I am watching the morning news and it’s all about numbers. Some good, some not so good, some really bad. Here are a few, in descending order:

• 2018: The year when Ottawa plans to introduce a new low-income transit fare.
• 417: The provincial highway number of the Queensway, which has been reopened after yesterday’s huge crash.
• 175.6: The amount of rain, in mm, that Ottawa received in the month of May.
• 80: The estimated number killed by a massive ISIS terrorist bomb in Kabul.
• 21: The highest expected temperature of the day and, incidentally, the entire week, in Centigrade.
• 15: The new minimum wage, in Canadian dollars, as proposed by the Ontario provincial government.
• 7: The age of a baby, in months, who died allegedly due to her mother’s negligence in Gatineau.

I thought of turning these bullet points into a numbered list, but that would have been too confusing.

Moments ago, Anderson Cooper made his opinion clear about a guest on his show who was defending Trump:

LOL. Well said, Anderson.

Here is today’s gem of a survey question from CTV Ottawa:

My answer is greenish-pink, with whipped cream.

(To their credit, a corrected question appears on their Web site.)

I captured this close captioning gem several days ago but then promptly forgot about it.

I know, I know, it’s not easy to caption a conversation in real time. But it was still hilariously funny. Thanks for a good morning laugh.

For what it’s worth, as I recall the word that was actually used was “agree”. How that turned into “pee”, I have no idea.

Heard on tonight’s episode of Lucifer, featuring the adventures of Lucifer Morningstar, aka. the Devil, Lord of Hell, in present-day Los Angeles:

So, we can… you know, talk about Caligula, Stalin, Trump. I mean, I know he’s not dead, but he’s definitely going.

I am glad I wasn’t sipping a drink when I heard this, as I would surely have choked. Even without a drink, it was a close call.

Thanks for the laugh of the week.

Today is a remarkable day. I spent more than the usual amount of time peeking at either CBC Newsworld or CNN, and I have yet to see the face of a certain American real estate magnate turned reality TV show host turned politician; not that I particularly miss the sight of his toupee.

The reason why Mr. Trump didn’t appear on screen is the multitude of other things happening.

For us here in Canada, the most consequential news are the federal budget, the first by Justin Trudeau’s recently formed liberal government. As promised, it’s a budget about spending and spending some more; the projected deficits are huge. The premise of this budget is that deficit spending is necessary in order to help the stagnant economy.

News of the budget were almost dwarfed by news of the death of Toronto’s larger-than-life former major, Rob Ford. Rob Ford was intensely disliked as a politician, but I think few people wished him to die a miserable death from a rare form of cancer. As Ford himself said, his tenure as major, for better or for worse, will be remembered.

Then there is, of course, that terrible series of coordinated attacks in Belgium, with dozens dead. In addition to an impotent, and likely excessive response by inept authorities (I just saw that the airport in Brussels will be shut for three days), it will also likely trigger a new wave of islamophobia, xenophobia. A message that, thankfully, has few followers in Canada, as splendidly evidenced by the negative response in Quebec to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s visit, which is coming to its conclusion.

What was supposed to be the big news of the day is the end of another politician’s trip abroad, namely Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba… but the CNN anchors broadcasting from Havana are talking mostly about the Brussels attacks and their aftermath.

The other big news of the day was supposed to be the “winner-take-all” Arizona caucus… but with all the other stuff going on, I have not yet heard this mentioned on CNN or CBC Newsworld today. Thus, no Donald Trump on my television screen either.

All this news makes me wonder if The Globe and Mail tomorrow might end up being published with not one but maybe three consecutive cover pages.

Recently, it was proudly announced that Canada now has a state-of-the-art emergency preparedness system, with the participation of major telecommunication companies like Bell or Rogers.

The problem… well, here is an example of the problem:

This is what was on my television screen a little earlier this afternoon, in place of CNN, for something like a full minute or so.

And not just in place of CNN. In place of every channel. Even if I was trying to watch a recorded show on the PVR.

What’s wrong with it, you ask? Well, I live in Ottawa. That is more than 400 kilometers from Toronto, and the last time I checked, a 1997 Toyota Camry is not a hypersonic jet aircraft.

But even if the abduction happened next door… I don’t mean to be heartless, but this kind of dramatic alert is something I would expect to see if World War 3 was imminent, or if my city (not Toronto!) was about to be hit by an F5 hurricane. Not in case of a domestic abduction (which, in the vast majority of cases, is just a family member like an estranged father, taking a child without permission.)

The last time this happened, I wrote to the CRTC, who told me that it’s not their responsibility (even though they were the ones who mandated it!) but that of provincial agencies and the telecommunication companies that implement the system.

Today, I wrote to Rogers. I do not expect a meaningful reply*.

As if I didn’t already have enough incentives to cut the cable.

*Update: A day after I sent my e-mail complaint to Rogers, a gentleman by the name of Aaron called me from the “President’s office”. He very patiently listened to me as we discussed not just the emergency alert system but also other issues related to the digital transition, the cost and limited choice of decoder equipment, and other topics. We spent more than 20 minutes on the phone. I still don’t expect anything meaningful to happen, but I appreciated it that my complaint was taken somewhat seriously.

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.

Wow.

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

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.

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.

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?

In the past couple of days, I heard several commentators on CNN lament on the fact that China’s debt-to-GDP ratio is much higher (“three times” higher) than that of the US, and that this may be behind the current volatility of the Chinese stock market.

This, of course, is blatant nonsense. China’s government debt-to-GDP ratio is much lower than that of the US. It is in the low twenties, compared with over 100% in the United States. Here is a crude plot (crude because I graphically edited together two plots, but I had to change the vertical scale of one) that shows the two in comparison.

No, China doesn’t have a problem with government debt. China does have a problem with private debt. Look at this monstrous chart:

What this chart shows is alarming. No, still not three times the US private debt-to-GDP ratio (that factor of 3 only happens if you compare China’s total debt to US government debt, which is of course comparing apples to oranges), but it is significantly higher than that of the US. What’s worse is that China is still an emerging economy: in addition to the prosperous middle class of places like Shanghai, there are still close to (or more than?) a billion people in that country who live in third world poverty. (China’s per-capita GDP is $6,800; in the US, the figure is$53,000, nearly eight times higher.)

The wisdom I’ve been reading online is that an emerging economy just cannot afford to have the same level of private indebtedness as an advanced economy.

To be honest, I don’t know if it is true. For all I know, much of China’s debt is held by those who can actually afford it, the prosperous middle class with their SUVs and air conditioned homes in Shanghai or Guangzhou. Indeed, if we split China into two countries, one prosperous and one poor, the prosperous one may well qualify as an advanced economy, and it may be holding most of the debt.

Or not. But whatever the debt situation is in China or its impact on the stock market, it is still no excuse for CNN to keep babbling nonsense.

Local signal substitution or simultaneous substitution is when a cable company replaces the signal of a US station with that of a local Canadian station when the two broadcast the same show.

The idea is to give local stations a chance to earn more advertising revenue. A great idea when it works, but an absolute annoyance when it is done improperly.

Like tonight… when I am staying up late for the sole purpose of watching the very last David Letterman show.

The show runs longer than usual… not surprising.

What is also, sadly, not surprising, but annoying like hell, is when Rogers Cable rather inconsiderately cuts off the CBS signal at 12:37 AM, because in their book, Letterman should have shut up by then, and if he didn’t it’s his problem, not theirs, and according to their schedule, it’s now time to substitute another signal.

I so, so, so hope that one of these days, the CRTC will tell these buggers to bugger off and stop messing with the signal.

Then again, it probably won’t happen before this whole conventional television thing becomes entirely irrelevant anyway… and good riddance, too.

Fortunately, I was able to watch the rest of Letterman’s final show on another channel, the signal of which was not messed up by our favorite idiotic cable company. It did mess up my attempt to record the final show, though. And to think that they have the audacity to complain that the CRTC ended simultaneous substitution for the Super Bowl.

(I notice that in the meantime, somebody came to their frigging senses at Rogers, and the CBS signal is restored. Bravo. Better late than never, I suppose.)

I am still digesting the news, which I received while in Hungary, that Leonard Nimoy, aka. Mr. Spock, is no longer with us.

And now there is breaking news that Harrison Ford, aka. Han Solo, aka. Indiana Jones, crashed while flying solo in a vintage WW2 aircraft in California. The good news: according to the LA Fire Department, his injuries were moderate and he was alert as he was transported to hospital.

I wish him a speedy recovery.

Today, I successfully hacked one of my Rogers cable decoder boxes. No, not to do anything illegal, just to get composite video and demultiplexed stereo audio out of them, to make them more usable with the dual-tuner TV card that is in my desktop workstation.

This is the first time ever that I used the services of a custom printed circuit board manufacturer. My design worked on the first try. I am mighty proud of myself.

Canadian liberals, rejoice: The network often dubbed “Fox News North” is no more. Reportedly, Sun News Network will stop broadcasting as early as 5 AM Eastern time this (Friday) morning.

I am certainly no fan of right-wing ideological propaganda and hatemongering, so it’s not like I will personally miss Sun News. But I still don’t cherish the idea that it was forced to close, after the CRTC denied it a license that would have granted the network a more lucrative spot on the cable dial. A core concept in a democracy is that even voices we despise can be heard. And if your views are based on real values, surely they would not be shaken by the fact that there was a news channel out there that occasionally challenged them.

To be sure, Sun News wasn’t exactly high quality television, but still… I don’t think their demise will make Canada a better place. Not to mention the 200+ jobs that are lost as a result.

The Moroccon-born, Muslim mayor of the city of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, has a message to Muslim extremists:

“But if you don’t like freedom, for heaven’s sake pack your bags and leave. If you do not like it here because some humorists you don’t like are making a newspaper, may I then say you can fuck off.”

He reportedly said this on live TV, and it wasn’t bleeped.

Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

For years, I’ve been using the online TV guide provided by ZAP2IT to check what’s on TV. Generally speaking, I’ve been satisfied with their service.

Until last year, when they introduced a whole new layout. Which, in my considered opinion, was a significant downgrade (makes me wonder if they were perhaps inspired by Windows 8).

Today I noticed, to my considerable pleasure, that the old layout is back. I now have the option to “Switch to Classic View”. Which I promptly did, without hesitation and with no plans to change my mind.

Now I am no usability or ergonomics expert, but I do have 30-odd years of experience in IT, and I know a thing or two about user interface design. Here are two illustrations that show why, in my considered opinion, the old format is far superior to the new one. First, the new version, with some of its shortcomings highlighted:

And now here are the same shows, in the old format:

So much easier to view! So much easier to find things of interest!

When they switched to the new format, I wrote an e-mail to complain. I did not expect a meaningful response. Noticing the link today, inviting me to switch back to the old format, was a most pleasant New Year’s surprise. I wrote to them again, thanking them for making the old format available. I hope it stays that way.

I know, I know, let this be the biggest problem in my life, when people are suffering and dying in various corners of the world. For what it’s worth, I never for one moment forget how lucky I am to be able to enjoy the luxury of life in a country like Canada. But this stupid TV guide still bugged me :-)

Dear CRTC: Please stop trying to protect us poor Canadians from evil companies like Netflix.

Video-on-demand is not broadcasting. The Internet is not the public airwaves. You have no business trying to bully companies just because they threaten the livelihood of lumbering, decrepit behemoths like Rogers.

I am a Rogers Cable subscriber. I have been a Rogers Cable subscriber ever since they purchased Ottawa Cablevision more than two decades ago.

What am I getting from Rogers? Here are a few examples:

• Inept, sometimes openly contemptuous customer service (like, what kind of a backward moron am I for still wanting to use analog cable without a settop box?);
• Technically substandard service (programs interrupted by local commercials that are inserted at the wrong time, substandard signal quality on some analog channels; an analog video frame that is reduced in size by a ratio of 59/60 for no apparent reason);
• Overpriced, obsolete hardware and no opportunity to use non-Rogers equipment, e.g., with a subscriber identity card;
• Unnecessary encryption on all digital channels (including local channels), which makes it impossible to use a TV without a settop box.

And you wonder why I am contemplating “cutting the cord”?

Instead of blaming Netflix, perhaps you can have a conversation with Rogers about addressing issues that alienate their customers. If you are not willing to do that, fine, then let the free market do its thing. But take your dirty regulatory paws off the Canadian Internet, please.

Last night, as I was watching the latest episode of Tyrant (itself an excellent show about a fictitious Middle Eastern dictatorship and its ruling family), I happened to glance at the TV during a commercial break just at the right split second to see this:

This was part of an ad, a Subway sandwich commercial, with an animated monkey handing this exam sheet back to a student (also a monkey). What caught my eye was the equation on this sheet. What??? Einstein’s field equations?

Yup, that’s exactly what I saw there, the equation $$G_{\alpha\beta}=\dfrac{8\pi G}{c^4}T_{\alpha\beta}$$. General relativity.

Other, easily recognizable equations on the sheet included an equation of the electrostatic Coulomb force, the definition of the quantum mechanical probability amplitude, and the continuity equation.

What struck me was that all these are legitimate equations from physics, not gibberish. And all that in a silly Subway commercial. Wow.