Mar 262023

These lovely knitted bunnies and the felted eggs were made by my wife for Easter. She was hoping to sell a few of them at 613flea, but there were no takers. I cannot understand why… I love them. In fact I told her that if there are no takers, I’m happy to buy them.

Oh well. Maybe we should put them up for sale on eBay or Etsy.

 Posted by at 2:00 pm
Mar 232023

My wife’s beautiful creations will be at 613flea again this Saturday. Rufus the cat won’t be; he just volunteered as a model.

The Easter eggs are felted decorations. There will also be some knitted bunnies.

 Posted by at 10:10 pm
Mar 222023

Students at the California State University, Northridge, are currently working on a short documentary film about our work on the Solar Gravitational Lens.

The project hopes to attract modest crowdfunding. They also produced a teaser trailer.

Of course I hope they succeed; our SGL work could use some good publicity.

 Posted by at 9:39 pm
Mar 152023

… with laughter.

Without further ado, here is what transpired moments ago.

vttoth: Can you produce TikZ code that draws a cat?

ChatGPT: Drawing a cat using TikZ can be quite complex, but here’s a simple representation of a cat using TikZ:

\documentclass[tikz, border=2mm]{standalone}

% Body
\draw[fill=gray!30] (0,0) ellipse (1cm and 1.5cm);

% Head
\draw[fill=gray!30] (0,1.75) circle (0.75cm);

% Eyes
\fill[white] (-0.35,2.1) circle (0.25cm);
\fill[white] (0.35,2.1) circle (0.25cm);
\fill[black] (-0.35,2.1) circle (0.1cm);
\fill[black] (0.35,2.1) circle (0.1cm);

% Nose and mouth
\fill[pink] (0,1.8) circle (0.1cm);
\draw (0,1.8) -- (0,1.6);
\draw (0,1.6) -- ++(-0.15,-0.15);
\draw (0,1.6) -- ++(0.15,-0.15);

% Ears
\draw[fill=gray!30] (-0.75,2.5) -- (-0.4,2.4) -- (-0.65,2.0) -- cycle;
\draw[fill=gray!30] (0.75,2.5) -- (0.4,2.4) -- (0.65,2.0) -- cycle;

% Tail
\draw[thick, gray!30] (1.3,-0.5) to[out=-90,in=0] (0.5,-1.5) to[out=-180,in=-90] (-0.5,-0.5);

This code will produce a simple cat illustration. Copy and paste the code into a LaTeX editor that supports the TikZ
package, or use an online LaTeX renderer like Overleaf to generate the cat drawing. Please note that this is a simplistic
and stylized representation of a cat and not a realistic drawing.

vttoth: I love it. I find the result irresistibly funny. Is it a copy of a TikZ example that you came across during your
training or did you come up with this image on your own?

ChatGPT: I’m glad you liked the cat drawing! The cat illustration was not copied from a specific TikZ example that
I came across during my training. Instead, I synthesized it on my own, using my understanding of TikZ commands and
my knowledge of cat features to create a simple and stylized representation of a cat.

vttoth: Can you add whiskers?

ChatGPT: Of course! Here’s the updated TikZ code for the cat drawing with whiskers added:

\documentclass[tikz, border=2mm]{standalone}

% Body
\draw[fill=gray!30] (0,0) ellipse (1cm and 1.5cm);

% Head
\draw[fill=gray!30] (0,1.75) circle (0.75cm);

% Eyes
\fill[white] (-0.35,2.1) circle (0.25cm);
\fill[white] (0.35,2.1) circle (0.25cm);
\fill[black] (-0.35,2.1) circle (0.1cm);
\fill[black] (0.35,2.1) circle (0.1cm);

% Nose and mouth
\fill[pink] (0,1.8) circle (0.1cm);
\draw (0,1.8) -- (0,1.6);
\draw (0,1.6) -- ++(-0.15,-0.15);
\draw (0,1.6) -- ++(0.15,-0.15);

% Ears
\draw[fill=gray!30] (-0.75,2.5) -- (-0.4,2.4) -- (-0.65,2.0) -- cycle;
\draw[fill=gray!30] (0.75,2.5) -- (0.4,2.4) -- (0.65,2.0) -- cycle;

% Whiskers
\foreach \i in {-1, 1} {
\draw (\i*0.15,1.65) -- (\i*0.5,1.5);
\draw (\i*0.15,1.65) -- (\i*0.5,1.65);
\draw (\i*0.15,1.65) -- (\i*0.5,1.8);

% Tail
\draw[thick, gray!30] (1.3,-0.5) to[out=-90,in=0] (0.5,-1.5) to[out=-180,in=-90] (-0.5,-0.5);

This code includes the addition of whiskers to the cat’s face. Copy and paste the code into a LaTeX editor that
supports the TikZ package or use an online LaTeX renderer like Overleaf to generate the updated cat drawing with

I am laughing my head off in part because these cats, especially now with the whiskers added, strongly resemble cats I used to draw on letter-size sheets of paper with my set of colored pencils when I was of kindergarten age.

But I am also staring at these images sensing a combination of awe and apprehension.

 Posted by at 3:21 am
Feb 272023

More than 20 years ago, I wrote a program that showed what Mars would look like if it had oceans.

I wrote it originally in C++, but then ported it to Java and turned it into a Web application.

That was a long time ago. Unfortunately, browsers no longer support Java applets for security reasons. So my beautiful applet was not working anymore.

Today, I finally spent some time reimplementing the applet in plain JavaScript. It’s working again! (Apart from some minor cosmetics.) And it has data sets for Mars, Earth, Venus and the Moon as well.

 Posted by at 2:47 am
Jan 162023

This is our cat Rufus, doing his darnedest best to look like Italy’s former fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, aka. Il Duce:

Mind you, unlike Mussolini, Rufus has not established himself as the leader of a totalitarian tyranny. (He couldn’t. Our other cat Freddy would also have a say in the matter and I don’t think he would approve.)

On the other hand, Rufus occasionally craps in places where he shouldn’t, and that was not a habit that Il Duce was known for.

 Posted by at 11:12 pm
Jan 032023

So this is 2023. And suddenly I am reminded of the year 1973. A different world, 50 years ago, and not necessarily a happy one.

It was the year the Vietnam War officially ended for the United States. It was the year marking the beginning of the OPEC crisis.

The Apollo program was canceled but the United States launched Skylab, America’s short-lived space station.

Iconic buildings, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Sydney Opera House, were completed.

A tumultuous year in politics, 1973 saw the US Supreme Court decide in Roe vs. Wade, a decision that was overturned 49 years later by a conservative court majority. The year also marks the beginning of Watergate. Meanwhile, vice president Spiro Agnew resigns and Gerald Ford takes his place, paving his way to become America’s first, and to date only, unelected president.

NASA launches Pioneer 11; and before the year is out, Pioneer 10 (launched earlier, in 1972) reaches Jupiter.

But what makes this year especially memorable for me was that in the summer, my Mom and I traveled to Ferihegy Airport in Budapest and boarded a Swissair DC-8 taking us to Zurich, where we switched planes, boarding another Swissair flight, a DC-10, taking us to Montreal. We were visiting my aunt, here in Ottawa.

That visit was beyond incredible. Canada! Of course as a child, I was most impressed by superficial things, such as the number of channels even my aunt’s old black-and-white television set was able to pick up through a rooftop antenna. (Saturday morning cartoons!) Still, superficial or not, what I saw I suppose thoroughly inoculated me against communist propaganda. And, needless to say, this experience played a major role in my decision to leave Hungary 13 years later, eventually settling right here in Ottawa, a beautiful city that — thanks in no small part to that childhood visit — feels like my true hometown.

One of the many images from an extraordinary album by “Busman Extraordinaire” Paul A. Bateson on Flickr, showing Confederation Square as it appeared in the summer of 1973, when my Mom and I were visiting. I remember these sightseeing buses, imported from the UK, complete with right-hand drive.

And that visit was (almost) 50 years ago.

 Posted by at 12:39 am
Dec 282022

Recently I was beginning to worry about the possibility that the 6-year old SSD in my main workstation is aging and just might fail. I was also running a little low on space. So I decided to buy a new one, Samsung, just like the previous device.

Samsung has a piece of consumer-grade software for migrating from one drive to another. I decided to try it.

It ran reasonably fast, completing the copy of 1 TB, between two SATA devices, one in an external USB enclosure, in just over two hours. But then… it got stuck. Still displaying 99%, not budging.

I was about to give up on it, since it’s been like that for a good 15 minutes when finally, it changed its mind, declared the copy complete, and shut down my workstation.

I then swapped the drives, turned on the machine, crossed my fingers, and… the machine rebooted exactly the way it was supposed to. Worked on the first try, out of the box!

So far, there’s only one glitch: Some of my Outlook settings were reset. The reason is that the local Outlook message file was not copied for some reason, presumably because it was locked, despite the fact that I closed Outlook. Not an issue as all my mail is on my IMAP server, so I only lost a few minor convenience settings, and at least it freed up some more space (that local message file has a tendency of becoming much bigger than the actual message folders on the server!)

All in all, a surprisingly stress-free experience. I hope I’ll have no reason to change my opinion in the coming days.

 Posted by at 10:17 pm
Dec 122022

I mentioned recently on Quora that I still have a Windows 98 machine. Someone asked for a picture.

Not terribly exciting, I know. Just your standard tower case with some obsolete hardware. The “security device enclosed” sticker is a joke; it’s from a DVD package.

The only remarkable thing about this box is that its motherboard was one of the earliest motherboards to support RAID out of the box. So yes, it is a Windows 98 machine with two hard drives and a RAID mirror. How about that?

In case anyone is wondering, I use it (very rarely) mostly to connect to old hardware. These include an HP-IL interface card to connect old calculators; an old EPROM burner with a serial interface and Windows 95/98/ME software; and last but not least, an old Sharp Winprinter, which only works under Windows 98. I use this printer for heavy stock (e.g., business card stock) to avoid stressing or damaging my more expensive laser printers.

Oh, and once every other leap year I turn this machine on just to return to alien-infested LA in the role of the potty-mouthed hero Duke Nukem…

 Posted by at 12:50 pm
Dec 122022

Yes, I am rooting for Ukraine. I am not terribly fond of nationalism. I would love to live long enough to see a free and prosperous world in which national borders are a thing of the past, a quaint historical curiosity, nothing more. But that’s not the world we live in, and when a country attacks another in a form of naked territorial aggression, I root wholeheartedly for the defender.

In light of this, I was delighted to see that the supply of a particular brand of our favorite Hungarian Christmas candy (szaloncukor), which has been made in Ukraine for the past several years, remains uninterrupted.

Thank you, nameless workers in that Ukrainian factory that manufactured these delicacies.

 Posted by at 12:43 pm
Nov 072022

Every so often, I am presented with questions about physics that go beyond physics: philosophical questions of an existential nature, such as the reasons why the universe has certain properties, or the meaning of existence in light of the far future.

I usually evade such questions by pointing out that they represent the domain of priests or philosophers, not physicists. I do not mean this disparagingly; rather, it is a recognition of the fact that physics is about how the universe works, not why, nor what it all means for us humans.

Yesterday, I came across a wonderful 1915 painting by Russian avant-garde painter Lyubov Popova, entitled Portrait of a Philosopher:

What can I say? This painting sums up how I feel perfectly.

 Posted by at 1:19 am
Oct 242022

Oh, moments after posting about not having worthwhile subjects to post about, I suddenly remembered something that I have been meaning to post about for some time. That is to say, Moore’s law in computing, the idea that the capabilities of computer technology roughly double every 18-24 months or so.

It has been true for a long while. Gordon Moore made this observation back in 1965, when I was just two years old.

I observed a form of Moore’s law as I was swapping computer hardware over the years. My first major planned upgrade took place in 1992, when I built a really high end desktop computer (it even had a CD-ROM drive!) for many thousands of dollars. Months later, my older desktop machine found a new life as my first ever Linux server, soon to be connected to the Internet using on-demand dial-up.

The new desktop machine I built in ’92 lasted until 1998, when it was time to replace it. For the first time, I now had a computer that could play back DVDs without the help of external hardware. It also had the ability to capture and display video from cable. Ever since, I’ve been watching TV mostly on my computer screen. I watched the disaster unfolding on September 11, 2001 and the tragic end of the space shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 on that computer.

Next came 2004, when I executed a planned upgrade of workstation and server, along with some backup hardware. Then, like clockwork, 2010 and finally, 2016, when I built these fine machines, with really decent but low power (hence low thermal stress) Xeon CPUs, three of them.

And now here we are, in late 2022. More than six years have passed. And these computers do not feel the least bit obsolete. Their processors are fast. Their 32 GB of RAM is more than adequate. Sure, the 1 TB SSDs are SATA, but so what? It’s not like they ever felt slow. Video? The main limitation is not age, simply finding fanless video cards of decent capabilities that a) make no noise, b) don’t become a maintenance nightmare with dust-clogged fans.

I don’t feel like upgrading at all. Would feel like a waste of money. The only concern I have is that my server runs a still supported, but soon-to-be-obsoleted version of CentOS Linux. My workstation runs Windows 10 but support won’t be an issue there for quite a while.

And then there are the aging SSDs. Perfectly healthy as far as I can tell but should I risk relying on them after more than 6 years? Even high-end SSDs are becoming dirt cheap nowadays, so perhaps it’s time to make a small investment and upgrade?

Moore’s Law was originally about transistor counts, and transistor counts continue to rise. But transistor counts mean nothing unless you’re interested in counting transistors. Things that have meaning include execution speed, memory capacity, bandwidth, etc. And on all these fronts, the hardware that I built back in 2016 does not feel obsolete or limiting. In fact, when I look at what I would presently buy to build new machines, quite surprisingly the specs would only differ marginally from my six year old hardware. Prices aren’t that different either. So then, what’s the point, so long as the old hardware remains reliable?

 Posted by at 8:10 pm
Oct 242022

There are only about six days left of the month of October and I have not yet written anything in this blog of mine this month. I wonder why.

Ran out of topics? Not really, but…

… When it comes to politics, what can I say that hasn’t been said before? That the murderous mess in Ukraine remains as horrifying as ever, carrying with it the threat of escalation each and every day? That it may already be the opening battle of WW3?

Or should I lament how the new American radical right — masquerading as conservatives, but in reality anti-democratic, illiberal authoritarianists who are busy dismantling the core institutions of the American republic — is on the verge of gaining control of both houses of Congress?

Do I feel like commenting on what has been a foregone conclusion for months, Xi “Winnie-the-pooh” Jinping anointing himself dictator for life in the Middle Kingdom, ruining the chances of continuing liberalization in that great country, also gravely harming their flourishing economy?

Or should I comment on the fact that prevalent climate denialism notwithstanding, for the first time in the 35 years that I’ve lived in Ottawa, Canada, our air conditioner came online in the last week of October because the house was getting too hot in this near summerlike heat wave?

Naw. I should stick to physics. Trouble is, apart from the fact that I still feel quite unproductive, having battled a cold/flu/COVID (frankly, I don’t care what it was, I just want to recover fully) my physics time is still consumed with wrapping up a few lose ends of our Solar Gravitational Lens study, now that the NIAC Phase III effort has formally come to a close.

Still, there are a few physics topics that I am eager to revisit. And it’s a nice form of escapism from the “real” world, which is becoming more surreal each and every day.

 Posted by at 7:41 pm
Sep 212022

I looked up a book, States of Matter by David Goodstein, yesterday on Amazon, thinking about purchasing it. Except that Amazon told me that I last purchased this book on February 12, 2020.

I did?

I quickly checked my library database. Many-many years ago, I did a complete inventory of all our books, and since then, I’ve been keeping that database meticulously updated. New books that come to our house land on my desk and stay there until I enter them into the database. This is the only way to keep that database synchronized with reality.

The Goodstein book is not in the database.

I do not remember ordering it. I do not remember receiving it. Yet it clearly happened: The credit card transaction is there, duly entered into my books. The e-mails from Amazon, duly archived in the appropriate folder.

Now it is true that it happened just two and a half weeks before my last overseas trip. Could it be that I simply forgot about this order in the days leading up to my travel, and then never realized that the order failed to arrive? Perhaps. But then, why do I remember clearly other books that I ordered around the same timeframe? Besides, though my trip was upcoming it was not that close; this order and the supposed delivery happened two weeks before my departure.

I would be less suspicious, mind you, were it not for the fact that another weird thing happened yesterday. I have a tiny promotional toy sitting on my monitor. Yesterday, I found its identical twin brother in a box in which I was looking for something else altogether. This is definitely beginning to feel like that moment in The Matrix when Neo sees a black cat cross the hall… and then, a moment later, the same black cat cross the same hall in the same direction once again.

Still doesn’t help me with the Goodstein book. Should I keep looking for it? Under the rug, perhaps? Cat dragged it off to the litter box? Or should I just write it off and buy another copy?

 Posted by at 1:34 pm
Sep 172022

One of the many novels by prolific 1930s Hungarian author Jenő Rejtő featured a horrific penal colony somewhere in colonial French Africa. Near the end of the novel, one of the minor protagonists, the military commander of the colony, already in retirement in Rome, recalls the past. As he enjoys the beautiful view from his window, he thinks that “and right now, Bahr el Sudan also exists for sure, and Tiguer, the corporal with the red moustache, is just now hanging a wet blanket, which smells like horses, over the window. This is a strange and unsettling notion.

Sometimes I feel the same way, not so much with respect to distant places in the present, but distant places in the past.

Take this image, a montage of two photographs taken from a wonderful Hungarian photographic archive that someone just shared on Facebook, showing an intersection in downtown Budapest, not far from where I grew up.

The picture predates us living there but not by much; it was taken in 1961, we moved there in 1967, but everything looked pretty much the same. I know this intersection like the back of my hand: the stores, the buildings, everything.

And when I view this image, it comes to life in my mind. It feels tangibly real. I can even smell the smells: the smell of freshly ground coffee (I even remember the noise made by the electric grinder) in that deli store on the corner, the smell of paint and household solvents permeating the hardware store next door. The sound made by those trolley buses as they rolled down the cobblestoned street (only the intersection was asphalt-paved at the time) as it even rattled our fourth-floor living room windows.

It all feels so real… it is a deeply unsettling thought that I am separated from what is depicted in this image not just by distance but also by time. The view that I am looking at is older than I am, as it was taken 62 years ago.

 Posted by at 1:36 am
Sep 132022

Oops. It’s past midnight already, so technically it was yesterday but to me it is still today, September 12.

The sixtieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s famous “we choose to go to the Moon” speech. How many more years before another human sets foot on the Moon?

Oh, and it was thirty years ago that Ildiko and I became married.

Yup, that’s us; 1979 vs. 2019.

 Posted by at 1:54 am
Aug 212022

I have a sign next to our front door, on the inside, warning those who are stepping out:

Occasionally I wonder if I might be overreacting to the state of things in this world. Not today.

I admit, my first reaction was that it must be a satire site. As far as I can tell, it is not.

Now someone please tell me how the world is not one nice, big, comfy insane asylum.

 Posted by at 11:13 pm