Sep 202018
 

There is a white rabbit who set up residence near my wife’s allotment garden.

This is obviously not a wild animal. He may be okay for now, but for how long? How long before either a predator finishes it off, or bad weather sets in?

In short, I think it needs a home. I have no idea what to do with a rabbit and we have two cats already. But perhaps a good soul sees this post…

 Posted by at 12:29 am
Sep 192018
 

Outraged over ever increasing phone bills, today I decided to cancel our second landline.

We used to use this line a fair deal. It was, back in the days of dial-up modems, my phone line for incoming dial-up calls (e.g., when I was traveling) and also a means to maintain a backup, low-speed Internet connection. It was occasionally used by my wife, as it was the line to which a dual-mode Skype-and-landline phone was connected.

And, of course, it was used for that miracle of 20th century technology: facsimile transmissions.

Of course, this is 2018 now, and I have not used a dial-up data connection in at least a decade. No travel computer of mine had a modem, in fact, since the early 2000s. My old travel kit, containing various country-specific phone plugs, even a screwdriver and alligator clips, lies on a shelf, forgotten. And Skype? Microsoft betrayed many Skype users, myself included, when they irreversibly changed the Skype protocol, rendering old Skype-compatible hardware useless. Yes, I feel a bit bitter about it… I liked that Skype phone, I even fixed it once when its original microphone died and had to be replaced. Now it’s just another worthless piece of junk electronics. And once the Skype phone was no longer useful for, well, Skype, my wife also stopped using it as a landline phone, opting instead to use her mobile phone for local calls.

As for faxes… How quaint. Faxes. When was the last time you sent a fax? Or received one? I cannot remember.

To make a long story short, this second line has remained pretty much unused for the past year or two. Yet Bell kept ratcheting up the price. My most recent monthly phone bill for the two landlines reached $125, and that’s where I decided to draw the line. I called up Bell in the hope that they might have a decent offer for a long-time customer but no, nothing. In fact, it almost felt as if they wanted me to get rid of that second line. (Makes you wonder what the hell is going on there.) So… the second line has been terminated.

Well, supposedly anyway. It was at least six hours ago that Bell told me that the line would be deactivated within 15-120 minutes… but it still gives a dial tone, and I can still ring it. Go figure. I suspect the line will be dead tomorrow anyway.

 Posted by at 5:19 pm
Aug 212018
 

I have Google ads enabled on this site. Not really worth the effort; my blog site generates mere cents of revenue on a good day.

More recently, I noticed that Google started placing ads between paragraphs inside articles. I would like this if it improved the site’s profitability. But it didn’t.

And those ads are very disruptive, even when (or perhaps especially when) the ad is closely related to the content. Recently, I found myself apologizing more than once when I showed a blog post to someone, because of the silly, disruptive ads in the middle.

What can I say? I turned these ads off. I like Google ads as a source of revenue, but this was taking it one step too far.

 Posted by at 8:38 pm
Aug 212018
 

Yesterday, I received a nice surprise via e-mail: A link to a new article in Astronomy magazine (also republished by Discover magazine) about our efforts to solve the Pioneer Anomaly.

I spent several years working with Slava Turyshev and others on this. It was a lot of very hard, difficult work.

As part of my (both published and unpublished) contributions, I learned how to do precision modeling of satellite orbits in the solar system. I built a precision navigation application that was sufficiently accurate to reconstruct the Pioneer trajectories and observe the anomaly. I built a semi-analytical and later, a numerical (ray-tracing) model to estimate the directional thermal emissions of the two spacecraft.

But before all that, I built software to extract telemetry from the old raw data files, recorded as received by the Deep Space Network. These were the files that lay forgotten on magnetic tape for many years, eventually to be transferred to a now obsolete optical disc format and then, thanks to the efforts of Larry Kellogg, to modern media. My own efforts, to make sense of these telemetry files, is what got me involved with the Pioneer Anomaly project in the first place.

These were fun days. And I’d be lying if I said that I have no tinge of regret that in the end, we found no anomalous acceleration. After all, confirmation that the trajectories of these two Pioneers are affected by an unmodeled force, likely indicating the need for new physics… that would have been tremendous. Instead, we found something mundane, relegated (at best) to the footnotes of science history.

Which is why I felt a sense of gratitude reading this article. It told me that our efforts have not been completely forgotten.

 Posted by at 8:05 pm
Jul 162018
 

MJ the cat has been a regular visitor in our neighborhood in the past 13 years. Spotting him on a bright March day was always regarded by us as the first sign of spring after a long, dark, cold winter.

Alas, MJ is about to depart this world. He was taken by someone to the Humane Society’s shelter a few days ago. He has since been reunited with his owner, but we learned the bad news: he is very ill, and he will be euthanized tonight.

Goodbye, MJ. The neighborhood will not be the same without you. I can only hope that spring will still come next year.

 Posted by at 1:01 pm
Jun 202018
 

And in case anyone wonders why these “evildoers” from South America are ignoring American law and cross the border illegally…

They do so because they are prevented from legally presenting themselves at a port of entry by US border agents.

Today, I e-mailed our Member of Parliament, Mona Fortier, asking her to urge our government and our Prime Minister to suspend the “safe third country” agreement with the United States. A country that behaves in this manner is not a safe third country by any stretch of definition.

Dear Ms. Fortier,

As one of your loyal constituents, I’d like to urge you to press our Government and our Prime Minister to consider suspending the Safe Third Party agreement with Trump’s America. What is happening in the United States is unconscionable (and in a case of life imitating art, eerily resembling story elements from The Handmaid’s Tale) and now, especially with that country’s withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, I believe this step would not only be justified but outright necessary, in order to protect our Canadian values, which, I know, you, your party, and our Government strongly believe in.

Sincerely,

Viktor T. Toth

 Posted by at 4:47 pm
Jun 022018
 

World, meet MJ the cat:

MJ has been visiting us for many years. This is the fourteenth summer, as a matter of fact, that he shows up on our doorstep from time to time. He introduced numerous other cats from the neighborhood, including our beloved Pipacs whom we adopted 11 years ago.

We knew that MJ was alright, because we’ve seen him on his own front porch not too long ago. But we were wondering if this aging kitty would still feel sufficiently adventurous to visit us. Well… here he is again. I just hope that he is careful when crossing Cobourg Street. It’s wide, with plenty of bus traffic. I hope he has a safe journey home.

 Posted by at 1:06 am
May 242018
 

For years now, we’ve been insuring our cats with Trupanion. We picked this insurer because they offered something we actually wanted: insurance for catastrophic expenses. (We don’t need an insurer to cover routine exams and vaccinations.)

We expected professional and courteous service from Trupanion, and that’s what we always received. Even when specific claims were denied, the explanation was always clear, unambiguous, and consistent with their written policies. We never had any complaints.

What we did not expect was this level of personalized care: this postcard.

The back side, not reproduced here, contains several hand-written offers of condolences from Trupanion employees on account of us losing our kitty Pipacs.

If their intent was to generate goodwill towards the company and view them as something more than just a faceless corporation, but rather, as a group of caring people, they certainly succeeded. Thank you. I have a feeling that we are going to remain your loyal customers for years to come.

 Posted by at 1:09 pm
May 112018
 

This was our not quite 12-year old kitten, Pipacs, just over an hour ago, less than fifteen minutes before he was euthanized.

It appears that we picked the right time as it was the end of the line for him anyway. His bladder was now blocked by the bone tumor that he has been battling with so bravely for the past three years, beating all odds (and using up all nine of his lives) in the past three months in particular. So quite likely, he would have died a much more painful death soon, perhaps within the next 24 hours.

We are now a two-cat household. Good-bye, Pipacska. It was a privilege to have you for the past ten and a half years.

 Posted by at 1:25 pm
Apr 162018
 

Well, that would be Victor Gabriel Toth, not me, but nonetheless, it is still creepy to see an obituary in the Ottawa Citizen containing, albeit with a minor spelling variation, my name.

I never met this Victor Toth, even though at one point, I was told, I might have been working just two floors above him at the Nortel building on Merivale Road, a building in which several floors were rented by Canada Post.

Well, Victor Toth, you had a long life and, I hope sincerely, a happy one. I hope your family is not so much grieving as celebrating your long life.

Then again, I also sincerely hope that I won’t be following in your footsteps anytime soon, as I have plenty more to do in this world before it’s my time to depart.

 Posted by at 1:11 pm
Apr 142018
 

Yesterday, we said goodbye to our old car, a very nice Honda Accord that served us faithfully for four years.

The lease expired, so we opted to lease a new one. Another Honda Accord. (Incidentally, 2018 marks the 30th year that I’ve been purchasing Hondas, from this very same dealership.)

The old car was nice. The new car… Well, it’s amazing what even four years can mean these days when it comes to vehicle automation.

The level of automation in this vehicle is amazing. It can start itself, it can steer itself. It has full situational awareness, with radar all around. Apparently, it even monitors the driver for alertness (I’ll have to read up on exactly how it accomplishes that.) During the short drive home, it once applied the brakes when its adaptive cruise control was on and someone moved into the lane ahead of us. It was braking a little harder than I’d have preferred, though. And at one point, as the lane markings were a little ambiguous, it gently resisted my attempt to depart from what it thought was the correct lane.

In principle, it appears, this car has all the components for it to be fully autonomous, except that perhaps its array of sensors is not sufficient for it to be fully safe. But really, the only thing missing is the software. And even the way it is, it is beginning to feel more like a partner in driving than a dumb machine; a partner that also has a well-developed instinct for self-preservation.

Welcome to the future, I guess.

 Posted by at 9:54 pm
Mar 202018
 

Our kitty Pipacs is still doing okay.

Today, he managed to show the oddest of faces when my wife attempted to take a picture:

Don’t worry, he was just yawning.

What we haven’t seen is any poop from him in the past 36 hours or so, and he seemed to be a bit under the weather at times. I hope it doesn’t mean that his bowel is obstructed again. We know he’s living on borrowed time, but we hope that there is still a little bit more time out there for him to borrow.

 Posted by at 8:57 pm
Mar 182018
 

Anybody interested in hiring a competent TV repairman?

No, just kidding. Nobody makes a living from TV repair anymore. (On the other hand, if you are interested in hiring a competent IT contract professional… but I digress.)

Still, I have this compulsion, trying to repair broken things even when they have little or no practical utility. So it came to be that I felt compelled to repair this old SANYO AVM-2664U analog 26″ CRT TV, with a circuit board that was buzzing louder than a hive of angry wasps, as shown in this thermal infrared video which I made while I was hunting for possible hotspots on the circuit board:

Eventually, I managed to track down the problem: One lousy little capacitor.

As I told my wife, it would be fun, doing this for a living. Unfortunately, nobody is likely to pay hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars to repair an old television set that not even thrift stores want anymore (too heavy, too obsolete). Yet another perfectly useless skill in the year 2018.

 Posted by at 5:57 pm
Mar 102018
 

There is a very interesting concept in the works at NASA, to which I had a chance to contribute a bit: the Solar Gravitational Telescope.

The idea, explained in this brand new NASA video, is to use the bending of light by the Sun to form an image of distant objects.

The resolving power of such a telescope would be phenomenal. In principle, it is possible to use it to form a megapixel-resolution image of an exoplanet as far as 100 light years from the Earth.

The technical difficulties are, however, challenging. For starters, a probe would need to be placed at least 550 astronomical units (about four times the distance to Voyager 1) from the Sun, precisely located to be on the opposite side of the Sun relative to the exoplanet. The probe would then have to mimic the combined motion of our Sun (dragged about by the gravitational pull of planets in the solar system) and the exoplanet (orbiting its own sun). Light from the Sun will need to be carefully blocked to ensure that we capture light from the exoplanet with as little noise as possible. And each time the probe takes a picture of the ring of light (the Einstein ring) around the Sun, it will be the combined light of many adjacent pixels on the exoplanet. The probe will have traverse a region that is roughly a kilometer across, taking pictures one pixel at a time, which will need to be deconvoluted. The fact that the exoplanet itself is not constant in appearance (it will go through phases of illumination, it may have changing cloud cover, perhaps even changes in vegetation) further complicates matters. Still… it can be done, and it can be accomplished using technology we already have.

By its very nature, it would be a very long duration mission. If such a probe was launched today, it would take 25-30 years for it to reach the place where light rays passing on both sides of the Sun first meet and thus the focal line begins. It will probably take another few years to collect enough data for successful deconvolution and image reconstruction. Where will I be 30-35 years from now? An old man (or a dead man). And of course no probe will be launched today; even under optimal circumstances, I’d say we’re at least a decade away from launch. In other words, I have no chance of seeing that high-resolution exoplanet image unless I live to see (at least) my 100th birthday.

Still, it is fun to dream, and fun to participate in such things. Though now I better pay attention to other things as well, including things that, well, help my bank account, because this sure as heck doesn’t.

 Posted by at 12:59 pm
Feb 152018
 

Our smallest cat, Pipacs, continues to do well.

Four weeks ago, we thought we were on a death watch: The kitty was severely ill, no longer able to poop as his intestines were blocked by an invasive bone growth. Laxatives, even several enemas were of no use.

We were convinced that the only alternative to a slow, painful death was euthanasia.

But then, he suddenly pooped. (What a relief. Especially for him.) Since then, we’ve been able to manage him with medication.

I don’t know how long he will still be with us, but for now, he is doing okay. The bone growth distorting his pelvis is quite large now, making it all but impossible for him to use one of his hind legs, but it doesn’t appear to bother him too much, except when he is trying to use that leg to scratch an itch. Just watching it is frustrating! (How do multiple amputees scratch themselves when they have to?)

But he is eating well, he is pooping well, and when the other cats aren’t chasing him around, sometimes he chases them instead.

 Posted by at 10:33 pm
Jan 312018
 

Here is a beautiful picture of the contents of one of our litter boxes:

What makes it beautiful, you ask? Why, it is a thermal infrared image. And it shows some unambiguously fresh poop. Fresh poop produced just a few minutes prior by our kitty Pipacs, whom we were about to write off two weeks ago, as we were certain that his digestive system shut down, him being unable to poop as his bowels are obstructed by an invasive bone growth.

But Pipacs still has a few of his nine little lives left. I don’t know how long he’ll stay with us; we take it one day at a time. But with the medication he receives (a combination of laxatives and stool softeners) he is coping for the time being.

 Posted by at 4:48 pm
Jan 272018
 

Concerned as we were (and still are) about the health of our smallest kitty Pipacs, it helps to remember that we have two other felines in the house, both in good health as far as we know (fingers crossed and all that.)

The orange tabby on the left, Kifli, will turn 17 in April. He will be old enough to vote in next year’s federal election! He has not stated his political preference yet.

And despite their similarities, the two cats are not related. The cat on the right, Rufus, was a stray. He was approximately one year old when we adopted him in the fall of 2014.

 Posted by at 9:38 am
Jan 182018
 

Much to our surprise, not to mention relief, our kittycat Pipacs is a lot better today.

We noticed yesterday afternoon: he began eating again. He seemingly felt better. He groomed himself. He even played with us a little.

And then this morning: a nice, big poop in the litter box.

So his digestive system is functioning again. Probably with difficulty, so he is going to be permanently on a diet of laxatives and stool softeners, but so long as he is able to poop, he should be okay as otherwise, other than the bone growth on his pelvis, he is healthy.

This bone growth is not going to go away, so we’re living on borrowed time. But borrowed time is still a lot better than no time at all.

I already called the vet and canceled the scheduled visit for tonight. Thinking of Murphy’s law, however, I asked them not to process a refund yet, just keep the amount we already paid on our account.

 Posted by at 9:08 am
Jan 172018
 

This beautiful creature, who has been our companion for ten and a half years, give or take, is Pipacs (Hungarian for Poppy, pronounced pi-patch or something like, with the ‘i’ as in the word hit, the ‘a’ in the word bark, with emphasis on the first syllable.)

Unfortunately, Pipacs is very ill.

He was diagnosed with a growth on his pelvis three years ago. Even back then, the only treatment option was drastic surgery: Removal of a large part of his pelvis along with the leg on that side.

Pipacs has always been a very skittish cat. He was a stray when we adopted him, probably about a year old in late summer 2007. He is very easily traumatized. This, and the very low risk of such a growth spreading to other organs led us to the decision not to opt for surgery.

One thing we did not anticipate is that the growth, which increased in size rather dramatically in the past few months, would encroach on his digestive system and eventually obstruct his colon.

Which is exactly what happened. Simply put, beyond incidents of explosive diarrhea after receiving enemas, Pipacs cannot poop anymore. And sadly, surgery is no longer a viable option.

Which is why our veterinarian is scheduled to make a home visit tomorrow with her euthanasia kit. And my heart breaks as I am writing these words.

 Posted by at 8:27 pm