All posts by Shawn

I Am Racist

I don’t want to be. I don’t try to be. My mom didn’t purposefully raise me to be. But I am.

White Privilege. I’m racist because I’m white and I live in a country where that affords me privileges black folks don’t get. Just because I’m white. I don’t want to put white privilege in quotes, because that implies its existence is in debate. It’s not. I have privileges as a white person that others simply don’t have. And yes, I AM ashamed of it. Just because I didn’t seek out my white privilege doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And if I “choose” to not use my white privilege, well, I can’t. That’s not how it works. I have plenty of struggles, and I even grew up very poor — but not because of my skin color. Others can’t say the same.

Systemic Racism. I’m also racist because of the systemic racism that still exists in our country. I read a post by a black man who has to walk his tiny little poodle when he wants to go for a walk, because with the tiny poodle, he’s less threatening. That seems absurd. Surely I wouldn’t treat a black man any differently if we passed on the street. But then I thought about it. Would I? If this 6’2″, athletically built black man was walking down the street toward me, would I be nervous? What if he was having a bad day and had a sour look on his face? What if he hated white people? (See? Systemic racism. He MIGHT hate white people, and he might have really good reasons to feel that way. And NO, that’s not “reverse racism”, because there’s just no such thing) I’ve grown up in a bubble, even though I lived in the inner city of Detroit as a child. I was still a white kid in the inner city, so when it came time for me to get a job, I had an easier time simply because I’m white. (Yes, white privilege is part of systemic racism, but I wanted to list them both in bold)

Black Lives Matter. I can not understand why this phrase offends people. It’s not saying or implying that black lives matter more than any other lives. Just that they matter. As much. When we respond, “All Lives Matter” — we’ve missed the point entirely. We can’t erase the disproportionate police brutality by cleverly overwriting the sentiment with inclusivity. Of COURSE all lives matter, but that should include black lives, and the evidence shows it’s not the case. One of my favorite responses to saying “All Lives Matter” is this comic by Kris Straub:

Black People Don’t Need a White Savior. I can’t fix this. I can’t even understand all of it, because of my white privilege. So what should I do? Again, I don’t have all the answers. I know that if we want to make a difference as white people, we should listen to black people. Not so we can fix it, but so we can humbly try to help. I’m a problem solver by nature. I hate that this isn’t something I can fix, but I simply can’t. Hopefully I can be part of the solution.

So to my white friends: No one is mad at you for being white. No one blames you for your white privilege. But denying systemic racism exists is insulting, and a non-starter for moving forward. And honestly, we’re so blinded to the reality, I’m sure I’ve misrepresented things in this very post. Be humble. Acknowledge the disparity. Care. It’s not about us, even if it’s because of us.

My Youngest, Lizzie

To my black friends: You don’t need more burdens, that much I understand. But as a group, we (white people) are so sheltered from reality, we not only don’t know what we should do, we don’t even understand the depth of what’s going on. When white people say, “All Lives Matter”, many of them are trying to be loving and understanding. We want to be better. But we’re spoiled, ignorant, and are used to “fixing” things by snapping our fingers. (GAWD that’s an embarrassing truth) When I see my daughter proudly holding a Black Lives Matter sign while getting scorned by people in big trucks waving confederate flags — I have hope. But even her protest is a cry for guidance. And it’s guidance I can’t give her. Because I don’t know. And my ignorance is embarrassing, but I’d rather be embarrassed and look foolish than be silent and look hateful.

And lastly, to quote my friend Jim Wright, “If you want to be a better nation, be better citizens.”

We Can’t Do This Alone

(NOTE: This is being written during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically during the “Stay at Home” directive in Michigan.)

My Lungs Suck. Barely.

This week, the CDC announced that it is recommended to wear cloth masks while out in public. A friend of mine kindly made and delivered really cool masks for Donna and me to wear when we go out for walks. You’d think this post was going to be about how my friend Dennis making us masks is how we can work together to get through this. And while that’s true, that’s not what I’m writing about.

Donna and I have been in quarantine for a little over 2 weeks now. It’s because I have health issues that put me at high risk for complications if I get the virus. Today, my health issues really just kicked me in the pants. See, about 3 minutes into our walk, I was reminded just how weak my lungs are. Even with the thin, cloth mask — my lungs were overwhelmed. I had trouble catching my breath, I started wheezing, and my chest started hurting.

Had I not experienced this before, it would have been terrifying. But sadly, I was just reminded that I have never been able to wear masks. When we emptied the hay out of our barn a couple years back, I tried to wear an N95 mask (I also have allergies, hay dust is a monster), and I couldn’t even wear it when riding the tractor. My lungs are just too weak. In fact, even after those couple minutes yesterday, my lungs are still angry today. I just can’t wear a mask.

And that’s the point of this post. Wearing a mask is only a recommendation at this point. I was planning to wear one whenever I go out for a walk, to set a good example. But I can’t. If you can wear a mask, it would be a kindness to people like me. Not even because you might be infected and not know it (you could be), but because wearing a mask is an outward sign that you care about others. Others like me.

I feel bad that I can’t wear a mask. I apologize for the appearance I show of not caring, or not taking the CDC recommendations seriously. But if we all do what we can, we can put the humanity into our society. Be safe. Wash your hands. <3

Isolation Funk

Why are you still at my house? GO AWAY, HUMAN!

I work from home every day. This new COVID-19 stuff shouldn’t be all that different for me. But boy howdy is it ever. Part of it is because I’m in strict quarantine. I’m not going to the store, I’m not meeting anyone at the door, and I’m not even going through drive-thru anything. I’m staying in the house, and going for walks with my wife. That’s literally it.

I’m also a hard-core introvert. I *like* to be alone. But it’s different when you’re alone because you can’t be around other people. There’s something comforting about knowing you COULD go to the coffee shop and sit near human beings if you wanted to. Isolation is oddly painful. Thankfully I have my wife with me, but it’s difficult on her, because while I’m at least partially prepared for solidarity, she’s a social person who actually likes people.

My plan has been to livestream often, upload videos to stay connected with the world, and hopefully help others out of their own funk by sharing our funkiness online. But as the days go on, not only haven’t I had the energy to reach out to the world, I’ve found myself less and less willing and capable to converse even textually. UGH.

I’m doing my best to get past the funk. I’ll even try to post/upload/stream more human stuff as soon as I can muster the strength. I think today I’m going to wire a few new birdcams to get some much-needed nature into my life. I’ll share with everyone, especially once the feeders are live.

Stay strong, everyone. We’re still all in this together, even if we’re apart. Keep eating. Keep showering. Keep shaving (legs or face, or both if you’re into that). And if you’re someone who posts positive things online, keep posting. If you’re someone who follows people who can’t help but post online (ahem, sorry), keep following and commenting.

And of course, wash your hands. 🙂

This is Not Normal Telecommuting

Flamethrowers are standard issue for telecommuters…

Those of us who are work-from-home-introverts can be found online joking about how we’ve been preparing for this Coronavirus thing for our entire lives. And yes, I suspect the transition to working from home will be easier on introverts, and will be almost no change for existing telecommuters. That said, working from home this past week was not normal. Even for those of us who normally work from home.

Some things you might be feeling are normal when starting to work from home:

  • Feeling like you’re not really working because you’re sitting at the same table where you just ate Lucky Charms with your kids
  • Worried that your coworkers think you’re slacking off
  • Mortified at the thought of your kids and/or animals interrupting a meeting
  • Being distracted by being home
  • Feeling alone, so alone, so lonely
  • Having a profound fear that you’re actually a senile old person who is being humored by caregivers into thinking you’re actually doing a job when you’re really just sitting at a table in an old folks home typing on an Etch-a-Sketch and video conferencing at an old photograph of a team building event you attended back in 1982
  • Ok, that last one was just me. Sorry if I’ve introduced that into your own psychosis

Some things, however, are NOT part of the normal transition into telecommuting:

Difficulty Focusing

Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to get distracted when you work from home. The distractions can be anything from falling into a YouTube hole, to overthinking your interaction with a coworker that seemed like maybe it was tense but you can’t tell because you’re not there to read their body language. Working from home during the Coronavirus is different though.

  • You probably don’t have an established location to work. When you telecommute regularly, you have a work space, even if it is something you set up and tear down every day. After a couple days, you’ll get better at “being at work”.
  • Your kids are probably home with you. This is HUGE. Normally when you work from home, you don’t have your kids with you. During this time of social separation, your kids and possibly spouse are just THERE all the time. That’s not normal, and it’s affecting my productivity as well. And I have a separate office in a remote part of the house.
  • Your company is not prepared to have their entire workforce work from home. As someone who is particularly vulnerable to this virus, I’m grateful and quite honestly proud of companies who are allowing people to work from home. But it’s a sudden adjustment with no time to prep. It will NOT be smooth. It WILL affect productivity. At first, productivity will go down. (That said, I think telecommuting in general is underutilized, and it can help productivity — but this is a special circumstance)
  • YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT COVID-19 ALL THE TIME. And of course you are. So am I. It’s changing the way we live our daily lives. You’re reading this from your kitchen table for Pete’s sake. Our world has been turned bonker-town nutsy-whack. When you’re thinking about if your kid’s cough means he infected Grandma last week, or if you have enough food and toilet paper to stay indoors for a few weeks — it’s going to affect your productivity. Even if you were still in the office. In fact, if you were in the office, and not safe at home, your productivity would probably be even LOWER than it is now.

So basically, welcome to the world of telecommuting. Also, this is not the world of telecommuting. You’re getting a crappy, dystopian version of working from home. When this current emergency is behind us, there might be some changes to how we think about work. There may be opportunities for more employees to transition to telecommuting. Know that while it is a strange adjustment, the weird version you’re experiencing now is not normal. But that’s OK. We’re all in this together, even though we have to be apart. Thank goodness for technology. Hit me up on Twitter or Facebook if you want some social interaction. I’ll even be livestreaming a lot more, just to have a place to spend time together.

Cryptocurrency and the IRS

[NOTE: This is a piece I wrote for Linux Journal a few years back. It’s still very relevant, and still important information for anyone dabbling in crypto. This seems like a good time of year to repost it.]

One for you, one for me, and 0.15366BTC for Uncle Sam.

When people ask me about bitcoin, it’s usually because someone told them about my days as an early miner. I had thousands of bitcoin, and I sold them for around a dollar each. At the time, it was awesome, but looking back—well you can do the math. I’ve been mining and trading with cryptocurrency ever since it was invented, but it’s only over the past few years that I’ve been concerned about taxes.

In the beginning, no one knew how to handle the tax implications of bitcoin. In fact, that was one of the favorite aspects of the idea for most folks. It wasn’t “money”, so it couldn’t be taxed. We could start an entire societal revolution without government oversight! Those times have changed, and now the government (at least here in the US) very much does expect to get taxes on cryptocurrency gains. And you know what? It’s very, very complicated, and few tax professionals know how to handle it.

What Is Taxable?

Cryptocurrencies (bitcoin, litecoin, ethereum and any of the 10,000 other altcoins) are taxed based on the “gains” you make with them. (Often in this article I mention bitcoin specifically, but the rules are the same for all cryptocurrency.) Gains are considered income, and income is taxed. What sorts of things are considered gains? Tons. Here are a few examples:

  • Mining.
  • Selling bitcoin for cash.
  • Trading one crypto coin for another on an exchange.
  • Buying something directly with bitcoin.

The frustrating part about taxes and cryptocurrency is that every transaction must be calculated. See, with cash transactions, a dollar is always worth a dollar (according to the government, let’s not get into a discussion about fiat currency). But with cryptocurrency, at any given moment, the coin is worth a certain amount of dollars. Since we’re taxed on dollars, that variance must be tracked so we are sure to report how much “money” we had to spend.

It gets even more complicated, because we’re taxed on the same bitcoin over and over. It’s not “double dipping”, because the taxes are only on the gains and losses that occurred between transactions. It’s not unfair, but it’s insanely complex. Let’s look at the life of a bitcoin from the moment it’s mined. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say it took exactly one day to mine one bitcoin:

1) After 24 hours of mining, I receive 1BTC. The market price for bitcoin that day was $1,000 per BTC. It took me $100 worth of electricity that day to mine (yes, I need to track the electrical usage if I want to deduct it as a loss).

Taxable income for day 1: $900.

2) The next day, I trade the bitcoin for ethereum on an exchange. The cost of bitcoin on this day is $1,500. The cost of ethereum on this day is $150. Since the value of my 1 bitcoin has increased since I mined it, when I make the trade on the exchange, I have to claim the increase in price as income. I now own 10 ethereum, but because of the bitcoin value increase, I now have more income. There are no deductions for electricity, because I already had the bitcoin; I’m just paying the capital gains on the price increase.

Taxable income for day 2: $500.

3) The next day, the price of ethereum skyrockets to $300, and the price of bitcoin plummets to $1,000. I decide to trade my 10 ethereum for 3BTC. When I got my ethereum, they were worth $1,500, but when I just traded them for BTC, they were worth $3,000. So I made $1,500 worth of profit.

Taxable income for day 3: $1,500.

4) Finally, on the 4th day, even though the price is only $1,200, I decide to sell my bitcoin for cash. I have 3BTC, so I get $3,600 in cash. Looking back, when I got those 3BTC, they were worth $1,000 each, so that means I’ve made another $600 profit.

Taxable income for day 4: $600.

It might seem unfair to be taxed over and over on the same initial investment, but if you break down what’s happening, it’s clear we’re only getting taxed on price increases. If the price drops and then we sell, our taxable income is negative for that, and it’s a deduction. If you have to pay a lot in taxes on bitcoin, it means you’ve made a lot of money with bitcoin!

Exceptions?

There are a few exceptions to the rules—well, they’re not really exceptions, but more clarifications. Since we’re taxed only on gains, it’s important to think through the life of your bitcoin. For example:

  1. Employer paying in bitcoin: I work for a company that will pay me in bitcoin if I desire. Rather than a check going into my bank account, every two weeks a bitcoin deposit goes into my wallet. I need to track the initial cost of the bitcoin as I receive it, but usually employers will send you the “after taxes” amount. That means the bitcoin you receive already has been taxed. You still need to track what it’s worth on the day you receive it in order to determine gain/loss when you eventually spend it, but the initial total has most likely already been taxed. (Check with your employer to be sure though.)
  2. Moving bitcoin from one wallet to another: this is actually a tougher question and is something worth talking about with your tax professional. Let’s say you move your bitcoin from a BitPay wallet to your fancy new Trezor hardware wallet. Do you need to count the gains/losses since the time it was initially put into your BitPay wallet? Regardless of what you and your tax professional decide, you’re not going to “lose” either way. If you decide to report the gain/loss, your cost basis for that bitcoin changes to the current date and price. If you don’t count a gain/loss, you stick to the initial cost basis from the deposit into the BitPay wallet.

The moral of the story here is to find a tax professional comfortable with cryptocurrency.

Accounting Complications

If you’re a finance person, terms like FIFO and LIFO make perfect sense to you. (FIFO = First In First Out, and LIFO = Last In First Out.) Although it’s certainly easy to understand, it wasn’t something I’d considered before the world of bitcoin. Here’s an example of how they differ:

  • Day 1: buy 1BTC for $100.
  • Day 2: buy 1BTC for $500.
  • Day 3: buy 1BTC for $1,000.
  • Day 4: buy 1BTC for $10,000.
  • Day 5: sell 1BTC for $12,000.

If I use FIFO to determine my gains and losses, when I sell the 1BTC on day 5, I have to claim a capital gain of $11,900. That’s considered taxable income. However, if I use LIFO to determine the gains and losses, when I sell the 1BTC on day 5, I have to claim only $2,000 worth of capital gains. The question is basically “which BTC am I selling?”

There are other accounting methods too, but FIFO and LIFO are the most common, and they should be okay to use with the IRS. Please note, however, that you can’t mix and match FIFO/LIFO. You need to pick one and stick with it. In fact, if you change the method from year to year, you need to change the method officially with the IRS, which is another task for your tax professional.

The Long and Short of It

Another complication when it comes to calculating taxes doesn’t have to do with gains or losses, but rather the types of gains and losses. Specifically, if you have an asset (such as bitcoin) for longer than a year before you sell it, it’s considered a long-term gain. That income is taxed at a lower rate than if you sell it within the first year of ownership. With bitcoin, it can be complicated if you move the currency from wallet to wallet. But if you can show you’ve had the bitcoin for more than a year, it’s very much worth the effort, because the long-term gain tax is significantly lower.

This was a big factor in my decision on whether to cash in ethereum or bitcoin for a large purchase I made this year. I had the bitcoin in a wallet, but it didn’t “age” as bitcoin for a full year. The ethereum had just been sitting in my Coinbase account for 13 months. I ended up saving significant money by selling the ethereum instead of a comparable amount of bitcoin, even though the capital gain amount might have been similar. The difference in long-term and short-term tax rates are significant enough that it’s worth waiting to sell if you can.

Overwhelmed?

If you’ve made only a couple transactions during the past year, it almost can be fun to figure out your gains/losses. If you’re like me, however, and you try to purchase things with bitcoin at every possible opportunity, it can become overwhelming fast. The first thing I want to stress is that it’s important to talk to someone who is familiar with cryptocurrency and taxes. This article wasn’t intended to prepare you for handling the tax forms yourself, but rather to show why you might need professional help!

Unfortunately, if you live in a remote rural area like I do, finding a tax professional who is familiar with bitcoin can be tough—or potentially impossible. The good news is that the IRS is handling cryptocurrency like any other capital gain/loss, so with the proper help, any good tax person should be able to get through it. FIFO, LIFO, cost basis and terms like those aren’t specific to bitcoin. The parts that are specific to bitcoin can be complicated, but there is an incredible resource online that will help.

If you head over to BitcoinTaxes (Figure 1), you’ll find an incredible website designed for bitcoin and crypto enthusiasts. I think there is a free offering for folks with just a handful of transactions, but for $29, I was able to use the site to track every single cryptocurrency transaction I made throughout the year. BitcoinTaxes has some incredible features:

  • Automatically calculates rates based on historical market prices.
  • Tracks gains/losses including long-term/short-term ramifications.
  • Handles purchases made with bitcoin individually and determines gains/losses per transaction (Figure 2).
  • Supports multiple accounting methods (FIFO/LIFO).
  • Integrates with online exchanges/wallets to pull data.
  • Creates tax forms.

The last bullet point is really awesome. The intricacies of bitcoin and taxes are complicated, but the BitcoinTaxes site can fill out the forms for you. Once you’re entered all your information, you can print the tax forms so you can deliver them to your tax professional. The process for determining what goes on the forms might be unfamiliar to many tax preparers, but the forms you get from BitcoinTaxes are standard IRS tax forms, which the tax pro will fully understand.

Figure 1. The BitcoinTaxes site makes calculating tax burdens far less burdensome.

Figure 2. If you do the math, you can see the price of bitcoin was drastically different for each transaction.

Do you need to pay $29 in order to calculate all your cryptocurrency tax information properly? Certainly not. But for me, the site saved me so many hours of labor that it was well worth it. Plus, while I’m a pretty smart guy, the BitcoinTaxes site was designed with the sole purpose of calculating tax information. It’s nice to have that expertise on hand.

My parting advice is please take taxes seriously—especially this year. The IRS has been working hard to get information from companies like Coinbase regarding taxpayer’s gains/losses. In fact, Coinbase was required to give the IRS financial records on 14,355 of its users. Granted, those accounts are only people who have more than $20,000 worth of transactions, but it’s just the first step. Reporting things properly now will make life far less stressful down the road. And remember, if you have a ton of taxes to pay for your cryptocurrency, that means you made even more money in profit. It doesn’t make paying the IRS any more fun, but it helps make the sore spot in your wallet hurt a little less.