Feb 282009

I take it back. There are still some sane conservatives out there in America. Some even think that right-wing talk radio is destroying conservativism. I only wish they were listened to.

How Radio Wrecks The Right

How Radio Wrecks The Right

 Posted by at 11:43 pm
Feb 282009

I am watching Rush Limbaugh on CNN and I shudder. Is this what the once mighty conservative right has become? A middle aged drug addict spewing poisonous populism? And this was once the party of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, or even, gosh, George H. W. Bush?

President Obama gave conservatives a chance to have their say about the stimulus package. They turned their collective backs on him. Unsurprisingly, the result is a stimulus package that serves Democratic priorities. And now they gripe. Even in the middle of a worldwide financial crisis, they’re not addressing real issues, they, Limbaugh among them, have nothing else to discuss but their partisan hatred of Democrats who, in their view, are out to destroy America.

 Posted by at 10:06 pm
Feb 252009

Every time I hear American politicians warn their citizens about the dangers of a government-run health care system putting in the hands of government bureaucrats health care decisions that should be left to patients and doctors, I feel outraged.

I have experienced the government-run health care system in several countries. NOT ONCE was a government bureaucrat in any way consulted… on the contrary, all health care decisions were made by me and my doctor.

Indeed, the only country I know in which health care decisions are routinely scrutinized by (insurance company) bureaucrats is the United States of America, with its privately run health care system.

So I think I can tell with full confidence to my American friends that if what they are looking for is a health care system in which decisions are made by patients and doctors with no bureaucrats involved, a government-run health care system may be the very solution they’re looking for.

 Posted by at 3:39 am
Feb 232009

I don’t usually write about things such as the Oscars, as the topic leaves me supremely uninterested. However, it is hard to avoid it if you watch, listen to, or read the news. And I suddenly realized something, one of the reasons why I consider awards like the Oscars so irrelevant.

I probably wasn’t even in grade school yet (my guess is that it was the summer of 1968 and my family was watching the Mexico City Olympics) when I observed that there really are two types of sports. The results of sprinters, jumpers or weightlifters are measured by an objective standard: the reading from a scale, a ruler, or the face of a clock. But others, like gymnasts, are judged entirely differently: by a panel of experts who make subjective judgments of their performance. The ranking of a weightlifter doesn’t depend on which scale was used, as all are calibrated to the same standard; the ranking of a gymnast, on the other hand, depends heavily on the constitution of the panel of judges supervising the competition.

But what bothered me most is not that these differences exist, but that the world of adults did not seem to take notice. Grownups all talked about the Olympic gold of a weightlifter the same way as they did about the gold of a gymnast, as if there was no difference.

My disconnect with the world of grownups began around this time, I think. And, as my misgivings about the Oscars demonstrate, it has not ended.

 Posted by at 4:46 pm
Feb 232009

Here’s this infamous political cartoon that everyone was so upset about:

Stimulus bill chimp

Stimulus bill chimp

But… why? All I see is a clever political cartoon suggesting that the stimulus bill is so stupid, it must have been written by a chimp, perhaps the cimp that police shot the other day, so they need a new one to write the next bill.

Not in my wildest dreams did it occur to me to view this cartoon as racist. With all due respect, not in my wildest dreams would it occur to me that an intelligent person might compare Barack Obama to a chimp. I doubt it occurred to Barack Obama either. He doesn’t strike me as a person who takes offense when none was intended.

 Posted by at 12:45 am
Feb 212009

The White House cat during the Clinton years, Socks, died yesterday.

Socks in the White House

Socks in the White House

 Posted by at 8:24 pm
Feb 192009

When the Canadian do-not-call list was brought into existence, I dutifully registered my two landline telephone numbers. Little did I know that the list is available to anyone (including foreign operators who are not subject to Canadian do-not-call legislation) for a few dollars. I have not checked (stupid mistake!) only naively assumed that the list will be implemented properly, meaning that the government will offer a means for operators to submit their list of numbers for do-not-call verification. I never expected that the do-not-call list itself will be made available in its entirety. On the odd chance that I know personally some of the people behind this lousy implementation, I’ll refrain from using stronger words but… this really wasn’t a very smart thing to do, was it.

Fortunately, I never registered our cell phones. And I don’t think I will. I doubt the do-not-call list will stop fraudulent operators from trying to tell us about our vehicle warranties or Florida vacations and why help them by making our numbers readily available in the form of an easy-to-purchase, government approved list?

 Posted by at 3:04 pm
Feb 172009

There are times when I wonder if moving to North Korea might be a good idea.

No, I am not altogether serious, but still… in North Korea, they may send you away for half a lifetime of hard labor for looking cross-eyed at a picture of the Dear Leader, but only in Canada can the driver of a passenger vehicle be fined for smoking while carrying a minor… even though, while the officer was writing the ticket, the minor, being a smoker, got out of the car to have a cigarette herself.

 Posted by at 6:53 pm
Feb 172009

I’ve been listening to a Hungarian public radio station, Radio Bartok, much of the day today. There was some serious classical music there, and by serious, I mean something other than what you would expect to hear from the Boston Pops. There was an arts news broadcast. There was a classic radio play (Ferenc Karinthy’s “Steinway Grand“, a hilarious “play in one act”). In short, there was culture.

Culture that used to be there on CBC Radio 2, too. Until it was at first slowly eroded, and then completely destroyed last fall.

I used to be proud of CBC Radio 2. Whenever I traveled, in the US or in Europe, I always proudly spoke of the quality of our public broadcaster. Alas, those days are gone. Now, I am just ashamed.

And annoyed. Annoyed because neither the CBC’s masters nor its critics really “get it”. The former demonstrated their utter contempt toward their listeners when they attempted to placate them with Internet-only playlists that have no hosts and no commentary, nothing that would give them life. The latter, by bemoaning the fate of classical music on the CBC, not realizing that a lot more was at stake; indeed, that many of the old programs that we mourn were not exclusively classical either, but had a well-balanced mix of music of all genres, so long as it was music worth playing, that is, to a civilized, educated audience.

 Posted by at 2:45 am
Feb 162009

I received some sad news yesterday from Hungary: my high school math teacher, Gusztáv Reményi, died last week, at the age of 88. He was a very kind teacher. Our class was a specialized mathematics class, and we were supposed to be the best in the country. In this class, being good at math didn’t just mean that, say, you got sent to national math competitions; you were expected to win them. Perhaps this made Mr. Reményi’s job easier, but I suspect that he would have done well with less talented pupils, too, if not because of his teaching style then due to his personality. If you met him and remembered nothing else, you’d have remembered his smile. I last met him a few years ago, at our high school reunion. He was old, he was frail, but the huge smile was still there, just as I remembered.

 Posted by at 3:54 pm
Feb 152009

Here’s a nice plot of yesterday’s power outage, courtesy of my server:

Power on Feb 14, 2009

Power on Feb 14, 2009

Interesting how the capacity drop and the recharge curve are both perfectly linear. Makes me wonder how accurate these curves are… do they really represent measured values or just a simplistic guess by software?

On the other hand, both UPSs ran fine for over half an hour, one supplying a server and networking equipment, another supplying a workstation, monitor, and some peripherals. So I really have no cause to complain.

 Posted by at 5:41 pm
Feb 142009

Murphy’s law works well on battery power, too.

Not FIVE SECONDS after I finished shutting down my workstation and my main server, the power came back on. If it only came back just a minute earlier, I’d have been able to avoid the shutdown altogether.

Well, at least the power is back on. I cannot help but notice that ever since the 2003 blackout, power has been a great deal less reliable here than before. Or perhaps it was always like this, I just perceive it differently?

A funny thing happened during the shutdown of my workstation, by the way. I executed a manual shutdown, which in turn was interrupted by the UPS that initiated a hibernation. So the machine went to hibernate. When I powered it back on, it came out of hibernation and promptly proceeded to complete the previously initiated shutdown. Computers can be so literal-minded!

 Posted by at 4:03 pm
Feb 142009

I’m writing this on battery power: we just lost power in our house, and probably more than just our house, as the traffic lights at a nearby intersection are also dark. If power doesn’t come back soon, I’m afraid I’ll have to start shutting systems down. Joyful.

 Posted by at 3:25 pm
Feb 132009

No, it’s not a lovely day. Certainly not in Buffalo. Here’s a picture of what used to be a fine house in that fine city:

House in Buffalo

House in Buffalo

Unfortunately, the same house looked like quite differently early this morning:

Fiery crash in Buffalo

Fiery crash in Buffalo

It seems that, sadly, not all aircraft incidents turn out to have as fortunate an ending as that miracle landing on the Hudson last month.

 Posted by at 8:12 pm
Feb 122009

Once again, I am reading an interesting paper on ArXiv.org (doesn’t matter which one, it wasn’t that interesting) and I notice that the author is a physicist from some Iranian university. ArXiv.org has many papers from Iran. No wonder that nation was able to launch a satellite and is working on a nuclear (weapons?) program, apparently with every hope of success. I am not sympathetic towards the regime of the ayatollahs, but the fact that Iran is not as black-and-white as some would like us to believe must be recognized. I also suspect that another fact, itself somewhat hard to reconcile with the picture of a monolithic, intellectually repressive theocracy, namely that as of 2007, 23 million out of Iran’s 66 million inhabitants had Internet access (according to the CIA World Factbook), has a great deal to do with the success and competence of Iranian physicists.

 Posted by at 2:45 am
Feb 112009

OK, so after three decades of surpluses, we can certainly afford it, but it’s nevertheless an alarming sign of the times: Canada’s first trade deficit since, what was it, 1974 I believe. It is not a pretty thought.

 Posted by at 9:03 pm
Feb 092009

So you smash up a perfectly good airplane, dunk a bunch of passengers in frigid water, and lose their luggage, and what do they give you? The keys to New York City, that’s what.

Keys to the City

Keys to the City

Then again, perhaps the fact that it wasn’t your fault and that everyone actually came out alive and mostly unharmed had something to do with it.

 Posted by at 3:55 pm
Feb 072009

I remain troubled by this business with black holes.

In particular, the zeroth law. Many authors, such as Wald, say that the zeroth law states that a body’s temperature is constant at equilibrium. I find this formulation less than satisfactory. Thermodynamics is about equilibrium systems to begin with, so it’s not like you have a choice to measure temperatures in a non-equilibrium system; temperature is not even defined there! A proper formulation for the zeroth law is between systems: the idea that an equilibrium exists between systems 1 and 2 expressed in the form of a function f(p1, V1, p2, V2) being zero. Between systems 2 and 3, we have g(p2, V2, p3, V3) = 0, and between systems 3 and 1, we have h(p3, V3, p1, V1) = 0. The zeroth law says that if f(p1, V1, p2, V2) = 0 and g(p2, V2, p3, V3) = 0, then h(p3, V3, p1, V1) = 0. From this, the concept of empirical temperature can be obtained. I don’t see the analog of this for black holes… can we compare two black holes on the basis of J and Ω (which take the place of V and p) and say that they are in “equilibrium”? That makes no sense to me.

On the other hand, if you have a Pfaffian in the form of dA + B dC, there always exists an integrating denominator X (in this simple case, one doesn’t even need Carathéodory’s principle and assume the existence of irreversible processes) such that X dY = dA + B dC. So simply writing down dM – Ω dJ already gives rise to an equation in the form X dY = dM – Ω dJ. That κ and A serve nicely as X and Y may be no more than an interesting coincidence.

But then there is the area theorem such that dA > 0 (just like dS > 0). Is that another coincidence?

And then there is Hawking radiation. The temperature of which is proportional to the surface gravity, T = κ/2π, which is what leads to the identification S = A/4. Too many coincidences?

I don’t know. I can see why this black hole thermodynamics business is not outright stupid, but I remain troubled.

 Posted by at 9:50 pm
Feb 072009

I just saw a bus from my window. It stopped at a bus stop. A person got off it, and the bus then continued.

A perfectly ordinary sight in a first world city (a G8 capital no less!), unless you consider that Ottawa was without public transportation for the past two months because of a stupid and senseless strike that accomplished nothing.

 Posted by at 12:43 pm