Jan 312017
 

Here are two contributions from personal experience to the ever growing list of Internet pictures that go with the “You had one job…” meme.

First, a nice loaf of our favorite nine-gain bread, from a neighborhood Portuguese bakery:

Yes, you are seeing it right: It’s sliced lengthwise. Needless to say, the hapless employee who offered this stunning demonstration of human intelligence did not remain on the job much longer. (Regardless of how it was sliced, the bread was yummy.)

Next, one of my favorite deserts, an Austrian delicacy, a Mozartkugel (Mozart ball):

What’s wrong with it, you ask? Well… the portrait of Mozart is not supposed to be on the bottom of the piece, you know; it usually goes on top!

I know, I know, there have been much bigger fails on the Interwebs. Still, I found these funny.

 Posted by at 9:05 pm
Dec 242016
 

Once again, I feel compelled to use the same image and same words that I have been using for many years, to wish all my family, all my friends, indeed everyone on the good Earth a very merry Christmas: the words of the astronauts of Apollo 8.

I know, I know, it’s the same thing every year. But there really aren’t any better words. Just imagine: three human beings, for the first time in human history, far from the Earth, in orbit around another celestial body. And back on Earth, one of the most troubled years in recent history: 1968. So on Christmas Eve, with about a billion people listening—a full one quarter of the Earth’s population at the time—they greeted us Earthlings with the opening passages from the Book of Genesis, the common creation mythology of several major religions.

And then Frank Borman ended the broadcast with words that are as appropriate today as we are heading towards more troubled times as they were back then: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

 Posted by at 9:10 am
Dec 182016
 

I have been so busy this week, I forgot to blog about our latest Maxima release, 5.39. Nothing spectacular, just incremental improvements over 5.38; for me, this was a big milestone though as this was the first time that I used a CentOS platform to prepare the release. (Which, incidentally, is why I haven’t done this months ago.)

And SourceForge, kindly enough, once again designated Maxima as one of the site’s Projects of the Week.

 Posted by at 1:23 am
Dec 132016
 

This morning, when I woke up, the regular status e-mails that my servers greet me with told me that there is a major CentOS update (version 7.3). Cool. Unfortunately, it meant that I needed to upgrade as many as five servers. This includes my main server, its physical backup, my backup server in NYC, another “in cloud” backup, and yet another server that I help administer. I began this process shortly after 8 in the morning, after I finished breakfast.

And as usual, a major upgrade like this brings to the surface little problems, little annoyances such as folders that had incorrectly configured SELinux permissions. No big deal, to be sure, but several such little things can consume hours of your time.

And then, it was also Microsoft Patch Tuesday, the second Tuesday of the month when Microsoft releases scheduled updates to Windows and other products. As soon as I was done with CentOS, my attention turned to my Windows machines, including my main workstation, its backup (actually, the same physical machine that also acts as my server’s backup in a dual-boot configuration), my wife’s desktop computer, two laptops, and last but not least, my old desktop that I still keep around as a backup/test computer.

Moreover, I also decided to update three virtual machines (one running Windows 7, the other two, Windows XP) that I keep around both for test purposes but also to have older software, older configurations available if needed.

Furthermore, when I update Windows, I tend to check and see if any other software packages need updating. On some computers, I run Secunia PSI, which keeps track of many applications. But even on other systems, I had to update Java (if installed), Adobe Flash, Chrome and Firefox.

And on older hardware, the process can be painfully slow.

To make a long story short, by the time I finished the bulk of this work, it was 7:30 in the evening. And one computer (a really low powered old netbook) is still doing its thing, even though it’s well past 11 PM now.

No wonder I didn’t accomplish much today.

Of course all of this needed to be done. Since I am a one-man band, I don’t have an IT department to rely on, but it is still important for me to keep my systems secure and well-maintained.

Nonetheless, it feels like one hell of a waste of a day.

 Posted by at 11:22 pm
Dec 042016
 

Last night, I went for a nice, long walk, maybe the last before the real snow comes and walking is no longer fun.

My route took me around several government buildings here in Ottawa Lowertown. Here is one of them, with some rather unusual light effects due to some low-hanging clouds and a partially closed bridge that is under renovation:

The picture doesn’t really give justice to the eerie, otherworldly light effects that I saw.

Later on during my walk, I looked through the glass front of an important government building that shall remain unnamed. Why? Because when I looked into the lobby, I saw not one but two uniformed security personnel… with their backs facing the front door, as they were both intently watching a television screen on which a hockey game was playing.

Ah, Canada! What a blessed country we are. And I am not naming the building because I don’t want these good people to get into any trouble, nor do I want to give any bad people ideas.

That said, I was tempted to snap a picture of these two. I decided not to do so… discretion is the better part of valor, and besides, who knows, maybe someone else was watching me, after all, through a security camera.

 Posted by at 11:50 pm
Nov 112016
 

Hello, world, please say hi to my cat Rufus. No, Rufus does not think he is people. He just likes to stand on his hind legs from time to time.

Master Rufus, please say hello to the world.

 Posted by at 10:37 pm
Nov 082016
 

It was 16 years ago today (well, technically yesterday, since it is now past midnight) that our very first cat, our much loved Marzipan, a perfectly ordinary tabby housecat, died.

And it was also 16 years ago today that a plurality of American voters cast their ballots for Al Gore, who nonetheless didn’t become president, because of the way the electoral college works and the way votes were counted in the Sunshine State of Florida.

Today, I am happy to report, none of our kittycats are in any imminent danger of dying, as they are all (as far as we know) in good health. The outcome of tomorrow’s election in the United States is unlikely to be influenced by the health of our feline companions, but still, I take it as a good omen: I desperately hope that the sane person makes it to the White House tomorrow night.

 Posted by at 12:17 am
Nov 052016
 

I am just back from a brief road trip to the Big Apple, aka. New York City.

I had three reasons to go there. First, I was invited to a Quora Top Writers meeting. Second, I have recently built a new backup server, to replace the one that has served me faithfully for many years, hosted by my good friend David who lives there. And third, I haven’t been to NYC in ages… and I am quite fond of that city.

I drove. The drive was pleasant and uneventful. The weather could not have been nicer. November indeed… it almost felt like summer! I was wearing a shirt the entire time.

Once the new server was installed (which went without a hitch), David and I visited a fantastic little place in Brooklyn: the Subway Museum. An out-of-service subway station has been converted into this museum, which allows them to host renovated subway cars that remain powered, complete with original lighting fixtures. You can walk through them, even sit down in them, and contemplate what it must have been like to ride the subway in Manhattan while the Great War was raging in distant Europe.

We also visited the new World Trade Center.

Although we didn’t have time to go up to the Observatory level, we did visit the 9/11 memorial. That sad day, which David and I both vividly remember (for instance, we were on the phone when I warned him as the second tower began to topple, which was visible on CNN, so he rushed to his office window in time to see with his own eyes as that tower, too, vanished in a billowing cloud of smoke), left an indelible mark on this great city.

I didn’t take any pictures at the Quora meeting. There were several attendees with professional photo gear… I am sure that the pictures they took will surface somewhere eventually. But I did meet some amazing people and had some very interesting conversations. A great evening, even though my voice is still hoarse from all the shouting (the restaurant had very bad acoustics.)

One of my guilty pleasures is watching dash cam videos on YouTube. On my way home, I was given the opportunity to produce a dash cam video of my own, as I witnessed a near miss right in front of me:

I was using my mobile phone as a dash cam throughout the trip. Not because I was hoping to catch an accident, but I thought it might be a good idea just in case, and perhaps it might even help me record some memorable sights.

 Posted by at 12:58 am
Oct 302016
 

And the most maligned game of the year award for 2016 goes to… undoubtedly, No Man’s Sky. This game was much hyped by its creator in the months leading up to its release, hugely disappointing its fans when the released version lacked many of the features that they anticipated.

I was not part of this lot, though. I have not even heard of No Man’s Sky until I was asked to review it by a customer.

I spent a bit of time playing with it. I actually found the game quite enjoyable, albeit a bit monotonous after a while. Game play, in the end, boils down to landing on a planet, collecting resources, upgrading your ship, suit, or weapon, and moving on. There is a very thin storyline about some perpetual conflict between the three alien races that you meet, the mysterious “sentinels”, and the even more mysterious Atlas that ultimately reveals that the galaxy which you explore is just a simulation (d’oh!) but I found it uncompelling. Still, I found the game strangely attractive. Perhaps because it is the ultimate sandbox environment: You are not confined to a building, a cave, a city, a country, or even to a whole planet: you have an entire universe to explore!

Still, I’d love to have seen more races, signs of civilization, alien cities covering entire continents… or for that matter, just continents and more variety in the landscape within a planet, differences between mountains and plains, polar and equatorial regions and the like.

In short, I have to agree with those reviewers that No Man’s Sky feels a little unfinished; it would make an excellent indie game, but it is a bit of a letdown when it is released at a premium price under a major label (SONY).

Like all other games, No Man’s Sky has its glitches. I certainly ran into a few of them. The most annoying is when the game slows down unexpectedly, for which the only remedy is to restart the game and reload the last save. Fortunately, the remaining glitches were much easier to overcome. Like, when I managed to land my spaceship on top of a freaking plant.

I also managed to land once on top of a tower, with my spaceship precariously balanced on one end, making it quite a challenge to get back on board.

Or how about my starship, which I swear I previously left on the ground, ending up high, way high up in the sky? Thankfully, by this time I knew how to call my spaceship back.

I once managed to fall out of the world. It is a bit disconcerting, but easy to solve by reloading my last save.

And once I happened upon a building that was mostly floating in the air. As it turns out, building floors are transparent from below. I was hoping to be able to enter areas that were previously inaccessible to me (I have not yet obtained the appropriate Atlas pass), but alas, the transparency did not go that far.

Speaking of spaceships, here is the cutest-looking ship that I managed to acquire during my travels:

Unfortunately I had to trade it away when a spaceship with a bigger cargo capacity became available. Maybe one day I’ll find another one like this, with more cargo space.

In the end, it seems to me that No Man’s Sky will not appeal to everyone, but to those who like it, it can be quite enjoyable with decent replay value. I still fire it up from time to time.

 Posted by at 2:24 pm
Oct 302016
 

It is almost the end of October, and I only added one blog entry so far this month. One reason is that we had a minor health scare: when my wife traveled to Hungary last month, she landed in a hospital on arrival, as she had an unexplained seizure during her flight.

She is doing well, thankfully. She returned home safely, with no lasting effects. There will still be a few more tests to be sure, but the scare is largely over.

This unfortunate incident, however, allowed us to experience first-hand the state of the health care system in Hungary, about which we read so much in recent years. Yes, as it is well known, the system is badly underfunded: salaries are miserably low, and sometimes, even basic supplies are lacking.

But we cannot utter a bad word about the health care professionals that my wife encountered. They were impeccably professional and helpful, going out of their way to assist us, even beyond the call of duty. When my wife’s cell phone was acting up, one nurse volunteered to help fix it with my assistance. When I explained to a doctor that I cannot visit her in person because I happen to be a continent away, he handed the phone to my wife, allowing us to have a conversation (finally!) using a hospital line for a few minutes. They helped with insurance matters, too, and they issued a very thorough discharge report, complete with a CD-ROM containing the results of a CT scan.

All in all, we have nothing but praise for these overworked and underpaid health care workers, some minor mishaps notwithstanding. They were kind, they were helpful, and every one of them that I spoke with was ready to assist, forthcoming, and flawlessly polite. Thank you for your kind care. Köszönjük szépen.

 Posted by at 10:15 am
Oct 112016
 

Watching the American election campaign is like watching not one but a whole series of train wrecks unfold.  There’s nothing you can do about it, and there is a good chance you’ll be hit by flying shrapnel… but at least until then, why not enjoy the bizarre spectacle.

Like Mr. Trump describing his admission of regularly committing sexual assault as “locker room talk”.

It made me soul-search a little. Am I being a hypocrite, denouncing Trump? After all, I was a young male once… and I spent some time growing up in a small town in Hungary, surrounded by boys my age for whom crudeness was the norm.

Sure, we engaged in “locker room talk”. We talked about girls. We even talked about their lady parts and what we’d like to do with those. We discussed our sexual fantasies, and we bragged about things that we never actually did.

But I do not recall anyone ever bragging about committing sexual assault. However crude was the language, however much it treated women as mere sexual objects, violence against women was not part of our “locker room talk”.

And that was, well, some 40 years ago. I was in my early teens. Not in may late 50s, and certainly not as a business and community leader, reality TV star, aspiring one day to become president of the United States, and by extension, leader of the free world.

No, Mr. Trump, this is not “locker room talk”. Nor do we have any real reason to believe that what you bragged about was not true. At best, you were bragging about committing sexual assault that you only dreamed of doing; more likely, you made an admission of committing a violent crime.

I have heard women defend Mr. Trump by suggesting that this is normal for men. No, it is not. Crude discussions about females and parts of their anatomy may be, but no, talking about committing sexual assault is not normal for men. I also heard women defend Mr. Trump by suggesting that all this is normal in the world of Fifty Shades of Gray. Well, that’s another reason for me not to read that book.

How Republicans managed to sink this low… Oh, I can take a guess at the possible reasons. The result of extreme partisanship. A political figure that justifies his follower’s racism and xenophobia. Undereducated, underachieving people (mostly middle-aged white men like myself) being told that it’s not their fault after all. (Ironically, the conservative mantra is that we are all responsible for our own lives. Except, I guess, when you are an unsuccessful middle-aged lower-middle-class white man.) Disenchantment with a political elite that is seen as distant and aloof (as if any other kind of elite were possible at the highest level of government in a country of 350 million.)

But whatever the reasons, it is a disgrace. Some Republican politicians are waking up (no doubt worried about their own re-election changes.) But when will Republicans collectively wake up, declare that enough is enough, and return to the land of sanity? If for no other reason, it’s because (judging by his deeds, if not by his words) Mr. Trump is much further away from the pro-life, socially conservative views of most conservatives than even his opponent, Mrs. Clinton.

As for those of us outside the United States, I just hope we get a “leader of the free world” who is not stark raving mad and unhinged.

 Posted by at 5:53 pm
Sep 142016
 

Tonight, the two most important women in my life are both in the stratosphere.

My wife is en route to Hungary, to visit her Mom. At this moment, she is about halfway across the North Atlantic Ocean.

Meanwhile, my Mom is about to land in Beijing, on a memorable adventure I hope: a one-week trip to China with a friend.

And I am stuck here with three cats, fending for ourselves in the Ottawa wilderness. I would say that life is not fair, but I actually enjoy staying at home for a change. I like my home, and travel is such a chore.

 Posted by at 11:40 pm
Sep 142016
 

Hey, I am getting famous again!

For the second time, Quora decided to feature one of my answers on their Forbes blog site. This one was in response to the question, “Is Theoretical physics a waste of resources”? I used the example of Maxwell’s prediction of electromagnetic waves to turn the question into a rhetorical one.

Forbes used a stock Getty image of some physicists in front of a blackboard to illustrate the blog post. Here, allow me to use the image of a bona fide blackboard, one from the Perimeter Institute, containing a few of the field equations of MOG/STVG, during one of our discussions with John Moffat.

Forbes used a stock Getty image of some physicists in front of a blackboard to illustrate the blog post. Here, allow me to use the image of a bona fide blackboard, one from the Perimeter Institute, containing a few of the field equations of MOG/STVG, during one of our discussions with John Moffat.

Anyhow, I feel honored. Thank you Quora.

Of course, I never know how people read my answers. Just tonight, I received a mouthful in the form of hate mail from a sarcasm-challenged defender of the US space program who thought that in my answer about astronauts supposedly having two shadows on the Moon, I was actually promoting some conspiracy theory. Duh.

 Posted by at 11:31 pm
Sep 112016
 

Fifteen years ago this morning, I was late going to bed. Very late. I was a night owl those days, and I was still up and working a few minutes before nine o’clock, when CBC Newsworld told me that an airplane hit the World Trade Center. I switched to CNN and their live coverage, in time to see the second tower hit. For a brief moment, I actually wondered if this was simply an accident, with someone flying a little too close to the action. It was hard to judge sizes on those television pictures, so I really did not realize at first that I was seeing a 767. The plane seemed so small. And the idea that someone was doing this on purpose was still too difficult to grasp.

I didn’t go to bed that day. Instead, I spent a fair bit of that time on the phone that morning with my friend David, whose office in Manhattan was just a few blocks away from the twin towers. We were on the line when the second tower fell. I saw it first: as the antenna began to sway, I knew what was coming. David watched it from his window. Later in the day, David and his wife were among the tens of thousands who were evacuated on foot from lower Manhattan; it was not until several days later that they were allowed back to visit their office.

Fifteen years. Young adults walk among us who are too young to remember that day. Thankfully, the world has not gone completely bonkers. Sure, air travel is even more unpleasant these days (not that it was such a pleasurable experience on September 10, 2011), and the consequences of America’s disastrous war in Iraq continue to impact the world. But there is no world war, and while the threat of terrorism remains with us, you are far more likely to die from falling down the stairs in your own home.

 Posted by at 12:06 pm
Aug 252016
 

It was 25 years ago today that a Finnish chap by the name of Linus Torvalds made an announcement about a new operating system that he developed in the preceding few months. Nothing big and professional, he assured us, just a hobby project basically… but here it was, and he already got a command shell and the GNU C compiler working.

I have been using Linux for 23 of those 25 years. I became familiar with Linux when I took over sysop duties of the UNIX forum of the long defunct NVN (National Videotex Network).

I no longer have the original SLS (SoftLanding Linux) floppy images, though I am pretty sure even without checking they can be found in several archives online.

But I do have the announcement that I posted on the NVN UNIX forum page almost exactly 23 years ago, on September 1, 1993:

Welcome to the LINUX distribution on NVN!

The UNIX Forum data library now contains the complete set of files
making up the Softlanding Software (SLS) distribution of LINUX, the
popular *FREE* UNIX operating system clone.

The files are the most recent (version 0.99 patchlevel 12) as of
today, August 28, 1993.

The files were used by the UNIX SysOp to install a complete LINUX on
an 80386SX20 PC, with 4 Mb of RAM, a 68 Mb and a 42 Mb MFM hard disk
drive, an ATI VGAWonder super-VGA card with 512 kb video RAM, a
Microsoft mouse, a 5.25" high density floppy drive, and a 3.5" high
density drive, and an ATI2400etc/i internal modem. Brief assessment:
it works like a charm. So well, in fact, that I decided to keep it
and permanently convert my old 386SX to a LINUX host. I am already
using it as a dial-in system for my friends and business associates.

The files in this distribution are:

readme.sls this file
sls_info.zip miscellaneous text information files
rawrite.zip needed to create the A1 bootable LINUX disk
sls_a1_3.zip bootable floppy image for 3.5" 1.44 Mb drives
sls_a1_5.zip bootable floppy image for 5.25" 1.2 Mb drives
sls_a2.zip Minimum base system
sls_a3.zip
sls_a4.zip
sls_b1.zip Base system extras
sls_b2.zip
sls_b3.zip
sls_b4.zip
sls_b5.zip
sls_b6.zip
sls_b7.zip
sls_c1.zip Compilers
sls_c2.zip
sls_c3.zip
sls_d1.zip Documentation
sls_d2.zip
sls_s1.zip Essential component source
sls_t1.zip TeX
sls_t2.zip
sls_t3.zip
sls_x1.zip X-Windows
sls_x2.zip
sls_x3.zip
sls_x4.zip
sls_x5.zip
sls_x6.zip
sls_x7.zip
sls_x8.zip
sls_x9.zip
sls_x10.zip

All the files named sls_Sn.zip must be uncompressed under DOS and
copied onto separate floppies. The bootable LINUX floppy (disk A1)
can be created from sls_a1_3.zip or sls_a1_5.zip using the RAWRITE
program, supplied in RAWRITE.EXE.

It is suggested that you download sls_info.zip first, for additional
information. The files in this archive are text files readable under
DOS (lines end with CR/LF instead of LF only as they do under UNIX).


Please note that while the NVN UNIX does not (indeed, cannot) provide
support for LINUX, I will be glad to answer any of your questions. 
Also, if you are interested in a specific program, application, or
information file that is not included in the present distribution,
please let me know and I will see if I can obtain and upload it. If
you would like to run OSF/Motif on your LINUX system, you may not
have to wait too long; I am planning to try and obtain Motif in the
near future.

Good luck with your installation and I hope that the next time you
call, it will be with your LINUX system!

UNIX SysOp

Before making this announcement, I already set Linux up on an old 386SX desktop computer that I was no longer using. Within a few months, this computer began to play a permanent role as my Internet server. Although it went through several hardware and software iterations, its basic identity remains the same: it’s the very same server on which these words appear.

 Posted by at 10:20 pm
Aug 202016
 

Some people call squirrels furry rats. Yet they are cute.

Cute enough, it seems, for people to feed them donuts. Or was this donut stolen?

A moment in a squirrel’s life, caught by my wife earlier today with her cell phone camera.

 Posted by at 10:04 pm
Jul 132016
 

Today, I took the plunge. I deemed my brand new server (actually, more than a month old already) ready for action. So I made the last few remaining changes, shut down the old server, and rebooted the new with the proper settings… and, ladies and gentlemen, we are now live.

Expect glitches, of course. I already found a few.

The old server, of which I was very fond, had to go. It was really old, the hardware about 7 years. Its video card fan failed, and its CPU fan was also making noises. It was ultra-reliable though. I never tried to make this a record, but it lasted almost three years without a reboot:

$ uptime
 12:28:09 up 1033 days, 17:30, 4 users, load average: 0.64, 0.67, 0.77

(Yes, I kept it regularly updated with patches. But the kernel never received a security patch, so no reboot was necessary. And it has been on a UPS.)

This switcharoo was a Big Deal, in part, because I decided to abandon the Slackware ship in favor of CentOS, due to its improved security and, well, systemd. I know systemd is a very polarizing thing among Linux fans, but my views are entirely pragmatic: in the end, it actually makes my life easier, so there.

Anyhow, the new server has already been up 13 minutes, so… And it is a heck of a lot quieter, which I most welcome.

 Posted by at 12:45 pm
Jun 232016
 

Ever since I first laid my hands on INFOCOM’s legendary titles like Zork, A Mind Forever Voyaging, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I’ve been a sucker for high quality computer adventure games.

Over the years, the genre evolved from text-based games to point-and-click graphical adventures, often set in freely explorable worlds. Myst remains a perfect example.

And then came The Longest Journey, one of the most epic adventure games ever created. Sure, its graphics and user interface are somewhat primitive by present-day standards, but the game was exciting, interesting, and—not unlike the best science fiction stories out there—it also served as a cautionary tale.

Then came its sequel, Dreamfall; a strangely flawed game with a moving storyline but stupid quirks like ill-designed action sequences that were more frustrating than enjoyable. Still, it was a great game because its story was great. But it was also unfinished.

Finally, after a successful crowdfunding campaign, came Dreamfall Chapters. Among other things its title reflects the fact that the game was released in five installments, or Books. The latest, Book Five: Redux, came out just a few days ago.

I now played this game to the end, and I remain deeply moved by its ending.

Yet I am also creeped out by the extent to which elements of the game—elements first released almost two years ago!—resemble present-day politics. Most notably, a political election campaign fought between a xenophobic populist whose party promises a new dawn, and a female center-left politician whose campaign turns out to be rather more corrupt than many thought. Sounds familiar? I emphasize, this part of the story was written in 2014 or before. Life imitating art? A mere coincidence? Or prophetic vision?

Cautionary tales are the best that the science fiction genre can offer. Dreamfall Chapters certainly did not disappoint.

 Posted by at 10:07 pm
Jun 152016
 

The CRTC told me that it is the cable companies’ fault. The cable company told me that it is the provincial emergency agency that makes the decision. The provincial agency, on its Web site, tells me that these alerts are at the discretion of the television channel.

But the reality is that they are interrupting all channels, as well as recorded programs, with pointless messages: some are tests, some are amber alerts from half a continent away (yes, Ontario is a huge province.)

If they did this to the public airwaves, that might be forgivable. But they are messing with a privately owned service for which I am paying good money. Serious money, as anyone can attest who is paying for a cable subscription nowadays.

I am uploading this video to YouTube because I hope to use it to bring attention to this blatant abuse, all in the name of the public good, of course. Alerts such as this that completely hijack all channels for a whole minute should be reserved for genuine, imminent, major emergencies such as a tornado, flash flood, military or terrorist attack. They should not be tested recklessly, and they should not be used excessively for events that do not meet the criteria that define a serious, imminent, life threatening emergency that actually affects the region in which the alert is shown.

I wonder if a clever lawyer might find a way to sue the government for illegally appropriating private property.

 Posted by at 11:22 am
Jun 122016
 

Exactly thirty years ago today, I grabbed a suitcase, a bag and my passport, and boarded a train from Budapest to Vienna, with the intent never to return.

A few hours later, I arrived at Vienna’s Westbahnhof, where I left my suitcase at the left luggage office and proceeded to Traiskirchen, to register as an East Bloc refugee. Thus, my new life began.

Little did I know in the summer of 1986 that in a few short years, the Berlin Wall would crumble; that most communist regimes would peacefully transition to pluralist democracies; or that even the mighty Soviet Union would come to an inglorious end after a failed coup.

And a good thing, too, as otherwise I might have stayed put. And then, I could have experienced from the inside what it is like to live in a country in which the great democratic experiment is faltering; one in which xenophobia (if not outright racism) prevails, fueled by a distorted view of history and a perpetual sense of victimhood.

Instead, I ended up a citizen of Canada. July 16 will mark the day of my arrival in Ottawa 29 years ago. I now call this city my home. My memories go back much further, as I had the good fortune to visit here back in the summer of 1973, when I was only 10. So although I didn’t quite grow up here, sometimes it almost feels like I did.

Of course I have not forgotten the city of my birth, Budapest. I love the history of that city, I love mundane things about it like its streetcars and other bits of its infrastructure. But it’s no longer my home. I feel like a stranger in town who happens to know the geography and speak the language… but who is far, far removed from its daily life. And sometimes, knowing the language is a curse: such as when I walk down the street and stop at a red light, only to overhear a young person yakking on her phone about that “dirty Jew”. Yes, such language, which I once thought was condemned to the cesspit of history, is not uncommon in Budapest these days, which breaks my heart.

So I consider myself lucky that I left when I did. I consider myself very fortunate that I had the opportunity to become Canadian.

Thirty years is a long time in a person’s life. Thinking back… I don’t really remember what I was like back in 1986. The world was a very different place, to be sure. The year I spent in Vienna… it was educational. At first, when I ran out of the small amount of money I had in my pockets, it was scary. But then… I found a job of sorts. I started to make some friends. People who owed me absolutely nothing were nice to me, helped me, offered me opportunities. And then, the same thing happened in Canada. First, my aunt and her family, who offered me a place to stay and helped me get started. Then, a mere three weeks after my arrival, a per-diem contract. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was vastly underpaid, but no matter: it was money, real money for professional work, not for washing dishes somewhere. And it allowed me to rent an apartment and begin my new life for real.

Many things happened since then, some good, some bad; but mostly good, so I have no complaints. It has been an interesting journey, which began with a first class ticket (who says a refugee cannot travel in style?) on the Wiener Walzer express train one early June morning in 1986.

 Posted by at 5:40 pm