Oct 312014

The once famous Hungarian language broadcasts of Radio Free Europe ceased more than two decades ago, shortly after the end of communism in my country of birth.

Now, however, Radio Free Europe joined the growing choir of voices concerned about the policies of Hungary’s current government, and the country’s slide away from the values of Western-style liberal democracy.

This article, which will no doubt be dismissed by supporters of the ruling FIDESZ party as misguided and uninformed, misled by “liberal propaganda”, provides a nice summary of the events that unfolded in the country in recent years. It is also accompanied by a video report, which details the rising popularity of the ultra-right in Hungary and the dangers that it represents.

I just feel compelled to repeat the famous quotation by the Spanish-American poet, writer and philosopher George Santayana: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

 Posted by at 11:53 pm
Oct 302014

Spacecraft sometimes catch a glimpse of the Sun as it reflects off a sea or an ocean. Here is an example:

Except that this example was not captured by Earth-orbiting spacecraft. The sea here is not a terrestrial ocean. It is a hydrocarbon sea of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

Just to clarify, the reflection of the Sun is in the upper left of the image, where the outline of the sea is also clearly visible. The redder, arrow-shaped object closer to the center is a cloud formation.

 Posted by at 10:37 pm
Oct 302014

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.

 Posted by at 3:39 pm
Oct 292014

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.

 Posted by at 6:54 pm
Oct 282014

On my way back from sunny Abu Dhabi to autumn Ottawa. My wife asked me to bring some warm weather. I’ll try…

When you fly over trouble spots, the flight path can get interesting.

Our flight carefully avoided Iraqi, Syrian and Ukrainian airspace. We also spent as little time in Iranian skies as possible.

Soon, we’ll be flying over Hungary. Maybe I should try to wave to my Mom, in case she sees me…

 Posted by at 7:05 am
Oct 222014

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.

 Posted by at 5:32 pm
Oct 132014

Science fiction has a subgenre: mathematical fiction. Stories of this nature are rare; good stories are even rarer. One memorable story that I recall from ages ago was A Subway Named Moebius, written by A. J. Deutsch in 1950. There was another story more recently: Luminous by Greg Egan, which I read in Asimov’s SF magazine shortly before I stopped reading (and eventually, stopped subscribing to) said magazine. (Nothing wrong with the magazine; it’s just that I found many of the stories unsatisfying, and I found I had less and less time to read them. The genre is just not the same as it was back in the Golden Age of Science Fiction.)

So recently, I found out that Egan wrote a sequel: Dark Integers, published in the same magazine in 2007. I now had a chance to read it and I was not disappointed.

Both stories are very good. Both stories are based on the notion that as yet unproven mathematical theorems can go either way; that the Platonic book of all math has not only not yet been written, but that there is no unique book, and multiple versions of mathematics may coexist, with an uneasy boundary.

Now imagine that you perform innocent mathematical experiments on your computer, using, say, computer algebra to probe ever more exotic theorems in a subfield few non-mathematicians ever heard about. And imagine how you would feel if you realized that by doing so, you are undermining the very foundations of another universe’s existence, literally threatening to wipe them out.

OK, if you start poking holes in that idea, there are many, but the basic notion is not completely stupid, and the questions that the stories raise are worth contemplating. And Egan writes well… the stories are fun, too!

Incidentally, this was the first decent (published) science fiction story I ever came across that contained a few lines of C++ code.

 Posted by at 4:00 pm
Oct 132014

Something happened to me this morning that I have not experienced in ages. Probably not in the 21st century.

I learned about a breaking news event from a newspaper.

That is to say, this morning after I woke up, I happened to glance at the cover of The Globe and Mail before checking the state of the world on any electronic device. And the cover informed me about a massive fire and power outage in downtown Calgary.

I like The Globe and Mail. It is a fine newspaper, and sometimes, it informes me about things that I would not otherwise come across. And there is something to be said about reading a physical newspaper; I am certainly reading it differently, perhaps a tad more attentively, than I read online news sources.

But I long became accustomed to the idea that whatever is in the newspaper will be old news. Stuff I already know about, saw reports about on CNN or the CBC, read about on Google News.

This is why this moment this morning was so striking: like our forefathers in the past century, I learned about a breaking news story from an old-fashioned, paper newspaper.

 Posted by at 3:54 pm