December 2006

Telephone Tax Refund:

The Internal Revenue Service is refunding $30-$60 to each household that paid taxes on Long Distance phone service between March of 2003 and July of 2006. Sounds like you. Right?

The War is Over:

These taxes where were imposed to fund the Spanish-American War of 1898. Good news! The U.S. Government finally concluded that with over a century since the fighting stopped, the war is over and we no longer need to fund it.

Read about the Spanish-American War of 1898, from the Hispanic Division Library of Congress.

“The war of the United States with Spain was very brief.
Its results were many, startling, and of world-wide meaning.”

–Henry Cabot Lodge

How to Get Your Refund:

See IRS Announces Standard Amounts for Telephone Tax Refunds for details on getting your refund. Don’t forget. Better add a note to your stack of 2006 tax receipts to remind yourself.


A Mobile Office in a Van:

Several years ago I had a custom Chevy van that served as my office on wheels. It had everything I needed – all the comforts of home and all the technology of an office. At the time, I was running a small software consulting company designing and developing applications for the government, large and medium sized companies and school systems in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. My office on wheels was always near by. Then one day someone crossed the yellow line into my side of the road.

Life goes on: I don’t have that custom van anymore and my business has changed. However, my thirst for technology remains strong. I can now be connected to the Internet nearly 100% of the time. I carry my laptop with me most of the time. So, I need a desk for it where ever I go. Here are my recent creations…

My 1st Cup Holder Laptop Desk:

The following PVC Pipe Laptop Desk was for a rental car that had two big cup holders between the bucket seats. It worked well. I just pushed the desk base into one of the holders and found a perfect fit! The big test was when I drove from Arlington, MA to Goshen, Conn to a RE/MAX seminar. It was two hours one way. I had GPS connection all the way and I had Wireless Broadband connection most of the time.


  1. I only read and responded to emails at rest stops.
  2. I was using Microsoft Streets and Trips 2007 with GPS Locator stuck to my laptop’s cover using velcro. No need for a long USB cable. I just use a retractable cable.

Here’s a picture of the laptop desk before I took it apart. I didn’t cement any of the pieces together so I could re-configure it for another vehicle – my Beetle as you will see:

Car Laptop Desk
PVC Cup Holder Laptop Desk for Vehicles


My 2nd Cup Holder Laptop Desk – for My VW Beetle:

This was a bit more of a challenge to make with the tight space, but so far it seems to work well. If you are familiar with PVC pipe and fittings you’ll notice that this has two joints that allow the desk to swivel for comfort and can be easily removed. After I’ve used this laptop desk in my car for a few days and I’m convinced the design works well, I’ll paint it black to match the Beetle’s interior:


VW Beetle Laptop Desk
PVC Laptop Desk for VW Beetle

For now it looks more like a sink drain than a desk support:

VW Beetle Laptop Desk part 1
PVC Laptop Desk for VW Beetle

PBC Laptop Desk - base detailPBC Laptop Desk - base detail

Click on Images for larger view

UPDATE: 12/18/06, changed PBC to PVC

I used to work at IBM, where this time of year was PBC time.

  • PBC = Personal Business Commitments
  • PVC = Polyvinyl Chloride

Seasons greetings to my friends at IBM. I’m thinking of you. When I figure out what I can make out of PBC I’ll let you know. For now, I’ll stick with PVC.

I recall as a child learning the poem Renascence by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

“All I could see from where I stood was three long mountains and a wood. I turned and looked another way and saw three islands in a bay.”

The poet’s words were written in 1912 or earlier atop Mt. Battie which overlooks Camden Harbor, on the Maine coast.

When I was a child, my family (mother, father, sister, and I) lived in Lincolnville, the next town up the coast from Camden. And so, I have stood on that mountain many times from childhood to adulthood. And each time I have pictured the poet writing those words as I too turned and looked another way.

A few weeks ago while browsing in a used book store in Cambridge, I found a large book of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay and sadly could not remember the name of the poem and so was unable to find those words that I grew up hearing.

What got me thinking about this and prompted me to search the web for the familiar poem above was an entry in Attorney Leanna Hamill’s Massachusetts Estate Planning and Elder Law blog. Her entry titled “When Someone Dies” starts out with words from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree:

“I don’t know exactly what it is you do when someone dies”

Thankfully, Leanna Hamill’s blog entry points to some helpful lists of things to do – – And believe me, there’s plenty to do.


Early Sunday morning, October 29th, Jim Nevins of Arlington, MA took this photo:

Washington Elm (click to see larger image)

The plaque marks the exact location where the Washington Elm stood. Like the Elm, Jim stood in the middle of Garden Street at the intersection of Mason Street to capture this photo. But, unlike the elm, Jim is still standing.


Real or myth?

According to Wikittavel, on July 3, 1775, George Washington officially took command of the Continental Army at ceremonies beneath the Washington Elm, which stood at the edge of the training grounds used by the troops.

According to the Frequently Asked Research Questions at the Cambridge Historical Commission, the tree was real, and Washington did take command of the army in Cambridge on July 3, 1775, but there is no documentation to indicate that the event took place under the elm tree.


Don’t walk in traffic.

Take Jim’s word for it – – the plaque is real.

If you must see it for yourself, get up early on a Sunday morning as Jim did, or someone may be creating a plaque for you with some passing words.


That is, unless you have a written agreement with the agent. The Massachusetts Licensing Board’s Consumer Brochure on Real Estate Representation says, ‘Unless you have a written agreement, you should not expect the agent to promote your best interests or to keep your bargaining information confidential.

REAL ESTATE TIP for buyers and sellers:

Before your first meeting with a real estate agent, make sure you understand how Real Estate Representation works in Massachusetts:

  • A SELLER’S AGENT has the duties, as defined by law, to represent the seller’s interest in the sale of the property.
  • A BUYER’S AGENT has the duties, as defined by law, to represent the buyer’s interest in the sale of the property.

Simple enough. However, it can get complicated when you consider that you can have:

  • DUAL AGENCYwhere a real estate agent represents both the seller and buyer, but only if both parties give written concent to the agent to represent both parties. Or,
  • A FACILITATOR where the real estate agent assists the seller and buyer in reaching an agreement but does not represent either party and has no duty to keep information received from the seller or buyer confidential.


Before you share information with an agent about your need, motivation, time line or financial concerns, be sure you know if the agent is working in your best interests or not. Find out WHO THE AGENT REPRESENTS and GET IT IN WRITING!


Download and read the The Massachusetts Licensing Board’s Consumer Brochure on Real Estate Representation before you talk with an agent about buying or selling a house.


 A good real estate agent will give you an Agency Disclosure Form and explain the different types of agency relationships in your first meeting. But, you’ll have enough other things to think about without having to hear about this for the first time.

– Merle Braley