30 April 2011

Silo now available on MacPorts

Scientific computing developers rejoice. If you want your code to output files readable by LLNL's VisIT, there's a good chance you use the Silo library to do it. Well, if you use MacPorts, you can now download and compile silo without hassle on a Mac. I submitted a port file for Silo this morning, and the great volunteers at MacPorts had it cleaned up and in their repository by the end of the day. Now all you need to do is sudo port selfupdate && sudo port install silo, and you're good to go.

23 April 2011

Research code is now open sourced

Well, after talking with a group of nuclear engineers who are interested in open sourcing their codes, and after being persuaded by my friend Mike that it was justifiable to return some of my tools to the taxpayers who've sponsored my education, I have decided to open up my research code. The project is called PyTRT, and it's available at GitHub under a Simplified BSD license. Documentation for PyTRT is available, but it is probably overwhelming. We'll see if this ever amounts to anything.

18 April 2011

Guest post: save on batteries with the Apple external track pad

Apple Magic Trackpad: Run It For "Free" and Do the Environment, and Your Wallet, a Favor.

Most of my AA powered toys and appliances demand a battery change before they are truly depleted. I can measure that there is residual charge and I can't bear to toss them in the trash so they just accumulate in my closet (not a good idea). Behold the Apple Magic Trackpad. It will use the old batteries down to their last Joule-drop and I can dispose of them with a clear conscience.

New batteries, equivalent to what Apple includes, last me about eight weeks. Before they quit I get a battery warning and two weeks later they totally die. Nicely, one can go to the System Preferences>Trackpad and at the bottom left and read "Trackpad battery level" in percent. (If the trackpad batteries are completely dead you won't see this as there is no signal that the Trackpad even exists.) Once the batteries are dead replace them with used batteries and note the starting level. I have had previously used batteries read as high as 95% potency. These used batteries won't last as long as new ones but it is not a chore to keep them handy and replace them a bit more often.

A few sensible words of caution. Use only two of the same kind of batteries (don't mix lithium and alkaline). Check them to make sure they are not swollen, misshapen or leaking (leaking chemicals can be poisonous or corrosive and will mess up your battery compartment). If possible use two old batteries from the same source, starting off at the same charge is better. Don't put them in backwards. A good way to remember is the flat side is negative and goes up against the battery door which has slot in it that looks remarkably like a "negative" sign (another intuitive apple UI). I keep one of the dimes I saved to open the battery compartment. Oh, and don't over tighten it, just a slight snug will do.

Finally, if you ruin your nice Trackpad, it is not my fault. I haven't saved so many dimes that I can send you and your attorney on a South Sea vacation.

—Doug Johnson

04 April 2011

Red hell and death and taxes

Well, I broke down and spent the morning investigating my tax situation, which was rather confused at the end of last year. After some burrowing, I found that TurboTax was surprisingly right after all. Scholarships and fellowships that are reported on Form 1098-T rather than Form W-2 count neither for "earned income credit" (on Schedule M) nor for IRA purposes.

As regards Schedule M, which covered 2009's "Making Work Pay" credit, the "Earned Income Worksheet" line 4a specifically subtracts scholarship income: so people who rely solely on fellowships for their income are not eligible for earned income credits.

Finding out eligibility for Roth IRAs took considerably more digging, because on some portions of the 1040A instruction sheet, it says that scholarships count as "earned income." If you look at Publication 590, it says under "What is compensation?" that "Scholarship and fellowship payments are compensation for IRA purposes only if shown in box 1 of Form W-2." You can only contribute to an IRA if you have a non-zero "compensation."

So there you have it. This is not official tax advice, but you should look at the linked forms and draw the same conclusions that both TurboTax and I did. I'm glad the situation is clearer now, though of course I wish our tax system weren't such a mess.