Packet Rat: If only tax returns were rocket science

The Rat

Michael Bechetti

The Rat has learned two important lessons this month. First, if one's eldest offspring ever dreams up a science fair project involving the term 'rocket-propelled,' find a way to redirect him or her toward phototropism in plants.

Second, never ever store tax documents in anything other than a file labeled 'Taxes.'
The whiskered one found himself a few whiskers short after helping his firstborn launch a rocket-powered helicopter made from balsa wood, assorted nuts and bolts, and duct tape. Thanks to Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge, there was plenty of duct tape on hand for experimentation.

The eldest ratling planned to fire four rockets on a pair of contrarotating propellers at once, after which the helicopter and its hard-boiled-egg passenger would climb into the sky for two seconds before the rockets burned out.

Not wanting to crimp this lust for learning, the Rat shelled out bucks for model rocket engines and helped the ratling estimate the lift through the Bernoulli principle'not a removable hard drive'and FoilSim II, a Java-based airfoil simulator downloaded from the site of NASA's Glenn Research Center.

Ignoring the possibility that centripetal force on the balsa-wood rotors would make them disintegrate, the mad young scientist calculated that they would exert 16 pounds of lift on the less-than-a-pound aircraft.

The wiring was the first component to fail. So the Rat crept in close to modify the launch mechanism. At that point, one rocket fired all by itself, spraying bits of flaming balsa wood hither and yon.

Subsequent wood pulp explosions postponed the Rat's April 15 tax exertions. He was confident that he had the whole tax ordeal licked: file and pay online. All the records were gathered. He could bang out the tax returns in a jiffy. And indeed he would have, if he hadn't thrown away all the tax records by mistake.

Mrs. Rat had put the records in a bag on his desk. But the bag was a shopping bag from the ratlings' favorite shop, imprinted with the logo for their latest noncomputer obsession, a card game, Yu-Gi-Oh, based on Pokemon.

Sadly, in an I-can't-find-anything cleaning fit scheduled for once per El Ni'o cycle, the whiskered one wrongly identified the bag as an enemy combatant and tossed it into the trash.

Which is why, after scrambling to reacquire copies of his W-2, interest and mortgage statements, the Rat found himself filing his taxes via a wireless network connection at Denver International Airport during a layover on the way to Novell BrainShare.

Due to some mysterious cosmic misalignment, Novell Inc. had scheduled the BrainShare conference during tax week, which also happened to be the week of schools' spring break. In other words, the least convenient week of the year.

'Look at the bright side,' Mrs. Rat said by cell phone as her hapless spouse hit the Submit button. 'At least you're not trying to file from Baghdad.'

The Rat brushed at his scorched whiskers and snorted, 'If I were in Baghdad, I'd be safer. Plus, I would have gotten a combat-zone tax extension.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected].


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