Separate Lives?

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Credit: Pixabay

Privacy has become a big issue in today’s world.  Big business owners like Mark Zuckerberg want to convince you that privacy is dead, while at the same time retaining a stranglehold on their own.  Why? Because they can make billions off your lack of privacy.  That’s all.  Simple greed.

I grew up before the internet existed.  (Yes, it is possible to survive childhood without the internet, I promise.)  Cell phones were not ubiquitous – mostly because when I was a kid, they were hella expensive and the size of a dictionary. 😛

When the internet became a thing, we didn’t think about the consequences.  (Same thing as nuclear bombs and plastics and asbestos and cell phones and, and well, pretty much everything we invent.)  It’s new, so it must be good, right?

I’ve always been a private person, even as a kid.  Probably due in large part to my lack of social skills, but also because I’m an introvert, and being around a lot of people is mentally and emotionally exhausting for me.  I don’t like, nor do I want, everyone knowing my business.

So, why am I on the internet, you ask?  Good question.  I suppose because I get something out of blogging that I can’t find anywhere else, and also because the benefits to me outweigh the risks.

I think of myself as a normal person, but my sister constantly teases me about my tinfoil hat.  I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means, but I don’t think it’s wrong to try and limit the potential risks of being online.

I pay bills online, I blog, I am hopefully at some point soon going to open an online Etsy shop.  But I do try to keep my real life and my online life as separate as I can.  Is that weird?  Do other people not do this?

I have a cell phone, but I really only use it for texting and (gasp!) phone calls.  I do have an email account on it, but that’s pretty much it.  I have a few apps (less than 5) that I have installed, most of the rest of the stuff on the phone are things that came with the phone that I can’t delete.

I don’t really do social media.  I used to have a Facebook, but I do not like their lack of ethics, so I deleted it years ago.  I don’t have an Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, or anything else.  I don’t like someone else (whether it’s a person or an algorithm) deciding for me what I should see and when.

Maybe because I grew up without the internet, being without those things doesn’t bother me.  On the other hand, my children, who have definitely grown up with the internet, don’t really do social media either.  They text their friends, and they play online games.  But neither one of them have a Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat or whatever other new shiny has popped up lately.

As more and more information comes out about how companies are using data in unethical ways, I find myself trying even harder to maintain the separation between my real life and my online life.  Which, admittedly, is becoming more and more difficult.  Not only because so many companies are trading data as a commodity, but also because the people who use the internet (you know, us regular people), value authenticity.  (That’s what the prevailing wisdom says, anyway.)  Is it possible to be authentic and still keep your real life separate from your online life?

5 Things I Love About Blogging

I did a blog post about the 5 things I hate about blogging, so I thought I should follow it up with a post with 5 things I love about blogging.  I’m not a masochist, so there must be things I like about it, or I wouldn’t keep doing it.  I’ve been blogging off and on since, well, probably since around 2000.  (That was just, like, two years ago, right?)  So, what is it about blogging that keeps me coming back?

#1 – Writing

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Credit: Pixabay

I love writing.  It’s something in my life that I’ve been told I’m good at.  That’s debatable, but whether I’m any good at it or not, I love doing it.  And that’s what counts, right?  I love taking all the jumbled up thoughts in my head and getting them down on the page.  I do most of my writing on the computer these days, but sometimes I like to kick it old school and sit down with a pen and paper and just write.

I’d love to write a book someday.  (All writers/bloggers say that, don’t they?)  I think the problem has been that the book people tell me I should write isn’t a book I want to write.  I’m still trying to figure out what kind of book I would like to write.  Which is probably why I haven’t written it yet.

In any event, blogging lets me empty my head onto the page.  Then I have room for more thoughts – and so on and so forth.  Plus, it’s good practice.  What’s that old adage about practice? You have to practice something for 10,000 hours to be a master at it?  I’m not sure even 10,000 hours is enough to master writing, but blogging does let me at least get some of that practice in.  (Even if it still doesn’t keep me from ending sentences with a preposition!)

#2 – Community

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Credit: Pixabay

Blogging lets me find other people who are interested in the same things I am, without having to put myself in awkward social situations.  And if I’m in them, they’re generally awkward. 😛

We’re all searching for our ‘tribe’ – for me, that’s not people who have the same views and ideals I do.  I mean, those people are great, but I also like interacting with people who have different views and having deep philosophical discussions about why they have the views they do.  I hate small talk and chit-chat, but I love being able to have long, drawn-out, deep conversations with people.

One of the other appeals about blogging is that it allows me to reach people I would never be able to in real life.  I live in a rural area in a small town, and so being able to find people all over the world through blogging who share my interests is amazing.

#3 – Learning

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ALL the books! Credit: Pixabay

I am a lifelong learner – I love to learn.  I am one of those people who loved school.  I’d be a perpetual student if I could afford the tuition.  Blogging lets me explore all kinds of things I would never have been able to otherwise.

In the years I’ve been blogging, I’ve learned about SEO, marketing, technology, and a whole host of other things I would never even have been exposed to otherwise.  I tell my husband I’ve learned just enough to be dangerous – a running joke, because I have by no means learned all the things I could or should about those things.

Every day is a new adventure in blogging, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

#4 – Being Creative

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Credit: Pixabay

Everyone talks about “finding your passion” and “architecting your best life.”  I don’t like either one of those expressions.  Finding your passion and making a living at your passion are two completely different things.  Some of us are lucky enough to find a job/career that lets us do both, but most of us don’t.  Blogging is a passion because it feeds my soul in a way nothing else does.  That’s why I keep coming back to it – because being creative – whether with my writing or something else – feeds my soul and keeps me happy.  I’ll probably never make a living with my writing, and that’s okay.

As for “architecting my best life,” I think that’s a load of bull.  We only get one life.  So by definition, it is both your worst and your best, because it’s the only one you get.  I do the best I can, and I think that’s all you can ask of anyone.  Blogging is part of my ‘best life,’ because it helps me be a better and more rounded person.

#5 –  Stats

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Credit: Pixabay

I know I said in the previous post that I hate stats, and I do.  I have a love/hate relationship with them.  Because if my stats show growth, I love them.  But if they don’t, I hate them.  It’s like having someone constantly judging you and that is exhausting.  No one can be ‘on’ all the time – it’s not humanly possible.  But, of course, we all want to do well, and having concrete data that you’re not doing as well as you’d like can be soul crushing some days.

I take the same approach to stats as I do to social media.  I dip my toe in, but I try to limit the amount of time and energy I devote to them.  Because in the grand scheme of things, what random people on the internet think of me or my writing doesn’t matter.  I mean, I want you all to love me, of course, but it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t.  😀

What about you?  What do you love or hate about blogging?  What keeps you coming back?

How Do You Follow?

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Image: Pixabay

I’m afraid I’m going to become a Luddite in my old age.  I mean, I grew up thinking Super Simon was a technological marvel.  😛

I’m trying to keep up with the times, but it seems like everything moves too fast for me these days.  One of the constants today is that ‘there’s an app for that,’ right?  So I’ve been using the WordPress app on my iPad to keep up with my blog while I’m on the go.

However, I’m not sure if iOS hates WP, or WP hates Apple, but either way, the app just doesn’t work well.  In addition to eating my own posts, it often eats the posts I save so I can come back and read them later.

Which got me thinking – how do other bloggers/readers find and follow blogs?  It used to be that everyone used an RSS reader like Feedly – do those even exist anymore? If they do, does anyone still use them?  Or do you just use the built-in WordPress Reader to find and follow blogs/sites?

I know that I can manually add websites to my reader to follow, but it doesn’t seem to work well.  I did a quick Google search to see if RSS was still a thing.  Google didn’t know, either.  It seems some people still use it, but many have abandoned it due to the rise of social media.  One article said that people use things like Facebook and Twitter in place of RSS readers now.  Is that true?

Does anyone sign up to receive notifications about new posts via email?  I don’t, because I don’t want the email spam.  That’s why I use the WP Reader – then everything is in one place and I can scroll through and read when I have time.  I do miss being able to mark things to come back and read later – there’s an option for that in the Reader, but in my iOS app, it doesn’t work half the time.

So how do you follow all the blogs and websites you like?  Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Other social media?  Or do you use something like Feedly? Or just email?  Sound off in the comments and let me know.

Amaziograph

Amaziograph Logo
Amaziograph Logo

I’ve been drawing my mandalas with Procreate, which was one of the first drawing apps I came across for the iPad.  After I started drawing the mandalas, I discovered an app called Amaziograph.

It’s $0.99 on the App Store and is also available for Android.  The app is made specifically for drawing tessellations and mandalas.  After debating whether I needed to buy another app, I finally bit the bullet and bought it.  I mean, it was only $0.99 – so if I hated it, it wasn’t a huge loss.

I’ve had it for about a month, and honestly, I’ve only played around with it once or twice.  It does have some nice features for drawing mandalas.  With Procreate, I use the symmetry feature, but I only have the option for 2, 4, or 8 areas.  Amaziograph lets you choose the number of areas from 1-12.  So it’s possible to create some really interesting designs when you use an odd number (like 7).

Amaziograph First AttemptThis is my first attempt at drawing a mandala with Amaziograph.  It’s pretty rough in places, but I wanted to get a general idea of how it worked.  The design features are great, since they are made specifically for drawing mandalas.

However, I found I missed a lot of things I’ve grown used to with Procreate, including the auto-shape recognition, the two-finger delete, line smoothing, and the ability to change and fine-tune the brush options.  I think the line smoothing is what I missed the most, because I do have tremors in my hands sometimes, especially if I’ve been drawing for a while.

While I liked the ability to play with the number of areas, it did make drawing more difficult, because when using an odd number, things didn’t always end up connecting where I thought they would/should.

I’m not sure I’ll use it as much as I was hoping I might, but at least I got a chance to try it out and see if I liked it.  I still want to play around with some of the tessellation features at some point.  In the meantime, I think I’ll stick with Procreate.

Subscription Fatigue

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Credit: Pixabay

Remember my music/phone debacle?  After that, I started thinking.  (Dangerous, I know, but bear with me.)  What do we own these days?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a hoarder, I declutter often, and I’m generally good about letting things go.  I’d rather have an experience and memories than yet another thing/object.

But at the base, my frustration over the phone/music issue was because I own the things – the music and the phone.  I own them outright – they are not on loan, they are not borrowed, I am not still paying them off.  When I started looking for internet help with the issue, many of the responses were to get something like Google Play or Spotify.

I don’t want or need either of those.  My youngest has a Spotify account – but the notion of that still seems crazy to me.  Maybe it’s because I’m old.  I’ve paid for the account (a birthday gift) for a year now.  And when the subscription runs out, what is left?  Nothing.  Because you don’t own the music, you just pay to access it.

Same with lots of things – Netflix, Spotify, Adobe CC, Microsoft Office (or 365, or whatever it’s called now), Hulu – you name it, there’s a subscription/app for it.  But again, when you stop paying the subscription, what do you have?

Empty hands and empty pockets.

Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t value in these things.  Obviously there is, because people are using them.  So maybe it is just me.  For example, I want to own Photoshop, not rent it.  I want to own my office suite of products, not rent them.  Maybe that’s why I live in a house instead of renting an apartment.  Why I own my car instead of leasing it.  Why I still have DVD’s – which, come to think of it, I should rip onto my PC. I have a 1TB hard drive with lots of space to spare.  And digital storage is ridiculously cheap these days.

With college tuition for two suddenly looming over my budget, I’m trying to pay off debts as quickly as I can and saving as much as I can before next August.  Which means I’m paying a LOT more attention to my budget and discretionary spending.

House too cool?  Sweaters and hoodies instead of reaching for the thermostat.  Watch water consumption – shorter showers and as little laundry as I can get away with.  Eating home cooked meals instead of eating out.  Paying subscriptions for things I don’t actually need?  Ludicrous.  I don’t need Office 365 – there’s LibreOffice.  It’s free, open-source, and compatible with Office.  I don’t need Adobe CC – I only use Photoshop anyway, and there are free alternatives out there.  For now, I’m happy with my PS CS6 version.  Hulu, Netflix, and the like?  I can watch YouTube for free.

I guess maybe I just suffer less from FOMO than other people?  For example, I’ve never seen a single episode of Gilmore Girls, Breaking Bad, or Game of Thrones.  Do I miss some pop culture references?  Sure.  Not enough to matter.  And businesses with subscription models WANT you to keep paying for them, even if you don’t use them.  All I know is, I’m tired of everything becoming a subscription.  Plus, it’s been shown that when people use subscription services, they severely underestimate what they are spending.  This Money article from February 2019 addresses why people continue to pay for subscriptions, even when they aren’t using them (spoiler – it’s FOMO).

I’m hopeful that perhaps people are becoming more aware of the issue.  This article by Ernie Smith details how people are looking to move, change, or combine subs to save money.  (It mentions that you can get Hulu if you pay for Spotify – so I may have to check that out, since I do.)  TV/shows/movies are not a big deal for me – I rarely watch TV anymore anyway.  I haven’t been to a movie theater in over a year, at least.

Maybe I’m just becoming a Luddite in my old age.  Also – stay off my lawn! 😛

Sales Tax, Etsy, & Marketplace Facilitators, Oh My!

Gosh, that title is a mouthful, isn’t it?  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spent several weeks trying to wrap my brain around the Gordian Knot that is sales tax law in the US.

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This is my brain on sales tax law

Ugh.  I’m years late to the internet sales party and now it’s all just a big headache.  In a nutshell, here’s what happened to make selling online using Etsy or Amazon a giant pain the *ss these days:

South Dakota vs. Wayfair – this case went to the Supreme Court and they ruled that SD could require online businesses to collect sales tax under certain conditions.  (I’m simplifying this a LOT, so feel free to fall down the internet rabbit hole about this court case yourself.)  Of course, once South Dakota got the green light to collect sales tax on internet sales, which up to this point had generally been exempt from that, all the states wanted their piece of the sales tax pie.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, a legal person, a CPA, or in any way qualified to give you advice about sales taxes and sales tax law.  I am just explaining to you MY understanding of how things will work moving forward, which admittedly, could be wrong.

Wild West Internet

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This is how the old internet looked, isn’t it?

Ok, with that out of the way, let me explain a few things.  In the olden days of the internet, because states didn’t realize internet sales/business would be a thing, they didn’t address the issue of taxes on those sales.  It was assumed that, for the most part, sales your business made would be to people who also lived in your state.  So it was the Wild West of the internet – set up, sell, collect moolah.  Of course, the state where you lived had laws you needed to follow about sales tax for sales in your state, but everything else – other states, other countries – were fair game.

Most states’ sales tax laws had to do with sales in THAT state and didn’t address the issue of sales that happened out of state.  Sales tax was collected based on the location of the seller – i.e. the state where the online seller lived, not where the buyer lived.

(SIDE NOTE: Most states do address ‘use tax’ – essentially sales tax that people were supposed to pay on items they purchased out of state to use.  Those are supposed to be reported on your yearly taxes – but most people didn’t, so the states lost out on that money.)

Also, since states could all make up their own laws about taxes, they vary widely.  Some states tax food sales, others don’t.  Some states don’t have sales tax at all.  Some states tax digital products – like digital images or computer software.  Some don’t.  Most states that DO charge a sales tax have different tax rates depending on where in the state you make your purchase – cities and counties can add on to the state sales tax rate, so the rate isn’t the same everywhere.

For instance, the state sales tax rate in the state where I live is 6.5%.  But it can range from that 6.5% all the way to 10.475% (which it does, in one city).  Every single city and county in the state can decide to charge sales tax, and that can change the rate.  So keeping up with all the different rates can be a paperwork nightmare.

Enter things like Etsy and Amazon and Ebay -people could sell online and not have to worry about things like pesky sales tax.  It was like having a ready-made store – just set up and go.  You only really had to worry about the sales tax for your state of residence.  Because it was so easy to set up a store and start selling, places like Amazon and Etsy and Ebay became very popular.  So, of course, states wanted a share of all the money changing hands.

South Dakota vs. Wayfair

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Cool wig, right?

The problem was that most sales tax laws said that sellers/businesses had to have a ‘nexus’ in the state,which used to be met in the following ways:

  • If the business had a physical location in the state
  • If there were resident employees working in the state
  • If the business had property (including intangible property) in the state
  • If there were employees who regularly solicit business in the state (i.e., salespeople)

Most sales tax laws were made when internet shops didn’t exist.  Since there is no ‘physical’ location, sales tax laws didn’t apply.  And that was how things mostly went until the SD vs. Wayfair case.  Essentially, the Supreme Court decided that the states could require sellers/businesses to collect sales tax if they had ‘nexus’ in the state, but they made some changes to the definition.

Now there are additional types of ‘nexus’ for ‘remote sellers’ – i.e. internet businesses.  (Don’t you just love all the new terms we’re learning?) Those include click-through, affiliate, economic, and marketplace.  If your online business falls under one of those new umbrellas, you could be liable for collecting sales tax – in every state where you have sales, not just the one you reside in.  Also, many of the new sales tax laws specifically state that the sales tax must be collected based on the location of the buyer, NOT the seller, which is not how it used to be done.

Once South Dakota got the green light, states began passing their own sales tax laws to address online sales.  (You can find all kinds of information on these over at the Sales Tax Institute.)

Piece of the Pie

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Who doesn’t want pie?

States knew that going after all the mom-and-pop internet shops would not be popular, so most states also included a ‘safe harbor’ or ‘small seller exception’ for those mom-and-pop internet shops.  Modeling their new sales tax laws after South Dakota, most of the new laws have a clause that if an online business makes under a certain $ amount in sales, or under a certain number of transactions (or sometimes both), the business is exempt from having to collect sales tax.

Because of the complexity of many states’ sales tax rates, asking a small business to correctly collect from and remit sales tax to 50 different states, and potentially thousands of localities, is a huge burden on those small businesses.  Indeed, if every online business, no matter its size, was required to do this, a huge percentage would likely close overnight.  It’s simply too much work for it to be feasible for small businesses to do this.

Of course, states aren’t dumb.  They want the most money for the least amount of effort. So they aimed for the big guys.  If they could require the big businesses to collect sales tax, it would net them more money.  Enter ‘Marketplace Facilitator’ clauses.

Marketplace Facilitators

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How’s the air up there?

Requiring big online sales giants like Amazon and Etsy to collect sales tax could net the states a ton of money.  Those big businesses have the resources to collect and remit sales tax – so the states get more money, and most of the work falls on the shoulders of these big platforms – now referred to as ‘Marketplace Facilitators.’ There are lots of ins-and-outs of these provisions – including things like whether or not Amazon (or other Marketplace Facilitator) has a warehouse in your state, that can determine whether a business has to collect sales tax.

Etsy now collects and remits sales tax on sales in 34 states (as of Oct 1, 2019).  There are currently 5 states that do not charge sales tax – Alaska, Oregon, New Hampshire, Delaware, and Montana.  And many states have new laws in the works.  Alaska, for example, does not charge a state sales tax, but cities are free to charge sales tax if they wish, and some may.

What does it mean? 

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Mass confusion

All these changes mean that if you want to sell on Etsy or Amazon or anything that could be deemed a ‘Marketplace Facilitator,’ you’ll need to know about sales tax and what the requirements are – in every state, not just the one you live in.  And even if Etsy or some other Marketplace Facilitator collects and remits sales tax to a state for you, you may still be required to file sales tax with that state.

Let’s look at some examples.  (Again, these are based on MY understanding of these convoluted laws, so I could be wrong – do your homework!)

Example 1:  Let’s say you live in Delaware and open a store on Etsy.  Your state doesn’t charge sales tax, so you’re golden, right?  Only if all your sales are to other people in Delaware.  If you sell something to someone in Nebraska, Etsy will collect sales tax on the sale and remit that tax to Nebraska.  Cool, so you’re still golden, right?  Nope.  Nebraska’s sales tax law requires you to register with their state, even though Etsy collects and remits the sales tax for you.

Example 2:  You live in Kansas and open an Etsy store selling digital downloads.  Kansas exempts digital products from sales tax, so you don’t need to worry about sales tax, right?  Again, only if your sales are all to other people who live in Kansas.  If you sell a digital download to someone who lives in say, Arkansas, what happens?  Etsy will collect and remit the sales tax to Arkansas.  Do you need to do anything else?  Nope – Arkansas does not require remote sellers (that’s you) to register if a Marketplace Facilitator (that’s Etsy) is collecting and remitting the sales tax.

Example 3:  You live in Maine and you open an Etsy store.  You’ve already registered with Maine for sales tax purposes.  You know that Maine requires Etsy to collect and remit sales tax for sale in Maine.  So you don’t need to do anything, right?  Maybe?  You need to be familiar with the sales tax laws of the state you reside in – there are many different laws and items that are exempt in one place may not be in another.  What do you do if your product is exempt from sales tax, but Etsy collects it anyway?  What if you make a sale through Etsy to someone in New Mexico?  Etsy will collect and remit the sales tax, but New Mexico still requires the remote seller register and file sales tax – though you can take a deduction for sales tax collected by a Marketplace Facilitator.

Starting to understand the headache?

Marketplace Facilitator vs. Website 

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I stand just like this to think, don’t you?

I’m now wondering if it would be easier to just open my own little online business.  Yes, there are pros and cons, but given all the new headaches with sales taxes, with many more changes likely coming down the pike, it seems like a lot of unnecessary (and unwanted) work.

Because states know it’s a huge headache, some states have banded together and created the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA).  Basically, you register with SSUTA and are registered with all member states at once, which is currently 23 states (as of this writing).

Given how poorly some government agencies are at securing my information, I don’t know if I’m comfortable handing over my SSN or Business Tax ID to 23 states to lose.  Or perhaps more, if I opened an Etsy shop and had to register with all the states that require it, which at last count was 9 that definitely require registration, 5 that require you contact them to determine whether you are required to register, and 17 that may (likely will) require registration – depending on whether they pass new sales tax laws and when they go into effect.

Also, given that most states have included ‘small seller exceptions’ in their new sales tax laws, if I ran my own website, I would only have to worry about sales in my state of residence, at least until I reached their small seller thresholds.  In most instances, those range from $100K-$500K in gross sales or revenue and/or 100-200 transactions per year.  (The laws vary widely, so again, do your homework!)  Actually, I wouldn’t even have to worry about my own state, because my digital download sales would be exempt.  So if I did all my sales through my own website, I likely wouldn’t have to worry about sales tax at all.  And if I did, by some miracle, begin making enough sales to have to register, most states don’t require you to register until you reach the threshold.

Of course, the attraction of Etsy and Amazon is the built-in traffic.  I get that.  But does it balance out against the headache of all the extra paperwork for what I’m looking to do?  I mean, I’m not planning to have a business that makes over $100K a year.  I just want a small online shop where I can be creative and make some money at the same time.  Is that worth the headache of filling out a ton of paperwork for the convenience of Etsy?  I could just open an Etsy store and then wait to see where my buyers were located, and then register.  But should I?  What happens if Etsy collects and remits the sales tax for me and I haven’t yet registered?  Will that cause issues?

Etsy also charges fees, so that could balance out what I would need to spend on my own website for sales.  Etsy is charging 5% fees on transactions – including shipping.  PayPal’s fees are lower than that, but on micro-transactions like mine, the per transaction fees would rack up quickly (2.9% + $0.30 per trans).

Ultimately, I need to sit down and think about all of this and whether I want the headache that comes along with Etsy and the new sales tax requirements, whether I want to try and run my own ecommerce website, or whether I want to just use Patreon or something like it for what I’m trying to do.  I’m not sure yet.

I know this was a long post, but I hope you found some of it useful.  If you’re thinking of opening an online business – even if it’s on Etsy or Amazon, research, research, research and know what the requirements are for your business.  Ultimately, YOU are responsible for your business, whether someone else is collecting the taxes or not.

(All images from Pixabay)

 

Monday Mandala 15

Mandala_15When I was drawing this mandala, I thought I made it too simple.  There weren’t enough layers and the design elements weren’t busy enough to make it a good coloring mandala.

But looking at it now, I think it turned out really well.  I like how pieces of each layer layover into the next.  And there are a lot of different pieces to color, which I didn’t see at first glance.

The first layer is a bit busy, with all the lines crowding to an almost black ring, but overall I’m happy with the design.