Sep 292009

In a single morning, I became over 30 million US dollars richer. At least that’s what my e-mails say:

  • I’ve been offered a 40% commission just for providing my bank account details that would allow an official to transfer $20 million out of South Africa.
  • I have supposedly received a $650,500 humanitarian grant from the United Nations, by random draw.
  • A diplomat presently at Heathrow Airport contacted me concerning my $7.5 million inheritance.
  • I also have a $15.5 million inheritance waiting for me in Nigeria.
  • Still in Nigeria, it seems that they failed to pay me another $2.5 million, due under some contract.

The total comes to $34,150,500, and all I need to do is answer these e-mails with the requested details.

Needless to say, I won’t.

 Posted by at 1:43 pm
Sep 272009

Back when I used to work late evenings in an office in downtown Ottawa, one of my favorite retreats after work was the bar upstairs at Friday’s Roast Beef House. Although I have not visited this fine establishment in ages, it was still shocking to hear on the news tonight that Friday’s is closing, after 37 years.

 Posted by at 3:40 am
Sep 262009

How times change.

Twenty-some years ago, a certain American president spoke at the Berlin Wall and said: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

He did.

Now it’s time to say the same thing over here:

Mr. Obama, Mr. Harper! Tear down this wall!

That is, tear it down before it goes up. The US-Canada border doesn’t need its Berlin wall.

 Posted by at 3:14 am
Sep 262009

I was a very brave person today… I peed in a toilet that I just finished installing.

So far, no sign of leaks below.

 Posted by at 1:05 am
Sep 252009

I’m most pleased with myself tonight. Maybe I have an aptitude for the experimental side of physics, too, as it appears that I was able to repair successfully my subfloor around the leaky toilet. I took some pictures:

Next task is to finish the floor and put the new toilet in. Maybe tomorrow, maybe not… I’m rather tired, so I might skip a day. But then again, I seem to be on a roll…

 Posted by at 2:18 am
Sep 242009

There are certain areas of life where decades of computer expertise are quite useless, and even a reasonably thorough knowledge of theoretical physics is only of marginal use. Replacing the rotted subfloor around a leaky toilet is one such area.

Yet this is what I am presently engaged in. So far so good… using some rather evil, foul-sounding power tools, I managed to cut out much of a square hole around the drainpipe, I’m only having trouble with some corners where the power tools don’t reach. Unfortunately, I found out that the subfloor in this bathroom is actually an inch thick, as opposed to the standard, 5/8″ board that I already bought… oh well, it wasn’t a big expense anyway, and perhaps I can use that board for some other purpose later on.

For now, it’s back to Home Depot to get a piece of inch-thick wood and also some advice on cutting out those nasty corners. Maybe they can suggest a method that would be slightly more efficient than the hammer-and-chisel approach which I attempted, with¬† some limited success.

While I’m at it, I shall also inquire as to whether it is possible for them to cut my boards to shape to fit around the drainpipe, so that I wouldn’t have to attempt such precision cutting using my fairly limited skills and perhaps less-than-adequate set of tools. Not to mention that I value my fingers, and prefer to have all ten of them in the right place and in full working order after I’m done with all this…

But for now, it’s rest time. I have this nasty tensor algebra program to tackle, but no matter how difficult it is, I sweat a lot less doing it than when I’m cutting a subfloor with a circular saw.

 Posted by at 3:30 pm
Sep 222009

I realized that I haven’t written anything in this blog for a whole week.

Back in the old days, when I was yet to convince myself to go with the times and start using the word “blog”, and I was still using my homebrew solution instead of real blogging software, I used to write something every day. I felt compelled to do so, given that I called my blog a “Day Book”. (Not an original idea, I borrowed it from Jerry Pournelle.)

But the blogging software I presently use doesn’t ask me to write something every day. So I’ve gotten sloppy. Or perhaps I have nothing meaningful to say.

Or maybe it is Facebook’s fault… I’m still debating with myself if it was the right thing to do, but I linked this blog to Facebook, so everything I write here shows up there, too. (Translation for those who read this on Facebook: everything you read, right here, right now, was originally posted “over there”, on my blog site.) I don’t know why it should intimidate me, but it does. Maybe it’s the idea that on Facebook, people actually read (sometimes) what I write, which is an odd sensation… I am used to writing in my blog with the near certain knowledge that nobody will read it, so I felt free to speak my mind.

Or maybe it’s just that I’ve been doing too much tensor algebra in recent days, all part of a devious plan to procrastinate, because once I stop doing that, I’ll have to start to think seriously about what I am going to do with a small bathroom downstairs that is in a severe need of repair…

 Posted by at 3:02 am
Sep 142009

I always loved the music of Vera Lynn, especially her “We’ll Meet Again”, featured at the end of the immortal picture Dr. Strangelove.

But, I admit I didn’t even know that Vera Lynn was still alive, much less that her recently re-released “Best of…” album was about to top the UK charts! Which it did, this week, beating a competition that included no lesser stars than The Beatles, with their remastered albums.

Wow. Congrats, Dame Vera. Well deserved.

 Posted by at 9:34 pm
Sep 132009

My wife and I have been married 17 years today. Yes, I can certainly take a few, or make that many, more years like these.

 Posted by at 12:37 am
Sep 092009

Finally, an idea I’ve had years ago seems to have occurred to others, too… namely, cutting down on spam e-mail by verifying that the originating server is a valid server for the sender’s domain. The mechanism developed for this purpose is called SPF, or Sender Policy Framework. I just set up my domains with SPF records… let’s see what happens! Of course SPF is not going to do the trick until a number of major providers begin to adopt it, but the fact that gmail has done so is quite encouraging.

 Posted by at 11:50 pm
Sep 082009

A friend of mine visited this weekend from the US, and bought some Hungarian salami. It was confiscated at the border upon his return. They couldn’t fine him, because he wasn’t hiding anything, but two nice, yummy (not to mention pricey) sticks of world class salami are now in the garbage somewhere, probably marked with biohazard stickers.

He was given extra scrutiny because last year, when he brought back some salami from Hungary, it, too, was confiscated. After all, Protecting the Homeland cannot be accomplished without preventing Americans from eating foreign meats on home soil. (Curiously, before Hungary joined the EU in 2004, the same salami was widely available in the US but not in Canada. It is the same salami, made using the same hundred-year-old recipe.)

My friend’s misfortune reminded me of one of my encounters with Canada’s fearless protectors of the border many years ago: I drove to Ogdensburg to pick up a parcel (value: approximately 20 dollars) but on the way back, I also visited a Radio Shack where I found some high capacity NiCd batteries (value: approximately 20 dollars). At the border, it didn’t even occur to me to mention the batteries, I did mention that I went to pick up a package. They decided to search my car. They found the batteries. They kept me at the border post for a whole hour, while they did the paperwork necessary in order for me to pay about 5 dollars in sales tax on the imported items. They also warned me that my name will be on some list for a year or more, and that I should anticipate increased scrutiny in the future. Apart from the fact that this experience was both annoying and intimidating, I was also wondering: is this really the best use of taxpayer money?

Then there’s the Sunday last year when I was driving to the US to attend a conference, only to be drilled by a US border agent extensively about why I am going and who’s paying me. I kept telling him that the only paying that’s being done is payment of a hefty conference fee by me, and eventually, managed to convince him to look up the conference Web pages (on a NASA Web site, no less) that, fortunately, contained a list of all attendees. Thus I was able to enter the great United States of America without being further accused of trying to steal a job from an illegal Mexican immigrant.

Or here’s another experience: I was flying back from Europe, and at Ottawa airport, I was asked if I had a laptop. Yes, I answered. I was asked if I use it for personal purposes. Yes, I answered. So I was directed to the examination room. Ahead of me, a person had two laptops, a Mac and a PC, and Canada Customs’ well trained experts had real trouble examining the Mac. For this reason, they kept me waiting. And waiting. Meanwhile, they were going through the family photos of my fellow passenger. The time I spent waiting kept me thinking. I decided that under no circumstances will I give these goons my passwords, or give them control of my machine. I would tell them that the machine’s data are encrypted (they are) and that they are free to confiscate the computer, which would only cost me some money and some inconvenience, as I’d have to set up a new laptop with all the software I use. But I did not escape from a one-party dictatorship only to give up basic, fundamental rights to privacy just because these goons look at me, in my mid forties, and conclude that I must be dumb enough to traffic in kiddie porn, carrying it on a physical laptop across the border. Fortunately, I did not have to test my resolve: to their credit, they first apologized to me a couple of times because of the extra wait, and eventually (after some 20 minutes or more), they let me go without inspecting the laptop. But, my policy stands… indeed, I am ready to follow one of security expert Bruce Schneier’s recommendations and encrypt the laptop prior to crossing a border using a one-time, unrecoverable password that I first communicate to a third party in a safe third country. That way, I could tell them truthfully that nobody, neither they nor I, can recover the contents of the laptop for inspection.

Anyhow, here is my question, to the citizens of the US and Canada. Clearly, these people do not serve our collective interests. Even when they (rather rarely) catch the occasional kiddie porn or drug trafficker, the price we pay, I submit, is way too high. In any case, it seems that most of the time they’re just harassing law-abiding citizens for the fun of it, because they can. Supposedly, our great countries are true democracies. So… exactly why do we keep these bullies, these goons, in lawful employment, costing taxpayers billions of dollars every year, why don’t we kick them in the butt so hard that they wouldn’t even be able to sit for weeks, and get rid of this stupid, anachronistic border control system?

Meanwhile, in Europe, you can land at the airport in Lisbon, Portugal, rent a car, and drive all the way to Vilnius, Lithuania, without ever being stopped for a customs inspection. The example set by Europe is not always something we should follow, but perhaps in this case, we should make an exception and get rid of this ridiculousness. And the goons.

 Posted by at 12:35 pm
Sep 042009

Sir Nicholas Winton celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this year. This British gentleman arranged the rescue of many hundreds of predominantly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia in 1939. In recognition of this event, a commemorative train ride was organized this year; what became known as the Winton Train, carrying many of the survivors and their descendants, arrived at Liverpool Street station in London earlier today, to be greeted there by Nicholas Winton himself, among others.

During the last leg of its trip across Europe, the Winton Train was pulled by 60163 Tornado, a brand new mainline steam locomotive, the first one built in the United Kingdom in nearly half a century.

 Posted by at 3:22 pm
Sep 022009

If you’re a scientist or engineer, you don’t need to be a pacifist never to work for the military. J. Reece Roth, a 72-year old professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee, didn’t know this when he hired two graduate students (one from Iran, one from China) and when he took his laptop to China. His reward, for a lifetime of working hard and being a loyal citizen of the United States? Four years in prison.

 Posted by at 5:50 pm
Sep 012009

Seventy years ago today, heroic soldiers of the Third German Empire defended their Fatherland by responding to an unprovoked attack the previous day by the criminal Polish regime on a peaceful radio station in Gleiwitz, Upper Silesia.

At least that was Hitler’s version. In truth, it was soldiers of the Abwehr and the SS, operating under a false flag, who staged the attack. The purpose was to give pretext to Germany’s invasion of Poland, the opening salvo of World War II.

Some two weeks later, the Soviet Union followed suit, in accordance with the secret appendix of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. What the Soviets didn’t seem to realize was that they remained the real target in Hitler’s master plan, Germany’s intended lebensraum: Poland was simply in the way. Even the Western Allies’ predictable response, a declaration of war on Germany, proved to serve Hitler’s interests: after the collapse of France, Hitler was ready to march against Russia with no threat of a second front opening up in the West.

Hitler really must have thought that he had an unbeatable hand… his plans only began to unravel in the winter of 1941-42, when the Soviets launched their first major counteroffensive. Which was made possible, indirectly, by Pearl Harbor… no, not America’s entry in the war, but the fact that the Soviet Union no longer had to fear a Japanese invasion.

Yet the war dragged on for several more years… and by the time it was over, some 50 million people were dead, much of Europe and parts of Asia were in ruins, and two Japanese cities went up in radioactive smoke.

Can it happen again? Sometimes I wonder…

 Posted by at 6:54 pm