Friday, March 21, 2008
Behind the scenes at the Mosquito
Last month the Mosquito took a leap forward, at least as far as computers are concerned. Thanks to the support of many generous donors, the Mosquito undertook a major hardware and software upgrade. The eight new MacIntosh machines are much more powerful and reliable, while the new InDesign software will provide more capabilities for text, photo and ad layout.
We were comfortable with the old set-up, in use since the late 1990s, but the writing was on the wall years ago when the manufacturer stopped adapting the software to support new machines. As the old hardware began to wear out, we stalled for time and bought inexpensive, used computers from eBay, but these came with their own set of idiosyncrasies and soon needed repairs. In the past few years a couple of new machines have helped us process e-mail and photographs, but we waited until after last year’s move to the new office was completed before planning a major upgrade.
Once the new software and computers (Mac minis) were purchased, preparation began in earnest. The network was reconfigured, test files were processed, glitches were worked out, and staff attended training sessions. Jane Hamilton and John Carpenito, Carlisle residents with knowledge of InDesign, kindly provided tutorials and helped answer questions. General Manager Susan Emmons coordinated the entire project, from ordering the equipment, to installing software, to testing and training.
February school vacation week was our last chance to train and experiment before the big changeover, and our first issue using the new production system was published on February 29. It was probably a good thing there were only 16 pages in that issue, because most things took a little longer than expected – and a few things took a lot longer.
Even the web version of the newspaper was affected, because the new production software generates web data in a different format. Paul Hackbarth wrote a new program to handle the web data. Rik Pierce and Deborah Kablotsky also pitched in to handle the new formats on the web.
Each issue is easier to lay out as we all become more familiar with our new system of production.
Change can be good. We are using this opportunity to re-evaluate the status quo and consider design changes to both the print and web issues that might make the Mosquito more informative and enjoyable. Some changes, such as new fonts, may be so small as to go unnoticed, while other ideas such as adding audio or video clips to the web site are more long-term, ambitious plans. Do you have any Mosquito design ideas? Send suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org or Box 662A, Bedford Road, Carlisle, MA 01741. ∆
This Forum piece was originally published April 14, 2006.
The Mary Poppins tax
My favorite tax story is the year the Internal Revenue Service sent me a letter disallowing one of my three children as an exemption. They didn’t claim that one of my daughters was independent or that I was a non-custodial parent. They just claimed that one of them did not exist. Such is the clout of the IRS that I was tempted to line up my three girls, fruit of my womb, and demand, “Which one of you is the impostor?”
As the unpaid tax preparer in our family, it’s hard not to conclude that the federal tax filing system couldn’t be much improved. True confessions – I used to be a tax lawyer, and I understand the policy reasons behind the seemingly meaningless line-by-line calculations. I just question a process that, for example, forces you to get to Line 186, Part III, of Form 89267, before the instructions shout, “Stop! You do not qualify for this credit.” Doesn’t that seem a bit sadistic? It would be much easier if the forms carried a time-saving warning notice, like a corollary to the paperwork reduction notice, “If you make over $X, don’t bother filling this out.”
My solution is the Mary Poppins tax – a two-line filing that states, under penalties of perjury, (1) this is what I earned, and (2) this is what I need. The name derives from a line in the movie when the children are clamoring for more of the nanny’s excitement, and she replies, “Enough is as good as a feast.” I didn’t fully appreciate this aphorism the first time I heard it. A feast, after all, is the pinnacle of enjoyment of the fruits of your labors. Over the years, however, I’ve come to realize that there’s a comfort in knowing that your needs and even desires can be satisfied without driving yourself to obscene heights or exploiting resources that could be left untouched. In part, my change in outlook stems from maturity, but it is also colored by the growing gulf between the haves and have-nots that I believe perches us on the edge of an ethical precipice. I’m not alone in this observation. Calvin Trillin described the “Alice Tax” as his wife’s belief that, in light of how utterly needy some of us are, all of our earnings above a certain generous amount should be paid as taxes for their support.
Of course, this tax simplification plan is about as unrealistic as Dave Barry’s “Everybody Pays $6.50 Tax.” It mercilessly sidesteps questions about the merits of private philanthropy versus government safety nets and about incentives for productivity, whether people will work as hard to garner wealth if they know they can’t keep it or bequeath it. How well this tax would work, if we left to individual choice the decision of what is enough, would test the health of our society. Certainly, we’d keep enough for the immediate needs and comfort of ourselves and our families, but how willing would we be to make a conscious decision to give up what we’d otherwise save for tomorrow because somebody else needs it more today – on the faith that when we need it, somebody else will do the same for us? It’s nothing more than the Golden Rule.
Forum correction/clarification: Last week’s Forum article on healthcare may have led the reader to believe that the new Massachusetts Healthcare Plan’s premiums are $350 per month. This is not the case. Premiums are based upon an individual’s ablility to pay and many will be able to be covered for as little as $18 per month. Many will pay more than that, but others will qualify for zero premium cost.
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