Monday, December 21, 2009

Dinosaurs Were Made Up by the CIA to Discourage Time Travel

I wish the band Math the Band would have come up with something less electronic and more fun/clever with such a good title...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The long way home

I am finally back in Budapest, after quite an exhausting journey that has taken many turns and twists. After 5 hours of sleep and some last-minute packing I was on my way to Tallinn airport witnessing the snow covered plains and forest of Estonia and the sunset at around 4 pm.

At the airport I was among the first to check in, which was not much help as my plane was an hour late, meaning that I was going to miss my connection in Frankfurt. Finally, we landed just as my second plane was supposed to take off, and I was taken by the airport bus to a gate about a kilometer away from the gate I was supposed to be at half an hour earlier

Fortunately, the second plane was delayed as well so I could make it (after covering the 1km distance between my arrival and departure points in record time, they moved my gate much closer). In the end we took off twenty minutes after we were supposed to land already and had a smooth ride.

After the pilot missed the bridge connecting to the terminal by about a metre and had to order the anxious passengers back to their seats, I was finaly at home again:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Look at the Birdie

I just finished reading Kurt Vonnegut's latest posthumous collection of short stories, entitled after one of the stories Look at the Birdie and in doing so I think I managed to read almost every book of his. The collection includes 14 previously unpublished stories.

These stories have the markings of typical Vonnegut works, with black humour, science fiction and absurd situation. I liked the stories, some of them more than the others, and I must admit, there was one or two that I did not get. Either way, I recommend the book to everyone who likes Vonnegut's style and earlier books.

Now that I have finished reading, I can start boxing up my books and sending them home...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

And Another Thing...

I just finished reading Eoin Colfer's addition to the Hitchhiker's Guide universe, the book entitled And Another Thing.
The book written as an appendix in the Guide to the entry on the Hitchiker's Guide is a welcome addition to the trilogy (of five) even if it cannot be the same if the same author would have finished the series.
Eoin Colfer in my opinion has understood well the dynamics of the story and has come up with a plausible continuation and introducing some interesting new themes.
And Another Thing has a similar kind of language to the H2G2, yet without such memorable phrases as "mindbogglingly", "almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea", and "The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't."
There are, however, many excerpts from the Guide to provide background on some of the developments of the earlier books (which are quite unnecessary for the real Hitchiker's fans) and for comic relief. These replicate the style of Douglas Adams but are a little too numerous and a tad bit weak in some cases.
Still, I would recommend this book as a fun and light read and a nice way to honour the work of a great author.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Paterei Prison

Pictures from Paterei prison that was operational until 2005, and now serves as a "culture park" for tourists, parties and weddings in Tallinn.
Paterei prison
Paterei prison
Paterei prisonPaterei prison
Paterei prison
Paterei prison
Paterei prison
Paterei prison

Pictures from Helsinki

Just a quick selection of the pictures I like the most from my August trip to Helsinki (including the World Heritage site, Suomenlinna).

Saturday, November 7, 2009


In October I had made a short trip to Russia visiting St. Petersburg, Moscow and Pskov. The trip was quite fun, but also very tiring -- by the evening I already thought about the morning as something that had happened the previous day.
The Moscow part was probably the most exciting part of the trip as we detached ourselves from an organised bus tour to St. Petersburg and took the night train to the capital. On arrival we were immediatily confronted by the fact that the room we have booked in the hostel has not existed for the last two years...
Anyhow, after a couple of coffees we did a pretty good job of exploring central Moscow. Unfortunately we had limited time, and our attempts to get out of the centre were thwarthed by the powers that be (e.g. a World Heritage member monastery was closed and we were kicked out of Moscow University).
All in all, it was an interesting and feature packed trip with all its excitement and I think I should like to visit Russia again; though, first I have to go to London as the Moscow metro system filled me with nostalgia for all the time I spent in London...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sunset in Paldiski

Sunset in Paldiski
Originally uploaded by bdamokos
From the town where Lilja 4-ever was filmed. Unfortunately this town is as bleak in real life as was in the film -- even the setting sun over the Baltic Sea cannot help much as the shore is cut off by the railway and the harbour.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Queen's Champion

The office of the Queen's Champion is an important hereditary office in the United Kingdom that apparently dates back to 1066. The duties to be performed in exchange for the 12 km² Manor of Scrivelsby are not manifold, but all the more dangerous. Until the coronation of George VI in 1821 his duty was to challenge to duel those who would not accept the new monarch.
At the coronation banquet he would throw down his gauntlet three times and a herald would issue a challenge among the following lines:
If any person, of whatever degree soever, high or low, shall deny or gainsay our Sovereign Lord George, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, son and next heir unto our Sovereign Lord the last King deceased, to be the right heir to the imperial Crown of this realm of Great Britain and Ireland, or that he ought not to enjoy the same; here is his Champion, who saith that he lieth, and is a false traitor, being ready in person to combat with him, and in this quarrel will adventure his life against him on what day soever he shall be appointed.
The champion was loaned the second best horse in the Royal Mews and an armor which was his for the keeping if anyone took up the challenge and the champion has won; otherwise he would get a cup from which the sovereign has drunk the champion's health.
There are no certain records that would show that anyone accepted the challenge, though there are some rumours about different Jacobites doing so.
After George VI the tradition of holding a coronation banquet in Wetminster Hall (the building of the Houses of Parliament) was abandoned and thus the life of champion became simpler, until the 20th century. In 1902 the then champion petitioned the Court of Claims -- the special court set up at every coronation to decide on who gets to perform what service at the coronation -- and since then his duty is to carry the Royal Standard at the coronation.

Find out more on Wikipedia; the painting comes from this website. A nice way to learn about chivalric traditions and the way a proper challenge was accepted and fought out is to read the Song of Roland from the eleventh century.

British Parliamentary archive as VOD

I just stumbled accross the online video archive of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, where meetings of the last 12 months can be watched. (The written records going back centuries are partially available online, as well.) In theory, this allows everyone who has a vague idea about the British Parliamentary style to experience it with their own eyes -- the only obstacle is to sift through the boring stuff where only one or two members are present and find the good debates between e.g. Gordon Brown and David Cameron.
Among the more interesting videos I found is the motion for a humble address in the Lords (at just before the 2-minute mark) and the state opening of Parliament by the queen.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Installing Ubuntu over and over again

For the past month every so often I played with Ubuntu by using the CD-on-a-stick and the Wubi solutions and finally I actually installed it on a dedicated partition. The one feature that has seen countless repetition in my short acquaintance with Ubuntu has been the installation and numerous reinstallation part. Fortunately I am getting better and better at it. Although reinstalling can be done quite easily on a clean system (delete partition, reinstall system in under 40 minutes) I would very much like a "restore system to the state of installation".

The main reasons Ubuntu has failed me have been its update manager, graphics and the installer itself.

A couple of years ago my first encounter with the autoupdater has been the occasion when after a restart there would simply be no graphic interface any more, very user friendly... My latest problems with the updater are still connected to graphics: at one time (I guess, after an update, but didn't reoccur yet) the screen would randomly flicker; most recently the update manager froze while updating an application that I have never used, and might never will. Naively, I killed the frozen update manager which has resulted in strange but unexpected results: after logging out and logging in the themeset was different, more exotic (although the system wasn't very operational which was accentuated with the fact that the graphical interface would not load upon rebooting).

A more frightening instance I had to take measures against a fresh Ubuntu install was when the installer froze at 97% completion. The good news is that the other partitions were not corrupted and even better is that the bootloader, grub works as it should and doesn't multiply the number of available OS's (as opposed to the expected behaviour of adding a new "Ubuntu" option next to the existing ones every time I reinstall Ubuntu -- at the current frequency this allows me some time to figure out how to remove grub once I decide to deinstall Ubuntu).

Today, after close to half a dozen installations I figured out how to enable the Wifi LED on my Acer Aspire One (with some help) although I still don't have a definite idea what the second LED is for (marked as number 8 on the image). Also, on the Netbook Remix edition, I discovered that the launcher actually has a translucent background, so if you set a background image, it will shine through (see image at the top).

The reason I am so resilient is that there are some very nice features in Ubuntu that interest me, but at the current rate of rei nstalling I am not ready to make the switch final (one of the biggest obstacles would be gettint used to the interface of and the lack of some Windows fonts).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Clandestine outlawries

I am a big admirer of long-kept traditions and I am always happy to see one survive or flourish. Thus, I was happy to discover a British Parliamentary tradition that has been kept for over three hundred years and has been exported to other Commonwealth countries as well.

When a new session of Parliament is opened the Queen (or her representative) makes a speech from the throne in the upper house of Parliament. (According to tradition she is not given entry to the House of Commons.) After the speech is read both chambers of Parliament demonstrate that the Queen is in no position to set the agenda of debate so in defiance they introduce a bill for a first reading (which means they first read the title of the bill and then decide whether to discuss it further in committees). For the last three hundred or so years this bill has been the same in the United Kingdom: in the Houses of Commons it is “A Bill for the more effectual preventing clandestine Outlawries” and in the House of Lords “A bill for the better regulating of Select Vestries”).

The Outlawries Bill basically sets up measures to prevent people from declaring their fellows “outlaws” in secret and also has some extra penalties for sheriffs doing this.

The Select Vestries Bill deals with the rights of “select vestries” to administer poor law.

In Canada the bills are titled “An Act respecting the Administration of Oaths of Office” and “An Act relating to Railways”. It is worthwhile to read the actual texts of these two bills that have been printed maybe for the first time ever in 2009. It is a good indication of the serious thought behind these pro forma bills is that the text stops after a short and one clause reading:

This bill asserts the right of the Senate to give precedence to matters not addressed in the Speech from the Throne.

After this pro forma bill, as far as I can see from the Hansard records I’ve seen online, the Speaker informs the members that he has obtained the Queen’s speech “for greater accuracy” and then a member moves to present an humble address to the Queen along the lines of:

Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament

After some long speeches by the mover and the seconder of this address, the actual work of Parliament begins.

Cheap access to information

In the last couple of weeks or so I have seen a huge increase in my access to information. Firstly, I subscribed for a second time to the Economist (currently they are sporting a 3 out of 4 issues delivered record), I found out that the Book Depository is quite cheap, but I also found some other great opportunities. Firstly, Népszabadság, one of the biggest Hungarian dailies keeps giving me free one-month subscriptions; moreover, the International Herald Tribune is also offering a free one-month subcription (no strings attached, as opposed to e.g. the Guardian Weekly's offer, where you have to subscribe for real and than cancel after your first 4 issues). Finally, the United States Army War College is willing to ship its publications on security studies to your home.
Now, I have cheaper and free access to contemporary information, studies and books, what remains is to find a service that ships DVD's with low or without shipping costs to Hungary...