Tag Archives: Taxes

Taking off our blinders

Law does not move at the speed of technology.

Sometimes this is a good thing. In Ohio, you owe unpaid use (sales) tax on anything you buy online, except for digital items. Even though the only difference between a CD and an MP3 is the medium, one is in the tax code, the other is not. Maybe the spirit of the law says you should pay tax on both, but I think most of us, especially with our taxes, go by the letter and not the spirit. After all, why pay more taxes than we have to?

It’s not such a good thing when we talk about guns. Change a grip, barrel length, maybe even a color and a law that bans one assault weapon lets another nearly identical one out into the world.

Before you all go crazy, I’m not actually here to talk about the gun debate.

I want to talk about Google Glass.

I’ve written about Google Glass (or technologies like it) before, but for those who don’t know, Google Glass is one of the first steps toward wearable computing. The device is worn like a regular pair of glasses, and the user can have e-mail, Google map info, video, and all sorts of information displayed directly in front of their eyes. The glasses can take pictures and record video, which raises privacy concerns of course, but again, not the subject of today’s post.

I want to speak briefly about driving.

We recently implemented a texting ban in Ohio. It’s a primary offense (for anyone under 18) and a misdemeanor ($150 fine) for adults. The ban covers hand-held devices only, which means Google Glass wouldn’t currently be covered.

Texting bans are good, but they’re a reactionary law. I don’t mean that they’re rash, far from it in fact. It takes years for the law to catch up to the dangers of new technology, and while a hand-held standard covers any new smart phone, tablet or device that might want to draw away our attention, it doesn’t cover ones we wear.

I sometimes hear the argument that any law that bans our behavior in this fashion is an example of a “nanny state”. I tend to agree that we should generally (though not in all cases) be allowed to do whatever we want as long as it only affects us. I have no particular interest or stake in the marijuana debate, but legalization wouldn’t be the end of the world to me. But driving is not that sort of activity. What we do affects all those around us, and at highway speeds one accident can turn into a pile-up.

Google Glass is largely voice commanded. This means composing an e-mail will probably be a lot like talking on the phone, but what about reading one? Maybe the device reads to you, but what about all the other visual cues and distractions that might keep our eyes off what we’re supposed to be doing?

At the end of the day though, Google Glass is just one example. I want us to do more than just deal with this particular piece of technology, but come up with a way that we’ll evaluate the potential risk to public safety of any new technology. For things like Glass maybe it’s as simple as laws about how much of your visual field can be obscured while driving (maybe 30%). Maybe it’s requiring devices to restrict certain functionalities at speeds over a certain MPH. There are many possibilities.

Tomorrow I’ll share a little more about what I think we can do right now.

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The Gigabyte Tax

Image Courtesy of XKCD

Hard drive and flash drive manufacturers are taxing your devices. It’s insidious and I think the public has a right to know the two ways your drive is being taxed!

Ever notice that the size of a folder is sometimes smaller than the size it takes up on the disk? You can see the truth in this by looking at the properties of any file or folder. The reason is the size of your file chunks. See, a file is not stored right next to another file or even all the pieces of itself. It’s broken up into buckets of the same size. For big files the empty space in these buckets is small but for small files it can add up quick.

These chunks can’t have pieces of two different files inside them, and the chunks must all be the same size. NTFS, the standard file system on Windows hard drives, has chunks of 4 kilobytes. Many programs have thousands of tiny files, storing settings and other data. Let’s say we have 1024 one kilobyte files, or one megabyte. Since each file needs its own bucket, and the buckets are 4 kilobytes in size, our 1 megabyte of files takes up 4 times as much space. On flash drives there is even more wasteful storage spending, with chunk sizes of 16 or 32 kilobytes. Our 1 meg in files can take up as much as 32! (For CDs and DVDs this is not true since they use a file system that uses every bit of space).

But that’s only one tax you have to pay. When you buy an 8 gigabyte flash drive what you get is only about 7.47 gigabytes. That’s a more than 6% tax! It gets even worse at higher capacities. I bought one 64Gb drive that was 59.5Gb and the same brand a month or so later and only got 57.5! That’s a 33% tax increase in a month, raising my rates to more than 10%!

See drive makers aren’t using the engineering definition of a gigabyte. They’re selling you a GB not a Gb. A GB may be a 1000 megabytes instead of 1024, or even less. My own hard drive tax is 200Gb+. That’s 250 movies or 1000s of songs and pictures.

However you vote this November, make sure they are willing to sign a pledge to stem the tide of the gigabyte tax. It hurts small businesses and digital hoarders everywhere.

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