Sep 192021
 

A little over 50 years ago, we were all excited in the city of my birth, Budapest. This fine city, home of the old continent’s first subway line (and the world’s first that was built from the onset as an all-electric system), was about to get a modern “metro”. Using Soviet technology, the M2 line was opened to great fanfare, providing a rapid connection from the center of town towards the eastern suburbs on the Pest side. The line was soon extended under the Danube, reaching the Buda side’s main railway station in 1972.

Why do I mention this in a blog entry about Ottawa’s LRT? Simple. This 50-year old system, using technology from the former USSR, has operated reliably ever since. I know from experience: for a while, I used to take it daily, back in the 1970s and the early 1980s. The expectation of urban travelers is that barring rare, major emergencies, the system should work like clockwork; and when an emergency disrupts system operations, service is restored within a matter of hours. This expectation was, in my experience, always met by the M2 line. The most serious accident on the line happened in 2016, when a train rear-ended another, injuring ten passengers. Even in the wake of this accident, service was rapidly restored, albeit with a speed reduction at the accident location while the ongoing investigation tried to determine the cause.

Fast forward to 2021, to the proud capital of Canada, a G7 nation, supposedly one of the most advanced economies in the world, certainly one of the richest, wealthiest nations. Ottawa used to have an extensive streetcar system. Like similar systems in so many cities around the world, this system was dismantled, wantonly destroyed in the late 1950s, when urban planners looked at streetcars as unwanted relics from the past.

Finally, in the 2010s the decision was made that Ottawa needs urban rail transport after all, and the Confederation Line was built. It was opened to the public after many delays in September, 2019. The initial, 13-station segment cost approximately 2.1 billion dollars.

And… well, until now I refrained from commenting because, you know, be patient, good people know what they are doing, sometimes a system has more kinks than anticipated, all that… but no longer. This 2.1 billion dollar system is a piece of crap.

It has had trouble when the weather was too warm. Define too warm? Well, 30 degrees Centigrade. It has had trouble when the weather was too cold. Never mind that Ottawa is one of the coldest capital cities in the world; a little bit of wintry weather below freezing was enough to cause  problems. It has had trouble with train doors, trouble with the rails, trouble with axles and who knows what else. And it now experienced its second derailment.

And no, don’t expect them to rapidly restore service, repairing the affected track and perhaps as a precaution, instituting a temporary speed reduction. No, we are told, the entire system will be shut down again for at least a whole week!

And I cannot decide (I don’t have enough information) if this is gross incompetence or tacit acknowledgment that the system has severe systemic problems, and that the derailment (second in two months!) was not so much a random accident but a result of a badly built track, unsafe trains, or some such cause.

In light of this, I wish they had just imported 50-year old Soviet technology. The darn things may not be pretty (they don’t actually look bad, mind you), may be a tad noisy, but they work. And work. And 50 years later, still work.

As opposed to this piece of… stuff.

And it’s not like railway technology is a new invention. Budapest’s old, 1896 line celebrated its 125th anniversary this year. London’s Underground is even older. And that’s just urban underground systems. So it’s not like some exotic new technology that still has issues. It’s just… I don’t know. Corruption? Incompetence? Just sheer bad luck? Whatever it is, I think the residents of our city deserve better. And those responsible should be held to account, if necessary, even criminally.

 Posted by at 7:11 pm
Jul 152021
 

I wrote an answer today on Quora that, I realized, belongs in my blog.

The question was about once significant medieval towns in Europe that have since faded into obscurity.

And I had the perfect answer, on account of having lived there back in the 1970s: The town of Visegrád in northern Hungary (known these days on account of the Visegrad Four, the informal alliance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia which began with a summit in this town held in 1991).

Once the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, and also home of the Summer Palace of King Matthias Corvinus during the heyday of said kingdom, today the town (really, a village; it gained the legal status of town only because of its historical significance, not on account of its population, which numbers less than 2,000) is just a minor settlement at the Danube Bend, where where the river Danube makes a 90-degree turn towards Budapest.

I used to live in a building just at the base of the stocky Salamon tower near the center of this image. Image from Wikipedia.

Visegrád is a fascinating town, full of history. Unfortunately, because of said history, most of it is in the form of barely recognizable ruins. Ruins of a citadel at the top of Castle Hill, its last functioning remains blown up by the victorious Austrians after the failed struggle for Hungarian independence in the early 18th century. Ruins of the sprawling Summer Palace complex, used by locals as a source of building material for centuries until very little of the original buildings remained. Ruins of the tower of Salamon, part of the lower castle, rebuilt decades ago using modern materials and housing a museum, but badly in need of repairs. And more ruins, ruins going back to Roman times, everywhere.

The name of the town itself is of Slavic origin (literally means high castle I believe) but many of the town’s present-day inhabitants are of German descent. I recall names of classmates like Gerstmayer or Fröhlich, and it was not uncommon to hear family members talking to each other in German on the streets of the town when I lived there as a child.

I have fond memories of the place; I attended school there from grades 6 to 8 before moving back to Budapest. I still visit Visegrád from time to time when I am in Hungary, albeit only as a tourist, as I no longer really know anybody there. It is, to be sure, a very popular tourist destination: the Danube Bend is spectacular, and the hills surrounding the area are crisscrossed by well-marked, well-maintained tourist trails. And, well, ruins or no ruins, the history of the place is absolutely fascinating.

But looking at the tiny village, its single church, small school, its sole tiny movie theatre, the few narrow streets with mostly single-story buildings, you’d never guess the rich history of the town.

Church of St. John the Baptist, in the center of Visegrád. Lovely clock. Google Street View image.

 Posted by at 11:53 pm
Jun 302021
 

Yesterday, I saw an image of a beautiful altarpiece, Dutch painter Rogier van der Weyden’s Santa Columba triptych from 1455.

It was described as the biggest spoiler in history. Look at the center panel depicting the classic Nativity scene. Now look more closely at the center column:

Oops.

And then, I saw another image, a 1958 photo from Pál Berkó, courtesy of the Hungarian Fortepan photo archive, depicting the crowd greeting Khrushchov on account of his visit to Budapest. Greeting him with… smartphones in hand, taking selfies?

Not exactly. Those are actually mirrors that many used to be able to see over the crowd. But the resemblance is…

I guess it’s true: The more we change, the more we remain the same.

 Posted by at 8:03 pm
Apr 032021
 

My beautiful wife is getting really good at this.

She just made this kalach (kalács), Hungarian style braided sweetbread/eggbread, on account of Easter.

It is absolutely yummy for breakfast. Might work for lunch and dinner, too, if you ask me.

Yes, it has raisins in it. I love kalach with raisins.

 Posted by at 1:05 pm
Mar 272021
 

Courtesy of Radio Free Europe, here are some images (yes, do click on the link for the full experience) of the city of my birth, Budapest, in ways you may never have seen before, superimposing images from 1945 and the present.

It is incredible, what this beautiful city went through during that war. (Reminder to those who blame Stalin for the destruction: It was Hungary that declared war on the Soviet Union using a bombing that might have been staged, and which in any case was minor, as a pretext.)

The city is beautiful again. I visited just over a year ago, literally days before the world shut down on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whatever my thoughts about Hungarian politics and attitudes, it was a very pleasant trip with many pleasant encounters.

And looking at these horrific images of past devastation, I was reminded that even though I have not lived there since 1986, it remains the city where I was born and grew up: most places I recognized at a glance, in both the “before” and the “after” photos. Only Ottawa comes close as a place that I know this intimately.

 Posted by at 3:22 pm
Mar 192021
 

I remembered something today. A set of playing cards.

I never had a card deck like this but some of my grade school classmates did. This was the (very) early 1970s in communist Hungary. It was through these cards that I first learned of the existence of luxury sports cars, supercars like Ferrari, racecars like Lotus.

It was cards like these:

These were not some imports from the decadent West. Not subtle imperialist propaganda. These cards were produced by the state-owned Playing Card Factory (yes, that was the name of the company!) and they were much coveted by many 7-year olds. Like me.

But now that I think back, it makes me wonder: Exactly what were they thinking? I mean, this was a bleeping communist dictatorship (of the goulash variety, but still). What on Earth did they think they were doing, these self-appointed masters of agitprop, poisoning our young, impressionable minds with such blatant Western consumerist propaganda?

Ah, the sweet irony.

 Posted by at 9:28 pm
Feb 062021
 

In recent days, especially in light of the sudden drop in vaccine deliveries in Canada, I saw a lot of criticism aimed at the Canadian government and its perceived failure to secure vaccine supplies or vaccine manufacturing in Canada.

Reality is a little bit more nuanced. Manufacturing a 21st century vaccine is not exactly something that can be done anywhere. The fact that Canada doesn’t presently have the expertise or infrastructure is lamentable but that’s the result of a decades-long trend, not the decisions of the past several months.

Meanwhile in Hungary, Orban’s government is criticized for telling people that they will be vaccinated with whichever vaccine is available at the time; if you don’t like the vaccine being offered, you’re sent to the back of the line. A bit harsh, to be sure, but this is a bleeping global health emergency. Orban’s government may be criticized for acting in haste when they approved the Chinese and Russian vaccines (although the Russian vaccine seems effective; the Chinese vaccine is probably also fine, what is questionable is the ethical shortcuts they took with the testing and approval process). But acting in an authoritarian fashion when there is a global health emergency is precisely what even the most liberal, most democratic governments are expected to do. Orban can, and should, be criticized for undermining the country’s democratic institutions, its press freedoms, its judicial independence, its constitutional principles, but not for acting decisively when decisive action is needed during a pandemic.

 Posted by at 6:29 pm
Oct 312020
 

Would you like me to scare you into offering me some Halloween candy?

Here are some plots from the spreadsheet that I’ve been using to keep track of COVID-19 numbers since the spring.

I am tracking global figures, numbers in the US, Canada, the province of Ontario and my city Ottawa, as well as the country of my birth (and where our elderly parents live), Hungary.

The number of cases needs no explanation. The trends are not good. Hungary, in particular, appears to be a representative case of Europe in general, where the numbers began skyrocketing in recent weeks, per capita figures far exceeding those in Trump’s America. (So perhaps it’s not politics, after all.)

The daily growth rates are also alarming. The only place with a downward trend is Ottawa. Everywhere else, the growth rate is increasing. A constant growth rate in this chart would correspond to an exponential rise in the total number of cases; an increasing growth rate implies super-exponential behavior.

This is also reflected in the doubling rate. In this chart, the higher the number, the better; a high number of days means that the spread is slow. Again, with the exception of Ottawa, the numbers are trending downward (which is bad), or at best, are perhaps stagnating (in Canada and Ontario). And look at Hungary again! According to the latest data, the number of cases there doubles every 16-17 days or so, which is frightening.

These charts show seven-day averages. Again, the usual disclaimers apply. Country-to-country comparisons need to be made with care, due to differences in testing and reporting regimes. But the trends are another matter.

 Posted by at 1:14 pm
Oct 302020
 

The latest figures from the United States are scarier than ever. It appears Dr. Fauci was right when he predicted that the daily number of new cases will reach 100,000; according to the World-o-meter data that I’ve been following, there have been 101,461 new cases in the US today.

Does this mean that the United States officially qualifies as a “shithole country” with regards to how it manages the pandemic?

Not so fast.

Per capita, these figures mean 306 new cases per million people in the past 24 hours.

But look. Here’s my country of birth, Hungary. They were doing well until they weren’t. In the past 24 hours, they produced 3,286 infections. For a country with only 9.65 million people, that’s a lot. So much, in fact, that at 340 cases per million people, they are actually ahead of the United States. (What a relief: America is not number one.)

And wait! Before you jump to the conclusion that Mr. Orban’s illiberal populism is to blame, look at France. In the past 24 hours, they produced a staggering 49,215 new infections. Granted, that’s less than half the number of new cases in the US. But they only have less than one fifth the population! So per capita, their figures translate into a truly whopping 754 new cases per million people.

So perhaps it’s not politics, after all.

None of that excuses Mr. Trump as he mocks experts and holds “super spreader” campaign events. Perhaps 306 is less than 340 or 754, but it is still a lot of people. And as a result, around a thousand Americans die every day who could otherwise have lived. Clearly, the country could do a better job.

Canada, too. Perhaps our statistics look better than American statistics, but there is no room for complacency. This second wave is hitting us hard, much harder than the spring outbreak, and there is no sign of it ending anytime soon. On the national level, the rate of new infections is below 100 per million people, but it’s much higher in hotspots. Today’s breaking news: The province of Manitoba registered 350 cases per million, exceeding the US average.

A vaccine may or may not be coming soon. Even if it does, it will likely be imperfect, offering limited immunity. And it will take months for a mass vaccination program to reach the requisite level for vaccine-induced “herd immunity”. Long story short, the end is not yet in sight. This is likely going to get worse, perhaps a lot worse, before it gets better.

But it’s not politics, people. Wear those damn masks. Wash your hands. Keep away from other people. Resist the temptation to visit grandma on her birthday or hold a large Christmas family dinner. For crying out loud, this is not some backdoor to communism. You are not a lesser human, a less manly man if you wear a mask and keep your “social distance”. This is centuries-old science, which is how human society was able to cope with past epidemics. Ignore it and you may be directly responsible for infecting, perhaps crippling, even killing your loved ones.

 Posted by at 9:55 pm
Jul 052020
 

A few hours ago, my phone rang and my friend David told me the sad news: His father, Peter Ada-Winter passed away*.

I’ve known Peter since the late 1970s. He was an educator who played a pioneering role in the introduction of computer programming and computer science into the Hungarian school curriculum.

Peter was a true scholar. His home, a cramped apartment in Budapest’s historic Castle District, was full of books. The walls were lined with tall bookshelves. His large desk was also covered with teetering piles of textbooks, newspapers, and computer printouts.

Peter was the son of Ernő Winter, engineer, physicist and inventor, a towering figure in the early development of vacuum tube technology in the 1920s.

Born in 1923, Peter survived the Holocaust that wiped much of his extended family off the face of the Earth.

He was in his mid-40s when, in 1968, he was asked to organize a regular computer programming course for high school students in the same high school where I studied a decade later.

I met Peter when I became friends with his son David in high school. I always looked up to him. I learned quite a few things from him. Not just technical matters, basic human values as well.

Peter’s interest in information technology never diminished. In the mid-1980s, together with his son David they published a book on the 8-bit ZX Spectrum microcomputer. In the 1990s and early 2000s, despite his advancing age, Peter became well acquainted with the Internet; surfing the Web for news became part of his daily life.

Even after he passed 90, Peter remained in good health and mentally active. Only in the last few years did his health begin to gradually decline. Nonetheless, David remained hopeful that they would be able to celebrate Peter’s 100th birthday in 2023 with a ginormous birthday cake. These hopes were squashed by the news David received today.

Though I share David’s sense of grief, I reminded him that instead of grieving, we should remember the long, productive life of a very good man. Someone that I feel privileged to have known.


*No, not a COVID-19 statistic. Simply old age.

 Posted by at 10:04 pm
Jun 162020
 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parliament of Hungary granted Viktor Orban’s government extraordinary powers to rule by decree. Opponents likened this to the infamous “enabling act” that marked the end of the Weimar Republic in 1933.

In response, Mr. Orban and his supporters argued that the government has no intention of abusing these powers, and that Mr. Orban should be judged by how he relinquishes these extraordinary powers once the crisis is over.

So here it is: Parliament just voted to end the state of emergency and requested the government to take the necessary steps to return to normalcy. So far so good. The corresponding act of Parliament is short and sweet, and to the point. The legal part of the text is only four terse clauses. In my translation:

1. The Legislature requests the government to end, in accordance with section 54, paragraph 3 of the Constitution, the state of emergency that was declared in government decree 40/2020 (March 11) (henceforth: the state of emergency).

2. The act of Parliament concerning measures against the coronavirus, Bill 12 (2020), is no longer in force.

3. (1) The present act – with the exceptions defined in paragraph (2) – shall be considered in force the day after it is proclaimed.

(2) Clauses 2 and 4 shall be considered in force when the state of emergency ends.

(3) The calendar day when clauses 2 and 4 shall be considered in force will be decided by the Prime Minister as soon as the date is known, by immediately proclaiming the date in the Hungarian Gazette.

4. Clause 2 of this bill, in accordance with section 29, paragraph 3; section 2, paragraph 1; section 24, paragraph 9, section 31, paragraphy 3; section 35, paragrapha 1; and section 54, paragraph 4, is considered fundamental.

All looks kosher, right?

But just in case you are still paying attention… there was also a second bill on the table. It has an unassuming title: “About the rules of transition concerning the end of the state of emergency and health preparedness”. Seems eminently reasonable, since under the state of emergency, the government has taken many steps, all of which must be reconciled with the system of laws and regulations.

And there is a lot. This supplementary bill is not four pages. It is 247 (two hundred forty seven) pages in PDF form. Yikes!

And on page 135, we read clause 97:

97. Changes to Bill 128 of 2011 concerning emergency preparedness and modifications of related laws

§339 Section 5 of Bill 128 of 2011 concerning emergency preparedness and modifications of related laws will be amended by the following subclause 24/A:

“24/A Emergency acts of government in case of a state of emergency concerning a human epidemic causing mass rates of infection”

§51/A. (1) The Government, in order to prevent, or mitigate the consequences of, a human epidemic that causes mass rates of infection, threatening lives and property, in order to protect the health and life of citizens of Hungary in a declared state of emergency – in addition to the emergency measures and rules described in subclauses 21-24 – in order to guarantee the lives, health, personal security, security of property, and legal protection of citizens and the stability of the national economy, may, by decree, suspend certain laws, deviate from existing laws and make other extraordinary decisions.

(2) The Government may practice the authority prescribed in paragraph (1) – to the necessary extent, in proportion with the desired outcome – in order to prevent, deal with, and eliminate an epidemic, and furthermore, to prevent or avoid such an outbreak.

There you have it. There are many other clauses concerning other laws, and most seem quite reasonable and appropriate considering the circumstances. But this one?

I highlighted the problem text in red. The law gives the government extraordinary powers. But, though the words seem reassuring on the surface, it offers no checks and balances concerning any justification of invoking these powers and the extent to which they are practiced. In the right hands, these are powers that can be used wisely in case of another pandemic or a resurgence of COVID-19, and I am sure Mr. Orban’s supporters believe that this is precisely how the government will use these powers (if at all). But opponents of Mr. Orban are concerned, not without grounds, about the lack of checks and balances and the very real possibility that these powers can go unchecked in the wrong hands.

In short, this is precisely what many feared: That though the state of emergency is lifted, a backdoor remains, a means for Mr. Orban’s government to have its cake and eat it, too, relinquish its extraordinary powers yet keeping them at the same time.

In the end, it of course all depends on how the law is put into practice. But for now, my conclusion is that the concerns of Mr. Orban’s opposition are not unfounded.

 Posted by at 6:19 pm
Mar 102020
 

And then, my Mom almost spat out her tea.

That happened when I told her about the pitiful attempt of mid-level management to deal with the persistent smell of sewage at the Parliament station of Ottawa’s defect-plagued new LRT system: the installation of bathroom air fresheners at dozens of locations around the station.

You see, I was visiting my Mom in Budapest. The city has an old underground line that was constructed back in 1896, but it also has a modern subway network, the first of which (line 2 in the current numbering scheme) was opened to the public in 1970, when I was seven years old.

That line used Soviet technology, Soviet trains, a Soviet signaling system. And it… just worked, from day one, each and every day, each and every hour of the day.

I spent one afternoon riding public transportation in Budapest. I traveled on this old line 2, which is presently using 90s era equipment and trains. I traveled on line 3, which uses recently rebuilt trains of the original Soviet variety. And I traveled on line 4, which is a modern, 21st century line with completely automated, driverless trains.

All three lines just… work. They work reliably. The rare instances when the system is interrupted are usually caused by events beyond the operators’ control, such as someone jumping in front of a train. And that 19th century relic, line 1, rebuilt and renovated in 1973, works reliably, too.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, and least the air fresheners have since been removed. But the stink remains, if you are fortunate (or unfortunate?) enough to be able to visit Parliament station when the service operates, at least at a reduced capacity.

 Posted by at 2:50 pm
Nov 302019
 

Not a day goes by in Ottawa this autumn without news of yet another service interruption with our brand new light rail transport system.

You’d think that reliably operating an urban rail network is not exactly high science in 2019; especially considering that 60 years earlier, this town had an extensive network of streetcars, which operated reliably for 68 years.

Sadly, that network fell victim to the myopic urban planning trends of the postwar years, which also saw streetcar networks destroyed, or at the very least, severely diminished, as in the case of my city of birth, Budapest, where, for instance, a once popular streetcar line was replaced by an overpass carrying vehicular traffic to an already congested downtown core.

And now we have an LRT that is made unreliable, in part, by a risk-averse culture in which an entire urban transportation system is shut down because of a single door’s failure to close properly.

 Posted by at 10:46 am
May 022019
 

I meant to post this yesterday, but I didn’t have the time. Besides, it is not something you post without permission from the other party involved. The other party being my beloved wife Ildiko, that is.

You see, yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of us meeting, on a cloudy, rainy May 1 in the town of Győr, Hungary, where we were both attending a national high school chemistry competition.

And it so happened that a short while (maybe just a few weeks?) later, our high school class had a day trip to the fine town of Pécs, Ildiko’s hometown, so she and I had a chance to meet again. And one of my friends had a Polaroid camera:

Darn, I was so much thinner than today.

Ildiko, on the other hand, looks just as beautiful now as she did on that late spring day in 1979.

 Posted by at 5:56 pm
Jan 162019
 

In the political campaign leading up to the 2018 parliamentary elections in Hungary, an unlikely villain emerged on the election posters of the governing party: the Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros. “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh,” screamed the posters, featuring an unflattering black-and-white photograph of the aging philanthropist.

While there was little doubt that this was all part of a cynically engineered election campaign, now we know exactly how it came to be, thanks to a piece of investigative journalism published in Das Magazin, a weekly supplement to several Swiss newspapers. A review of their article was also featured on 24.hu, a leading Hungarian news portal.

The anti-Soros campaign was the brainchild of George Birnbaum and his mentor, the late Arthur Finkelstein, experts on the technique of negative campaigning. They started working for Viktor Orban in 2008, contributing to his success in the 2010 election campaign. They had an easy task: the then ruling Socialist Party was wildly unpopular and thus easy to target. But after Orban’s second election victory in 2014, the Socialist Party was no longer a useful scapegoat. A new enemy was needed.

One obvious target presented itself: International capital, represented by the IMF and the EU, who dictated the conditions accompanying foreign loans that helped Hungary recover from the financial crisis. But an abstract target is not good enough. As Finkelstein once remarked, Americans fought not National Socialism but Hitler in WW2; not Al-Qaeda but Osama bin Laden in the War on Terror.

The narrative was given. One of the leading ideologues of Orban’s party, Maria Schmidt, director of the “House of Terror”, a museum dedicated to the victims of hardline communist terror in the early 1950s, readily provided it: a Hungary that was always the innocent victim, surrounded by enemies, yet protecting its identity and defending Christianity from adversaries ranging from the Ottoman Empire centuries ago to the investment bankers of the present day. All that was needed was a person who embodies this threat.

According to Das Magazin, Finkelstein and Birnbaum used a telephone survey to determine if Soros was known sufficiently well among would-be voters to serve as the target of a negative campaign. He proved to be the perfect enemy. He qualifies as a liberal, and he represents something hated by conservatives: a successful investor who wants to weaken capitalism. On the other hand, as he is not a politician and doesn’t even live in Hungary, he has no means to fight back.

The 2015 migration crisis was the icing on the cake. An essay Soros once wrote predicting a large number of refugees was relabeled the “Soros-plan”, demonstrating that Soros wanted to flood Hungary, and Europe in general, with Muslim “migrants”. By extension, any NGOs supported by Soros became targeted, as well as the Soros-founded Central European University, which was ultimately driven out of the country altogether, moving its main campus to Vienna.

The Soros-project was so successful, it was exported to other “markets”: anti-Soros voices were heard from Columbia to Kenya, from Israel to Australia. Even Donald Trump once asserted that the “caravan” heading towards America’s borders is funded by Soros.

The antisemitic overtone of the campaign is unmistakeable. Ironically, Finkelstein and Birnbaum are both Jewish. Birnbaum denied that the campaign had anything to do with antisemitism. He even claimed, rather improbably, that he did now know that Soros himself was Jewish. But Das Magazin reminds us that Finkelstein has not refrained in the past from supporting a candidate with known antisemitic views and that despite being gay, he also supported anti-gay politicians in the US.

 Posted by at 9:57 pm
Oct 252018
 

I just came across this picture of a newly built bicycle path in Hungary, complete with signs marking its beginning and end, as well as a stop sign instructing bicyclists coming off the path to yield to oncoming traffic:

I don’t think I can add any meaningful comments, other than perhaps that this bicycle path may yet find its way into the Guinness book of world records, albeit not necessarily for the right reasons.

 Posted by at 11:53 pm
Apr 042018
 

A headline on Euronews caught my attention earlier today: Syria: A bigger role for the EU?

Good, thought I. The Russians might not like it though, thought I. But that’s okay, as a matter of fact, it might help bring rogue EU countries like Hungary in line, thought I. It might help presenting a united front against an increasingly ill-behaved Russia.

And then I caught myself, as I realized that I just rediscovered a truth that is as old as civilization itself: how conflict, the threat of war, or war itself can unite a people.

You know what? Much as I like the great European experiment, much as I cherish the fact that my once worthless Hungarian passport grants me European citizenship, if the price of keeping it together is more involvement in conflicts like Syria, it might not be worth it.

 Posted by at 12:18 pm
Nov 302017
 

Here is a short segment from a piece of music that I am trying to identify:

For the life of me, I cannot. It is especially annoying because I heard this piece of music on SiriusXM Symphony Hall earlier this morning, but I didn’t get the title and cannot find a playlist.

This music was played during the end credits of the main evening newscast in the 1960s, perhaps the early 1970s, on Hungary’s state owned television network.

Update (Dec 3, 2017): Mystery solved. It is the Scherzo from Schumann’s 2nd symphony:

 Posted by at 1:01 am
Nov 262017
 

OK, so today was a Sunday, I have recently finished some projects, so I had a bit of time to work on long overdue things around the house. Actually, it had to do with an attempt to repair an old TV, which needed to be vacuumed first, as it contained more than two decades’ worth of accumulated dust. But quickly, my attention turned to our vacuum cleaner instead.

It is a Kenmore vacuum cleaner, one of the house brands of soon-to-be-defunct Sears Canada. It is reasonably decent. But…

Well, it has a HEPA filter. It is supposed to filter the exhaust of the vacuum, to ensure that it contains no microscopic particles. The HEPA filter is a small rectangular piece made of cardboard and other materials that fits behind a cover on the back of the vacuum. The vacuum was barely a few weeks old when this cover first fell off. Putting it back on didn’t help; it fell off increasingly often. Taping it on didn’t do the trick either. Eventually, I affixed it with two screws, and it seemed to hold afterwards. Even then though, I had a nagging suspicion that there is something odd about this vacuum cleaner…

But first, let me digress. Let me mention a building, a six-story apartment building in the Hungarian city of Pécs, which is the building where my wife grew up. This building is odd, as its stairwell and elevator shaft are housed in an entirely separate building, connected to the main building on each level by a hanging corridor. Rumor has it that the original architect simply forgot to include a stairwell and elevator shaft in the design. Kind of hard to believe but…

Anyhow, back to my vacuum cleaner. My nagging suspicion was this: after the air goes through the HEPA filter, where does it go? It is surely not going to exhaust through the solid plastic filter cover (the one that kept falling off.)

Lately, our vacuum cleaner was making weird noises. When I looked at it more closely today, I noticed that one of the screws that I used to affix the HEPA filter cover was gone, and that the filter cover was slightly off. The weird noise was the air whistling through the resulting gap. Well… this did it. Hard as it is to believe, I was forced to conclude that whoever designed this vacuum cleaner forgot to include an exhaust in the design.

Out came my trusty drill (bought at a Sears store eons ago when Sears was still the best source for quality tools) and a few minutes later, the filter cover had a bunch of holes in it:

I put the cover back on, affixed it with screws again, and tested the vacuum cleaner. It was working just fine, running more smoothly than ever, and significantly cooler to the touch than ever before. And when you put your hands over the holes that I made, you could feel the tremendous outrush of air… air that previously had no place to go other than exhausting through cracks between plastic bits. No wonder the pressure was high enough to push off the HEPA filter cover even when screws were holding it in place.

Before writing this blog entry, just to be sure, I double checked. I don’t want to make a fool of myself after all. But no… there truly is no exhaust, none whatsoever, on this vacuum cleaner.

What engineer in his right mind designs a vacuum cleaner with no exhaust?

Hmmm. Maybe an engineer from the same school that trained the architect who designs buildings without stairwells.

 Posted by at 11:03 pm