Nov 272015

Fourteen years ago, I embarked on a small hobby project: A compiler for an ultra-simple programming language I called W, a language specifically designed to produce short 16-bit DOS programs. It has the distinguishing characteristic of having neither keywords nor types. The only data type on which it operates is a 16-bit machine word (hence the name, W).

I then wrote a few pages about this language that are still featured on my Web site.

Today (not for the first time) my project was rediscovered. Apparently not everyone realized that this was an old project (I now changed the configuration of the project page to make sure its creation date is visible.) The link went a little viral, as it was featured on both Reddit and Y Combinator. Which explains why, when I woke up this morning, I saw my server under a far heavier load than usual.

It was interesting to look at the comments on these two sites. Some liked what I have done. Others were critical, not sure why; it was a hobby project, after all, I wasn’t trying to win any accolades. But there was one particular comment on Reddit, by user MarshallBanana, that I really liked:

“What a bastard, making something for himself for fun. He sure deserves some shit for that.”

 Posted by at 7:18 pm
Nov 272015

Today, I tried to reach the Microsoft Developer Network support line to sort out an issue with my MSDN subscription.

After I made the appropriate touchtone selections, however, I was greeted with what sounded like an old Walkman on a nearly dead battery. Quite incomprehensible but certainly entertaining.

It went on like this for a couple of minutes, but then the call was disconnected.

I then tried to call the main Microsoft number, where a helpful lady tried to sort things out for me. She apologized and put me on hold several times while she talked to her supervisor; unfortunately, the last time she tried to put me on hold, she managed to disconnect the call instead.

So I called the MSDN number again (1-800-759-5474) and this time, I recorded the call. When I sped it up, suddenly it all made sense:

Technical difficulties indeed.

 Posted by at 3:18 pm
Nov 232015

A friend of mine reminded us on Facebook that the tragic events of Paris last week did not represent the worst massacre of civilians in the City of Light after World War II.

No, that title may belong to the events of October 17, 1961. It was on that day that Paris riot police, headed by former Vichy war criminal Maurice Papon, massacred up to 200 Algerians. (The actual numbers remain in dispute, as the French government only acknowledged more than three deaths in 1998.)

This fact raises so many questions. Foremost among them, why do those lives matter less? Is it only because 54 years is a long time and events were forgotten? Or would the ethnicity or religion of those massacred in 1961 have anything to do with it?

Whatever it is, I think it’s high time to come back from the hype and return to the plane of reality. Just this morning, I was listening to the CBC on the car radio and heard that Brussels remains under lockdown for the third day, with the subway not running. Which prompted me to shout at my poor, uncomprehending radio: “They didn’t even shut the London Underground down during the Blitz!”

 Posted by at 8:34 pm
Nov 212015

One of my favorite science fiction novels is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. In the distant post-apocalyptic future that is the setting of the novel, a piece of sacred memorabilia attributed to the founder of a monastic order, Isaac Edward Leibowitz, is in fact a 20th century shopping list.

As it turns out, something similar exists in real life. However, Gal Sal was no saint; he was the owner of two slaves, En-pap X and Sukkalgir. Their names are recorded on a more than 5,000 year old clay tablet that probably served as a receipt or title of sorts.


Though the dates are somewhat uncertain and there are other tablets of similar age, this trio may be the first people in history whose names have been preserved for posterity.

No heroic deeds. No epic battles. No dealings with gods or otherwordly spirits.

Just a receipt. Bureaucracy may, after all, be the oldest profession.

 Posted by at 11:36 pm
Nov 142015

The historical parallels are inescapable.

Three quarters of a century ago, the governments of the United States and Canada, in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, declared their own citizens of Japanese descent a threat to national security. This was demanded by a vengeful citizenry who could not tell the difference between the militant government of Tokyo and loyal Americans and Canadians of Japanese descent: they saw “slanty-eyed traitors” everywhere.

As a result, one of the worst atrocities in North American history took place, depriving several ten thousand Canadians and over a hundred thousand Americans of basic rights, and herding them into places that, while more civilized than their counterparts in the Third Reich or the Japanese Empire, were nonetheless concentration camps. Their internment ended in the United States in the wake of a Supreme Court decision in early 1945; in Canada, it lasted until 1949.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, many European citizens wish to follow the same road. They blame the attacks on an open immigration policy. They blame all Muslims immigrants and call those who support them “traitors”. In this case, the determining factor is not race but religion, but it amounts to the same thing: Discrimination against millions for the crimes committed by a few.

You would think that the so-called “civilized world” is better than this. But all it takes is one heinous attack for the old formulas of racism and xenophobia to surface. We are no better than our ancestors.

This is what the ISIS bastards fail to realize by the way. They think they shock us with their snuff films on YouTube. Just as the Japanese generations ago, they will realize too late that when it comes to wholesale murder, we may be the biggest bastards after all.

 Posted by at 1:22 pm
Nov 132015

According to CNN, at least 60 153 127 128 people are dead in Paris tonight, as a result of multiple attacks. I am sure militant Islamists are rejoicing.

But here is some food for thought. You do this often enough and soon, the voices of moderates like myself will be drowned out. Soon our protests, “But most Muslims are not like that! Most Muslims just want to live in peace like anyone else!” will fall on deaf ears. Nationalism, xenophobia, racism will prevail. And do you know what will happen then?

Simple. Dar al-Islam will be turned into a radioactive desert.

Seriously. If you doubt what Westerners are capable of, learn about the two World Wars in Europe. Look what they did to their own kind. Learn about the Holocaust. And then check the number of active-service nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the world’s two greatest nuclear powers, both targets of militant Islamism. Here is something to think about: The only reason we are not the worst murderous bastards on this planet right now is because we’ve been to the abyss and looked down, seeing our own selves staring back.

Do not mistake the West’s restraint for weakness. For now, people like myself have a voice. Soon, we will be branded traitors or worse, and then the unscheduled sunrises will follow.

 Posted by at 5:50 pm
Nov 122015

I almost forgot: The International Space Station just celebrated fifteen years of continuous occupation.

Continuous occupation by humans, that is. I wonder if they’ve had the same ship’s cat all this time.

 Posted by at 10:01 pm
Nov 022015

Today, someone sent me a link to a YouTube video of an old Hungarian language television program that featured one of our Commodore 64 computer games, Save Me Brave Knight.

Except that the program featured a lot more than just the game: It also featured Viktor Zámbó and myself talking about the game. (I am second from the right; Viktor Zámbó is on the right.)

I remembered this program vaguely, but I couldn’t even recall its title. My past attempts to search for it were in vain; in fact, I doubted that it even made it online.

But here it is, the two of us, being interviewed at length (starting at 16:48) about the art and craft of game programming.


I’m saving a copy of this video on the odd chance that it is removed or muted by YouTube for copyright reasons.

 Posted by at 11:37 am
Nov 012015

The other day, the current American ambassador in Budapest, Colleen Bell, gave a speech in which she offered some strong criticism of the authoritarian tendencies of Mr. Orban’s government. Needless to say, supporters of that government denounced the speech and also questioned the moral authority of the United States in light of that country’s less than perfect history.

This reminded me of Ms. Bell’s predecessor, Eleni Kounalakis, who recently published her memoirs.

Her tone is very diplomatic, but she retells some interesting incidents, including one that occurred during the visit of Eric Holder to Budapest. It was a brief exchange between the the first African-American Attorney General of the United States and his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Polt. It speaks volumes about the differences between the way top government officials think in Hungary vs. the United States:

I could see that Holder was disturbed by the description of the Magyar Gárda, the Hungarian radical nationalist militia, as well as by its politics and methods. Polt told his counterpart, ‘I want to assure you that we go to great lengths to ensure that they are not able to march in our streets. We have outlawed their uniforms and will not allow them to gather. It would be as unacceptable as if you were to let the Ku Klux Klan march on the steps of Washington.’ At these words, I saw Holder’s face flinch almost imperceptibly.

“‘I didn’t think I would find myself in Hungary defending the rights of the Ku Klux Klan,’ Holder replied slowly and carefully. ‘But we do, in fact, allow them to peacefully demonstrate in our country.’

 Posted by at 6:23 pm
Nov 012015

Here is a perfectly ordinary object. A paperclip.

But this particular paperclip has a bit of history.

It was attached to a typewritten document dating back to the early 1980s. It was written by some young Hungarian researchers who were entrusted with cataloging the manuscript collection of Hungarian Communist Politburo member Gyorgy Aczel. Aczel was arguably the best educated in the Politburo. He was also known as the architect the “three T-s” cultural policy of the goulash communist state. The T-s stood for “Trusted, Tolerated and Treasonous”. The second category represented works of art and literature that received no support from the state, but if they survived in the open market, they were tolerated and not censored. It was the existence of this category that allowed a cultural life in Hungary that was thriving relative to other East Bloc states.

As a young “star” programmer, I was asked to help this team with developing a manuscript database application (for the Commodore 64, no less). I was paid well, too. And on account of this assignment, I even met Mr. Aczel in person on one or two occasions. Yes, lucky me and all.

All of these are now memories from a distant past but somehow, one set of documents managed to stay with me inside a file folder over all these years. And yesterday, when I came across that folder, I decided to scan the sheets, and to do so, I removed this paperclip.

This paperclip was last handled by someone in 1984 or so, probably in the home of Mr. Aczel in the 13th district of Budapest, in a rental apartment building.

If only objects could speak and tell their stories.

 Posted by at 6:15 pm
Oct 282015

So here I am, listening to, not really watching CBC NewsWorld, when they briefly cut to a live picture from the International Space Station where a spacewalk is underway, and I hear this:


Yup, that’s what the anchorwoman said: Scott Kelly has two pair [sic!] of legs.

You’d think that such a scary, dramatic mutation would have received more coverage already. But what do we know? Must be another liberal mainstream media conspiracy, hiding the facts from people.

 Posted by at 8:28 am
Oct 212015

Oops! The DeLorean time machine has been recalled by Transport Canada.

The recall has since been canceled though. Apparently, Doc Brown was good on his word.

Or could it be that upper management at Transport Canada (or whichever department was responsible for this recall notice) decided that a sense of humor is incompatible with the Department’s mission?

 Posted by at 7:18 pm
Oct 212015

Today is the day when Marty McFly and the Doc find themselves in futuristic Hill Valley, trying to fix the future while accidentally messing up the past.


Too bad things are not quite as the film predicted. No flying cars powered by portable fusion generators running on garbage. No hoverboards either, nor free-floating holograms. No self-tying shoes, no self-adjusting, self-drying jackets either. And no weather service that can control the rain.

On the other hand… a Pepsi doesn’t cost $50. USA Today is still around and a newsstand copy costs “only” $2, not 6 dollars.

And while there is no Queen Diana, there may yet be a female President in the White House 15 months from now.

Oh, and while we don’t have a Scenery Channel on cable, we have three others in its place: a Fireplace Channel, a Sunset Channel, and an Aquarium Channel. All in glorious digital HD. Yay! Welcome to the future!

 Posted by at 5:27 pm
Oct 202015

The victory of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party last night was stunning, and defied statistical predictions.

The CBC’s poll tracker, last updated the day before the election, predicted a liberal minority government falling far short of parliamentary majority. The also provided a likely minimum-maximum range and a more extreme worst case/best case prediction:

The interesting thing is that the actual result for the Liberals came up just one seat short of the best case prediction:

And the election map reveals another thing: It appears that Canada now has its own Jesusland (albeit with colors reversed). Indeed, the Conservative Party only had solid results in Jesusland Canada and in the land of Ford Nation.

This, then, is one of Mr. Trudeau’s tasks: to show to people living in these blue ridings that he can indeed be the prime minister of all Canadians.

 Posted by at 10:13 am
Oct 192015

Once again, a Trudeau has been elected as Prime Minister of Canada. And not only is this the first time since 1925 that a third party leapfrogged ahead to win, but the Liberals won with a resounding majority, too.

I feel sorry for Tom Mulcair and the NDP. They had such high hopes! At one point during the campaign, even a majority NDP government was within sight.

I don’t feel sorry to see Mr. Harper go, even though it means that I can now retire

Well, a new era dawns. Now let’s see what Mr. Trudeau does about Bill C-51, about the CBC, about two-tier citizenship, about the voting rights of expatriates, about the TPP, about Canadian scientists, about the long-form census, about Canada Post, about the handling of refugees, and about a whole host of other issues that were the reason why I was so hoping to see a change in government. I have high hopes. I hope sincerely that Mr. Trudeau will not disappoint us.

 Posted by at 11:44 pm
Oct 142015

Short answer to the question in the title: No.


It is eminently possible to discuss issues concerning immigration and refugees without resorting to racist, dehumanizing language. What are the problems that the refugees are facing? Where are they coming from? Where are they really coming from (in light of news about widespread forgery of Syrian passports)? Are they genuine refugees? What about the transit and host countries? How can they handle a flood of migrants Europe has not seen since the end of WW2? Was it wise for Angela Merkel to suggest that Germany will accept all refugees with open arms? Are European citizens really evicted from their homes or lose other forms of assistance as local governments rush to help refugees? Are EU nations that have no external borders hypocritical in their condemnation of countries on the front line, like Hungary?

All legitimate questions, which can be discussed using facts and rational arguments.

But that is something I rarely see.

Instead, I see photographs that show the refugees in the worst possible light, with accompanying language that implies that these pictures are representative. That this is a “horde” coming to “occupy Europe” as they yell “Allahu Akhbar”. That they are phony refugees because a real refugee does not want a better life. That they will destroy Christian civilization or European culture. That they are, simply put, dirty, smelly subhumans. Untermenschen.

To all my friends and family: If you use such language about your fellow human beings, I will not leave it unchallenged. I will not be a silent accomplice. If this means risking our friendship, so be it. There are times when decent human beings must speak up; not speaking up is not an option.

Meanwhile, I thank those friends of mine who have not abandoned their core values during this crisis from the bottom of my heart. Simply knowing you is a privilege.

 Posted by at 12:50 pm
Oct 142015

I finished this weeks ago but never had the time to post. My previous attempt to hack a Rogers cable decoder was only partially successful, so I gave it another try, with better results.

By “hack”, I don’t mean illegally obtaining cable signals or anything like. I was simply looking for a way to get composite video and stereo audio out of the “free” cable boxes that Rogers provides, as opposed to just a plain RF signal on channel 3. The reason is pretty mundane: I’ve been using a dual-tuner TV card in my computer for years, which allowed me to record one program while watching another. The transition by Rogers to full digital cable messed this up: the TV card has only one RF input, so it is impossible to attach two decoders that could supply two signals simultaneously. But the TV card does have two independent composite video inputs. So if only the decoders had the corresponding output…

Well, they do, sort of: the only problem was that the audio was an undecoded (multiplexed) stereo signal. To decode it, I first built a standard stereo decoder circuit, but that was before I learned that the NTSC standard for stereo also includes noise suppression.

Hence my second attempt, using an appropriate chip.

Once again, I used a custom printed circuit board of my own design, and once again, it worked like a charm. The only fly in the ointment is that this larger board no longer fits inside the original decoder casing without some “plastic surgery”; so chances are that if it ever comes to returning these boxes to Rogers, I’ll be paying for them instead. Oh well.

 Posted by at 12:38 pm
Oct 112015

I recently came across some frightening images on the Interwebs: Frames from a 2000 episode of The Simpsons (Trumptastic Voyage) lined up with real-life images of Donald Trump.

The similarities are uncanny.

Just what did the creators of The Simpsons know back in 2000? Is it just coincidence? Do they have a time machine? And how many of their other predictions will come true in the years to come?

 Posted by at 10:09 am
Oct 112015

Even as I hope that the wheels are indeed falling off Mr. Harper’s election bus, I am trying to do my part by listing more of the Harper government’s shenanigans on

The idea is simple. Harper likes cats. He should have more time to play with cats. And he should atone for his political sins by adopting lots of shelter cats.

The site is growing, by the way; I still have a ways to go through my list of political sins so new topics are added daily, sometimes several times a day.

I am disappointed, however, with my Canadian friends: So few of you registered and “voted” on! I honestly hoped it would be more popular. But then, there is still time… 8 more days until Election Day. And I hope most sincerely that after October 19, I can safely retire the site, as Mr. Harper will no longer be in a position to do any more political damage.

 Posted by at 9:58 am
Oct 082015

I received a very polite invitation to be an “academic editor” to a scholarly journal.

Sounds good, right? To be sure, I am promised no monetary compensation, indeed, I’d still have to pay (albeit at a discount) to have my papers published in the same journal (not that I have any plans to do so). Still… it’s an honor, right?

Too bad it’s one of the many predatory journals of a predatory publisher. A journal that publishes just about anything so long as the author pays the (often hefty) publication fee. There are now thousands of such journals around the world, maintaining a parasitic existence, leeching off both crackpots and third-world researchers who don’t know any better and try to pad their resumes with a seemingly legitimate publication record.

So why am I ever so slightly hesitant? Well… on two (maybe three?) occasions in recent weeks, I received requests from the same journal to referee papers. I indicated that I was not available, but also that, judging by the abstracts that were shared with me, those papers should have been rejected by the editor and never sent out to referees in the first place.

And now here I am, being asked to work as a volunteer editor for the same journal. Should I accept it, in the hope that I would be given the editorial autonomy to reject papers up front, in the hope of improving the journal’s standards?

Probably a bad idea.

 Posted by at 9:35 pm