WHY THESE COLUMNS LOOK MESSY – Part II

Steve Strunk: ‘The reason for your UNICODE issues goes back to the history of computers storing letters and other symbols. Computers can only deal with bits, i.e. ones and zeros, AKA ‘binary.’ The first useful microprocessors were able to do mathematical operations on 8 bits at a time. This meant they could easily deal with numbers from 0 to 255. To represent letters (and other language symbols) a coding method was needed. The most widely used (for English and other Latin based languages) was called ASCII. The problem comes in with languages that had more symbols than 256. It was not possible to easily represent them using the 8 bit limitation. There were interim solutions but finally a standard called UNICODE was created that used 16 bits (0-65535) that could represent all languages at the same time. Early versions of Word (prior to Word 2000) stored characters as 8-bit characters using something called code pages where extra characters were needed. Word 2000 started encoding using UNICODE and all versions since have also done this.

‘I assume your original document was created in a version prior to Word 2000 and therefore was not stored in UNICODE. To keep backwards compatibility Word 2003 will continue to save the document in the version of Word that created it. When you cut the text and paste it into a new document it gets imported in the version of the new document, hence 2003 causing the change. If you do a “Save As” on the original you should be able to save it in Word 2003 format and then this problem should go away. At least I think it will. I don’t have any really old documents to try this on.’

☞ Thanks, Steve! I saved my 7,380-page (2.8 million-word) file to a new name, cut and pasted the above to a new document, and . . . for unfathomable reasons that would probably explain why the IRS has never been able to integrate its computer system despite hundreds of millions of dollars in trying if only we could fathom them (and maybe why our intelligence agencies couldn’t either?) . . . in the new little two paragraph file, both of the above paragraphs showed up in Times new Roman except for the two phrases above that I have high-lighted in a color I call ‘perplexed purple,’ which appear in Arial Unicode MS. I think Word 2003 is buggy.

INDEX FUNDS AND TAX CONTROL – PART II

Josh: ‘It is obvious that index funds are the way to go . . . but why would it help control your taxes to invest in individual stocks? By that logic, it would help control your taxes to lose money!’

☞ Unless you expect to be wrong all the time, whether flipping coins or buying stocks, you won’t only lose money when you buy individual stocks; you’ll also make money. So if you break even over the long run (and, given the market’s general upward bias, you should actually do a little better than that), after tax you come out ahead.

As described Friday, you use your losers to lower your income tax (naturally, all this has to be done in a taxable account, not a retirement plan); and you use your winners, once they go long-term, either to fund your charitable giving or else simply to take a more lightly taxed long-term capital gain.

Is this really worth bothering with? Certainly not for everyone. Rich people don’t give two hoots about the dinky $3,000 by which capital losses can lower their taxable income. And most people can’t afford to be in the market at all, outside of their retirement plan – they should be paying off their credit card debt. But for some, this is a good little strategy that may allow them the fun of ‘the game’ without their having to pay too high a price to play. Indeed, they may win.

In effect, with this strategy, the tax laws stack the odds in your favor. How often does that happen?

One last note (full disclosure): I like to do this with speculative stocks, so you get some big winners and (inevitably) some big losers. That way, putting just a few thousand bucks in each of a few stocks could give you your $3,000 of losses each year and (with luck, over time) at least that much in long-term gains. But speculative stocks aren’t necessarily a 50/50 proposition – let alone reckless speculations, like buying the stocks you find recommended in your SPAM folder. With those, you could lose all the time – in which case Josh would be right.

BORAT – PART IIIIIIII

Turns out, he’s not speaking Kazakh, he’s speaking Hebrew – and his movie is a big hit in Israel. Click here. (Thanks, John.)

STANLEY STEEMER™

Listen, I’m sure this is old news to you, but not to me. It was a miracle!

Not that they got the van up to the eleventh floor – all that took was blocking off traffic for a couple of hours, popping out some windows, and a twelve-storey crane.

No, the miracle was that they were able to restore even the coffee-stainedest and blotchiest of disgusting wall-to-wall to brand new appea1.

The only things that defeat them, my Steemer steerer confessed, are red wine and pet pee.

Click here.

[To avoid having to pay for a twelve-storey crane and cops to block traffic, and then to avoid having a van driving around your condo – which would terrify your cat and make her pee, I expect, if you have one (I don’t) – have them send their portable unit. It rides up the elevator like a large steamer trunk. Total cost for four rooms: $200 plus a holiday tip plus an hour for them to do the work and 10 hours or so to fully dry, though you can (carefully) walk on wetter.]

 

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