Our sick kittycat, Szürke, is a little less sick today.

Make that a lot less sick, actually.

Anemia is measured by what is called the Packed Cell Volume (PCV), basically the percentage of the volume of red blood cells vs. the total volume of blood. For a cat, the normal range for PCV starts in the mid-20s. When we thought we were saying good-bye to Szürke back in October, his PCV went down all the way to the incredibly low value of 7, which for all practical intents and purposes is a near-death experience. It was equivalent to trying to breathe on top of Mount Everest.

Today, Szürke’s PCV was 28. This value, an increase of about 4.5 since six days ago, was achieved despite the fact that we discontinued the erythropoietin hormone treatment that is supposed to stimulate his bone marrow and help with red blood cell production. This means that Szürke is back in the low normal range.

We shall see how things unfold in the coming weeks. The vet warned us that as the erythropoietin wears off, his red blood cell count will likely start to drop again. But if we can maintain it at a healthy level with continuing hormone treatments…

Time will tell. For now, we celebrate Szürke’s astonishing recovery.

In October, 2008, when she was speaking as the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin said the following:

“After the Russian army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama’s reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence – the kind of response that would only encourage Russia’s Putin to invade Ukraine next.” [emphasis mine]

The very respectable Foreign Policy magazine described Palin’s suggestion as an “extremely far-fetched scenario”.

Fast forward to March 1, 2014, when Putin just asked the Russian parliament to authorize the sending of troops into Crimea, ostensibly to protect Russian nationals and help normalize the situation.

In a world where Sarah Palin’s geopolitical concerns come true and respectable foreign policy institutions are eating crow, everything is possible.

And now, I am officially scared.

Serious news on CNN: the United States is suffering from a clown crisis. Being a clown is just not cool anymore, and the number of clowns is dwindling. Some areas may soon be altogether without clowns unless these alarming trends get reversed.

CNN did mention that there may be an ample supply of qualified clowns right there in Washington, in the form of the U.S. Congress. In the same vein, when my wife saw the images from some U.S. clown convention, she wondered aloud if these might in fact be pictures from a Tea Party gathering.

Who knows. Or perhaps the clown shortage is simply due to the fact that many of them found a more lucrative profession: manufacturing telescopes with concave lenses.

The Swiss are a proud people. Their country has been peaceful and prosperous since Napoleonic times. Several years ago, when I was in Bern, Switzerland, streetcars bore German-language signs advertising 200 years of safety and security. This was made possible, in part, by a strong and effective defense force, which would make any invasion too costly for a would-be attacker.

Or so I thought. Until yesterday, that is, when in the wake of the recent hijacking of an Ethiopian airliner, which eventually landed in Switzerland, the CBC helpfully explained the reason why the airliner was escorted by French and Italian fighter jets. You see, the Swiss Air Force operates only during normal business hours. Invading armies should take note: Switzerland is closed after 5 PM, so if you are late, you might want to reschedule your invasion plans for the next business day.

I don’t normally comment on crank science that finds its way into my Inbox, but this morning I got a really good laugh.

The announcement was dramatic enough: the e-mail bore the title, “Apparent detection of antimatter galaxies”. It came from the “Santilli foundation”, who sent me some eyebrow-raising e-mails in the past, but this was sufficiently intriguing to make me click on the link they provided. So click I did, only to be confronted with the following image:

What’s that, you ask? Why, a telescope with a concave lens. Had I paid a little bit more attention to the e-mail, I might have been a little less surprised; they did include a longer title, you see, helpfully typeset in all caps, which read, “APPARENT DETECTION OF ANTIMATTER GALAXIES VIA SANTILLI’S TELESCOPE WITH CONCAVE LENSES”.

Say what? Concave lenses? Why, it’s only logical. If light from an ordinary galaxy is focused by a convex lens, then surely, light from an antimatter galaxy will be focused by a concave lens. This puts this Santilli fellow in the same league as Galileo; like his counterpart five centuries ago, Santilli also invented his own telescope. But wait, Santilli is also a modern-day Newton: like Newton, he invented a whole new branch of mathematics, which he calls “isodual mathematics”. Certainly sounds impressive.

So what does Einstein’s relativity have to say about all this? Why, it’s all a “century of scientific scams by organized interests on Einstein [...] to discredit opposing views”. It’s all “sheer dishonesty and scientific gangsterism”. But it is possible “for the United Stated of America to regain a minimum of international scientific credibility”. All that is needed is to “investigate the legality of the current use of public funds by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation on research based on the current mandate of compatibility with Einstein’s theory” and the US of A will cease to be bankrupt.

Oh, and you also need some telescopes with concave lenses.

One of the many victims of fascism in Hungary was the poet Miklós Radnóti, murdered in November 1944 while serving in a forced labor battalion.

Radnóti’s wife, Fanni Gyarmati, survived the Holocaust and continued a quiet life in Budapest, in the couple’s old apartment, which bears the name of Dr. Miklós Radnóti on its front door to this day.

Astonishingly, Fanni Gyarmati lived for another 70 years following her husband’s tragic death. She passed away today, at the age of 101.

May she rest in peace. May those who were responsible for her husband’s death never find peace. Nor those who are busy whitewashing Hungary’s history as racism and anti-Semitism are once again on the rise in the country of my birth.

China’s first rover on the Moon (and only the seventh rover in the history of space exploration) may be alive.

The concern was that two weeks ago, as the robot was about to retire for the lunar night, it did not properly process commands that were supposed to place it in a night configuration to prevent critical systems from freezing up. It was quite possible that we would never hear from the robot again. But here it is… a signal, strong and loud. I guess in the coming days, the Chinese will reveal what, if any, damage the rover suffered during the long, cold lunar night.

According to Radio Free Europe, there are some remarkably law-abiding deer living along the one-time Cold War border between the former West Germany and Czechoslovakia.

The border (barbed wire, complete with electric fences, heavily armed guards, watchtowers and whatnot) is long gone. Yet the deer are still reluctant to cross, and this behavior is passed on from one generation to the next.

Remarkable. I am sure it would meet the approval of those comrades who came up with the idea in the first place that the primary purpose of a nation’s borders is not to keep enemies out, but to keep their own reluctant citizens confined inside.

The other night, I was tired and needed a distraction. I happened upon on online IQ test and decided to take it out of curiosity.

I scored well. How well exactly, I do not know because once the test was over, there was another, bonus question: they asked for my credit card number as a means to pay for a detailed report.

I realized that this really was the last of the intelligence test questions.

I passed the test. I did not pay good money just to get a report about how intelligent I am.

Boy, I am ever so smart!

There are few things (OK, well, apart from most sports) that interest me less than Hollywood awards.

Nonetheless, tonight I was rooting for Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany, who pulled off an incredible feat in this remarkable sci-fi series, playing as many as seven (eight, by some count) totally different, fully developed characters.

At least she lost to an actress that I also like and respect, Robin Wright, known as Jenny from Forrest Gump, among other roles.

Still… I am upset.

For the first time in, well, eons (at least in my personal experience), the CBC was like the old CBC again. The Fifth Estate had an hour-long report entitled Silence of the Labs, on the Harper’s government’s assault (there really is no better word) on the integrity of federally supported science in Canada.

There was very little in the report that I have not previously read about, but then again, my interest in science policy is probably not that of the average viewer. Which is why I am glad that the CBC did this, bringing awareness of what is going on to a broader audience.

No doubt what they did will be denounced by the Harper government and their supporters. And, as the program mentioned, technically they have a point: federally employed scientists do not have a legal entitlement to speak their minds or indeed to complain if research they happen to like is no longer funded.

However… as a citizen, I would like… no, scratch that, I demand that my government uses unbiased, factual science as its guide and that they do not muzzle honest scientists who try to bring these facts to the public with no government minder present.

This is a very significant reason why I hope that Mr. Harper will be defeated in the upcoming elections. Just to be clear, I don’t dislike Harper… how can I dislike a fellow cat lover? I also have no reason to doubt his personal integrity. However, I dislike his policies and his autocratic style of government. I sincerely hope that our next government will undo at least some of the harm that this government inflicted upon us.

Why is it that the one Republican I found really likeable, NJ governor Chris Christie, turned out to be a petty little vindictive bastard just like the rest of their ilk? Exactly what kind of an idiot do you have to be to come up with the idea that screwing up traffic near one of the world’s busiest bridges is appropriate “punishment” for an unruly mayor who wasn’t willing to endorse your candidacy? I guess listening to too much Rush Limbaugh or watching Fox News too often is really bad for the brain cells. Someone ought to do a clinical study.

And no, I do not believe for one moment that Christie did not know what was being done by his senior staff.

Last month, I was on a calculator buying binge. Well… not really, but I did find two rare programmable Casio calculators on eBay, the second of which, a Casio FC-200, just arrived all the way from France.

I just stumbled across some new research by climatologist Dan Lunt, who applied modern climate models to the geography and topography of Middle Earth. Yes, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, where hobbits, elves, dwarves, dragons, ents, orcs and other creatures live.

Prepared for possible interest by non-human readers, Lunt (writing under the pseudonym Radagast the Brown… or may be he *is* Radagast the Brown?) helpfully provided translations of his paper into Elvish and Dwarvish.

I couldn’t help but notice, though, that the list of references is missing from the translations.

Also, I wonder… does Google Translate know Elvish and Dwarvish?

This is what my car told me this morning:

Yes, it needed a new battery. It just wouldn’t start.

The irony is that my car is a hybrid. Which means that when you turn the key, it usually just comes to life, like any decent electric motor would. And behind the back seat, there is a 144 V NiMH battery with enough juice to light up my house. But when the outside temperature is low, the engine computer decides on its own that the engine should be cranked like a low-tech gasoline engine… from the 12 V battery, using an ordinary starter motor. And when that happens in the dead of a Canadian winter, with a battery that was last replaced about six years ago…

The video, by the way, is a scene from Return to Zork, the first multimedia sequel to the classic Zork series of text adventure games from the early 1980s. The graphics may be a tad dated, but the game is still quite good and entertaining… and plays well in DOSBox.

You know it’s getting cold when the overnight minimum temperature does not fit inside the Weather Channel’s infographic:

Brrrr.

Poppy is a 20th century cat.

Not for the first time, Poppy is a guest in our house, while her owner is traveling during the holidays. Poppy was a shelter cat. Her owner acquired Poppy in 2000, when the cat was around one year old.

Poppy is a beautiful cat. The first day after her arrival, she was hissing and growling a lot, but she acclimatized rapidly, and has been very friendly since. She is also tolerating our other cats reasonably well.

It was so good to see this old friend in good health, and in such good shape. The number of cats around who were born in the 20th century is dwindling rapidly. Cats may live longer than dogs, but they don’t live forever, and a 15-year old cat is certainly considered a senior. If Poppy were human, she would definitely qualify for a discount bus pass.

That said, I hope we will have many more chances to welcome Poppy in our home in the years to come.

So the other day, I solved this curious mathematics puzzle using repeated applications of Pythagoras’s theorem and a little bit of algebra.

Now I realize that there is a much simpler form of the proof.

The exercise was to prove that, given two semicircles drawn into a bigger circle as shown below, the sum of the areas of the semicircles is exactly half that of the larger circle.

Again, I’m inserting a few blank lines before presenting my proof.

Once again I am labeling some vertices in the diagram for easy reference.

Our goal is to prove that the area of a circle with radius AO is twice the sum of the areas of two semicircles, with radii AC and BD. But that is the same as proving that the area of a circle with radius AO is equal to the sum of the areas of two circles, with radii AC and BD.

The ACO< angle is a right angle. Therefore, the area of a circle with radius AO is the sum of the areas of circles with radii AC and CO. (To see this, just multiply the theorem of Pythagoras by π.) So if only we could prove that CO = BD, our proof would be complete.

Since AO = BO, they are the sides of the isosceles triangle ABO. Now if we were to pick a point O on the line CD such that CO‘ = BD, the ACO and ODB triangles will be identical (CD being the sum of AC and BD by construction). Therefore, AO‘ = BO, and the ABO triangle would be another isosceles triangle with its third vertex on the CD line. Clearly that is not possible, so O = O, and therefore, CO = BD. This concludes the proof.

For the first time in years, I was able to add a truly new (to me) programmable calculator to my Web museum: the Casio FM-300. What a delightful find!

The other day, I ran across a cute geometry puzzle on John Baez’s Google+ page. I was able to solve it in a few minutes, before I read the full post that suggested that this was, after all, a harder-than-usual area puzzle. Glad to see that, even though the last high school mathematics competition in which I participated was something like 35 years ago, I have not yet lost the skill.

Anyhow, the puzzle is this: prove that the area of the two semicircles below is exactly half the area of the full circle.

I am going to insert a few blank lines here before providing my solution.

I start with labeling some vertices on the diagram and also drawing a few radii and other lines to help.

Next, let’s call the radii of the two semicircles as $$a$$ and $$b$$. Then, we have
\begin{align}
(AC)&= a,\\
(BD)&= b.
\end{align}Now observe that
\begin{align}
(OA) = (OB) = r,
\end{align}and also
\begin{align}
(CD)&= a + b,\\
(OD)&= a + b~- (OC).
\end{align}The rest is just repeated application of the theorem of Pythagoras:
\begin{align}
(OC)^2&= r^2 – a^2,\\
(OD)^2&= r^2 – b^2,
\end{align}followed by a bit of trivial algebra:
\begin{align}
(OC)^2 + a^2&= [a + b - (OC)]^2 + b^2,\\
0&= 2(a + b)[b - (OC)],\\
(OC)&= b.
\end{align}Therefore,
\begin{align}
a^2+b^2=r^2,
\end{align}which means that the area of the full circle is twice the sum of the areas of the two semicircles, which is what we set out to prove.

I guess I have not yet lost my passion for pointless, self-serving mathematics.