I am no photo artist, and my best camera is, well, my phone. That’s it.

Even so, a few minutes ago I felt compelled to take a couple of photographs. We are a few minutes away from sunset and a big storm just began. Then I looked out my window and I found the building across the street brighter than the sky above.

The light came from the other side of the sky. The Sun was not visible but the sky in that direction was bright enough to light things up.

Photographs (especially, photographs taken with a phone) really don’t do these sights justice. The contrasts were amazing.

Not only is there severe flooding in our region (I’ve lived in Ottawa for nearly 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything remotely like this) but this “spring” weather is anything but.

In fact, yesterday CTV News almost apologized for their forecast:

And the saddest part? They were not wrong. I see flurries outside.

Fortunately, the flooding doesn’t affect us, despite our proximity to the Rideau River.

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.

Yesterday afternoon, I received a phone call from our prospective Liberal candidate in the upcoming provincial by-election.

Although I voted Liberal in the past, I was never particularly fond of our previous MPP, Madeleine Meilleur. (It didn’t help that back when she was still city councillor, when I once wrote to her about an issue, she never even bothered to send back an acknowledgement. And this was back in the snail mail days.) So despite my vote, I am not what they call an enthusiastic supporter.

Anyhow, Nathalie Des Rosiers called yesterday, and I had a delightful conversation with her that lasted maybe 10 minutes. For starters, I learned that she spent years working with one of our neighbors, whom I respect highly. She also used a phrase that I welcomed very much: “Evidence-based governance.” Most importantly, she patiently listened to me on the phone, even when I was less than eloquent with my concerns about Ontario politics (apologetically, I had to explain to her that my mind has been preoccupied lately with the US election campaign and the prospect of a Donald presidency.)

All in all, Ms. Des Rosiers left me with a very good impression. I am glad that someone with her attitude and qualifications is running for office, and I hope she succeeds.

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.

Whoops.

Here is what happened in downtown Ottawa, just a 15-minute walk from my home:

That’s one big hole. I hope it doesn’t start swallowing nearby buildings.

And yes, I feel very fortunate today that I do not need to commute to work.

And it has happened before, in 1924:

This was the view from my window late last night, before I went to sleep:

Now this is a perfectly normal way for our street to appear, say, in January… but April 7?

Really, people, if the rest of the world doesn’t care, I am all for global warming.

News item from Google news: Ottawa taxi drivers plan to blockade city bus depots.

Oh really? You jackasses really believe that this is the way to gain support at Ottawa city hall?

OK, they now claim that it’s just a rumor. I am not convinced.

I hope your industry dies, like, yesterday.

Not long ago, I was committed to using regular taxis (on the rare occasions I needed one) and not rely on untested, unproven, new services like Uber.

It was the taxi industry and their thuggish reaction to Uber’s disruptive technology that convinced me otherwise.

Thugs have no place on our city’s streets. Not even when they are masquerading as licensed taxi drivers.

Yesterday, I went to see my barber. When I found the shop open, I was delighted that he kept his promise: he planned to retire at the end of last year, but on my last visit, he told me that he’d be keeping the shop open for a while longer. (Yes, it’s been that long since my last haircut. I don’t like haircuts, but when even my wife notices that I am beginning to look like Albert Einstein, I remind myself that you first have to match Einstein’s output as a physicist before you’re allowed to look like him.)

When I entered the shop, I noticed that it was under renovation. But the sign said that it was open! In fact, it was a brand new electronic sign that advertised the business hours. I didn’t see a soul in sight so I hollered, “hello?” and a young, brown-skinned man soon emerged. He assured me that the shop was indeed open for business, so I made the requisite leap in logic and realized that Michel, the old barber, must have retired after all. I asked the young man if he was going to be my new barber.

Soon, I learned a little bit about Paulos the barber. He came to Canada from Ethiopia about five years ago with his brother. Since then, they managed to sponsor several family members. Paulos is a lean, tall 41-year old man, though he looks much younger. He told me that he found the shop advertised on Kijiji and decided to go for it. He told me of his plans to hire 2-3 additional barbers, and create a much more welcoming shop with Wi-Fi and a coffee machine. I took a closer look at his hours: He is keeping the shop open, for now all by himself, from 9 AM until 8 PM every weekday, and until 6 PM on Saturdays.

Meanwhile, Paulos finished my haircut. When I asked him how much I owe, he told me that it’s whatever I used to pay Michel. So I paid the same amount, with tip, that I used to pay.

As I left the barber shop, I was shaking my head. Damn immigrants, I thought. They have the audacity to come to this country in search of a better life. And the cheek! Never mind making a living, working extra long hours, they actually plan to create jobs! How dare they.

And the cultural rift. It is hard to find a pair of countries more culturally different than Ethiopia and Canada. Yet he has the chutzpah to do this… finding his place in Canadian society, taking over a business from a retiring French Canadian gentleman and daring to be successful.

What a horrible thing that these immigrants are doing. What hubris… instead of being on welfare and being a burden on society, they dare to make this country better, enrich it with their hard work, contribute to its colorful multiculturalism. It is absolutely intolerable. Just what is this place coming to?

Our long-serving Member of Parliament, Mauril Bélanger, was the recipient of an unprecedented honor today: He was named honorary Speaker of the House.

Unfortunately, we could not hear Mr. Bélanger speak. That is because he is suffering from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease (its most famous sufferer alive is the physicist Stephen Hawking), which is rapidly progressing; since his initial diagnosis last fall, he lost the ability to speak, so it was his iPad that was speaking for him.

The illness also ended his dream of becoming Speaker of the House, which explains the honor that has been bestowed on him today.

I have a lot of respect for Mr. Bélanger. Over the years, I wrote to him a few times with my concerns, and on more than one occasion I received a personal response, either in the form of a latter or, in one case, in the form of a telephone call. In short, Mr. Bélanger appeared to take the idea of representing his constituents very seriously.

He may have lost the ability to speak but he has not yet lost all his mobility. Although he needed some help, he was able to walk into the Chamber on his own two feet.

It was a moving moment, and I am glad I caught it on the CBC. Thank you, Mr. Bélanger.

I was watching the news this morning. Including the weather. And then I double-checked my calendar, wondering if I perhaps became delusional: Is this really March, or is it still January?

Then again, tonight supposedly it’ll get even colder.

Here is the Weather Network’s forecast for today that was made a couple of days ago:

No, they weren’t lying. Here is what my thermometer showed just a few minutes ago:

And it’s already less than what it was; the temperature dropped from 16.4 to 16.2 degrees Centigrade in the past half hour.

May not be impressive for a place like Dubai or Mumbai but lest we forget, I live in Ottawa, supposedly the second coldest capital city on Earth.

Needless to say, we are not going to have a white Christmas this year.

The other day, I saw a curious full-page advertisement in the copy of Ottawa Life magazine that came bundled with my morning Globe and Mail.

It contained phrases and symbology that I am no longer accustomed to see. What caught my eye at first was the red background, complete with five-pointed golden stars and an image of a statue containing a group of heroic figures. Stuff once common on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

Presented by the Embassy of the PRC, it was an advertisement in commemoration of the “Victory of the World Anti-Fascist War” as well as the “Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression”. Symbology and awkward language notwithstanding, knowing what I know about the brutality of Japan’s failed conquest of the Middle Kingdom (including the use of chemical and bacteriological weapons), I believe China has every right to celebrate proudly. Western bias notwithstanding, arguably the true starting date of World War 2 is July 7, 1937, the beginning of Japan’s attempt at a full-scale invasion, and it took a full eight years for this nightmare to end (though not the Chinese Civil War).

It’s time for me to write about physics again. I have a splendid reason: one of the recipients of this year’s physics Nobel is from Kingston, Ontario, which is practically in Ottawa’s backyard. He is recognized for his contribution to the discovery of neutrino oscillations. So I thought I’d write about neutrino oscillations a little.

Without getting into too much detail, the standard way of describing a theory of quantum fields is by writing down the so-called Lagrangian density of the theory. This Lagrangian density represents the kinetic and potential energies of the system, including so-called “mass terms” for fields that are massive. (Which, in quantum field theory, is the same as saying that the particles we associate with the unit oscillations of these fields have a specific mass.)

Now most massive particles in the Standard Model acquire their masses by interacting with the celebrated Higgs field in various ways. Not neutrinos though; indeed, until the mid 1990s or so, neutrinos were believed to be massless.

But then, neutrino oscillations were discovered and the physics community began to accept that neutrinos may be massive after all.

So what is this about oscillations? Neutrinos are somewhat complicated things, but I can demonstrate the concept using two hypothetical “scalar” particles (doesn’t matter what they are; the point is, their math is simpler than that of neutrinos.) So let’s have a scalar particle named $$\phi$$. Let’s suppose it has a mass, $$\mu$$. The mass term in the Lagrangian would actually be in the form, $$\frac{1}{2}\mu\phi^2$$.

Now let’s have another scalar particle, $$\psi$$, with mass $$\rho$$. This means another mass term in the Lagrangian: $$\frac{1}{2}\rho\psi^2$$.

But now I want to be clever and combine these two particles into a two-element abstract vector, a “doublet”. Then, using the laws of matrix multiplication, I could write the mass term as

$$\frac{1}{2}\begin{pmatrix}\phi&\psi\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\mu&0\\0&\rho\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\phi\\\psi\end{pmatrix}=\frac{1}{2}\mu\phi^2+\frac{1}{2}\rho\psi^2.$$

Clever, huh?

But now… let us suppose that there is also an interaction between the two fields. In the Lagrangian, this interaction would be represented by a term such as $$\epsilon\phi\psi$$. Putting $$\epsilon$$ into the “0” slots of the matrix, we get

$$\frac{1}{2}\begin{pmatrix}\phi&\psi\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\mu&\epsilon\\\epsilon&\rho\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\phi\\\psi\end{pmatrix}=\frac{1}{2}\mu\phi^2+\frac{1}{2}\rho\psi^2+\epsilon\phi\psi.$$

And here is where things get really interesting. That is because we can re-express this new matrix using a combination of a diagonal matrix and a rotation matrix (and its transpose):

$$\begin{pmatrix}\mu&\epsilon\\\epsilon&\rho\end{pmatrix}=\begin{pmatrix}\cos\theta/2&\sin\theta/2\\-\sin\theta/2&\cos\theta/2\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\hat\mu&0\\0&\hat\rho\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\cos\theta/2&-\sin\theta/2\\\sin\theta/2&\cos\theta/2\end{pmatrix},$$

which is equivalent to

$$\begin{pmatrix}\hat\mu&0\\0&\hat\rho\end{pmatrix}=\begin{pmatrix}\cos\theta/2&-\sin\theta/2\\\sin\theta/2&\cos\theta/2\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\mu&\epsilon\\\epsilon&\rho\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\cos\theta/2&\sin\theta/2\\-\sin\theta/2&\cos\theta/2\end{pmatrix},$$

or

\begin{pmatrix}\hat\mu&0\\0&\hat\rho\end{pmatrix}=\frac{1}{2}\begin{pmatrix}\mu+\rho+(\mu-\rho)\cos\theta-2\epsilon\sin\theta&(\rho-\mu)\sin\theta-2\epsilon\cos\theta\$$\rho-\mu)\sin\theta-2\epsilon\cos\theta&\mu+\rho+(\rho-\mu)\cos\theta+2\epsilon\sin\theta\end{pmatrix}, which tells us that \(\tan\theta=2\epsilon/(\rho-\mu)$$, which works so long as $$\rho\ne\mu$$.

Now why is this interesting? Because we can now write

\begin{align}\frac{1}{2}&\begin{pmatrix}\phi&\psi\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\mu&\epsilon\\\epsilon&\rho\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\phi\\\psi\end{pmatrix}\\
&{}=\frac{1}{2}\begin{pmatrix}\phi&\psi\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\cos\theta/2&\sin\theta/2\\-\sin\theta/2&\cos\theta/2\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\hat\mu&0\\0&\hat\rho\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\cos\theta/2&-\sin\theta/2\\\sin\theta/2&\cos\theta/2\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\phi\\\psi\end{pmatrix}\\
&{}=\frac{1}{2}\begin{pmatrix}\hat\phi&\hat\psi\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\hat\mu&0\\0&\hat\rho\end{pmatrix}\cdot\begin{pmatrix}\hat\phi\\\hat\psi\end{pmatrix}.\end{align}

What just happened, you ask? Well, we just rotated the abstract vector $$(\phi,\psi)$$ by the angle $$\theta/2$$, and as a result, diagonalized the expression. Which is to say that whereas previously, we had two interacting fields $$\phi$$ and $$\psi$$ with masses $$\mu$$ and $$\rho$$, we now re-expressed the same physics using the two non-interacting fields $$\hat\phi$$ and $$\hat\psi$$ with masses $$\hat\mu$$ and $$\hat\rho$$.

So what is actually taking place here? Suppose that the doublet $$(\phi,\psi)$$ interacts with some other field, allowing us to measure the flavor of an excitation (particle) as being either a $$\phi$$ or a $$\psi$$. So far, so good.

However, when we attempt to measure the mass of the doublet, we will not measure $$\mu$$ or $$\rho$$, because the two states interact. Instead, we will measure $$\hat\mu$$ or $$\hat\rho$$, corresponding to the states $$\hat\phi$$ or $$\hat\psi$$, respectively: that is, one of the mass eigenstates.

Which means that if we first perform a flavor measurement, forcing the particle to be in either the $$\phi$$ or the $$\psi$$ state, followed by a mass measurement, there will be a nonzero probability of finding it in either the $$\hat\phi$$ or the $$\hat\psi$$ state, with corresponding masses $$\hat\mu$$ or $$\hat\rho$$. Conversely, if we first perform a mass measurement, the particle will be either in the $$\hat\phi$$ or the $$\hat\psi$$ state; a subsequent flavor measurement, therefore, may give either $$\phi$$ or $$\psi$$ with some probability.

In short, the flavor and mass eigenstates do not coincide.

This is more or less how neutrino oscillations work (again, omitting a lot of important details), except things get a bit more complicated, as neutrinos are fermions, not scalars, and the number of flavors is three, not two. But the basic principle remains the same.

This is a unique feature of neutrinos, by the way. Other particles, e.g., charged leptons, do not have mass eigenstates that are distinct from their flavor eigenstates. The mechanism that gives them masses is also different: instead of a self-interaction in the form of a mass matrix, charged leptons (as well as quarks) obtain their masses by interacting with the Higgs field. But that is a story for another day.

I used to be sympathetic to the woes of taxi drivers in face of the semi-legal competition represented by Uber, and ambivalent about Uber’s ambitions.

This is no longer the case.

If taxi drivers really think that it is kosher to protest (not even about Uber this time, but about an airport pickup fee) by blocking the road to Ottawa airport…

I guess, it’s your way, dear taxi drivers, of telling us, citizens of Ottawa, to get screwed. Well… screw you, too. The sooner Uber kills your obsolete business model with scarce overpriced licenses, old and smelly taxis, taxi drivers with limited English or French and limited knowledge of the city who nonetheless yak or text on the phone while driving, the better. Good riddance. You just lost all my sympathy, and I guess I am not alone. From now on, it’s Uber for me.

Five days ago, I was sitting on an Emirates Airlines flight from Dubai to Budapest.

Our flight took an unusual route. Normally (well, at least within my limited experience) such flights take a route north of Iraq, flying over Iranian airspace towards Turkey. Not this time: We flew across the Saudi desert instead, then turned north over the Sinai peninsula before entering Turkish airspace and turning northwest again. I was wondering about that kink in our trajectory: was it weather or perhaps some airspace over the Mediterranean was closed for military reasons?

As a service to business class customers, Emirates provides a limo service to the destination of your choice on arrival. I was wondering how I would find the limo pick-up location, but it was easier than I thought: the chauffeur was waiting for me at the customs exit, holding up a sign bearing my name. During the journey to my hotel, he told me about his son who wishes to become a particle physicist at CERN. So for a while, we were discussing the Higgs boson and teraelectronvolts, instead of more customary topics, like Hungarian politics.

I rented a car in Budapest, for my mother and I to take a short trip to southern Hungary, to visit my mother-in-law. As we had the car for a whole weekend, on Sunday we decided to take another small trip, this time to the north of Budapest, the small but historical city of Visegrád.

I used to live in Visegrád, from 1974 to 1977, mostly in this building:

At the time, this building served as a resort owned by the Hungarian Industrial Association. As a member of a crafts artisan cooperative, my mother was entitled to vacation in this place, which we did in the spring of 1974. This is how she came to meet my stepfather who at the time was the manager of this facility. To make a long story short, we lived in the manager’s apartment for several years, while my parents built a new house in the same town. I have fond memories of this place.

Today, it serves as a home for the elderly. It seems to be well taken care of. Much to my surprise, one of its terraces appears to have been converted into a chicken coop, complete with a rather loud rooster:

Other than these two excursions and a brief visit to a 91-year old friend who recently had a serious health crisis, I spent most of my time at my parents’ place, a small apartment on the Buda side, nearly filled by a giant dog and his favorite toy:

My parents are very fond of this animal. He is nice, but I remain committed to cats. They are quieter, smell nicer, and require a whole lot less maintenance.

And all too soon, I was on another airplane, flying “business class” on British Airways to London. I had to put “business class” in quotation marks, as there was ridiculously little legroom on this middle-aged A320:

At least, the middle seats were converted into an extra tray instead.

And the flight left Budapest nearly an hour late. The reason? The air crew arrived in Budapest late the previous night, and they had to have their mandatory rest. This presented a potentially serious problem for me: the possibility that I would miss my connecting flight, which, to make things worse, was purchased separately. I probably broke some records at Heathrow Airport as I managed to make it from the arrival gate in Terminal 3 to the Terminal 2 departure gate in only 32 minutes, which included a bus ride between terminals and going through security. I made it with about 10 minutes to spare. I checked and I was told that my suitcase made it, too.

I have to say, while I like both Air Canada and British Airways, their service doesn’t even come close to the quality of service I enjoyed on Emirates or Etihad. And I am not just referring to legroom or the age of the aircraft (the Emirates flight to Budapest was a really aged A330 and the seats, while a great deal more comfortable than these British Airways seats, were nonetheless a little cramped) but also the attentiveness of the staff on board.

Still, the flight was pleasant (except for some rather severe turbulence near the southern trip of Greenland), and some eight hours later, I was back in sunny snowy Ottawa. The land of deep freeze, where the Rideau Canal is breaking all kinds of records, having been open for well over 50 consecutive days already.

The parkways of the Gatineau Park are now closed and the autumn colors are nearly gone. Still, my wife and I enjoyed a pleasant walk today in the outskirts of the park, after a fine lunch at Le Buffet des Continents.

Autumn remains my favorite season. My only complaint is that it ends too soon, and it is often followed by a nasty winter.

This afternoon, I felt compelled to take a walk to downtown Ottawa. Our home is within walking distance of Parliament Hill and the National War Memorial, where a deranged shooter killed a ceremonial guard, Corporal Nathan Cirillo.

It was a beautiful autumn day and the walk was very enjoyable. On my way downtown, I dropped by my favorite computer store (Canada Computers, on Rideau Street) to purchase some needed cables. Then I continued.

There was quite a crowd at the War Memorial, and it was full of flowers. Flowers, flowers and more flowers. Also, many Canadian flags.

And it so happened that I was very lucky: I caught the changing of the guard ceremony. I even managed to record it on video.

Near the end of the clip, a police officer (armed with what appeared to be a fully automatic weapon) crosses in front of my phone camera. He apologized for doing so (I can be heard muttering, “no problem,” on the video). After I was done recording, I stepped over to the policeman and had a brief conversation with him. I mentioned to him that it is an unfortunate necessity that he has to be part of the picture. He understood immediately what I meant. I also thanked him for his service.

I then carried on, right up to Parliament Hill. As a free citizen of a free country, I entered the grounds without encountering any guards, obstacles, metal detectors or other obscenities. It occurred to me that this is the first time I walked on Parliament Hill in 41 years.

The flag on top of the Peace Tower is still at half mast.

I also managed to take a panoramic photo of sorts of the view from the Hill:

Ottawa is still a beautiful city. And, having just returned from the Middle East, it was good to reassure myself that it remains a free city of a free people.

So here I am, late at night, sitting in an Abu Dhabi hotel room, watching local TV streaming from my workstation in Ottawa with the news of a shooting taking place just over a kilometer away from my home.

The shooter is dead. Hopefully, he was the only one. Let him rot.