January 25, 2008

Happy 2008

So I haven't written in a dog's age. I thought I would stick something new up here. This is a modern-day nativity.

On a related note, I've been keeping busy learning New Testament Greek, as I said sometime last year. I basically know about half of the words in the NT. Which actually makes it very readable: most of those words are used multiple times, so actually close to 96% of the content is a word I (should) understand. Grammar is a different story -- I don't count myself a Bible scholar just yet!

Let's see, what else.. oh yeah, visit my band LongFallen's MySpace, or that of my other, sometime band spectropulse.

Posted by The Greatness at 05:21 PM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2007

The New RUSH

The boys have a new album, their first studio release in five years. I must admit on the first listen I wasn't too impressed. But after a few listenings, it's growing on me in a nostalgic way. Thank goodness for anthemic rock and Alex's guitar solos -- shades of Presto (1989) all over this one.

Posted by The Greatness at 09:20 PM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2007

Independent Scholarship

This is a recommendation to all my friends, degreed or otherwise, who desire a life of the mind apart from their daily work:

Go read The Independent Scholar's Handbook by Ronald Gross. You will be inspired and possibly exhilarated.

That is all.

Posted by The Greatness at 10:18 AM | Comments (1)

March 05, 2007

The Greatness, plutocrat

February is over and March has begun, a passage of time both encouraging and depressing. Encouraging, because the coldest of the Nova Scotia winter is past. But depressing because March in Canada still feels like January for a Virginia boy. Not that February was as bleak as my blog probably made you feel. I apologize, gentle readers. I promise, you will never see a blank front page on this blog again. (Sorry, that doesn't mean I'll necessarily post more. Rather that I will provide "recent content" in an increasingly Orwellian sense -- like 90 days of posts instead of 30.)

No, February had its moments. Like when I took The Sweetness to the circus for her birthday. And when I saw Mercury, Venus, Saturn and two dozen Messier objects on the same weekend. And of course, when I found out just how rich I was: rich enough to be caught in the US government's web of double taxation and global financial surveillance.

Since my web stats unequivocally show that most of my visitors are American, the rest of the world will just have to bear with. This post is really for Usanians, especially those who want to know just how much America will go to bat for its citizens when abroad. Which is to say, not much. America is not the new Rome, generously lending its aegis to all who call it home. Really, the only thing vaguely Roman about my treatment by America as an "overseas" citizen is that, like the early Christians, I, too, must spend a lot of time in the catacombs.. of the Government Printing Office. (If it sounds like I'm overly nitpicky in the following, remember that I am merely dwelling on the only problems in my life, fabulously wealthy as I am.)

Let's start with double taxation, shall we? I will translate for my American audience. In Canada, you don't get pay stubs until near the end of February, so that's when I get the tax paperwork started. I got two T4's (the U.S. W-2) and one T4A (1099-MISC) this year due to my change of employers and of status; now that I'm a Canadian immigrant, I have to pay into the Canada Pension Plan and "premiums" for Employment Insurance. As a new immigrant, I am not allowed to collect unemployment unless my wife pays it back, but let that pass. I also am expected as a Canadian resident to report all worldwide income on my T1 (1040). So when BellSouth sends me dividends on a 1099-DIV, I have to report such earnings (properly converted to CAD) on T1 line 121 and attach Schedule 4.

As it happens, the US government has a tax reporting policy on all of its citizens, regardless of where they reside. This is a relative rarity among nations of the world, but then we've always been elite. So after I've figured my Canadian tax, I then sharpen my pencils to handle Form 1040. This isn't too bad, really. You use the IRS's official exchange rate for the tax year to convert your wages into US dollars and report that on 1040 line 7. Then you fill out Form 2555-EZ, on which you report every day in the tax year that you were present in your home country. (This doesn't directly affect the calculation, by the way, which makes you wonder what they use it for.) Then write the result in parenthesis on 1040 line 21 and write "2555-EZ" next to it. For most people filing 2555-EZ, the rest of the form is a handwriting exercise (write "0" on line 37, 38, 41, 43, etc.)

But as we all know, I am not most people. I am a magnate, a captain of industry. I have for many years received as much as $600 in filthy, unearned stock-market dividends, reportable on 1040 line 9a. As a Canadian resident, I have to report them in Canada as well. Under the principles of avoiding double taxation, a tax treaty should specify in which country I must pay and in which country I am entitled to a foreign tax credit. In principle, the Canada-U.S. Income Tax Treaty does this. However, the U.S. government reserves the right to tax its own citizens irrespective of the provisions of this treaty. Perversely, this position is called the "saving clause". I can assure you, no savings accrue to my benefit from this clause!

The IRS tells me, though I am a Canadian resident, that U.S.-source income is taxable in the U.S. and I should claim a refund of U.S. tax paid when filing in Canada. Except that I didn't make enough money in the U.S. to pay any tax. So I can't very well claim a refund of tax I didn't have to pay. Maybe in the end it doesn't make much difference; I would have had to pay somewhere, it might as well be in Canada. Still, the whole process is byzantine and doesn't seem altogether fair (and if you can stomach reading Article X of the treaty, you'll see it's obviously not fair in several other cases).

"All right, Greatness, quit belly-aching about taxes. Tell me about the global surveillance part." Sure thing. Have you ever looked at 1040 Schedule B? It's a trip. I especially like Part III:

There are so many things to love about this schedule that I will have to restrain myself. For one thing, you generally don't have to fill it out unless you have over $1,500 in dividend or interest income. The only reason I've ever seen this form is that the threshold used to be much lower. Good thing I was aware of it, because Part III applies to me. It looks like I should say "Yes" on line 7a, because (duh) I have some bank accounts in Canada. However, if you flip to page B-2 (oh wait, you can't flip to it, because it's not attached -- it's in the instruction package), you learn that unless you have more than $10,000 in such accounts, you should say "No" despite the plain language of the question. I assume that would be my alibi if they wanted to get me for making a false statement. This procedure also guarantees that anyone who has to fill out Part III has to read all of the miscellany around the question before answering, whether any of it applies to them or not. Really, IRS guys, this screams out for a redesign.

But anyway. This year, for the first time, "Yes" is the right answer (thank you, joint accounts!). So what must I do? From the venerable page B-2: "file Form TD F 90-22.1 by June 30, 2007, with the Department of the Treasury at the address shown on that form. Do not attach it to Form 1040." I haven't decided whether this is the tax man being nice to the boys in Treasury or just closing ranks. You see, this part of the schedule has nothing to with taxes. Part III is to remind all red-blooded Americans of their duty to comply with the Code of Federal Regulations Title 31, Part 103. Treasury form TD F 90-22.1 (supplied by the IRS) looks innocuous enough. They just want the bank name and account number of every foreign asset under your control, whether it's your money or not. Why, exactly?


What patriot could argue with that reasoning? How about this one.

Posted by The Greatness at 10:54 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2006

Neil Peart Drum Lesson

Long time no write? Yeah, I know. And I'm not making it up to you right now, either. But this is worth seeing:

Drum Lesson with Neil Peart

Posted by The Greatness at 06:54 PM | Comments (1)

October 04, 2006

White and Nerdy

Weird Al raps:

Video for 'White and Nerdy'

Scarily, I caught most jokes on the first pass! Oh, yeah, this song speaks of me -- to me, I mean. Maybe.

Posted by The Greatness at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2006

Star Struck

I'm turning 30 soon, and in a fit of parental generosity my mother asked if I might want a "special" birthday present. Usually I have a hard time deciding such things, because most birthdays just aren't special enough to warrant buying the toys I want. (Yes, I am five right about now.) But this year I was ready with my big request: "I want a telescope." Mom talked to Dad and he agreed to cover it. "Don't expect a present like this ever again," he joked. Actually, in retrospect I don't think he was joking.

Well, I may have spent all my parental capital, but it's here! This is actually my second telescope. The first one I got when I was ten or so. That would have been 1986, the year Halley's Comet came to town. The telescope was a Tasco refractor of the kind everyone's seen at Toys "R" Us. The top of the tripod sheared off on my first attempt to use it. Sadly, my father's bailing-wire repair failed to return it to status quo ante, and it resided in my closet until the day we put it in a yard sale. I remember seeing the comet with my dad in some binoculars one morning, rather than setting up the scope.

Fast forward to adulthood, whatever that is. The Hale-Bopp Comet of 1997 was an astonishing sight from the Shenandoah Valley where I went to school. I think the spectacle of that comet reawakened my interest in the subject. Over the past decade, I've learned the names of many constellations and can point to most of those in the sky. The Sweetness got me a green laser pointer last year for pointing at stars -- pretty cool in the boardroom, too, by the way. And now I have an Orion XT8 telescope, a serious astronomical tool.

The Orion XT8 is an 8" Dobsonian reflector. "Reflector" means it has a Newtonian design, where a hole in the top of the tube (8" in diameter on this one) brings in light to be focused by the mirror at the bottom. This focused light then bounces off the secondary mirror hanging near the top of the tube to enter the eyepiece at a 90 degree angle. In this design, everything you see is upside down, which takes some getting used to. "Dobsonian" means that, rather than sitting on a tripod, the telescope is mounted on what looks like a cannon emplacement. Incidentally, since the tube is 46" long, it pretty much looks like a cannon.

Seriously, this thing is huge. But it's fairly manageable. I've only had it for a few days, and it has been foggy or cloudy most of them. Still, I put it on the deck of my apartment and played explorer. So far I've seen a double star, a meteor, and countless pinpoints of light. This, mind you, was on a night when you couldn't see a star in the sky with the naked eye. I can't wait to see what it will be like on a good night!

Posted by The Greatness at 09:09 AM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2006

Back from a week's vacation

... returned to find ~800 Gmail "conversations" in my mailbox. 650 were kindly marked as spam by the good folks at Gmail -- that's what I get for having my email address on the Web for so long! 50 were spam that wasn't caught. 50 were from people flaming each other on various listservs I subscribed to and haven't yet bothered to unsubscribe from. 30 would count as spam if I didn't do business with the companies that sent them. The leftovers demonstrated what I'd long suspected: I don't get more than 3 emails worth reading on any given day. And that counts donair-related mail as important!

Catching up on news, I see the Middle East is still screwed. A Nobel laureate has proposed what may be the only (politically) realistic way to combat climate change. Astrologers are vexed by how to incorporate three new planets into their horoscopes for more accurate forecasting. Also, I suck at hang gliding.

Did I miss anything?

Posted by The Greatness at 12:57 PM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2006

Tropical Storm Chris

Watch out, Antigua. Batten down the hatches, St. Barthelemy. I'm coming.

Posted by The Greatness at 08:16 AM | Comments (1)

July 07, 2006

If you see the rotary on the road, kill it

My web statistics tell me, much as I would like to be known for my trenchant commentary on science/faith issues and current politics, that most of my visitors come for articles on one of two things:

Therefore, I must needs inform my readers that the Tao is no more. Yield and proceed is no longer a living example of Eastern mysticism. As of June 28, after a humorous bit of confusion among government officials as to what the law really meant, it was decided that the rotary is now a proper traffic circle, where the drivers in the circle have the right-of-way.

I have been in favor of this change for some time; I even told the CBC so, when they came calling about the haiku. I can't deny, though, that the old way was more fun. It seems a shame to lose all the chaos.

But there's hope yet: the lights still shine both red and green. Visually the rotary continues to evoke a vibrant indeterminacy.

Posted by The Greatness at 10:21 AM | Comments (1)

June 07, 2006

Google's line of products expands!

This is the funniest spam I've seen in a long time:


Posted by The Greatness at 09:44 AM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2006

The Parade of Projects

I am buried in unfinished and unrequited projects. Will they ever end? Not until I stop breathing (and perhaps even beyond). Whether it's my neurotic obsession with knowing everything, my self-identification as a Renaissance man, or my elitist derision for American Idol, I truly live only as I am learning and creating.

But work has really started cramping my project timelines. Somehow, projects I do for money don't feel like my projects, though there sure are a lot of 'em these days. I don't directly comment about work on the blog, but if you want to contact me off the record, I can tell some stories, boy. (Short version: I may be managing eight people by September, and our new laboratory is ready(?) for move-in tomorrow.)

I fondly recall the unbounded, halcyon days of my youth when I could spend hours each day programming on my Commodore 64. Sadly, those days are long gone, and my Commie's not looking so hot either. Yet I'm sure the good old days weren't as great as I remember them. I had to go to school, didn't I? How is that any more freeing than having to go to work? Yes, my pysche is riddled with contradictions. I suppose the most important factor is my age. At this point in my life, I have accumulated enough plans for projects to completely swamp my available free time. In order to take control again, I have to finish some of 'em.

This is where you come in, dear reader. The following are projects I have been pondering for a while -- some, a long while. Critique them, laugh at them, add to them if you must, whatever. But let me know what you think is worth doing on this list:

And... that's all. For now.

Posted by The Greatness at 02:04 PM | Comments (3)

April 04, 2006

Obligatory Blog Entry

You know it's time to put up another entry when the page stares blankly at all visitors. So here it is, my ob-blog, as all the kiddies are calling it. I direct you to a masterful work of great care, made by one of those puzzling sorts that has the chutzpah to follow a silly idea all the way to its absurdum.

Oh dear.

Posted by The Greatness at 11:07 AM | Comments (4)

March 03, 2006

O Britainnia!

Hello, dear readers. It's been a while. How are you? The Sweetness and I have been doing relatively well, aside from a post-vacation cold. Thanks for asking. You'll be happy to know we got all that tax stuff taken care of -- or at least in the mail, which is all we can hope for at this early date.

We recently got back from a whirlwind eight-day tour of Britain, during which we visited London and its environs, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and York. As we'd both spent considerable time in London before, we resolved to get our money's worth from the BritRail train pass and see the country. Here are some of the trip highlights: