The Friendly Side of GST

I hate Government paperwork.

I never thought I would be the kind of libertarian “let’s get Government off the backs of the small businessperson and cut through red tape” kind of guy, but that’s what I’ve become. I hate the seemingly endless street of brown envelopes that come in the daily mail from some arm of the federal government: income tax, payroll tax, GST, mandatory StatsCan surveys. I simply don’t have the time. Not only the time to fill out the forms themselves, but to learn, each time anew, what each form means, when it is due, and so on.

And as a result I am often late with sending in forms. I blithely operate under the assumption that I “just sent that return in a couple of weeks ago” while months upon months of returns pile up on my desk.

This is how it came to pass that one of the businesses in my ouvre came to have twenty-one outstanding GST returns due.

Conventional wisdom would have it that this degree of tardiness would see the RCMP knocking down the door with battering rams, etc.

But in this case I simply got a call from a nice man named Leo Murphy at the GST office here in Charlottetown. He laid out the situation for me, and told me that if I emailed him the information that would have otherwise been sent in on the GST returns (basically how much we took in, and how much GST we collected), he would enter it directly into their system and that would be that.

He was helpful, pleasant, responded quickly to email, and was generally about as far from what we all imagine to be a GST enforcement guy to be like.

So, hats off to Leo Murphy. Thanks!

PayPal and Moving Money

Most days the services of my local Credit Union work very well for moving around my money. There’s not much that I can’t do at the Credit Union that I could otherwise do at a bank, and the Credit Union has better hours, friendlier staff and more flexible policies than most banks (interesting sidenote: a Charlottetown businessman of my acquaintance told me he’s going to save more than a thousands dollars a year in fees by moving his business accounts to the Credit Union from a major bank).

There’s one thing that neither banks nor credit unions do particularly well, though, and that’s letting you easily move money beyond their institutional boundaries. Of course there are cheques (or “checks” as I’ve had to learn to spell this word for my U.S. customers), and regular old cash. But while it’s easy for me to transfer $100 from my own TD Bank account to my mother’s TD Bank account, it’s almost impossible for me to transfer $100 from my local credit union account to my brother’s local credit union account in British Columbia.

I say almost, because I was quoted a scheme whereby my local credit union could sent a message to Credit Union Central of PEI, which, in turn, would send a message to Credit Union Central of BC, which, in turn, would send a message to my brother’s credit union in BC. This would take several days, and I would never do it, if only on spiritual insanity grounds.

Enter PayPal.

I thought PayPal was going to solve this problem once and for all, especially once they appeared to do away with onerous fees applied to international transactions.

So we did a test. I opened up a PayPal business account, and sent $700 to my brother in BC using my MasterCard as the vehicle for getting money to PayPal. He opened up a PayPal account, and prepared to withdraw what I’d sent. This looked like it was going to work wonderfully, and only cost us 55 cents to boot.

Then, clang, the idea imploded when BC brother was told that he had to upgrade to a PayPal Premier account to be able to receive the money and, in doing so, would be subject to a 2.9% fee (or roughly $20).

So while PayPal might be good for many things, it’s not good for this. In other words, PayPal ain’t no replacement for Western Union (which is expensive in its own regard).

Eight years ago when we were doing e-cash experiments at the PEI Crafts Council, I imagined that this issue — how to throw cash digitally — would be solved by now. Alas it’s not, and so to fling money across the country still requires traditional banking contortions.


Microsoft Natural Keyboard

Way back at the dawn of time, when I first starting really seriously typing for a living, and started to develop the initial signs of repetitive stress injury, one of the corrective steps I took was to go out and buy a Microsoft Natural Keyboard.

It worked. And I typed probably millions upon millions of words on it, to the point where the labels on all the keycaps were worn off. Eventually I couldn’t use the keyboard any longer; I’m not a one-finger typist, but I’ve got to look at what I’m typing at least a little, and with no labels, I was making more mistakes than I could handle.

So I phoned Microsoft and asked them about buying new keys for the keyboard. They told me new keys weren’t available, and sent me on my way.

And so I want out to buya new keyboard.

But somehow in the years between my first Microsoft Natural Keyboard purchase and my new search for a new same they’d made some design changes that I couldn’t abide, chiefly making the arrow keys really really small. So I was forced to buy a knock-off Belkin keyboard, and that’s what I’ve been using ever since.

Today, however, I realized that I wanted to start using my iBook portable more, and to do that required a full-sized keyboard. Fortunately Microsoft has seen the error of their earlier ways, and now has a keyboard called the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro. Not only does it have the full-sized arrow keys, but it also has a nice Mac OS X driver and both USB and PS/2 plugs.

So off to Future Shop I went tonight, and now I am typing this on said keyboard. And boy is it wonderful. Its touch is so much nicer than the Belkin; not approaching the original IBM-PC keyboard (which was Selectric-like and wonderful on a plateau that I fear will never be matched), but pretty darned nice. And it just plain worked with OS X, which is great.

If you earn your living at the keyboard, and want to take a small hands-preservation step, I certainly recommend this keyboard.