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Behrooz Parhami's Blog & Books Page

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Page last updated on 2016 May 28

This page was created in March 2009 as an outgrowth of the section entitled "Books Read or Heard" in my personal page. The rapid expansion of the list of books warranted devoting a separate page to it. Given that the book introductions and reviews constituted a form of personal blog, I decided to title this page "Blog & Books," to also allow discussion of interesting topics unrelated to books from time to time. Lately, non-book items (such as political news, tech news, puzzles, oddities, trivia, humor, art, and music) have formed the vast majority of the entries.

Entries in each section appear in reverse chronological order.

Blog entries for 2016
Archived blogs for 2015
Archived blogs for 2014
Archived blogs for 2012-13
Archived blogs up to 2011

Blog Entries for 2016

Cover image for the audiobook of 'Modern Romance' 2016/05/28 (Saturday): Book review: Ansari, Aziz and Eric Klineberg, Modern Romance, unabridged audiobook on 5 CDs read by the first author.
Even though the book Modern Romance has two authors, the audiobook edition lists only Ansari on the front cover, but the blurb on the back cover credits the NYU sociologist and includes bios of both. On the challenges faced by him, a comedian, in working with a sociologist, Ansari has said: "They're both professions where you're just trying to make observations about the world that have some resonance."
I approached this audiobook nonchalantly, expecting to get some laughs in the context of dating oddities and mishaps, but was pleasantly surprised to find a very well-researched and insightful treatise of the challenges of finding love in the information age.
While it is true that ubiquitous connectivity has increased our reach and broadened our options, it has also created challenges, which include the expectation of nearly instantaneous response and the taking away of our time for soul-searching and introspection. The authors do a great job of cataloging the pitfalls of 24/7 connectivity and ways to avoid them.
Ansari and Klineberg consulted some of the world's leading social scientists and they created their own massive experimental set-up, which included interviews, focus groups, and an on-line research forum on Reddit, which attracted thousands of messages. The result is a unique mix of humor and solid science, unlike any other book you might have read.
Chart showing how heterosexual couples meet Electronic communication has affected every aspect of our lives, including how we connect with potential mates. As recently as the mid 1900s, most people married mates they met in the same town, neighborhood, or, surprisingly often, same apartment building. Later, college campuses and workplaces became meeting places for many. In an article (Time magazine, issue of June 15, 2015), Ansari included a chart, shown on the right, that reflects the percentage of heterosexual couples who met in various ways in the period 1940-2010 (handwritten labels, replacing a box legend, are mine). The article also included a separate chart for same-sex couples over the period 1985-2005.
While social media and on-line dating have expanded our horizons and options, making it easier for us to find potential mates, they have also introduced complications. Not long ago, phone calls used to be the primary means of asking someone out; now texting is the preferred method. The indirect communication via texting, which deprives us of many clues that exist in face-to-face or voice communication, can lead to misunderstandings and the need for follow-up clarifications.
The tone and depth of our communications have also been affected in a negative way. Ansari cites a large number of examples of content-free text messages, in one case consisting of repeated transmission of "What's up?" without ever going deeper. Any error in spelling or tone of a message will persist forever and may be reexamined by the recipient, with negative impact, whereas verbal communication leaves no permanent record. We also tend to be more considerate when we talk to someone, making it less likely to hurt their feelings.
It has been observed that on-line dating is a boon for women, because it levels the playing field to some extent. Another interesting fact is that what you write about yourself in your on-line dating profile barely makes a difference in how many responses you get; your picture is immensely more important (roughly 9 times more) than your words.
Ansari's own parents had an arranged marriage. His father's parents essentially showed him three girls, and in a Goldilocks kind of way, he deemed the first one too tall, the second one too short, and the third one just the right height. They spoke for half an hour 35 years ago and decided that they could make it work.
Here is one of the more interesting bits of wisdom in the book: What we say we want in a mate and what we actually want are quite different. This observation is from a study done by Match.com, which observed that when they matched couples according to their stated preferences, the pairing was seldom successful. This led to a fine-tuning of their match algorithm to produce better results. So, once again, the application of data science has led to improved efficiency in automated systems. One apt recommendation by the authors is to avoid prolonged text or on-line communication and schedule a first date rather quickly.
Young and old can benefit from this insightful book. Even if you are not a participant in the dating scene, the insights gained can help you understand your children and other young family members better.

2016/05/27 (Friday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Current and potential US presidential couples (1) The current and 3 potential US presidential couples: One of these couples does not look like the others!
(2) Kurdish music played by the very talented Kamkaran Ensemble: Wonderful!
(3) A machine for moving trees effortlessly.
(4) President Obama's visit to Hiroshima a decent move: It does not matter that the Japanese declared war on us and that without the A-bombs, the war could have been protracted, leading to greater loss of life. Accepting the fact that innocent victims were killed and recognizing the importance of good will between the people of Japan and United States in the face of regional challenges from China and North Korea are signs of strength, not weakness.
(5) The e-mail non-scandal: Interesting opinion piece by Kurt Eichenwald, who puts Clinton's e-mail "scandal" into perspective. Briefly, he notes that the rules to be followed by State Department officials constitute a 16-volume encyclopedic tome that no one reads. Career staffers, whose job is to be informed about the rules and to help top officials with compliance, never told Clinton that anything was amiss. While it is fair to criticize Clinton over her role in the Libyan intervention, the e-mail story is a non-issue that won't change any voter's mind.
(6) Data from a car's computer can identify the driver: Your driving profile may be as unique as your fingerprint. One study found that data collected from the car's brake pedal alone was sufficient to correctly identify the driver in 90% of the test cases.
(7) Swift "justice": In the Iranian city of Qazvin, more than two dozen young men and women, who were partying following their graduation, were arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced to 99 lashes, and punished, all within the span of a single day. The prosecutor's office of Qazvin has said that the justice system wanted to send a message to young people who attend mixed parties where the women are "half-naked" (the term used to describe women with no veil).

2016/05/25 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Photos of Taraneh Alidoosti and Golshifteh Farahani (1) Taraneh Alidoosti (left) and Golshifteh Farahani: Two talented young Iranian actresses who followed different career paths, both leading to this year's Cannes Film Festival. Along the way, both were criticized for their choices and had to endure hardships resulting from a backward patriarchal culture and closed-minded officials.
(2) Santa Barbara's I Madonnari street-painting festival: This year's 30th-anniversary event will be held at the usual SB Mission location during the Memorial-Day weekend, May 28-30, 2016.
(3) Eastern-style rendition of Ray Charles' classic "Hit the Road Jack!"
Image with the Persian text 'mamnoo'ol-jik-zadan' (4) Innovative judicial terms: Attorneys and law experts worldwide are impressed by the rate at which the Islamic Republic of Iran introduces novel judicial concepts. Here is a sampling.
"Mamnoo'ol-khorooj/vorood": Banned from leaving/entering the country.
"Mamnoo'ol-tasveer": Banned from being depicted in TV news, newspapers, and other communication media.
"Mamnoo'ol-fa'aaliat": Banned from practicing one's trade, be it writing, reporting, legal representation, etc.
"Hasr": The same as the Western "house arrest," except that it is carried out before a trial or even indictment.
The list will likely expand in future. Expect more novel judicial terms beginning with the prefix "mamnoo'ol."
(5) A tale of two seas: Receiving without giving isn't conducive to life. [1-minute video]
(6) The importance of breakfast is vastly overrated: Nearly all studies that conclude eating breakfast improves health or leads to weight loss are misleading or, worse, are sponsored by companies that want to sell you breakfast food. Eat breakfast if you are hungry in the morning; otherwise, don't worry about skipping it.
(7) Andre Rieu and guest performer Gheorghe Zamfir play a beautiful piece as a tribute to the late prolific composer Jame Last. I don't know the name of the piece, but it has some similarities to "Mon Amour."

2016/05/23 (Monday): Here are three items of potential interest.
(1) Cannes Film Festival 2016: Iranian artists shone this year, with director Asghar Farhadi honored for the best screenplay for his film "Foroushandeh" ("The Salesman") and Shahab Hosseini awarded the Golden Palm as best actor. The Iranian entourage received a warm welcome and a long ovation. Asghar Farhadi gave a sincere and effective acceptance speech. Upon accepting his award, Shahab Hosseini said: "This prize belongs to my people and I give it to them with all my heart."
(2) Old-time actor Donald Sutherland shows solidarity with Iranian film director Katayoon Shahabi by putting a scarf on his head during a Cannes Film Festival news conference.
(3) Novel Markets on the Internet: This was the title of a talk by Vijay Vazirani (of Georgia Tech) this afternoon at UCSB. Two example Internet markets were used by the speaker to illustrate the effects of the new dynamics brought about by fast, scalable communication on how markets behave and how they must be deployed and exploited. The first example, Google's Adwords market, has been used successfully to make Google's search business profitable. When you enter a search term, such as "vitamin C," your search term is auctioned off to businesses and these businesses offer bids for showing their ads alongside your search results. The bidding and selection occur automatically within a few milliseconds. The speaker explained the problems encountered in implementing such a high-volume, high-speed bidding system and some of the theoretical underpinnings of the associated market. The second example, cloud computing, is more recent and thus less well-understood. In the cloud computing market, service providers such as Amazon sell computing resources in different forms. Some customers who need predictability, make reservations for access to Amazon's servers and pay a premium price for the associated service guarantee. There is also a spot market, where one may get a better price if computing resources are not already booked to full capacity. This is akin to buying an airplane seat at the last minute at deep discount. The speaker outlined the challenges of such a market and some results on an equilibrium-based model that incorporates the important features of such a market and supports efficient polynomial-time algorithms. [This Web page contains links to Professor Vazirani's research on Internet markets.]

2016/05/22 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing GOP and RNC cleaning up after the Trump-2016 elephant (1) Cartoon of the day: Why Republicans are hesitant to get behind Trump.
(2) Last night, my family and I attended a culture show staged by UCLA's Iranian Student Group at Freud Playhouse, beginning at 7:00 PM.
The 3-hour program included comedy skits, poetry recitation, several dance routines ("Engar Na Engar," Modern, Sonnati, and Bandari), a traditional music ensemble (performing three songs, a zarbi piece in dastgaah-e shoor, "Ahesteh, Ahesteh," and "Moo-ye Sepid"), "Gol-e Yakh" song with piano and guitar accompanyment, and several trivia quizzes between program segments.
Comedian Tehran was the special guest, who performed his bilingual stand-up routine, making fun of racism by telling racist jokes. As a half-black Iranian-American, Tehran has first-hand experience about the subject, or, as he put it, the "nigger-terrorist" stereotype.
(3) Sweden's Minister of the Future: This is the nickname given to Kristina Presson, whose job is to promote strategic thinking in the Swedish government and to develop a long-term vision that goes beyond mundane problems and crises-of-the-week. [From "Fareed Zakaria GPS" program, today on CNN]
(4) Around the world on zero gallons of gas: This is the title of a Newsweek on-line story about the hopes raised for alternative energy by the airplane that is circling the earth using solar energy alone.
(5) A tale of musical rivalries: Conflicts (of both in-the-open and behind-the-scenes kinds) between pop musicians is portrayed in Steven Hayden's new book, Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me, which is reviewed briefly in this Newsweek on-line piece.
(6) California Strawberry Festival: After attending a picnic at Goleta Beach, where we had catered Persian food, courtesy of a number of faculty and students of Iranian origins at UCSB. my daughter and I ventured to a very crowded Strawberry Festival in Oxnard, where we tasted strawberry beer and smoothies and listened to Space Oddity, an excellent David Bowie tribute band.

Cover image for the audiobook 'Think Like a Freak 2016/05/21 (Saturday): Book review: Levitt, Steven D. and Stephen J. Dubner, Think Like a Freak, unabridged audiobook on 5 CDs, read by the second author, Harper Audio, 2014.
The authors of the best-selling book Freakonomics have struck again with their captivating storytelling and highly counterintuitive observations. Did you know that adults are easier to fool than kids? Makes you rethink the purported ease of "taking a candy from a baby"! Also, following your curiosity makes the world a better place, instead of getting you in trouble!
One of the more interesting examples pertains to taking a soccer penalty kick. During penalty kicks, soccer goalies dive to the left 57% of the time and to the right 41% of the time. The fact that they stay put at the center only 2% of the time makes it 7% more likely for the kicker to score by taking aim at the center of the goal.
No doubt, professional soccer players and coaches are familiar with these stats, yet it would be so embarrassing to kick the ball right into the hands of a stationary goalie that 83% of kickers take their chances with the more risky right or left shots.
Our behavior is affected not just by our own trade-off analysis and moral compass but by other people's opinions and judgments. Thinking like a freak means looking at the world in terms of incentives. Because of conflicting words and actions, and hidden incentives of which we may be unaware, the right decision is often highly counterintuitive and difficult to identify.
An example of a highly counterintuitive course of action is seen in the way the company Zappos hires its employees. It sends out with every offer a $2000 reward for not accepting the job offer. It figures that spending $2000 up front is much cheaper than hiring an unenthusiastic employee who would be less productive or who would leave at the first opportunity.
In many cases, poorly thought-out reward and punishment schemes incentivize bad behavior. For example, in China, killing someone in a traffic accident entails a smaller monetary penalty than the average liability (medical costs) for an injury. It isn't difficult to figure out what many drivers do when they run over someone!
Forget about feel-good measures and try to consider all options before applying your moral compass. In setting up incentives, be mindful of unintended consequences and the fact that many incentives backfire. The authors provide plenty of examples when unforeseen consequences or backfirings may occur.
There is something for everyone in this book. The examples may not be directly relevant to your daily life or field of activity, but having studied these examples, you will be much more likely to make correct decisions.

2016/05/20 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad depicted as Che Guevara (1) Ahmadinejad as Che Guevara: This piece by an unknown artist, featured on the iTanz FB page, is entitled "Cheh Nagovara," playing on the Persian "Cheh Govara" (meaning "how refreshing"). The "na" prefix means "not" or "un" in Persian.
(2) Visiting "LightWorks: Isla Vista": Downtown Isla Vista was abuzz last night with people experiencing light-based art installations, which are projects in a UCSB art class entitled "Physical Computing." The art displays will remain in place for 3 nights. The installation in this photo, "HaggaTree," has tubing with built-in lights that resemble tree roots. If someone hugs the tree, sensors detect the hug and turn the normally pulsating greenish roots into colorful moving patterns.
In this first video, a park bridge is outfitted with vibration sensors underneath, so that if you jump on it or run across it, the lighting pattern, colors, and intensity change. The artists creating this work actually designed algorithms and did some coding to specify how vibrations are to affect lighting. Each tiny light is individually addressable and can assume different colors under program control.
In the early part of this second video, you see volunteer spectators standing in front of a screen. An artist with a digital sketch pad applies "paint" to their image, with the digital paint projected on the subjects. The latter part of the video shows a light display that you can interact with, passing through its various openings and changing the lighting pattern as a result.
Mona Lisa wearing a chador (3) Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, on loan at a museum in Iran. [Image on the right]
(4) Trump apparently prefers Sanders as an opponent: His California supporters are out in full force with negative campaigning against Clinton, in some cases pretending to be Sanders supporters.
(5) UCSB ranked 8th worldwide in research impact: The 2016 Leiden Ranking puts UC Santa Barbara among the world's top universities based on data from the Web of Science bibliographic database produced by Thomson Reuters.
(6) US multiyear agenda for computing research: Entitled "Future Directions for NSF Advanced Computing Infrastructure to Support U.S. Science and Engineering in 2017-2020," this National Academies report provides recommendations to (a) position the United States for continued world leadership in science and engineering; (b) ensure that computing resources meet community needs; (c) aid the scientific community in keeping up with the revolution in computing; (d) sustain the infrastructure for advanced computing. [Read on-line]

2016/05/19 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon about Native Americans pondering building a casino over going to war (1) Cartoon of the day.
(2) Light-based art exhibit in downtown Isla Vista: Several parks in the residential community adjacent to UCSB will be filled with light for three consecutive nights, May 19-21, just before the May 23 second anniversary of the 2014 Isla Vista mass shooting. Contemporary artworks with light-emitting technologies will be showcased in the first-ever "LightWorks: Isla Vista."
(3) Helen Fischer, performing live in Berlin (2010): "You Raise Me Up"
(4) Persian poetry: Recitation of a nice poem about a mouse that is entrapped upon pursuing a feast placed in the middle of a sticky trap. The poem's content and style remind me of Fereydoon Moshiri's "Gorg."
(5) Narges Mohammadi sentencted to 16 years in prison: The leading human rights activist is currently serving a 6-year term for prior convictions. Ten years of the new sentence is said to be for her membership in a group that is working to abolish the death penalty in Iran. President Rouhani's government brushes aside such laughable treatment of human rights activists by pointing to the independence of the judiciary from the executive branch. However, gross injustices of this kind are often carried out in the name of national security, which is under Rouhani's direction. And, of course, the Supreme Leader encourages such harsh treatment of dissidents, without being accountable to anyone under Iran's Islamic Constitution.
(6) It is unclear why Baha'is are deprived of the rights to study and work in Iran: This is what Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science, ponders in his Persian Facebook post. However, one should go further and note that many other things are unclear too: why publishing a book or making a film needs a government permit; why candidates for political offices need screening and are disqualified en masse; why the Revolutionary Guards Corps, a branch of the military, controls so much of the country's commerce and industry. While it is a positive development that some people now dare to defend the Baha'is, one can't help but ask where all these defenders were when Baha'is were executed and imprisoned in large numbers since the early days of the Islamic Republic.
(7) Assessing two weed killers: This YouTube video compares a popular homemade weed killer known as "Weed-B-Gone" (1 gallon white vinegar; 2 cups Epson salt; 1 cup Dawn dish soap, of the blue original variety) with "HDX (high-density) Weed Killer" available at Home Depot. The demo shows that the two weed killers are nearly equal in effectiveness, with HDX costing a bit less per gallon.
[P.S.: You can tell from this post that I have been doing some gargening chores lately.]
(8) Eleven-year-old violinist Masha Marshon: In this 5-minute video, she performs Massenet's Meditation with the Israel Philharmonic.

2016/05/18 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Group photo taken at Sharif University of Technology's 50th anniversary celebration (1) Sharif University of Technology's 50th Anniversary celebration: Today SUT, my former workplace for 12 years (1974-1986), celebrated its 50th anniversary of founding in 1966 as Arya-Mehr University of Technology. My affiliation with SUT was during turbulent years, both the years leading to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and those after the Revolution, during which a 3-year closure of all Iranian universities under the guise of Cultural Revolution and interference in academic affairs by unqualified officials and students made serious academic activity quite difficult. Beginning with the year leading to the 1979 Revolution, the university was called by the informal name "Tehran University of Technology," before being officially renamed in 1980. Fifty staff/faculty members who have served SUT with distinction (yours truly included) and 50 of its distinguished graduates were honored in today's ceremony. In rough numbers, today's SUT has 400 staff members, 6000 undergraduate students, and 5000 graduate students.
Here is an interesting interview, in Persian, with Mehdi Zarghamee, the fifth Chancellor of SUT (1975-1977).
[Note added on May 19: The very sparse presence of women is noteworthy, but not surprising. The rank of chancellors has included no woman thus far. SUT's student body does include many capable women. Let's hope that more than a few token women were chosen but for whatever reason, chose not to attend. In fact, I am told that Fields Medal winner Maryam Mirzakhani of Stanford University was among the honorees.]
[Photo courtesy of Dr. Ghassem Jaberipur, one of the honorees and a former student of mine, who is seated near the middle of the second row (7th from the right). Those in the front row are the current and five of the former chancellors of SUT.]
(2) Average bed times in different countries (Country; men; women) (Belgium; 10:58; 10:32) (USA; 10:56; 10:51) (Canada; 11:00; 10:58) (UAE; 11:34; 11:49) (Singapore; 11:35; 12:00) (Spain; 11:37; 12:00) [Source: Time magazine, issue of May 23, 2016]
P.S.: Don't ask me what one gender does when the other one is already in bed; I don't know!
(3) The ultimate rally in table tennis: Very impressive indeed!
(4) Like all former Iranian presidents, Rouhani is powerless: He has expressed dissatisfaction with the expanded role of Iran's decency (aka morality) police, but the Supreme Leader routinely goes over his head and the hardliner-controlled judiciary, under the guise of independence from the executive and legislative branches, seems to be bent on making his life miserable.
(5) A new trend in Iran: Women cutting or shaving their hair and donning men's clothing to be able to walk freely on streets or attend sporting events.
(6) Beyond the Veil: In this 14-minute documentary film, made by Ajwa Aljoudi (a journalism student at Cal State Northridge), the political activism of a Saudi-born US military mom and the challenges of other women from closed Islamic societies are portrayed. Professor Nayereh Tohidi of CSUN appears in some interview segments.

2016/05/17 (Tuesday): Book review: Harris, Sam, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion, unabridged audiobook on 6 CDs, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2014.
Cover of the book 'Waking Up' by Sam Harris Many scientists are suspicious of spiritual experiences, and spiritual teachers are often scientifically illiterate. So, when they attempt to bridge the gap from their side, the results are less than satisfactory. "In the end, we are left to choose between pseudospirituality and pseudoscience. ... But there is a connection between scientific fact and spiritual wisdom, and it is more direct than most people suppose."
Sam Harris is a clear thinker, but his views are highly controversial due to his beliefs, or lack thereof (he is an atheist; he also happens to be a neuroscientist). Harris claims that some 20% of Americans consider themselves spiritual but not religious. His thesis is that spirituality without religions isn't an oxymoron, and that looking forward to Heaven and fear of Hell aren't necessary for living a fulfilling life.
Harris deems meditation the single most important method of achieving a heightened sense of spirituality, well-being, and fulfillment. He offers a set of simple instructions for getting into the meditative state and for staying there when your mind begins to wander. He notes that the conventional sense of self is an illusion. "[S]pirituality largely consists in realizing this, moment to moment ... Most of us feel that our experience of the world refers back to a self—not to our bodies precisely but to a center of consciousness that exists somehow interior to the body behind the eyes, inside the head."
To grasp the sense of "self," Harris suggests a thought experiment. Imagine getting into a teleportation machine which you are promised is completely safe. A machine on Mars duplicates you by placing the exact same atoms in the same positions they occupy in your body. Is the person reconstructed on Mars really you? He asks this question in the two cases where the real you is destroyed before the replica is made and the case where you coexist with the replica. He goes on to elaborate why most people think that the mere maintenance of life, memories, beliefs, and habits is insufficient for the person on Mars to be you.
Harris makes us question the notion of self (the "I" in our head) as something purely psychological. We are part of the world and the boundaries between individuals are quite artificial. This notion ties nicely into the ideas I am reading about in the book Neurosphere: The Convergence of Evolution, Group Mind, and the Internet, by Donald P. Dulchinos, whose central thesis is that humans have reached the end of their evolution in the biosphere and have begun evolving in the neurosphere.

2016/05/16 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) The American spy who vanished in Iran: A new book, Missing Man, tells the still unfinished story of Bob Levinson, an aging and cash-strapped former G-man who took the extraordinary risk of accepting a spying assignment in Iran. He is either dead or imprisoned by the Iranians, who have so far denied they have him in custody. [From a brief book review in Time magazine, issue of May 23, 2016]
(2) This marble race is actually quite absorbing, thanks to the colorful commentary.
(3) Three major Santa Barbara institutions reach key milestones this year: Museum of Natural History turns 100; Botanic Gardens turns 90; Museum of Modern Art turns 75.
(4) Precision group dancing at its best. [5-minute video]
(5) A heartwarming interview with Jan Smithers (text and video): The 1966 teenager who was featured on the cover of a "teen issue" of Newsweek magazine 50 years ago, went on to star on "WKRP in Cincinnati" as a result. The new Newsweek teen issue focuses on the very negative reaction of modern teenagers to racism. There is hope for America!
(6) In a projection lighting stunt, the Saudi embassy in Berlin was branded as "Daesh Bank."
(7) Eat your fork as dessert: An Indian start-up is marketing edible cutlery in an effort to reduce plastic waste. The pieces are sturdy enough to survive most foods, including hot soup, and they come in different flavors.
(8) Iranian-born actress Golshifteh Farahani has posted a batch of photos from the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
(9) Cancer treatment with polio virus gets breakthrough status: Last night's CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes" reported on amazing results from preliminary trials of curing a form of brain cancer by using a genetically modified version of the polio virus to help kill cancerous cells and to awaken the body's immune system to provide additional response. Breakthrough status from the FDA means that the treatment will be fast-tracked, allowing much broader trials while the method is still under study. This is yet one more piece of evidence that cancer will be conquered within a decade.

2016/05/15 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Time magazine's cover about the crisis of capitalism (1) Saving Capitalism: This is the title of a cover feature by Rana Foroohar in Time magazine's May 23 issue. The piece is based on Foroohar's new book, Makers and Takers. A new poll reveals that "only 19% of Americans ages 18 to 29 identified themselves as 'capitalists.' In the richest and most market-oriented country in the world, only 42% of that group said they 'supported capitalism." The numbers were higher among older people; still, only 26% considered themselves capitalists. A little over half supported the system as a whole."
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines from the past couple of days:
- Donald Trump taps climate-change skeptic as energy adviser
- Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani elected to US National Academy of Science
- Tehran surpasses Beijing and Delhi as the world's most-polluted city
- President Obama endorses the idea of making election day a national holiday
- Fatma Samoura from Senegal chosen as first woman to lead FIFA
- Concern grows over possible Venezuela economic meltdown
(3) Robotic TAs are here: Georgia Tech professor Ashok Goel experimented with a robotic TA named Jill Watson (she was based on IBM's Watson AI platform) to answer students' e-mail questions along with normal human TAs for his course on artificial intelligence. In what seems like a successfully completed Turing Test, the students were unaware that they were being served by a robotic TA, until the professor broke the news to them after the completion of the course's final exam. Expect additional experiments of this kind, but with different last names for the robotic TAs.
(4) Ukraine wins the Eurovision song contest: In the contest's finale, Jamala performed "1944," an anti-Kremlin song. Russia, which came in third, blames politics. The song begins at the 2:30 mark of this 6-minute video.
(5) 'Tis the season for commencement speeches: Here is Sheryl Sandberg's at UC Berkeley.
(6) Baha'is continue to be humiliated in Iran: Despite direct denials by Iran's FM and other senior members of President Rouhani's government, many individuals are indeed imprisoned in Iran for their beliefs. Not only that, but they are serving harsh sentences worthy of murderers. Fariba Kamalabadi, sentenced to a 20-year prison term was recently allowed a vacation to meet with family and friends after serving 8 years. Even though daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani met with the prisoner, all indications are that Rafsanjani himself is in line with the Islamic regime that deems Baha'is filthy and not entitled to practice or promote their religion.
(7) Muyueh Lee's talk entitled "Green Honey": In a now-famous approach to illustrate the power of visualization, Lee uses the method to derive useful information from how different languages describe colors. Here is a related article about the relationships between language constructs for color and the color discrimination ability of the population. Quoting from it, "I used to think that languages and cultures shape the ways we think. I suspected they shaped the ways we reason and interpret information. But I didn't think languages could shape the nuts and bolts of perception, the way we actually see the world. That part of cognition seemed too low-level, too hard-wired, too constrained by the constants of physics and physiology to be affected by language."

2016/05/14 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing the marriage of Trump and the GOP mascot (1) Cartoon of the day: "Relax, this is my fourth marriage!" [From this week's Santa Barbara Independent]
(2) Guilaki ballet: Ballet dancing to music from the western Caspian Sea province of Guilan in north-central Iran.
(3) Talented violinist playing on a street in Iran.
(4) Iranian "Johnny B. Goode": The classic Chuck Berry song is performed by Velshodegan, using some Persian words and video clips from many unsuspecting artists.
(5) Andre Rieu plays "Chiquitita": This 1979 classic ABBA tune sounds great nearly three decades later.
(6) Mohammad Khatami's brief speech (in Persian): There is a strict ban in Iran on disseminating Khatami's words or showing his image. Even though I hold Khatami partly responsible for the current sorry state of free speech and human rights in Iran, I believe that he is entitled to express his thoughts; hence, this post.
(7) FTA requests immediate attention to repairs and safety improvements in the Washingon, DC, Metro.
(8) The first of many possible convictions for operators of for-profit colleges: Alejandro Amor gets an 8-year prison term for fraud in connection with his FastTrain for-profit college firm.
(9) Time to reinvest in higher education: College costs are rising sharply and state support is dwindling, which means much greater student-debt burden for most graduates. Here is why.

2016/05/13 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
(1) UCLA Bilingual Lectrues on Iran: Today, Hamid Naficy will talk about "Media Diplomacy Between Iran and the West: War by Other Means" (UCLA campus, 10383 Bunche Hall, 4:00-6:00 PM). Unfortunately, I cannot attend what sounds like a very interesting lecture. http://www.international.ucla.edu/cnes/event/11978
Speaker's abstract: Over the past thirty-plus years, normal diplomatic relations between Iran and the West, particularly the United States, have been curtailed, encouraging much of the diplomacy between the two countries to be conducted either in deep secrecy (the Iran Contra Scandal during the Reagan-Rafsanjani presidencies), or allowed to surface in the media. This lecture focuses on the mediatic and diplomatic dance, in which five unlikely partners, that is, the Iranian government, the American government, American media, Iranians at home, and Iranians in the diaspora, have engaged, while addressing one another through film and electronic media. The lecture will be accompanied by video clips.
(2) An extraordinary pedestrian bridge in Tehran: The Tabi'at (Nature) Bridge has become much more than a means of crossing from one park-like area to another. It is used to stroll, meet people, dine, and contemplate, as explained by its young, award-winning female architect, Leila Araghian.
(3) Engineering at its worst: According to this 5-minute documentary, a dam built on Iran's Karoun river in the vicinity of major salt deposits has made the river's water salty, causing extensive damage to agriculture in the Khuzestan province. Interestingly, experts had warned against such an outcome before this and other similar projects in the region were green-lighted.
(4) Hyperloop near-sonic-speed ground transport system demonstrated: The demonstration was to show, in very crude form, the propulsion process of gathering speed at start-up. Brakes have not been developed yet, so the maglev train car had to crash into a pile of sand to stop. The ultimate goal is a train that travels at 750 mph, reaching San Francisco from Los Angeles in 30 minutes. Cargo transport is anticipated by 2019 and passengers by 2021. One of my personal worries about such a high-speed transport inside a tube is the possibility of the tubes becoming misaligned due to ground movement, which is quite common in California. However, there should be automatic ways of detecting any misalignment.
(5) This progressive case for Hillary Clinton resonated with me (even though I do not agree with all the details): Yes, many criticisms of Hillary Clinton are valid and might have led me to make a different choice, if there were a better one available. But I much rather choose a person who has been under the spotlight for decades and has a few exposed flaws than someone who has not been scrutinized with the same intensity and thus likely has many hidden flaws. Quoting from the piece, "When you hear that Hillary Clinton is unlikable, be aware of the study that shows competent women are generally seen as unlikable; when you hear that Hillary Clinton is dishonest, know that this same study shows women in power are generally seen as dishonest. And know that when the same imaginary job candidate is presented to two groups, with the only difference being a male or female name at the top of the resume, the female candidate is seen as less trustworthy than the man. In each study, these biased reactions were found in both women and men."
(6) News headline: Nvidia car learns how to drive by watching videos of human drivers.
My take: And the first time it backs out of a garage, it runs over a bicyclist!
[P.S.: I thought the idea of self-driving cars was to avoid human errors, not to replicate them!]

Cover image for Hector Tobar's 'Deep Down Dark' 2016/05/12 (Thursday): Book review: Tobar, Hector, Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free, unabridged audiobook on 11 CDs, read by Henry Leyva, Macmillan Audio, 2014.
After I finished listening to this audiobook, I also watched the 2015 movie "The 33" (starring Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips, James Brolin, Gabriel Byrne, and, in a role whose casting met with criticism, Juliette Binoche), with its screenplay adapted from Tobar's book. I remember following the drama on live TV in 2010, as the rescue efforts and their dramatic ending at the San Jose copper/gold mine were broadcast over several weeks. The drilling of holes, first to get food and other supplies to the 33 miners, and then to enlarge the holes to extract the trapped men by means of a specially designed capsule, in an international effort, were already quite familiar to me.
What Tobar's book added for me was the underground story of how the miners coped during the days when they weren't sure if anyone knew they were alive and, later, when they had communicated their location/condition and were waiting, while literally starving, for one of the holes being drilled to reach the refuge chamber that was holding them safe; how they lived on a meager ration of 100 or so calories per day (biscuits and tuna, mainly), and on contaminated water from a tank, for 17 days.
Once one of the 6-inch holes reached the refuge 700 m below the surface, the miners got relief in terms of food and safe drinking water, a micro-projection-TV (with a white sheet used as its screen), and a video communication channel to the surface that they used to talk with family members. They were still living in fear of dying, but they at least had some hope of eventually being rescued. Their faiths and nerves were severely tested when the rescue effort took longer than initially anticipated (69 days in all).
Meanwhile, a camp was established on the surface with some amenities that allowed the families to wait for their loved ones in relative comfort and to send/receive messages to/from them. At least one of the miners had both a wife and a girlfriend, and the tension between the two was part of the drama unfolding at the surface camp. Another big piece of the drama appeared when the miners learned that they will become rich if and when they get out. They started discussing how they should keep their mouths shut following the rescue and to strike a collective deal for their story, instead of acting individually.
Inevitably, the miners turned on each other over financial and other matters. For example, when they read in a newspaper article that foreman Mario Sepulveda was hailed as a leader (Super Mario was the nickname given to him), who single-handedly saved the group, and that he had been offered an undisclosed sum for a book deal, the other miners were understandably furious.
Subsequently, the money they got from the Chilean government and from a few companies and philanthropists became a curse, as relatives and acquaintances started showing up to seek financial help, in the form of loans that were mostly not repaid. After the rescue, the miners were also invited to locales around the world, including to Disneyland, a globetrotting lifestyle that was quite foreign to them. Many of them suffered psychological maladies and recurring nightmares.
Tobar's book is very well-researched and engagingly written. He leaves no stone unturned, from the interpersonal relationships between the miners through the ordeal and after their rescue to their family dynamics and the challenges of mine work in general. I recommend the book highly. The movie, though quite good, does not match Tobar's account in quality.

2016/05/10 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
checkerboards of side lengths 8 and 6 (1) A challenging geometrical puzzle: You are given two checkerboards, a standard 8-by-8 board and a 6-by-6 board (both have alternating black and white squares, as in a normal checkerboard). Can you cut each of the two checkerboards into two pieces and rearrange the resulting four pieces to form a 10-by-10 checkerboard?
(2) Physics in action: Wonderful chain-reaction set-up involving balls in motion.
(3) On a new definition of "gheirat": A man writing on the "My Stealthy Freedom" Facebook page, atones for his sins of not supporting the women in his life and suggests that the Persian word "gheirat" be redefined to mean support for women's freedom. I commented on the post, suggesting that rather than redefining the word, and another one of the same ilk ("namoos"), we retire these misogynistic terms, which have had little use beyond demeaning and enslaving women. Reactions of other users (mostly supportive of my comment) are quite telling. There are insulting/condescending comments by several individuals, perhaps belonging to Iran's cyber-army.
(4) This one's a couple of days late for Mothers' Day: Bruce Springsteen honors his mother on stage.
(5) The new Muslim mayor of London won't be banned from the US: Trump offered this clarification after Sadiq Khan indicated (jokingly, I presume) that he would have to visit his US counterparts before January, in case Trump is elected President.
(6) Kurdish music: Accompanied by a big orchestra and a choir, Shahram Nazeri performs "Shirin Shirinam" ("My Sweet Shirin").
(7) Wearables for cows: The dairy industry is putting wearable electronics to good use in improving productivity and the breeding process.
(8) Classic comedy skit, with Johnny Carson as Ronald Reagan: Talking with James Baker about Watt (what?), Y (why?), Yasser (yes sir!), and Hu (who?).
(9) Ransomware: Americans paid about $325M in cyber-ransome in 2015, a figure that will surely go up in the years to come. [Source: Newsweek on-line]

2016/05/09 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Fereydoon Moshiri's 'Mother' poem (1) A day late for Mothers' Day, but still worth sharing: Fereydoon Moshiri's "Mother" poem, dedicated to my mom and all other wonderful mothers. And here is an English translation of the poem by Faranak Moshiri.
(2) [Again with delay] Best gift to moms, on this Mothers' Day: Pledge to work toward curbing gun violence, with celebrities such as Julianne Moore and Melissa Joan Hart.
(3) Hawking on Iran: A Persian feast with Stephen Hawking, and his telling of the story of a visit to Iran in 1962.
(4) History of MATLAB: Today, Cleve Moler, Chief Mathematician at MathWorks, gave a lecture at UCSB entitled "The Evolution of MATLAB" (11:00 AM, ESB 1001). MATLAB has evolved over more than 30 years from a simple matrix calculator to a powerful technical computing environment. MathWorks, the company that offers MATLAB and a number of other software products for scientific computation, has grown from a handful of employees at the outset to some 3500 employees around the world today. Moler fashioned MATLAB (short for matrix laboratory) after Niklaus Wirth's PL0, a simple programming language that had only one (integer) data type. MATLAB's single data type was matrix. Today, MATLAB and related software products are used on Wall Street, in pharmaceutical research, for microchip design, in image analysis, and for designing control systems for drones. Cleve Moler maintains a blog that contains a variety of interesting observations.
(5) One of the most devastating wildfires in recent history is still raging in Canada: Thousands have been displaced, with no clear indication of when they can return. The Alberta fire is 0% contained at this time and may take months to extinguish.
(6) Carl Barney, the businessman behind many for-profit colleges: Arriving in the US as a jobless British immigrant in the 1960s, Barney went on to amass a fortune by following the unalloyed selfishness and remorseless capitalism creed of Ayn Rand. Now that the US is cracking down on degree mills that mislead students and abuse the federal student-aid system, leaving students in huge debts and with little in way of marketable skills, Barney's businesses are under close scrutiny.
(7) The last Nazi trials: Ever since 1945, Germany has indicted 16,767 individuals, convicting 6686 of them for their Nazi past. Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old SS guard, is now being tried for his role in wiping out entire families. [Info from: Time magazine, issue of May 16, 2016]

Panel participants, today at UCLA 2016/05/08 (Sunday): Today's Persian panel discussion: Held as part of the UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran, the panel entitled "The Concept of Iran: Transition and Revival (Sixth to Ninth Centuries)" focused on the period in Iranian history when the country slowly transitioned from its ancient traditions and Zoroastrianism to its current form as an Islamic-majority country. The panelists and the summary of their remarks are presented below in order of their presentations (seated left to right in the photo).
The three panel participants were Dr. Ali Mousavi (UCLA; specializing in the archaeology of the ancient Near East), Dr. Parvaneh Pourshariati (CUNY & NYU; a specialist in the Late Antique and medieval history of Iran and the Middle East), and Dr. Hossein Kamaly (Columbia Univ.; who began a second career with a history PhD from Columbia, after working for years as an engineer/mathematician). A fourth panelist, Dr. Touraj Daryaee (UC Irvine; author/editor of multiple history books on Iran, who was to cover recent findings on the history of the said transition period) was unable to attend due to illness. Dr. Nayereh Tohidi (Cal State Univ. Northridge) moderated the discussion.
I was delighted to find out that Dr. Kamaly had been a student of mine at Sharif Univerisity of Technology in Tehran and that he published his first technical article and received an award under the auspices of the Informatics Society of Iran, which I helped found and led in the early 1980s; we were meeting for the first time after more than 3 decades. I also met a lady from Iran's Late Antique or medieval period, who told me she remembered attending a lecture of mine, delivered at a meeting of a student organization!
Aerial view of Firuzabad circular city Dr. Ali Mousavi's presentation included aerial and satellite photos of cities established during or shortly before the Sassanid period. The cities included Istakhr, Darabgerd (the first circular city of the era, with a diameter of 1020m), Firuzabad (photo; another circular city with a diameter of 1850 m), Bishapur (which has a distinct layout, because it was built for Shapur by the Romans), Shushtar (known for its elaborate irrigation and water transport infrastructure), and Gondeshapur (whose remains suffered extensive damage during the Iran-Iraq war). Other points made by Dr. Mousavi included the novelty of circular domes built on top of rectangular structures and the dearth of excavations in sites from the Sassanid period.
Dr. Parvaneh Pourshariati's main thesis was that the Islamization of Iran was a gradual process, and despite accounts that there were forced mass coversions in the aftermath of the Arab invasion, the Arabs were indeed less than successful in imposing their religion (to the extent that it had even been defined and taken shape at the time) on Iranians. She challenged two main theories currently prevalent. The first is that the weakening of the Sassanid Empire due to constant conflicts, and in particular the 30-Year War, with the Byzantine Empire was a key to the quick collapse of Iran under the Arab invasion. Her theory is that the squabblings between the Sassanids and the widespread and still-influential remanents of the Parthians (Ashkanian), who still ruled in many regions of Iran, was a key to the downfall. It wasn't until a couple of centuries after the Arabs invaded Iran that they managed to solidify their rule as a result of the Abbasid revolution. The second idea that the speaker challenged was that of quick coversion of Iranians to Islam being informed by the contrast between Islam's promise of equality and justice vis-a-vis the strict religious basis of the Sassanids' rule.
Dr. Hossein Kamaly focused on the history of the city of Isfahan as a way to explore Iran's transition period, which forms part of the Late Antiquity (3rd to 8th century CE; passabastan, in Persian). Isfahan arose from two older cities of Jey and Yahudieh (a community of Jews). Because Isfahan isn't earthquake-prone, its historical artifacts are better preserved than in many other regions of Iran. An investigation of naming records indicates that Isfahanis did not adopt Islam until the 8th century CE. By the 9th century, the destructive period ended and influential families, that had continued to rule for many decades after the Arab invasion, returned to power. Several key sources about the history of Isfahan did not make it to modern times, but other books written later took advantage of those sources and, so, we know about their contents indirectly.
The questions/comments period contained interesting observations and heated exchanges. A couple of questioners were puzzled by the fact that the strong, organized Sassanid Empire was so readily defeated by an invading army with no definite plans. Dr. Pourshariati responded that the invading Arabs may have seemed disorganized at a superficial level, but they were well-versed in means of controlling trade routes and benefitted from a number of strategists and planners. Another interesting point that arose during the discussion is the fact that Tisfun, one of the major centers of power for the Sassanids (located in today's Iraq), has not been explored adequately and may hold the key to discovering some of the important aspects of Iran's transition period.
On the margins: Due to bringing my daughter back from Santa Barbara to UCLA, I arrived on campus a couple of hours before the 4:00 PM scheduled start of the panel discussion. I took the opportunity to take a long stroll on the beautiful UCLA campus, snapping half-dozen photos around the magnificent Royce Hall and Powell Library and another half-dozen in and around the Sculpture Garden.

2016/05/06 (Friday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Trump shown eating matzo ball soup in a Photoshopped image (1) Photoshop magic: Before he tweeted his photo with a taco bowl and declaring his love for Hispanics, Trump tried to win the Jewish votes by eating a bowl of matzoh ball soup. Next will be Chinese food!
(2) Seven brief news headlines of the day:
- Los Angeles joins the push to end juvenile solitary confinement
- Editor of Al Joumhouria survives assassination attempt in Turkey
- Major quake can hit at any time along San Andreas in California
- Heavy turbulence on Pittsburgh flight causes bloody injuries
- Russia and Syria deny their bombers hit refugee camps
- Republicans divided over supporting Trump's candidacy
- Trump U class-action lawsuit will go to trial after the election
(3) Friday reflection (on flip-flopping): I miss the good old days when expressing contradictory opinions on a single issue would get you branded as a flip-flopper, an impossible-to-shake-off label.
(4) Book review: Gladwell, Malcolm, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, unabridged audiobook on 6 CDs, read by the author, Hachette Audio, 2013.
Cover image of Malcolm Gladwell's 'David and Goliath' Ever since his first book, The Tipping Point, Gladwell has been writing about how the workings of our world differ from our expectations. Many of the surprises and counterintuitive happenings that we experience are, nevertheless, explainable with due diligence. Gladwell's subsequent books, Outliers and Blink, successfully pursued the same "shock and awe" approach.
In this book, Gladwell explores how David, or any apparent underdog, can defeat Goliath, a person or problem that seems unbeatable. He observes that certain apparent strengths are actually vulnerabilities. A giant, for example, is less agile and has a longer reaction time, providing a small, quick-thinking underdog with opportunities to inflict damage. The same observation applies to asymmetric warfare between a superpower and rag-tag insurgent forces.
Furthermore, an underdog who has obvious weaknesses tends to compensate for them by acquiring alternative resources and skills. This is why, for instance, dyslexics sometimes lead lives of extraordinary accomplishments; ditto for the blind and those with other disabilities. In a similar vein, losing a parent early in life can be crippling or it can lead to additional motivation to achieve. However, confirmation bias leads us to focus more on success stories than on dull or ordinary lives.
Putting it another way, I am not convinced that super-size challenges necessarily lead to greatness. Humans tend to develop skills and tools for dealing with their challenges and these skills and tools may come in handy in tackling all sorts of problems. However, not everyone succeeds in applying them to different domains in order to escape the rut. Such people may lead tolerable or even normal lives, without ever moving completely beyond their limitations.
Now, Gladwell's message in this book, important as it is, could have been conveyed much more succinctly, without leaving the reader/listener ticked off by the constant repetition. Unfortuanately, publishers and readers have come to expect a certain number of pages in a book, before the book is deemed respectable and marketable at a profitable price.

2016/05/05 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Quotation from Leo Cherne, written with chalk on a sidewalk (1) Someone really liked this quote from Leo Cherne, often misattributed to Albert Einstein (who died in 1955, before computers were really fast).
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Pakistani girl, 16, burned alive for helping a couple to elope
- Massive wildfire in Alberta, Canada, continues to expand
- Warehouse complex in Houston burns with toxic fumes
- Speaker Paul Ryan just not ready to support Donald Trump
- Kerry to travel to Paris for talks on Syria and Ukraine
- Iranian commander threatens to close Strait of Hormuz to US
(3) Creator of "Humans of New York" on Donald Trump: He is either a racist or, worse, exploits racist sentiments to gain power. No one will believe him if he suddenly begins to appear more compassionate and presidential.
(4) Young Iranians react to Supreme Leader Khamenei's pronouncement that promoting English instruction in schools is unhealthy: And the comments are offered in English! Khamenei apparently does not speak English, neither does President Rouhani, who received his doctorate in the UK (he uses a translator when giving interviews or meeting with foreign guests).
(5) Three-dimensional artwork that changes depending on your viewing angle.
(6) Impressive performance of Prince's "Kiss" on a subway car, with help from a random passenger.
(7) IBM offers free on-line access to its quantum processor: The 5-qubit machine is located at IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center in New York, within a cryogenic refrigerator. IBM expects to increase the number of qubits by a factor of 10-20 within a decade.
(8) Times Higher Education ranking of world universities: Cal Tech appears at the top, followed by Oxford, Stanford, Cambridge, and MIT. The following UC campuses are in the top 200: Berkeley 13, UCLA 16, UCSD and UCSB tied at 39, Davis 44, Irvine 106, UCSC 144, and Riverside 167. Among Iranian universities, Iran University of Science and Technology has moved up and is now viewed as being in the 401-500 category, on par with Sharif University of Technology, which lost ground. [BBC Persian report] [Full rankings in English]

2016/05/04 (Wednesday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cover image of Pema Chodron's 'Don't Bite the Hook' (1) Brief book review: Chodron, Pema, Don't Bite the Hook: Finding Freedom from Anger, Resentment, and Other Destructive Emotions, audiobook on 3 CDs, Shambhala Audio, 2007.
There are many things in our daily lives that make us upset. Noise and traffic, crying children, work-life challenges, and less-than-perfect relationships all conspire to make us feel terrible, leading to actions that only make things worse. According to Chodron, it doesn't have to be that way. We can encounter frustrations, losses, and other challenges constructively, provided we don't "bite the hook" of our habitual responses. In this recorded weekend retreat, Chodron draws on Buddhist teachings to offer advice on how to stay centered, improve stressful relationships, not fall prey to self-hatred, and awaken our compassionate side.
(2) Why Sanders should pull out and throw his weight behind Clinton: The earlier the Democrats start chipping away at Trump, the less likely it is for him to win the general election. Not that his chances are high right now, but even a 5% chance of him becoming President is scary.
(3) Donald Trump considers himself a unifier: Here is how he has unified his fellow Republicans, according to a Hillary Clinton campaign ad.
(4) Here is what Elizabeth Warren, undisputed champion of economic and social justice, thinks about Trump.
(5) Two interesting issues of technical journals that I received today: The May 2016 issue of Communications of the ACM (published by Association for Computing Machinery) contains a cover feature on Robotic Musicianship. Advances already made in this area and prospects for future developments are quite exciting.
The late-arriving April 2016 issue of IEEE Computing Edge contains a cover feature on advancing the Internet of Things, a new level of digital connectivity between people and things (appliances, security systems, baby monitors, and nearly everything else) that will allow remote monitoring and distributed optimization.

2016/05/03 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Meaning of the Facebook logo (1) Cartoon of the day: Explaining the Facebook logo.
(2) California Strawberry Festival is coming up: It will be held during the May 21-22 weekend in Oxnard, 3250 N. Rose Ave. (near Oxnard's Auto Center).
(3) Fusion music: Wonderful oriental (actually, Middle Eastern) rendition of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" (the singing children display at the end of the video what appears to be the flag of Azerbaijan).
(4) Atena Farghadani freed from prison: The Iranian cartoonist, who was sentenced to 12+ years in prison for depicting policymakers as animals in her cartoons, has been freed from Evin Prison after serving more than a year.
(5) A surprising rant from Masih Alinejad (in Persian, with English subtitles), who turns the tables on hate-mongers and holier-than-thou types. Well done, Ms. Alinejad!
(6) Nuclear waste is leaking in southwestern Washington State: Let me preface my story by saying that I am for nuclear power, assuming that the waste is stored safely and competently. What is happening in Washington is beyond incompetent. Radioactive waste from early nuclear reactors, one of them used to produce plutonium for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during WW II, have been stored in what was supposed to be temporary storage, while permanent measures were implemented. But the $110B plant now being built to solidify the slushy, hard-to-contain waste into a hardened, glasslike substance, which can be stored more safely, is still decades away from completion.
(7) UCSB physics professor creates atomic-scale sensor: The sensor is composed of a few nanofabricated diamond crystals with a special defect built in, which at low thermal energy (room temperature and below) can detect electron interactions, thus allowing the creation of an atomic-scale image with unprecedented spatial resolution. And the professor, Ania Jayich, happens to be my wall-to-wall neighbor at UCSB's West Campus faculty housing complex.

2016/05/02 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Four celebrites turning 70 and 80 in May 2016 (1) Look who's turning 70 (and 80) this month! [Source: AARP Magazine, April/May 2016]
(2) ATM-like devices dispense short stories in Grenoble: Story machines, a collaboration between the city and French publisher Short Edition, which specializes in content optimized for mobile screens, are printed on 8-by-60 cm scrolls. The free stories can be folded like receipts and carried along.
(3) MozART Group: Fun with classical and other kinds of music [5-minute video]. Here is another clip [6-minute video], a fun clip [Rock n Roll], playing with broken arms [3-minute video], and a final one [Wild Wild West].
(4) Intolerance at its worst: On a Persian-language post about Saturday night's White House Correspondents Dinner and President Obama's joking remarks at that event, crude and racist comments outnumbered sensible and respectful ones by a wide margin. I cringe and feel shame when I see my fellow Iranian-Americans behave in a rude or hateful manner. Even valid criticisms will be ineffective when offered with curse words and vitriol.
(5) The R. Stephen Humphreys Distinguished Lecture at UCSB: This afternoon, I attended a talk by Michael Cook, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, entitled "Was the Rise of Islam a Black Swan Event?" (5:00 PM, UCSB's McCune Conference Room, HSSB 6020). According to the talk's summary, "A Black Swan Event is by definition a highly improbable happening with a massive impact. No one questions the impact of the rise of Islam, but just how improbable was it? Two of its central features look very unlikely against the background of earlier history: the appearance among the Arabs of a new monotheistic religion, and the formation of a powerful state in Arabia [which had no prior history or tradition of government to draw upon]. Does that add up to two Black Swans, or do they cancel out?"
Cook maintains that given that Arabs are descendants of the monotheist Abraham (whose sons Isaac and Ishmael were ancestors of the Israelites or the Jews and Ishmaelites or the Arabs), the appearance of Islam, as an attempt to customize monotheism to their needs and way of life, is hardly surprising. The economic and social conditions of the tribal 7th-century Arabia was ill-suited to the teachings of Judaism or Christianity. Hijaz in the west-central part of Arabia, where Mecca and Medina are located, was somewhat removed from the spheres of influence of both the Persian Empire along the southeastern coast and the Byzantine Empire to the north, thus allowing the faith to spread unimpeded. The weakening of both of the said empires, as a result of their constant conflicts with each other, was the main factor that allowed the spread of the subsequent Islamic state, which at its peak stretched from Spain in the west to parts of India in the east.

Cover image for the book 'Going Clear' about Scientology 2016/05/01 (Sunday): Book review: Wright, Lawrence, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief, unabridged audiobook on 14 CDs, read by Morton Sellers, RandomHouse Audio, 2013.
I finished listening to this audiobook several weeks ago. Friday night's special edition of ABC's newsmagazine "20/20" about the forthcoming expose, Ruthless, by Ron Miscavige, father of Scientology's current leader David Miscavige, prompted me to finish writing my book review.
The Church of Scientology dismisses Miscavige Sr.'s book as a shameless effort to make money, but this new book (based on what I learned from "20/20") is fully consistent with the book I am reviewing here and with the account in Troublemaker, by Scientology defector Leah Remini.
Among the juicy details in the latter book are how church officials milk the recruits, who end up paying in excess of $0.5M over time for books, lectures, courses, and misdeed penalties, regardless of their income, often racking up huge credit-card debts in the process. There are also allegations of misconduct against multiple high-ranking members, including Tom Cruise.
The "going clear" of the book's title is the Church's term for "defection." What makes the accounts presented by some defectors suspect in my view is the fact that these supposed "whistle-blowers" stayed in the Church for a long time before defecting. Could it be that they had no problem with the Church's rules and procedures as long as they reaped personal benefits from them? For instance, Wright's account indicates that several actors used Scientology and its connections with influential show-biz types, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, as a stepping stone for advancing their careers through the Church's "Celebrity Center."
Every religion has superstition and ludicrous claims that its followers accept by a leap of faith. Scientology's are more preposterous than those of other religions. Human beings are thetans (spirits) living for eons, and in their between-lives periods, they are transported to Mars to have their memories erased. Disconnection is frowned upon, with the church doing everything in its power to bring the defector back into fold, using threats, harassment, cutting family ties, and many other extreme methods to punish the defector. According to Wright, Scientology runs a totalitarian regime right here within our democratic society. Those who do not follow instructions are shunned and physically punished.
Scientology is an outgrowth of L. Ron Hubbard's ideas in his book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Hubbard was a best-selling sci-fi writer before he decided to become a prophet, allegedly because he saw the establishment of a religion as a quick road to money, fame, and women. Anyone who creates trouble for the Church or its officials is labeled as a "Suppressive Person" and receives a variety of direct and indirect punishments. Even though Wright follows every allegation of impropriety on the part of a Church with a footnote containing the Church's response, it is evident that he does this to protect himself against retaliation and having to look over his shoulder for the rest of his life.
High-level Scientology members are kept loyal by providing them with favors. For example, Tom Cruise is said to have been provided with an array of young women. These women were told that they had been chosen for a "special program" that would require them to dump their boyfriends. Other actors, and some directors, would be provided with access to high-power agents and lucrative movie deals. Lower-level members were kept in check through psychological pressure and via making life impossible for them outside the Church (e.g., by taking away their credit cards and forcing them to disavow their relatives).
Much of Wright's account is believable, but one is left with the inconvenient fact that law enforcement was seldom asked to intervene and, though a number of legal actions were brought against the Church, none succeeded in undermining the Church or taking away its tax-exempt status as a religious institution.
You should peruse this book or Ron Miscavige's forthcoming book and judge for yourself. I am personally convinced that Scientology is a cult/business and a crooked one at that.

2016/04/30 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
The Science Green was the setting for a culinary event today at UCSB (1) Taste of UCSB: This culinary event, during which campus chefs and alumni who run restaurants and catering services exhibit their fares, was held today on the UCSB Science Green. This 3-minute video shows part of the food booths and music at today's event.
(2) Quote of the day: "We are deeply sorry for the unintended offensive and hurtful tweets from Tay, which do not represent who we are or what we stand for, nor how we designed Tay." ~ Peter Lee, Microsoft VP of Research, apologizing for the bad habits the company's AI chatbot picked up from Internet users
(3) Toyota's wooden concept car: Exhibited at Milan's Design Week in April, the vehicle is built using okuriari, a traditional Japanese joinery technique, which does not need any nails or screws.
(4) The innovative design of Rio's Olympic torch: The torch expands when it is lit to reveal colored resin sections, which, along with the yellow flame, represent the sea, mountains, sky, and sun. The same colors exist on the Brazilian flag as well.
(5) Fully automated farms of the future: According to an NPR program I happened to listen to in my car a couple of days ago, drones will play a major role in such farms. They will be used in many ways, including for targeted fertilizer delivery and performing the functions of scarecrows in scaring birds and other destructive animals away.
(6) A challenging logical puzzle: A deck of 78 tarot cards has 23 of its cards facing upward and the rest (78 – 23 = 55) facing downward. You are blindfolded and asked to divide the deck into two piles, each with the same number of upward-facing cards. You cannot tell which side of a card is up by touching it.

2016/04/29 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
(1) Sign-language-to-voice translator: Two University of Washington undergraduates make a pair of gloves that sense hand movements and produce the associated sounds that allow voice communication with people who do not know sign language.
(2) UC Davis Chancellor placed on administrative leave: Linda Katehi, a renowned scholar of electrical and computer engineering, had previously been criticized for spending large sums of money on Internet consultants to help improve the school's on-line image in the wake of the 2011 pepper-spraying of peaceful protesters on campus. She is additionally accused of misappropriating funds and giving university jobs to her close relatives, without following due process, according to LA Times.
(3) Ten brief news headlines of the day:
- California voters happy about becoming relevant this election cycle
- World on catastrophic path to run out of fresh water
- Trump bringing out the worst in everyone: even the deliberative Boehner
- Italy uncovers plot to attack Vatican and the Israeli embassy
- Radioactive hot spot near St. Louis homes concerns researchers
- China conducts its 7th successful test flight of hypersonic warhead
- Series of small earthquakes causes shutdown of Hilcorp fracking in PA
- A treasure trove of Roman coins was unearthed in Spain
- US troops mistakenly bomb a hospital in Syria, killing at least 20
- UN says it is open to helping Iran-US in their dispute over assets
(4) Wonderful solo daf performance.
(5) An old favorite song, performed by The Gypsy Queens: "L'Italiano (Toto Cutugno)"
(6) Rumi poem, set to beautiful Persian music, played with traditional and a couple of unconventional instruments. [It seems Rumi worried about not having a designated driver!]
(7) An old favorite song of mine: Paul Anka's "Papa" (with lyrics and Persian subtitles).
(8) Final thought for the day [after posting several music videos today]: "Music is art that goes through the ears straight to the heart." ~ Anonymous

2016/04/28 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
The 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza near Jerusalem (1) Israel's 9/11 memorial: This and other images of "The 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza," located 20 miles from the center of Jerusalem, were sent to me by a friend via e-mail. The monument is shaped like a flame and its melted steel base is made of metal fragments recovered from the Twin Towers site. It is the only memorial outside the US that includes the names of all those who perished in the September 11 terror attacks (etched on panels embedded in a circular perimeter wall). [More pics]
(2) Quote of the day: "Religion is at its best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at its worst when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answers for everybody else." ~ American poet, writer, and Librarian of Congress Archibald Macleish [1892-1982]
(3) Beautiful dance with mathematical precision and impeccable timing.
(4) Throwback Thursday: Iranian actresses of yesteryear, then and now.
(5) Throwback, way-back, Thursday: These artwork pieces of mine from 5 decades ago, drawn with pencil and ink, are probably what convinced me to pursue a technical field! (Or stick to my day job, as they say!)
(6) Santa Barbara's historic Riviera Theater: A 30-year lease just signed grants the control of this architectural gem to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, giving SBIFF a year-round venue for screening its fare.
(7) Huma Abedin has her hands full: Between helping Clinton in every detail of her campaign and handling her own philandering husband (Anthony Weiner), she probably does not get any rest.
(8) The moral imperative of AI: "In the U.S., close to 10% of all jobs involve operating a vehicle and we can expect to see the majority of these jobs disappear [when the self-driving-car technology matures]. The human cost of such a profound change cannot be underestimated." ~ Moshe Vardi, acknowledging in an editorial (Communications of the ACM, issue of May 2016) that the safety benefits of self-driving technology, which make it inevitable, come with a human cost

2016/04/27 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
George Clooney and Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi served on the selection committee for the new Aurora Prize (1) The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity: The new Prize, created in memory of the victims and survivors of the Armenian genocide a century ago, went to Marguerite Barankitse, the founder of an orphanage in Burundi. George Clooney (co-chair with Elie Wiesel) and Shirin Ebadi were members of the selection committee.
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Clinton and Trump win big in today's primary elections
- Trump's America-first foreign policy address lacks details
- Ted Cruz announces Carly Fiorina as his running mate
- Apple revenue falls for the first time since 2003
- Coroner: 32 bullets used to kill 8 family members in Ohio
- Female suicide bomber wounds 13 in Turkey's Bursa
(3) Sanders and Trump voters very similar, except for skin color: A friend mentioned to me this afternoon that a recent NYT article presents the view that Sanders and Trump are both doing well in regions of the US where the economic/jobs outlook is bleak. In such areas, Trump does well when the population is mostly white and Sanders does well when non-whites are in the majority. I tried to find the article, but have not succeeded so far; will post a link when I locate it.
(4) Restrictions and misogynistic laws do not deter Iranian women, as aptly demonstrated by these Guilani women dancing and having fun.
(5) Dennis Hastert: A serial child molester who identified himself as an "Evangelical Christian Conservative" and heard nothing but praise during his long reign as House Speaker. It is simply not credible that no one knew.
(6) These cutlery pieces spell "baa ham" (Persian for "together"). [Artwork by Amir Hossein Rahimi Yeganeh]
(7) Carlos Santana, Yo Yo Ma, and India Arie collaborate in this rendition of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (video description includes the lyrics). [4-minute video]
(8) Final thought for the day: "The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it." ~ George Orwell

2016/04/26 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Part of the 'People' index page for my Google Photos archive (1) The scary AI capabilities of Google Images: The app stores your photos in the "Cloud" and allows you access from anywhere. I recently noticed that it also automatically indexes my photos by the people who appear in them. The image shown is part of the index page titled "People." If I click on one of the thumbnails, which are automatically extracted from the photos, I will see all the photos I have with that person in them. At this point, Google Photos does not allow me to name the individuals, so that I can perform text-based searches, but I am sure the feature will be coming shortly.
(2) New image enhancement method offers exciting possibilities: The method of sharpening images from multiple low-resolution views has been used to establish that the European Beagle probe, which never contacted earth upon landing on Mars in December 2003 and was presumed lost in a high-velocity impact, is indeed sitting intact on the surface of Mars. It is inoperative because it failed to fully deploy its solar panels, which now obstruct its radio antenna. Image enhancement of this kind offers the possibility of space exploration from a distance, thus not requiring landing on planets.
(3) Sweet lemons: One of my favorite indulgences, along with pomegranates, they are not easy to eat if you want to avoid the bitter inner skin, but with some patience, you are rewarded with a refreshing taste and tons of health benefits.
(4) Kurdish music: Shahram Nazeri performs a Kurdish folk song, accompanied by an Armenian orchestra that visited Iran several years ago. A few verses of the Kurdish lyrics are included in the description, along with their Persian translation.
(5) President Obama was criticized for saying that we are fortunate to be living in the most peaceful era in history: This chart shows what he might be talking about. He uses stats and hard facts, rather than speak from fears and emotions.
(6) Persian panel discussion on "The Concept of Iran: Transition and Revival (Sixth to Ninth Centuries)" [Sunday, May 8, 2016, 4:00 PM, UCLA campus, 121 Dodd Hall]. Panelists are Touraj Dayaee (UC Irvine), Hossein Kamaly (Columbia Univ.), Ali Mousavi (UCLA), Parvaneh Pourshariati (CUNY & NYU), Nayereh Tohidi (CSUN; moderator).

2016/04/25 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Photo of the futuristic Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble (1) The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility: This joint research lab, situated in Grenoble, France, and supported by 21 countries, is the world's most intense X-ray source and a center of excellence for fundamental research in science.
(2) OSIRIS-REx NASA mission set to launch in September: Conceived and run by University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Lab, the spacecraft will bring back, in 2023, a couple of ounces of sand and gravel from a near-Earth asteroid.
(3) An interview, in Persian, with the mechanic of the "shift it, shift it" fame.
(4) Political musing of the day: Those who think that Hillary Clinton is dishonest and self-serving but that Donald Trump is an honest businessman who cares about the working people crack me up!
(5) Time magazine's 100 most-influential people: Ranging in age from 22 to 87, this year's "Time 100" honorees are presented in 5 categories (21 pioneers, 13 titans, 18 artists, 31 leaders, 13 icons; these add up to 96, because 4 of the selections are 2-person teams). The list, along with brief bios of the honorees and 4 different cover images, appears in the magazine's May 2-9, 2016, double-issue.
(6) Time magazine's humor columnist Joel Stein picks the 100 most-influential animals of 2016: In his words, "Four legs good, two legs irrelevant." Number-one on the list is Cecil the lion, killed in Africa by the infamous Minnesota dentist.
(7) Morality police continues to harass women on the streets of Tehran: Human dignity is meaningless to these men and women who think they are doing God's work in roughing up and forcefully dragging women into their vans. And the Islamic Republic authorities keep repeating the line that hijab isn't an important issue, because we have more serious problems to deal with. If so, then why so much emphasis on arresting women by a large morality police force, now augmented with 7000 undercover enforcers?
(8) Flamenco music with Persian lyrics: Hamed Nikpay, who specializes in fusion music, performs in London.

Cover image for Amy Poehler's 'Yes Please' 2016/04/24 (Sunday): Brief book review: Poehler, Amy, Yes Please, unabridged audiobook on 7 CDs, read by the author (also featuring the voices of Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Mike Schur, Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner, and Amy's parents), Harper Audio, 2014.
Ever since I first saw Poehler on the late-night comedy skit show "Saturday Night Live," I took a liking to her brand of comedy. I have not seen her successful TV series "Parks and Recreation," but understand that it is viewed favorably by critics and her peers. So, it was with great anticipation that I began listening to this audiobook. I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed.
Like many memoirs written by celebrities while their careers are still developing, the so-called mid-career memoirs, this is less about Poehler's life (particulary, since she declares her divorce and new love life out of bounds) and more about her musings on various topics. Parts of the book are laugh-out-loud funny, but as a whole, the writing is uneven and the semi-serious advice on relationships and parenthood rather simplistic.
The book contains a chapter written by Poehler's mother and one by Seth Meyers (of SNL fame), neither of which is particularly impressive or memorable. In one of the stronger chapters, entitled "Sorry, Sorry, Sorry," Poehler laments over a painful error in judgment which she could not bring herself to admit for a long time.
If you like Amy Poehler and her humor, this isn't a bad book to pursue, provided you cap your expectations and do not mind a book that lacks a clear plan or structure.
[Addendum (4/26): Poehler explains the title of her book thus: "I love saying 'yes' and I love saying 'please.' Saying 'yes' doesn't mean I don't know how to say no, and saying 'please' doesn't mean I am waiting for permission. 'Yes please' sounds powerful and concise. It's a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman."]

2016/04/23 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Graph showing that between 2000 and 2015, the number of administrators at UC Berkeley grew from 519 to 1281 (1) Ballooning number of administrators at UC Berkeley. [Source: Los Angeles Times]
(2) UC Davis Chancellor apologizes over hiring of image consultant: The school paid $175,000 to a consultant to clean up its on-line reputation in the wake of the 2011 pepper-spraying of peaceful campus protesters.
(3) M. Yazdchi's watercolor painting of flowers: Anyone who has used watercolor knows how difficult it is to mix colors in such paitings.
(4) Tonight's "Saturday Night Live" paid tribute to Prince: His music was played and several sketches of "The Prince Show," featuring Fred Armisen as Prince, were replayed. Here is one example of the latter.
(5) A social experiment: Muslim and Jew, wearing traditional garbs, walk side by side on the street (including in Jewish and Arab/Muslim neighborhoods) to see how people react. Some of the glances are telling, and there are confrontations, but most people they encounter love the idea of friendship and peaceful coexistence.
(6) Final thought for the day: "I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it." ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

2016/04/22 (Friday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Photo of Passover Seder plate (1) Happy Passover to all those who observe the Jewish holiday! May the year ahead be one of progress toward peace, friendship, and understanding for all humankind.
Note: The haft-seen-like "Seder Plate" shown holds, clockwise from the top, a bitter herb (representing the bitterness of slavery), charoset (a sweet amalgam of apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon, which stands for the mortar used by Hebrew slaves to make bricks), a green vegetable (spring greenery), a second bitter herb or vegetable, roasted egg (renewal), and a shankbone (the outstretched hand of God). Just like the Iranian haft-seen, other items are sometimes added beyond the basic six.
While businesses take advantage of the Passover traditions to sell ornate, expensive plates for this purpose, it is often recommended to use whatever you happen to have at home, or tell kids to hand-decorate paper plates.
(2) Women who do and don't believe in the primacy of human rights: Harriet Tubman, a slave who stood up against unjust laws she deemed unrespectable, vs. Federica Moghrini, a modern women who respects medieval laws of Iran because doing so will bring her country material riches. [Image]
(3) The woman whose face is on the new $5 bill: Marian Anderson [1897-1993] is the opera singer whose magnetic performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 is said to have helped launch the civil-rights movement.
(4) Eight brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- The artist known as "Prince" (Prince Rogers Nelson) dead at 57
- Queen Elizabeth turns 90; formal celebrations in 3 weeks
- UK advisories warn LGBT traverlers about US anti-gay laws
- Blast at Mexico petrochemical plant kills more than a dozen
- One-time slave Harriet Tubman to be new face of US $20 bill
- Huge drug haul seized from longest-ever cross-border tunnel
- Elevated bike path collapses in Rio de Janeiro, killing at least 2
- Obama reaffirms resolve to deter aggression against Arab allies
(5) Unisex bathrooms: The idea of having a single type of bathroom for everyone has been thrown around from time to time. Can we implement this idea in order to avoid all the discussion about who can use which bathroom or spending money on bathroom attendants to check the birth certificates of those who enter? Many smaller restaurants and other establishments already have a single unisex bathroom (because they lack space for more), as do airplanes, train cars, and buses, and they do not report any problems as a result of shared facilities.

2016/04/20 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Portrait of Professor Walter Kohn [1923-2016] (1) UCSB has lost one of its six Nobel Laureates: Professor Walter Kohn [b. 1923], a winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his development of the density functional theory, passed away last night. Kohn, whose name is attached to the building housing the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics on the UCSB campus ("Kohn Hall"), has made many contributions to physics and chemistry over his long, distinguished career. He was a holocaust survivor and a Harvard PhD graduate, who became a US citizen in 1957.
(2) An Afghan woman who fights addiction: Her Mother Camp that houses, and affiliated businesses that employ, recovering addicts were difficult undertakings for her in a society that suffers from extreme misogyny.
(3) Wedding dance music from around the world. [I don't know why Iran is labeled as Persia!]
(4) Collection of articles about Pluto and its satellites: The March 18, 2016, issue of the journal Science contains four short and one long article about Pluto, based on information collected by New Horizons during its fly-by.
- "The Atmosphere of Pluto as Observed by New Horizons"
- "The Small Satellites of Pluto as Observed by New Horizons"
- "Pluto's Interaction with Its Space Environment: Solar Winds, Energetic Particles, and Dust"
- "Surface Compositions across Pluto and Charon"
- "The Geology of Pluto and Charon through the Eyes of New Horizons"
(5) Cartoon-like photo of the day: Workplace safety is a high priority in Iran.
(6) Wall-Street investment banker supports Bernie Sanders: This "unicorn" being interviewed and answering viewer questions sounds very reasonable and well-informed. What's happening? [13-minute video]
(7) Five brief news headlines of the day:
- Volkswagen cheat device originally developed in 1999 by Audi
- Three officials charged over Flint, Michigan, water contamination crisis
- Botox now recognized as a top treatment for migraines
- Utah declares pornography a public health hazard
- US Senate is expected to pass a bipartisan energy bill this week
(8) Flute and piano recital: Today, I attended a faculty recital on campus as part of the "Music in the Museum" series, where faculty colleagues perform in an intimate setting at the UCSB Museum of Art, Design & Architecture. Today's performers were flutist Jill Felber, professor and chair of the Music Department, and piano accompanist Robert Koenig, Head of the Collaborative Piano Program. Despite a museum setting that is not optimized for music performances, the acoustics were fantastic and the diverse program highly enjoyable. Both artists perform worldwide, with Koenig being a highly sought-after accompanist and Felber regularly commended for her refined artistry and flair. The program began with "Tango Fantasia," and continued with "Orange Dawn" (Ian Clarke), "Allegretto from Suite, Op. 116" (Banjamin Goddard), "Suite, Opus 34" (Charles-Marie Widor), "Morceau de Concours" (Gabriel Faure), and "Waltz, from Suite Antique" (John Rutter), before condluding with "Fantaisie Patorale Hongroise, Op. 26" (Albert Franz Doppler). The encore consisted of an aria. Getting to hear world-class performers in free recitals is one of the perks of working at a major university, for which I am grateful.

2016/04/19 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Photo of a tray holding a variety of Persian snack foods (1) Mouthwatering tray of Persian snacks.
(2) Iran expands its morality police by deploying 7000 undercover enforcers: Interestingly, they use the weird/uncommon term "namahsoos" ("unfelt") instead of the familiar "makhfi" ("undercover"), perhaps to reduce the public-relations sting. [Pictorial]
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- North Korea cracks down on Western clothing, piercings
- Politics has kept Nepal in ruins a year after the disastrous quakes
- Apple Car is being developed within "secret lab" in Berlin
- Actress Doris Roberts ("Everybody Loves Raymond") dead at 90
- Extensive damage, deaths, and injuries in Houston flooding
- Clinton and Trump win decisively in New York primary elections
(4) It Ain't So Awful, Falafel: This is the title of Firoozeh Dumas' new book, reviewed by Sarah Begley in Time magazine, issue of April 25, 2016. Begley writes: "Dumas depicts each hurdle with compassion and laugh-out-loud humor. She has created an endearingly plucky character—any kid who's felt like an outsider could relate to Cindy." About Cindy's real name, "Zomorod," Dumas writes in her book: "Zomorod is not a good name here ... whose name starts with a Z? Nobody on this planet who counts."
(5) Digital tattoos: University of Tokyo has developed a digital device that can be implanted into human skin to display tattoo-like images. Now, when you change your BF/GF, you just reprogram your digital tattoo!
(6) Do unto others: The Iranian government expects female foreign dignitaries, such as EU's Foreign Minister Federica Moghrini in these photos, to wear the hijab, refrain from shaking hands with men, and generally follow Islamic laws while visiting Iran. Iranian officials on visits to Western countries do not reciprocate by honoring the host country's traditions; rather, they expect foreign officials to follow Islamic laws, even in their own countries.
(7) Bidding adieu to a long-time colleague and friend: Professor Tim Cheng, my colleague of 23 years at UCSB, was honored today as he said farewell (we hope a temporary one) to assume the position of Dean of Engineering at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
(8) A stroll in Goleta Beach Park: During this afternoon's walk, I shot this photo of the UCSB campus and this one of Goleta Beach Park from the end of Goleta Pier. Then, I descended onto a catwalk underneath, to take these photos of the pier and its underbelly. [Photo 1] [Photo 2] [Photo 3] [Photo 4] [Photo 5]. At the end, I shot this 2-minute, 360-degree video, which begins with an eastward view, toward Hope Ranch and downtown Santa Barbara, then turns toward the ocean and Channel Islands, and on to the UCSB campus and Goleta Beach, before ending where it began.

Cover image of Bryan Stevenson's 'Just Mercy' 2016/04/18 (Monday): Book/lecture review: Stevenson, Bryan, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Spiegel & Grau, 336 pp., 2014.
Bryan Stevenson, whose great grandparents were slaves in Virginia, grew up poor in Delaware. As a teenager, he lived in a Philadelphia housing project, where his grandfather was murdered. He attended what is now Eastern University and subsequently went to Harvard Law School. Stevenson took on the utter unfairness of the US justice system by representing poor clients in the South and, as a result, went on to co-found the Equal Justice Initiative. He is currently a professor at NYU's Law School.
Tonight, Stevenson gave a talk at UCSB's Campbell Hall, to an overflow audience (many watched his talk on large screens in the nearby Buchanan lecture halls), as part of the "UCSB Reads" program, which has Just Mercy as the community reading selection for its 10th year. In his lecture, which was more autobiographical than the book, Stevenson followed the theme of changing the world one step at a time, with determination, vigor, and hope.
Many key elements of today's talk are present in Stevenson's 24-minute TED talk from March 2012, entitled "We Need to Talk about an Injustice." This NPR report also offers a summary of Stevenson's work and an extensive interview with him.
Stevenson's autobiographical book focuses mainly on his work in representing poor clients, many of them on death row. The account is rather impersonal, not revealing much about the author's personal likes or beliefs, other than his passion for social justice. A poignant example of the miscarriage of justice, and the one to which Stevenson devotes many pages, is the case of Walter McMillian, a black death-row inmate wrongfully accused of killing a white woman. McMillian was sentenced to death by a judge who apparently thought an all-white jury's life-imprisonment sentence wasn't harsh enough. Ironically, all this happened in Alabama's Monroe County, home to Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Stevenson has worked to free many wrongfully-convicted inmates, such as McMillian, and to reduce excessively harsh sentences, arguing five times before the US Supreme Court in the process. One would expect such instances of injustice to fade over time, but, unfortunately, things appear to be getting even worse. According to a US Justice Department report, 1 in 3 black male babies born in the 21st century will be imprisoned, a ratio that is worse than those of both the 19th and the 20th centuries.
Stevenson closes by running through a list of changes in US criminal laws, which have resulted from efforts such as his. For example, the US Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that life imprisonment without parole, imposed on children convicted on non-homicidal crimes, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and thus impermissible. In 2012, this ban was extended to mandatory life-without-parole sentences on children convicted of homicides.
Change is never easy. So, it is good to know that tireless individuals such as Stevenson are leading the fight and instigating progress, one small victory at a time.

2016/04/17 (Sunday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Time magazine cover image, depicting the US per-capita national debt (1) Cheerful news on the cover of this week's Time magazine (April 25, 2016, issue), arriving yesterday, nearly concurrent with the tax deadline, shows that the US national debt amounts to about $43K for every American.
(2) I know it's spring, but this fall photo is too beautiful to pass up!
(3) Canadian PM Justin Trudeau was asked in jest to explain quantum computing: And he did a decent job! Let's try this with US presidential candidates. "We will build a huge quantum computer and Canada will pay for it."
(4) UC Berkeley on crosshairs regarding sexual assault: Two female students are filing a complaint with the state, alleging that the school failed to act against an assistant professor who sexually harassed them. Unfortunately, this state of affairs has become the norm: schools are shamed into action, forming committees and study groups, and then forgetting about the issue in a matter of weeks.
(5) Palms can grow from 2000-year-old seeds: A male date palm tree that sprouted from a 2,000-year-old seed nearly a decade ago is thriving today, according to the Israeli researcher at Kibbutz Ketura, who is cultivating the historic plant. He was able to pollinate a female with the male palm's pollen to produce dates. The seed was one of many recovered decades ago from an archaeological site and had been kept in a researcher's drawer.

2016/04/15 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Venn-diagram representation of the various entities within the British Isles (1) The differences between England, Great Britian, and United Kingdom: Great Britain, like Ireland, refers to a geographical region, not a country. This Venn diagram depicts the relationships between the various entities within the British Isles. The heavy dots represent sovereign nations.
(2) Hygiene in public restrooms: These new air dryers in public restrooms do not represent an improvement in terms of hygiene over paper towels or old-style air dryers. Part of the problem is that it's nearly impossible to put your hands in, without touching some surface.
(3) Dance of Venus and Earth around the Sun. [1-minute video]
(4) On California Governor Jerry Brown: "Brown is the rare progressive who can balance the books, who can sell fiscal restraint to Bay Area liberals and gay marriage to Orange County evangelicals." ~ Newsweek magazine
(5) Chariot for Women aims to replace Uber with safer rides: The new ride-sharing app has the slogan: "Driven by Women. Exclusively for Women." The app's creator, a former Uber driver, put himself in the shoes of Uber's female drivers and female passengers and decided that Uber is unsafe for both groups. The app will launch nationwide on 4/19. Not everyone agrees that the app is a good idea, but, ultimately, women will decide whether it will become successful.
(6) Saudi official met 9/11 hijackers in LA: This according to a CBS "60 Minutes" report, quoting lawmakers who have asked for the declassification of more than two dozen pages in the 9/11 Commission Report. The White House is reviewing whether to declassify the requested pages.
(7) You can't have it both ways: If pregnancy is God's will, as some conservatives assert, then ED must be viewed as His will to prevent pregnancy and using pills to treat it outlawed.
(8) Vote Trump, get dumped: Women start a campaign to defeat Trump by withholding dates and love from men who support Trump. The group's Web page reads in part: "To cast a vote for Trump is to agree with his sexist, perverted, demeaning, backwards, offensive treatment of women."
(9) Final thought for the day: "The bitterest tears shed over graves come from sweet words left unsaid and sweet deeds left undone earlier." ~ Anonymous

2016/04/14 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
How the terms 'wharf,' 'quay,' 'pier,' and 'jetty' are different (1) I was never sure about the use of these four words. [Image from the Facebook page "Writing about Writing."]
(2) Having shown Detroit how to make smart cars, Silicon Valley targets smart guns: Instead of embracing technologies for making accidental firings a thing of the past, gun advocates have threatened action and even violence to stop the movement toward smart guns. According to one Silicon Valley entrepreneur, "The biggest barrier to smart guns is politics, not technology."
(3) How the Iranian revolution was hijacked: Pictorial (by Hengameh Golestan) and commentary regarding women's-rights protests shortly after Iran's Islamic Revolution.
(4) The case for whole milk: "[T]here's fresh evidence that full-fat milk, cheese and yogurt can be better for you than low-fat." They lower diabetes, reduce weight, and cut heart risk. So, until the next study that concludes the exact opposite, I'm switching to whole milk and other dairy products! [Info from Time magazine, April 18, 2016]
(5) Colleges get more sophisticated in their admissions process: "Our admissions officers are looking for something that is authentic and imperfect." ~ Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania President
(6) Panama was tax shelter to relatively small fish: According to James Henry, managing director at Sag Harbor Group, a consultancy that specializes in economic, legal and tax strategies in Sag Harbor, New York, "There is something very simple that people are missing about the Panama Papers leak, and that is that Mossack Fonseca was a gritty little law firm in Panama doing grunt work, with dingy little storefronts all over the world. The wealthiest clients are going to the world's top investment banks, all the names you've heard of—all the banks that got bailed out in 2008."
(7) Interstellar satellites smaller than iPhones: In a $100M research program backed by physicist Stephen Hawking and bankrolled by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, thousands of satellites powered by laser beams that zap them from earth, will begin exploring star systems nearest to earth (about 5 light years away). These tiny satellites will move much faster than ordinary space vehicles, allowing them to reach the vicinity of the nearest stars in 25 years, traveling at 1/5 the speed of light. The main goal is to search for intelligent life in space, but many other benefits will ensue from these satellites going further than any prior space mission.

Cover image of Terrence Ward's book 'Searching for Hassan' 2016/04/13 (Wednesday): Book review: Ward, Terrence, Searching for Hassan: An American Family's Journey Home to Iran (another version of the book bears the subtitle, A Journey to the Heart of Iran), Anchor, 2003.
I learned of this book from Firoozeh Dumas, as we exchanged comments on Facebook about my review of the book Off the Radar, by Cyrus Copeland.
Searching for Hassan unfolds in two interwoven tracks. One track, true to the book's title, is the story of an American family's return to Iran in search of Hassan Ghasemi and his family, who served them as live-in chef and housekeepers in Tehran, from 1960 to 1969. The Wards had become very close with the Ghasemis, effectively coming to view them as family. After leaving Iran, and particularly after the Islamic Revolution, the Wards had often wondered about the fate of the Ghasemis, with whom they lost contact after a short period of correspondence.
The other track, which comprises the bulk of the narrative, is a history of Iran, its social conventions, its political upheavals through the ages, and its Islamic government up to and including the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (a reformist, who was ultimately unsuccessful against hardline Islamists, led by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei). As someone quite familiar with the path of Ward family's journey and the history of Iran, I found the historical narrative disjointed and somewhat romanticized. The author is well-read and quite informed about Iran's history, languages, traditions, and religion, but he exhibits a tendency to go on tangents, which I did not like. For example, a mention of the children's pool game "Marco Polo" leads to several paragraphs on the Venetian's travels and ordeals. In a similar vein, upon mentioning the fact that the "1001 Nights" was derived from the Persian "A Thousand Tales," he goes into a 2-page description of the stories and their setting.
The Ward family's love for Iran, even in its Islamic form, with its stark contrasts to their homeland's sociopolitical norms, is quite evident. The author at times exhibits the clouded judgment and blurred vision of an awestruck lover, as he writes glowingly about Iran's people, food, climate, and nature. He returned to Iran a second time, accompanied by his wife, who, to the dismay of many educated and urban Iranian women fighting relentlessly against the compulsory hijab laws, joyfully confides to her husband after wearing a headscarf, "What bliss, not to have to worry about fashion." Description of this second trip takes up only a few pages near the end of the book.
Ghasemi and Ward families in Isfahan In the first/main trip of 1998, the Ward family had a vague notion of the village (Tudeshk; though at first they were unsure about the name or its spelling) where Hassan had grown up. They set out to locate the village, hoping to find Hassan or relatives who would know of his whereabouts. They began their trip in Shiraz, after flying in from Bahrain, and visited all the important tourist attractions in and around Shiraz, as well as the central cities of Yazd and Nain, on the way to the village, which is located just to the east of Isfahan in central Iran. Later, the Wards visited Isfahan, where they were finally reunited with the Ghasemis (photo), Qom, and Tehran, including a visit to the nearby Dizin ski slopes.
I had visited nearly all these places while I resided in Iran, so the detailed descriptions of landmarks and historic sites weren't very interesting to me, nor were the historical narratives, such as those the author constructs alongside his family's visit to Persepolis, Pasargadae, or the Imam (formerly Shah or Naghsh-e Jahan) Square in Isfahan. It has become commonplace in books about Iran to throw in quite a few Persian terms and expressions, preceded or followed by the English equivalents (e.g., "No, khanoum, madam"). I guess this is a way for non-Iranian authors to impress the readers with their knowledge of the country and its people, but Persian-speaking authors writing in English also follow this practice.
To be fair, the narrative isn't exclusively rosy. The author does acknowledge and criticize the brain drain and escape of capital after a Revolution that was executed with help from intellectuals and the merchant class, but was later hijacked by the clerics, despite their initial promise to play only an oversight role. By and large, however, Ward is impressed by the black-market material abandon and behind-closed-doors freedoms (alcoholic beverages, the latest fashions and Hollywood movies, romantic liaisons, even WWF wrestling matches), apparently unaware, or unwilling to acknowledge, that these privileges were enjoyed by a fairly small minority of Iranians, before or after the Islamic Revolution. In one passage, the author mentions the irony of a people, who after kicking out their own royal family, laments over the death of Princess Diana.
I am unsure about who might find this book a good read. Those unfamiliar with Iran won't learn about its history and people from Ward's account. The historical tidbits are too disjointed and the people described not quite believable. For example, while most Iranians enjoy poetry, very few can converse about the historical or philosophical inflections of Hafiz or Rumi poems. Similarly, sophisticated sociopolitical and economic commentary, as opposed to blaming this or that official, or weaving elaborate conspiracy theories, is quite rare. At the other end of the spectrum, people already familiar with the country will not find much new in this travelogue. The purported search for Hassan is also devoid of intrigue, as the reader suspects right from the outset that the search will be successful.
Let me close on a positive note. The book's account ends with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US. Ward relates in his final paragraphs a phone conversation, in which members of the Ghasemi family express despair and sorrow over the lives lost. It is true that the people of Iran felt greater sadness and outrage over those brutal attacks than any Muslim-majority country in the world. The Iran of the people, as opposed to the country shaped by its rulers' backwardness and self-interests, is a peace-loving and tolerant nation, and this attribute comes across quite well in Ward's book.

2016/04/12 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Hilton Garden Inn Hotel, under construction in Goleta, CA (1) Tourism in Goleta, CA: Until a few years ago, the west end of Goleta, where I live, had no hotels. At the east end, we have had a Motel 6, a Super 8 Motel, a Holiday Inn, and a Best Western, with the latter two fluctuating in quality as they underwent multiple ownership transfers. That changed recently with the opening of a gorgeous Marriott Courtyard near Girsh Park. And now this Hilton Garden Inn Hotel is going up at the intersection of Hollister Ave. and Storke Rd. The new hotels, which are fairly close to UCSB, also provide additional accommodations options for the many campus visitors and guest scholars.
(2) Quote of the day: "There is no nation which so readily adopts foreign customs as the Persians." ~ Herodotus, The Histories
(3) Denamark is chosen as the happiest place on earth: "Ninety percent of Danish students enroll in free post-secondary educational programs." ~ PBS Newshour, citing one reason; another oneis free health care for all
(4) War and rape: "First they killed her husband, then the soldiers killed her two sons, ages 5 and 7. When the uniformed men yanked her daughter from her hands next, Mary didn't think it could get any worse." ~ Aryn Baker, writing in Time magazine, issue of April 18, 2016, about atrocities in South Sudan [This on-line version of the article is both older and a bit different]
(5) Movie about Supreme Court Justice Thomas' confirmation hearing: The HBO film "Confirmation" has been praised for bringing the still-ongoing saga of race and gender relations to the forefront, reminding us that even prominent women aren't taken seriously when they allege sexual misconduct. I understand that both Kerry Washington, as Anita Hill, and Wendell Pierce, as Clarence Thomas, are excellent. I look forward to a chance to watch this important film.
(6) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Number of Boko Haram child suicide-bombers shows tenfold increase
- Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announce new search-for-aliens program
- San Francisco approves 6 weeks of full-pay leave for new biological parents and adopters
- Damaged ruins of Palmyra underscore the cultural costs of Syria's war
- China implements ambitious youth program, hoping to dominate soccer internationally
- Italy's PM visits Iran in bid to win back his country's economic clout there
- Israel gives blessing to Egypt's return of Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia
- South Korea reveals defection last year of two North Korea officials
(7) Beth Hart, accompanied by guitarist Joe Bonamassa, sings the blues classic "I'll Take Care of You." Wonderful guitar solo! [6-minute video]
(8) Final thought for the day: "All the talk about exercise extending your lifespan is nonsense; a rabbit, with all its hopping and sprinting lives for 2 years, while the barely-moving turtle lives up to 400 years." ~ Anonymous

2016/04/11 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Anoushka Shankar's 'Land of Gold' album cover image (1) Anoushka Shankar, with percussionist Manu Delago: I attended Shankar's "Land of Gold" concert at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight. The concert is based on Sahnkar's new album by the same name, which contains songs inspired by the plight of refugees worldwide (co-written last year by Shankar and Delago). She opened her concert with "Last Chance," continuing with "Crossing the Rubicon" and the title song "Land of Gold." She then performed "Dissolving Boundaries," "Secret Heart" (my favorite), and "Reunion." The rather long pieces started gently and built up to a mesmerizing crescendo. Some had elements of Persian music in them. The encore consisted of the lullaby "Say Your Prayers." After hours of driving on Sunday and a full day at work today, the concert provided some enjoyable and relaxing time for me.
(2) Quote of the day: "An Englishman does everything on principles: he fights you on patriotic principles; he robs you on business principles; he enslaves you on imperial principles." ~ George Bernard Shaw
(3) Surreal black-and-white analog photo montages. [Pictorial]
(4) Some examples of 200-calorie food items.
(5) A new breed of college Republicans supports Trump: I posted earlier about some hate slogans that defaced sidewalks and buildings at UCSB over the past weekend. Apparently, this is a national trend that began at Atlanta's Emory University. This Newsweek article asserts that the Trump movement on US campuses is a reaction to a more liberal and tolerant group of students (many of them Sanders supporters), who came of age during Obama's presidency. Both left and right share the sentiment that the system is broken.
(6) Three brief news headlines of the day:
- The Daily Mail may make a bid for Yahoo!
- California computer energy efficiency standard expected by 2018
- ISIS kills 21 Christians in a Syrian town
(7) A 9-decade-old warning to LA: When the St. Francis Dam burst 88 years ago, Los Angeles area residents witnessed a wall of water up to 140 feet high, as billions of gallons moved on a 54-mile path toward the ocean. The collapse of the dam, killing some 500, is considered the worst engineering disaster in US history.
(8) Beyond spelling/grammar checkers: I have seen multiple casual Facebook ties dissolve and close friendships deteriorate over political discussions, where condescending or insulting words were used. Wouldn't it be nice if writing aids, that now catch misspellings and grammatical errors, issue reminders, and suggest corrections, went a step further in their artificial intelligence and reminded us of potentially offensive words in the particular context at hand? Just like Google search's eerie ability to suggest, and perform, alternate searches when I mistype a query word, the extended writing tool would ask if I want to use "highly optimistic" when I type "naive."
(9) Final thought for the day: If someone grows up confined to a room and watches only Facebook videos, s/he will think that everyone owns several cats and dogs, plus a dancing bird and a few other exotic pets, and that no wild beast ever kills another beast or a human being.

2016/04/10 (Sunday): Here are three items of potential interest.
Photo of Farzaneh Milani, Tahmineh Milani, and Nayereh Tohidi (1) Today's events on Iran at UCLA: As part of UCLA's Bilingual Lectures on Iran program, a doubleheader event was held today in 147 Dodd Hall, beginning at 4:00 PM and ending shortly after 6:30.
First, there was a lecture by Dr. Farzaneh Milani (a professor and department chair at University of Virginia; left in the photo) on the life and poetry of Forough Farrokhzad.
Then, Iranian film director Tahmineh Milani (center in the photo) screened her 22-minute documentary on the interplay between architecture and film.
Finally, Dr. Nayereh Tohidi (CSUN professor and organizer of the UCLA lecture series; right in the photo) moderated a panel discussion for getting the audience's reactions and answering questions by both presenters.
The lecture by Farzaneh Milani, entitled "The Iconoclastic Icon (Bot-e Bot-Shekan): The Life, Poetry, and the Letters of Forough Farrokhzad," was based on her forthcoming book, two decades in the making. The English version of this lecture will be presented tomorrow, 4/11, at UCLA (2:00 PM, 1038 Bunche Hall).
The poetess, who passed away at age 32, was born "Forough-ol-Zaman Farrokhzad Araki" on January 5, 1935, in Tehran. Her 3-year marriage to Parviz Shapour, 11 years her senior, ended in 1954. She was restless from a young age, preferring to climb trees and get into fights with boys to staying indoors. According to the speaker, Farrokhzad was damaged more than previously acknowledged by her dysfunctional family, leading her to two suicide attempts and bouts of mental illness.
Farrokhzad's literary publications began at age 20 with the book "Aseer" ("The Captive"). Over her very short life, she proceeded to create some of the most memorable and daring love poems in the Persian language, published other works of poetry, and made the critically acclaimed documentary film "Khaneh Siah Ast" ("The House is Black") about the plight of Iranians afflicted with leprosy.
Farrokhzad is a beloved poet around the world and her sensual and defiant poetry is even more relevant today, in the wake of the Islamic suppression of women in Iran and women's struggles to (re)claim their rights. Not surprisingly, she is despised by the Islamic authorities in Iran and her name is banished from anthologies and other works covering Iran's contemporary poets.
Dr. Milani's biographical book will contain several previously unpublished letters of Farrokhzad in their entirety and without the types of censorship applied to previously published sets of letters. Among the new letters, there are 15 that she wrote to her married lover, Ebrahim Golestan, with whom she spent the last 8 years of her life. These letters, with their many direct expressions of love, leave no doubt that she was madly in love with Golestan. During the questions period, Mehrnoosh Mazarei inquired whether there is any record of letters from Golestan to Farrokhzad that would indicate the deep affection was mutual. Dr. Milani indicated that no such letters have been made public, but she saw other evidence that Golestan did indeed reciprocate Farrokhzad's affection. In fact, there do exist other letters in the possession of certain individuals, who for various reasons having to do with the traditions of a patriarchal society (family honor being the most notable) may never be made public. The speaker indicated that she had to work extra hard to extract the information that she did get for her book through many contacts and dozens of interviews.
Farrokhzad's poems have been translated into many world languages, perhaps more than the works of any other contemporaty Iranian poet.
I look forward to the publication of Dr. Milani's biographical book on Forough Farrokhzad.
[A poem and parts of a letter by Farrokhzad, read by Dr. Milani]
The documentary film by Tahmineh Milani (no relations with the previous speaker)was entitled "Cinematic Representation of Architecture." Ms. Milani explained in way of introduction, and also elaborated in the discussion period that ensued, that she studied architecture in college and is thus both adamant and curious about the impact of architecture in conveying social messages in films.
As a feminist filmmaker, Ms. Milani tackles women's issues in the form of stories that can be screened in Iran, given the obstacles that the Islamic regime places in the path of artists. Milani's films have been screened at, and honored by, many film festivals and she has been a jury member at several such events.
In this short documentary, Milani presents a brief humorous autobiography (for example, she pokes fun at how her parents were disappointed to have a girl as their first child). Then using clips from her films, particularly "Do Zan" ("Two Women"), whose filming locations in Isfahan provided glaring examples of architectural backgrounds that paralleled the drama and the contrasting traditions in the Iranian society with regard to women's rights and issues, she describes how architectural elements can be used to augment and amplify a film's message.
During the ensuing discussion, moderated by Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, several audience members presented commentaries and asked direct questions of the two presenters.
Ms. Tahmineh Milani observed that one reason for the extreme difficulty of getting factual and honest biographies published in Iran is the obsessive focus on the notion of "aabroo" (family reputation/honor). This is why notions of child abuse, sexual relations, and other taboo topics are more or less absent in Persian biographies and autobiographies. This observation is right on the spot. In fact, I would like to add two other words that are equally damaging to the advance of human rights and various art forms in Iran. One is "naamoos" and the other, from a different domain, is "mojavvez."
The dictionary defines "namoos" as "chastity" and "female members of the family," but it implies a sort of ownership of women by men that necessitates hiding and covering them from the eyes of other men. The word "mojavvez" means "license" or "permit." Iranian movies and books must obtain a government permit in order to be made/published. Even though filmmakers and authors have found creative ways to get their messages across, despite this abominable censorship, nothing is more damaging to creativity than such pre-inspections of planned works and post-inspections that may doom even works that have already obtained governmental permits.
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Belgium terror attacks were originally planned for France
- Facebook to offer loans/credit based on friends' creditworthiness
- Sparked by Panama Papers, protests, resignations continue
- Kerry visits Hiroshima memorial 7 decades after A-bomb
- Northern California head-on crash kills 5 near Sacramento
- Hillary Clinton downplays chance of contested convention
(3) Final thought for the day: "Life consists of two halves. We spend the first half anticipating the second half and the second half reminiscing about the first." ~ Anonymous

2016/04/08 (Friday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Santa Barbara (1) Strolling in downtown Santa Barbara: After having lunch on Stearns Wharf with some friends who were passing through our town, I walked along State Street under a gentle rain, passing by landmarks such as the Trinity Episcopal search (the accompanying photo and this photo, which also shows its labyrinth, where one is invited to contemplate), the majestic Arlington Theater (our area's largest indoors venue for lectures, film screenings, and live performing arts), and Granada Theater (a focal point for smaller-size theater and music performances).
(2) Quote of the day: "The past is a country from which we all have emigrated." ~ Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands
(3) Iran Open robotics event: Seven photos supplied by a friend and a news video highlighting the role of women engineering students in the competition, which is a precursor to the upcoming international Robocup soccer event in Germany.
(4) A spring in Paveh, part of Iran's Kermanshah province. [1-minute video]
(5) On Computational Thinking, Inferential Thinking, and Data Science: This is the title of today's lecture by Michael I. Jordan, UC Berkeley's Professor of ECE and Statistics (no basketball connection!). The fresh perspective presented by Professor Jordan was eye-opening for me. He noted that references to "big data" and "data science" are everywhere, without a clear formulation of the goals and the science behind the ad-hoc methods employed to take advantage of the massive amounts of data becoming available through "the cloud" (draw useful inferences from them).
In a way, the problems with big data are not new; they resemble challenges we have faced in the past. For example, science in confirmatory mode must deal with massive numbers of "nuisance variables" that prevent us from zooming in on the most important ones. Science in exploratory mode suffers from massive numbers of potential hypotheses that impair our ability to find the relevant ones. Measurement of human activity, in the wake of social media and other new modes of information dissemination, is a difficult undertaking for personalization and market-creation efforts.
Jordan presented a convincing case that computational thinking (dealing with abstraction, modularity, scalability, and robustness attributes) and inferential thinking (dealing not with the data itself, but with the questions we are trying to answer, that is, getting to what's behind the data) must become better integrated. Current computational theory doesn't have a place for statistical risk. Likewise, current statistical theory doesn't have a place for running-time or other computational resource limitations.
As examples of what can be done with better integration of the two domains, Jordan tackled inference under privacy constraints and inference under communication-bandwidth constraints. I will just discuss one of the fresh perspectives in the talk having to do with privacy concerns, while allowing useful inferences to be drawn from large databases.
An example provided by the speaker assigned a privacy parameter that is controllable by data owners, depending on the purpose to which the data will be put. In the case of genetic information, e.g., one may be more generous with disclosures if the purpose is to screen one's family for genetic diseases, a bit less generous if the purpose is to do research for public benefit, and reluctant to disclose if a commercial reason is involved. Just as the sample size in statistics provides control over the expected error, the privacy parameter will affect the amount of information one must process and the attendant running-time.
One theoretical study, e.g., led to the conclusion that setting a privacy parameter to a = 2 (moderate privacy), leads to the requirement for a sample size of (a^2)n to allow the same statistical guarantees as the sample size of n with no privacy concerns.

2016/04/07 (Thursday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Photo of Bradbury Dam and Lake Cachuma (1) On Santa Barbara County's Lake Cachuma: In the late 1940s, Thomas M. Storke, then owner and publisher of Santa Barbara News Press, used his local press clout and Washington connections to push through a $43M project to build the Bradbury Dam on the Santa Ynez River, amid a severe drought and in the face of stern opposition from local landowners, who warned against the US government's socialistic tendencies to gain control over local water via an outrageously expensive project.
Without the dam and its Lake Cachuma, Santa Barbara and Goleta would not have become the enviable places of living that they are today, and UCSB would not have been established to provide the area with a steady stream of entrepreneurs and high-tech businesses.
(2) Transforming World Atlas (2nd ed., 2016): This document is a 79-page collection of maps, in PDF format, that is rather unusual. Created by Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, and subtitled "Investment Themes Illustrated by Maps," the world atlas illustrates population, aging, urbanization, poverty, mobility, tourism, energy, social media use, and many other distributions and trends. It provided me with a couple of hours of fun. Hope you enjoy it too!
(3) This T-shirt ad was a suggested Facebook post for me today: I would have bought one, had the inscription, "I became a Professor for the money and the fame," included the word "Not!" at the end.
(4) New super-ultra-venti Starbucks cup for those who have pledged to limit their intake to one cup per day.
(5) Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival 2016: It will be held over the weekend of April 16-17, 11:00-6:00, at Alameda Park. On this map of the venue, north is to the right!

2016/04/06 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about abridged versions of classic books (1) Cartoon of the day: More abridged classics.
(2) Half dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Country-music legend Merle Haggard dead at 79
- Diabetes cases quadrupled since 1980 worldwide
- Studies on ED vs. women's sexual disorders: 341 vs. 46
- Southern California could see several summer blackouts
- US prescription drug costs doubled in just 7 years
- Dead woman found in suitcase on sidewalk in San Diego
(3) Poor William Shakespeare: According to Time magazine, issue of April 11, 2016, a recent radar imaging study of the bard's grave indicates that his skull was likely stolen some 200 years ago. He joins other famous people who became victims of graveyard robbery, including St. Nicholas, Galileo Galilei, Joseph Haydn, and Albert Einstein.
(4) Justice ill-served: Donald Blankenship, the mine operator whose greed and disregard of safety regulations caused the death of 29, was sentenced to only one year in prison, a verdict he will appeal.
(5) On sexism in STEM: "My challenge is to show these problems [sexism in STEM fields], while ferociously defending all that is beautiful and noble about doing science with your hands. My story is not tragic. I have been generously rewarded for everything I've ever tried to do. I'm actually a happy ending." ~ Triple-Fulbright-winning geobiologist Hope Jahren, whose NYT op-ed about rampant sexual harassment in science (link below) caused quite a stir [Jahren is the author of Lab Girl]
(6) The victims of tax avoidance/evasion: It's not hard to guess that the victims are middle-class taxpayers with net worth under $1M, who end up paying higher tax rates to make up for the major loss in tax revenues.
(7) Fraction of the population with access to safe water sources (according to Time magazine, issue of April 11, 2016): Qatar, 100%; USA, 99.2%; Dominican Republic, 84.7%; Angola, 49%.
(8) The invisible train: These Japanese train cars, designed by architect Kazuyo Sejima, use a reflective aluminium skin that allows them to blend into their surroundings.
(9) Final thought for the day: "Women have cast more votes than men in every general election since 1964 and voted at higher rates than men in every race since 1980. It's very difficult for a candidate to win the general election if he's underwater with the nation's largest and most reliable voting bloc." ~ From an article in Time magazine, issue of April 11, 2016

2016/04/05 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
gif image showing how the path of Ucayali River in Peru changed over three decades (1) This GIF image shows how Ucayali River's path in Peru changed over three decades.
(2) Who won the Apple-versus-FBI battle over privacy? It's really a draw. But terrorists are definitely on the losing side. They are now wondering if they can really have secure, private communications.
(3) Shakespeare, after 400 years: Shakespeare's work has had a remarkable influence on our theater productions, movies, books, song lyrics, children's names, and life in general. A chart, printed as a 2-page spread in Time magazine's April 11, 2016, issue, lists about 100 of these influences. There is no high-res, on-line version of the chart at this time, but I'll provide a link if I find one.
(4) On the largest financial leak in history: More details and names associated with the Panama Papers have been published. Much more info will emerge in the days and weeks ahead.
(5) The Golden State Warriors are on track to beat Chicago's all-time best 72-10 NBA season record: At 69-8, they must win 4 of their remaining 5 games. They can tie the record by winning 3 out of 5, which should be easy.
(6) "Reading the Brain: Neuro/Science/Fiction": This was the title of a talk this afternoon by University-of-Paris philosophy professor Pierre Cassou-Nogues. Machines for reading thoughts have been featured in various works of fiction (not necessarily sci-fi), because they lead to intriguing situations and complex dilemmas. To this body of imaginary mind-reading scenarios, one must add real neuroscientific research in recent years and possible secret work by national security agencies worldwide.
Before going further, let me point out in passing that the speaker's less-than-perfect English made it difficult to follow his thought process. Normally, foreign accents are not a problem for me, as I regularly attend talks given by non-native English speakers in my own specialty areas. However, philosophical discussions are difficult even in one's own native language, so the speaker was clearly disadvantaged by his English language skills.
Cassou-Nogues used frequent examples and quotes from a work by Marcel Proust, but the name of the work escapes me at this writing. In doing research for this post, I came across Jonah Lehrer's 2007 book, with the intriguing title Proust Was a Neuroscientist. So, it isn't surprising that he formulated some deep and controversial questions about mind-reading. A 1938 comic fantasy, The Thought-Reading Machine, by Andre Maurois, who envisaged not reading of the mind, but reading of a human's soul, was also mentioned. The real, though not very successful, mind-reading machine of Gregory Chatonsky, which used EEG headsets to allow direct mind control over an editing process, was also discussed briefly.
Here is an interesting example. As we read a novel, we construct mental images of the settings and people/objects described by the author. Some of these images are formed subconsciously and we may be unaware of their existence or significance to our thought process. A natural question, therefore, is whether our memory recall function would improve if a machine captured these images from our brain signals and showed them to us. Some of these images are on occasion referred to as raw/unprocessed thoughts and may disappear, once we put the raw thoughts together to form our processed thoughts.
During the questions period, a discussion ensued about whether a blind person experiences reading in the same way. It seems that the answer is yes only if the person in question was not born blind.

2016/04/04 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Map of ISUS-held areas in Syria and Iraq (1) Islamic State losses and gains: Gray areas indicate land controlled by IS, with black showing gains over the last year and red denoting losses. The losses are significant, particularly if they lead to isolated patches of IS-controlled areas that make movement of fighters and arms much more difficult. [Map from Time magazine, issue of April 11, 2016]
(2) Every generation thinks that technology is destroying our way of life and traditions. Not so, says this cartoon.
(3) UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema: This annual film series, which is sponsored by Farhang Foundation, begins on Saturday, April 3, 2016, with Soheila Golestani's "Do" ("Two") and continues until Sunday, May 22, at Hammer Museum's Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood.
(4) Panama Papers: These recently revealed papers seem to implicate many individuals (including several closely linked to Vladimir Putin) in money-laundering activities. Tonight's PBS Newshour also named a Saudi King, Bashar Assad, and several other politicians as beneficiaries of the scheme. The released papers are too voluminous for perusal by ordinary citizens. However, over time, summaries and analyses will be published that will allow us to become informed and make sense of the data. [Wikipedia entry]
(5) Half dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- At least 53 dead in pre-monsoon-season floods in Pakistan and Kashmir
- Tesla has pre-sold 276K Model 3 electric cars ($10B) in just two days
- China is aggressively promoting autononmous (self-driving) cars
- UN tribunal convicts former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for genocide
- Annual per-capita consumption of soda in the US fell to 30-year low
- Patty Duke, Oscar-winning star of "The Miracle Worker" dead at 69
(6) The politics of hate is spreading: It has reared its ugly head on the UCSB campus, prompting our VC for Student Affairs to send a message to the campus community that reads, in part: "During the past few days many university sidewalks and several buildings have been defaced with slogans and statements written in chalk and other more permanent media. Some of the messages constitute political endorsements, while others contain offensive, ignorant and hateful statements that target, provoke and divide our community. ... The sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and intolerance contained in these messages are inconsistent with our core values and our commitment to maintain an inclusive and safe learning environment for every member of the UCSB community. ... These messages degrade and distract our community and isolate those groups who are targeted."

2016/04/03 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cover image of Brooke Shield's 'There Was a Little Girl' (1) Book review: Shields, Brooke, There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me, unabridged audiobook on 10 CDs, read by the author, Penguin Audio, 2014.
Brooke Shields has been in the media spotlight ever since she entered the world of modeling before she turned one. Her childhood and youth were thus anything but normal, leading to pressures that drove her to drinking. Her formidable mother, Teri, who also acted as her manager, was a difficult and complicated woman and Brooke's relationship with her went through many ups and downs. In this open and honest memoir, Brooke Shields examines her relationship with her mother.
Shields was apparently motivated to write this book when she read a scathing New York Times obituary of her mom in 2012, which, among other things, criticized her for pushing Brooke into modeling and film, including acting as a child prostitute in Louis Malle's highly controversial "Pretty Baby" (1978). With this book, Shields wants to set the record straight that, even though her mom was pushy, permanently drunk, and at times ruthless, she was also witty, resourceful, and protective as a single mom, who tasted hardship while growing up in the Depression-era Newark.
In the process of painting her mom and their mother-daughter relationship, Shields also provides a window into her own roller-coaster career and personal life, including her years at Princeton, an affair with Irish actor Liam Neeson, her doomed marriage to tennis pro Andre Agassi, and her TV series "Suddenly Susan."
(2) Cartoon of the day: The mouse says, "Thank you very much, sir; I have brought back the empty dishes."
(3) Fidel Castro's scathing letter to President Obama: His rhetoric reminds me of Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei; tough talk for internal consumption and to silence the critics of the new opening. His brother Raul would not have made such an important decision about detente with the US, sans his blessing. He wants to maintain appearances, just as Khamenei does, even though Rouhani would not dare drink water, as we say in Persian, without his permission.
(4) Classical music at the mall, in Thousand Oaks.
(5) An oldie but goodie: Persian song about spring and flowers and, of course, love and devotion.
(6) Imagining the ancient Greek in today's clothing. [Pictorial]
(7) Only an Iranian can:
- Praise the history, climate, and people of Iran for hours, making everyone wonder why he doesn't live there.
- Use his car horn to greet someone, bid good-bye, celebrate, exhibit ire, swear, and say thanks.
- Fasten his belt and zip up his pants after leaving the bathroom.
- Look over his shoulder when a car is backing up, even though he is a passenger and not the driver.

2016/04/01 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Painting that depicts women's extra burdens and challenges (1) Women face extra burdens and challenges: This painting is on exhibit at the Women's Rights Museum in Spain.
(2) Eight brief news headlines of the day (real ones, not April Fools'):
- GMail drops its April Fools' Day prank, after it causes users a lot of trouble
- US and China agree to cooperate in dealing with N. Korea's nuclear threat
- North Korea accused of trying to jam GPS singals beyond its borders
- Amnesty International: Turkey's returning refugees to war zones is illegal
- Bernie Sanders breaks fundraising record for election campaigns
- CIA reviews K-9 training after leaving explosives behind on a school bus
- Collapse of 100-meter overpass on crowded street leaves 25 dead in India
- New York follows California in its plans to raise the minimum wage to $15
(3) Electric cars are coming: Of course, they have been around for some time, but at $35K and 215 miles per charge, the new Tesla Model 3 (orders exceeding 100K units already) makes them practical and affordable.
(4) Maps that describe America: These 25 maps depict attributes of the 50 US states in areas such as religion, languages spoken, popular commercial brands, restaurant chains, and the word used to describe sweetened carbonated beverages.
(5) Playful photography with paper cut-outs, by Rich McCor. [Pictorial]
(6) Kurdish music and dancing. [8-minute video]
(7) Architect extraordinaire Zaha Hadid [1950-2016]: The 65-year-old architect was responsible for some of the most remarkable buildings across the globe.
(8) Six April Fools' fake news headlines of the day:
- The Mexican government reveals $10.5B border wall project
- US Justice Department to indict both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
- Google to change its English logo to the newly designed Persian version
- Trump suspends campaign to 'give this compassion thing a try'
- Scotland and Wales 'could form own country' if Britain leaves EU
- BMW's revolutionary baby shoes will stop toddlers from falling over
(9) Final thought for the day: "It takes two years to learn to speak and sixty to learn to keep quiet." ~ Ernest Hemingway

2016/03/31 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of a majestic tree in Goleta, CA (1) This majestic tree stands at the main entrance to my housing complex. I photographed it this afternoon, as I was leaving for my daily walk in Goleta.
(2) California poppies create a natural wonder on these hills.
(3) Why is the GOP determined to hand the presidency to Hillary Clinton on a silver plate? All the mud-slinging by the Republican candidates will only hurt their eventual nominee. Could it be that they have gotten to like their do-nothing, nay-saying role over the past few years and consider its continuation more comfortable than trying to accomplish something?
(4) Trump vs. Trudeau: A side-by-side comparison of the views of a potential US President and the Canadian Prime Minister.
(5) On reading minds, and its implications: University-of-Paris philosophy professor Pierre Cassou-Nogues will be at UCSB next week to give the talk "Reading the Brain: Neuro/Science/Fiction" (Tuesday 4/5, 4:00 PM, McCune Conference Room, 6020 HSSB). Here is a snippet from the talk's description, which along with the intriguing title, persuaded me to attend: "Referring to various machines for reading thoughts, real or fictitious, Cassou-Nogues will argue that brain reading leads us to a change in our form of life, where thinking receives a new meaning, and various paradoxical situations may arise."
(6) Free public lecture by Bryan Stevenson: The author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, which is this year's selection for the "UCSB Reads" program, will speak at UCSB's Campbell Hall on Monday, April 18, 2016, beginning at 8:00 PM.
(7) David Sedaris, on Santa Barbara: The humorist, who is a regular visitor to my hometown (his next visit/lecture here will be on May 1, 2016), once characterized Santa Barbara as too perfect to be likable. "Most everyone I passed was engaged in some sort of exercise. ... There are other such towns in California—La Jolla, Carmel—but none seems as satisfied with themselves."
(8) Gaza's sole professional female runner won't give up: Inas Nofal, 15, gets up every morning and goes for her daily run, up and down the streets of the refugee camp where she lives.
(9) Final thought for the day: "Tomorrow is April Fool's Day. Believe nothing and trust no one; just like any other day!" ~ Anonymous [It is also Sizdeh-Beh-Dar, or the 13th day of the Persian New Year, with its "dorough-e sizdah" tradition. So people of Iranian origins should be doubly careful!]

2016/03/30 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cover image for the audiobook 'Meet Me at the Emotional Baggage Claim' (1) Brief book review: Scottoline, Lisa and Francesca Serritella, Meet Me at the Emotional Baggage Claim, unabridged audiobook on 5 CDs, read by the authors, Macmillan Audio, 2012.
This book contains a collection of humorous columns, each written and read by empty-nester mother, Lisa, or her twenty-something daughter, Francesca. The columns originally appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer. The eccentric (grand)mother Mary is mentioned frequently in the stories. The mother-daughter team pokes fun at everyday events and activities to which everyone can relate. One key theme is trying to stay emotionally close, now that Francesca has moved out of the family home and has taken residence in the Big Apple. The short-essays format makes the book an easy read/listen, regardless of how much time you have.
(2) A one-of-a-kind writing course: A writing course at UCSB examines the rhetoric of climate change. Students write about the climate-change debate, pondering about whether the case is closed, by analyzing popular narratives on all sides of the argument.
(3) Sign of the times: Is this warning at a UCSB parking structure really necessary?
(4) Faithful followers: Here are how four religious leaders fare in terms of the number of followers they have on Instagram: Pope Francis, 1.9M; Ayatollah Khamenei, 661K; Dalai Lama, 341K; Archbishop of Canterbury, 2.4K. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 4, 2016]
(5) Five brief news headlines of the day:
- An Israeli firm helped FBI crack San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone
- US FTC sues Volkswagen over deceptive advertising
- NASA names asteroid after Iranian-American scientist Firouz Naderi
- Audit accuses U. California of admitting too many out-of-staters
- Plan to raise CA's minimum wage to $15 by 2022 clears first hurdle
(6) Final thought for the day: Have you ever wondered why scarecrows are made like men, not like wolves, tigers, or bears? Isn't there any animal scarier than man?

2016/03/29 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Playful calligraphic rendering of a Persian verse (1) Playful rendering of a Persian verse: It's a single line of text that is stretched at points and bent to form four lines. It is playful, because the text says that if you push something away (first line, the text going away from the starting point on the right), it won't go away (second line, the text coming back), and even if it does go away (third line), it will return (fourth line). [Artist unknown]
(2) A poem of Houshang Ebtehaj (aka Heh. Alef. Sayeh), rendered beautifully by calligrapher Ali Farahani.
(3) New $200M donation to UCSB: Berkshire Hathaway VC Charles Munger has pledged $200M to UCSB for use in building affordable, state-of-the-art undergraduate housing units. This donation will be on top of his previous donation of $66M to build residential units for scholars visiting the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.
(4) Andy Grove dead at 79: The visionary technologist, Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1997, who led the development of Intel into one of the world's premier technology companies, died on March 21, 2016, of unknown causes. He had been suffering from Parkinson's disease and prostate cancer for a number of years.
(5) The hijacker of Egypt Air flight surrenders in Cyprus: Authorities in Cyprus have indicated that the hijacking had nothing to do with terrorism. In my book, however, when you threaten a group of innocent people with exploding a bomb to get what you want, it is terrorism, even if your demands or goals are not political.
(6) Traditional Persian music: Performed by a large orchestra of Iranian instruments. Wonderful!
(7) Arianna Huffington's guide to better sleep: Time magazine, issue of April 4, 2016, offers these snippets from Huffingon's new book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time (Harmony Books).
- Skip the nightcap: A late-night drink may act as a sedative, but it disturbs your sleep later on.
- Smell the lavender: Or drink lavender tea, approved by Germany as a treatment for insomnia.
- Stay awake: If you wake up during the night, try to stay awake, with no TV or computer.
- Get naked: The better sleep is a side effect of skin-to-skin contact, known to release oxytocin.
(8) Andrea Mitchell on Donald Trump's cluelessness about foreign affairs: Of course, Trump supporters will continue to dismiss these criticisms as part of a conspiracy by liberals and/or establishment Republicans against a potential "best President ever"!
(9) Former Trump supporter warns his voters: She makes some great points, and everyone is entitled to a change of heart. But, she has credibility issues. She describes herself as a policy wonk who believes in going to the table prepared. How did she miss all the publicly available info about Trump's misogyny and self-promotion, when she signed up to support him (and no doubt earn a fat paycheck in the process) a year ago?

2016/03/28 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Deaths from drug overdose in the US: 2004 vs. 2014 (1) Drug-overdose deaths in the US: The dire situation in 2014 vs. 2004. Dark green color is best and dark red is worst. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 4, 2016]
(2) Quote of the day: "People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don't find myself saying, 'Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.' I don't try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds." ~ Carl R. Rogers
(3) The Moroccan shepherd girl who became a cabinet minister in France after immigrating to that country.
(4) Captain Hajar Asgari realizes her dream of becoming a pilot, despite misogynistic barriers in Iran.
(5) Suicide bomber kills 65, injures 100s, in Lahore, Pakistan: The bomb was detonated on Sunday, a few feet from the site of children's swings in a public park. The victims are mostly women and children belonging to the small Christian minority in the country.
(6) Trump vs. Khomeini: In this essay, Roya Hakakian sees some parallels between Trump and Khomeini in their grand promises, repetitive speech patterns, butchering of their respective languages (making Rumi turn in his grave in the case of the Imam), and pandering to the uneducated.
(7) On Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate: The reasons some people hate Secretary Clinton have evolved over time, but underneath many of the criticisms lies the single reason that our patriarchal society is still uncomfortable with ambitious and opinionated women. [4-minute video]
(8) The UCSB campus returned to its normal bustle on this first day of spring quarter: My graduate-level course on computer arithmetic started today and my 1-unit freshman seminar will hold its first class on Wednesday.
(9) Putting your money where your mouth is: A petition to allow guns to be carried openly during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Ohio (an open-carry state) has caused quite a stir, with politicians supporting the NRA not sure how to respond. It is great that such politicians are getting a taste of their own medicine. If similar demands are made in other domains (politicians' children being required to enlist whenever they authorize a war, and their own healthcare plans being discontinued whenever they vote to repeal Obamacare), much of the gridlock in Washington will be removed.

2016/03/27 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cartoon about Jesus being both alive and dead, a la Schrodinger's cat (1) Cartoon of the day: For the nerds among my readers.
(2) Galloway on the Oil-for-Food Program scandal: In this 4-minute clip of his testimony at the US Senate, British Parliamentarian George Galloway lashes out against the "pack of lies" that led to the Iraq war. If you listen to the introductory comments in the 49-minute full testimony, you will find out that Galloway has been accused of wrongdoing himself. So, take his comments with a grain of salt. With this caveat, he makes a lot of sense and puts out a convincing case that the accusations against him, like the Iraq war itself, are based on forged documents.
(3) A lively debate: Author/essayist/orator Christopher Hitchens faces the British Parliamentarian George Galloway in a debate about the Iraq war.
[Note added on 3/28: Neither side in this debate is a saint, and each one has quite a few critics. But they raise many valid points, and their debating prowess is fascinating. The 109-minute video consists of 59 minutes of the two sides' main statements, plus 50 minutes of back-and-forth replies.]
(4) Yesterday, two of my children and I hiked on the very easy (flat) Carpinteria Bluffs trail that leads from a parking lot next to Highway 101 to Carpinteria's Seal Sanctuary. Here is a close-up photo of the seals on the beach. And here is me standing on the bluffs.
(5) The plan to dismantle public universities in the US: To conservatives, public universities are "beasts" that threaten the free-market ideology and must thus be starved to death through cuts in funding. This agenda really means that higher education should be limited to the rich, who can afford private schools. The result will be depriving a large section of our society from educational opportunities and worsening the income gap, which is already alarmingly wide. Education is a basic human right and must thus be managed in a stable fashion, decoupled from ideological squabblings. Universities that have been shaped over many decades, and in some cases centuries, cannot be made to shift gears with every new administration.
(6) Why so many terrorists are engineers: In one data set of about 500 Islamist extremists, e.g., 45% of those with advanced degrees had studied engineering. Do engineering schools attract the kinds of students who are predisposed to acts of terror? Does something in these programs inflame extremist tendencies? Or is this a chance correlation with no deeper meaning? Social scientists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog aim to answer these questions in this article and in a new book, Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection Between Violent Extremism and Education (Princeton University Press, 2016). The authors offer multiple possible explanations, not mutually exclusive, for engineers having a disproportionate representation among the jihadists. An intriguing one is engineers' taste for order and black-and-white explanations, a trait shared with many religious (not just Islamic) extremists.
(7) Microsoft has apologized: The computer company's Teen Girl AI program became a Nazi sympathizer and made a variety of racist comments within 24 hours of being introduced. She has now been "put to sleep."

2016/03/25 (Friday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cover image for Kelly Corrigan's 'The Middle Place' (1) Brief book review: Corrigan, Kelly, The Middle Place, unabridged audiobook on 6 CDs, read by Tavia Gilbert, Blackstone Audio, 2008.
In this memoir, Corrigan writes about her life and those of her family members, but reserves a special spot for her father, George Corrigan, whose can-do attitude becomes a shining light in her life. The author's admiration for her father puts her through a tough test, when both she and her father are diagnosed with cancer. The "middle place" of the book's title is "that sliver of time when parenthood and childhood overlap," that is, the early years of adulthood when one has child-rearing responsibilities, but being someone's son/daughter is still a big part of one's identity.
(2) Seven brief news headlines of the day:
- US airstrikes kill ISIS's second-in-command
- Suicide bomb attack kills 25 in Baghdad
- Six terror-related arrests made in Belgium
- Paris terror plot foiled
- Suspect arrested in yesterday's Goleta triple-murder
- Comedian Gary Shandling dead at 66
- Obama criticized for dancing ... [and for breathing!]
(3) Sanders leads the Time-100 poll: After two days of voting to determine the 100 most influential people in the world for 2016, Bernie Sanders leads other nominees, including both President Obama and Lady Gaga.
(4) Eric Clapton sings "Somewhere over the Rainbow" in his trademark blues style.
(5) Jimmy Kimmel tries to help Hillary Clinton with her campaign speech.
(6) My contribution to the social sciences: Unlike math, which advances by scientists proving new theorems, social sciences do not have theorems. Well, that's true no more! I have contributed the following theorem to the field: Every social media post, regardless of its source or subject, will garner at least one comment blaming President Obama or insulting Secretary Clinton.
(7) The Brussels tragedy and social media: "In the wake of tragedies such as the Brussels attacks, social media is now an important forum for public debate—who was to blame, what needs to change and how we stop it happening again—that anyone, anywhere can jump into. This is mostly a positive—bringing in a wider array of voices and views than ever before. But there are also downsides—the small minorities of committed, active digital voices that use social media to exploit our collective sense of grief by hurling out divisive, Islamophobic bilge. It is this that we need to guard against. An anti-Muslim backlash online, let alone one that spills onto the streets, really will play into the hands of ISIS and others who want to prise society apart." ~ Carl Miller, Research Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos, writing in Newsweek on-line, about why we mourn more for Brussels than Ankara (posted on March 24, 2016)

2016/03/24 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon poking fun at the FBI unlocking every iPhone to find only cat photos (1) Cartoon of the day: FBI unlocks every iPhone.
(2) One-liners seen on billboards:
- My reality check bounced.
- Ban pre-shredded cheese; make America grate again.
- Went to air & space museum, but there was nothing there.
- What if there were no hypothetical questions?
(3) A triple-murder shocks a quiet neighborhood of Goleta, California, near the intersection of Calle Real and Turnpike Road. Not much info is available at this time and there are no suspects. The victims are believed to be a respected doctor, his wife, and their 5-year-old daughter.
(4) This soccer video gives a new meaning to the phrase "throwing like a girl"!
(5) Some women enable misogyny: Men should of course be persuaded to unlearn their patriarchal tendencies, but educating women to stop accepting the status quo is a bigger part of the equation. It is incredible that Donald Trump has a sizable group of women supporters. One wonders if the have heard Trump's soundbites, which are all over the place on the Internet. I will be looking into explanations provided by these women about why they support Trump, as well as the views of female partners of male Trump supporters.
(6) California is leading the fight against global warming, and prospering: Between 2003 and 2013, California decreased its greenhouse gas emissions by 5.5 percent while increasing its GDP by 17 percent.
(7) Iranians celebrate Norooz on the streets, with regional costumes, music, and dances.
(8) The discount version of Trader Joe's comes to SoCal: Aldi has opened the first of 45 planned Southern California stores in Moreno Valley.

2016/03/23 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Caligraphic rendering of a quote from Forough Farrokhzad (1) Persian calligraphy: Master Ahad Panahi's rendering of a quote from Forough Farrokhzad.
(2) Joke of the day: Male unicorn: "The paper says a huge storm's coming our way." Female unicorn: "I'm sure glad we didn't go on that cruise thing with your nut-job friend Noah."
(3) Quote of the day: "There's an epidemic in our country of girls and women feeling bad about themselves based on what 0.5% of the human race looks like." ~ Melissa McCarthy
(4) Food-poisoning alerts are good news: The increase in contamination reports isn't due to a more dangerous food supply but results from improved technology for detection and tracking. [From: Time magazine, issue of March 28, 2016]
(5) Give Hillary Clinton a break: This unpopular sentiment is expressed by Sady Doyle, writing in Slate. Secretary Clinton has been beaten up for years with criticism of her every statement or move. No other human being could carry on and act as she has done under a constant barrage of negativity and undeserved criticism.
(6) Jihadi cool and ISIS: Kurt Eichenwald points out that under other circumstances, many young suicide bombers would be characterized as losers. Far from being devout Muslims, they are more attracted to American rap music than Quranic verses; they just want the glow of jihadi cool. "All it takes is some guns, some homemade bombs and some desire for fame to transform a loser into a hero among his friends and allies. And then the world eagerly attributes the attack to ISIS, which takes a bow for an attack its leaders probably knew nothing about and earns more cred that it uses to attract even more devotees."
(7) Mohammad Reza Shajarian's second wife: Sticking one's nose into the private lives of other people, particularly celebrities, is a pastime practiced by both Americans and Iranians. Other nationalities seem to be less prone to this vice. Anyway, the latest story making the rounds in the Iranian-American community is faulting the Iranian music maestro (who is fighting for his life against cancer) for taking a second wife 40 years his junior, while remaining married to his first wife. To me, the double-marriage is more troubling than the age difference in the second one. But who am I to judge another person, with an entirely different set of experiences and life story? He is an icon of traditional Persian music. I personally like some, but not all, of his work. We should learn to build a wall (a tall one, a la Trump) between a person's societal contributions, be they in art, science, political leadership, etc., and his/her private life.
(8) President Obama talks with Misty Copeland: The POTUS and prima ballerina, both of whom were born into multiracial families and raised by single mothers, chatted with Maya Rhodan for a Time magazine feature (issue of March 28, 2016) about their status as role models that have risen to the top of their respective fields.
(9) Final thought for the day: "May you never forget what is worth remembering, nor ever remember what is best forgotten." ~ Irish blessing

2016/03/22 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon captioned 'Elefonts' (1) Cartoon of the day: Elefonts.
(2) World's priciest cities: Here are the costs of a basket of grocery essentials in the world's priciest markets. $99.44, Seoul; $78.84, Singapore; $71.20, New York City; $59.82, Paris; $51.75, London.
(3) A brief timeline of game-playing programs: Machines continue their quest to become champions in games of thought and strategy.
1979, Backgammon: BKG 9.8 beat world champion Luigi Villa
1994, Checkers: Chinook forced Marion Tinsley to withdraw
1997, Chess: IBM's Deep Blue defeated world champ Gary Kasparov
2016, Go: Google's AlphaGo program defeated Lee Sedol
(4) Why poverty is sexist: An essay by Melinda Gates, published in Time magazine, issue of March 28, 2016.
(5) Terror attacks in Brussels, Belgium: There have been multiple terror attacks, including suicide bombings at the airport and at a downtown metro station. At least 30 are dead in the attacks, with hundreds injured. The Paris terrorist captured alive a couple of days ago will be interrogated for information on terror cells in Belgium. One theory is that the terrorists carried out these attacks in haste, given the risk of being discovered based on info provided by the arrested ISIS member. Belgium has a large population of radicalized Muslims and is thus vulnerable to additional terror attacks.
(6) What we can learn from this Brussels surveillance photo: The two men in dark jackets pushing large suitcases are suicide bombers, with their detonators hidden under a single glove worn on the left hand. The third man wearing a white jacket is thought to be a "guide" who goes with the suicide bombers to choose the attack location and to make sure the suicide bombers don't get cold feet. The man is currently at large and being sought by the police. ISIS is increasingly going for soft targets. They can kill just as many people as in a large plane via soft targets, such as metro/train stations and pre-security areas at large airports. Please be alert in crowded public places; be mindful of suspicious people carrying large suitcases and pay attention to their hands.
(7) MIT's self-driving cars won't need traffic lights: Self-driving cars can negotiate multiway intersections without stopping and with no need for traffic lights or stop signs.
(8) Another Putin foe ends up dead: Mikhail Lesin, a one-time Putin propaganda chief and founder of Russia Today news service, died from blunt force trauma to his head in a Washington DC hotel. Russian sources had previously attributed his death to a heart attack.

2016/03/21 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Super PAC spending and electoral success in 2016 (1) Big money has had no effect in the current US elections: Money spent by super PACs for and against various candidates (shown in $millions on the right) does not exhibit a positive correlation with the outcomes (leftmost column of numbers), according to Time magazine, issue of March 28, 2016.
(2) Exposing the Republicans' hypocrisy: Senator Al Franken speaks openly about the absurdity of the Republicans' refusal to hold hearings on President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland by stating that "the people should decide" (meaning that the next President should fill the Court's vacancy) and then shamelessly indicating that if the Democrats win the presidential election, they would be willing to confirm the centrist candidate in preference to a more liberal one likely to be nominated by Clinton. Another aspect of the absurdity of the Republicans' position is the implication that Obama was not chosen by the people.
(3) Russia is rewriting its history ... again: It took only an allusion from Vladimir Putin to send the country's elite into tailspin in attempts to write a new version of their history, just in time for the centennial anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in 2017. Rewriting history isn't a new thing for Russians. Iran seems to be following the Russian model in its leaders cursing and blaming the previous ones (with the exception of Khomeini, at least in public discourse) for the country's dire social and economic conditions and unfavorable international standing. Khamenei is already attacking President Rouhani in public speeches, calling some of his ideas planted by the US and other Western powers. With former Presidents, such attacks did not start until their second terms.
(4) An unlikely hero in the citizens' privacy debate: Apple Computer CEO Tim Cook has emerged as an unlikely hero in the privacy debate in the face of FBI's demand that his company cooperate in breaking the security code for a terrorist's iPhone. Many other tech CEOs have sided with him, but others, notably Bill Gates, have taken the FBI's side or have been tentative in their support.
(5) "Steve Jobs" is an intense, well-made film: Just finished watching Danny Boyle's 2015 biopic, with brutal and highly revealing dialogs that take place mostly in the minutes preceding new-product announcements. Kate Winslet, as Joanna Hoffman (Job's business adviser and confidant) is magnificent, as is Michael Fassbender as Jobs himself. Jeff Daniels as John Sculley and Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak are also quite good. A verbal confrontation between Jobs and Wozniac is particularly memorable.

2016/03/19 (Saturday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Persian poem about Norooz and the arrival of spring (1) A Norooz message to everyone around the world:
Oleaster, vinegar, sumac, and seeds sprouting into green
Love, caress, pleasantness, joy, have all entered the scene
From flowery twigs, the nightingale sings bright and bold
Odes and songs are on people's lips, be they young or old
The spring wind spreads jasmine's fragrance everywhere
Leaves and buds are aplenty, they emerge here and there
Image of nature in spring, is like an angel's warm glory
Rainbow-toned in colors, splendored like a fabulous story
In this spring and New Year, may your holidays be bright
Clear spite away, embrace an affection that's out of sight
— Behrooz Parhami, Norooz/Spring 2016
[The New Iranian Year 1395 arrived tonight at 9:30:12 PM PDT (Sunday, March 20, at 8:00:12 AM Iran time). For many years now, I have composed a cheerful traditional Persian poem celebrating the arrival of spring and renewal of nature, as well as the Iranian New Year festival. The 2016 (1395) edition appears above, along with a rough English translation. Initial letters of the poem's first and second half-verses spell its Persian title, which translates to "Happy New Year."]
(2) Modern Persian music: A cheerful dance tune, with lyrics celebrating Norooz and the arrival of spring.
(3) President Obama's Norooz message for 2016 (1395 in Iranian calendar). And here is a particularly thoughtful Norooz message from 2010.
(4) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Norooz message for 2016. [1-minute video]
(5) Reality outdoes the weirdest fictional mysteries: Diane Sawyer of ABC News interviews Kate del Castillo (Latina soap actress), who, together with actor Sean Penn, went to see the notorious drug lord El Chapo in the hopes of getting the film rights to his life story. This is a tale of greed and recklessness that may land the actor and actress in serious legal trouble.
(6) Traditional Persian music: Eight-year-old santoor player amazes.
(7) A group of Iranians from all walks of life express their hopes, or lack thereof, regarding the nuclear deal with the West.
(8) Khamenei's Norooz message: Iran's Supreme Leader barely mentions Norooz and new year celebrations, devoting all of his 9-minute message to the country's economic conditions and the need to stand up to Iran's "enemies" in economics and other matters.

2016/03/18 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Portrait of Grace Hopper in her military uniform (1) A pioneer of computing: In 1952, Grace Hopper and her team created the first compiler to translate code from one computer language to another. Later, she related: "Nobody believed that. They told me computers could only do arithmetic."
(2) Early 2030s is the earliest time frame for Mars landing by humans: "The moon program spanned 11 years, six Congresses and three Presidents. While there were fights over funding, there was bipartisan accord on the goals. That kind of comity will have to be repeated—and exceeded—if we're going to reach Mars." ~ From Time magazine, issue of March 21, 2016
(3) Rio de Janeiro's Cathedral: One of Rio's most visible attractions is the cone-shaped Metropolitan Cathedral, located at the heart of the city. Measuring 106 m in diameter and 96 m tall, the edifice resembles an ancient Mayan pyramid. [Pictorial]
(4) The other side of the story on STEM education: Andrew Hacker's new book, The Math Myth, argues that math isn't as important as it is made out to be. Geometry, calculus, and trigonometry are not only unnecessary for most careers, but so difficult that they can turn people off education entirely, Hacker argues. The number-one academic reason students don't finish high school or college, even in nontechnical fields, is struggling with math requirements. [From: Time magazine, issue of March 21, 2016]
(5) Paris terror-attack suspect captured alive: Most-wanted man Salah Abdesalam was captured in shoot-out close to his family home in Belgium.
(6) Skype now offers a free group-calling feature: The feature, previously available from Google+, has been added as a free Skype service. I got a notification from Skype this morning, but have not tried it out yet.
(7) All the Single Ladies: This is the title of a new book by Rebecca Traister, introduced in Time magazine, issue of March 21, 2016. Susan B. Anthony famously predicted that one day women would be liberated enough not to marry, ushering "an epoch of single women." Traister maintains that, with more unmarried American women than married ones, that era is now.
(8) Love in your 60s and 70s: "When you have that feeling, when you have a mad, passionate crush on someone, it's the same when you're 70 as when you're 13. You're awkward, and you're afraid you're doing the wrong thing, and you put yourself out there in ways you don't even think about. We stay who we are no matter how old we get," ~ Actress Sally Field, in a Time magazine interview, issue of March 21, 2016
(9) Final thought for the day: "I hope I remember enough of this world in the next one to appreciate the change," ~ Ashleigh Brilliant, PotShots

2016/03/17 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Jasmines in full bloom on my carport's trellis (1) The Jasmines on my carport's trellis are in full bloom, just in time for Norooz and the Persian New Year.
(2) Another pleasant late-winter day: I enjoyed a beautiful, sunny, and mild afternoon sitting outdoors, with coffee on hand and a farmers market nearby, listening to music by a one-man band. I love this musician and come to Camino Real Marketplace in Goleta on most Thursdays during our weekly farmers market just to listen to him. His name is David Tovar and his business card reads: "Music for All Occasions: Saxophone - Flute - Vocals"
Here are two of the songs he performed today: "Save the Last Dance for Me" and "Theme from Peter Gunn"
(3) Iranian satirist/poet Mohammad Reza Ali-Payam (aka Mr. Haloo) has been released from prison. [Video from his Facebook page]
(4) Pedaling improves motor functions in patients with Parkinson's and other neurological diseases.
(5) Cyberwar vs. physical war: In war, hospitals are usually viewed as off-limits. But apparently not in cyberwar. Panelists at a recent tech gathering described some of the worst online assaults on medical centers. "We're attacked about every 7 seconds, 24 hours a day," says John Halamka, chief information officer at a Boston-area hospital. And the strikes come from everywhere: "It's hacktivists, organized crime, cyberterrorists, MIT students."
(6) Our dysfunctional Congress: Not satisfied with unleashing Trump, the Republicans in the US Congress continue merrily on their self-destructive ways by refusing to hold hearings on President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. The notion of "consent" in the US Constitution means the right of Congress to turn down a president's nominee based on qualifications. The Republicans are acting as if there is a Constitutional provision for a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. The fact that there was such a majority for many years is purely an accident due to the Presidents who made the appointments. Had Gore won over Bush-2, the balance may have turned the other way. It is proper for the Supreme Court to shift in its composition according to who the people elect as President. Another element of chance is the lifespan of the Court's members. In the recent past, 8-year Presidents have nominated 2 and 4-year President Bush-1 nominated one member, which averages to one member per Presidential term. Obama has nominated 2 members already, which may be part of the unease for the Republicans. There are statistical variations in the number of appointments, and it could easily be the case that an 8-year President does not get to appoint anyone to the Court.

2016/03/16 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Image of pink blossoms representing the arrival of spring (1) I am officially in spring-break mode: After finishing the grading of final exam papers yesterday, I took a much-needed long walk on a beautiful winter day, the first of a string of 10 sunny or mostly-sunny days, predicted to take us well past the Norooz festivities. After returning home, I processed the grades, reported them to registrar's office, and updated the course's Web page to notify my students.
(2) AI program sweeps human Go champion in 3 matches: In the best-of-5 series pitting the world champion against Google's DeepMind AlphaGo program, the machine scored a 3-0 decisive victory.
(3) English translation of text seen on a billboard in Paris: "If it has been more than 24 hours since you last read a book or brushed your teeth, please keep your mouth shut."
(4) Quote of the day: "Most of the things that people like to hear, they know they're never going to happen. They just like to hear them." ~ Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich
(5) The false despair in the US economy: Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders paint a gloomy picture of the US economy. Fareed Zakaria fact-checks them and finds most of their claims misleading or totally false.
(6) A sky slide, made of glass and sitting ~1000 feet above city streets, is coming to Los Angeles in June.
(7) My day in Santa Barbara: After attending a seminar at UCSB and conducting a job interview with a faculty applicant, I headed to downtown Santa Barbara and walked on State Street for 2 miles each way, taking the shady side of the street (I normally follow the advice from the famous song and walk on the sunny side, but it was too hot today). I fully enjoyed the bustle, street musicians, and a perfect winter day (20 degrees above average) at the start of my spring break. One curiosity I encountered was a sign in front of "The James Joyce" pub in SB downtown's bar row that announced special events for "Geeks Who Drink." This is not for me, though, as I satisfy only the first part of the requirements.
(8) Today's final thought: "The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions." ~ Leonardo da Vinci

2016/03/15 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Haft-sin spread, set up at the entry foyer in my house (1) My haft-sin spread for Norooz: Inspired by the gorgeous spread at Farhang Foundation's Norooz event at LACMA on Sunday, last night I began my preparation for Norooz with this haft-sin spread.
(2) Iranian billionaire sentenced to death: Babak Zanjani, who made a fortune by helping the Iranian regime under President Ahmadinejad circumvent economic sanctions, was tried for embezzlement and is facing execution.
(3) America's first hijab-wearing Olympian: Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad will be part of Team USA in Rio this summer.
(4) The top five healthiest states in the US are: VT, NH, MN, HI, UT. The bottom five are: LA, MS, KY, AR, OK. [From: AARP Bulletin, issue of March 2016]
(5) Quote of the day: "Fame is like tinted glass on a passing limo: it shields more than it reveals. Fame reflects our own images back at us—what we desire, what we fear, what we thrill to. You can study celebrities every day, watch every YouTube video, read every tweet and Facebook post, and still wonder: What are they really like? And your answer will always say as much about you as it does about them." ~ David Von Drehle, writing about Donald Trump's candidacy in Time magazine, issue of March 14, 2016
(6) The Trump enigma: I have been reading a lot of articles about Trump and his increasing popularity among Republican voters. The rest of this blog entry will be controversial, so let me preface it with the statement that I do not support Trump, will definitely not vote for him over either of the Democratic hopefuls, and am in fact repulsed by much of what he stands for and the rhetoric he uses to express his beliefs.
- Trump has the right to free speech: Yes, even hate speech, as long as he does not break any laws. If and when he violates an existing hate-speech law, he should be charged and prosecuted by the judiciary (not by a mob).
- A Trump voter is as entitled to his/her vote as I am to mine. The one-person-one-vote democratic principle is not contingent upon a person's IQ, education, understanding of one's own interests, or any other criterion not spelled out by the law.
- A Trump opponent, though s/he is free to use all forms of protest allowed by the law, is not entitled to attendance at, or disrupting, a gathering of Trump's supporters, no matter how much s/he dislikes the candidate or his supporters.
- Trump's opponents are entitled to support the person of their choosing or to do "opposition research," but they should not gang up with the express purpose of derailing him. It is elitist for either Democrats or Republicans to assume that they know better what is good for the voters.
- The damage done to the country by a "wrong" choice (we have had several of these in the past) will be less than that caused by tarnishing the democratic process. A bad President can do limited damage, given all the checks and balances.
- A person being vile and using foul language does not give us a license to reciprocate. One can expose a demagogue, while still maintaining civility. We should stop calling anyone who disagrees with us "stupid" or invoke stereotypes in revenge.

2016/03/14 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cover image of the program guide for Farhang Foundation's Norooz event at LACMA (1) Yesterday's Norooz celebration: I attended Farhang Foundation's Norooz event at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The program included haft-sin displays, a children's music workshop led by Ziba Shirazi, a Persian calligraphy demo, a costume parade, cheerful music and dances from various regions of Iran [sample 1] [sample 2], and a couple of concerts, a ticketed one by Mamak Khadem and a free open-air one by Niyaz.
As I was walking in LACMA's central courtyard, I was approached by the crew of the Persian-language radio station KIRN for a brief interview. The question was whether social media have improved or hurt traditions such as celebrating Norooz and New Year. I answered that social media are mere tools that can be used for good (say, when they allow remote communication between family members in different countries or states, as they celebrate Norooz and the Persian New Year) or be abused (resorting to electronic communication where face-to-face contact is possible).
The program guide offered a number of tidbits about Norooz and its traditions, including this haft-sin description.
(2) Pi Day 2016: Today's date, 3/14/16 matches the digits of pi = 3.1416 to four fractional positions. The fourth fractional digit of pi is actually 5, but because it is followed by 9, we should round up.
(3) Traditional Persian music: Sepideh Raissadat performs "Ze Farvardin," a song about the arrival of spring and the Persian New Year, which will begin in a little over a week (at 9:30:18 PM, PDT, on Saturday 3/19).
(4) Bomb scare on Santa Barbara Amtrak train: The man making the bomb threat on Saturday was quickly identified and no bombs were found on the train itself or in the backpack he threw out of the train.
(5) Children's science museum to open in Santa Barbara by year's end: Located in the heart of downtown, at 125 State Street, the 17,000-square-foot MOXI (Museum of Exploration and Innovation) will facilitate learning by interaction and creativity. A sneak peek event, featuring parts of the facility, was held on Saturdy.
(6) Cloud seeding in Santa Barbara: Rainfall totals around Santa Barbara's water reservoirs were enhanced by using flares thrown from airplanes. Saturday's cloud conditions were described as ideal for such an activity.
(7) How the tech revolution is starting another Civil War: "A technological revolution [railroad] killed the Whig Party in 1850. A new one is blasting the GOP into splinters in 2016. Amazingly, none of the presidential candidates talk much about technology, yet our software-eats-the-world whirlwind drives everything that's cleaving the country and throwing its politics into chaos. The parallels to the dynamics of the 1850s are a little scary. After all, the Whigs' self-destruction was a prelude to the Civil War."

2016/03/11 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing how to generate movie plots (1) Cartoon of the day: Movie-plot generator; 2401 different plots!
(2) California pistachio products recalled over Salmonella risk: For a complete list of products, see this FDA page. The list includes many varieties of the "Wonderful" brand as well as a Trader Joe's variety.
(3) Presidents who shaped the US Supreme Court: The 9-member high court's composition, before Justice Scalia's recent death, was as follows. [From Time magazine, issue of March 7, 2016.]
- Reagan appointed Scalia (79) in 1986 & Kennedy (79) in 1988.
- Bush Sr. appointed Thomas (67) in 1991.
- Clinton appointed Ginsburg (82) in 1993 & Breyer (77) in 1994.
- Bush Jr. appointed Roberts (61) in 2005 & Alito (65) in 2006.
- Obama appointed Sotamayor (61) in 2009 & Kagan (55) in 2010.
(4) Science is about to solve the mystery of why humans cry: Does crying have any benefits beyond the physiological function of lubricating the eyes? Scientists have found that emotional tears are chemically different from the ones we shed while chopping onions. Tears show that we are vulnerable, and vulnerability is critical to human connection. Then, is it the case that people who never cry are less socially connected? These and other questions are discussed in a Time magazine article, issue of March 7, 2016. [Subscribers-only content]
(5) Driverless cars will become not just legal but mandatory: This is the conclusion of a Time magazine article, issue of March 7, 2016, that predicts the near-total elimination of fatal car accidents, currently killing 32,675 Americans annually and constituting the leading cause of death in the 15-24 age group.
(6) The Obama girls at their first state dinner (honoring the Prime Minister of Canada). [Image]
(7) Potential game changer in breast-cancer treatment: A drug combination, found by accident, can shrink cancerous tumors in a matter of weeks. The astonishing results of combining Herceptin with another drug were reported at the 10th European Breast Cancer Conference in Amsterdam.
(8) Final thought for the day: 'A smile is happiness you'll find right under your nose." ~ Tom Wilson

2016/03/10 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Title slide for my keynote talk at CSICC-2016 (1) Keynote talk for a conference in Tehran: Just after midnight early yesterday, March 9, 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM Iran time, I delivered a keynote talk (via Skype) entitled "Seven Key Ideas in Computer Architecture, from Seven Decades of Innovation" at the Computer Society of Iran Computer Conference. I have made my slides for the talk (50 slides for the talk itself and 20 more containing supplementary material that were not used during the talk), publicly available because of their educational value. Here is a direct link to the PDF file of the slides.
(2) This is a pet peeve of mine too: "I hate it when I just miss a call by the last ring, but when I immediately call back, it rings 9 times and goes to voicemail. What did you do after I didn't answer? Drop the phone and run away?"
(3) Google's computer Go player faces the human champ: In a best-of-5 sreies being played in South Korea from March 8 to March 15, 2016, Google's AI program DeepMind AlphaGo is leading 18-time world champion Lee Se-Dol 2-0. Go had been known to be significantly more difficult to master than chess, as its game tree has a higher branching factor. If Google's AI program prevails in this match (which appears likely), the result will represent a surprising development that has come much earlier than thought possible. On this 6-hour video, you can watch the post-match press conference after game 2 beginning at the 5:38:45 mark.
(4) Quote of the day: "We shouldn't be afraid of the word 'feminist.' Men and women should use it to describe themselves anytime they want." ~ Canadian PM Justin Trudeau
(5) Research on military drones: According to Washington Post, the Pentagon has been developing 3D-printed micro-drones, which, after being launched from fighter jets or from the ground, come together to form swarms. In a separate development, Las Vegas Review Journal reports that Area 6 near Las Vegas is being used by the US government for drone development and testing.
(6) Woodpecker's systematic storage system for acorns. [Image]
(7) Final thought for the day: "The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another." ~ William James

2016/03/08 (Tuesday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Celebrating March 8, International Women's Day (1) March 8 is International Women's Day: Celebrating its 105th year, women of the world are excited that members of this important half of humanity have achieved so much, despite narrow-minded, and at times brutal, opposition to their full engagement. The struggle must continue, even if it takes another century to remove all the remnants of abuse, prejudice, and sexism. The heart-shaped quote in the accompanying image is from Helen Keller [1880-1968].
(2) Six brief news headlines of the day:
- Hamas has resumed its tunneling into Israel
- Palestinian stabs 10, killing an American in Tel Aviv
- ISIS likely has Qaddafi's shoulder-held missiles
- Iran test-fires multiple ballistic missiles
- Nine passengers injured in train derailment near SF
- Maria Sharapova admits to using banned drugs
(3) Vertical village stretches into the sky: The futuristic compound, envisaged by Indian agroecologist Amlankusum and Paris-based Vincent Callebaut Architectures for a location near New Delhi, consists of six 36-story towers connected by common green spaces, walkways, and shared eco-conscious utilities. [Pictorial]
(4) Modern Persian music: Kimia Ghorbani (Tarifa Band) sings "Maraa Roodi Bedaan" ("Consider Me a River").
(5) Rhythmic Persian dance music: Davood Behboodi performs "Assal" ("Honey")

2016/03/07 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
The mysterious Por-Bazhyn Fortress (1) The Por-Bazhyn Fortress: "In a small island in the center of a remote Lake Tere-Khol, high in the mountains of southern Siberia, close to the Mongolian border, lies the ruins of Por-Bazhyn (also spelled Por Bajin), a structure that at first glance appears like a fortress. Por-Bazhyn, which means "clay house" in the Tuvan language, has been known since the 18th century, but it wasn't explored until the late 19th century. Since then the complex has been fascinating and frustrating experts in equal measure, because they are unable to tell who built it and why."
(2) Modern Persian music: Ahmadreza Nabizadeh performs "Saa'at-e Panj" ("Five O'Clock").
(3) Nancy Reagan dead at 94: Major networks stopped their regular programs on Sunday 3/6 to run special reports on the former First Lady, who was described as a close confidant of, and major influence on, her husband during his governorship and presidency.
(4) New York Times opinion piece by Shirin Ebadi: In this March 1, 2016, article, Ebadi describes how she was betrayed by both her husband and country of birth in August 2009. Her husband had been sentenced to death by stoning, after he was caught cheating and videotaped by security agents during the act. Ebadi describes her husband's extramarital fling as a trick set-up, but I am not sure I buy this explanation. Ebadi's husband was told that his only way out was to read on state TV a prepared "confessional" text that said his wife did not deserve to win the Nobel Peace Prize and that the honor was bestowed upon her as part of a conspiracy to topple the regime in Iran. He also had to marry the other women, with the temporary marriage certificate back-dated by 5 years. He obliged, but apparently asked for Ebadi's forgiveness, so that they could continue as a married couple. They eventually divorced. This appears to be the first time that Ebadi has revealed this part of her life story publicly.
(5) A documentary film that is doing some good: Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says he is moved by the Oscar-winning short documentary "A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness," portraying the ordeals of a Pakistani girl who after being shot in the head, was placed in a sack and thrown into a river by her father and uncle. This case is unusual because the girl survived. Most honor killings go unreported and the killers are either not punished or receive a slap on the wrist. The PM says he will work to change the laws regarding honor killings.

2016/03/05 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Chart rating areas in California according to their entrepreneurialquality (1) Entrepreneurial index in various areas of California:
Not surprisingly, most areas of California that score high on the entrepreneurial quality are in Silicon Valley. One surprise is Goleta, my home town (shown near the bottom of the chart), which leads almost all areas outside of Silicon Valley. The chart comes from an article in Science, Vol. 347, No. 6222, pp. 606-609, Feb. 2015.
(2) Hubble space telescope captures furthest galaxy ever: At a distance of 13.4B light years, what is seen is a very young galaxy, as it existed a mere 400M years after the Big Bang. [Photo and video]
(3) Fashion inspired by ancient Iranian designs: I came across the Web site of Roushani Design that offers women's and men's clothing items based on Persepolis images and Isfahan tile designs. A Web search revealed that there are other fashion designers [sample 1; sample 2] who have experimented with such designs.
(4) Abbas Vaez-Tabasi dead at 80: The cleric, who was in charge of Imam Reza's shrine in Mashhad and controlled a multibillion-dollar empire of affiliated businesses, died on March 4, 2016. He was an appointed representative of Iran's Supreme Leader and his holdings were not subject to taxes or the normal governmental oversight. He had famously said in a sermon that the sick should seek healing from Imam Reza, instead of going to hospitals. He spent the last week of his life in a coma, connected to various hospital assistive and monitoring devices, instead of at Imam Reza's shrine, per his own suggestion.
(5) Rostam in the 22nd Century: This is the title of a Persian novel by Abdolhosain Sanatizadeh, first published in 1934, last reprinted some five decades ago, and about to be reissued in 2016 with newly created illustrations. The book is thought to be the first ever Persian sci-fi work. I look forward to reading this interesting book.
(6) Primaries on Saturday 3/5: According to the New York Times, Donald Trump won primary elections in Kentucky and Louisiana, while Ted Cruz emerged on top in Kansas and Maine, allowing him to close the gap in total number of delegates against Trump. Marco Rubio and John Kasich remain at distant third and fourth positions among Republican candidates (Ben Carson left the race). On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders won Kansas and Nebraska, while Hillary Clinton prevailed in Louisiana, which afforded her a slight widening of the gap in total number of delegates against Sanders.

Photo of Shafi Goldwasser delivering the keynote lecture at UCSB's Computer Science Summit 2016/03/04 (Friday): UCSB's Computer Science Summit: This all-day technical event began with project and research presentations. I attended the senior capstone project sessions and an associated poster session during lunch break in order to assess a couple of the projects and teams with respect to ABET (accreditation) requirements in connection with our Computer Engineering Program. The afternoon program included more project and research presentations, a couple of student-focused career panels, and a keynote lecture [photo], described in the rest of this post.
In the keynote talk, 2012 Turing Award winner Shafi Goldwasser (CSEE Professor at MIT; also affiliated with Israel's Weizmann Institute) spoke about "The Cryptographic Lens: Past, Present, and Future."
Cryptographic methods trace their roots to the pioneering work of Claude Shannon, whose early contribution "A Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems" was published in 1949, and Alan Turing, who worked on breaking the Enigma cypher used by Germany during World War II.
Over the past three decades, cryptography has supplied fundamental means for private and authenticated communication. Generalizing slightly, we can view cryptography as the general study of correctness and privacy of computation in the face of a powerful adversary, which nevertheless has bounded computational resources. As more and more of our data and computations move into the "Cloud," we have reasons to be concerned with the safeguarding of our personal information and with the accuracy of the results we receive from unseen and anonymous computing resources in the new data-globalization regime.
Aided by what the speaker called "looking through a cryptographic lens," beautiful mathematical results have recently emerged in the theory of computing. The most exciting of these results have to do with the ability of computing agents to operate on encrypted data, so that we can obtain our desired computational results without revealing our data to the cloud. Current encryption schemes present an all-or-nothing paradigm, which means that the data is either completely hidden or it is fully revealed (e.g., by supplying the encryption key to the agent which needs to operate on your data). Imagine, if you will, a multi-layer encryption scheme where a master key is needed to reveal the raw data but that multiple specialized keys exist that reveal the data partially for the purpose of specific computations.
Consider, for example, that you need a certain genetic testing to be performed. At present, you have to supply your full genetic information to the company that runs the test. Wouldn't it be nice if you could provide your genetic info in encrypted form, along with a specialized key that does allow the company to run the needed tests but that would not be enough to reveal the underlying data? It is difficult to imagine how such a scheme would be possible, but the theoretical foundations for implementing this exact scheme are already in place and it's only a matter of time before the practical details are worked out.
One last piece of the puzzle is how you would trust the results you receive (e.g., for genetic testing in the example above). Here you need a kind of "proof" of correctness for the results you receive. Such proofs are often very tedious and checking them may be beyond the computational power of most devices (smartphones and tablets) that we use for the bulk of our communication needs. Again, the theoretical framework is in place to be able to communicate verification information in simple, abbreviated form so that a very complicated proof can be verified by computationally simple algorithms.
These are exciting developments and I look forward to following up on them over the next few years.
[By the way, Shafi Goldwasser is the third woman to win the Turing Award, often referred to as the Nobel Prize of Computing. Here is the ACM Turing Award page on Goldwasser.]

2016/03/03 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Photo of Rubik's cube (1) Seven fun facts about Rubik's cube.
- It is the best-selling toy of all time: 350 million units sold
- Cost of the most expensive cube built (using precious stones): $2.1M
- Erno Rubik's time to solve his cube the first time: 1 month
- World speed record for solving it: 5.25 seconds
- Speed record for solving it blindfolded: Just over 20 seconds
- British politician Ed Miliband can solve it in 90 seconds
- Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber can solve it in 83 seconds
(2) A long-running study of human cognition: Retired Scotish miner John Scott, 79, enjoys holding a model of his own brain, built based on 3D scans. He is one of more than 1000 former students who in 1947 (at age 11) began participating in one of the longest-running studies of human cognition, the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936. Participants' thinking skills and health were regularly tested during the past decade to collect information about the effects of aging on mind and body. [Adapted from ASEE Prism magazine, issue of February 2016]
(3) Mitt Romney trashes Donald Trump in a speech: I am no fan of either person, but this is a very important development in the US election process. While endorsements are common during elections, this is the first time I have seen a scathing anti-endorsement. [20-minute video]
(4) Math puzzle: Three runners of widely varying abilities set out around a 400-meter track. Their lap times are 78, 104, and 156 seconds, which remain the same throughout the race. When the first runner wins upon reaching the finish line, he notices that for the first time, both of the other two runners are exactly abreast of him. How many laps was the race, and what was the winning time? [From: E&T magazine, issue of March 2016]
(5) Scooter for those on wheelchair: A creative design that improves mobility.
(6) Fox news anchor is shocked when the answer to her question about the evils of socialism doesn't go the way she expected!
(7) Cybercriminals are learning English: A common suggestion on spotting phishing and other malicious e-mail solicitations is to pay attention to spelling and grammatical errors that have been the hallmarks of such attempts. Newsweek on-line reports that cybercriminals now come with improved English-language skills, making it more difficult to spot them.
(8) For my SoCal friends: On Saturday 3/5 at 8:00 PM, PBS SoCal will broadcast a program by the Russian-born comedian Yakov Smirnov, which is entitled "Happily Everlaughter: The Neuroscience of Romantic Relationships." Based on teasers that I have seen, it should be an enjoyable stand-up comedy program.

2016/03/02 (Wednesday): Here are four items of potential interest.
A rendering of the SR 520 bridge over Lake Washington in Seattle (1) The world's longest floating bridge: The bridge, which forms a section of Highway 520 crossing Lake Washington in Seattle, is set to open in April 2016. The $4.56B span stretches 7710 feet (2.35 km) and is 116 feet (35 m) wide.
(2) Campus concert at noon: UCSB's Gospel Choir performed at the Music Bowl today. I heard a quotation recently (I don't remember by who) that gospel and blues are really the same thing, except that one is about a guy and the other one usually about a girl! Here is the Choir's rendition of the contemporary song "Do Not Pass Me By" during today's concert.
(3) Engineering under the next Democratic POTUS: The March 2016 issue of E&T magazine contains a short piece about how Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders differ in their support for engineering. When the shouting match between the Republican candidates and their quarrels about anatomical features of their rivals ends and they begin discussing policy, I will make a similar post about how engineering would fare under a Republican US President. Here are three important areas for comparison.
- Education: Both candidates support expanding STEM programs and promise debt-free college education, the difference being that Clinton envisages a 10-hours-per-week work program to partially offset the tuition cost, with parents' contribution capped at "affordable" levels based on income, while Sanders would abolish public-college tuition outright.
- Energy: Clinton offers a $60B "Clean Energy Challenge" to support local and state governments in their renewable-energy initiatives. Sanders casts a wider net, arguing that while R&D is certainly important, cutting domestic energy use is the "low-hanging fruit" that must be harvested first.
- Cybersecurity: Both candidates have serious proposals, but neither one emphasizes this area yet, because it is not seen as a differentiating issue within the party.
(4) On the just-completed parliamentary elections in Iran: While many "reformists" have been elected despite the disqualification of many others by the Guardian Council, those elected have mixed records and it remains to be seen whether they are fundamentally different from their hardliner cohorts. The number of women elected also shows an increase over the existing mix. However, shortly after his reelection, hardliner Nader Ghazipour broke all taboos and insulted the newly elected women representatives by saying: "The parliament isn't a place for dumb asses or for women; it's a place for men. When you send your women to the parliament, they may be violated, making you lose your honor." He then continued with words that are too abhorrent for me to translate. Unfortunately, this way of thinking about women is all too common, even among those officials who bite their tongues and do not overtly express their misogynistic beliefs.

2016/03/01 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Photos of Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman (1) Cryptography pioneers receive the 2015 Turing Award: The ACM A. M. Turing Award is known informally as the Nobel Prize of computing. It is given once a year to an individual researcher or a collaborating team for fundamental contributions to computer science.
The 2015 Turing Award has gone to Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman, whose 1976 paper "New Directions in Cryptography" introduced the ideas of public-key cryptography and digital signatures, which are the foundations for most regularly-used security protocols on the Internet today.
The Diffie-Hellman Protocol protects daily Internet communications and trillions of dollars in financial transactions. The award selection was not influenced by the recent high-profile dispute between the FBI and Apple Computer, but the focus on encryption as a tool for privacy is certainly very timely.
(2) Astronaut Scott Kelly returns home after a year in space.
(3) Beautiful accordion playing: Super impressive performance by Aleksander Hrustevich playing Vivaldi!
(4) Here are a couple of quotes about technology and keeping up with changes.
"Trying to retreat from technology to preserve old jobs didn't work back in the Luddite era, and it's not going to work today." ~ John Hennessy, President of Stanford University, in an interview published in Communications of the ACM, issue of March 2016
"The only way to keep up with the change in the world is to run faster. You can't run slower and try to retard the progress." ~ Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman
(5) How to kill a supercomputer: Multipetaflops-level supercomputers (soon to advance to the exaflops, or 2^18 floating-point operations per second, level) are extremely powerful in computational terms, but they are vulnerable to failuers in their many millions of parts and links that connect them. A notable example was seen in IBM's ASCI Q at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which upon its installation in 2002 couldn't run more than an hour or so without crashing. The problem was traced to an unprotected address bus on the DEC Alpha microprocessor it used. When these processor chips were struck by cosmic radiation, the constant shower of particles that bombard Earth's atmosphere from outer space, data became corrupted on the unprotected bus. To prove to the manufacturer that cosmic rays were the problem, the Los Alamos staff placed one of the servers in a beam of neutrons, causing errors to spike. By putting metal side panels on the ASCI Q servers, the scientists reduced radiation levels enough to keep the supercomputer running for 6 hours before crashing. That was an improvement, but still far short of what was desired for running computationally intensive simulations. Ways of dealing with the effects of cosmic radiation on the operation of electronic circuits has become an active area of research since then. [Adapted from: IEEE Spectrum magazine on-line]
(6) Final thought for the day: "There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

2016/02/28 (Sunday): Here are three items of potential interest.
Image of Oscar statues (1) My 2016 Oscars notes: Other than winners in the main categories listed below, I was pleased to learn that "A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness" won as the best documentary short. The film is about attempted "honor" killing of Saba Qaiser, a Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by her father, after a severe beating by him and the girl's uncle.
Saba survived and ended up forgiving her father. The film's title refers to the fact that after Saba was shot, her body was placed in a sack and thrown into a river. Comedian Louis CK, who presented the award, said half-jokingly: "This is the one Academy Award that has an opportunity to change a life—These people will never be as rich as long as they live. This Oscar is going home in a Honda Civic."
- Motion picture: "Spotlight"
- Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "The Revenant"
- Original screenplay: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, "Spotlight"
- Adapted screenplay: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, "The Big Short"
- Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant"
- Actress: Brie Larson, "Room"
- Supporting actor: Mark Rylance, "Bridge of Spies"
- Supporting actress: Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl"
(2) Quote of the day: "A few years ago, I voted for Khatami to throw out Rafsanjani. Today, I voted for Rafsanjani to get rid of Jannati. I don't know who I will support four years from now to get rid of whom. I am just voting to get rid of this or that person." ~ A middle-aged Azeri man, on the 2/26 elections in Iran
(3) Persian lecture on Iran at UCLA this afternoon: Dr. Nader Saiedi (Dept. Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, UCLA) spoke on "The Development of Iranian Images of Babism: Babi Religion in Nasekh al-Tavarikh," as part of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran. According to the speaker, the portrayal of Babism (a precursor of Bahai'ism) in Nasekh al-Tavarikh, a book of history, was skewed by a number of factors, including the fact that history texts in those days were written mostly to praise and please the ruling monarch.
For example, Bab was portrayed as an uneducated simpleton who knew little about Arabic, the prevailing language of the day for discourses about faith and philosophy. It also accused Bab as promoting communal living, including sharing of property and women. The misogynistic tone of the attacks on Babism, including a smear campaign against Tahereh Ghoratolein, a master classical poetess of the period, is a reflection of the patriarchal society and the teachings of the clergy who refused to adapt to the requirements of a modern world.
Bab, who considered himself God's prophet, criticized Islamic clergy for their backward ways and refusal to adapt. The clergy in turn accused Bab of deception and demanded that he demonstrate miracles to prove his claim. Later, Bahaullah sang the praises of democracy and of separation of religion and state, opinions that went against those of the clergy.
As a modernist reinterpretation of Islam, Babism was looked upon with suspicion and disdain by both the clergy and Qajar kings. Its creation was variously viewed as an attempt by Western Imperialist powers or Russia to discredit Islam or to promote laxer social morals in Islamic socieities. For a while, the clergy also accused Babists of trying to overthrow the Qajar dynasty, a point that was later downplayed when the clerics themselves got involved in the Costitutional Revolution.
In short, the speaker's message was that Babism and Bahai'ism are victims of lies that were weaved in Nasekh al-Tavarikh and which were later reiterated by others, without much thought or new research. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, intellectuals developed a negative view of the clergy, causing them to revise their views of Bahai'ism as well.
Despite the interesting topic, the presentation was rather disorganized and the speaker seemed rushed in trying to squeeze in more material than could conveniently fit in a one-hour lecture. Answers to questions (really commentaries, as no one asked an actual question) were also long-winded.

2016/02/26 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
A verse of Hafez in calligraphic rendering by Ali Farahani (1) Calligraphic rendering of a Persian verse by Hafez with a ball-point pen, instead of calligraphy pen. Impressive artwork by Ali Farahani! [Full poem]
(2) Printable 2016 Oscars ballot: If you want to test your knowledge of the movie industry and how the Oscars work, print out this Vanity Fair chart and mark it up before tomorrow's ceremonies (ABC TV, Sunday 2/28, 6:00 PM PST).
(3) Insightful comments about why various groups of Iranians voted in the country's 2/26 elections.
(4) Creative entertainment at a restaurant table, while waiting for desserts.
(5) The engineer who tried to stop Space Shuttle Challenger's launch 30 years ago: NASA management didn't listen to Bob Ebeling's warnings about the O-rings failing to do their sealing job under unusually cold temperatures. Seven astronauts perished as a result. This NPR story has generated a sea of support for the 89-year-old engineer, who has been living with guilt for 3 decades.
(6) How to pick a President: This article from Psychology Today points out that what we want in a leader (influenced by our gut instinct coming from the limbic lobe, our old brain that hasn't changed in millions of years) is quite different from what we need (based on analysis and rational judgment produced by the big new cortex that favors deliberation and thoughtfulness over raw energy and chest-thumping).
(7) Dr. Suzanne Barakat, who lost three family members to violence, speaks up against hate-mongering by presidential candidates and others.
(8) Why we say "eleven" and "twelve," instead of "oneteen" and "twoteen": The words for 11 and 12 come from Old English forms "endleofan" and "twelf," which can be traced back to a time when they were formed as "ain+lif" and "twa+lif." So, what is "lif"? The current best guess is that the "lif" suffix is from a root for "to leave." So, the meanings are "one left (after 10)" and "two left (after 10)." Why doesn't this pattern continue past 12? The theory here is that early humans did not have much use for numbers larger than 12, so these forms developed when modern number systems appeared. Similarly, old irregular forms "twenty" and "thirty" have persisted because they were used more extensively than "two hundred" and "three hundred," say.

2016/02/25 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
PowerPoint slide used by the Faculty Senate at University of Houston (1) Guns and academic freedom: A suggestion by the Academic Senate at University of Houston that professors drop controversial topics from their curricula in order to "pacify armed students," given that the campus-carry law in Texas will soon allow students to be armed, has created alarm in the academic community.
(2) Our brain is wired for music: Bobby McFerrin's demo.
(3) Pink's wonderful rendition of "Me and Bobby McGee" (a trademark song of Janis Joplin, written by Kris Kristofferson).
(4) The silver lining: Regardless of its outcome, the FBI-Apple dispute over data privacy will likely have a positive effect on the development of more secure consumer electronic devices.
(5) Hired hackers easily accessed networks at Baltimore-area hospitals in a cybersecurity test.
(6) Executions reach crisis level in Iran: President Rouhani's deputy for women's affairs has divulged that in the province of Sistan & Baluchestan, the entire adult male population of a particular village has been wiped out by executions. Most of these executions are associated with drug smuggling offenses, but there is no way of knowing for sure. The Sistan & Baluchestan province has a sizable population of Sunni Muslims, and conflict between Shi'i and Sunni extremists in the region is quite intense. Given that Islamic Revolutionary Courts are run exclusively by Shi'i clerics, it is conceivable that at least some of the executions are religiously motivated.
(7) Iran to reimburse Palestinian "martyrs" and those whose homes are demolished by Israel in retaliation for acts of terror: Iran's ambassador to Lebanon unveiled a plan for paying $7000 to families of those killed during Intifada in Jerusalem and $30,000 to those who lose their homes.
(8) Recording disciplinary actions on college transcripts: A debate is raging in the higher-education community about whether a student's transcripts should reflect major disciplinary actions. There are valid arguments on both sides. I am on the side of a "yes" answer to the question, because I don't see why information about sexual assault, physical violence, theft, or drug abuse should enjoy more privacy protection than information about lack of academic aptitude or dedication which is reflected in poor and failing grades. Why should a student who does not devote time to his/her studies be viewed less favorably by a prospective employer than a classmate who was disciplined for criminal activities or even for certain academic offenses such as cheating or plagiarism?

2016/02/24 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Beautiful calligraphic rendering of a Persian verse by Hatef Esfahani (1) A verse by Hatef Esfahani, rendered in Persian calligraphy by Master Ahad Panahi.
(2) Facebook has added new icons, besides "like," for reacting to posts. The new icons are "love," "haha," "yay," "wow," "sad," and "angry." [The "yay" icon does not appear for me yet.]
(3) Spectacular curve-shot soccer goals.
(4) My English translation of a friend's Facebook status in Persian: "One day, women will let their hair caress the borders in lieu of barbed wires. The world has no choice but to become (more) feminine; no choice but to become (more) motherly." ~ Nasrin Mottahedeh
(5) UCSB Gamelan Ensemble: Today's noon concert at the Music Bowl featured Indonesian Gamelan music, played with what appear to be kitchen pots and pans. Here is a short sample of Gamelan music from today's program. The 1980s founder of this ensemble, which was described as the only one of its kind on a US college campus, was a guest performer.
(6) Iran to reimburse Palestinian "martyrs" and those whose homes are demolished by Israel in retaliation for acts of terror: Iran's ambassador to Lebanon unveiled the plan for paying $7000 to families of those killed during Intifada in Jerusalem and $30,000 to those who lose their homes.
(7) From the lab notebook of an anonymous RCA engineer (June 1, 1951): "In retrospect, testing ultrahigh-frequency antenna designs by hand with thunderclouds overhead may not have been the best idea ... The antennas we're working on will be able to receive a staggering 70 television channels—people will no longer be limited to just 12 VHF channels. We're confident that 82 channels is more than any rational human could ever possibly need." [Reproduced from: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of February 2016, p. 60.]
(8) Final thought for the day: "Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends." ~ Harper Lee

2016/02/23 (Tuesday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cover image of the book 'Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,' by Matthew D. Lieberman (1) Book review: Lieberman, Matthew D., Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Crown, 2013.
In this book, psychologist Matthew Lieberman explores the thesis that the need of human beings to connect with other people is even more fundamental than our need for food or shelter. This is why a good chunk of our brain's time, both during idle periods and when fully engaged, is spent on understanding the people who surround us and how we relate to them. Lieberman maintains that by the time we are 10, we have spent some 10,000 hours learning to make sense of people, human interactions, and social norms.
Research studies by Lieberman at his UCLA lab, as well as work by other scientists, suggest that the effects of social pain and pleasure on our behavior are comparable with those of physical pain and pleasure. Neuro-imaging has been used to confirm that emotional discomfort, resulting from a feeling of rejection, say, triggers the same brain circuits that are activated when we experience physical pain.
Because of the importance of social interactions, humans have developed a canny ability to read other people's minds and to assess their motivations, hopes, and fears. The brain's wiring to accommodate social norms and to dampen our selfish urges leads, at times, to behavior that might seem irrational. But such behavior is part of who we are as beings deeply affected by those around us. This explains why attempts at formulating human behavior in terms of game theoretic assessment of economic gains and losses fail to explain the entire range of observations and outcomes.
One corollary of the results presented in this book is that our attempts at improving productivity of students and workers by minimizing social distractions may be misguided. In fact, we learn more and achieve greater productivity when we allow our social brain loose to interact with those around us. This is why schools that facilitate and encourage collaborative work achieve better educational outcomes.
(2) Winners Aren't Losers: This is the title of a Dr.-Seuss-style children's book written by Jimmy Kimmel under Donald Trump's name. Kimmel reads the book to Trump during his late-night show. [The book segment begins at the 3:00 mark of this 5-minute video.]
(3) An enigmatic candidate: Donald Trump, dismissed by establishment Republicans earlier, is beginning to scare them, because his support seems to be growing as other candidates drop out!
(4) Six brief news headlines of the day:
- State of emergency in the US South for Tornadoes
- Obama tries again to close the Guantanamo Bay prison
- Italian designer Roberto Cavali opens Tehran boutique
- Iranians protest, demanding laws against animal abuse
- Donald Trump wins big in Nevada caucuses
- Arizona man, who killed parents and sisters, shot dead
(5) Signing off with this mix of Irish and Arabic dancing.

2016/02/22 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Excutions by Saudi Arabia, Islamic State, and Islamic Republic of Iran (1) Dictatorial regimes and treason charges: Saudi Arabia has just put 32 Shi'i men on trial on charges of spying for Iran. Some or all of these men may indeed be spies, but, more likely, charges of treason are being used to get rid of regime opponents and other "undesirable" citizens.
Iran often executes Baha'is on charges of spying for Israel. The Iranian regime also labels its political opponents as spies for various Western countries or Israel, when their actual "crimes" fall short of what is needed for severe penalties, such as lengthy prison terms or execution.
From the regime's viewpoint (Islamic Republic or Saudi Kingdom), treason charges provide the added benefit of conducting secret trials, on the premise that sensitive national security details would be disclosed otherwise.
(2) A highly informative video about gun deaths: Via homicides, suicides, and mass shootings.
(3) We humans are wired for conformity: An interesting experiment showing that we conform to social conventions, often without knowing why.
(4) History being repeated in Turkey: Is Turkey killing and disrobing the corpses of Kurdish women as it did to Armenian women decades ago? On the flip side, it is unfortunate that some Kurdish groups are damaging the positive image the world has of the Kurds by engaging in acts of terrorism.
(5) Persian love poetry: A wonderful ghazal from Eraghi, beginning with the verse
"Khoshaa dardi keh darmaanash to baashi   |   Khoshaa raahi keh paayaanash to baashi"
(6) Final thought for the day: "We all eat lies when our hearts are hungry." ~ Anonymous

2016/02/21 (Sunday): Here are three items of potential interest.
Aeril view of the Romero Canyon Trail and surrounding fire access roads (1) Romero Canyon Trail hike: Yesterday, I hiked this beautiful trail for 4 hours (2 miles going up; 4 miles coming down) with a few family members. The trailhead is in Montecito, at the end of the Romero Canyon Road. Starting at the red dot, we took the very steep green trail up, until it met the light blue road (just to the left of the yellow dot). Then we returned via the much longer, but gentler-slope, light blue road. The return path took us down by winding around a hill on the left and provided beautiful vistas of Montecito, Summerland, Carpenteria, and the ocean.
(2) Half dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- US government declares hoverboards unsafe
- Uber driver kills six, wounds two in Michigan
- Missing radioactive material found dumped in southern Iraq
- Islamic State blasts kill 140 near a Shi'ite shrine in Syria
- South Carolina primaries: Clinton and Trump win; Jeb! exits!
- Nevada: Clinton edges Sanders; GOP caucuses on 2/23
(3) Course review: Higgins, Kathleen Marie, World Philosophy, a 24-lecture course (on 12 CDs in two packages, each with a guidebook) in "The Great Courses" series, The Teaching Company, 2001.
I enjoyed listening to the 24 lectures in this course and learned a great deal from them. Even where the ideas were familiar to me, having them explained in historical, social, and religious contexts, and side-by-side with similar or related notions, was very helpful. The 24 lecture titles provide an apt summary of the course contents.
01. Beginnings.   02. Western Metaphysics.   03. Soul and Body.   04. The Good Life and the Role of Reason.
05. Western and African Thought Compared.   06. Traditional Beliefs and Philosophy.
07. American Indian Thinking.   08. Mesoamerican Thought.   09. Ethics and Social Thought in Latin America.
10. Indian Thought on Supreme Reality.   11. The Dualism of the Samkhya School.
12. Vedic Thought and Monism.   13. The Bhagavad Gita.   14. Buddha's Teachings.
15. Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.   16. Nagarjuna's Interpretation of Buddhism.
17. The Chinese Conception of Reality.   18. Confucius.   19. Confucian Virtue.
20. Confucian Schools—Mencius and Xunzi.   21. The Daoist Response to Confucianism.
22. Daoism and Early Buddhism in China.   23. Buddhism in China and Japan.   24. Synthesis.

2016/02/19 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cartoon about the Pope and US presidential candidates (1) Cartoon of the day: The Pope sides with the Jewish guy.
(2) Seven brief news headlines of the day:
- Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird) dead at 89
- Two refugee children drown daily near the Greek island of Lesbos
- Trump attacks Apple over its refusal to unlock a terrorist's iPhone
- Deal reached with Britain to keep it in the European Union
- Private space company Virgin Galactic unveils new spaceship
- US air raid targets Islamic State in Libya, killing 43
- Following the huge Airbus deal, Boeing cleared to talk with Iran
(3) Reasons to vote for Donald Trump. [Read]
(4) Honey badgers: Escape artists. [4-minute Video]
(5) A treasure trove of puzzles and exotic mathematical facts: I have just discovered Clifford A. Pickover's book, A Passion for Mathematics: Numbers, Puzzles, Madness, Religion, and the Quest for Reality (Wiley, 2005). I will give you one interesting tidbit from the book today and will share with you other material from it over time.
First female doctorate in math: Who was the first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics, and in what century did she receive it?
(6) Newcomb's paradox: You are playing a game where there are two boxes A and B and you are given a choice of taking both boxes or only box B. Box A is guaranteed to contain $1000. Box B contains either $0 or $5000. Before the game begins, box B is filled by an extremely intelligent alien lifeform who always correctly predicts future events. If the alien predicts that you will take only box B, then he puts $5000 in it. If he predicts that you will take both boxes, he will leave box B empty. What would you choose and why?

2016/02/18 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
(1) Today is World Anthropology Day: Celebrating the contributions of anthropology to our understanding of the world and our history. [UCSB event]
(2) Five brief news headlines of the day:
- Apple heads into constitutional battle on encryption
- President Obama plans historic visit to Cuba
- Ankara car bomb targeting military buses kills 28
- The Pope says Christians build bridges, not walls
- Sanders leads Clinton nationally for the first time
(3) Cloud waves roll over peaks and valleys: This impressive 1-minute time-lapse video was shot in Masal County, part of the northern Iranian province of Guilan.
(4) The Nutcracker flashwaltz: "Waltz of the Flowers" is performed by students from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance at the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower of Israel's Hadassah Hospital.
(5) Stacking of ice shards: Ice on the surface of Lake Superior breaks into shards and piles up on the shores of Duluth, Minnesota. Impressive work of nature!
(6) Sign of the times: If you need "tudoring," call this number. If you want to learn to spell as well, then find someone else.
(7) The 2014 Turing Award Lecture: If you have one hour of free time and would like to learn about the history and properties of Postgres relational database system, listening to Michael Stonebraker's Turing Lecture, delivered on June 13, 2015, is a very good use of your time (requires some basic DB background). Stonbreaker has contributed both to the theory of database systems as well as to their commercialization through several start-up companies. The talk itself begins at the 9:30 mark of this 76-minute video, but some of the intro may be of interest to you as well. The title of the talk is: "The Landsharks Are on the Squakbox: Why Riding a Bicycle across America and Building Postgres Have a Lot in Common"
(8) Undeveloped 7-decades-old films discovered: The 31 rolls of film shot by an American World War II soldier are enhanced and developed to reveal amazing scenes from the 1940s.

2016/02/17 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Logo for the proposed Los Angeles summer Olympic games (1) LA 2024 Olympics logo my lead to problems in Iran: Los Angeles is bidding to host the 2024 summer Olympics. Should LA succeed in its bid, I wonder what Iranian officials would do with this logo when announcing the games and preparing their sports teams?
(2) LACMA Norooz celebration, Sunday, March 13, 2016: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's celebration inlcudes a parade and many other free events, including a performance by the band NIYAZ and visits to most parts of the museum, plus ticketed concert at Bing Theater by Mamak Khadem and her ensemble.
(3) Wikipedia takes on Google: The aim is to develop an ad-free search engine by funding Wikimedia Discovery. I, for one, would very much appreciate such a product and hope that the project succeeds.
(4) China's new toy: The Chinese have quietly developed a missile that can destroy an aircraft carrier from 900 miles away. This will likely necessitate a reassessment of the US military strategy in the Far East, given that the range of planes aboard US aircraft carriers is much less than 900 miles.
(5) An important privacy test case: The FBI has obtained a court order, asking Apple Computer to help them hack into an Apple 5c iPhone used by the San Bernardino mass-murder gunman, in the hopes of obtaining information about accomplices and other potential terrorists. Apple has resisted the request thus far, saying that such an act would set a dangerous precedent in revealing its users' personal information. The FBI thinks that the phone has been set up with a security feature that would destroy all of its stored data if the 4-digit passcode is incorrectly guessed 10 times. The case may be headed to the 8-member US Supreme Court.
(6) An iconic photograph from 1919: Execution of a German communist in Munich.
(7) The Kids are All Left: This is the title of a Time magazine article (double issue of February 22/29, 2016) that ponders the power of the Millennials, who are increasingly dissatisfied. The economic condition of our kids has worsened more than ours has. "This is a downwardly mobile generation with less wealth, more debt, higher unemployment and fewer homes." They have the power to influence US politics. But only if they show up to vote!
(8) World Music Series: Today's noon concert of UCSB Jazz Ensemble was moved indoors from the Music Bowl due to rain. The program included mostly blues tunes. [Sample 1] [Sample 2]
I am disappointed by the relatively low attendance at these free Wednesday concerts, which are both enjoyable and good for boosting the spirits of our campus' and guest musicians.

2016/02/16 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cartoon depicting fossils from the Midtechnolithic Period (1) Cartoon of the day: Fossils from the Midtechnolithic Period.
(5) A promising cancer treatment based on genetic modification of killer t-cells: Is this approach the one? Every now and then, claims about breakthroughs in cancer treatment are announced with fanfare. This one sounds more promising than most. Immune system t-cells act like bombs, destroying infected tissue. Researchers in this study genetically modified extracted t-cells to derive a new mechanism that targets lymphoblastic leukemia. At this point, the treatment is suited only to terminal patients, who have mere months to live. All 7 patients in the study developed acute reactions, and 2 died. Yet, there are reasons to be optimistic about the new approach.
(2) Quote of the day: "In our overdocumented lives, letting go has gotten a lot harder ... Most of us type more than we talk these days. And the more we live in this parallel digital world, the blurrier the line gets between present and past. Because when nothing is lost, nothing is past. Even if you want it to be." ~ Susanna Schrobsdorff, in her Time magazine column, issue of February 15, 2016
(3) A notable cave in Kermanshah, Iran: Located in the Poraw Mountain (Zagross Range), Poraw Cave, formed in the third geological period, is the largest calcareous cave in the world. Inside the cave there are 26 wells at depths of 5 to 42 m. The cave opening is a small hole which leads to areas of varying sizes, with branches and large stones connected by crevices and precipices.
(4) Cosmic biology: Fresh on the heels of watching "The Martian," in which the main character (played by Oscar nominee Matt Damon) grows potatos on Mars for survival, I read the article "The Perfectly Sane Case for Life in Space" in Time magazine's double issue of February 22/29, 2016. In the article, Jeffrey Kluger argues that "cosmic biology is not just possible; it's inevitable. ... The universe is hardwired to be an organic chemist. It's not a very clean of tidy one, but it has really big beakers and plenty of time."
(6) If you love Barbie like I love her, you have to let her change: This is the title of a humorous piece in Time magazine (issue of February 15, 2016), purportedly written by Ken (Barbie's boyfriend doll), about the recent changes in the body shape and skin tone of Barbie dolls to make them more representative of real girls and women. In parts of Ken's article, we read: "Mattel obviously wants to keep Barbie around. Partly because it loves her and partly because it loves money. ... But in a world where little girls idealize Lena Dunham and Beyonce and Nicki Minaj, it wasn't enough to just put Barbie in a nurse costume ... That iconic shape had to change."
(7) Censorship at its worst: Two pages of an English language textbook in Iran show a family with two daughters and a son going to the park on Saturdays, but when the kids swim in the pool, one of the daughters magically disappears in the water, though she still talks!

2016/02/15 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Moses parts the snow over his walkway in Connecticut (1) Cartoon of the day: Moses in Connecticut.
(2) Happy Presidents' Day to everyone! [Poster depicting all 44 US Presidents]
(3) On Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio: Isn't it ironic that for the first time in US history, not one, but two Hispanic candidates are running for the presidency of the United States, yet Latinos, far from being excited and proud, are yawning? Jorge Ramos, writing in Time magazine, double-issue of February 22/29, 2016, attributes this indifference to both candidates turning their backs on millions of immigrants and on the traditions of prominent Latino politicians.
(4) A Democratic conspiracy (humor): Did the Democrats kill justice Antonin Scalia so that they can replace him with a liberal justice before the next US President, no doubt a Republican, takes office? If this theory hasn't surfaced yet, it will soon!
(5) A foreign policy faux pas: Hillary Clinton may have set herself up for attacks by flaunting her relationship with Henry Kissinger, who has made embarrassing statements such as this one on depopulation: "Whatever may be done to guard against interruptions of supply and to develop domestic alternatives, the U.S. economy will require large and increasing amounts of minerals from abroad, especially from less developed countries. That fact gives the U.S. enhanced interest in the political, economic, and social stability of the supplying countries. Wherever a lessening of population pressures through reduced birth rates can increase the prospects for such stability, population policy becomes relevant to resource supplies and to the economic interests of the United States."
(6) Iran and Iraq: What's with Bernie Sanders' pronunciation of these two country names, "I-ran" and "I-raq"? Who are his foreign policy advisers, and do they know the correct pronunciations?
(7) When insults had class: "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend ... if you have one." ~ George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
"Cannot possibly attend first night; will attend second, if there is one." ~ Winston Churchill's response
(8) Rumi poetry recitation in Paris: Golshifteh Farahani and Darya Davar recite Rumi's poetry, with musical improvisations in the background. Mesmerizing!
(9) The US healthcare mess: Exorbitant healthcare exec salaries are some of the reasons why single-payer healthcare makes sense. Free-market economics is ill-suited to health organizations and educational institutions.

2016/02/14 (Sunday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Heart shape, formed by hands, with the setting sun in the middle (1) Day of love, in the US (2/14) and in Iran (2/18):
Valentine's Day, February 14, is named in honor of Valentine or Valentinus, an early Christian saint. Several legends have been made up (fairly recently) to justify the association of Saint Valentine with romantic love. One such legend is that he performed clandestine Christian weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, because Emperor Claudius II believed that married men would not fight as well. Valentinus was supposedly martyred for this and other acts of disobedience [Wikipedia].
Sepandarmazgan is the ancient Iranian day of love during which both romantic love and love of nature are celebrated; a sort of combination Valentine's and Earth Day! This annual celebration is dedicated to Spanta Armaiti, the feminine angelic spirit of the Earth. It was originally held on the 5th day of Esfand in celebration of mothers/wives, including Mother Earth. The festival's currently popular date of Bahman 29 (coinciding with February 18) emerged after multiple reorganizations of the Persian calendar, beginning with the work of the Persian philosopher/poet Omar Khayyam [Wikipedia].
Happy Valentine's and Sepandarmazgan to you all!
(2) [I don't mean to rain on everyone's Valentine's Day parade, but the following is an important warning.]
FBI warning to on-line daters: The US Federal Bureau of Investigation is using Valentine's Day to warn all lonely hearts (especially divorced, widowed, and/or disabled women over 40, constituting the most frequent targets) that criminals are lurking on most dating Web sites.
(3) Robots that brainstorm alternatives when damaged: "When researchers at the Pierre and Marie Curie University (UPMC) in Paris, France, deliberately damaged two of the legs of their hexapod robot, the machine discovered for itself a novel hopping gait that not only overcame its injury, but proved to be faster than its original walking program. Injured another way, the robot found it could move around more easily on its back. The work was part of efforts to make robots that can work around damage and repair themselves when there is no human to help them." ~ Chris Edwards, in the opening paragraph of his news article in Communications of the ACM, issue of February 2016
(4) Sign of the times: This clever restaurant owner knows that in the third case, the parties will lose their appetites completely!
(5) Valentine's Day in Iran: Despite stern warnings from the Islamic government against "promoting the decadent Western culture" by shop-owners and other merchants through selling figurines, flowers, and chocolate (including severe penalties for those who do so), news reports indicate that the defiant Iranian people celebrated the day of love more forcefully than in prior years.

2016/02/13 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing Buddha talking to Jesus on the clouds (1) Cartoon of the day: Buddha talking to Jesus.
(2) Testing a human-genome editor: Since 2012, scientists have been experimenting with CPISPR-Cas9 DNA to manipulate the human genome, in a manner similar to using an editor on textual data. Now, a British scientist, Kathy Niakan, has received the go-ahead from UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to use the tool on viable human embryos at London's Francis Crick Institute. This medical miracle or sci-fi nightmare, depending on whom you ask, allows scientists and health workers to easily detect and fix mutations that lead to deadly diseases. [Info from: Time magazine, issue of February 15, 2016.]
(3) The Iranian girl who climbs rocks and ice: Incredible positivism and determination in the face of not just lack of support from sports authorities but also clothing restrictions that make it much harder for her compared with her international peers. [8-minute video]
(4) Quote of the day: "Even with San Bernardino, more people (48) have been killed by right-wing extremists in the U.S. since 9/11 than by Islamic terrorists (45)." ~ Karl Vick, in his review of Peter Bergen's book, United States of Jihad: Investigating United State's Homegrown Terrorism, appearing in Time magazine, issue of February 15, 2016
(5) US Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia dead at 79: Appointed by President Reagan, Scalia was the longest-serving justice on the current Court.
(6) A new IEEE journal to start publication in 2016: Albert Zomaya has been appointed as the first Editor-in-Chief of IEEE Transactions on Sustainable Computing for 2016-2018 (I am an editorial board member). The approval of this new journal represents an acknowledgment of the fact that frugality and efficiency in the use of energy and other resources is becoming an increasingly important design factor that necessitates the use of architectural, algorithmic, and software methods to allow practical system deployment, from mobile devices to supercomputers, in the coming decades.

2016/02/12 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Choose civility (1) On being civil in the face of disagreements: Democracy means "one person, one vote." If we are truly liberals and democrats (with lowercase "d"), then we should respect every single vote, no matter the voters' world views, beliefs, and education levels. Calling voters or candidates who disagree with us "stupid," "uninformed," and the like is a sure sign of a lack of respect for democracy.
Each person votes from his/her own perspective, and unless we are in their shoes, we have no right to judge. A true democrat does not care how a person arrives at his/her decision. If we are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs or the outcome of an election, it is our burden to work toward educating, informing, etc. No one has an obligation to follow our preferences, no matter how logically arrived at.
(2) Beyonce's tribute to Tina Turner: Fabulous combination of talent and energy.
(3) An apt story for Valentine's (2/14) and Sepandamazgan (2/18), Western and Iranian days of celebrating romantic love: In Iran, a poet's 700-year-old verses still set hearts aflame. [NPR report on Hafez]
(4) Paradoxes of the Islamic Republic: He "heart"s New York, but hates America; the sign he holds reads "Death to America"! [Photo]
(5) Follow-up to my blog post of yesterday about a most exciting breakthrough in physics: A nice audio-visual explanation of gravitational waves by Professor Brian Greene, with Persian subtitles.
(6) SUTA's new Facebook page: Sharif University of Technology Association has started a Facebook page in order to better reach out and keep in touch with the university's alumni and other affiliates.
(7) Outsmarting Alzheimer's: This is the title of a new book by UCSB neuroscientist Kenneth S. Kosik which spells out the ways of avoiding the disease that afflicts about 50% of those who get to age 85. Topping the list is exercise, followed by an appropriate diet (MIND, Mediterranean, Asian, or Vegan) and avoiding or controlling blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
(8) BMI flawed as a health measure: UCSB psychologist Jeffrey Hunger and colleagues have analyzed data from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to find that BMI mislabels some 54 million heavier Americans as unhealthy, whereas they are quite healthy when using other markers. Conversely, about 21 million Americans considered healthy according to their BMIs are actually unhealthy when we look at underlying clinical indicators.

2016/02/11 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Portraits of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton (1) Feminists' dilemma in 2016: In recent days, I have read posts from multiple women friends with Democratic leanings who seem to have been caught between a rock and a hard place. As a self-identified feminist, I face a similar dilemma in choosing between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the upcoming US presidential election. One feminist view is that we have what might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to elect a woman as President.
The question often asked is, "If not Clinton, then who?" What divides the hearts of many such women is that Sanders seems to enjoy unprecedented support among young people (i.e., their children) and, yes, even women, who are perhaps more worried about their economic challenges than the glass ceiling.
Clinton is a woman, but she comes with heavy baggage and a less-than-stellar record in addressing global peace and the plight of the middle class in the face of Wall Street greed. Many are essentially thinking, "Let's take care of the immediate economic and inequality problems and wait for another chance to vote for a woman.
Sanders, with a net worth of less than $1M, is virtually untarnished by corruption and favoritism, but then he has not been in a position to try to negotiate a deal with adversaries who would not budge. And there is the question of general-election appeal. A moderate candidate will attract more independent voters and is less likely to mobilize the far right.
Clinton has been in the public domain for decades and subject of countless smear attacks, conspiracy theories, and tabloid stories, and if decades of dogged investigation has revealed only so much "dirt," then perhaps she isn't so bad after all.
One comforting thought is that whichever of the two, Clinton or Sanders, becomes the Democratic candidate, I will have no problem supporting him/her against any of the Republican choices. The Republicans are in a much more difficult bind: there is a chasm between supporters of the so-called establishment and fringe candidates, and whichever side prevails, the other side may be less than enthusiastic in supporting the party's candidate (which would mean low voter turnout).
In this sense, the dilemma isn't as crippling as it could have been in the face of a united Republican opposition. Perhaps tonight's Democratic debate will help those still on the fence. Stay tuned for updates on this subject.
[Post-debate note: I watched tonight's spirited Clinton-Sanders debate. They both came prepared with points about the opponent's record and presented some forceful arguments. Clinton's closing statement was more polished, which will help her. I suspect that very few of those still on the fence will take sides after this debate.]
(2) The existence of gravitational waves, per Einstein's century-old prediction, confirmed: Physicists have reported observing unambiguous signs of gravitational waves emanating from the collision of massive black holes in deep space (1.3B light years away).
(3) Will we see $1.00/gallon gasoline? The Wall Street Journal believes so, at least for some parts of the US. The current US average is $1.73/gallon. The average price in the Santa Barbara area is just over $2.50/gallon, so, for us on California's central coast, prices might fall to a tad under $2.00.
(4) World literacy rankings: At ranks 23 and 21, US and UK youth are about average in the world. OECD's latest literacy rankings for youth 16-19 place South Korea at the top. Germany at 14 and Itlay at 20 did a tad better than UK and US. [Info from: Time magazine, issue of February 15, 2016.]
(5) Some very interesting optical illusions. [2-minute video]
(6) I challenge those who call the current US President "Barack Hussein Obama" to also call candidate Ted Cruz by his full name: "Eduardo Rafael Cruz" [Adapted from multiple Facebook posts]

2016/02/10 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Calligraphic rendering of a couple of famous verses by Hafez (1) Hafez poem in Persian calligraphy. [Artist unknown]
(2) Interesting geometrical approach to sculpting with clay.
(3) German head-on train crash leaves at least 10 dead: Scores were injured, 17 critically. The two trains were traveling at about 62 miles per hour near the Bavarian town of Bad Aibling.
(4) Jewish Dark Ages: The 1062 years between the start of the Jewish calendar 5776 years ago and the dawn of the Chinese calendar 4714 years ago, when Jews had to exist without Chinese food.
(5) Violinist Kianoosh Shahnazi pays tribute to the late musician Parviz Yahaghi at his grave site. [1-minute video]
(6) Good music during my Sunday stroll on Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade: Young woman performs on a bright sunny day.
(7) Facebook's 3.57 degrees of separation: Thanks to Facebook, the famed 6 degrees of separation has shrunk to an average of 3.57 degrees among its 1.6 billion active users. When you visit the study's Web page to examine the details, including an interesting chart and a set of references, you will also get your own average degree of separation. Mine is 3.42, fairly close to the overall average. Mark Zuckerberg's and Sheryl Sandberg's are 3.17 and 2.92, respectively.
(8) Film director Tahmineh Milani on gender-based segregation at Iranian public venues: She calls the policy a band-aid solution that avoids addressing the underlying social ills. Note how the Iranian-state-TV interviewer changes the subject whenever Milani begins discussing inconvenient facts. [Interview in Persian]
(9) Newcomers to the billion-users club: Gmail and WhatsApp have surpassed the 1-billion users mark. And Apple has sold 1 billion iOS devices. A WhatsApp statement reads: "We're excited ... [but] we still have another 6 billion people ... to go." [Info from: Time magazine, issue of February 15, 2016]

2016/02/08 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Video cameras and dashboard screens will soon replace side-view mirrors (1) Say goodbye to side-view mirrors in cars: Side-view mirrors increase the cost of a car, make it less aerodynamic, and have blind spots that often cause accidents. An alliance of car manufacturers has petitioned the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for permission to replace the side-view mirrors with miniature video cameras connected to dashboard screens. This photo from a NYT article shows an auto outfitted with 3 screens that display the rear and side views.
(2) Super Bowl 50: Lady Gaga's performance of the US National Anthem was quite impressive. The Denver Broncos prevailed 24-10 over the Carolina Panthers yesterday, giving the Broncos their third national title and quarterback Peyton Manning his second trophy. I missed the game and its glitzy halftime show, which featured Beyonce, Coldplay, and Bruno Mars.
(3) A Night of Jazz: This was the title of an enjoyable concert by Ziba Shirazi last night, at Santa Monica's Moss Theater on Olympic Blvd. The program consisted in part of several jazzy songs that are her trademarks, plus a medley of popular Iranian songs, including one by Rahim Moeini Kermanshahi, whose daughter Noushin's presence in the audience was acknowledged. At one point, Shirazi thanked the audience for choosing her concert over the Super Bowl! Because taking photos and recording videos was forbidden, I post here from YouTube one of Shirazi's better-known songs, "Mard-e Man" ("My Man"), which she performed after the intermission last night.
Note added on 2/09: One of the songs performed by Ziba Shirazi in her concert. ["Sharghi-ye Ghamguin"]
(4) Distinguished lecture this afternoon: Magnus Egerstedt (from Georgia Tech), hosted jointly by UCSB's Mechanical Engineering and ECE Departments, spoke on "Engineering Classes on a Massive Scale: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly." The speaker's focus was on how to provide hands-on engineering experience to tens of thousands of participants in a massive open on-line course (MOOC). Software-simulated lab activities do not quite provide the joy of tinkering or the satisfaction of seeing something of our own design and construction actually work. In the field of robotics, the speaker's area of expertise, Georgia Tech has been experimenting with a multitude of robots (located in an educational lab) that can be programmed remotely in batches, in order to test the students' understanding of control theories and mechanisms. The scheme cannot yet be scaled up beyond a couple of thousands of learners.
(5) Happy Chinese New Year: The monkey begins its year-long reign today.
(6) First death ever from a meteorite: An Indian bus driver was killed when he was struck by a meteorite, as he walked on the campus of an engineering college. Two gardeners and a student suffered injuries.
[Note added on 2/9: According to new reports, NASA scientists have cast doubt on the meteorite story, believing that some sort of ground-based explosion caused the death and injuries.]

Cover image for the book 'Who Invented the Computer?' 2016/02/06 (Saturday): Book review: Burks, Alice Rowe (with foreword by Douglas Hofstadter), Who Invented the Computer? The Legal Battle that Changed Computing History, Prometheus Books, 2003.
There is no simple answer to the question posed in this book's title. Different pieces of the modern computer were invented by various individuals and teams of researchers. Even the time frame is uncertain. Depending on how you define "computer," it was first envisaged in the 1800s, the 1940s, or the 1950s. This is true of virtually all other inventions that have had high impact in the modern world. Ask a typical person "Who invented the lightbulb?" and the answer will likely be Thomas Edison. Yet, Edison, though he patented the invention and was highly influential in bringing the invention to market, was influenced by ideas that were floating in the air at the time. Some even accuse Edison of taking other people's ideas without giving them credit.
The protracted legal battle that forms the main subject of this book did settle the matter legally (as discussed later in this review), but the technical discussion of who contributed what to what we know as the modern computer is still ongoing. Given the decades-long arguments about assigning credit for inventing the computer, it is not surprising that the book's conclusions have stirred controversy. For example, Nathan Ensmenger's review of the book in the September-October 2003 issue of American Scientist elicited this rebuttal (in the form of a letter to the editor from the lead author of the book).
As a second case in point, Michael R. Williams, head curator at the Computer History Museum in MountainView, California, also takes issue with the broad conclusions of Alice Burks, critizing her discounting the contributions of others in a brief article published in Technology and Culture, Vol. 45, No. 2, pp. 449-450, April 2004.
To make matters worse, Alice Rowe Burks is the wife of Arthur Burkes, one of the people who, alongside John von Neumann and the team of J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, is sometimes given partial credit for inventing the stored-program computer, so there is a conflict of interest here. Other names that have been tossed around over the years as inventor of the computer include Charles Babbage, Konrad Zuse, and Alan Turing.
The court's decision was to credit John Vincent Atanasoff, once a professor at Iowa State University, with the invention of the computer, thus invalidating a patent issued to Mauchly and Eckert, whose ENIAC, though influenced by Atanasoff, was much more extensive, practical, and engineering-oriented. In fact, advancements in technology often require both brilliant minds to conceive of new ideas and hands-on engineering talent to bring those ideas to fruition and to incorporate them into useful devices and processes. Even though at times the two individuals or groups are one and the same, the norm is to have distinct innovators and implementers. This is exactly why it is so difficult to assign credit for the invention of the computer and many other implements of advanced technology.
By the mid-20th-century, when the first electronic computing machines began to appear, the ability and connections to attract R&D funding and the PR machinery to push an innovation into the public domain had become so important that they took precedence over mere technical wizardry in claiming credit for an invention. And this is at the heart of the legal battle described in this book. Atanasoff, it seems, worked in near-isolation in his lab, while the Eckert-Mauchly team and others who visited his lab recognized the importance of his ideas and took some away with them to use in their own projects.
This is a very interesting book, but its subject matter and detailed presentation (including quotes from the court preoceedings) is of interest only to diehard computer history fans. In the end, who is credited with inventing the computer is perhaps less important than practical implementations of hardware and ingenious programming of applications that have contributed to the computer becoming the indispensable tool that it is today.
[Wikipedia's article on John Vincent Atanasoff (1903-1995)]

2016/02/05 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Instructions written on a package of wet wipes (1) On precision in writing: Whenever you write instructions/directions for others, or in any other form of writing for that matter, put yourself in the readers' shoes and try to figure out if your intended meaning is the only possible interpretation of your words.
Let me give you an example from a recent personal experience. I had written "Do Not Flush" on a package of wet wipes in my guest bathroom, because the wipes are large and sturdy and thus can cause a clog if flushed down the toilet. A while ago, I had a man doing tile repairs in my house and he asked for my permission to use the bathroom.
After the man finished his work and left, I went to use the bathroom myself, when I saw that the toilet had not been flushed after use. You can probably guess that the qualifier "These Wipes" was added at that time!
(2) Spring equinox (Eid-e Norooz; saal tahvil): In California, the Persian New Year 1395 will begin on Saturday, March 19, 2016, at 9:30:12 PM (UTC – 8). In Iran, it will begin on Sunday, March 20, at 8:00:12 AM.
(3) Stand-up comedy: Ricky Gervais offers a brilliant routine on the Old Testament. [12-minute video]
(4) Superbowl's high-tech venue: The data center of Levi Stadium, site of Superbowl 50 at the heart of Silicon Valley, is gearing up for the big game. Attendees can download an app that allows them to shop, order food for delivery to their seats, and even locate the nearest bathroom, or the one with the shortest line, so as to miss as little of the game and the Coldplay/Beyonce halftime show as possible.
(5) Seeing Iran in 19 minutes: A brief tour though the country's nature, historic sites, and attractions.
(6) Quote of the day: "Owning a car that is not self-driving in the long term will be like owning a horse—you would own it and use it for sentimental reasons but not for daily use." ~ Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk
(7) Bank ATM stats: In 2014, there were 3M+ ATMs in the world and they were used for 92B cash-withdrawal transactions (roughly 13 withdrawals per year per living individual, adult or child). [Info from: E&T magazine, issue of February 2016]
(8) Image of a historic lotto ticket from Iran: The tickets were issued in the early 1930s to raise funds for building a monument worthy of the great Persian poet Ferdowsi. The new monument was completed in time for Ferdowsi's Millennial observances in 1934.

2016/02/04 (Thursday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Cover image of Adam Grant's book 'Originals' (1) Adam Grant's lecture tonight: UCSB's Campbell Hall was the site of a 7:30 PM free lecture by Adam Grant, a successful business professor at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and an acclaimed author whose latest book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, has just been released (Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg wrote the foreword). The idea for the book came to Grant in 2002 and it took him a decade of research to put it together.
The book's main focus is on how to bring your good ideas to your superiors' table at work or to potential investors in the market, in order to get support for them. Another angle is how to speak up when you see something in your organization that isn't right or that can be improved. I found the lecture and its Q&A period enlightening, entertaining, and educational.
Grant made three key observations about originals: they tend to be moderate, not extreme, procrastinators, they are mid-level, not top, experts in their fields, bringing instead a breadth of knowledge that helps them see things differently, and they are good at making unfamiliar familiar (the movie "Lion King" kept being rejected by Disney execs, until someone described it as "Hamlet in Africa, with lions.")
By far the most enlightening observation was one that Grant communicated via the following metaphor. He asked each person to think of a song and tap it on his/her seat's armrest to an adjacent person. Before doing this, however, the tapper had to estimate the probability of the other person guessing the song correctly. Then, as members of the audience revealed the results of the experiment, it turned out that very few people had gotten the song right and that the tapper had way overestimated the probability of a correct guess.
Here is the explanation offered by Grant. When we tap a song, we hear the melody in our brain. The other person hears only a series of disjointed taps, which likely sound nothing like the intended song. This is the fate of many new ideas. As we explain our idea to someone else, the full melody (our thinking process and the many hours we have spent with the idea) plays in our mind, whereas the other person is hearing the concept for the first time and needs more time to absorb it. Repetition helps. Be prepared to pitch your ideas forcefully and often!
(2) Quote of the day: "They just have a view of America that is largely disconnected from how America functions. It's a strain of paranoia that has been living in an echo chamber for 30 years." ~ Matthew Trevithick, the American aid worker recently released from prison in Iran, on the mindset of his Revolutionay Guards captors
(3) The largest known prime: Once in a while, advances in computational power lead to the discovery of a larger prime number than those known before. The record, as of January 26, 2016, is held by 2^(74,207,281) – 1, a Mersenne prime which has 22,338,618 digits when written as a decimal number.
(4) World Music Series: Yesterday's noon program at UCSB's Music Bowl featured Sphardic music from Jewish communities in Turkey, Greece, Spain, and other countries of southern Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East. The band Flor de Kanela (Flower of Cinnamon) performed. Featured instruments included ousted, daf, violin, cello, and clarinet. This Greek/Sphardic mix tells the story of a man's troubles because he had simultaneous relationships with two women (two wives, wife and mistress, two girlfriends; the person introducing the song wasn't sure). Like many Sphardic songs dealing with romantic relationships, the lyrics have a humorous tone; or so we were told!

2016/02/03 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Neighborhood, with street and place names taken from rock-n-roll hit songs (1) Cartoon of the day: Rock-n-roll neighborhood.
(2) Phyllium: A leaf-like insect with a perfect built-in camouflage.
(3) How bread is made in an industrial-scale bakery.
(4) Bubble rooms: Spending the night immersed in nature, while staying warm and cozy.
(5) Students and teachers of a pre-Islamic-Revolution school in Iran reunite after five decades. Notice how formerly hijabless girls and teachers have chosen to wear chadors, which is way more than required by the current oppressive law.
(6) The for-profit DeVry University sued for deceptive practices: The feds have accused DeVry of defrauding students with misleading claims about their employment prospects and earning potential.
(7) On Iran's Fajr Film Festival: Decency police patrols were the first to arrive at the red-carpet entrance to ensure that actresses were properly dressed. Famed actress Gohar Kheirandish was stopped because she had covered her hair with a hat, instead of a headscarf.
(8) Obama proposes $4B for CS education: Citing skills needed to compete in an evolving economy, President Obama indicated that he will ask the Congress for funding to teach certain computer science skills that are no longer optional in the new economy, if the US is to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
(9) Putting a baby to sleep in less than a minute. [3-minute video]

Cover image of the book 'Resilience' by Elizabeth Edwards 2016/02/02 (Tuesday): Book review: Edwards, Elizabeth, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities, Broadway Books, 2009.
Having read Elizabeth Edwards' previous memoir, Saving Graces, I had been looking forward to reading her second memoir. The author, whose husband, John Edwards, was a US vice-presidential and presidential candidate, experienced three life-altering events that severely tested both her faith and physical strength. These events, and how Edwards dealt with them, are the focal points of this volume, which also contains narratives about her childhood and her parents.
Born in 1949, Edwards grew up in Japan and moved a lot with her Navy-pilot father. Her father was deemed brain-dead in 1990, but he recovered and lived another 18 years, though in poor health. "My father was an imperfect man in many ways, but maybe it was better that he was imperfect and that I knew he was, for I learned that perfection was not a requirement of resilience" [p. 9].
The first event that rocked Edwards' world was the April 1996 death of her first-born, Wade, 16, in a no-fault, single-vehicle accident caused by high winds. She and her husband were both devastated by this loss, and she came very close to full emotional paralysis. "What I had to face was not something present, it was something absent. And although we can escape something's presence, there is no way to escape its absence. There was no place to go where he would not also be absent" [p. 67]. Eventually, Edwards recovered from the devastation with help from friends and support groups.
The second blow came in November 2004, when Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer. Treatments seemed to work at first, but then the disease came back in 2007 with a vengeance, when the cancer metastasized and got into her bones. At this stage, it was clear that the cancer was incurable and that she did not have long to live.
The third and final strike was Edwards' discovery that her husband had carried out an affair with a woman who became part of his campaign as a videographer. Apparently, in 2006, John Edwards had fallen for the quaint line "You are so hot," uttered by the woman who doggedly pursued him and caught him off-guard on the street as he was returning to his hotel one night. What made the situation worse from the author's viewpoint was her husband's piecemeal revelation of the type and extent of the affair, first claiming that it was a one-night stand and then admitting that it was actually a relationship. Later, it became clear that he had also fathered a daughter with his mistress, something that he denied at first. Having seen the effect of her father's likely extramarital affair on her mother's self-confidence and well-being (as a girl, she secretly read her mother's journals), she begged John when they were newlyweds to never put her in that position. "Leave me, if you must, but do not be unfaithful" [p. 183]. For a while, she shunned campaigning and when she resumed, there were only certain statements she could make without feeling hypocritical. Eventually, she came to the conclusion that trust is unlikely to return to her marital life. "[W]hen I closed the door to the John of today, I also had to say good-bye to that sweet man whom I had loved for so long" [p. 220].
Edwards remembers fondly a game she used to play with her husband and children in the car. They would try to notice as many details as they could about a house as they drove past it, and they would then construct an elaborate story that would match those details. "A house with a newly constructed ramp was a soldier returning from battle; the now-untended vegetable garden the result of his wife's caring for him instead of it." She later did the same story-weaving about people who would send her encouragement or sympathy cards.
Near the end of the book, Edwards offers this observation: "I am the pieces of sixty years of life that once made a picture but no longer fit together, and I am trying to see what puzzle picture I can create from those pieces that remain" [p. 220]. She did not have much time to put the puzzle pieces together, as she died at age 61, in December 2010.
The book, which I highly recommend, does not offer a recipe for dealing with devastation or grieving a loss. In fact, Edwards insists that each person must shape his or her own method of dealing with adversity. Seeking support is very important, but beyond that there is no magic ingredient. For example, some would need, and take comfort in, visiting a loved one's grave frequently (perhaps daily), while others would do best by avoiding such visits. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

2016/02/01 (Monday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Birthday greetings from ASEE (1) A first during my 43-year professional life: American Society of Engineering Education, of which I am a member, has sent me a birthday e-card. This is the first time a professional body has sent me birthday wishes! Perhaps this is the start of a personalization trend, in lieu of cold mass communication via technical publications. Each morning, ASEE sends me "First Bell," an e-mail bulletin on new developments in science, technology, and engineering education, which forms a useful reference for my daily reading as well as blog and Facebook posts. Thank you, ASEE!
(2) Marvin Minsky [1927-2016]: Recognized as one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence research, Minsky was also a first-rate mathematician, roboticist, engineer, inventor, writer, poet, philosopher, musician, educator, and a tireless student of human nature and thinking. Minsky founded MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which was at the center of AI advances (e.g., in neural networks) for many years. He passed away on January 24, 2016, in Boston, MA, at the age of 88.
(3) Some ingenious uses for metal binder clips: I have been using the toothpaste-tube trick for some time.
(4) On-line course on advanced game theory: Last night, I watched week-3 and week-4 lectures and submitted homework assignments 3 and 4 in the Stanford/Coursera MOOC I am taking, thus finishing the course material. Week 3 covered Vickrey-Clarke-Groves (VCG) mechanisms, whose importance stems from the properties that they have truth-telling as a dominant strategy and make efficient choices. The week-3 material ended with the Myerson-Satterthwaite theorem, an impossibility result for the simultaneous achievement of efficiency, weak budget-balance, and interim individual rationality in VCG mechanisms. Week-4 lectures dealt with auctions and contained a number of interesting and practically important results on how to conduct auctions and bid at them. Most of us immediately visualize the selling of expensive artwork and other artifacts when we think of auctions. However, awarding contracts based on written bids, selling spectrum to wireless companies, and choosing ads to include on a Google search-results page are all interesting examples of auctions in our daily lives. Well-known auction types include English, Japanese, Dutch, 1st-price sealed-bid, 2nd-price sealed-bid, and all-pay. These auctions share some basic properties but are different in other respects. It was surprising to me that some deep mathematical results have been derived for such seemingly simple mechanisms. To friends who like math and have never studied game theory, I highly recommend taking a course or reading a book on the topic. There is a wealth of interesting and deep math whose discovery will delight you.

2016/01/31 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) Quote of the day: "Speaking is hard for me. But come January, I want to say these two words: 'Madam President.'" ~ Gabby Giffords, former US Congresswoman, who is still recovering from a gunshot to the head
(2) The Oscars shine a spotlight on honor killings: A short documentary film about Saba Qaiser, a Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by her father, after a severe beating by him and her uncle, is one of this year's nominees. Saba survived and ended up forgiving her father. The film, "A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness" (after Saba was shot, her body was placed in a sack and thrown into a river), is already making a difference, but it will become more effective if it wins. I am cheering for it.
(3) Sophisticated geometry was used 14 centuries earlier than previously thought: According to a new study, published in Science, Babylonians used sophisticated geometrical calculations to track Jupiter across the night sky, a method that was previously attributed to medieval scholars in Oxford and Paris.
(4) An all-Trump debate: Stephen Colbert's hilarious spoof, in which two versions of Donald Trump debate each other. The debate begins at the 2:30 mark of this 8-minute video.
(5) Modern Persian music: Parnaz Partovi and two unnamed musicians perform in an intimate outdoor setting.
(6) Persian music: A group of young musicians performs "Mi-Gozaram Tanha" ("I Journey Alone"), a song made famous by Marzieh, with lyrics by Rahim Moeini Kermanshahi. There are a couple of other musical pieces at the end of the same 10-minute video.
(7) Introducing the next singing sensation: Dog Groban
(8) Climbing one of the Giza pyramids: I wonder if this is legal. [1-minute video]
(9) Fake charities: Consider the names "Children's Cancer Fund of America," "Breast Cancer Society," "Cancer Support Services," "American Veterans Relief Foundation," and "Disabled Firefighters Fund." Before rushing to donate money to these seemingly worthy causes, be aware that every single one of these, and many more, have been investigated by the US government and found to be fraudulent, with their operators fined (unfortunately, none of them have served time so far). Even the fines are a sham. Some have been fined $3M, say, but ended up paying only $60K or so, arguing that they had no money, perhaps because they successfully hid their assets from the feds. All these "charities" either pocketed all the money they raised or spent a ridiculously small amount, say 2%, on the purported causes. In some cases, a single individual or family operated multiple "charities" that had family members and friends on their payrolls. Make sure you look up charitable organizations before donating. A nice-sounding name isn't enough.

2016/01/29 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
President Rouhani being entertained at a Paris cabaret Door signs for a Pedants Society meeting (1) Cartoon of the day: My reaction to this cartoon was that the sign could be misleading to members, because once they open the door, "behind this door" would not be inside the intended room!
(2) Second cartoon of the day: Iran's President Rouhani is entertained in Paris.
(3) An oldie but goodie: "Historia de un Amor"
(4) Barbie wants you to stop talking about her body: New body types and skin tones for the iconic doll are the focus of a Time magazine cover story in its issue of February 8, 2016.
(5) Modern Persian music: Sara Hamidi is the featured vocalist with Paris-based Bahar Choir and East Paris Philharmonic Orchestra (led by Arash Fouladvand) in this piece, named "Fetneh-Gar" ("Seditionist"), composed by Parviz Yahaghi, with lyrics by Bijan Taraghi.
(6) Two dozen Baha'is get prison terms in Iran: The city of Gorgan has sentenced 24 Baha'is, mostly women, to a total of 193 years in prison (average sentence of 8 years) on charges of membership in illegal organizations and advocating against the regime.
(7) Caro Emerald performs "Liquid Lunch" at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
(8) My solo hike today: I hiked Santa Barbara's San Antonio Creek Trail, that begins at the eastern end of Tuckers Grove Park (located at the intersection of Turnpike Road and Cathedral Oaks Road) and proceeds with a very gentle slope for 2 miles to meet Highway 154. The trail is shady, making it ideal for a hot day like today. I hiked for a total of 6 miles, counting some detours and backtrackings. Near the end of the trail, there is a cement dam that creates a pond under normal conditions; needless to say that the pond is dry at this time, owing to the sustained drought. Signs posted in the area indicate that the pond may have something to do with the operation of Goleta Water District. Despite the gentle slope of the trail, I got a glimpse of the ocean on one of the detours.
(9) Final thought for the Day: "Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you." ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

2016/01/28 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Photo of Chateau d'Usse in France (1) The 15th-century castle that inspired "Sleeping Beauty": Chateau d'Usse in France.
(2) Santa Barbara City College leads the way: Rather than wait for national programs to be approved and implemented, SBCC has come up with a proposal, to be funded with donations from individuals and foundations, for offering free community college education to all residents of California's South Coast, from Carpinteria to Gaviota. While California's community college course fees are relatively low compared with those of the state's 4-year institutions, fees and textbook costs still add up.
(3) Armenian woman, 106, guards her home in 1990.
(4) Cartoon of the day: The Italian solution versus the logical solution. This cartoon pertains to the covering up of nude sculptures at a museum in Rome during a visit by Iran's President Rouhani.
(5) The man who spent 25 years digging man-made caves: Working in New Mexico's wilderness, Ra Paulette, works long hours, using only hand tools, to make art from the underground sandstone. [6-minute video]
Cover image of 'Arguably,' a collection of essays by Christopher Hitchens (6) Book review: Hitchens, Christopher, Arguably: Essays, unabridged audiobook on 24 CDs, read by Simon Prebble, Hachette Audio, 2011.
This book is Christopher Hitchens' swan song, in the sense of quite a few of its essays having been written after he learned from his doctor that he had less than a year to live (he died in December 2011). He states that because of this looming death, he felt he could be more honest and open in his writings.
Hitchens, an antitheist (which is different from an atheist), viewed the concept of God or Supreme Being as a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom. Becoming an American citizen in 2007, he had little patience for critics of the US for this or that minor problem. He believed that the country is built on the right principles and that any deviation from those principles is corrected in short order.
A wide array of essays, from literary reviews of Charles Dickens and George Orwell to ruminations on agonizing effects of anti-Semitism and Islamic jihad, are included in this book. Many of the 107 chosen essays have appeared over several years in publications such as The Atlantic, The Guardian, Newsweek, Slate, and Vanity Fair.
It took me several weeks to listen to this lengthy audiobook, but devoting many long car rides to a book by one of the best English-language essayists of our time was well worth it. I highly recommend the book to anyone who is interested in taking a close look at culture, religion, politics, and their linkages.

2016/01/27 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cartoon about the wierdness of reading a hard-copy book (1) Cartoon of the day.
(2) Abridged classics, according to cartoonist John Atkinson.
- War and Peace: Everyone is sad. It snows.
- The Grapes of Wrath: Farming sucks. Road trip! Road trip sucks.
- Don Quixote: Guy attacks windmills. Also, he's mad.
- The Sun Also Rises: Lost generation gets drunk. They're still lost.
- Moby Dick: Man vs. whale. Whale wins.
- Ulysses: Dublin, something, something, something, run-on sentence.
(3) Two powerful execs express support for Iranian women: Sheryl Sandberg (right) and Marne Levine (left) in this photo, chief executives of Facebook and Instagram, met with Masih Alinejad (center) to convey their support for the "My Stealthy Freedom" Facebook page, which advocates the abolition of mandatory hijab laws in Iran.
(4) Noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: Today, a subset of UCSB's Percussion and Mallet Ensembles performed Mexican (including "La Bamba"), Russian, and other musical selections, under the direction of Jon Nathan, as part of the World Music Series. Mallet instruments include marimba, xylophone, and the like.
(5) Getting close to discovering the cause of schizophrenia: New research, published in Nature, confirms that misguided pruning of the brain's neural connections, leading to sparse connectivity in the prefrontal cortex, is what causes schizophrenia. "People with schizophrenia have a gene variant that apparently facilitates aggressive 'tagging' of connections for pruning, in effect accelerating the process." Practical use in prevention and/or treatment isn't in the cards yet.
(6) Campaign to change the masculine face of the Iranian parliament: Of Iran's parliament (Majlis) members, only 3% are women, placing the country very near the bottom of rankings in this regard (world average = 22%). Some 1400 Iranian women decided to do something about this by registering to run in the upcoming February elections, but almost all of them were declared unqualified to run by Iran's Guardian Council.

2016/01/26 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Time magazine's cover featuring the story of contaminated water in Flint, Michigan (1) The poisoning of an American city: This is the title of Time magazine's cover story for its issue of February 1, 2016. It is a tale of incompetent, self-serving officials who betrayed the public trust by hiding information about contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, that could lead to allergic reactions, serious illnesses or even death.
(2) Living near a Trader Joe's grocery store increases the value of your home: Within 2 years of a TJ's store opening in a neighborhood, home prices show a 10% increase. Nationally, homes near TJ's stores have 50% higher prices that those in comparable neighborhoods. Of course there is a down side to this gain: you'd be paying higher property taxes for the same home if a TJ's store is nearby. [Source: ABC Evening News, January 25, 2016]
[Note: One should take the second stat with a grain of salt, as the 50% difference may be due to TJ's opening stores in more prosperous neighborhoods (that is, correlation, not causation). However, the 10% rise within 2 years is more likely to be statistically significant.]
(3) Quote of the day: "Parenting and running a country have a lot in common. There are days when you wake up and wonder how you got into this mess." ~ Kristin van Ogtrop, writing in Time magazine, issue of February 1, 2016, on the similarities between a lame-duck President in his last year in office and a lame-duck mom awaiting her 17-year-old's going away to college, quipping "My approval ratings are about as bad as yours, Mr. President."
(4) Iran's forgotten political prisoners: The release of five Iranian-Americans from Iranian prisons generated much buzz, raising hopes in some circles that perhaps Iran will start playing by international rules. However, hundreds are still in the Islamic Republic's prisons, most of whom are unknown even to their fellow countrymen. This slide show introduces some of the better-known political prisoners.
(5) Saudi Arabia is the biggest loser of the oil price drop: The Kingdom relies on oil for 80% of its budget and 45% of its GDP, so it will suffer more than Iran or Russia as oil prices continue to fall. Its $620 billion in reserves will provide some cushion, but only for so long. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia face succession proclems when their current leaders pass, so the oil price drop may prove highly destabilizing for both. [Adapted from: Time magazine, issue of February 1, 2016.]
(6) Italy covered up nude statues of Roman goddesses at a museum when Iran's President visited Rome. Will the US take similar steps for Rouhani's upcoming visit to New York?

2016/01/24 (Sunday): Here are three items of potential interest.
Salman Khan shown at his office desk (1) Talk by Salman Khan: This afternoon, I attended a talk by the creator of Khan Academy, a nonprofit on-line company that provides instructional videos on a wide variety of subjects. The talk, held in Santa Barbara's Granada Theater under the auspices of UCSB's Arts & Lectures program, was entitled "Education Re-imagined." Khan Academy has its roots in Salman Khan's long-distance telephone tutoring of his 12-year-old cousin in 2004, which led him to the idea of posting explanatory videos on STEM subjects on YouTube.
Around 2009, Khan's video lessons began to attract a lot of viewers, which led him to quit his day job with a hedge fund company to focus on creating free educational content. Later, Khan learned that Bill Gates had been using Khan Academy videos to teach his children. Gates ended up supporting the Academy financially, turning it into a real organization.
Today's presentation took the form of a moderated discussion during which Amir Abo-Shaeer, a highly successful local high-school teacher, McArthur Fellow, and founder of the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy, asked questions for about an hour and opened the floor to audience questions for an additional 30 minutes. Topics discussed included the Academy's history, mission, relationship with MOOCs and other forms of on-line instruction, impact on traditional lecture-based courses, and future directions.
Beginning from a one-man operation, the Academy now has a full-time staff of 100, with several times as many working for it part-time or as volunteers. The program provided an enjoyable and informative afternoon. To learn more about Khan Academy and its goals, watch this promotional video or go to its YouTube channel.
(2) How old engineers have fun in a garage! [1-minute video]
(3) UCSB's World Music Series: The free noon concerts on Wednesdays at the Music Bowl continue this quarter with the following program.
1/27: UCSB Mallet and Percussion Ensemble (led by Jon Nathan)
2/03: Sphardic music, with Flor de Kanela (Mediterranean, Middle East, North Africa, Balkans)
3/10: UCSB Brass Ensemble (led by Steve Gross)
3/17: UCSB Jazz Ensemble (led by Jon Nathan)
3/24: Gamelan (gong orchestra of Indonesia, led by Richard North)
3/02: UCSB Gospel Choir (directed by Victor Bell)

2016/01/22 (Friday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Cover image on Ashlee Vance's book on Elon Musk (1) Book review: Vance, Ashlee, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, Harper Collins, 2015.
Elon Musk, a successful serial entrepreneur whose credits include an on-line payment system (PayPal), a private launch company (SpaceX), America's largest installer of photovoltaic systems (SolarCity), and an electric-car and battery manufacturer (Tesla), remains a controversial figure.
Like Steve Jobs, Musk is often criticized for leaving behind scorched trails of former business partners and employees. Yet, there is little doubt that his multidisciplinary talents and focus on larger issues (beyond immediate goals and devices/technology) make him a unique talent. His focus isn't on cars per se but on methods for correcting Earth's problems and on developing escape plans, should they become necessary.
Everything Musk does accompanies dramatic risks, which he uses to his benefit with brilliant marketing. Whereas detractors judge his Tesla automobile as "an utterly derivative overhyped toy for show-offs," many more praise his brilliance and ability to overcome technological barriers.
Musk grew up in South Africa, moving to Canada at age 17, where he attended Queen's University and made money on the side by selling custom-designed computers. He later transferred to the University of Pennsylvania to study physics and economics. Musk never ceases to amaze. In 2014, he stunned the industry by opening Tesla's patents and allowing everyone to use freely the company's electric-vehicle technology.
(2) On making America great again: When someone claims that he will take America back to its Golden Age, ask politely: "Which Golden Age did you have in mind (slavery, Civil War, Jim Crow, un-American activities, the Great Depression, Prohibition, WW II internment camps, Vietnam)?" Of course, there have always been, and will continue to be, many good things about America, as well as many bad things such as those I listed. There was never a "Golden Age" when everything was good. We have to learn to live with the good and the bad and work on improving the situation to the best of our ability. The notion of "American Exceptionalism" must also be retired along with "Golden Age."
(3) Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is celebrating its 100th birthday, with free admission on Sunday, January 24, 2016. The hours are 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
(4) TEDx CSUN: Cal State University Northridge will hold a local, independently organized TED event, with videos of key TED talks as well as talks by local experts, on Friday, April 29, 2016. Here is the event's Facebook page. There will also be a TEDx UCLA event on Saturday, May 21, 2016.

2016/01/21 (Thursday): Here are five items of potential interest.
The planets Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter will line up over the next month (1) See five planets in the early morning: For about a full month from today, if you get up 45 minutes before sunrise, you should be able to see with your naked eyes the planets Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter (from left to right, looking south). The accompanying image shows the planets' locations on February 1, when Mercury should be easiest to spot, along with the moon's location on various days. Venus will be the brightest thing visible looking toward southeast.
(2) Sheryl Sandberg to women of Iran: Facebook's COO addresses "all the amazing women on the My Stealthy Freedom page," assuring them of the worldwide sisterhood's support and encouragement in their quest for civil liberties and equal opportunities.
(3) Comical musings of an Iranian "expert" on nutrition: This guy claims that fast food constitutes a conspiracy by the West to rob Iranians of their identity and traditions; pepperoni, in particular, has been designed to prevent Iranian teams from advancing in international sports tournaments. This may be a comedy routine rather than an actual lecture. Note that the audience is never shown. If so, the performer/comedian has done an excellent job. [5-minute video]
Note added on 1/22: A couple of friends pointed out to me that this clip is by comedian Javad Razavian. Here's an example of junk "science" fed to uneducated Iranians by Islamic/alternative medicine "expert" Hossein Ravazadeh, who is apparently the target of Razavian's humor. YouTube is full of video clips of this expert's musings. YouTube is full of video clips of this expert's musings about how the British (more generally, the West) and Zionists are targeting Iranians' health and well-being through the manipulation of foods and drugs.
(4) Islamic clerics of Iran in the digital age: On his Web site, Grand Ayatollah Gerami answers archaic questions, pertaining to social conditions of 14 decades ago, using the latest Web technology. Here are four examples. [Example 1] [Example 2] [Example 3] [Example 4] The said Grand Ayatollah's "Towzih-ol-Massa'el" ("Guide to Problems," a sort of encyclopedia or solutions manual) provides hours of reading fun.
(5) The World in 2050: This is the title of a 46-page PDF report by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC, dated February 2015). It is an interesting read, if you don't take its predictions too seriously.

2016/01/20 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
(1) Please allow me not to say anything about yesterday's viral news story: Sarah Palin's endorsement of Donald Trump. On second thought, look what I found! [Cartoon]
(2) Simon & Garfunkel—"Songs of America" [52-minute film]
(3) Growing and harvesting saffron in Iran. [2-minute video]
(4) On sexual harassment cases that are often dismissed: Many men still think that by paying "unwanted attention" to a woman they are flattering her and are then upset when the woman does not play along. This Facebook post is a typical story. It can happen with the gender roles reversed, but that is much less common.
(5) A very disturbing case of fictitious rape: This Newsweek on-line report exposes 27-year-old former altar boy Daniel Gallagher as a congenital liar (more accurately, a person with a severe case of multiple-personality disorder) whose allegations and lurid testimony helped put two priests and a Catholic school teacher in jail. Some of those close to the case now think he had made the whole thing up. Like the recent hoax gang-rape case at University of Virginia, this unfortunate incident, aside from ruining the lives of three possibly innocent men (one of whom died in jail), makes other valid rape cases harder to report and prosecute. The doubt such hoaxes produce are extremely harmful to many real rape victims and their ability to seek justice against the perpetrators.
(6) Music and dance of Kurdish Jews in Iran.
(7) The Solar System's possible ninth planet: After Pluto, the former ninth planet in our Solar System, was demoted from planetary status, we were left with only eight. Not any more! Scientists believe they have discovered a true ninth icy planet, four times the size of our Earth, way out beyond Neptune; so far indeed that it revolves around the sun once every 10,000 to 20,000 years.
(8) Final thought for the day: "The number of foreign-born students enrolled in [American] graduate engineering programs almost doubled between 2005 and 2014, reaching 63 percent." ~ ASEE Prism magazine, based on survey data from the American Society for Engineering Education
[It is worth noting that a majority of these foreign-born engineering students end up staying in the US and contributing to our economy through their technical expertise and entrepreneurial spirit.]

2016/01/18 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Dr. Martin Luther King and his supporters at the Lincoln Memorial (1) Honoring today's MLK holiday: The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King is celebrated by Jewish and black a-cappella groups performing "Shed a Little Light" (a James Taylor song) together in front of Washington DC's Lincoln Memorial. The groups are the Maccabeats and Naturally 7.
(2) Dr. Martin Luther King's 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. [12-minute video]
(3) Israeli mother of six stabbed to death by Palestinian terrorist: Thirty-something Dafna Meir was killed at her home in front of her teenage daughter. The family has 4 children and fosters 2 more.
(4) Spirited Kurdish line dancing: One sees some similarities with Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Too bad women are not included!
(5) Last night's Democratic debate for the 2016 US presidential election: This 4th debate showed that the three candidates (Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley) are much closer to each other in principle than they would let on. Yet, they employed some of the attacks and smearing methods of their Republican counterparts, which was disappointing. Sanders stuck to his guns regarding breaking up the big banks, killing super-PACs, and enacting universal healthcare. Clinton continued to play the realist, advocating incremental change, with limited success. I think O'Malley should drop out and let the two leading candidates enter into a more substantive dialog.
(6) Advanced game theory (week 2): Today, I listened to the second week of lectures in the Coursera/Stanford course on advanced game theory and submitted the first two homework assignments. The first-week lectures were about voting schemes and this week the course focused on mechanism design, essentially strategies for devising voting schemes that have desirable properties with regard to outcome quality.
Voting is complicated enough to require a rigorous mathematical theory, that has been developed with contributions from mathematicians, computer scientists, political scientists, and sociologists. Arrow's Theorem and other impossibility results suggest that if we start with a list of common-sense desirable properties for voting, no voting scheme satisfies all of them and we have to compromise by focusing only on the most important properties. One of the desirable properties that we often give up to make things feasible is avoiding strategic voting. Strategic voting takes place when a voter dishonestly casts his/her vote for someone other than his/her truly preferred candidate in an attempt to influence the voting outcome.
Let me give you an example from the current Democratic field of US presidential candidates. If you consider O'Malley the most qualified choice but take his low chance of becoming the Democratic candidate into account and vote instead for one of the front-runners, you are engaging in strategic voting. This may appear harmless at first sight, but it is easy to show that once people consider voting strategically, many abuses can take place.

2016/01/17 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing the word 'psychotherapist' written as 'psycho the rapist' on an entry door (1) Cartoon of the day: Psychotherapist setting up his office.
(2) Iranian Baha'i prisoner's song: Saeed Rezaie wrote "Khiaal-e Baaraan" ("Visions of Rain") as a wedding anniversary gift to his wife. Rezaie is one of seven Baha'i leaders arrested for their faith in 2008 and subsequently sentenced to 20-year prison terms.
(3) Quote of the day: "When will you make peace with the Iranian people?" ~ Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, in a letter to President Rouhani, in the wake of rapprochement with the US that led to the lifting of sanctions and release of four Iranian-American political prisoners held by Iran
(4) Classical music mashup: Ingeniously constructed medley from works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Handl, Mozart, Schubert, and many more.
(5) Kazakh military marching band having fun with "Gangnam Style."
(6) Final thought for the day: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts." ~ Mark Twain

2016/01/16 (Saturday): Here are four items of potential interest.
A public mass execution in Iran by hanging from cranes (1) Mansour Farhang's response to Javad Zarif's NYT op-ed: "When Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, criticizes Saudi Arabia's sectarianism and human rights record ('Riyadh's Reckless Extremism,' Op-Ed, Jan. 11), it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Iran is a notorious violator of human rights and promoter of sectarianism. In 2015, nearly 700 at least were executed in Iran. Mr. Zarif calls Saudi Arabia's execution method barbaric, but he serves a regime that orders lashing of teenage rape victims before executing them." [The image shows a public mass execution in Iran by hanging from cranes.]
(2) Iran releases four Americans in a prisoner swap: The four are Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, Pastor Saeed Abedini, and Nosratollah Khosravi (background unknown). A fifth American, Matthew Trevithchick, was freed separately. Seven unnamed Iranian prisoners held in the US on sanctions-related charges were freed in this swap. The US had excluded releasing anyone held on violence or terrorism charges. [On a Facebook post of this news story, someone asked: "Great, but when are the 70 million Iranians going to be freed?"]
(3) The 2015 movie "1971" is a must-watch: More than four decades after 8 anti-war activists broke into a Pennsylvania FBI office and stole documents that exposed the Bureau's illegal surveillance and wiretapping activities, the group is finally opening up about its activities, how dangerously close we came to becoming a police state in the 1970s, and how the disaster was averted by brave activists, journalists using the Freedom of Information Act to fight the FBI, and a full-blown Congressional investigation. The FBI program "cointelpro," short for counter-intelligence program, kept tabs on domestic activists (including the Women's Liberation Movement), produced anonymous letters and other documents to smear various groups, planted informants everywhere, and generally disregarded the US Constitution's First Amendment.
(4) Memorial for the late Sensei Kenji Ota: This afternoon, I attended a part of memorial ceremonies held in honor of the founder of the Dojo School in Goleta, California, who passed away in December 2015 at 92. The event was to continue with a barbeque and a dance later this evening. Numerous former students and others who knew Ota, as their Aikido or dance instructor and as a mentor, spoke about their memories of him and the school he founded and led for many years. Some of the speakers, now graying men, had started their association with the martial arts school as young boys. Others were second-generation members of families, whose parents also spoke. Unfortunately, the school's building has fallen into disrepair, necessitating a fundraising effort for structural improvements, including fixing a leaking roof. My son Sepehr has written a letter about Dojo School's fundraising to the editor of Santa Barbara Independent ("Living in the Moment," Issue of January 14-21, 2016). If interested in helping out, please use this gofundme link.

2016/01/14 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
(1) Citizen involvement: One of the problems with the current political scene in the US is that each citizen thinks that s/he must have a say in every major domestic and international issue, from economic regulations and energy production to nuclear negotiations and refugees, regardless of his/her background and expertise. We have forgotten that our efforts can be much more effective if applied primarily to local politics and, even more so, to our own private endeavors. I, for one, pledge to become more involved in the sociopolitical scene at the campus, community, city, and state levels and to devote greater effort to making my own life and work more beneficial to those around me. New-Year resolution, a couple of weeks late!
(2) Fusion Turkish and Flamenco music. [4-minute video]
(3) Kurdish fashion show, from February 2014: Modest, but elegant and very colorful styles; no size-zero female models here! [12-minute video]
(4) Colors of Kurdistan: Another Kurdish fashion show, this one from Dubai (2011). [2-minute video]
(5) A Christian/Armenian woman's grim tale: Humiliation of Iranian women continues by the Islamic regime, with treatment so harsh that even family members, teachers, and other role models, whom young women must look up to, have become enforcers of the archaic and extremely unfair laws against women, for fear that their loved ones may be harmed by the regime otherwise.
(6) Was the US humiliated by Iran in the Persian Gulf? Not really. Being arrested is the minimum one can expect if one trespasses into a country's territorial waters, intentionally or by mistake. If you want to see humiliation of American military men, look at news footage of the Iraq war (mutilated bodies and the like). Here, Iran did a "show" arrest to flex its muscle, knowing full well that it did not want to mess with Uncle Sam at this stage of the sanctions-lifting process. No one would have believed them that a handful of young navy men had evil plans for Iran, so they exploited a day's worth of the news cycle, mostly for internal consumption, and let the Americans go, with "salaam o salavaat," as we say in Persian. This minor incident is being elevated to the status of an international crisis by those with political motives.
(7) Oscar nominees revealed for 2015 (ceremonies on Sunday, February 28, 2016):
- Picture: "The Big Short," "The Martian," "The Revenant," and "Room" nominated, along with 4 others
- Director: Adam McKay; George Miller; Alejandro G. Inarritu; Lenny Abrahamson; Tom McCarthy
- Actress: Cate Blanchet; Brie Larson; Jennifer Lawrence; Charlotte Rampling; Saoirse Ronan
- Actor: Bryan Cranston; Matt Damon; Leonardo DiCaprio; Michael Fassbender; Eddie Redmayne
- Supporting actress: Jennifer Jason Leigh; Rooney Mara; Rachel McAdams; Alicia Vikander; Kate Winslet
- Supporting actor: Christian Bale; Tom Hardy; Mark Ruffalo; Mark Rylance; Sylvester Stallone
(8) Iranian Studies Initiative at UCSB: Launched by Janet Afary last year, the program puts undergraduates to work online (roughly 1300 hours in 2015) with Iranian-American community organizations in the Los Angeles area, providing a wide range of social services.

2016/01/13 (Wednesday): Here are five items of potential interest.
A scene from UCSB Library's grand reopening today (1) UCSB Library's grand reopening today: Chancellor Henry Yang welcomes the standing-room-only crowd in a ceremony to celebrate our library's reopening following state-of-the-art renovations and expansion. Behind the Chancellor are USCB Librarian Denise Stephens and other campus officials. A few photos and videos follow.
Art installation made of 2000 altered books. [Photo 1]
West entrance seen from the 2nd-floor loft. [Photo 2]
Where old building connects to new addition. [Photo 3]
A campus open space seen from 2nd floor. [Photo 4]
The renovated library is green in many ways. [Photo 5]
Modern dance performance with drum music. [Video 1]
Music for 4 flutes and dance of the 4 birds. [Video 2]
Break dancing by a group of UCSB students. [Video 3]
(2) We have come a long way from 2008 (the last Bush year) to 2015: Some conservatives keep asserting that Obama is "the worst US President ever," as if repeating this statement makes it a fact. I invite these people to offer sourced corrections to the following stats, or add new lines at the bottom, to substantiate the claim above.
7.2 → 5.1: Unemployment percentage
3.24 → 2.31: Dollars per gallon of gas
15.0 → 9.2: Uninsured percentage
11.0 → 4.5: Millions of barrels of oil imported
40.2 → 26.5: Teen pregnancies per thousand
19 → 6: Thousands of centrifuges in Iran
–0.3 → +3.7: GDP growth percentage
(3) English translation of a Rumi poem: When I am with you, we stay up all night. | When you're not here, I can't go to sleep. | Praise God for those two insomnias! | And the difference between them.
(4) Women in leadership positions: As we begin the year 2016, three key Persian news services in the West are led by women. BBC: Rozita Lotfi; EuroNews: Maria Sarsalari; Voice of America: Setareh Derakhshesh
(5) A vicious campaign against Girl Scouts: Partnership with Planned Parenthood (a very natural alliance for an organization aspiring to train independent, self-confident young women) is cited by some right-wing activists who are leading a fight against Girl Scouts. I, for one, will buy more Girl Scout cookies this year.

2016/01/12 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Map of the Persian Gulf region, with oil and gas fields (1) On the Saudi-Iranian conflict: This map, drawn by cartographer Michael R. Izadi, shows one of the reasons Saudi Arabia is so fearful of the rising influence of the Shi'i Iran. For historical and natural reasons, almost all of the oil in the Persian Gulf region is under Shi'i Muslims, even in the Sunni-majority Saudi Kingdom. The recently executed Shi'i cleric Nimr al-Nimr had threatened in 2009 that if the treatment of Shi'is did not improve, he would call for secession, thus depriving the Kingdom of its oil revenues. [Black: oil fields; Red: gas fields]
(2) Quote of the day: "Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did." ~ President Obama, in his 2016 State-of-the-Union speech
(3) At least 10 dead near Istanbul's Blue Mosque: All those killed by the ISIS suicide blast were foreigners.
(4) Surprise announcement (business deal?) of the day: Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, 84, and actress/model Jerry Hall, 59, engaged to be married. [BBC News video]
(5) The many faces of David Bowie (1947-2016): An entertainer with whom I could never identify, despite being almost exactly my age.
(6) Confirmed by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry: The discovery of four new elements that complete the bottom row of the periodic table: Uut (113); Uup (115); Uus (117); Uuo (118).
(7) This dance performance in Rasht led to the arrest of the Iranian city's culture & arts official.
(8) The birth of a word: MIT researcher Deb Roy outfitted his home with video cameras and collected 200 TB of data in an effort to understand how his infant son learned to speak. [20-minute TED talk]
(9) Final thought for the day: "Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them." ~ Albert Einstein

Cover image of Timothy D. Wilson's 'Redirect' 2016/01/11 (Monday): Book review: Wilson, Timothy D., Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, unabridged audiobook on 6 CDs, read by Grover Gardner, HighBridge Audio, 2011.
The main theme of this book is that psychological interventions (to prevent teen pregnancies, curb drug abuse, improve educational outcomes, and the like, often do not work, because they are improperly designed. They are often based on common-sense ideas rather than scientifically verified hypotheses, with random assignment of subjects to various intervention methods and to control groups. Without the proper use of controls, it is impossible to deduce causation from correlations. Some spectacular failures cited in the book include decades-long programs, costing millions of dollars, which were never vetted using scientific methods, and were subsequently discovered to be ineffective or even exacerbating the condition they were meant to reverse.
The title of the book is meant to represent the "story editing" approach to change the narratives we tell about ourselves and the world around us. Stories we tell ourselves can become distorted and destructive, leading to correspondingly harmful behavior. Breaking of this vicious cycle is precisely what psychotherapy does. But, it turns out, that similar results can be obtained without the time-intensive one-on-one sessions. Simple writing exercises and occasional feedback can achieve much of the benefits.
Wilson presents numerous examples of how story-editing and story-prompting techniques have been used successfully to make people lead happier lives, become better parents, or bridge racial achievement gaps. An interesting point about the latter intervention is that When students of different races took the same test, composed of exactly the same questions, but with different narrative introductions, black students who read introductions that made multiple references to testing and IQ did poorly, whereas those who had the test questions described to tham as puzzles with no mention of the words test and IQ did as well as the white students. This is because references to test and IQ raise fear in the test-taker that s/he might reinforce the stereotypical view of blacks as inferior in achievement or intelligence, whereas characterizing the questions as puzzles carried no such connotation.
Here is a very interesting example of intervention programs. College students often have an exaggerated idea of how much their peers drink, leading to higher alcohol consumption as they try to keep up with the "cool" kids. When information about the acutual drinking habits of the average student was disseminated to all students, those who had the exaggerated view began to drink less. However, a minority of students who underestimated the drinking level of the average student, started to consume more alcohol.
Wilson ends the book with a recap of effective ways to redirect our own narrative and those of our children. Here are 8 practical suggestions from the final chapter:
- Be skeptical of advice from self-help books about easy roads to riches, fame, and happiness.
- As parents, be mindful not only of what your children do but of the narrative they are developing about themselves, their relationships, and the world at large.
- Use "the minimal sufficiency principle," whereby you use the smallest level of rewards and threats to shake your children's behaviors; going overboard can backfire.
- Appreciate the power of the "do good, be good" principle. Engage in volunteer work and encourage your kids to do the same.
- Initiate interactions with people outside your comfort zone, such as co-workers of a different race, ethnicity, or social class.
- Putting people in situations where they fear they will confirm negative stereotypes about their group can be debilitating.
- Be a good consumer of information from sources such as What Works Clearinghouse or Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.
- When offered a new method of intervention, always ask politely, "But does it work?" We don't take new drugs unless they are fully tested and approved. The same standard should apply to psychological methods.

2016/01/10 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) Quote of the day: "Give a man a program and you frustrate him for a day. Teach him to program and you frustrate him for life." ~ Anonymous
(2) I wish there were no Heaven: Humorous Persian poem, written and recited by Khalil Javadi.
(3) The kids menu: Trailer and info for an upcoming film about encouraging and enabling kids to eat healthy.
(4) Amazing chase scene: Buster Keaton runs away from and dodges boulders in this hilarious chase scene from "Seven Chances" (1925).
(5) On-line course on advanced game theory: Yesterday, I began taking the Coursera/Stanford MOOC. Here are some details, in case you are interested. The weekly schedule is as follows: 1 Social choice; 2 Mechanism design; 3 Efficient mechanisms; 4 Auctions; 5 Final exam and final problem set. The reference material include the free PDF textbook, Multiagent Systems: Algorithmic, Game-Theoretic, and Logical Foundations, by two of the instructors (Y. Shoham and K. Leyton-Brown) and three sets of free PDF notes by the third instructor (M. O. Jackson). The first week of lectures, already posted, covers social welfare and social choice functions (essentially voting procedures, and the difficulties and subtleties therein).
(6) Charles Babbage pulls Alfred Lord Tennyson's leg in this 1842 letter: "In your otherwise beautiful poem ['The Vision of Sin'], there is a verse that reads — Every moment dies a man, Every moment one is born. ... If this were true, the population of the world would be at a standstill. In truth, the rate of birth is slightly in excess of that of death. I would suggest that in the next edition of your poem you have it read — Every moment dies a man, Every moment 1 1/16 is born. Strictly speaking, this is not correct, the actual figure is so long that I cannot get it into a line, but I believe the figure 1 1/16 will be sufficiently accurate for poetry."
(7) Final thought for the day: "Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness." ~ Eric Hoffer

2016/01/08 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Giant statue of Chairman Mao in China (1) Giant Mao statue: The gold-colored statue of Chairman Mao, just completed in the Chinese countryside, is 37 meters high.
(2) Brief news headlines of the day:
- ISIS member kills his mother for insisting that he leave group
- Rain in California! Is the drought finally over?
- Many companies show off new tech gadgets at CES in Las Vegas
- Female engineers publish in more prestigious journals, cited less
- Saudis won't allow war with Iran, says their defense minister
(3) Iranian poetess Hila Sedighi arrested again: The 30-year-old civil activist was detained at Tehran's Airport upon returning from abroad. The Islamic regime, which has been arresting artists and writers at an alarming rate, seems to have stepped up its crackdown on the opposition.
(4) Sunni vs. Shia (Shi'i): Another explanation of the two main sects of Islam, in view of the recent incidents between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
(5) Look who performed in NYC's Times Square: I had never seen Andrea Bocelli play the guitar.
(6) Some wonderful piano music: Bach's Partita No. 2 in C minor, performed by Martha Argerich. A different post of this video indicated that the performance won the gold medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society.
(7) A wonderful cover of "Just Like a Woman": Charlotte Gainsbourg's sensual performance of Bob Dylan's classic from the 1970s.
(8) Timekeeping in computer systems: The simple question "What time is it?" is often answered by looking at a clock/watch that may be at best accurate to within a minute or so. In everyday usage, this accuracy suffices, as getting to class or a meeting a minute or so late is not disastrous. The situation is different in computer systems, where submillisecond or even submicrosecond accuracy is required for some application domains. Computer programmers deal with time by using available system calls that return the system's view of time (the so-called "wall clock"), maintained internally by means of a crystal oscillator. Again, this level of accuracy in time is adequate for most applications. Computers in a networked system may each have a slightly different view of time, thus creating a need for clock synchronization to prevent excessive clock drift. The network time protocol (NTP), first documented in the 1980s and last updated in 2010, was developed for this purpose. It provides a hierarchy of clocks of varying accuracies, all the way up to a reference clock that is highly precise. The lower-accuracy clocks imply lower overheads for access, so one should not use the more accurate versions unless absolutely needed by the application at hand. In 2002, IEEE defined the precision time protocol (PTP) that went through a period of obscurity but is now finding important uses in maintaining time across many thousands of servers in data centers, such as those of Google and Amazon. In financial applications, such as high-frequency trading, the ability to measure time accurately is indispensable. The same holds for systems that control robotic arms moving at 44 feet per second and electrical power network control systems, where imprecision in handing off energy from one block to the next can lead to catastrophic, fiery failures. [Adapted from "Time Is an Illusion," Communications of the ACM, pp. 50-55, January 2016; Wikipedia has good articles on both NTP and PTP.]

2016/01/05 (Tuesday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Kid with light saber offering to carve the turkey (1) Cartoon of the day. [From: E&T magazine, January 2016]
(2) Compensation for state-sponsored terrorism victims: After three decades of investigative work, including a trip by an undercover investigator to interview some of the principals involved in the Beirut Marine Barracks bombing of 1983, families of victims of state-sponsored terrorism may be a step closer to getting compensated for their losses. Iran has been clearly implicated in the Beirut and several other large-scale terrorist attacks. Exactly how, and from what sources, the victims will be compensated remain to be worked out, but the latest US budget includes a $1B fund for this purpose and another $1.9B in seized Iranian assets could become available after a US Supreme Court case has been resolved this month.
(3) Being pro life means shedding tears for senseless loss of life: Those who dismiss numerous mass killings as a necessary cost of respect for the Second Amendment cannot also claim to be pro life. [Obama's speech]
(4) On the latest international crisis in Iran: One of the positive effects of the lifting of sanctions was to be a diminished role for middlemen, the main sources of the corruptions we have witnessed over the past decade. Now, with the irresponsible act of attacking and torching the embassy of Saudi Arabia, those middlemen are celebrating, because they will get more business in trade with countries that have cut diplomatic ties with Iran. While the takeover of the US embassy in 1979 was chalked up to revolutionary zeal in the first year of the Islamic revolution, and the UK embassy takeover of 2011 was dismissed as the work of self-directed mobs (even though videos at the time showed police standing by and not interfering), this third episode of diplomatic irresponsibility was triggered, if not by direct orders from Khamenei, then by his rhetoric of "divine revenge." The problem with the Islamic regime in Iran is that it cannot survive in the face of peace and prosperity. It needs conflict to point its fingers at an external "enemy" for sociopolitical problems.
(5) Computer architect Gene Amdahl (1922-2015): Amdahl is best known for a law he formulated in the 1960s which states that the speed-up achieved through parallel processing would be limited to 1/f at best, if the program being run has a fraction f of its operations that are inherently sequential (unparallellizable). For example, if 5% of a program's operations are inherently sequential, speed-up can never exceed 20, no matter how many processors we throw at the problem. I have recently shown in my own work that what is known as Amdahl's Law for parallel processing speed-up can also be applied to system reliability improvement (IEEE Computer magazine, issue of July 2015). Lesser known, but just as important, is Amdahl's formulation of a set of rules of thumb for system balance that establish relationships between processing speed, memory requirements, and I/O performance. Amdahl worked at IBM for many years, where he was the principal architect for the famed System 360 series of mainframe computers. Later, his company, Amdahl Corporation, manufactured plug-compatible versions of IBM mainframes and introduced many software innovations to improve the performance and reliability of computer systems. Amdahl passed away recently at age 92.

2016/01/04 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Budgets and box office earnings for the previous six 'Star Wars' films (1) On the 7th "Star Wars" movie: No doubt this latest installment of what will likely become a nonalogy (a trilogy of trilogies) will be highly successful. If you don't believe this statement, just look at financial success of the previous six films. All have been very successful, but the highest box-office-to-production-cost ratio (yellow part of the bar in this chart to the red part) belongs to the original 1977 "Star Wars: A New Hope." [Chart from: E&T magazine, issue of January 2016]
(2) Printed airplane parts: Airplane manufacturers are increasingly incorporating 3D-printed parts into their designs. The latest Airbus plane, A350 XWB, has around 1000 3D-printed parts. Boeing indicates that 20,000 3D-printed parts will go into planes currently under construction. So far, 3D printing is used only for non-critical components. [Info from: ASEE Prism magazine, issue of December 2015.]
(3) An efficient killing machine that incapacitates its prey by going for the jugular.
(4) Pylones novelty gifts: One of the more interesting stores I visited during the recent France trip was Pylones, a chain carrying what can be described as novelty gifts distinguished by interesting and colorful patterns. You can get a sense of the kinds of items they carry by visiting the Pylone's Web site. The Web site for Pylones-USA is currently under construction. There is also a Pylones section at Amazon.com.
(5) Last week, during my trip to France, the cover image of Santa Barbara Independent celebrated the climate summit in Paris.

2016/01/03 (Sunday): Here are three items of potential interest.
CD box cover image for 'Word Smart & Grammar Smart' (1) Brief book review: Robinson, Adam and Julian Fleisher, Word Smart & Grammar Smart, Audio lessons on 6 CDs, read by various performers, The Princeton Review, 1997. `
The words part of this audiobook, spanning the first four CDs, covers some 200 less-commonly used words, which are arranged into 12 categories (each with 15+ words or word groups) for easier memorization through exposing their relationships. The words are also used in the context of personal narratives (some rather childish) for greater understanding.
The categories are labeled: All or nothing; I love you — I hate you; The naughty and the nice; The long and short of it; The mighty and the meek; You help me, then you hurt me; True or false; From the sublime to the ridiculous; Something old, something new; Alone or together; Now you see it, now you don't; The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The grammar part, spanning the last two CDs, includes useful rules about verbs, pronouns, modifiers, diction & usage, and parallel construction. I found this audiobook quite useful and plan on listening to it a second time. An example of words I learned from this book within the category "True or false" is "verisimilitude."
(2) Some people's facial features change as they grow up, but not in these two cases.
(3) Iran-Saudi relations enter a new phase: After Saudi Arabia's execution of 47 people, whom they characterized as terrorists, a mob took over the Saudi embassy in Tehran, which led to the Saudis kicking out all Iranian diplomats from that country and cutting political ties with Iran. Those executed included a prominent Shi'i cleric backed by Iran. This is a farcical scenario in which a country that has been executing opponents at an alarming rate for many years (Iran) accuses another dictatorial regime of human rights violations, both sides believing that God is on their side. The impact of these conflicts on the ability of Iranians to participate in the annual pilgrimage to Mecca is unknown. Take-over of the Saudi embassy is the third one of its kind. Previously, mobs supported by high-level Iranian officials had stormed and taken over the US and UK embassies, in 1979 and 2011, respectively.

2016/01/01 (Friday): Old blog entries up to the end of 2015 have been archived and a new Blog & Books page begins today with four items of potential interest.
What is special about the number 2016? (1) The special number 2016: Happy New Year to all readers of this blog! Well, the last day of 2015 has given way to the first day of 2016. At first sight, there seems to be little that's special about 2016. It's a leap hear, and that's about it. It does not begin a new millennium, a new century, or even a new decade. Yet, people everywhere are hopeful that it will bring peace and love to their lives and will restore sanity to our off-kilter sociopolitical system.
On second thought, there are special things about 2016. It is the difference of two powers of 2, that is, 2016 = 2^11 – 2^5. It is also a value of n for which n^3 + n^2 contains one of each digit. Can you add to this list? Also, can you insert math symbols in 2 0 1 6 to make an expression that evaluates to various numbers between 0 and 20? Here are the first five to get you started.
0 = 2 x 0 x 16
1 = [20/16], where square brackets represent rounding down
2 = {20/16}, where curly brackets represent rounding up
3 = –2 + 0 – 1 + 6
4 = 20 – 16
(2) Political polarization in America: This is the title of a study by Pew Research Center that looks at the way people get information about government and politics in three different settings: news media, social media, and discussions with friends/family. Somewhat oversimplifying, the study finds that conservatives tend to be tightly clustered around a single media source, have less trust in the media, and tend to associate with like-minded people. Liberals are less unified in their media loyalty, more trustful of the media, more likely to block/defriend someone, and tend to follow issue-based groups.
(3) Self-driving cars and the trolley problem: The trolley problem, a hypothetical dilemma where a person must decide whether to take action to kill one person instead of five people, has been a popular intellectual exercise for decades. Now, self-driving cars may have to be programmed with an answer to the dilemma.
(4) Natalie Cole dead at 65: The sultry, Grammy-winning R&B singer, and daughter of jazz legend Nat King Cole, has died after a long illness. Her most successful tune, a re-recording of her father's "Unforgettable" as a virtual duet with him, garnered multiple Grammy awards, including one for "Album of the Year." In this "Today" story, Cole talks about her comeback after a period of drug abuse and confides that heroin led her to hepatitis C.