It’s the same, each and every Christmas. As Christmas Eve approaches, I remember that famous moment from 49 years ago. The astronauts of Apollo 8 just orbited the Moon. It was Christmastime. These three men were a thousand times farther from the Earth than any human being in history. It was an awe-inspiring moment. Once radio contact with the distant Earth was re-established, the three astronauts took turns reading the first ten verses of Genesis. Frank Borman then closed the broadcast with words that, in my mind, remain the most appropriate words for this evening: “good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”
So our American friends south of the border have a new tax legislation. I’ve seen many discussions of how it affects people in various income brackets, but all too often, these are more confusing than helpful.
So instead, here is a handy chart that shows how the federal tax rate decreases as a percentage of taxable income for individuals, joint filers and heads of households (based on tables provided by CNN):
While most folks will enjoy a tax break, it is interesting to see that some individuals and heads of households will actually see a tax increase:
Married couples benefit the most (mainly as a result of some arcane tax brackets that were in effect before the new legislation), which is probably a Good Thing; I am not so sure about the 2.6% tax break offered to the wealthiest, however.
Anyhow, I pay my taxes in Ontario, Canada, so it really doesn’t bother me one way or another, I just wanted to understand a little better what actually is going on.
Fair warning: This post contains some adult language.
In case there has been any doubt: Republicans have gone completely bonkers, and it is now official.
According to The Washington Post, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, America’s leading public health institute, is no longer allowed to use the following terms in its budget documents:
Dear Republicans, dear followers of the orange person in the White House: Are you out of your fucking minds? Have you gone completely bonkers? Truly gone fishing? Are you bat shit crazy? Totally demented?
I mean, what kind of an idiot does this childish shit? You are worse than Soviet political commissars from the Stalin era. OK, you are not sending anyone to the Gulag (yet?) but your retarded drive for ideological purity is like a caricature of itself.
I mean… you are insane. Certifiably. This is not politics anymore. This is not left vs. right, transgender rights vs. traditional families. You are clearly deranged psychopaths.
I am secretly hoping that the news turns out to be false, but despite accusations of “fake news” and the like, I know The Washington Post to be a responsible news organization and I think it is a safe bet that this story was vetted.
The Internet (or at least, certain corners of the Internet where conspiracy theories thrive) is abuzz with speculation that the extrasolar asteroid ‘Oumuamua, best known, apart from its hyperbolic trajectory, for its oddly elongated shape, may be of artificial, extraterrestrial origin.
Some mention the similarity between ‘Oumuamua and Arthur C. Clarke’s extraterrestrial generational ship Rama, forgetting that Rama was a ship 50 kilometers in length, an obviously engineered cylinder, not a rock.
But then… I suddenly remembered that there was another artificial object of extrasolar origin in the science-fiction literature. It is Iilah, from A. E. van Vogt’s 1948 short story Dormant. Iilah is not discovered in orbit; rather, it lays dormant on the ocean floor for millions of years until it is awakened by the feeble radioactivity of isotopes that appear in the ocean as a result of the use and testing of nuclear weapons.
Iilah climbs out of the sea and is thus discovered. It becomes an object of study by a paranoid military, which ultimately decides to destroy it using a nuclear weapon.
Unfortunately, the energy of the explosion achieves the exact opposite: instead of destroying Iilah, it fully awakens it, making it finally remember its original purpose. Iilah then sets itself up for a tremendous explosion that knocks the Earth out of orbit, ultimately causing it to fall into the Sun, turning the Sun into a nova. Why? Because Iilah was programmed to do this. Because “robot atom bombs do not make up their own minds.”
So here is the thing… the Iilah of van Vogt’s story had almost the exact same dimensions (it was about 400 feet in length) and appearance (a rock, like rough granite, with streaks of pink) as ‘Oumuamua.
And since I seem to be posting cat pictures today, here is an “artistic creation” of Google Photos’ AI bot, depicting our youngest cat, Rufus:
I think this picture clearly explains why we often address this feline as Master Rufus.
OK, I published a picture of Pipacs yesterday, so here is our oldest cat, Kifli, who turned 16 earlier this year.
I think he is a very respectable fellow, but he is also very playful, especially considering his age. I hope he remains this way for many more years to come.
It may not be obvious, but this amorphous thing in this picture is a cat.
This is Pipacs (Hungarian for Poppy), our smallest cat. He is a little over ten years old (exact age unknown, as he was a stray.) He was diagnosed with a bone tumor a couple of years ago, but after the doctor explained that for cats, bone tumors rarely metastasize, we decided to take a risk and not have the leg in question amputated. The main reason is that Pipacs is a very skittish kitty, and we were deeply concerned that such a drastic operation (not to mention multiple, often painful vet visits) would have traumatized him.
So far, so good. That was two and a half years ago. Fingers crossed, but although the growth is there and quite noticeable, accompanied by a small limp, it does not seem to bother him. He remains active, with no signs of pain or discomfort, and no indication of any trouble. We just hope he will stay this way for many more years to come.
100 years ago today, as war was raging in Europe, the city of Halifax went up in flames in what remains one of the largest non-nuclear man-made explosions in history.
What began as a series of navigational errors resulted in a collision of two ships in Halifax Harbor, one of which was full of explosives. This ship caught fire and as its crew fled, the burning vessel drifted towards the city. It eventually exploded.
By the time it was all over, nearly 2,000 people were dead with many more injured. A large number of people lost their eyesight, as they were watching the harbor from indoors through glass windowpanes. These were shattered by the supersonic shock front of the explosion, the shards turning into shrapnel.
A Mi’kmaq community across the harbor was also destroyed, never to be rebuilt. Many of the residents were killed, while others were housed in segregated shelters, and ultimately dispersed throughout the province.
Here is something my wife spotted yesterday on the back of a garbage truck that was collecting garbage in our courtyard:
Our townhouse was built in 1981 or 1982. It came with a washer and a drier installed. When we moved in, just over 20 years ago, those machines were already nearly 15 years old, but still working flawlessly.
Many years later, the washer developed a problem: A pressure regulator valve in it failed. A technician temporarily fixed it by bypassing the valve and just turning the shutoff valve to reduce the pressure. He didn’t even charge us for this work; he said he’d be back once he had a chance to order the right replacement part. He never did, and as he was one of several technicians I called from the Yellow Pages that evening, I could not even remember who he was. So I never got a chance to thank, not to mention pay, him for his labor.
The temporary solution then became permanent. The washer worked well for many more years. Until Saturday morning. Just as my wife, on her way to a craft show, was trying to wash a few freshly knitted hats, the washer refused to spin and refused to drain the tub.
I was somewhat hopeful that the cause was just a bad interlock switch, which is designed to prevent the washer from operating with the lid open. This switch stopped functioning a while back; the washer ran always, lid or no lid. But who knows, perhaps now the switch failed in the open position? I opened up the old beast, located and removed the switch and bypassed it.
It could have worked. In fact, it almost did. With the switch bypassed, the washer was no longer completely silent when it was in the spin/drain position. The motor buzzed.
But only buzzed. That angry, 60 Hz buzz that you hear when a motor is seized. And sure enough, after about 15 seconds I began to smell, and then see, acrid smoke.
This was the moment when I knew that after a remarkable 35-year run, this old White–Westinghouse washer had its last wash. It was, unfortunately, finished.
So then came the annoying task of having to find a new washer. Fortunately, I was prepared, as I already contemplated the possibility that our old washer might die (35 years!) Lately, I stumbled upon a brand: Speed Queen. It appears that they mostly make commercial washers, for laundromats and other commercial installations. But they do have a few home models.
Oh, they are pricey. More than two and a half times as expensive as the cheapest washer that you can find. Still… based on the reviews I read, I thought that it might be worth the price. When I make a purchase, I either buy cheap (and then I know that I am buying cheap) or buy quality. Now quality is not always available. And often, reputable brand names turn out to be just pretty labels attached to the same cheap, er, excrement that is sold under other names at half the price.
So Sunday, we went to see this washer in person, at a local appliance store that carries the brand. The comparison was convincing. The weight difference alone between the Speed Queen and other washers was revealing. And of course it was a top loader with mechanical controls, a rarity nowadays, but the kind of machine that is precisely my wife’s preference when washing freshly made wool hats, mittens and such in her own special way.
So we opted to buy the Speed Queen, and it was delivered earlier today. Installation was my job. It’s not very hard; you hook up the hot and cold water, install the drain hose, level the machine and power it up. It powered up nicely, and the first test wash went like a charm.
So here we are, with a brand new, yet very conventional, high quality washer installed right next to a 35-year old clothes drier that still works reliably, and now that I cleaned it, looks almost new.
What can I say… apart from the damage to my wallet, it was a fun day. I am glad it happened now, not a few weeks ago when I was struggling to meet some deadlines, having freshly recovered from the flu.
Will this machine last 35 years? Who knows. But I certainly hope that we won’t have to worry about buying another washer for a long time to come.
Oh, and the package contained an interesting surprise: An order sheet for the parts manual and service manual for this model. I think I will buy those. I hope the machine will never need repairs, but if it does and it’s no longer under warranty, maybe I can fix it. Often the hardest bit is knowing what to do, and that’s where a factory service manual can be of immense help.
Here is our oldest cat Kifli. He will turn 17 in April.
A true gentlecat, I think that much is obvious.