May 282013

The destruction of public radio in Canada continues: Our beloved bureaucrats at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission decided to allow the CBC to air commercials on Radio 2.

Dear CRTC: the CBC is not a private company. It is partially funded by the Canadian public. Its mandate is not to make money but to promote Canadian culture. Instead of allowing this travesty, how about holding them to account for the on-going destruction of a national treasure?

 Posted by at 2:15 pm
May 272013

Even as the Hungarian ultra-right is seeking closer ties with the Arab world, in search of an ally against a common enemy (Jews), none other than the English edition of Al Jazeera aired a half-hour documentary about the rise of the right, the rise of anti-Semitism, the plight of the Roma, and the increasingly authoritarian nature of Viktor Orban’s government.

Meanwhile, the Franco-German cultural channel Arte broadcast a 50-minute German-language documentary titled “Ungarn – Demokratie oder Diktatur?” (Hungary: Democracy or Dictatorship?) expressing similar concerns, but also providing more historical background.

Of course, apologists for the Orban government will dismiss these, like they dismiss all criticism, as liberal propaganda produced by naive (or worse, corrupt) Westerners who know nothing about Hungary, do not speak the language, and were duped by traitorous liberals, former communists, or Magyar-hating Jews. Yes, and pigs fly, too.

 Posted by at 8:33 am
May 262013

I noticed that the pictures on Google Street View for our neighborhood were updated recently. Much to my delight, I noticed that two cats from the neighborhood, cats that we have known for at least seven years, were photographed by Google’s cameras:

Yes, my wife and I are both fond of cats. Not just our own four cats but also cats from the neighborhood.

 Posted by at 4:07 pm
May 252013

As I was watching the news unfold about the gruesome court case of an Ottawa husband who is accused of first abusing and then torturing his wife to death by scalding her and then denying her medical treatment, I was reminded of an award-winning Hungarian commercial about spousal abuse.


There are uncanny similarities between some of the details of the Hutt case and this commercial.

 Posted by at 11:54 am
May 242013

How about this: some 700 years after Dante placed virtuous pagans in the outermost circle of Hell, beyond the reach of Satan, and free of any punishment save the fact that they are not allowed in the presence of God, we now have a Pope who says that it’s okay to be an atheist so long as you do good. And Jesus redeemed every human being, not just faithful Catholics.

Wow. Thank you, Pope Francis.

 Posted by at 11:35 pm
May 242013

Physics blog sites are abuzz about Eric Weinstein and his Amazing New Theory of Everything. For a moment, I actually confused him with Eric Weisstein, well known in physics and math circles as the founder of Mathworld, which, in the pre-Wikipedia days, was the Internet’s pre-eminent mathematics encyclopedia (only to be hijacked for a while by an unscrupulous CRC press). No, Weinstein is someone else: he is a mathematical physicist turned economist. In any case, he is no dummy, nor does he appear to be a crackpot. He is outside of academia, but, well, so am I, so who am I to complain?

So Weinstein gets invited to Oxford to give a public lecture, and he talks, for the first time, about ideas he has been working on for the past twenty years, about unifying physics.

This is greeted by a headline in The Guardian that reads, “Roll over Einstein: meet Weinstein“. Others follow suit, and soon physics news and blog sites far and wide discuss… what, exactly? Well, no-one really knows.

That is because Weinstein has not published anything yet. Not even a non-peer reviewed manuscript on This is pointed out in one of the few sensibly skeptical blog posts, written by Jennifer Ouellette on Scientific American’s blog site. Ouellette actually quotes a tweet by Sean Carroll: “Pretty sure Einstein actually wrote research papers, not just gave interviews to newspapers.”

Ouellette goes on to quote Oxford cosmologist Andrew Pontzen, who observes that these “shenanigans” have “short-circuited science’s basic checks and balances”. I couldn’t agree more. This is true even if Weinstein turns out to be right in the end.

Which is conceivable, since Weinstein is no crackpot. But it is much more likely that his theory will join many others, including Garrett “surfer dude” Lisi’s aesthetically beautiful E8 theory, that just don’t have much to do with observable reality.

 Posted by at 10:24 pm
May 222013

So Mr. Harper finally answered questions about the scandal brewing in Canada’s Senate. I found his comments rather pathetic, unfortunately.

In particular, this one: “it was Mr. Wright’s money, it was his personal money that he was repaying to the taxpayers on behalf of Mr. Duffy, it was his personal decision and he did this is his capacity as chief of staff, so he is solely responsible and that is why he has resigned.”

If Mr. Harper is speaking the truth, he should resign as he is obviously incompetent and out of touch even with his innermost circle of staff members. If he is lying, he should resign for, well, for blatantly lying to the people of Canada and for throwing his closest friends and associates under the truck for the sake of staying in power.

What an unsightly spectacle.

 Posted by at 10:29 pm
May 222013

Today, the weirdest thing happened on my main desktop computer: the right-click menu of Windows Explorer, as well as the Windows desktop, disappeared. I was also unable to bring up the Properties dialog, even through the menu bar.

The worst part of it is, I could not figure out what happened. A reboot didn’t fix things, nor did an obvious Registry hack (making sure that HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer\NoViewContextMenu is set to 0. For some reason, it was set to 1.) Eventually, I resorted to the big guns and used System Restore (thanks to the fact that I do backups daily, I had a restore point from 2AM this morning) to fix things. Still, it bugs me that something happened that I do not understand.

In comparison with another, mostly identical system, I noted that the other system had no subkeys under the Policies key whatsoever. So I wonder exactly when and how the Explorer and System subkeys were created on this workstation.

And while I was at it, I searched the Registry a little more and found another, possibly relevant entry: HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer\NoViewContextMenu. Once again, this Registry value is missing from the other machine, so I wonder how, why and when it was created on this workstation.

This is deeply disturbing. I don’t like mysteries, especially not on a machine that I use on a daily basis. Life is short and one does not need to resolve every mystery, but occasionally, such unexpected behavior can be a sign of a security issue.

 Posted by at 7:02 pm
May 132013

Upon watching this video produced by Newt Gingrich, I can only wonder: What was he thinking? What was his team thinking?

Does Newt Gingrich, the technologically savvy, well-educated former House speaker and presidential wannabee really not know that the thing he is holding in his hands is called, indeed has been called for more than 15 years… wait a moment… a smartphone?

But then, a commenter on YouTube suggested that it should be called a horseless telephone. I like the idea.

 Posted by at 9:10 pm
May 102013

So a few weeks ago, I purchased a new laptop. For just a tad over 500 bucks, I was able to get a fairly decent lightweight ASUS machine. Most importantly, it is a machine equipped with a touch screen, allowing me to experience Windows 8 as intended by its designers.

And I really gave it a try. During my recent trip to Europe, I took this laptop along. And, I made it a point not to install software such as a replacement Start menu; I wanted to experience Windows 8 exactly as its designers intended.

What can I say? I am not impressed. The way the world of Microsoft’s “Modern UI” is grafted onto Windows just feels… well, it feels like a kludge. The apps are not bad but they leave a lot to be desired. The built in mail app crashed on me countless of times, and even when it was working, it was rather finicky when it came to synchronizing IMAP folders. The built in Skype app crashed on my countless of times, and even when it was working, it was often stuck in a disconnected state, with no obvious means to initiate a reconnect. Windows itself boots up very quickly, which is a good thing, but unfortunately I needed to reboot it more often than I should have: that is because Windows 8 sometimes just went berserk, for instance during a perfectly ordinary network copy operation that locked up so bad, I had to hard reset the machine to recover from this failure. Simply put, I am not used to having to reboot a modern operating system regularly as a means of recovering from trivial malfunctions.

When things worked, they worked fine. The mail app is actually quite decent. The gestures, one can get used to (again, a touch screen helps a lot.) The laptop played nice with my Bluetooth headset, which made Skype a pleasure to use (when it worked.) Nonetheless, I kept missing the Start menu, and I kept missing the Aero glass interface.

When I finally got back home, sitting down in front of my trusty workstation that runs Windows 7, it actually felt like I was finally using a “proper” version of Windows as opposed to a downgrade or older edition. This is not supposed to happen. Even with Vista, one may have felt that it was misguided in many ways, but it did feel like an upgrade of Windows XP. Windows 8 does not feel like an upgrade of Windows 7. Quite the contrary.

I will continue to use my new laptop, as I have gotten quite fond of this machine. It was very good value for the money. (Finally I have a laptop weighing less than 4 pounds that has zero trouble playing back an ISO image of a Blu-Ray disc and has enough battery power for a feature length movie.) And I don’t really mind Windows 8. It’s just… it’s just… just silly.

 Posted by at 10:46 pm
May 082013

Many years ago, I came across a strange miniseries on the Canadian science fiction cable channel Space. I could not make heads or tails of it, but its atmosphere was captivating. Later, when all four episodes were broadcast in a late night marathon, I taped them all (yes, taped them; it was that long ago). A few weeks later, I came across that same tape, began watching, and I was forever hooked.

This is how I first encountered Mervyn Peake’s remarkable trilogy, Gormenghast.

Needless to say, I soon bought the book and read it in no time from cover to cover. It was an amazing read. There are only a few books that I can think of in my (admittedly limited) reading experience that I found as profound as this one: for instance, Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, or Marquez’s 100 Years Solitude.

The omnibus edition of the Gormenghast trilogy that I read contained more than just the three novels. It also contained a brief fragment from a fourth novel. A novel Peake never had a chance to write, due to his debilitating illness and eventual untimely death.

Nonetheless, the fourth novel, Titus Awakes, did end up being written. Not by Peake but by his wife and life partner, Maeve Gilmore. Shortly after Peake’s death, Gilmore attempted the impossible: she tried to finish the novel that her husband was not able to complete.

The remarkable thing is that she succeeded. In every respect, Titus Awakes is a true continuation of the Gormenghast cycle. It is a poignant novel that even incorporates a marginally autobiographical element, an attempt by Gilmore to turn back the clock to happier times and to tie the story of the protagonist, Titus Groan, to that of her own family.

This manuscript sat hiding in an attic for decades until it was recently found by Peake’s descendants. Gilmore herself passed away almost thirty years ago. What are the odds that a manuscript of such significance is found after all this time? Yet it is here, and for fans of Gormenghast, it is well worth reading.

I have read the Gormenghast trilogy twice already, and undoubtedly I will read it again. But the next time, I’ll not stop reading at the end of the third novel; I will also re-read Titus Awakes.

 Posted by at 5:30 pm
May 072013

There was another reason for me to stop by in London: the possibility of meeting some old high school friends, celebrating a shared milestone in our lives as we are all turning 50 this year.

The reunion was smaller than we hoped for, as in the end, only three of us were present. But the evening went well, good food, good beer, good company and all. One of my friends was, in fact, just recently in North Korea, and the stories he shared were absolutely fascinating.

 Posted by at 2:44 pm
May 072013

When I decided to visit London, I secretly hoped that if I am lucky, I’d spot the TARDIS, Dr. Who’s infamous “bigger on the inside than on the outside” time machine.

Thanks to Richard Bartle, my quest was not in vain. The TARDIS, as it turns out, is sitting quietly just outside one of the exits of the Earl’s Court Underground station.

Except that…  well, it’s not the real TARDIS. Instead, it’s just an ordinary blue police box, just like the one the TARDIS mimics, but unlike the TARDIS, this one is decidedly not bigger on the inside than on the outside. Still, it was fun to find.

 Posted by at 2:38 pm
May 072013

With four cats in our house, it’s easy to guess that my wife and I are both animal lovers. To be sure, we are partial to felines, but we love most other animals (with obvious exceptions such as flies or mosquitoes) and we are especially troubled when we see animal suffering.

And animals suffer a lot. Especially in wars. Which is why I find the Animals in War Memorial especially poignant.

I happened upon this memorial when I made an unplanned detour on my way to Leicester Square, where I was to meet with Richard Bartle, who was kind enough to come to London to see me. We were supposed to meet under the Shakespeare statue at Leicester Square. When I arrived, there was no Shakespeare statue. Fortunately, I eventually realized that the cordoned off area in the center of the square does, in fact, hide the statue which is currently being renovated. Shortly thereafter, I spotted Richard.

 Posted by at 2:26 pm
May 072013

I was silent in the past ten days because I was traveling. I spent six days in Hungary, and a few more in London, England.

I’d like to say that I had a blast of a time but that is not strictly true: I had a rather nasty bout with gastroenteritis that severely interfered with my plans concerning my time in Hungary. Indeed, let this serve as my apology to all those friends I did not have time to look up: the two days I reserved for this purpose, I ended up spending mostly in my hotel bathroom. Oh well.

At least the view I had from my hotel room was enjoyable. I don’t mind trainspotting, and I was on a high enough floor that the noise was negligible, even with the window open.

The view from my London hotel room was perhaps a little less exciting. But, at least it was also a quiet room. Or would have been, were it not for some noisy neighbors next door. (Yes, dear lady, the entire floor heard you when you were loudly banging on your friend’s door at 6 AM yelling, “are you awake?” We all were, by then.)

If only my room had been a tad bigger, with a mattress a tad less worn and a TV mount a tad less broken, I’d have been entirely satisfied. But beggars can’t be choosers, and when looking for reasonably priced accommodation near Paddington station in London, we are all beggars.

And the weather in London was absolutely spectacular. Blue skies and sunshine most of the time, not too warm, with a pleasant breeze.

Now I am safely back home, though still nursing my left foot; I almost twisted my ankle getting out of a car about a week ago in Budapest, and endless walks in London did not help either. Hopefully, I’ll stop limping in a day or two.

 Posted by at 2:15 pm