Apr 302015

OK, I have had some sad good-byes in my blog this month, so here is a bittersweet one.

Earlier this afternoon, NASA’s Messenger probe, the first planetary probe to orbit Mercury, crashed into Mercury’s surface.

Although this means the end of Messenger, it also means that this particular probe fulfilled all expectations and then some: it worked flawlessly until it ran out of fuel and could no longer maintain a stable orbit around Mercury. The information it provided about the Solar System’s innermost planet will no doubt be studied for many years to come.

Good-bye, Messenger, and thanks for all the good work.

 Posted by at 4:50 pm
Apr 302015

Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I took a pleasant stroll downtown, visiting the National Gallery. We were specifically interested in their M. C. Escher exhibition, which is set to close in a few days. It was fascinating, though smaller in size than we expected.

Although I am reasonably well acquainted with the works of Escher, there were some prints that I have never seen before. For instance, this street scene from Abruzzi, Italy, which may well be part of the reason why Escher became fascinated with complex systems of seemingly impossible stairs.

Then there was this amusing National Film Board of Canada animation, from 1998, of Escher’s Sky and Water I. My only concern was for the poor museum security guard standing next to it, who had to listen to its soundtrack, endlessly repeated, throughout the day. (But then, he assured me that he is only there for two-hour shifts.)

Did I mention that the exhibition was smaller than we expected? It was housed in a section that also had some fascinating photographs. One of them was of a strange shape, a blistering ball on top of a stick of sorts:


Except that it wasn’t a stick. It was a steel tower, maybe twenty stories high. And the blistering ball was an atomic explosion in the first one 100,000,000th of a second, one of a series of photographs created by Harold Edgerton with his Rapatronic camera in 1952.

Look at the guy wires. They are still taut. But their top sections are already obliterated by the explosion. The only reason they are still taut is that they never had time to relax, nor would they ever: the atomic fireball expands much faster.

I don’t know, to me this is one of the scariest images ever produced by a camera.

 Posted by at 9:39 am
Apr 222015

Alas, Poppy, the 20th century cat, is dead.

We just learned that this beautiful little cat, who stayed with us for a few weeks several times in the past 15 years when her owner was out of town, is gone. She was not young; her exact age was unknown, but she was at least a couple of years old when she was adopted back in 2001. So she was definitely a 20th century cat. While some cats do live 20 years (in rare cases, even 30 years) or more, the average age of a house cat is more like 15 years or so, therefore it is not surprising that it was Poppy’s turn. But sad nonetheless.

Especially sad today, as I learned only a few hours ago that a beloved relative, aunt Éva, wife of my late uncle Jóska, passed away just yesterday, after a brief illness.

Here is the last picture of Poppy that I took, less than nine months ago when she was in our house for the very last time:

Poppy was one of the most beautiful cats I’ve ever known: tiny, with an asymmetric color pattern dividing her face. It always took a day or two for her to acclimatize (I learned always to release her upstairs, where she felt less trapped) but afterwards, she was friendly, gentle, and got along very well with our own cats, too.

Poppy’s owner used to use a cardboard carrier to transport her. This is what the carrier looked like over 10 years ago:


In the past ten years, I often repaired this carrier using packing tape and even duct tape. Somehow, it managed to hold together. We were wondering if the carrier would outlast the cat. Now we know.

 Posted by at 7:10 pm
Apr 222015

It looks like this is a depressing week of final good-byes in my blog.

I just learned that aunt Éva, wife of my late uncle Jóska, passed away after a brief illness. She was 72.

Aunt Éva was a very private person. I was sure that I had a picture of her somewhere, but I cannot find it anywhere. Perhaps it’s never been digitized? I don’t know.

I last met aunt Éva two years ago, when I was in Budapest for a family visit. We threw a little party at my Mom’s small apartment, and I was delighted when aunt Éva honored us by dropping by briefly. This was a big deal, as she usually avoided such events. I was very grateful that she made an exception to the rule on this one occasion.

I remember her very well, her black hair, her features, her voice. Along with my uncle Jóska, they always treated me like one of their own three children whenever we visited them. I miss both of them.

 Posted by at 6:54 pm
Apr 202015

I just learned the tragic news: Less than 24 hours after I uploaded my previous post about the one-time CBC radio program Disc Drive, the program’s former host, Jürgen Gothe, passed away, after a long battle with cancer.

I am deeply saddened. I secretly hoped that one of these days, we will hear him yet one more time on the radio. But that’s not going to happen… his wonderful voice has been silenced forever.

Jürgen was 71.

What a loss.

 Posted by at 3:42 pm
Apr 082015

I am listening to The Disc Drive Disc.

The Disc Drive Disc is an audio CD. More specifically, it is an audio CD that was released by the CBC 24 years ago, shortly after the fifth anniversary of my all-time favorite radio program, Disc Drive.

Disc Drive went on for another 17 years or so, until it was unceremoniously dropped from the CBC’s schedule as Radio Two was revamped to cater to a broader audience. I am sure that executives at the CBC are still congratulating each other on such a resounding success, even as the station lost nearly 40% of its audience in the past eight years, in their desperate search for the lowest common denominator, an audience that views “classical” as just a minor, unpopular genre.

And most unfortunately, they lost host Jurgen Gothe and Disc Drive: a unique, eclectic program in which it was not uncommon to hear something from Mozart, followed by Ella Fitzgerald. As Jurgen himself put it on The Disc Drive Disc, this program was unique in the English-speaking (or anything-speaking) world. And Jurgen’s whimsical commentary! It was a joy to listen to his stories about music, food, Herbie the cat or the Willis Point Fire Department. I was looking forward every weekday afternoon to 3 PM, when I could turn on my radio and enjoy a productive few hours at my computer while listening to the program.

Alas, this wonderful, unique, joyful program was taken off the air in 2007. If only I had the presence of mind, I would have recorded as many shows as possible. I didn’t. I did record the very last Disc Drive, which was mainly a replay of the very first Disc Drive, but that’s it.

Except that back in 1991, the CBC did issue the aforementioned CD, The Disc Drive Disc. Of course it is not an easy disc to come by 24 years later. When I searched for it online, second-hand copies were offered for hundreds of dollars on Amazon or eBay. But then, I came across a German music store that claimed to have this CD, still available, for the not so princely sum of 9.99 euros.

I picked, I clicked, and a few weeks later, today that is, I found a nice cardboard envelope in the mail, with The Disc Drive Disc inside. So one very last time, I was able to enjoy something new (to me, that is) from Jurgen Gothe and his team (and cats) from subterranean Studio 20.

Thank you, Jurgen, for the memories.

 Posted by at 3:07 pm