcadia student, Eleanor, and got myself a hostel not too far from her place and the station.

We had made tentative plans to go out that Friday night, but I just slept and woke up at 5am to go to the train station and head to Nice, France.

The trip to Nice is surprisingly long and requires 2 transfers. 12 hours on a train! Look at a map… they’re really not that far apart. Japan has forever spoiled my train experiences. Nothing will ever again compare. On the plus side, I met a nice Canadian couple who now live in France, and we hung out a bit and sat by each other on the train to Avignon, then went our separate ways.

Finally, I got to Nice. At the train station, I couldn’t find anybody who could (willingly) speak English. This surprised me, not that I expect them to speak English in France, but because this is quite the tourist town. You would think they would hire multi-linguals for information booths. Somehow through gestures and latin roots I was able to get some kind of directions to my hostel… if I could even call it that at that point, considering I hadn’t even called to see if rooms were available. The EU has made it really easy to travel between countries. Calling between countries, however, remains quite expensive and confusing. On that note.. since my parents probably won’t read this… somebody call them and tell them what’s going on.

Last night was fun. I went to a Chinese restaurant because it was so late. The food was good, and I ordered a Rose table wine that was excellent… only 0.80 Euro for 2 glasses worth. Yum. I then went to a dance club and stayed out until 5:30am… fun stuff.

Oh, that reminds me. Europe works on standard college time. Wake up late, dinner at 10pm… go to bed at 2am. If you stay up late, then you’re watching the sun rise. I think I’ll like this. Tonight, though, I’m heading in early.

Nice is a beautiful city. The people can be hit or miss on friendly or spiteful. I went to some ruins today, walked around the Mediterranean along the promenade des Anglais to watch the sun set. There is also a contemporary art museum. They had a pitiful display of Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and Rothko which hardly represented the actual styles we’ve come to know and hate by them all. At the top of the museum is a buch of very oddly shaped terraces which you can walk around. I watched an intersection for a while, and some chaos that insued over a car trying to make too sharp of a left turn. No damage occured, not even any form of contact, but everybody got out of cars yelling at each other on who should be moving where (in French, making it even funnier for whatever reason. I guess French is just not a harsh sounding language).

I suddenly became really sad standing way up there watching down on the city. Part of me feels like I want to be a part of this city, country, continent. Then a realization that I never could be and never was was just overwhelming. I’ll be seeing so many great places that I’ll never truly be a part of, but certainly wish to be. I wish I knew all of the language and customs. There is just no time… no way. Not in the short spans that we are given on Earth. Sobeit. I’ve decided that for now I am a ghost watching a live history book, that is, until I get back to Barcelona.

Bonsoir

Winter Solstice [not] in my Headlights

It only makes sense that my car’s headlights decide to completely die on the shortest day of the year, when I have the least amount of daylight to drive in and the most amount of driving to do. Merry Christmas.

Derek, at one point, had mentioned the Japanese concept of “The Sony Timer”, a magical device which causes all Sony products to self-destruct right after the warranty runs up. It appears that GM has an even more sadistic device installed in their cars. Then again, I do have 185,000 miles on it, 95,000 of which I put on myself. I guess I should be grateful that it even moves.

Pittsburgh

I am in Pittsburgh… again. William calls this city the nexus of the universe. To some extent, I have to agree. I’ve come to realize that I know an extraordinary amount of people here, considering that I am not from the area nor did I go to college here. The fact remains that William is here at CMU, Emily and Abby are both studying neuroscience at Pitt, Nate is from Pittsburgh and is now on co-op here, and this guy I met at the Spanish Consulate in NYC, Ethan, also goes to CMU. By knowing these people, I vicariously know their friends, and my network here seems to be almost too large. I think I know Pittsburgh better than Cleveland, which is kind of sad, but not too much, since I really like it here.

Yesterday, I went to a party at Emily’s house for her roommate’s going-away to Costa Rica, and their friend’s graduation. Naturally, it was a good time, but due to a lack of sleep I was rather tired and fell asleep a bit on the futon. Luckily, I heard some guys scheming things to do to me while I was asleep and decided that I should get up before anything bad happened. Instead, they took out their agression on some other kid who passed out. Lucky me. I spent the night there and slept on the floor in the living room. We were supposed to go see the movie Brokeback Mountain in the morning. We were surprised to find that a movie which was heavily advertised was not showing in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, or Rochester. Perhaps they will show it in some local theater before I leave for Spain.

Emily and I were both rather tired from not having slept much. She had a graduation to attend at 6pm, and I had nothing to do, so I left her be after we had lunch at a Crepe restaurant in Shady Side and came back to William’s to take a nap while he graded homework. Three hours later, he woke me up and we went to Thai Place, which has by far the best Thai Tea that I’ve ever had, and very good food to match. I would certainly go back.

It really amazes me how little people who live in this city appreciate what it has to offer. There are some really cool districts here, not very far apart from one another. Each offers its own style of restaurants, bars, stores, etc. I love the architecture in the houses and how unique the whole city is. It is dense like NYC, but not unmanagably large and the people seem a bit friendlier. In recent news, Google has decided to build a research facility here, which is good news for the city. I imagine that will attract some other tech companies. If only Cleveland could follow a similiar trend…

Tomorrow, William and I are heading to visit Matt in Columbus, as he won’t be coming up to Burton for the holidays. It should be good. Until then…

La Primavera

Today is the budding of something new. My blog. Yes, that is correct, I finally folded and created a blog. Thanks to the help of my good friend, Pat, I decided to use WordPress. So far, things look pretty nice and easy, and I think this should work out pretty well.

My primary reason for creating this is to keep everybody updated on happenings while in Spain. If you ever wonder how I am doing, and what I am doing while abroad, you can hopefully check to this page and get a full update. Check back. Check often. Check my photo gallery, too.