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Page last updated on 2017 March 30

This page was created in 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 2017
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 2017

2017/03/30 (Thursday): Book review: Mudde, Cas and Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser, Populism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2017.
Cover image for the book 'Populism: A Very Short Introduction' This is another fine volume in Oxford's "A Very Short Introduction" series, a collection established more than two decades ago and now containing hundreds of volumes, which make diverse topics accessible to non-specialists. At 131 pages, Populism is shorter than most other volumes in the series, but that is a reflection of the relative recency of the topic as a field of study. Had this book been written after the inauguration of our 45th President, the authors would have had access to many more examples and case studies from the United States.
Iran's Ahmadinejad and Libya's Qaddafi can be viewed as populists as well, but this book defines populism as arising within democracies; and views it as one of the dangers threatening democracies. Although the notion of populism is rather ill-defined, all forms of populism include some kind of appeal to "the (pure) people" and a denunciation of "the (corrupt) elite," and they are placed as opposites to elitism and pluralism. The wicked elite is variously defined and may include the political establishment, economic/cultural/media leaders, and, quite often, Jews. Of course, the populists' own media are excluded in every case!
Besides democracy, populist movements feed on extreme inequality. In order to overcome opposition by the establishment, including the media elites, populists tend to manufacture artificial crises. The authors list recent populist movements in America as those led by George Wallace, Ross Perot, and Donald Trump, as well as the leaderless "Occupy Wall Street" and "Tea Party." Populism is different from clientalism, which promises access to goods and services in return for political support.
Populist leaders, almost exclusively male, tend to project an image of virility and success with women. For example, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi did not deny that he participated in sex parties, only contesting the claim that he paid for sex. Another commonality among populist leaders is their disregard for expert opinion, going out of their way to act in direct opposition to such opinions. The few women populist leaders tend to use their sex as confirming their outsider status. More often than not, they emphasize womanhood traits such as "good woman" and "mother," rather than projecting the image of a strong woman.
If the outsider status were indispensable to being a populist, then populist regimes would be short-lived. Some are, but many populists tend to redefine the notion of an outsider, once they are in power for some time. In reality, most populist leaders aren't true outsiders but what may be called "outsider-insiders," having never been part of the political establishment but enjoying close ties with those in power. Paul Taggart put this succinctly, when he defined populism as "politics for ordinary people by extraordinary leaders who construct ordinary profiles." Such leaders are often viewed as having charisma (gift of grace), which they use to attract supporters by avoiding difficult topics or sticky situations.
The four major forms of government and transitions between them Taking the four major forms of government, from full-authoritarianism to liberal-democracy (see the accompanying diagram, from p. 87 of the book), populism meshes well with the middle two (competitive authoritarianism and electoral democracy), being most at odds with liberal-democracy, which incorporates minority rights in addition to the rule of the majority. Each of the four forms of government is fairly stable, but populism can play a role in transitions between them.
Populists tend to criticize any independent authority they cannot fully control, the judiciary and the media being prime examples. In the extreme, populism is a paranoid style of politics. It is easy to criticize or ridicule populism, but as Kirk Hawkins observed, "There is a dormant Hugo Chavez or Sarah Palin inside all of us. The question is how does he or she get activated?"
The US is receptive to populism precisely because the fight between "pure people" and "corrupt elite" permeates the American culture; in movies, country songs, and investigative reporting. Liberal democracies tend to fall into the trap of implementing well-intentioned policies, without bothering to sell them to the people. The policies are often described as necessary or inevitable to circumvent direct approval by the people. Populists ask uncomfortable questions about the undemocratic aspects of liberal institutions and policies.
Prime examples of well-intentioned policies mentioned above are found in connection with immigration, taxation, and dealings with international financial institutions (the last one is more important in places like Latin America, where the relationship is rather one-sided). In all three cases, optimal policies, derived from equations and theorems can be devised, but those optimal policies are too complex and expensive to implement.
Even the approximation to an optimal taxation scheme, reflected in many volumes of the typical tax code, is too complex for comprehension by an educated person, and, therefore, impossible to sell to the average voter. On the other hand, flat-tax systems, prevalent in parts of Eastern Europe and in Russia, are simple and easy to justify. The problem is that short-term political calculations make any movement in the direction of simplification and more direct democratic participation in setting of the policies nearly impossible. This is why some people believe that populists actually serve a useful purpose in keeping the elite policy-makers honest.
If you need to learn new ideas or brush up on a topic you once studied, while being frugal with your time, it is hard to beat Oxford's "A Very Short Introduction" series, and this book is no exception. I end my review with this gem of an observation from near the end of the book: "In a world that is dominated by democracy and liberalism, populism has essentially become an illiberal democratic response to undemocratic liberalism."

2017/03/29 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Farhang Foundation's banner for exhibit of Iran-related books (1) Iran through Books: Farhang Foundation exhibits Iran-related books at Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, April 22-23 (10:00 AM to 6:00/5:00 PM), 2017, at USC. The first day overlaps with the March for Science in downtown LA, so I am considering going. Metro's Expo Line drops riders directly at the south end of the Festival of Books. [Event schedule]
(2) Fun fact of the day: The percentage of US adults aged 30 or older who are grandparent has risen to 37%, the highest ever. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 3, 2017]
(3) Honoka and Azita, young girls from Hawaii, play "Bodysurfing": Truly fantastic!
(4) As the Persian saying goes, "Which one should we believe, the rooster's tail sticking out or the fox's denial?" Ivanka Trump and Betsy DeVos attend a screening of "Hidden Figures" at the National Air and Space Museum to promote STEM education, as Donald Trump's proposed budget slashes NASA's funding and defunds its Education Office.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Indonesian man, vanished while harvesting, found dead inside a giant python [MSN]
- Ivanka Trump transitions from advisor to official White House employee [Huff Post]
- Bridgegate scandal lands allies of Governor Chris Christie in prison (NBC News)
- Following their boss, White House staff will also skip Correspondents' Dinner (WP)
- James Comey tried to reveal Russian tampering months before election [Newsweek]
- US budget for the UN will likely be decreased, according to Nikki Haley [Newsweek]
(6) Top US colleges are admitting Baha'i students from Iran: These students are barred from attending public universities and thus learn at an institution led by volunteers (at great risk to their personal safety), which holds classes in a basement in Tehran. A moral shame and a great loss of talent for Iran!
[Note: The article has some problems in its editing and in the inaccurate claim that the post-Islamic-Revolution university closures under the guise of Cultural Revolution was a one-year affair; it actually lasted three years.]
(7) Quote of the day (alt-facts edition): "Why do you say I have to apologize? I am just quoting the newspaper." ~ Donald Trump, in a Time magazine interview, referring to his use of material from National Enquirer
(8) Misrepresentation of sanctuary cities: Some cities vote to ban the use of city funds for enforcing immigration laws. The choice is usually due to the fact that such funds are quite limited and are better spent on fighting crime than on tracking immigration violations. So, asserting that such cities aid criminal elements among illegal immigrants is misleading at best. Fighting crime, regardless of perpetrators' immigration status is hardly the same as helping such individuals.
(9) Final thought for the day: It seems that Trump is truly, though unintentionally, draining the swamp, as his men fall or are discredited one after the other!

2017/03/28 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of an evening literacy classroom, with child and adult students (1) An evening literacy class in Tehran, circa 1950.
(2) March for Science in Santa Barbara: April 22, 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM; begins in De La Guerra Plaza and ends at the site of Earth Day festival. [Related meme, featuring a quote from Joss Whedon]
(3) Every day, the March for Science becomes more important: The House Science Committee aspires to regulate science and punish journals that publish research it does not like.
(4) Seen on a billboard, in huge lettering: "Donald Trump: Putin America First" [Image]
(5) Iran takes another giant step towards qualifying for the 2018 soccer World Cup by beating China 1-0.
(6) Historical photo and message of the day: A scene from the Suffragettes movement. [Source: The UCSB Current, March 23, 2017]
Here is a high-resolution, uncropped version of the photo.
(7) A walk from the UCSB campus to the Goleta Beach Park and Pier, and beyond: Perfect weather for walking on a sunny and pleasantly warm afternoon. [Photos] [Breaking waves, video 1] [Breaking waves, video 2]
(8) Mule women: Because there is no customs-check between Morocco and Cueta, and anything a person can carry is considered "hand luggage," many women earn a living by carrying extremely heavy loads on foot, while enduring tough working conditions and abuse. In one segment of the video, you see a man steering the women, while carrying no load himself!
(9) Final thought for the day: "Citizens are not customers, buddy. We're the board of directors." ~ Michael Mirer, responding to Jared Kushner's musing that "The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve success and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens"

2017/03/27 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Image of Shen Yun wall calendar (1) Shen Yun 2017: I went to one of the three weekend performances of Shen Yun at Santa Barbara's Granada Theater yesterday. It was a unique and pleasurable experience to watch skillful dancers, accompanied by live music, jumping, flipping, tumbling, and executing other difficult moves effortlessly and in perfect harmony. There were also elements of virtual reality, that made dancers flying in the background video suddenly materialize on stage. Filming was disallowed, so I share with you this 9-minute video, which contains brief performance samples and explains technical skill, form, and bearing, the three elements of classical Chinese dancing. The image shows a free wall calendar we got, which features the dates of southern California performances.
(2) Not funny in Farsi: This "passionate educator and khaleh-like figure" (according to my daughter Sepideh) is the person responsible for teaching Persian to many Iranian-Americans, including my daughter, who were either born in the US or immigrated as very young children. Thank you, Dr. Latifeh Haghighi, for your three decades of service in this important area!
(3) Teen girl planned shooting, bombing at her Maryland high school: She wrote a detailed plan for the attack in her journal and had guns and bomb-making material at home, according to police.
(4) A new phone scam: The caller starts by asking a question, such as "Can you hear me?" or "Do you want to be added to a do-not-call registry?" Almost everyone will answer such questions in the affirmative. Your "yes" answer in either case may be recorded and used as authorization for purchases and other charges on a credit card. [Source: ABC News]
(5) Has Michael Flynn turned on Trump? Haaretz speculates that the former National Security Adviser may have cut a deal to become an FBI informant, cooperating in the investigation of Trump-Russia ties. The speculation arises from the fact that Flynn has not been called to testify under oath.
(6) Opening ceremony of the Norooz 2017 celebration in Kurdistan's Palangan Village.
(7) Gang rape, broadcast on Facebook Live: Chicago's police spokesman, describing the March 18 sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl by as many as 6 males, wondered aloud how it was possible that of the 40 or so people who witnessed the assault, not one thought to call the authorities. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 3, 2017]
(8) America emulates Iran in asserting that girls' clothing distracts boys: "[Two teenage] girls were stopped by [United Airlines] staffers at Denver International Airport, who said their clothing was inappropriate and went against the company's dress code. A 10-year-old girl was also wearing leggings but was allowed to board after putting a dress over her leggings. Leggings and other iterations of stretchy pants have long been ubiquitous across the U.S. and are commonly worn at airports and on flights. ... In recent years, a number of U.S. schools have enacted dress codes considered by many to be 'sexist'; the reasons cited by school administrators often include the suggestion that leggings are 'distracting' to boys." Will unisex high schools come next?

2017/03/26 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image: Emticons are taking us back to the age of Hieroglyphs (1) Language development has begun to regress after 4000 years!
(2) Can we stop asserting that we are the greatest country on Earth and start emulating positive programs in other countries?
- In Japan, 100% of people have health insurance
- Healthcare costs are half of what we spend in the US
- They can choose their doctors, and see them twice as often as Americans
- They have world's longest life expectancy and 2nd lowest infant mortality
- Almost all (95%) of healthcare in Japan is not-for-profit
- The government sets all the fees for medical services and drugs
(3) The stock market is overdue for a correction: Trump took credit for the market rally after his election. Stocks are currently over-valued and a crash is inevitable. Watch Trump blame the Democrats for the coming crash!
(4) Capturing spring in my neck of the woods, just north of Ventura, CA.
(5) Complete video of the 2017 Culture Show, celebrating the arrival of spring and Norooz (held on March 11 at UCLA's Freud Theater). [130-minute video]
(6) An Uber self-driving car was recentluy involved in an accident in Arizona: There were no injuries, but the other driver, a human, was cited for a moving violation (for failing to yield).
(7) Painfully funny: Yesterday, while driving, I chanced upon an NPR program with this title, which addressed the question of why many comedians struggle with depression. The program's thesis was that the question was posed backwards. Certain depressed individuals gravitate to comedy because of its therapeutic effects.
(8) Wonderful Iranian fusion music: Mesmerizing performance of a composition by Amir Bayat in San Francisco; detailed credits in the original post and in the video.
(9) For Persian speakers among you: Sharing a humorous message from a friend, on this beautiful Sunday.

2017/03/25 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Rally sign in defense of science (1) March for Science will take place on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, 2017.
(2) Iran's President Rouhani, seen on a hike with his daughters. These modern women, with minimal hijabs, deemed unacceptable by the country's hardliners, are paraded by the President seeking public approval for his reelection bid.
(3) Another over-rated actress speaks up about Donald Trump: Jessica Chastain accentuates the positive, the helpful impact of having an adversary like Trump on feminism. Whereas many women used to shy away from identifying as feminists, now even men sympathize with the cause.
(4) Quote of the day: "Not only does god endorse Multiculturalism but He seems to have invented it." ~ John Fugelsang
(5) Russia's new nuclear weapon could wipe out France or Texas at once: Known as "Satan 2," the intercontinental ballistic missile that can carry 10 heavyweight warheads at once is said to be behind schedule in development and testing.
(6) University of California reaffirms collaborations with Mexico: UC President Janet Napolitano will visit Mexico next week "to reassure leaders there that the public research university remains committed to academic collaboration—even if some of it, such as climate change research, is at risk under the Trump administration." The proposed Trump border wall and reductions in federal research funding will not affect academic and research collaborations between universities in California and Mexico. [Source: Los Angeles Times]
(7) Trump's Norooz message another one of his many lies: In his message, Trump praised Iranian-Americans as one of the most successful immigrant groups in the US. This statement does not mesh well with his including Iran in his travel ban. Here is the Iranian-American Bar Association's statement on Trump's travel ban order.
"If President Trump's new Executive Order (EO-2) is not changed or stopped, it can become a permanent visa ban against Iranian nationals. It states that after a '90-day pause' to assess security surrounding travel from these six countries, 'if any foreign government on the list is unable or unwilling to comply with any required standards, this 90-day ban could be extended for an indefinite period of time.' Considering the current diplomatic relations between Iran and the U.S., it is unlikely that the required cooperation would happen anytime soon between the two countries—and thus it is very possible that this ban would become permanent."
(8) Paul Krugman's scathing New York Times opinion piece: "The Art of the Scam"
(9) On Internet trolls and free-riders: Like many of you, I have been targeted by Internet trolls, whose comments contain nothing but direct, indirect, or veiled insults. There is another group of people who comment on virtually everything, without offering any new information or insight. I call the latter group "free-riders," because they want to assert their presence without contributing anything of value. A question I ask myself in identifying trolls and free-riders is this: "Have I ever learned something of value from this person's comments or are they mostly content-free?" What do you think?

2017/03/24 (Friday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) Vote on Trumpcare repealed: After Trump issued an ultimatum to the House that if they don't vote on AHCA soon, he will let Obamacare stand, he was forced to pull the bill because they were 10-15 "yes" votes short. Other than Tea-Party conservatives, who were against Trumpcare, because it did not go far enough in cutting benefits, some moderates also had doubts, citing possible backlash when their constituents lost coverage. It was hoped that the latter group might have ended up voting for the bill, because they figured that the Senate would send it back to the House for changes. For the latter group, voting for the bill thus had little political cost, because it allowed them to pretend that they honored their pledge to repeal Obamacare, while, at the same time, not causing any immediate problems for their constituents. It is interesting that Trump, when announcing the pulling of the bill, blamed Democrats for not providing a single "yes" vote. Welcome to realities of governing; you can't insult your opponents and call them names, and still expect them to support you in passing legislation!
(2) The Republicans will now try to make Obamacare collapse: I have a feeling that they are relieved Trumpcare failed, because they would have looked bad when their base started losing health insurance. Meanwhile, they can pretend that they tried to honor their campaign promises, blaming the evil Democrats and Tea-Partiers for the setback. Both Ryan and Trump in their remarks after pulling the doomed bill hinted that they are counting on Obamacare's failure to advance their agenda. Any logical person would have said, upon the failure of Trumpcare, that s/he would work to make Obamacare better, now that "it's the law of the land for the foreseeable future," as Ryan put it. But no, vanity prevents them from making a healthcare program that is not theirs work better. In fact, many of Obamacare's faults arose from amendments suggested by Republicans, who ended up not voting for the modified, watered-down bill.
(3) Trump tries to spin his healthcare loss: "This was a loss for Pelosi and Schumer," he quipped. Oh, really? I know you will do all that is in your power to make Obamacare fail and thus render your statement true. But, there are many states that are working hard to remove wrinkles from the current health plans. I heard one analyst say today that the doom and gloom being projected by the Republicans may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Health insurance companies need stability and clear rules in order to operate efficiently. Uncertainty leads them to withdraw from healthcare markets or to raise premiums. If the Republicans truly have the interests of the American people in mind, they should stop sabotaging Obamacare right away, now that Trumpcare is dead. They have already done some damage by defunding certain Obamacare provisions and have plans to do more over the coming weeks.
(4) Rock-n-roll pioneer Chuck Berry dead at 90: He was an influence on many musicians, including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys. He was a flawed human being, who once served time for tax evasion. But his music will live on, and it has even been sent to deep space on a spacecraft. Here is Berry performing with Tina Turner. And a full live concert of Berry in London, 1972.
(5) Not a single woman in sight, as the Republicans decide the future of healthcare in this country, with major implication to women's health.
(6) Honoring Ebi's 50 years in music: Rana Mansour sings one of Ebi's most famous songs in a gathering to honor his 50th musical anniversary.
(7) White House in the 1930s: Shot by First Lady Lou Hoover, this footage is believed to be the first color film shot at the White House.

2017/03/23 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Chart showing links between Trump and Putin (1) Russia isn't our friend: This chart, posted on a Web site established by SF Bay Area Congressman Eric Swalwell shows the links between 13 close associates of Trump and Putin, or his surrogates and business interests.
(2) Voting on Trumpcare postponed: House Republicans just don't have the votes to pass it.
(3) Every Afghan woman is a novel: Interview, in Persian, with Afghan writer Homeira Ghaderi.
(4) Traditional Persian music: Wonderful performance by Kimia Azari and Maneh Shafie. The description says that they are playing tombak (dombak) and seh-tar, but the string instrument looks like tar to me.
(5) Nine brief news headlines of the day:
- Donald Trump and Paul Ryan go back to the drawing board on Trumpcare (CNN)
- Spicer scolds Republicans for voting to repeal Obamacare earlier but bulking now
- British actress Emma Thompson says she once turned down a Trump offer (AP)
- Hostilities between Trump and The Wall Street Journal escalate (CNN Money)
- Trump-Russia ties: There's more than circumstantial evidence (Business Insider)
- Senate votes to undo Internet privacy rules that protect user data (AP)
- In Time interview about falsehoods, Trump offers several new ones (CNN Money)
- American, in London to celebrate an anniversary, was among terror victims (ABC)
- Former member of Russian parliament and a Putin critic shot dead in Kiev (ABC)
(6) Iran's soccer team beats Qatar 1-0 to get a step closer to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

2017/03/22 (Wednesday): Here are five items of potential interest.
(1) Cartoon caption of the day: Student addressing the teacher: "Anyone following me on Twitter already knows what I did this past summer."
(2) Evolutionary AI: "Researchers at Google Brain and OpenAI are applying Darwinian principles of evolution to advance artificial intelligence (AI). Google's neuroevolution project trained 1000 image-recognition algorithms on deep-neural networks to recognize specific images. The more accurate algorithms were then copied and 'mutated' to see if their clones' accuracy would improve, with such mutations allowed to survive and eventually achieve 94.6-percent recognition accuracy. Meanwhile, OpenAI's research focused on using 'worker' algorithms to train a master AI to perform an unknown task. The evolutionary AI tracks how workers learn, thus learning how to extract more insight from the same amount of data. The workers played Atari and reported their scores to the master. The highest-scoring algorithms were copied and randomly mutated, then put back into rotation so subsequent mutations could be copied or deleted, depending on their scoring prowess. OpenAI's approach is considered to be closer to evolution's true biological function." [From: ACM Tech News]
(3) Seven brief news headlines of the day:
- Officer, attacker, three others dead, 40 injured, in London terrorist incident (ABC)
- FBI Director corrects Trump's tweet, sent while he was testifying, in real time (AP)
- Trump issues a statement on Nowruz, the Iranian New Year (The White House)
- Trump businesses keep asking for exemptions to hire foreign workers (Newsweek)
- Paul Manafort, Trump's ex-campaign-chair, paid millions by a Putin ally (AP)
- Pharmacy ex-executive convicted of racketeering in meningitis outbreak (AP)
- Russia losses in Syria three times as high as official tolls (Newsweek)
(4) Embarrassing letter choice on the game show "Wheel of Fortune": Contestant chooses "K" when the puzzle was almost solved: A STREETCAR NA_ED DESIRE
(5) Sharing before reading: A new study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute has found that 59% of all links shared on social media were never clicked, which means that most people sharing information on social media do not read it first. [Source: Hidden Potential]

2017/03/21 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest. The Mercator world map
The corrected world map (1) Re-examining our world view: Boston public schools have switched to a world map that corrects 500 years of distortion. The commonly used Mercator projection exaggerates the northern hemisphere, causing Greenland to appear the same size as Africa, which is 14 times as large. The distortion is due to shifting the Equator downward, rather than placing it in the middle.
(2) Quote of the day: "The only bipartisan thing left in America is the fight against cancer." ~ Former US Vice President Joe Biden
(3) My entry for The New Yorker cartoon caption contest #560 (deadline March 20, 2017). "I wonder if this is one of the things they meant to prevent!" [Image]
(4) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Russian organized-crime network operated out of Trump Tower's unit 63A
- Ivanka Trump to get classified information and a West-Wing office
- Conservative commentator Tomi Lahren suspended over abortion comments
- Bill Gates is once again the richest among the world's 2000 billionaires
- Kidnapping victim escaped from trunk of own car using her insulin pump
- US aviation authorities may ban tablets and laptop computers on flights
- Fox pulls analyst Andrew Napolitano from air for wire-tapping comments
- Philanthropist and Chase-Manhattan head David Rockefeller dead at 101
(5) Mechanical bee drones to help with plant pollination: It takes a pretty complicated, quite large, and rather expensive drone to do the job of lowly bees. But such devices may become necessary if pesticides and climate change further reduce bee populations. [Source: Time magazine, issue of March 27, 2017]
(6) Bio-inspired sensors mimick spider webs: "Researchers at the universities of Bristol and Oxford in the UK are examining spider webs to determine their computational capabilities, and based on this research they will develop new sensor technology to measure vibrations and flow. The researchers will examine the structure of spider webs to understand how their designs could be used as a computer, a line of research known as morphological computation. Morphological computation is a design approach, often used in robotics, that considers the body of a robot vital for any intelligent behavior. ... The researchers believe the results of the study could provide insights into the way morphological features of biological sensors are utilized in bio-inspired sensor design."
(7) There is hope for our country's future: A new poll shows that 57% of Americans age 18-30 consider Trump's presidency illegitimate. I bet the fraction is even higher for those under 18. [Source: Newsweek on-line]
(8) Final thought for the day: "The house is on fire, Trump is running with a box of matches, and the GOP demands to know who called the fire department." ~ Tweet by former world chess champion Gary Kasparov

2017/03/20 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about method of paying for Trump's wall (1) Cartoon of the day: Paying for the wall.
(2) Modern Persian music: Hooniak Band performs Ahmad Ashourpour's "Norooz Waltz."
(3) Iranian-Americans pay a visit to the homeless in Los Angeles, treating them to music, dance, and food!
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day (Trump edition):
- FBI Director confirms months-long probe of Trump-Russia ties
- FBI and DoJ have no evidence that Obama wiretapped Trump
- NSA denies that the British helped Obama spy on Trump
- It's scary that during a national crisis, no one will believe Trump
- Trump likely to change 3 key gun laws within the next month
- German defense ministry denies that it owes NATO money
(5) Paul Ryan is being tested and the results are less than stellar: He was collected and eloquent in opposition, but now that he is in a position of power, he seems clueless. In fairness to him, having to defend Trumpism would take its toll on anyone!
(6) Quote of the day: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower [Eisenhower was considered an establishment candidate, while Trump is viewed as an outsider populist. Go figure!]
(7) Instead of faulting the "Deep State," focus on the "Shallow Man"! [The New Yorker]
(8) Engineer with a 30-year distinguished career terminated when she complained about a bullying attack and intense sexual language from the Executive Director of a University of Southern California institute. The case of Nathalie Gosset, a very active IEEE volunteer, has been supported by thousands of engineers (including yours truly) and by women's rights activist Gretchen Carlson.
(9) Final thought for the day: As I watched the movie "Arrival," which is about an alien mass-landing on Earth, with a brilliant linguist establishing contact and figuring out their intentions, I kept wondering how the story might have gone if the landing happened in the US during Trump's presidency. Aliens from outer space are, by definition, illegal!

2017/03/19 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
B. Parhami's Norooz poem containing a message in the initials of its quarter-verses (1) Wishing everyone a happy Norooz and Iranian New Year with this poem: Each year, I compose a cheerful poem to mark the arrival of Norooz, spring, and the Iranian New Year. In prior years, my compositions spelled a message via the initial letters of verses or half-verses. This year, I decided to challenge myself further by having the initials in quarter-verses ("nim-mesra'e") also be part of the message. Reading downward, from right to left, the initials spell "NOROOZ | SAAL-E NO | BAR HAMEH | MOBAARAK" (Persian for "Happy Norooz and New Year to All").
(2) Donald Trump finally pays a price for his loose-cannon of a mouth: His travel ban was struck down, twice, on the basis of his and his associates' hateful speech during the presidential campaign.
(3) Angela Merkel is the new de facto leader of the free world: "The thrice-elected, soft-spoken former scientist from East Germany, armed with a doctorate in quantum chemistry, doesn't just carry the weight of Germany and Europe on her shoulders, but that of defending freedom and liberalism across the world."
(4) Angela Merkel with US Presidents: These three photos are worth 3000 words, at least! What happened to the German blood Trump was so proud of, referring to it as "good stuff"?
(5) Best companies to work for: The top three are Google, Wegmans Food Markets, and The Boston Consulting Group. Other tech companies among the top 100 include Intuit (13), Nvidia (39), Adobe (60), Cisco (67), Autodesk (71), Cadence (81), TEKsystems (83), and AT&T (93). Somewhat surprisingly, quite a few healthcare providers and several hotel chains appear in the top 100.
(6) Crossing the Atlantic on a paddleboard: Chris Bertish accomplished the unprecedented feat in 93 days.
(7) What a difference a tiny apostrophe can make: "Love Trumps Hate" versus "Love Trump's Hate"
(8) Strawberries top the list of dirtiest produce: There goes my favorite fruit! Spinach placed second on the list of produce with the most pesticide residue. Sweet corn and avocado were at the opposite end of the spectrum, meaning that they are the least pesticide-contaminated. [Source: Time magazine, issue of March 27, 2017]
(9) Final thought for the day and the Iranian year 1395: Norooz mobaarak! I received this Norooz song from several good friends a couple of weeks ago. It is no longer too early to share it; in fact, it is just the right time!

2017/03/18 (Saturday): Maisel, L. Sandy, American Political Parties and Elections: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2nd ed., 2016.
Cover image for Oxford's American olitical Parties and Elections: A Very Short Introduction I have been living in the US continuously for more than 26 years (31 years, if I count my student days in the early 1970s). Yet, until very recently, I had paid little attention to how the country's political system works. The 2016 election stoked my interest and I decided to fill the holes in my knowledge. Like other books in Oxford's "A Very Short Introduction" series, this book packs a lot of information in its 179 pocket-size pages. The descriptions and examples are enlightening.
Let me begin by listing the titles of the seven chapters, which are followed by 15 pages of references and further readings.
Chapter 1. The Context of American Elections and Political Parties
Chapter 2. A Brief History of American Political Parties
Chapter 3. Party Organizations: What Do They Look Like? What Do They Do?
Chapter 4. Who Are Republicans? Who Are Democrats? Who Are the "Others"?
Chapter 5. Presidential Elections: Nominating Campaigns and General Elections
Chapter 6. Subnational Nominations and Elections
Chapter 7. Far from the Perfect Democracy
The United States differs from other democracies in the peculiar way it chooses presidential candidates, in the Electoral College system for electing its leader, in the relatively low levels of voter turnout, and in its political system that so strongly favors the Republican and Democratic parties that outsiders have little chance of being elected to office.
Early parties were Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson famously said: "Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle ... We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists." The Democratic Party was established first, with the Republican Party emerging in the 1850s as a major alternative. Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860, was the first President from the new party.
Resentment to the Republican Lincoln led to the Democrats making inroads in the Southern states, a dominance that did not end until fairly recently. In 1960, all 22 Southern Senators and 99 of the 106 representatives were Democrats, whereas in 2014, 19 of the 22 Senators and 104 of the 143 representatives were Republicans. The Democratic dominance in the South was chipped at, first by Barry Goldwater and later, by Richard Nixon. The Vietnam War also prompted many Democrats to shift parties.
Later, the credos of the two parties, and thus their followers, underwent significant changes. Roosevelt's New Deal Coalition brought him the support of the unions, as the Republicans became the favorites of big business and the affluent. When women got the right to vote in 1920, following earlier state recognition of this right, the opposition included party leaders, union bosses, the liquor industry, the Catholic Church, and big business.
The Electoral College system, one of the mysteries of our system of democracy, was devised as a compromise that would ensure the election of a desired leader (George Washington), as the country was being shaped by its founders. Electoral College reform, though deemed necessary and discussed from time to time, has seen little action. If anomalies and the associated concerns of the Bush-versus-Gore 2000 election led to no action, it is unlikely that we will see reform in the foreseeable future. We recently witnessed similar problems in the 2016 election, which occurred after the publication of this book and will likely provide examples and case studies for the book's next edition.
In the early 20th century, the nomination authority was taken away from party bosses and given to the people through primary elections. At about the same time, parties began electing leaders for their congressional delegations and offered organized support or opposition to the President's agenda. Legislators from the two parties tend to vote as a block, with little dissent. The Congressional Quarterly Service computes a Party Unity Score for each Senator and Representative. In recent sessions of the Congress, the average unity score has been over 90% for both parties. An ironic fact is that despite widespread dissatisfaction with members of Congress, incumbents tend to be reelected at very high rates.
Imagine a bell-shape curve that reflects the distribution of the electorate, from the extreme left to the extreme right. The bulk of general-election voters are in the center. Party activists tend to be from the fringes. Primary voters tend to be less extreme, but still significantly to the left or right of the center. This is why moderate candidates don't have a good chance of being nominated, particularly in closed primary elections where only members of the party are allowed to vote. Of course, neither of the major US parties has a formal membership mechanism and party affiliation is determined through self-identification.
In recent years, voters self-identifying as independents have constituted 40% of the electorates (compared with Democrats' 35% and Republicans' 25%). Yet, very few independent Senators and Representatives have ever been elected. Independent voters tend to be either very informed and highly concerned, or quite uninformed and unconcerned, with few in-betweens.
In the concluding chapter 7, five criticisms of our imperfect political system are offered as food for thought. These are the low level of participation (the US is in the bottom fifth of democracies sorted by voter turnout), the irrationality of the presidential nomination and election processes, the cost and extent of political campaigns, the lack of competitive elections at many levels, and the acerbic political discourse.
[Read my review on GoodReads]

2017/03/17 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Photo of my Norooz spread, aka haft-seen (1) My Norooz spread (haft-seen): This year, I set it up in my study, where I spend much of my time and thus can enjoy it more. A little over two days left to saal-tahvil and the start of the Iranian New Year 1396, at 3:28:40 AM PDT on Monday, March 20.
(2) Scottish bagpipe music: Nearly identical to Kurdish music! I wonder which came first? Happy Saint Patrick's Day!
(3) Trump's proposed budget would cripple US science and technology, according to AAAS, the world's largest scientific membership organization.
(4) Presidential science advisor speaks up on Trump's budget.
(5) List of science/tech initiatives facing cuts or elimination in Trump's proposed budget.
(6) Power grab: Mary Beard, on the many inappropriate metaphors we all use to describe women gaining positions of power. [Video]
(7) Another foggy afternoon in Goleta: Today's cool and breezy weather made it ideal for long-distance walking. Surfers (two, barely visible in the back of this photo) and paddle-boarders did not seem to be deterred by the fog. Ane here are 15 more photos from this afternoon's walk. There's the obligatory selfie, different kinds of flowers, majestic trees, one of my favorite oceanfront benches, and, of course, surf and surfers.
(8) The great cartoon cliches: Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor for the New Yorker, reportedly set to retire soon, has compiled this exhaustive (and for him, no doubt, exhausting) list of cliches forming the basis of many cartoons.
Abominable snowman | Airport security line | Aliens arrive on Earth | Alien abductions | Asking directions | Atlas holding up the world | Banana peels | Beached whales | Bed of nails | Bedtime story | Big fish eating little fish | Bird versus worm | Bowling pin versus bowling ball | Burglars in masks | Cat versus mouse | Cave paintings | Centaurs | Chalk outline at crime scene | Chicken and egg | Cinderella | Cloud watching and identifying | Comedy and tragedy masks | Counting sheep | Couple caught cheating in bed | Couple on house during a flood | Crash-test dummies | Crawling through desert | Desert island | Easter bunny | Easter Island heads | Equations on blackboard | Eskimos | Evolution | Fountain of youth | Funeral-parlor viewing | Galley slaves | God looking at Earth | Goldilocks | Good cop, bad cop | Greeting cards | Guillotine | Guru on mountain | Hansel and Gretel | Mobsters and victim with cement shoes | Humpty Dumpty | Husband behind newspaper at breakfast | Invention of fire | Invention of the wheel | Judges | King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table | Lawyer reading will | Life-raft survivors | Light-bulb idea | Little Engine That Could | Little Red Riding Hood | Lover hiding in closet | Man in stocks | Marriage counselors | Mazes | Men working | Men's Club codgers | Mental undressing | Mermaid on rock | Metal detector | Military round table | Moby-Dick | Modern art | Moses parting the Red Sea | Moses and the Ten Commandments | Mother-in-law | Mountain climbers | Murphy beds | Napoleon | Noah's Ark | Nudists | Operating theatre | Panhandling | Patent office | Pinocchio | Pirates' buried treasure | Police lineup | Rapunzel | Robin Hood | Robots | Rubik's cube | Sandcastles | Scarlet letter | School of fish with leader | Sisyphus | Snails | Snow White | Song lyrics as captions | St. Bernard rescue dog | St. Peter | Stargazing | Star constellations | Statues | Stock-market graph | Superman / Batman / superheroes | Talking trees | The-End-Is-Nigh Guy | The Thinker | This Side Up box | Three Little Pigs | Tombstone | Traffic cop pulling over speeding motorist | Trojan horse | Tunnel of Love | Turtle and Hare | TV weather forecasts | Two guys in a horse costume | Umpires | Volcanoes showing that the gods are angry | Voting booths | Vultures | Walking the plank | Weather forecasters | Why did the chicken cross the road | William Tell | Wishing Well | Witch's broom | Witch's cauldron | Woman trying on shoes | You-are-here map | Zeus throwing lightning bolts | Zzzzz (sleeping)

2017/03/16 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing the GOP devolution: Lincoln, Nixon, Trump (1) Cartoon of the day: GOP de-evolution.
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Trump's proposed budget entails major cuts for science agencies
- Trump's new travel ban order blocked by federal judges in two states
- Trump may have divulged classified information on Fox News
- Vibrator-maker fined for covert tracking of users' activities
- Trumpcare seems to be headed for defeat in the US Senate
- Congressional Intelligence Committees refute Trump's bugging claim
(3) Mount Etna erupts: The active volcano erupted while many tourists and journalists were in its vicinity. Fortunately, no one died, but flying debris injured 10.
(4) Quote of the day: "Whoever befriends Baha'is is considered to be a Baha'i." ~ Iran's General Naghdi
[Oops, I have several Baha'i friends, so the Revolutionary Guards can kill me as a Jew or as a Baha'i, whichever is more convenient for them! And in the US, I can get in trouble for having many Muslim friends!]
(5) Con artist: One of the early warnings about Donald Trump.
(6) It's now year 105 in North Korea: Their calendar starts from the birth of Dear Leader, who still rules the country, even after his death. [Ten shocking facts about NK]
(7) UCSB Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Jon Nathan: Last night's concert, entitled "East Meets West," featured selections from East-Coast and West-Coast jazz, separated by an intermission. In this selection from East-Coast Jazz, Reno Behnken offers a wonderful improvisational piano performance within Bob Brookmeyer's "Ding Dong Ding." This selection from West-Coast jazz contains part of Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas."
(8) Final thought for the day: "Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts—the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art." ~ John Ruskin

2017/03/14 (Tuesday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Berry/cherry pie for Pi day (1) Happy Pi Day (3/14)! Did you know that the official animal of Pi Day is the Pi-thon?
(2) Happy Chaharshanbeh Soori (fire-jumping festival, held on the evening of the last Tuesday of the Persian year, before Norooz) to all my Iranian friends!
(3) Quote of the day: "I think there are moments that demand a response, not because you're a public figure but because you're a human being." ~ Actress Ann Hathaway, UN goodwill ambassador advocating for parental leave, when asked if she felt responsibility as a public figure to speak out politically
(4) Final thought for the day: Distractions help Trump and cost us money. Several times a week, Donald Trump distracts us from more important issues, such as his shady business dealings and conflicts of interest, via his carefully-timed, outrageous tweets. As we pay attention to his claims of wire-tapping by Obama and listen to endless discussion of the story by talking heads on TV, hundreds of bills are being quietly introduced to eliminate this or that watchdog agency, cut funding for numerous programs, eliminate life-saving regulations, cut taxes for the rich, put giant holes in the social safety net, and generally redistribute money from the poor and middle-class Americans to the rich and super-rich. Meanwhile, all the lost productivity as a result of spending time on the discussion of worthless issues is costing us money. Each hour of time spent on listening to lies and the spin that follows to explain and justify them, when multiplied by the number of Americans who waste that time (taken away from work, leisure, family activities, and the like) has a hidden cost of many millions of dollars per day. Add this cost to the money wasted on providing security for the Trump Tower in New York City, weekly golfing trips to Florida, and many other aspects of an imperial presidency, and the sum easily exceeds all the "savings" claimed by the administration.

2017/03/13 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Photo of pedestrian crossing lights, featuring female figures (1) Female figures on pedestrian signs: Melbourne, Australia, is testing the use of female figures on pedestrian crossing lights as a way of reducing unconscious bias. [Source: Time magazine, issue of March 20, 2017]
(2) Cartoon caption of the day [Woman buying movie tickets at a box office]: "One senior and one refuses to accept he's a senior."
(3) Quote of the day: "Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women. It's about freedom, it's about liberation, it's about equality." ~ Actress Emma Watson, responding to those who criticized her for posing in a revealing top for Vanity Fair
(4) Pentatonix performs John Lennon's "Imagine" and spells out its message (5-minute video).
(5) Final thought for the day: Today, as I walked home from work, it was foggy along the beach and crashing waves presented a mesmerizing soundtrack to an otherwise unremarkable day (weatherwise). Yet, as I think about the blizzard conditions in the Midwest and East Coast of our country, I realize that the weather in California is something to be cherished, not complained about.

2017/03/12 (Sunday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon about Snapchat's IPO (1) Cartoon of the day: Snapchat IPO. [Credit: E & T magazine]
(2) I was in West Los Angeles yesterday and today, first to attend last evening's UCLA Iranian Student Group's Culture Show at UCLA's Freud Playhouse (my daughter was performing) and then to participate in today's Farhang-Foundation-sponsored Norooz celebration at UCLA's Royce Hall and its adjacent Dickson Court. Here is one of the many explanations of the Persian Norooz Festival.
(3) Uplifting T-shirt message, displayed by a little girl: Forget princess, I want to be an astrophysicist.
(4) Humans and beasts: A scene from an Islamic-State-controlled area. The beasts are in the back, in case you are wondering!
(5) UCLA Iranian Student Group's Culture Show: The annual show, consisting of music and dance performances, along with skit and stand-up comedy, was performed last night and tonight, a few weeks ahead of its schedule in prior years. Guest performers included the rock band Chenar [Video 1], Sibarg Ensemble playing traditional Persian music [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4], and stand-up comedian Amir K. Student and alumni performances included an Arabic belly dance [Video 5], a traditional-style Iranian medley dance [Video 6], Baba-Karam-style group dances [Video 7] [Video 8], and a finale group dance to "Ronak," a piece by the famed Iranian violinist Bijan Mortazavi [Video 9].
(6) Walking in Westwood, before going to the Norooz celebration at UCLA: These photos show two historic movie theaters and a building that used to be a Bank of America branch 45 years ago, when I roamed these streets as a graduate student.
(7) Some of the more interesting UCLA buildings en route from Westwood Village to the Norooz celebration venue near Royce Hall. [Photos]
(8) Norooz celebration at UCLA: The Farhang-Foundation-sponsored event, held at LACMA in the past few years, has found a new home at UCLA's Royce Hall and its adjacent Dickson Court. As I approached the venue, I recorded my walk and the sound of Kurdish music permeating the area [Video 1]. The same music and dance group performed later during the afternoon [Video 2]. The talented singer/songwriter Ziba Shirazi had an interative performance, which included this song about Norooz khaneh-takooni (spring cleaning) [Video 3]. The last part of the program for me was a Norooz costume parade, in which colorful costumes, both traditional and modern, were on display [Video 4].

2017/03/10 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Persian calligraphic art depicting a verse from a poem (1) Persian calligraphic art by Ebrahim Zeinali, featuring a verse of a poem by Ali Azarshahi.
(2) NEA dead at 52: National Endowment for the Arts has passed away, victim of an apparent homicide. "Arts? I know of no such thing," exclaimed the murder suspect. [Obituary]
(3) March for Science is getting more important by the day: Clueless administration officials have begun their Quixotic fight against science and scientists.
(4) Voting records of the two major parties in the US on a variety of issues: Show these charts to anyone who claims there is no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans.
(5) UCSB choirs in concert: Tonight, I attended an enjoyable concert by UCSB's Women's Chorus and UCSB's Chamber Choir, held at Trinity Episcopal Church on State Street. The program consisted mostly of German pieces (by Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn, Hugo Wolf, and Hugo Distler), with Six Chansons (in French, Paul Hindemith) thrown in. Before the concert, I had a pleasant walk in downtown Santa Barbara. [Downtown SB, at night]
(6) Cyber-security: Education Department and IRS shut down a key FAFSA link, which allowed applicants to directly download information about their parents' tax returns from IRS, over concerns for security.
(7) My colleague, UCSB ECE Professor Yasamin Mostofi, recognized for ground-breaking research: In being awarded IEEE Control System Society's Antonio Ruberti Young Researcher Prize, Mostofi was cited for her "contributions to the fundamentals of communications and control co-optimization in mobile sensor networks."
(8) Biblical king's palace uncovered beneath shrine destroyed by IS: There is a Persian saying to the effect that "even an enemy can do you some good, if God so wills." The tomb of Prophet Jonah in Mosul, wich was destroyed by Islamic State thugs in 2014, was sitting atop the long-hidden palace of ancient Assyrian King Sennacherib. As an expert characterizes the damage to the site, including some tunnels that were dug by IS for looting, but which are now in danger of collapsing, "we will lose a place where Iraq's ancient, medieval and modern cultural heritage rests one above the other."
(9) Final thought for the day: On the occasion of the 2017 International Women's Day (a couple of days ago), this essay and video show a vast array of pejorative and condescending Persian terms used to insult and put down women.

2017/03/09 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Map showing territories lost and gained by Iran over the past two centuries (1) Iran's territorial changes in the 19th and 20th centuries.
(2) Both AMA and AARP vehemently oppose the American Health Care Act, the Republicans' proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
(3) Rotten to the core: The details of Trump's connection to Russia will emerge in due course. But for now, The New Yorker has revealed the US President's ties to a shady deal in Azerbaijan, which was engineered by oligarchs tied to Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
(4) The truth-challenged President: "It is no coincidence that the rise of Trump is concurrent with the rise of 'fake news.' It is no coincidence that his rise comes during an age of severely damaged faith in institutions." [From: New York Times]
(5) House Speaker Paul Ryan is trying to shove a hastily prepared, and widely opposed, health care plan down everyone's throat: Using PowerPoint slides, he threatened his fellow Republicans by implying that it's now or never. He indicated this is their only chance to repeal and replace Obamacare, a promise they have made over multiple election cycles.
(6) On DJT's mental health [thanks to Ken Collier]: "Mental illness does not need to be professionally diagnosed. We don't need to be told by a doctor that the guy coughing and sneezing at the other end of the train car is probably sick, though we don't know if it is a cold, the flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, or an allergy ... When someone is compulsively lying, continuously contradicting himself, imploring the approval of people even as he is attacking them, exalting people one day and abusing and vilifying them the next, then the question of his mental state is moot. The safe thing to do is not just to stay away from him, but to keep him away from situations where he can do harm." [From: Psychology Today]
(7) Limo for the 99%: This photo will resonate with those who have lived in the pre-revolution Iran.
(8) Exploring Goleta's open spaces: I thought I had seen all of the open spaces in my area during my many long walks. Today, walking from the Camino Real Marketplace towards Ellwood Beach, I passed through a previously unexplored open space. Beautiful sunny days, after a long period of rain, are making it easy for me to get back into my daily walking habit. [Photos]

2017/03/08 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Logo for International Women's Day (1) Happy International Women's Day: This year's event uses the hashtag #BeBoldForChange. Women's rights are being threatened under the new US administration. But women activists are off to a good start in confronting sexist policies and institutionalized misogyny, beginning with Women's March on Washington on January 21. An interesting phenomenon is occurring; I have never seen women's causes supported by so many men! Perhaps threats from the Trump administration will lead to an acceleration of women's rights advances.
(2) Girl confronting the Wall Street Bull: A powerful statement on the 107th International Women's Day.
(3) Metamorphosis: Actress Sophia Loren's transformation, over the years.
(4) A wonderful instrumental (guitar) cover of "Careless Whisper": Tribute to George Michael.
(5) Taking the beach path home again: This time, the medium-low tide did allow me to go all the way to Coal Oil Point and, from there, home via the Slough Road. I did have to time my sprints around a couple of bends, so as to get across between two large waves. In one instance, I walked on rocks behind a partially broken sea wall. It was a summer-like beach day, with plenty of bathers and surfers around. Look for the moon in the photo with a broken tree. [Photos]
(6) Cartoon of the day: "Everyone will be covered." [Image]
(7) Noon mini-concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: UCSB Gospel Choir performed today. Here is a short sample from their music.
(8) Honoring a retiring colleague: Yesterday, following the monthly faculty lunch get-together, our Department hosted a reception to honor Professor Larry Rabiner, a world-renowned expert in digital signal processing and speech processing, who is retiring after 15 years at UCSB. Larry, who joined us as a part-time faculty member after his first retirement from Bell Labs, is seen in this photo with Department Chair, Professor Joao Hespanha.
(9) [Final thought for the day] Trump's continuous lying is getting out of hand: It is hard to believe that the President's apologists, when asked about his almost daily lies, refer to his "unusual communication style," which they consider refreshing. Since when is lying blatantly and publicly an acceptable communication style?

2017/03/07 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo collage of female Nobel Laureates (1) Women who changed the world: In anticipation of International Women's Day, tomorrow. [Slide show]
(2) As a first step for turning destructive conflict situations into constructive ones, each of us should pledge to broaden our news sources. I do!
(3) Handwritten Divan-e Hafez discovered: The 700-year-old manuscript, which is signed by Shah Jahan, contains a previously unpublished ghazal.
(4) SpaceX will send private citizens to orbit the moon in 2018.
(5) Iranian music: Pop music star Andy performing a modern Persian tune with La Toya Jackson.
(6) Former President Barack Obama: "In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue ... The rejection of facts, the rejection of science—that is the path to decline." [2-minute video]
(7) Today at Goleta's Coal Oil Point: The waves were puny on this gorgeous afternoon, with a clear view of the Channel Islands, yet a few die-hard surfers tried to ride them. Returning home from my walk, I was greeted by these wonderfully fragrant jasmines on my carport trellis.
(8) Yanni plays the piano: Given the ongoing heated political debates, I have not had much in way of musical posts of late. Here is Yanni's "Marching Season" from the album "Winter Light" [6-minute audio file]. Having rediscovered this song, I searched YouTube for other Yanni songs, and here are links to some of what I found (5- to 8-minute videos). Enjoy! ["The Rain Must Fall"] ["End of August"] ["The Storm"] ["World Dance"] ["Playtime"] ["Violin vs. Saxophone"]
(9) Underwater data centers being seriously considered by Microsoft: Such submerged data centers can be less expensive to build and operate, primarily due to lower energy and cooling costs. [Source: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of March 2017]

Cover image for 'The Invisible Gorilla' 2017/03/06 (Monday): Book review: Chabris, Christopher and Daniel Simons, The Invisible Gorilla, and Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us, unabridged audiobook on 8 CDs, read by Dan Woren, Random House Audio, 2010.
[My 4-star review on GoodReads]
According to Chabris and Simons, six illusions deceive us on a daily basis. They are known as illusions of attention, memory, confidence, knowledge, cause, and potential. These illusions are ingrained in our intuitions and thus impossible to eradicate.
The illusion of attention is demonstrated through one of the best-known psychological experiments ever. Subjects are asked to watch a video of basketball players practicing and to count the number of passes (aerial or bounce) thrown by members of the team wearing white jerseys, who are intermixed with other players wearing black outfits. At some point during the video, a person in a gorilla costume enters the scene, stays around for a short while, and finally leaves. About half of the subjects totally miss the gorilla, whose presence would be very obvious if you were just watching the video without focusing on counting the number of passes. Our attention is quite limited and when we focus it on a task that is important to us, we miss a lot of other things.
The inattention to details in favor of what is more important is actually a helpful trait of the human mind. In July 2012, I read and reviewed the 2011 book Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us (by J. Palca and F. Lichtman) in which the NPR journalists review the social and genetic factors in annoyance, noting that one way to fight annoyance is to take advantage of your capacity for "intentional blindness." If you are scanning the rows of a theater for an open seat, you may walk by a close friend without noticing him, even if he waves at you. You are so focused on the task of finding a seat that you tune everything else out. So, when something annoys you, don't dwell on it. Instead, focus on your goals.
The illusion of memory is equally fascinating. Our memories fade over time, not just by losing intensity and details but by being merged with our beliefs, desires, and interests and being influenced by other things we see or hear. In other words, many a time, we remember events as we want or wish them to have happened. We remember events as parts of stories we construct and within such stories, we sometimes incorporate cause-effect relationships that simply aren't there. We may even think that something we heard about another person's experiences actually happened to us. A good demo for the illusion of memory is the number of defendants who have been exonerated (or released after being wrongly jailed), based on evidence that conflicted with eyewitness accounts placing them at crime scenes.
The illusion of confidence needs little elaboration. Even the least informed among us argue with self-assurance about topics we don't know much about, and we would accept offers of jobs whose requirements are way above our abilities.
The illusions of knowledge and potential are similar in that they lead us to believe we know more than we do or our potential is higher than it is. We seldom question our knowledge or its sources and we think we are better than we actually are in a variety of domains. These illusions lead a vast majority of people to think they are above average in their knowledge, skills (such as driving), and even looks.
I mentioned the illusion of cause when discussing memory. We store facts and figures not as individual items but as parts of narratives or stories we construct. Our brains are wired to manufacture stories and to insert cause-effect relationships into narratives. When such a superfluous cause is weaved into the narrative that we store, it compromises our accurate recall of events. It also hinders our ability to be a smart consumer and a responsible citizen. We tend to buy into stories that babies listening to certain kinds of music or to "Baby Einstein" tapes will develp to be smarter or that solving Soduku or crossword puzzles improves our brain health at old age. In fact, while solving such puzzles will make us better at solving those specific puzzles, there is no evidence that they help improve general brain functions or even the ability to solve other kinds of puzzles. Physical activity is still the best way of ensuring the health of the brain, along with other parts of the human body.
It is unlikely that we can change traits that are hardwired into our brains. The next best thing is to be aware of our shortcomings and to compensate for them when making decisions. These traits aren't signs of stupidity or incompetence: each of them developed for very good reasons in the course of human evolution. The fact that they are misleading us at this time in only a sign that our slow evolutionary development lags the demands placed on us by a faster-moving cultural development.

2017/03/05 (Sunday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cartoon, showing a Coast Guard boat approaching the Mayflower Cartoon showing Trump building a wall from pieces of Lady Liberty (1) Cartoons of the day.
(2) Azeri music and dance, from Iran's northwestern region.
(3) Spelling bee humor: Iranian-American Comedian Maz Jobrani apparently agrees with how I have been spelling Norooz for many years. A little over two weeks left to Norooz and the Iranian New Year!
(4) Rube Goldberg machines: I went to Santa Monica Pier this afternoon to see displays of Rube Goldberg machines (silly contraptions that sometimes go through dozens of motions of balls, levers, and other mechanical parts to accomplish a simple task). The high winds had caused many participants to pack up and leave, so we saw only one operational machine. There was also a booth displaying a machine that extracted water from the air, producing 1.5 gallons per hour, using only solar energy. Afterwards, we took a stroll on Santa Monica's Third-Street Promenade, where I enjoyed the works of several street musicians. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]
(5) Today's UCLA lecture on Iran: Speaking in Persian, with English-language slides, under the title "Iran-China Relations in a Changing World," Dr. Manochehr Dorraj (Professor of International Affairs, Texas Christian University) covered the historical background, current state, and future prospects of the sensitive and important ties between two radically different countries, one a large, powerful, communist/capitalist hybrid and the other a struggling economy under theocratic rule.
Iran and china have had a cordial and mutually beneficial relationship ever since they were both threatened by the Mongols. Persian-speaking Muslims moved to western China long ago, which now has a Muslim population of around 30 million, mostly Sunnis. They are, for the most part, well-integrated into the Chinese society. Iran of the Pahlavi era, having been in the sphere of influence of the US, became antagonistic toward China when the US-Chinese relations soured. Similarly, when Nixon went to China to start a new chapter between the two countries, Iran followed suit.
After the Islamic Revolution, Iran's deteriorating relationship with the West created an opening for China to expand its trade in the Middle East region, while providing a "lifeboat" for the Iranian regime, which could not obtain its strategic supplies from previous sources. In 2002, China began pursuing energy resources worldwide, via long-term contracts. China is highly sensitive to energy security, without which its desired high rate of economic growth cannot be sustained. Because China is aiming to replace coal with the cleaner natural gas as part of its efforts to combat air pollution, an alliance with Iran, the world's top natural gas supplier, was in its strategic interest.
On the military front, China has been supplying much of Iran's needed arms, either directly or indirectly (through North Korea), and also helped Iran with developing its nuclear capabilities. Later, it turned out, the Chinese exposed Iran's advanced state of nuclear development and, at least partially, collaborated with the West on punishing Iran for it.
Since 2007, China has been Iran's top trading partner. By 2015, trade between the two countries had exceeded $50 billion. More recently, the two countries have expressed their desire to expand trade more than ten-fold to $600 billion annually by 2020, a goal that is deemed unrealistic. The Western sanctions over Iran's nuclear program drove Iran further into the arms of China, a country that is trying to pull off a difficult balancing act in its relations with the US (a much larger and more important trading partner at $700 billion annually) and with Iran (a key energy supplier for China).
The China-Iran connection is perilous, mainly because of its asymmetry, with China having an enormous leverage over Iran. Two possible scenarios can be foreseen for the two countries. If the US-Iran tensions escalate, China will benefit much more than Russia. The former Soviet Union had a tenuous relationship with Iran, so Iranians view Russia with suspicion, whereas China, having been geographically distant from Iran and lacking a history of border or other disputes, can come in with a relatively clean slate. On the other hand, if Iran continues on its current path of improving relations with the West, expanding trade with Europe (a historically favored trading partner), relations with China will develop at a slower pace.
There are many important developments arising from the expanded trade between China and countries in the Middle East (Iran and Israel in particular). The Chinese have a vision of resurrecting the Silk Road (both on land and through the seas) in order to facilitate trade with the Middle East and Europe. Increased trade via waterways, raises the need for ensuring the safety of shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean, perhaps explaining increased activity by China to beef up its military presence in international waters.
[P.S.: It is interesting to speculate about the impact of the new US administration policies, which are more antagonistic towards both Iran and China, on the future relationships of the two countries.]
[One of the forthcoming events in the UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran, planned for Sunday, May 21, is a symposium to honor the late Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. Several speakers and discussants (list to be announced) will participate.]

2017/03/04 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cover of 'Der Spiegel,' issue of March 4, 2017 (1) The cover of Der Spiegel, issue of March 4, 2017: The German caption under the image means "The Double-Agent."
Note added on 3/07: A German-speaking reader of my blog has sent me a corrected caption and added a translation of the sub-caption. Here it is. "Double-Regent: How Much of Putin is There Inside Trump?"
(2) California's new cyber-crime lab: The California National Guard, San Louis Obispo County District Attorney's office, and Cal Poly have partnered to open the new Central Coast Cyber Forensic Lab, which offers everything law enforcement agencies need to uncover and safeguard critical digital evidence. [Source: San Luis Obispo Tribune]
(3) The man who used his privilege to get five draft deferments during the Vietnam War and never served in the US military now pretends to be a military man.
(4) A high school biology teacher's response to a pseudoscientific explanation to justify bigotry.
(5) Romancing the wind: Eighty-something Canadian man flies three kites, controlling them with his two arms and his waist/torso. Watch the amazing landings at the end!
(6) Our President's parallel universes: During the day, he tries to act like a commander-in-chief (with mixed success), but after midnight, he descends into a parallel universe of delirium and childish reactions. In an early-morning tweet-storm between 3:35 AM and 4:02 AM, Trump accused Obama of wire-tapping the Trump Tower in the weeks leading to Election Day.
(7) Donald J. Trump wins "The Least Racist Person Ever Award"!
(8) Political humor: "The Apprentice" terminated due to poor ratings. President Trump considering sending troops to NBC.
(9) Gloria Steinem in Santa Barbara: This icon of women's rights movement, presented a lecture on March 2 at the Arlington Theater, with the overflow crowd accommodated at UCSB's Campbell Hall via closed-circuit TV.

2017/03/03 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about Trump's address to the joint session of the US Congress (1) Cartoon of the day: Trump's address to a joint session of Congress.
(2) Quote of the day: "Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations." ~ George Orwell
(3) Hypocritical quote of the day: "My two core principles: Buy American. Hire American." ~ Donald J. Trump [Photo showing "Made in China" label on an item from DJT's Signature Collection]
(4) Types of recyclable plastic and their proper use and disposal.
(5) Soprano Monika Jalili accompanied by Montreal Symphony: A beautiful rendition of the Iranian folk song "Jaan-e Maryam" ("Dear Maryam").
(6) Fake poetry: In this age of fake news, another form of fakery is threatening a long, wonderful tradition of Persian poetry. Hardly a day goes by that I do not see a fake, juvenile poem attributed to Rumi (Mowlavi), Forough Farrokhzad, or Simin Behbahani. Ferdowsi's popularity and good name is also often used to spread nonsensical poems, such as this one, that some people share mindlessly, despite tell-tale signs of fakery, such as spelling and grammatical errors. On occasion, the poem attributed to Ferdowsi is structurally sound and even nice, but it was composed by someone else, hundreds of years later, in Ferdowsi's style. The person posting this particular fake poem often claims that it is a Ferdowsi poem that has been banned by the Islamic Republic authorities, which is apparently enough for some opponents of the ruling mullahs in Iran to fall for the narrative, given many actual instances of books, poems, songs, and other works of literature and art being banned. Please be vigilant in protecting our literary treasures.
(7) One-dozen brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Trump signs executive order to reverse Obama-era water protection rule (LA Times)
- Trump expected to sign executive order rolling back clean power plan (Bloomberg)
- Trump blames Obama as being behind protests against him (Marie Claire)
- VP Mike Pence used private e-mail while Indiana governor (Indianapolis Star)
- AG Sessions recuses himself from any future probe of Trump-Russia ties (Newsweek)
- Crews working to bring Oroville Dam's power plant back online (Sacramento Bee)
- Death of 6 Russian diplomats in 4 months sparks suspicion (The Independent)
- Russia reciprocates Trump's kindness by defending Jeff Sessions (Yahoo)
- Austrian court convicts 8 Iraqi nationals in tourist's gang rape (AP)
- US law enforcement searches a Caterpillar facility in Illinois over tax evasion (Reuters)
- Israeli military has told Netanyahu they can't win a war against Iran (CNN)
- Arab nations face a stark choice: Ally with Israel or with Iran (Newsweek)
(8) Iranian-American reporter Jason Rezaian on Trump's speech to Congress: He attended the congressional event and got a first-hand impression of what was said and who was there. He had watched Obama's 2016 SOTU speech from his cell in Iran's Evin Prison.
(9) Walking home along the beach path: Super-high tide made it impossible to advance at several spots, forcing me to backtrack and take the stairs to the top of the bluffs and go back to the beach where possible.

2017/03/02 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon depicting Firouz Naderi and Anousheh Ansari holding Asghar Farhadi's Oscar statue (1) Cartoon of the day: "Dear Asghar ... You know that we are banned from traveling to Iran. How do you want us to send you your Oscar?"
(2) On Trump's speech at the US Congress: "A lot of people are praising his 'shift in tone.' Yes, he shifted from 'unhinged narcissist' to 'hinged narcissist.'" ~ Stephen Colbert
(3) Iraq's Mosul Dam is an engineering disaster waiting to happen: "Built on porous gypsum and limestone, it keeps hundreds of workers busy round the clock, six days a week, pumping tons of cement into the sinkholes, cracks, and caves at its base just to maintain stability ... Should the dam fail, a huge tsunami-like wave would submerge nearby Mosul and in a few days inundate Baghdad. About 500,000 people could die." [From: Prism (ASEE magazine), issue of February 2017] [News story]
(4) This opinion piece addresses the question of why male authors are taken more seriously, even when they write about women. [Not a bad way to greet women's month and prepare for women's day on March 8.]
(5) Western feminists could do more to help women in Islamic countries reclaim their basic human rights: Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Darya Safai.
(6) A beautiful day in Santa Barbara: I shot this photo on the UCSB campus, on my way to attending a seminar. In the afternoon, I walked on the bluffs at UCSB's West Campus, shooting these photos of the ocean. Continuing inland, I was impressed by the lush greenery resulting from heavy February rains has added to the natural beauty of my neighborhood. The down side is that the overgrown vegetation will make for a more dangerous fire season, come September. Near the end of my afternoon walk, I shot this batch of photos that focus on the Devereux Slough wildlife preserve and its thriving bird population.
(7) Vying for the title of greatest library in the world: The Library of Pergamum in Turkey was built in the administrative center of Anatolia, an important city of the Hellenistic Greek age.
(8) University of California sexual harassment/assault stats by campus: This chart and the following UCSB info is from today's Daily Nexus. The six UCSB cases, occurring between April 2013 and November 2015, involved 1 professor, 2 lecturers, 1 faculty (unspecified), 1 staff member, and 1 police officer. According to Daily Bruin, UCLA had 25 cases of faculty, staff and employees who sexually harassed university community members between 2013 and 2016. Perpetrators included a former director of a prominent program at the UCLA School of Law, multiple staff members in the UCLA Health system, and a former chair of the Department of French and Francophone Studies.
(9) Fact-checking Trump: He told many lies and half-truths during his address to the Congress, although less so than in his previous speeches. The lies were also more polished, thanks to speech writers, and thus less obvious. Here is an example claim by Trump: "Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labor force."
Robert Reich responds: "Most of the people who are out of the labor force are retired, students, in jail, stay-at-home parents, or disabled. They aren't looking for work. Only about a quarter of the approximately 90 million people officially listed as being out of the labor force are able to get back in the job hunt if labor-market conditions were to improve."
[Trump has done this before, counting students, criminals, stay-at-home parents, those on disability leaves, retired individuals, and others who can't or don't want to work to inflate the unemployment rate.]

2017/03/01 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of ballerina and flowers in matching shapes and colors (1) What a beautifully composed and shot photo!
(2) George Clooney's acceptance speech, when accepting a film award in France: "We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."
(3) The Oscar for best censorship in a live broadcast went to the Iranian media for covering up every inch of skin on female presenters and awardees!
(4) World's largest multi-use recreational trail network will soon open in Canada: In the making for 25 years (since 1992), the trail has more than 20,000 kilometers of paths through forests, tundra plains, and icy lakes, and it interconnects most major Canadian cities.
(5) Democratic women members of Congress wearing white to show their protest at today's address to Congress by Donald Trump.
(6) Noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: UCSB's Gamelan Ensemble played on a gorgeous spring-like day. I have posted music from this group before, so here I just offer a photo to show that the full group is appearing today in Indonesian costumes (perhaps they are using this event as a dress rehearsal for a concert), and a 1-minute video of a piece with Gamelan music and dancing. UCSB prides itself of its diverse ethnomusicology program.
(7) An informative 70-minute podcast: Sam Harris interviews Bush's speech-writer David Frum, one of the few conservatives who opposed Trump from the get-go and who still continues as a forceful critic of his inane policies. The interview is long but well worth the listen, as it touches upon a number of interesting and important points. For example, Frum is asked to state the most respectable case for defending Trump, to which he responds with three points: (1) Channeling the unhappiness of rural America with their economic and social conditions; (2) Attacking trade arrangements that were devised with fellow democracies or small economies in mind but that did not work well with giant partners like China; (3) Exploiting perceived problems with immigration policies and their costs to average citizens.
(8) Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with Russian officials twice during the campaign, but failed to disclose the meetings at his confirmation hearing.
(9) On a local hate group in Santa Barbara: Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) is a 31-year-old non-profit operating under the guise of environmental sustainability and economic equity, but judging by activities and the inclusion of two White Nationalists and a neo-Nazi among its senior staff, the anti-immigrant group pursues a different agenda. Fortunately, CAPS is the only one of the 79 California hate groups (up from 68 last year) that is based in Santa Barbara, according to an SPLC report.

2017/02/28 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Books arranged in a library to bring to mind Oscar night's last-minute flub (1) A librarian's sense of humor on display after the 2017 Oscars.
(2) Quote of the day: "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." ~ Horace Mann, American educational reformer and abolitionist [1796-1859]
(3) Where will America's Gulag be situated? Gulag was a system of labor camps maintained in the former Soviet Union for holding its political opponents from 1930 to 1955. Many people died in these camps, which were scattered throughout the USSR. North Korea has a similar system in place, as do several other dictatorships.
(4) The man who killed an Indian engineer and injured two others, thought he was hunting Iranians: And four days after the incident, there is still no tweet or other mention of the rampage by the bigot-in-chief, who is usually quick in pointing out real and imagined acts of violence by immigrants.
(5) Death Disrupted: This is the title of an article by Alexandra Sifferlin (part of a series of articles on longevity) in Time magazine's double-issue of February 27 and March 6, 2017. The article's subtitle, "How Silicon Valley is trying to hack its way to a much (much, much) longer life," is more descriptive of its content. Topics discussed in different sections include young-blood transfusions, data-mining your own DNA, antiaging superpills, brain drugs, and high-tech fasting diets.
(6) Half-dozen side facts about Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony: [Source: BBC]
- The final flub wasn't the presenters' fault but of a PwC accountant, who was distracted by tweeting
- Several winners talked against prejudice, travel bans, erecting walls, and anti-immigrant sentiments
- Trump told Breitbart News that the evening wasn't as glamorous as it used to be, and that is "sad"
- The prepared ending of the show, involving the host and Matt Damon, was scrubbed after the flub
- The US State Department posted a congratulatory tweet, later deleted, to Farhadi and people of Iran
- While still the most-popular non-sporting TV event, the show's rating was lowest in nearly a decade
(7) Farhadi's Oscar win in Iranian news reports: A member of Parliament faulted Farhadi for using a hijab-less woman as one of the two emissaries for accepting the award on his behalf. Iranian censors Photoshopped presenter Charlize Theron's arms and torso and the relatively modest amount of skin shown by Anousheh Ansari.
(8) Making America Empathetic Again: This was the title of tonight's public lecture at Santa Barbara's Lobero Theater, in which columnist, TV commentator, and Brookings Institution Fellow E. J. Dionne, Jr., made his case for combining activism with empathy. The lecture's subtitle, "The Struggle of the Next Four Years," hints at the need for activism and political engagement to ride out the storm. But these aren't enough, according to Dionne. He suggests that empathy, if not confined to people who happen to think like us, will go a long way to heal our destructive national divide. It is wrong to insult supporters of Trump, even if we think they are misguided or lack understanding of complex issues. We should put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand the hardships and fears that led them to support Trump. This UCSB Current article summarizes Dionne's viewpoints quite well. I just add a joke he told about Trump's view on religion and the Bible. An imaginary tweet from Trump on Jesus would read like this: "Jesus wasn't very good. It took him 3 days to rise from the dead. I could have done it in 3 hours, and come in under budget. Very weak!"
(9) Ending the Black History Month: This 5-year-old girl dressed up and posed as a different iconic black women, each day during the Black History Month.

2017/02/27 (Monday): Here are three items of potential interest.
Cover image for Yuval Noah Harari's 'Homo Deus' (1) A very interesting lecture on the new book Homo Deus: After a long day of teaching, office hours, and meetings, I attended an evening talk by Yuval Noah Harari, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of the best-selling book Sapiens. As an early arriver at the lecture venue, I received a free copy of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (Harper Collins, 2017). The line for having the book signed by the author grew quite long rather quickly after the Q&A period, so I decided not to wait for the signature.
The theme of Harari's new book is that we are moving from the two previous stages of authority in human societies, that is, theism (listen to the Bible or some other holy book) and the more-recent humanism (listen to your feelings or inner voice), to what he calls dataism (listen to the data, that is, to Google and Amazon). In other words, authority is now shifting from human beings to algorithms, which are, or can be, much more accurate in arriving at correct decisions.
Presently, human feelings are the supreme source of authority, as reflected in the sayings "customer is always right," "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and "if it feels good, do it!" And this kind of humanistic thinking permeates every facet of our lives, be it economics, aesthetics, education, ethics, and so on.
The main threat to this humanistic view is emerging from laboratories, where scientists are becoming convinced that feelings are nothing but biochemical algorithms. Humanism is based in large parts on the notion of free will, which is facing increasing skepticism. The day isn't far when Google or Amazon know you better than you do yourself. This supremacy of data is already a reality in the field of medicine, where genes can predict future ailments, even though the patient "feels" perfectly fine. Today, we are in the process of completing the hacking of human brain. It is possible that we reach the conclusion that the brain isn't the mind or that we can stop the march of technology, which is, after all, not deterministic, but there is an immense momentum in the direction of algorithms taking over our lives.
Technology has already weakened some human abilities. For example, hunter-gatherers had much more acute senses of taste and smell that helped them refrain from eating poisonous mushrooms, for example. They were also better at interpreting environmental cues, because their survival depended on these abilities. Now, you buy your food at the supermarket and put it in your mouth, while watching TV or reading e-mail, barely tasting or smelling what you eat. Likewise, the day may come when we cannot navigate on our own and become totally dependent on Google Maps.
I end my description of Harari's lecture with an interesting personal story he told: Jerusalem is a hotbed of chaos and conflict. However, there is one day each year when Jews, Muslims, and Christians come together and chant the same slogans in condeming the annual Gay Pride Parade!
(2) Some interesting stats about the least-favorably-viewed President of modern times: Americans see 45 as divisive, ill-tempered, dishonest, lacking in leadership skills, not sharing their values, and unable/unwilling to unify the country. These polling results will be viewed as fake news by the Republicans, who adore him and see his fumbling, inarticulate ways as genius at work. But responses by independents, which closely match the national average, cannot be easily dismissed.
(3) Ahamadinejad's letter to Trump: The former President has been sidelined in Iran, so he goes for some international attention by writing a 3500-word letter to the new US President. Ahmadinejad writes that he agrees with Trump's assessment about the US political system being corrupt and urges him to implement policies that value respect towards diverse nationalities and races. And this comes from the former President of a country which routinely imprisons, abuses, and disenfranchises not only ethnic and religious minorities but also Muslims who do not belong to the ruling mullahs' inner circles. See also this PBS report.

2017/02/26 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Persian poem honoring my dad at the 25th anniversary of his passing, observed today (1) My poem for the occasion of the 25th anniversary of my dad's passing, observed at the Santa Barbara Cemetery and, later in the day, at my mom's. And I dedicate this Paul Anka song, "Papa" (with lyrics), to him.
(2) Impressive calligraphic art created by folding book pages.
(3) Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey speaks up on policies and actions during Trump administration's first month. [16-minute video]
(4) Attention Whole Foods shoppers: Much of Whole Foods' organic products come from China, where the organic designation doesn't mean anything.
(5) Pizza rolls made with lavash bread as the dough, and typical pizza ingredients inside. Next time, I will cut the long rolls into finger-food-size bites before baking, because the crispy lavash tends to break easily. [Photo]
(6) On ethics in refereeing research papers: An article by Elizabeth Varki in the March 2017 issue of Communications of the ACM touches upon important points in the way some reviewers sabotage the research mission by careless or overly critical (to the point of unreasonableness) evaluation. This page contains the abstract and you need to sign in as an ACM member to see the full article. I will add a link to the full article later, if I find a freely accessible version.
(7) Talk about fake news! This Fox News program included a discussant billed as "Swedish security adviser" who not only hasn't had any such connection to Sweden, but is quite unknown in the country.
(8) Today, people gathered in London's Trafalgar Square to watch Ashgar Farhadi's Oscar-nominated film "The Salesman," screened there as a protest against Trump's travel ban, which prompted Farhadi and the film's lead actors to boycott the Academy Awards ceremony. The free screening was sponsored by London's municipality.
(9) My closing thoughts on the 2017 Academy Awards [Persian version on FB]: I watched the ceremony inattentively and, since I had seen only a few of the nominated films, I was not invested in this year's awards as I had been in prior years. Here is the complete list of nominees and winners. "La La Land" won in 6 of the 13 categories for which it had been nominated (it had 2 nominations in the Original Song category), including Best Director, Best Actress in a leading role, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song. "Moonlight" was the evening's surprise, winning Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
One film that I had seen and had a definite opinion about, because of its entanglement with the political atmosphere here in the US as well as back in Iran, is Asghar Farhadi's "The Salesman," which won as Best Foreign Language Film. Facebook has been abuzz with political commentary about the film. Before the ceremony, some people thought that it would win for political reasons ("Hollywood's leftist elites"), even though it was undeserving. Among these groups, a few criticized Farhadi for speaking up against Donald Trump, but not against even worse mistreatment of minorities in his home country of Iran. Others were cheering for the film and for Farhadi's firm stance against racial and religious discrimination. I commented on a couple of posts that art and literature have never been apolitical and that, rightly, they shouldn't be. Farhadi's film is by no means a masterpiece, but it should be judged based on its context and resources. Imagine making a film that involves the most intimate discussions between a couple, without being able to show them kissing, holding hands, or expressing affection in any shape or form. Imagine that there can't even be a private conversation between the couple at their home, because in such a private setting, the women would not be wearing a headscarf or manteau. All of these censorship-triggering scenes and material must be removed or cleverly circumvented.
Anyway, Asghar Farhadi joins three legendary directors (Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, and Vittorio de Sica) for having won more than one Foreign Language Film Oscar; a substantial honor.

2017/02/25 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) The mayor of Paris enjoying herself at the Eiffel Tower: She tweeted this photo (she is on the left) from a tourism event promoting France's version of Disneyland. The tweet was addressed to Donald and his friend Jim, who has supposedly quit his habit of annual visits to Paris. Hey Donald, reveal the full name of your imaginary friend; be a model for the media, whom you expect not to publish any story based on anonymous sources.
(2) From a joint statement by the directors of the five films nominated for best-foreign-language-film Oscar: "Regardless of who wins the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film on Sunday, we refuse to think in terms of borders. We believe there is no best country, best gender, best religion or best color. We want this award to stand as a symbol of the unity between nations and the freedom of the arts."
(3) An American wrestler talks about his participation in the Wrestling World Cup, held in Kermanshah, Iran.
(4) Several news outlets blocked from White House press briefing: CNN, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Politico, and multiple foreign news organizations were prevented from attending. The Associated Press and Time declined to take part. The three major broadcast networks and several news outlets with conservative readership (Breitbart, Washington Times, and One America News Network) were invited.
(5) The race to save Jewish heritage in the Middle East: In the early 1900s, one million of the world's 15 million Jews were still living across the Middle East and North Africa. In some countries, only dozens remain. Diarna (meaning "our land") is an organization that has identified 1200 sites for physical or digital preservation.
(6) This disruptor will pay you to drop out of college: Libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel thinks that universities are over-priced and hold back innovation. He recruits talented teenagers by giving them a $100,000 scholarship over two years to start a company, provided they drop out of college to focus on building up their business.
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- New executive order allows mining companies to dump waste into nearby waterways (WP)
- Truck plows into crowd at Mardi Gras, injures 20; likely drunk driving, not terrorism (GMA)
- A majority of Americans want Congress to investigate Trump-Russia ties (Business Insider)
- Famed magician Daryl Easton found dead of suicide in Hollywood's Magic Castle (People)
- Centrist Tom Perez chosen as DNC Chair in apparent snub of Sanders supporters (CNN)
- President Francois Hollande joins Paris Mayor in dissing Trump's Paris comment (Reuters)
(8) Trump tries his hand at book reviews on Twitter: "Low-selling author Isaac Marion wrote an 'apocalyptic' novel that's clearly an attack on me. Biased and very boring. Not a good writer!" [The author responded: "It's more an attack on the selfishness and fear that poisons humanity, but sure, it can be about you if you want."]
(9) Mouth-watering "dizi": The traditional Iranian stew dish "Aabgoosht," prepared in a jug known as "dizi," is usually consumed by separating the broth from the meat, potatoes, and other solid ingredients. Pieces of bread are put in the broth and the solid parts are smashed with a mallet before eating.

2017/02/24 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image of Lady Liberty covering her eyes (1) Lady Liberty in distress.
(2) Joke of the day: A man was seen fleeing down the hall of the hospital just before his operation. "What's the matter?" he was asked.
- "I heard the nurse say, 'It's a very simple operation, don't worry, I'm sure it will be all right.'"
- "She was just trying to comfort you, what's so frightening about that?"
- "She wasn't talking to me. She was talking to the doctor."
(3) Quote of the day: "I have a plan. A very secret plan to defeat ISIS in 30 days." ~ Donald John Trump [In fact, the plan is so secret that more than a month into DJT's presidency, not only we, but also the US intelligence and military, haven't heard about it yet!]
(4) US gymnastics team doctor facing at least 22 charges of sexual assault: He preyed on young girl-gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment (I can't even write about his sick, despicable acts). He is also charged with possession of child pornography and abusing the daughter of a family friend.
(5) "The Salesman," best-foreign-language-film Oscar nominee from Iran: Two prominent Iranian-Americans with connections to NASA (scientist Firouz Naderi and space tourist Anousheh Ansari) will represent film director Asghar Farhadi during Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony. The director and cast of the film have indicated they will not attend the ceremony to protest Trump's travel and visa bans.
(6) Here is your very own on-line Oscars ballot to fill out. And here is Vanity Fair's printable PDF version.
(7) Oops, the FBI does it again: In a private meeting, the Trump administration asked the FBI to leak more positive info about their ties to Russia, including an assessment that the press over-reacted to previous leaks, but the FBI instead leaked the request itself! Meddling in, and trying to influence, an on-going FBI investigation is against the law. Predictably, Trump went on Twitter to lash out against intelligence agencies. "The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security 'leakers' that have permeated our government for a long time. They can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW." [From a Trump tweet and its continuation]
(8) Navy veteran from Kansas arrested in hate crime: He is accused of killing an Indian engineer and injuring two others, while shouting, "Get out of my country!"
(9) [Important warning] A new type of scam: Scammers are getting more sophisticated, so we need to be even more vigilant. They no longer send poorly formatted e-mails, full of spelling and other errors. I received an e-mail today, purportedly about an eBay purchase I made with PayPal as method of payment. The scammer counts on me being alarmed enough to immediately click on the dispute resolution center link near the end of the e-mail. The link does not lead to PayPal or eBay, but is a redirect to some unknown site (put your mouse over such a link without clicking to see the real address of the link). I visited PayPal via my own link and, needless to say, there was no sign of this transaction on my account. I changed my password, just in case.

2017/02/23 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Movie poster for Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rebecca' (1) Hitchcock film series continued tonight at UCSB's Pollock Theater: "Rebecca" (1940), Alfred Hitchcock's first American film, is deemed the director's most "feminine" project, given its subject matter and appeal to female audiences. Later in his career, Hitchcock himself all but disowned the film, which is based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier, for precisely these reasons.
In the post-screening discussion, Professor Tania Modleski, author of the groundbreaking book The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Film Theory discussed with moderator Professor Patrice Petro both the history and continuing legacy of "Rebecca" for its exploration of women's fears, as well as women's desire for other women.
[Cast: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and George Sanders]
(2) Quote of the day: "We have to come up, and we can come up with many different plans. In fact, plans you don't even know about will be devised because we're going to come up with plans—healthcare plans—that will be so good." ~ Donald John Trump
(3) Court upholds Maryland's ban on assault weapons: The gun lobby is reeling in the wake of this defeat, which, despite Trump's promises to remove all restrictions on guns, may be the new reality in the US. People are tired of losing loved ones to gun violence.
(4) List of most-powerful women engineers announced in honor of the American National Engineers' Week, February 19-25: Despite a fairly poor job by our society in attracting women to engineering fields, and the presence of rampant sexism in the workplace once they get there, many are thriving in their jobs and in leading important tech teams.
(5) Seven brief news headlines of the day:
- Seven potentially-habitable Earth-sized planets discovered in one solar system, 39 light years away (WSJ)
- French military plans on using eagles as low-tech means of countering terrorist drone threats (WP)
- Former House Speaker Boehner: Repeal-and-replace of Obamacare unlikely to happen (Business Insider)
- New poll shows Trump's approval rating down, backing for Obamacare up (NBC / Survey Monkey)
- Revolutionary Guards commander: US will get a strong slap in the face if it underestimates Iran (Reuters)
- Pope suggests being an atheist is better than being a hypocritical Catholic leading a double life (Reuters)
- Trump open to removing Steve Bannon from NSC if new National Security Adviser prefers (Fox News)
(6) Final thought for the day: "The first is that Trump is going to realize that a White House can't really run this way—the president at war with the media, aides at war with each other, fictions at war with facts. Someone needs to get control of the operation, and hopefully before an economic or international crisis comes along to make the dysfunction even clearer than it is. ... The second is that Trump is going to decide he actually doesn't like the job very much—or at least not the part of the job that's all about policy and vote counts and other things you have to think about for more than 90 seconds without changing the subject to yourself." ~ Matt Bai, speculating on how the Trump saga might end

2017/02/22 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of man tying his shoelace (1) Wow, I have been doing this backwards!
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Distracted-driving accidents are pushing auto insurance rates way up (ABC)
- Study finds foreign-educated doctors to have better health outcomes (Time)
- Banner reading 'Refugees Welcome' appears at base of Statue of Liberty (GMA)
- Magic Johnson takes over the Lakers' operations in stunning shake-up (LA Times)
- Trump-Russia link subject of FBI report to Senate Intel Committee (MSNBC)
- Right-winger Milo Yiannopoulos forced out at Breitbart over child-sex remarks (AP)
(3) San Jose neighborhoods flooded from overflowing Anderson Reservoir.
(4) Dress like a woman: This is the latest musing by Trump about how female White House staffers should dress. In response, social media are abuzz with photos like this one, which show women in a variety of professional and personal attire. It is a disgrace that the US President, instead of upholding women's personal freedoms, including their choice of clothes (within the norms of a workplace), issues edicts reminiscent of the Islamic rulers of Iran.
(5) Sculpting a hand. [2-minute video]
(6) Robot-made pizzas: Zume Pizza, a start-up based in Mountain View, CA, is using robots to prepare pizzas, which are then delivered, as they are cooked, in oven-equipped trucks. These innovations reduce the delivery time and lead to warmer, crisper delivered pizzas.
(7) First impact of Trump's travel ban on university faculty: Today, I received the following directive in an e-mail. "If you travel to Iran, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria for business-related travel, please be aware that UCSB cannot reimburse your travel expenses and you will be in violation of U.S. law if you have not obtained a license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury ahead of your travel dates. If you need to travel to these countries, please contact the Office of Research's Export Control staff ... so we can facilitate your license application."
(8) Today's noon mini-concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: Adorable and very talented young siblings (10-13), calling their band "Three for Joy," played Celtic and other music, including a few dance tunes, as part of UCSB's World Music Series. [Video 1] [Video 2, Irish dance] [Video 3, Irish dance] [Video 4] [Video 5]
As I walked from class to the venue for the mini-concert above, I encountered a mariachi band playing in front of the library to advertise an upcoming event. [Video 6]
(9) Muslim-Americans have raised close to $100,000 to help restore the vandalized Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. The following video says over $60,000, but the latest figure, according to PBS, is close to $100,000. [Video]

2017/02/21 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about the the Iranian regime's distaste for music (1) Supporting a jailed musician in Iran: Belgian cartoonist Luc Vernimmen pitched in on the efforts to free imprisoned Iranian musician Mehdi Rajabian.
(2) Jewish cemetery vandalized: Anti-Semitism wasn't invented by Trump, but his presidency has emboldened and empowered hate groups. We are now descending to the level of Iran, where Baha'i cemeteries are frequently vandalized by government-backed groups.
(3) The April 22 Science March on Washington: The Earth Day march has the full backing of AAAS, the worlds's largest scientific membership organization. People are again caring for science, according to AAAS's President, one of the unintended consequences of Trump's presidency.
(4) Roads are driving rapid evolutionary change in our environment: According to a paper published as a cover feature in Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment, the negative effects of roads on habitats appear to be accerlating and are thus triggering evolutionary changes.
(5) Vibrant coral reef system in the Amazon region: Here are the first photos released by National Geographic.
(6) The woolly mammoth can come back from extinction within two years: Harvard scientists are working on a breakthrough resurrection project that creates the mammoth's blueprint from DNA preserved in the Arctic permafrost. The unique genes of the mammoth will then be spliced into the genome of an elephant embryo to create a mammoth-elephant hybrid with all the recognizable features of a mammoth.
[Note added on 2/23: A number of scientists have indicated skepticism about this timeline.]
(7) Amadeus Electric Quartet plays the "Habanera Aria" from "Carmen," by Georges Bizet.
(8) Sports diplomacy: Iran's warm welcom of American wrestlers in Wrestling World Cup held in Kermanshah.
(9) Kudos to Ashton Kutcher for doing something to help stop child trafficking and the abhorrent practice known as "sexual tourism."

2017/02/20 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
World map, showing the location of the lost Zealandia continent (1) Zealandia: It sounds like the title of a Ben Stiller movie, but it is actually the name given to a just-discovered eighth continent that lies under New Zealand.
(2) Not-My-President's Day: Today we honor the office of the US President and also the checks and balances which limit his power compared with dictatorial rulers in many other countries, along with our constitutional right to speak up against an incompetent leader.
(3) Quote of the day: "Listen, or your tongue will make you deaf." ~ Native American proverb
(4) Level of discourse on Iran-related Web sites: This example is from Voice of America Persian News Service, but the trite or vile, mostly anonymous, comments you see here are quite typical of such sites (in fact, I have other examples that I cannot post, due to their even more vulgar language). When will we learn that no democracy is possible without informed, considerate, and tolerant citizenry?
(5) Forthcoming SoCal events of potential interest in March 2017:
- Sunday 05, Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, Santa Monica Pier, 11:30-5:00
- Sunday 05, UCLA Persian lecture on Iran-China relations, 4:00-6:00, 121 Dodd Hall
- Friday 10 and Saturday 11, UCLA Iranian Student Group's Culture Show, time/venue TBD
- Sunday 12, Farhang Foundation Nowruz Celebration, UCLA Royce Hall, 12:00-8:00
- Saturday 25 (and more) Shen Yun Performing Arts 2017 Tour, various dates/venues
(6) The face of smarts and courage: Young Iranian chess master, Dorsa Derakhshani, 18, has been banned from playing in her home country, because she appeared sans hijab at an international competition. Her 15-year-old brother Borna, also a chess player, has been banned for a different reason, because he played an Israeli opponent in a tournament. [Interview with Dorsa, September 2016]
(7) Side-by-side comparison: The Trumps vs. the Obamas. [Image]
(8) London's response to the US travel ban: Mayor of London plans to have a free screening of Asghar Farhadi's Oscar-nominated film "The Salseman" at Trafalgar Square on March 26 (Oscars night), in response to the director and actors of the film not attending the ceremony to protest travel bans.

2017/02/19 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Trump's tweet about the media being the enemy of the American people (1) President Trump declares the US media "the enemy of the American People"!
(2) An ignorant, uninformed President: This is a schematic of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which Trump claimed "is built right here in South Carolina." And this is just the structure. There are control, navigation, safety, and passenger equipment in this plane that have sources outside the country.
(3) The magic "(R)" makes you immune to all sorts of stuff, up to and including treason: Bill Mahr's take on how flag-waving right-wingers are running down America and blaming others for it.
(4) The Supreme Court will soon find itself face to face with Trump: The Republican majority in both houses of the US Congress seem to be going blindly along with the President. Were it not for a few federal judges, many US Permanent Residents and valid visa holders would have been deported as a result of Trump's EO on visas and immigration. So, the Supreme Court, with or without a ninth member, will have to consider some insane policy or law very soon. Remember that Trump has called Chief Justice Roberts "a disaster" for his role is preserving Obama's Affordable Care ActeR)
- Road and Transportation Builders Association: 55,000 US bridges deficient (WP)
- China's AI boom places it ahead of the US, especially in deep learning (The Atlantic)
- Actor Harrison Ford lands his plane on taxiway, barely missing a jetliner (People)
(7) Quote of the day: "How can you call yourself a patriot and support 33 Benghazi hearings but NOT ONE on whether Russia infiltrated the White House?" ~ Peter Daou, in a tweet
(8) Seventeen false claims by Trump in a single press conference: A record, even for him!
(9) Strongest SoCal storm in years: Flash flood warnings, road closures, wind damage, and power outages have crippled many areas. As much as we welcome the rain (water level in my area's Lake Cachuma is rising steadily), we are apprehensive about its impact, particularly in recently burned areas. Stay safe!

2017/02/16 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Female representatives of the Swedish government meet with Iranian officials (1) Et tu, Sweden? These are representatives of Sweden's so-called "feminist" government, parading with hijabs in front of Islamic Republic of Iran officials in hopes of winning some economic deals for their country.
(2) Iran's judiciary indicates that convicted felon Babak Zanjani won't be executed until he returns all the swindled money. Wow, what a difficult decision for Zanjani!
(3) Cartoon of the day: Executive and Judicial Branches of the US government in action. [Image]
(4) Quote of the day: "It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists. You have given the gift of laughter to our people. May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives." ~ President Lyndon Johnson to Smothers Brothers, after being thrashed numerous times on their popular TV comedy program
(5) Ten brief news headlines of the day:
- Wrestling World Cup begins in Kermanshah, Iran; the American team greeted warmly
- Fox News under criminal investigantion for hanlding of sexual harassment allegations
- Trump administration and the Saudis are trying to form a broad anti-Iran coalition
- UN warns the US on abrupt change of policy towards Israel-Palestine peace process
- New application software turns iPhone into a fully functional portable scanner
- Sensitive intelligence info being withheld from Trump for fear of leaks to Russia
- Museum of ice cream coming to Los Angeles (I can see a highly profitable gift shop)
- Russian spy ship spotted 30 miles from US Navy submarine base in New London, CT
- Venezuela shuts down CNN's Spanish language service over spreading "propaganda"
- Andy Puzder withdraws, Alex Acosta chosen as new Secretary of Labor nominee
(6) Half-dozen of today's Facebook posts about Trump:
- If he says something, wait, and before long, you will hear the exact opposite. The guy has no moral compass.
- Two law deans let Trump have it in a blistering op-ed piece.
- I know, way more serious stories are going on with 45, but one can't ignore his handshaking style!
- History of USA presidents. [Image]
- Some of 45's Valentine's Day cards, just leaked out of the White House.
- Media no longer pull punches in exposing Trump's meddling in fake news, while labeling other views as fake.
(7) MOXI to open on Saturday, February 25, 2017: Years in the making, Santa Barbara's Museum of Exploration and Innovation (near Stearns Wharf, on State Street) will open its doors in 9 days.
(8) Chorale de Bahar (Bahar Choir) "Voice of Peace" concert in Paris, with Paris East Philharmonic Orchestra.
(9) Proposal for national reconciliation in Iran: Former President Mohammad Khatami's proposal for bringing the reform movement and its leaders, who have been under house arrest since 2009, into the fold of Iran's political establishment was dealt a major blow when Khamenei dismissed it as nonsensical. He went on to say that Iranian people aren't estranged from each other and thus do not need reconciliation. I think someone should arrange a meeting between Khamenei and Trump. They may like each other!

2017/02/15 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) WikiLeaks is becoming irrelevant: Once a darling of anti-establishment types, WikiLeaks has lost the moral high ground as a result of its biased leaks, leaks that endangered the lives of citizens in Turkey and elsewhere, collusion with Russia, and anti-Semitic tweets.
(2) Obama blamed for plot to overthrow Trump: Apparently, the "weak" President has become omnipotent after retirement and spending a couple of weeks in Hawaii!
(3) Watch Trump contradict nearly every statement he ever made: He was a Democrat, no, actually a Republican; He was pro-choice, I mean, pro-life; We should not have interfered in Libya, I mean, should have gone in with full force. Time to replace the moniker "Honest Abe" with "Honest Don"!
(4) Trump-Russia link: Why is everyone surprised that Trump asked Russia to delay its response to sanctions until he took office? Didn't Reagan ask Iran to delay the release of American hostages until he was sworn in?
(5) Leaks about others good, leaks about me bad: The guy who said on several occasions that he loved WikiLeaks now defends his treasonous adviser, while attacking intelligence agencies and the press for leaks. He apparently lives in medieval times, thinking that his past musings are not available on video.
(6) A bill with three sponsors has been introduced in the US Congress to eliminate the EPA: This is Beijing in January 2017. The Los Angeles of the early 1970s, when I was a student at UCLA, wasn't a lot better. This is what we can expect without environmental regulations.
(7) Kellyanne Conway has become a liability for the White House: She loves to book herself on news shows and offer alternative facts to justify the administration's actions, but all indications are that she is in fact not part of White House's key meetings. For example, she said Trump had full confidence in Flynn hours before he was fired.
(8) Today's noon mini-concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: Charlie King & Bev Grant (storytellers, political satirists) performed a variety of original songs in support of labor movements and political activism. [Video 1] [Video 2]
(9) New Iranian studies center at UCLA: A generous gift has led to the creation of an interdisciplinary center at UCLA focused on the history, religion, and languages of ancient Iran and their influence on contemporary Iran. A gift from Dr. Anahita Naficy Lovelace and Mr. James Lovelace to UCLA has established the Pourdavoud Center for the Study of the Iranian World, named in honor of Dr. Lovelace's grandfather, a pioneering scholar of ancient Persia. The resulting endowments support faculty research, graduate students, and public programs.

2017/02/14 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Photo of heart-shaped red candle (1) Happy Valentine's Day to everyone: May your day be sweet and filled with love!
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day (source):
- More than 680 arrested in US immigration raids (Reuters)
- Stephen Miller embarrases the White House with TV lies (Business Insider)
- Foreign creditors dump US Treasuries in warning to Trump (Bloomberg)
- Justin Trudeau meets Donald Trump at the White House (Fortune)
- Russia tried to conceal airstrikes on Syrian hospitals (ABC News)
- Man mistakenly sends 'kill my wife' texts to ex-boss, not hitman (People)
(3) Trump on collision course with Silicon Valley: Several issues have put the Trump administration in conflict with tech CEOs. Key points of contention include immigration, net-neutrality, privacy rules, and national security. In particular, tech companies are concerned about AG Jeff Sessions' musings on government access to data from their customers. [Source: Wall Street Journal]
(4) Renaming at Yale University: Yale's residential college, named after John C. Calhoun (a 19th-century White Supremacist statesman from South Carolina), is being renamed for Grace Murray Hopper, trailblazing computer scientist and US Navy rear admiral, who received both a master's and a doctorate from Yale. A welcome step, but what took them so long?
(5) Oroville dam in northern California in danger of collapse: Some 200,000 residents were evacuated and a high volume of water was let out from the reservoir, despite the erosive effects, on both the main and emergency spillways, so as to make room in the reservoir for an anticipated storm on Wednesday. The main spillway is about half destroyed and water going over the emergency spillway (for the first time in the dam's 50-year history) is eroding the base of the dam, potentially leading to full collapse of the structure. With climate-change deniers in charge, the future of our dams, bridges, and other safety-critical infrastructure looks grim!
[Update, late in the day: Valiant efforts are underway to repair the dam's spillways, which along with their service roads have sustained extensive damage as a result of raging overflows. Temporary repair measures include filling up holes and shoring up support with rocks and gigantic sandbags. Evacuation orders have reportedly been lifted, as the dam appears to be stable. Major repairs will be needed at the end of the rainy season. Here is a photo of the dam before the current state of emergency.]
(6) President Trump's National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has resigned: Information is still coming out about the reasons. This article, published before the official announcement of the resignation, provides some of the background about wrongdoings that led to Flynn's ouster.
(7) Black Iranian actress Yara Shahidi says she cannot possibly support Trump: Dah, black and Iranian, two strikes against her already!
(8) My afternoon walk today: I walked a couple of miles to the Camino Real Marketplace, where a street musician was playing love songs on this Valentine's Day. On the way there, I found this Canadian memento; perhaps PM Trudeau passed this way after his Washington visit? Shortly before getting back home, I shot these photos of a gorgeous sunset over the Devereux Slough.

2017/02/13 (Monday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Cover image for Norman Lear's 2015 memoir (1) Book review: Lear, Norman, Even This I Get to Experience, unabridged audiobook on 15 CDs, read by the author, Penguin Audio, 2015.
This is the candid and highly detailed memoir of a 92-year-old sitcom genius who, at one time, had seven different series with a total of 120 million weekly viewers on the air. His most successful sitcom was "Maude," whose unabashedly liberal feminist title character is rumored to have been based on Lear's former wife, Frances. Lear maintains that of all the characters he created, Maude is most similar to him in social views and politics, but stays mum on whether she was based on Frances Lear.
At the opposite extreme from Maude is the bigoted Archie Bunker, from "All in The Family," another taboo-breaking and highly successful sitcom. Lear brought social issues and politics to the sitcom scene and, in the process, had to fight network censors every step of the way to include discussions of sex, race, and abortion.
In 1981, Lear founded the liberal advocacy group "People for the American Way," one of whose projects was to buy the only privately-held original copy of the Declaration of Independence and taking it on tour across the country.
Lear had a difficult childhood during the Great Depression. His father, H. K. Lear, a con man who served time for fraud, figures prominently in this book, in a rather negative way. His mother does not fare much better, though Lear did seek her approval at every turn. At age 61, when Lear learned that he would be among the first group of inductees into the just-established TV Hall of Fame, he called his mom right away, as if the accomplishment was worth nothing without her seal of approval.
Lear married three times and fathered six children, with an age spread of nearly 5 decades. He used his life experiences to write the film script for "Divorce, American Style" and almost singlehandedly transformed the trite sitcom genre by including serious topics of discussion, without sacrificing any of the laughs.
Audio production could have been better. At his advanced age, Lear has an enunciation problem, which makes listening to the audiobook a difficult experience. For this reason, perusing the hard copy might be preferable.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Imperial Wizard of KKK found dead on the banks of Missouri River (CBS News)
- Trump refers to Elizabeth Warren as 'Pocahontas' in White House meeting (IBT)
- Adele wins multiple Grammy Awards, including for Song and Album of the Year
- Trump rekindles feud with Mark Cuban: 'He's not smart enough to be president'
- ACLU membership and donations continue to surge as it takes on Trump (AP)
- NorCal's Oroville Dam in danger of failure: Thousands ordered to evacuate (AP)
(3) Misspelling in a quotation tweet led to an apology by US Department of Education. But the apology also contained a spelling error. It began, "Our deepest apologizes ... "!
(4) Final thought for the day: "For Valentine's Day, I'm going to do nothing. But the next day, I'll go shopping for discounted chocolates." ~ Anonymous

2017/02/12 (Sunday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cover image of Oliver Sacks' 'On the Move' (1) Book review: Sacks, Oliver, On the Move: A Life, unabridged audiobook on 10 CDs, read by Dan Woren, Random House Audio, 2015.
[My 4-star review on GoodReads]
Sacks has written many acclaimed articles and books. This one's a memoir focusing on his constant motion, as he traveled from one project to the next and from one locale to another. In the process, Sacks tells us about his contributions to medicine and neuroscience through capsule summaries of his other books. Sacks wrote this penultimate book of his shortly before he died in 2015 at age 82. A final book, Gratitude, was published posthumously. His earlier books included Migraine, Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and The Mind's Eye.
In addition to his literal obsession with motion (as reflected in a love for motorcycles and speed), Sacks' desire to explore many areas of medicine and the science behind them took him on a grand tour of neurological maladies. The book is filled with references to Sacks' other books and how/why he wrote them. Scientific discussions are interspersed with pieces of Sacks' personal life, which due to an extreme case of shyness, perhaps intensified by his homosexuality (which he discusses in this book for the first time) and a condition known as face-blindness, led to a 35-year period of celibacy.
Sacks, nevertheless, seems to have lived a full life, both personally and professionally. In addition to motorcycle-riding, he was into body-building, extreme weightlifting, and long-distance swimming. He wrote and kept journals with unwavering resolve. He did suffer from periods of self-doubt, burning the manuscript of a book he wrote during one such episode, because he thought it wasn't good enough.
Sacks believed passionately in taking a patient's entire life into account when making diagnoses and planning treatments. He was an attentive and compassionate listener. And yet, he was sometimes reckless with his own and other people's lives. His life story thus generates both admiration and unease in the reader/listener. Sacks is a recognized and widely honored figure in neuroscience, but he has also received his share of criticism for relying too much on anecdotal evidence and for being exploitative of his subjects. He is considered a peerless science writer, a kind of poet-laureate in the field of medicine. His list of collaborators reads like a who's-who in genetics and neuroscience.
Sacks tells us that the plight of his schizophrenic brother was a strong motivating factor for his work. He did not have an easy relationship with his parents. His mom, a surgeon who was brought up as an Orthodox Jew, considered his homosexuality an abomination. Yet Sacks felt guilt over leaving his family to move to America in pursuit of professional opportunities.
This is Sacks' second memoir, which complements Uncle Tungsten, a book focusing on his boyhood passion for chemistry. The book is well-written and engaging for the most part, but tends to venture into details that some readers/listeners may find uninteresting or tangential. All in all, I found the book quite valuable and recommend it to those who work in scientific fields or who have an interest in discovering how science works.
(2) Willful lying or gross incompetence? Either way, we are experiencing an unprecedented leadership crisis.
(3) Not funny: "Saturday Night Live" has been hilarious in portraying the lying, inept cast of characters in 45's White House. But last night's skit featuring Kellyanne Conway and Jake Tapper was unfunny, mean, and a gift to the media-hating bunch. Watch them exploit it!
(4) Netanyahu will likely be indicted on corruption charges by the Israeli judiciary on police recommendation.
(5) Engineering continues to revolutionize medicine: I have previously written on the impact of engineering on medicine in general and drug delivery in particular. At the leading edge are major research projects, some supported by the NIH, that aim to facilitate drug delivery to precisely targeted body parts via ingestible electronics and other mechanisms. However, there are lower-tech provisions for improving drug delivery. This morning, I saw an ad on a morning news show that touted laser-drilled tiny holes on a capsule that speed up the delivery of the active ingredients inside. This may be just hype in a highly competitive market, but it is conceivable that drug packaging may improve the effectiveness in some cases.

2017/02/11 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing doctors on strike, carrying illegible signs (1) Cartoon of the day: Doctors go on strike. If you want to know what their signs say, show them to your friendly pharmacist!
(2) Syrian President Bashar Assad claims that torture photos and stories are fake: Under intense grilling, the Syrian president dismisses mountains of evidence showing widespread and systematic human rights abuses by his regime as propaganda.
(3) Fifty crazy things said or done by 45 in his first 2.5 weeks in office: That's about 3 per day!
(4) The media strikes back: After being repeatedly accused of trading in "fake news" whenever they pointed out 45's lies and misrepresentations, the media is fighting back valiantly by presenting reasoned revelatory pieces, such as this Web essay by Bill Moyers.
(5) Music still thrives in Iran: Despite restrictions in state-controlled media, folksy musicians, such as this group performing the old pop song "Shaneh" on a street in Tehran, keep the music scene alive and well.
(6) Autonomous cargo ships are on their way: According to IEEE Spectrum's cover feature in its February 2017 issue, self-sailing ships have already been proven feasible and will be rolled out rather quickly. [Cover image]
(7) Final thought for the day: Impeaching 45 gathers support in the polls (46% for, 46% against), as his approval rating falls to 43% and disapproval rating reaches 53%.

2017/02/10 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing the poster for the movie 'Lie Lie Land, (1) Cartoon of the day: A new Oscar-worthy production.
(2) Finger-painting never looked so good: Bigly impressive!
(3) Iranian-American actress Kat Khavari makes a pro-immigrant statement on the red carpet. [Photo from USA Today]
(4) Just an ordinary day in 45's presidency: Will our short attention spans allow us to tally all such abominations to build a case for impeachment, or will we forget them all upon being fed the next manufactured conflict (aka shiny object)? [Day 21]
(5) Fifty-three Iranian-Americans introduce themselves and send a message of peace to those who may not have ever met anyone of Iranian origin.
(6) Remember when we were warned that a female President might be irrational, vindictive, and prone to mood swings?
(7) Fake/humorous quote of the day: "I'm building a wall around New Mexico too. I don't need any New Mexicans when I'm still trying to get rid of the old ones." ~ Donald Trump
(8) Half-dozen brief science news headlines of the day:
- Next-generation ingestible devices will be powered by stomach acid (The Scientist)
- Scientists aim to lower LA's temperature by 3 degrees over 20 years (LA Times)
- Anxiety mounts at national labs over future of climate research (Scientific American)
- Trump named as a defendant in landmark climate lawsuit (Scientific American)
- Scientists just found evidence of a stolen Dead Sea scroll (Popular Science)
- NASA has an unusually bold plan to find life on Jupiter's moon Europa (Popular Science)
(9) Music Beyond Borders: Seattle Symphony and various guest artists perform music by composers from the seven "banned" countries. The wonderful opening piece, by Alireza Motevaseli from Iran, is entitled "Fantasia for Santoor and Accordion." The second piece, by the Iranian-born composer Giti Razaz, is a drama that reflects the transformation and rebirth of a narcissist; no kidding! Also featured is music from Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria. The 87-minute concert ends with a rousing rendition of "America the Beautiful."

2017/02/09 (Thursday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Cover image of 'Purim and the Persian Empire' (1) Book review: Landy, Yehuda, Purim and the Persian Empire: A Historical, Archaeological, & Geographical Perspective, 121 pp., Feldheim, 2010.
This lavishly illustrated book relates the biblical story of Esther to archaeological finds from ancient Iran and the country's history and geography. Landy was motivated to write this book by an exceptionally rich exhibit named "Forgotten Empire" at the British Museum. The exhibit contained the British Museum's own holdings, material normally held at the Louvre Museum, and artifacts on loan from Museums in Iran. The latter artifacts are rarely on display, even in Iran, given their extremely high values. The author then re-read the pertinent part of the Hebrew Bible multiple times in an attempt to visualize the story's setting, using information gleaned from several visits to the exhibit and its associated catalog that provided background material and details.
The book is organized in two parts and an annex. Part I (42 pp.), entitled "The Persian Empire in Jewish History: An Overview," is composed of the following four chapters:
Chapter 1 (8 pp.): "The Chronology of the Persian Empire According to Chazal"
Chapter 2 (6 pp.): "Persian Kings Known to Us from Other Sources"
Chapter 3 (22 pp.): "The Archaeological Evidence"
Chapter 4 (4 pp.): "Who Is Achashverosh?"
Chazal are the sages of Talmud who used different names for Persian kings than other historical accounts, so reconciling those names with the actual kings and their periods of reign was part of the effort in preparing this book. The archaeological evidence of Chapter 3 includes artifacts from Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia (Pasargade, Shushan, Persepolis, and Hamadan or Ecbatana). We are told that Jews were ruled by the Persians for an extended period of time, including 34 years after the Second Temple, or Beis Hamigdash, was rebuilt in Jerusalem under Artaxerxes (then in his 6th year of rule). Afterwards, Alexander conquered the Jewish lands and eventually proceeded to conquer Iran. As for the king Achashverosh, during whose reign the story of Esther unfolded, the consensus seems to be that he was Xerxes, but a few accounts consider him to be Artaxerxes.
In the opulently illustrated Part II (58 pp.), entitled "Excerpts from Magillas Esther with Related Historical and Archaeological Material," the 10 chapters of the Book of Esther are reviewed, alongside historical and archaeological evidence pertaining to the various personalities, locales, and events therein.
At the end of the book, a 3-page epilogue and 1-page bibliography are followed by a 17-page annex containing the biblical story of Esther in Hebrew, side-by-side with its English translation.
[My 5-star review on GoodReads]
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Linebacker Charles Haley was the first 5-time Super Bowl champ, not Tom Brady
- After meeting with Trump, Intel CEO announces plans to build factory in Arizona
- Appeals court keeps Trump's travel ban blocked; Trump vows to fight the decision
- Kellyanne Conway in legal trouble after touting Ivanka Trump's fashion line on TV
- Trump's botched Yemen raid leaves US Special Forces soldier and 9 children dead
- Trump surprised that being POTUS is so difficult; says he gets 4-5 hours of sleep
(3) Raduan Nassar: The critically acclaimed Brazilian writer who stopped writing and returned to farming.
(4) Four interesting tweets from the past couple of days (shortened or reworded):
- McCain shouldn't talk about mission outcome ... been losing so long he doesn't know how to win anymore.
- I looked it up, not a single member of your family has ever served. McCain gets to say whatever he wants.
- Trump tried to put an American company out of business for not carrying his daughter's made-in-China clothes.
- Sad state of affairs that our President has expressed more displeasure with Nordstrom than he has with Russia.

2017/02/08 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Time magazine's chart of White House occupants (1) Who's who in the Trump White House: Time magazine's power chart.
(2) Sign at the entrance of my niece's school in the San Francisco Bay Area reads: "We welcome ALL races, ALL religions, ALL countries of origin, ALL sexual orientations, ALL genders. We stand with YOU. You are SAFE here."
(3) Noon mini-concert: UCSB Brass Ensemble played at the Music Bowl on campus today. Here are two sample pieces from today's performance. ["The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin] ["The Trumpet Tune" by Jeremiah Clark]
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Sixteen states on alert for powerful snow storm tomorrow; 50 million people affected
- President Trump attacks Nordstrom for dropping his daughter's fashion products
- SCOTUS nominee Gorsuch: Trump's criticism of the judiciary disheartening and demoralizing
- Betsy DeVos confirmed as Secretary of Education when VP Pence cast the tie-breaking vote
- Trump threatens to destroy the career of a Texas State Senator who opposed asset forfeiture
- Melania Trump asserts in her lawsuit that she has lost a lot of money due to the allegations
(5) Trump uses both his personal and presidential Twitter accounts to attack Nordstrom: Nordstrom's shares dropped after Trump dissed the company for discontinuing Ivanka Trump's fashion products (the stock subsequently recovered). This is certainly abuse of power and cause for impeachment. Marshalls and T. J. Maxx have also dropped the line.
(6) The desert mountain fortress of Masada in Israel: Archaeologists have returned there to continue the exploration of its vast underground structures.
(7) Nasty women persist!
(8) Employees of major tech companies who were educated in Iran: Chart from a Huffington Post blog by Ramin Naderi-Alizadeh.
(9) Trump administration's faces for higher education: The two most relevant federal figures for us higher-education workforce are Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Our future, including important issues such as quality, accessibility, and student loans, are impacted by federal education policies, while the problems of academic freedom, and freedom of speech in general, are within the Justice Department's domain. Please pray for us!

2017/02/07 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
UCSB celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1966 establishment of its College of Engineering (1) Celebrating 50 years of UCSB Engineering: Special events to commemorate the 1966 establishment of UCSB's College of Engineering will continue until June 2017 (these events began in July 2016). A highlight will be a college-wide reception on Friday, April 28, 2017, during which a first-ever time capsule filled with items representing our past, present, and impact on the future will be planted.
(2) Historical photo from 1935 during the construction of Hoover Dam (original B&W and colorized versions).
(3) Ten reasons the Holocaust really happened: Here is some ammunition to use against Holocaust deniers.
(4) Restaurant owner's statement about immigration ban appears on customer bills.
(5) NASA develops AI for exploration of subsurface oceans in space: Submersible vehicles are intended for use on icy moons, like Jupiter's Europa.
(6) Stay healthy: Practical suggestions by Arianna Huffington to avoid the unhealthy state of perpetual outrage over the barrage of crazy ideas and alternative facts spewed by President Trump and his administration.
(7) Trump taps two male CEOs as his advisers on women in the workplace: Women can't possibly know what's good for them!
(8) Assembling the pieces of the Trump-Russia jigsaw puzzle: This investigative piece by Greg Olear, entitled "Dah, Donald: Russian Blood Money and the FBI's Case Against Trump," is quite detailed and richly linked to sources. Nonetheless, like any piece on spying and intelligence operations, one must take the claims herein with a grain of salt. The short of it is that both Assange and Snowden are Russian operatives. I have read it quickly and plan to go back for a more careful read soon, assuming it stays up for a while and does not disappear!
(9) Webster Dictionary's word of the year: The word "surreal" was chosen, because it was looked up significantly more frequently by users during 2016 than it was in previous years. The look-up frequency peaked following the US presidential election in November.

2017/02/06 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Migration trends among major US cities (1) Americans are moving to smaller cities in droves: Northeasterners are moving primarily to Florida and Angelinos to Las Vegas and Phoenix. In both cases above, there is a small reverse flow, but not for Chicago, whose residents prefer Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.
(2) An enlightening TEDx talk: Methodical or discovery-based reasoning (scout mindset) versus motivated or fear-based reasoning (soldier mindset). This 12-minute talk by Julia Galef carries Persian subtitles.
(3) Making simple Valentine's Day treats. [Video]
(4) Pianist extraordinaire: How Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Bach, and Mozart would have played the birthday song. A masterful performance by Nicole Pesce on piano.
(5) Trump continues to praise Putin: In a Super-Bowl Sunday interview with Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, President Trump restated that he admires Putin. In response to the follow-up question asserting that Putin is a killer, Trump invoked an equivalency with the US: "Lotta killers. We got a lotta killers. What, you think our country's so innocent?" Now, under normal circumstances and coming from a credible person, the statement might have been viewed as an honest confession. But, given Trump's background and rumors of blackmail threats from Russia, it leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.
(6) Remember when Donald Trump said that Wall Streeters were getting away with murder and that both Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton were unacceptable choices because they were influenced by Goldman Sachs? Now, let's count the number of Wall Streeters surrounding Trump as he begins his quest to deregulate financial institutions that, according to Trump, paid very little in taxes (talk about hypocrisy). [Video]
(7) Quote of the day: "The enemy in any democracy is not dissent, from either within or without. Dissent, in fact, is essential. The enemy is dishonesty, ignorance, indifference, intolerance." ~ Nancy Gibbs, Time magazine editor, issue of February 13, 2017
(8) Half dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Volkswagen overtakes Toyota as world's largest car manufacturer (Time)
- ACLU gets record donations since Trump's immigration order (Fortune)
- Mexicans may elect a left-wing populist in 2018 to stick it to Trump (Time)
- Alleged serial rapist may have preyed on kids for 40 years (People)
- Republicans seek distance from Trump's comments on Russia, US (AP)
- Goldman Sachs economists are starting to worry about Trump (Bloomberg)
(9) Three UCSB students affected by the recent travel ban: A fourth student has put her wedding plans on hold due to the uncertainty of her parents' travel to attend. Visa uncertainties are also putting internship and career opportunities in jeopardy for some students. There are 37 graduate students and 3 undergraduates from the 7 banned countries at UCSB. All but one Syrian undergraduate are from Iran. [Daily Nexus story]

2017/02/05 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Lady Liberty and Lady Justice wearing protest pussy hats Lady Liberty reassuring Lady Justice that she can handle the assault on freedoms (1) Cartoons of the day: Two cartoons featuring Lady Liberty and Lady Justice.
(2) Quote of the day: "There are certain truths that are not alternative but self-evident." ~ Journalist Dan Rather, in a Facebook essay
(3) Alternate-reality humor from a British computer technology magazine. [Image]
(4) Sister Mary: This woman, now an Iranian Vice President, was among the US Embassy occupiers in Tehran. Her son is studying management in the US. This video splices segments of a new TV interview she gave with some of her statements, speaking near-perfect English, as the spokesperson of the 1971-1981 hostage-takers.
(5) Aladdin on his flying carpet: "I can show you the world ... except the United States." [Image]
(6) Making a statement: Photo of a blue cap, bearing the slogan "Make Racism Wrong Again"!
(7) Half-dozen recent Science/technology headlines:
- Dubai's Transport Authority signs a deal for hyperloop feasibility study to connect Dubai to Abu Dhabi
- University of Calgary waives its application fee for new or transfer students affected by the US visa ban
- The largest solar farm in the world (2500 acres) has been constructed in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu
- The number of mobile subscriptions in Africa has surpassed one billion and will reach 1.33 billion by 2021
- Japan's government has allocated 1.95 billion yen to build a world-leading 130-petaflop supercomputer
- China allocates 247 billion yuan to improve rail transport between Beijing and Jing-Jin-Ji, a planned megacity
(8) Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the US: Photos from NYC subway.
(9) Party of marriage sanctity: These four Republicans have 13 marriages and at least 4 affairs between them.

2017/02/03 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
'Der Spiegel' cover image, showing Trump beheading Lady Liberty (1) America, the new laughingstock of the world: The up side is that perhaps our new world image will help us understand that a country's people and its leadership are not the same.
(2) Ten brief news headlines of the day:
- Nordstrom drops Ivanka Trump fashion line, citing poor sales
- Neiman Marcus Web site no longer lists Ivanka Trump's line
- World's first 3D-printed bridge unveiled in Madrid (Daily Mail)
- Howard Stern concerned about Trump's mental health under pressure
- Melania Trump hires Bush administration vet as Chief of Staff
- Back from vacation, the Obamas settle into rented DC home
- US House scraps background-check regulations for gun purchase
- March on Washington for Science set for Earth Day, April 22
- Rouhani's opposition has no candidate yet, 110 days to election
- Saudi Prince trolls Trump on Twitter: "I bailed you out twice"
(3) Quote of the day: "Mexico does not believe in walls ... Mexico will not pay for any wall ... Mexico offers and demands respect." ~ President Enrique Pena Nieto [Video]
(4) Network representation of 1500 individuals and organizations that are tied to Trump: Zoom in or click on an entity to see the details.
(5) Alternative facts are getting out of control: Kellyanne Conway cites the nonexistent "Bowling Green Massacre" in justifying Trump's travel ban.
(6) Scientists of Iranian origins ponder the effects of Trump's immigration ban. [PRI story]
(7) Newly discovered original edition of George Orwell's book, later renamed "1984." [Image]
(8) Get to know one of the men at the pinnacle of power in the US: "I'm a Leninist ... Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment." ~ Steve Bannon, in an interview with the Daily Beast
(9) Final thought for the day: "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." ~ Elie Wiesel

2017/02/02 (Thursday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cartoon: Donald Duck wants to change his first name (1) Cartoon of the day: Donald Duck wants to change his first name.
(2) Ten brief news headlines of the day:
- The Pentagon contradicts White House assertion that Iran fired on US warship
- Uber boss quits Trump's economic advisory board
- Trump threatens funds cut at UC Berkeley for cancelled Breitbart editor speech
- Trump will repeal ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt churches
- Trump calls NFL Commissioner Roger Goodel "a dope" and "stupid"
- Trump preparing new sanctions on Iran in the wake of ballistic missile test
- Trump hangs up on Australian PM after calling the refugee deal "dumb"
- Schwarzenegger offers to trade places with Trump after his TV ratings criticism
- J. K. Rowling responds on Twitter to Trump trolls burning her books
- Heroic mom dies in house fire right after she tosses her newborn from window
(3) Look what I found during a Google search today! Screen capture of Google's birthday wish for me.
(4) May God help our universities: President Trump has asked Jerry Falwell to lead a presidential task force charged with trimming college regulations and curbing interference by the US Department of Education. This move was widely expected, given Trump's own foray into a private university that recently folded after settling a class-action lawsuit alleging fraud.
Cover image of 'The Mathemagician and Pied Puzzler' (5) Book review: Berlekamp, E. and T. Rodgers (eds.), The Mathemagician and Pied Puzzler: A Collection in Tribute to Martin Gardner, A. K. Peters, 1999.
This 266-page book consists of 38 short chapters, each having different authors, organized in three parts: Personal Magic; Puzzlers; Mathemagics. The book honors Martin Gardner, the puzzle-master whose Scientific American columns were eagerly anticipated by many readers, including yours truly. Gardner, who had no formal math training, wrote many books on recreational mathematics and was described by John Conway as bringing "more mathematics, to more millions, than anyone else."
Not surprisingly, most of this book's chapters deal with puzzles, but a few also contain biographical tidbits and testimonies. Additionally, there are humorous pieces and oddities, exemplified by the theorem "All governments are unjust" and its proof: "If a government is arbitrary, it is obviously unjust. And since this is true of an arbitrary government, it is true of all governments."
Here is one of the more interesting puzzles in the book, titled "Mathematical black hole." Start with any number, such as 432,568,721,622,304. Count the number of even digits, odd digits, and the total number of digits and write them consecutively. The result for the number above is: 10,515 (10 evens, 5 odds, 15 total). Now repeat the process, successively getting 145 (1 even, 4 odds, 5 total), 123, 123, ... , with 123 repeating indefinitely. It is hard to believe, but this process always leads to 123!
In one of the most interesting and accessible chapters, entitled "Puzzles from Around the World," Richard I. Hess presents many puzzles in the categories of easy (17), medium (20), and hard (20). The following is an interesting example from the medium batch: Find all primes p such that 2^p + p^2 (2 to the power p, plus p squared) is also a prime; then prove that there are no others.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]

2017/02/01 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Celebrating my 70th birthday (1) My big, fat 70th birthday: One birthday isn't any different from another, but, somehow, having a 0 at the end of your age seems special, perhaps because there aren't very many such birthdays. But there aren't very many birthdays ending in 3 or 7 either! Reaching 70 is bittersweet for me: I am grateful for having come this far, but apprehensive that there won't be many more 0-ending birthdays! I looked up the properties of 70 as a number on Wikipedia and would like to share here some of my findings.
- Seventy is a sphenic number, because it factors into three distinct primes.
- Seventy-squared equals the sum of the first 24 squares, starting from 1.
- Seventy is a Pell number and a generalized heptagonal number, one of only two numbers to be both.
- In Far-Eastern cultures, 70 is called the "Rare Age of the Olden Times."
- In French, 70 does not have its own name but is called "sixty-ten" (soixante-dix).
In addition, the number seventy appears several times in the Torah: seventy elders of the Jewish nation, seventy languages and nations of the world, and seventy members of Jacob's family who went to Egypt.
(2) I never learned how to write in cursive English, but here is an interactive test for those who learned the skill and think they remember how to do it.
(3) Hollywood East: China aspires to compete with with US's film industry, according to a feature article in Time magazine, issue of February 6, 2017. It is noteworthy that in 2015, an average of 22 new movie screens opened in China, per day! [Photo]
(4) Noon mini-concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: Mariachi Las Olas de Santa Barbara performed today as part of the World Music Series. Of course, no Mariachi concert is complete without a rendition of "La Bamba."
(5) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Apple regains the title of top smartphone seller due to iPhone 7 (Reuters)
- Trump's immigration order could cost colleges up to $700M (Bloomberg)
- Trump reportedly has heated exchange with Australian leader (CNN)
- Delaware prisons go on lock-down due to hostage situation (WPVI)
- Military operation in Yemen kills a Navy Seal, multiple civilians (Salon)
- Russia arrests FSB officers for treason in connection with US (Bloomberg)
- Walmart offers free shipping to undercut Amazon Prime (ABC)
- Ivanka Trump visits the Chinese Embassy to celebrate New Year (AP)
(6) Steve Bannon believes we have too many Asian tech CEOs: He is on record as saying that Asian immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans. Ironically, on the November 2015 Breitbart radio program where Bannon made this proclamation, Donald Trump was a guest and proceeded to contradict Bannon by saying that we should keep talented individuals whom we educate in the US.
(7) Believe it or not: PG-13 movies in the US contain, on average, 23% more gun violence than R-rated films. [Source: Time magazine, issue of February 6, 2017]
(8) Modern rendition of a regional song from Kerman, Iran: It is heartwarming that, despite many restrictions on music performances (especially by women), talented musicians, such as those in the Rastak Ensemble seen here, are keeping Iranian music and its traditional instruments not just alive, but thriving. The song "Sakineh" bears influences from Indian music, given the proximity of Kerman to Pakistan.
(9) A final thought (fancied future news headline): "President Trump resigns under threat of impeachment!"

2017/01/31 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Book page describing the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (1) Narcissistic personality disorder: Such a perfect fit!
(2) Bibliomania: This article contains an enlightening review of the strange history of compulsive book-buying over the past couple of centuries.
(3) Many major companies join tech execs in criticizing Trump's immigration ban.
(4) It is now a bit easier to climb Mount Everest: Scientists estimate that following earthquakes in Nepal, the highest mountain on Earth has become 1 inch shorter. [Source: Time magazine, issue of February 6, 2017]
(5) This Baha'i girl, herself oppressed and denied basic human rights by Iran's Islamic government, declares her support for the rights of Muslims.
(6) Time to brush up on your knowledge of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm. Here is the first installment. [Cliff Notes on Fahrenheit 451]
(7) UCSB Faculty Club grand reopening: The renovated and expanded facility, renamed "The Club and Guest House at UCSB," formally opened today. In one of these 21 photos taken at today's reception, UCSB campus architect Marc Fisher is speaking. Seated (left to right) are philanthropist Betty Elings, Chancellor Henry Yang, and the current Club President.
(8) Eastern Mosul is slowly moving towards normalcy after the ouster of ISIL by Iraqi and coalition forces.
(9) University of California's statement on President Trump's executive order on visa bans: The statement, signed by UC President Janet Napolitano and all 10 campus Chancellors, declares the ban contrary to what they hold dear as university leaders.

2017/01/30 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Distribution of nuclear weapons, shown on a world map (1) Distribution of the world's nuclear weapons: Some of the figures are educated guesses. [Source: Federation of American Scientists]
(2) It's funny how the national-security implications of the Russians' hacking of the US election have been pushed to the side by Trump's distractive maneuvers.
(3) The apple that never browns: Years in development and regulatory red-tape, the genetically modified apple is about to go on sale in the US. The apple will be sold in sliced form, under the brand name Arctic Apple.
(4) Terrorist attacks Canadian mosque: The Canadian student who killed 6 (ages 35-70) and injured 17 (some critically) at a Quebec mosque is a right-wing nut. Quoting NBC News: "A former classmate of Bissonnette's told NBC News that he was shocked by the arrest but said that the suspect was known to troll Facebook pages dealing with immigration issues and that he had seen him comment on pages linked to a far-right, nationalist, anti-immigration movement. A local refugee group said in a Facebook post that Bissonnette was known to it for anti-immigrant and anti-feminist stances."
(5) Trump to visit UK in June: There are already two challenges for this trip. One million Brits have signed a petition to prevent Trump from entering their country. And sources close to Trump have warned Prince Charles to refrain from lecturing Trump on global warming and green energy during his visit.
(6) Trump diagnosed with mental disorder: As much as I detest Trump, l am alarmed by the in-absentia diagnosis that has been published and how its wording can impact our country's view of mental illness. We should not try to correct wrongs with other wrongs!
(7) Artists continue to tick off Trump: There were several snide remarks about Trump and his taking liberties with our freedoms in last night's SAG Awards. No doubt the Oscars will generate more fireworks next month. Bryan Cranston, who won a best-actor award for portraying President Lyndon B. Johnson, related that he is often asked about the advice that Johnson would have given to Trump, had they met: Johnson would have wished him success and offered his trademark, "Just don't piss in the soup that all of us gotta eat."
(8) Should government be run like a business? Some believe that it should, citing efficiencies arising from business management practices. Others argue that profits and share values have no counterparts in government, be it at the local or national level. A CEO reaps financial rewards if the business makes more money or generates higher value to shareholders. A politician should be more concerned with human dignity, fairness, and justice. To quote President Calvin Coolidge: "[It's no secret that we Americans] want wealth, but there are many other things we want much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is Idealism."
(9) Final thought for the day: "The war on facts is a war on democracy." ~ Jonathan Foley, in a Scientific American guest-blog

2017/01/29 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
My #IAmAnImmigrant meme (1) I'm proud to be part of the #IAmAnImmigrant movement.
(2) Microsoft and Apple are leading the opposition to Trump's immigration ban: Both CEOs have indicated that they are providing resources and legal help to employees.
(3) [Political humor] A White House conversation. Trump: "The less immigrants we let in, the better." Pence: "The fewer ..." Trump: "Shhh, don't call me that in public, yet!"
(4) For computer history buffs: Much has been written about the history of computing devices in the United States and UK. Far less is known about computing history in the rest of the world. This 4-minute video reviews selected milestones in computing history from Continental Europe.
(5) The apple that never browns: Years in development and regulatory red-tape, the genetically modified apple is about to go on sale in the US. The apple will be sold sliced and marketed under the brand name Arctic Apple.
(6) A moment's pause from political worries to marvel at a beautiful multicultural experience: Mahsa Vahdat performs a song based on a Hafiz poem in Norway, accompanied by The Choir SKRUK.
(7) For computer history buffs: Much has been written about the history of computing devices in the United States and UK. Far less is known about computing history in the rest of the world. This 4-minute ACM video reviews selected milestones in computing history from Continental Europe.
(8) Norooz festivities at UCLA: This year, Farhang Foundations's celebration of Norooz and Iranian New Year will be held at UCLA's Royce Hall and its adjacent Dickson Court on Sunday, March 12, 2017, from noon to 8:00 PM. Musician/singer/songwriter Mohsen Namjoo will be the featured musical performer.
(9) Many traveling immigrants have been detained at LAX: Protesters have converged on the airport, as have attorneys doing pro-bono work. Detainees should not sign any document before talking with an attorney.

2017/01/28 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Design depicting the 2017 Chinese New Year (1) Happy Chinese New Year! The year of the rooster begins today.
(2) Lady Liberty supports the women who marched in protest.
(3) Greenpeace activists hang a huge "RESIST" sign from a construction crane near the White House.
(4) Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg takes a firm stand against Trump's gag order to stop funding international organizations involved in family planning.
(5) My workstation at home: I have added a decorative touch within my field of view. Behind the photos of the kids are a Nikola Tesla doll, Da Vinci's rendition of the Vitruvian Man, and a balloon serving as a placeholder for a second doll, perhaps Einstein's.
(6) Protest songs from the 1960s are hip again: It seems that we need these songs and the messages therein desperately now! Most of the videos on this top-ten list are blocked for copyright violation, but you can search for them on YouTube and elsewhere.
Along the same lines, here is singer/songwriter extraordinaire Janis Ians "I'm still Standing Here."
(7) Precision and order: Very impressive maneuvers by marchers and motorcycle riders.
(8) UC bureaucracy in action: New policies established by University of California require faculty members to undergo basic training on various topics, such as sexual harassment and ethical behavior, and to take refresher courses on these topics from time to time. I have no problem with the two topics above, but was recently asked to take a refresher course on cyber-security. This is a case of bureaucrats just automatically asking the staff to do unnecessary stuff, without thinking about effectiveness and outcomes. Here is what I wrote to the office asking me to complete the training by a certain deadline:
"I really don't understand the indiscriminate assignment of training refreshers. For someone who is in computer engineering and lives and breathes cyber-security issues daily and even teaches them to students, having to go through a basic training course is simply a waste of time."
And here is their boilerplate response, which does not address my objection:
"Cyber Security is required training that must be completed on a periodic basis in order to keep the UCSB campus in compliance with federal, state, and UC requirements on these topics."
So, within the next month or so, I'll be taking an on-line cyber-security refresher course, alongside my colleagues in English, History, and Music Departments!
(9) [Final thought for the day] Proposed border tax on imported wives: People who marry foreigners are denying opportunities to decent, hard-working Americans. The Trump administration should immediately impose a border tax on foreign brides equal to the cost of giving birth to, raising, and educating an American woman. Each child of such a marriage should also be taxed, because s/he takes resources away from real Americans. The tax should be made retroactive and applied to all living individuals, so as to generate maximum revenues. Let's bring our marriages back to the United States!

2017/01/27 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon by John Atkinson (1) Cartoon of the day: Associative memory function.
(2) Some Muslim-majority countries excluded from Trump's proposed immigration ban: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Turkey, Azerbaijan. These are countries where Trump has business ties. The immigration ban applies to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya. [Source: Bloomberg News]
(3) Balcony collapse in Isla Vista: Fortunately, no one was hurt, but 28 people must find alternate accommodations. That huge piece of concrete on a beach segment where I walk regularly is quite frightening!
(4) Economics 101: A 20% tariff doesn't mean Mexico will pay for the wall. It means US consumers of Mexican goods will!
(5) Origins of the atoms in your body: Here is where the 7 x 10^27 (7 octillion) atoms in an average adult human body come from.
(6) Passport index: The quality of a passport is measured by the number of countries that are accessible to its holder without requiring a visa. Based on this metric, Germany has the highest-quality passport, followed by Sweden and Singapore (rank 2), and Denmark, Finland, France, Spain, Norway, UK, and USA (rank 3). Some of the other rankings include Canada (5), Israel (19), Mexico (22), Russia (43), Cuba (67), China (70), India (82). At the bottom of the list is Afghanistan (98). Iran, Eritrea, and Sudan share the rank 91, a notch below Palestine, Nepal, and Libya (90).
(7) Robust Digital Computation in the Physical World (12:00 noon, HFH 1132): This was the title of an interesting talk at UCSB by Dr. Jackson R. Mayo (Sandia National Labs) about how insights from physics, formal methods, and complex systems theory can aid in extending reliability and security measures from pure digital computation to the broader cyber-physical and out-of-nominal arena.
Our digital systems are remarkably robust, primarily because physical uncertainty has been removed in having their parts operate in one of two states. However, any digital system is implemented with analog (continuous) hardware. All known physical processes have continuous dependence on initial conditions. Given a sufficiently large number of digital devices, as we have in top-of-the-line supercomputers or networked systems, some of them will encounter operating conditions that put them in the uncertainty zone between the two stable states. In such cases, the system may become unstable, not reaching the required decision in the allotted time.
This difficulty in decision is a reflection of Buridan's Principle, colorfully illustrated by a donkey being positioned at the exact same distance from two equally attractive bales of hay, and asserting that the beast will starve from indecision, because it has no basis for selecting one bale over the other.
Like all other complex systems, large-scale digital systems are chaotic. They behave deterministically as long as operating and initial conditions are within the norm, but it is inevitable that they can become unstable and misbehave under some conditions. The insights gained from this line of research find applications in the design and analysis of high-consequence controllers and extreme-scale scientific computation.
(8) This afternoon at Goleta Beach: After attending an interesting technical talk at UCSB (see item 7 above), I went for a walk on this sunny, spring-like day. My eastward walk was cut short, because the creek at Goleta Beach had a significant flow that made crossing it impossible (at least in my work clothes). So, I turned around and walked in the other direction.

2017/01/26 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of a broadly smiling President Obama (1) The President who smiled and loved: "A great deal of how we see the world depends on our outlook. For eight years, President Obama gave the American people the example of his careful consideration, compassion, rigorous intelligence and, wonder of wonders, love. ... Obama, who was never short on discipline, seemed to believe that rigor was not undermined by kindness and joy. ... He saw the good in us, he saw the love, and he told us so." ~ Ann Patchett, writing in Time magazine, issue of January 30, 2017
(2) Persian New Year and Norooz: The Spring Equinox, which begins the Persian New Year 1396 is at 3:28:10 AM Pacific Time on Monday, March 20, 2017.
(3) The Netherlands has made a fantastic English-language video to introduce itself to President Trump.
(4) Trump registered eight companies in Saudi Arabia alone during his presidential campaign.
(5) Recording for future annual comparisons: On Trump's first full day of presidency, January 21, 2017, we had these facts (real facts, not alternate facts).
Gallon of gas $2.31   |   Dow 19,827   |   Nasdaq 5,555   |   Unemployment 4.7%
(6) Quote of the day: "A big part of feminism is making room for other women to make choices you don't necessarily agree with." ~ Actress Lena Dunham
(7) Tonight's lecture by Douglas Brinkley at UCSB's Campbell Hall: Presented as part of the US National Parks Centennial series that began in 2016, Brinkley's talk, entitled "Presidents and the National Parks: From Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama," was highly informative and very timely, given the threats facing our environment and the EPA. The biggest national parks will likely survive the Trump administration, given their popularity with the general public, but there will be damages and exploitation here and there, according to Brinkley, a Rice University professor and a presidential historian, with multiple best-selling books to his credit. Theodore Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman and environmentalist, established our national park system, getting around an uncooperative Congress at times by designating sensitive areas as national monuments at first. Other US Presidents who were supportive of environmental protection included Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama. JFK actually did not pass any legislation, but he was quite open to suggestions by environmentalists who surrounded him. Nixon, a surprise name in the list above, was actually dismissive of such efforts, reportedly writing "Bullshit" on the memo proposing EPA's establishment. However, he found environmental protection politically expedient when he faced Edmund Muskie of Maine in the presidential election. Also, he was apparently moved by the Santa Barbara oil spill, given that he had a home in southern California. Nixon not only helped establish the EPA but went on to sign the Endangered Species Act. We have now transitioned from a most pro-environment President to one who has already begun waging wars on environmental and clean-energy regulations.
(8) Space-travel experts are eyeing human hibernation for long missions, as previously suggested in sci-fi.
(9) Final thought for the day: "Find something you would die for, and live for it." ~ Peter H. Diamandis

2017/01/25 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image showing 3G, 4G, and 5G cell-phone technologies as the sides of a right-angled triangle (1) Understanding different cell-phone technology generations (3G, 4G, and 5G)!
(2) The wall that needs to be built is between Church and State: Perhaps the Vatican can be made to pay for it!
(3) Actress Mary Tyler Moore dead at 80: She was the star of a family comedy and a workplace comedy that both set the standards for their respective genres. Though not wearing her feminist leanings on her sleeve, she was an early icon of smart, strong, and independent women.
(4) Governor Jerry Brown's response to Donald Trump: In his State-of-the-State speech, Brown was emphatic that "California is not turning back."
(5) NYC Mayor lashes out at Trump: Bill de Blasio calls Trump's planned action on sanctuary cities "immoral."
(6) Scientists are planning a march on Washington: The scientists' march is the third one against Trump's policies, after the successful "Women's March" on 1/21 and an announced "Tax March" on April 15.
(7) New Horizon spacecraft is headed to the outer Solar System: Already two years past Pluto, New Horizon is being directed to explore the icy outer reaches of the Kuiper Belt early in 2019. The new target, discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope and dubbed "2014 MU 65," has a special kind of orbit that makes it possibly a type of object that is primordial and left over from early solar system formation. Its study will thus provide a chance to find out what the building blocks of the solar system were like.
(8) NASA creates video of an imagined landing on Pluto based on New Horizon images.
(9) Afro-Cuban music: Miguelito y Grupo Maferefun performed in a noon mini-concert at UCSB's Music Bowl today. In this photo, there are three drums in the front row. The larger "mama drum" in the middle is the lead, the mid-size "papa drum" on the right follows along, and the little "baby drum" is the most important one, because it connects the other two beats. How's that for a statement on the importance of family and for feminism? [4-minute video of music and dancing]

2017/01/24 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Abstract image of dancer representing the film 'La La Land' (1) Complete list of Oscar-nominated films: "La La Land" ties all-time Oscar nominations record at 14. Asghar Farhadi's "Forushandah" ("The Salesman") is among the "Best Foreign Language Film" nominees, alongside films from Australia, Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. We will have a family outing this coming Saturday to see Farhadi's film at Santa Monica's Laemmle Royal Theater.
(2) Too hungry to sleep, too sleepy to eat! [27-second video of cute baby]
(3) Political humor: White House's Spanish-language Web site is reportedly gone, soon to be replaced with a Russian-language version.
(4) Los Angeles, CA, shot on Friday, January 20, 2017. [Photo]
(5) One of the signs from Saturday's protest march read: "What do we want? Evidence-based science. When do we want it? After peer review."
(6) Introducing Trump's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, or our country's next Teacher-in-Chief!
(7) Alt-President: Elected with support from the Alt-Right; governing with alt-facts.
(8) Quote of the day: "Nobody respects women more than I do." ~ Donald J. Trump [Photo]
(9) On inaugural crowd size comparisons: It is interesting that some of my conservative friends, after arguing endlessly about Trump's inauguration-day crowd being larger than Obama's, realized that they were fed wrong data and now post about the crowd size being unimportant and that, instead, we should focus on issues. All this after THEY, following their Dear Leader and his Press Secretary, started the discussion by accusing the media of lying. Here are the results of my research. The crowd size this past Saturday was estimated to be from 300,000 to 800,000 by various sources. Obama's first inaugural in 2009 had 1.8 million attendees. When the photo is taken from the Capitol side, showing primarily those sitting right in front of the steps, it looks full, because those sections contain better seats and invitees are more likely to attend. In this front view of the crowd, you can barely see the back sections, normally holding the bulk of attendees. Each of these back sections is reduced to a narrow band which would not show the empty white space, as long as there are a few rows of people standing in the front part. The photos showing large empty spaces are taken from the other end of the National Mall. The figures above are consistent with DC Metro's rides statistics as well as travel and traffic data.

2017/01/22 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Map of birth states of US Presidents (1) Map of birth states of US Presidents: Come on people of California! Make sure you are better represented among US Presidents! Right now, with just one President, you are on par with Kenya; or was it Hawaii? And look at Florida! It just spoils elections, without contributing a President of its own.
(2) The outgoing and incoming First Couples.
(3) The Obamas will take much-deserved break before returning as citizen-activists.
(4) Human body's natural and enhanced (engineered) defense mechanisms seen at work, under a microscope.
(5) Yesterday's massive protest march in Santa Barbara: The crowd of 6000-7000 was the largest anyone can remember in this community. Everyone was upbeat and many pledged to continue their efforts via the network of like-minded people they met at this event, which began and ended with rallies at the historic De La Guerra Plaza and included marches on State Street's roadway to the ocean and back. Mayor Helene Schneider spoke at the starting rally. One of the more interesting chants during the rally and march was: "What do we want? Women's rights. When do we want them? 100 years ago." My sign for the march was this inscription on a T-shirt I wore: "Fem.i.nism (fem-uh-niz-uhm): The radical notion that women are people." Several female and male marchers approached me and asked for my permission to take photos of my T-shirt. Here's a 3-minute video taken about midway through the march.
(6) My excellent adventure with Mehrangiz Kar: Today, I traveled to Los Angeles to attend a Persian talk entitled "Ups and Downs of Women's Quest for Equal Rights under the Islamic Republic of Iran," as part of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran. The drive south was very challenging due to pouring rain, large patches of water on the freeway, and low visibility, making my travel time quite long. The return trip wasn't as bad, despite flash-flood advisories. After having a late lunch with my daughter Sepideh at a French-Moroccan restaurant (Cafe Chez Marie, on Santa Monica Blvd.), I arrived at the lecture venue (121 Dodd Hall, UCLA) around 4:00 PM. The program began at 4:15, to accommodate late arrivals, in view of weather-related traffic delays.
The speaker, Mehrangiz Kar, has been at the forefront of women's, civil, and human rights struggles, both in Iran and abroad. She is the author of 15 books in Persian and a couple of volumes in English. She was summoned to court for interrogation in Iran, defamed by the regime's mouthpieces, and banned from publishing or even reprinting of her already published books. The topic was particularly timely, coming on the heels of yesterday's protest marches throughout the world, that brought more than 5 million women and men to the streets to remind everyone that women's rights are human rights.
Ms. Kar began by stating that the story of women's rights in Iran is long, complex, and multi-faceted and thus cannot be adequately summarized in an hour or two. Accordingly, her focus was the part of this story that unfolded after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, ignoring what came before.
Women were deeply involved in the course of the Islamic Revolution, which is quite surprising, given the clerical leadership of the movement. In the lead-up to the Revolution, the clerics, perhaps for the first time ever, actively promoted the participation of women, encouraging them to attend protest marches side by side with men. There was no segregation of participants by sex or religious devotion. Separating women from men and the eventual forced hijab rules came gradually and gently, and, even then, was not rigorously enforced for several years.
One of the first acts of the Islamic rulers was to dismantle protections afforded women in the pre-revolutionary Family Support Law, along with special family courts that administered the law. Legal marriage age for women was reduced from 18 to 9 (later on, age 13 was specified as a compromise). The option for divorce became the exclusive privilege of men. Women, who had been allowed to become judges only a decade before the Revolution, were denied judicial positions and the apprenticeships of younger women who were being trained for such positions were discontinued. More than 100 practicing women judges existed at the time. Also, women were barred from consular positions and ambassadorships, and educational programs that trained them for such positions were discontinued. Women singers and performers were issued stern warnings and they, or their male guardians, were forced to sign promisory notes to quit such "disreputable activities."
When Khomeini finally came around to issuing a directive for mandatory hijab, women did not obey the order, leading to extensive purges of women employees in government bureaus over a 3-year period. Many preferred being fired to wearing the hijab. Women lawyers underwent a period of uncertainty, before they could secure a religious decree from a cleric who interpreted Islamic laws more flexibly. He dug up sources that indicated a Muslim can hire a representative, even if the latter is foolish. So, the right to serve as lawyers came at the cost of being equated with fools! Eventually, however, quite a few women lawyers decided to leave their jobs, when it got much harder for them to work in the hostile atmosphere of the judiciary. Many ended up leaving the country. Those who remained in their positions are now given more leeway, going to work in chic outfits and elegant briefcases. About 1000 women now work in the judiciary as Judges' Counselors. These women participate in trials but cannot issue their own rulings.
Women's sports also suffered a number of setbacks, and they were banned from public swimming pools. Extensive anti-hijab protests were organized, which met with push-back from the regime and its supporters, including a number of women. In the period of lawlessness that preceded the passing of Islamic penal laws, self-appointed individuals would arrest couples walking on the streets, taking them to the local mosque for interrogation and immediate administration of punishment (flogging) in case they weren't legally married or blood relatives ("mahram").
The resistance against mandatory hijab dwindled for at least a couple of reasons, forcing women to accept the Islamic covering reluctantly. One was the Iran-Iraq war, which made the demands seem petty in comparison with the continuous stream of casualties and an atmosphere of mourning and despair. The slogan "Sister! Your hijab is more powerful than my blood," known as the martyr's message, was hammered at every opportunity, making opposition to hijab seem unpatriotic. The other reason was the occupation of the American Embassy and the ensuing hostage crisis, prompting hardliners to label any opposition as being directed by the US and other Western powers. Furthermore, left-leaning groups discouraged women from pursuing their rights, arguing that opposition to mandatory hijab should not become a means of weakening the Revolution or of questioning the anti-imperialistic credentials of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Another roadblock to women entering various professions was the establishment of the High Council of Cultural Revolution, a made-up entity that was not foreseen in the newly minted constitution. Similarly, the Special Court for Clerics was established to keep opposing mullahs in check by administering punishments such as defrocking.
Nevertheless, more subtle forms of resistance continued by Iranian women. A prime example is the publication of the Zanaan (Women) magazine, which tried to address women's issues in a way that seemed consistent with Islamic laws, as interpreted by more modern and lenient clerics, so that their material could not be construed as un-Islamic or against the law. This strategy of appealing to Islamic scriptures in opposition was later emulated by the Green Movement.
The women's movement is now in the hands of young women who proceed with greater caution, focusing their activities in limited areas such as preventing violence against women and improving employment laws, currently favoring married men to married women (prioritized within each group by the number of children), who in turn have higher priority than unmarried women.

2017/01/20 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Composite photo comparing the crowds at the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations (1) Inauguration, eight years ago and today.
(2) Issues removed from White House's Web site immediately after the transition included civil rights, climate change, and LGBT rights. A good indication of the new administration's priorities.
(3) Hope triumphs over disgust: Countdown to the next Inauguration Day!
(4) Steve Bannon is the Inauguration Day winner: Donald Trump's inaugural address was filled with references to corrupt politicians and a country ravaged by rusted-out factories, disappearing jobs, and gangs/crime.
(5) Cartoon of the day: A better caption would have been, "Ask not for their permission; just grab them ..."
(6) Ex-President Obama shows unusual grace: I don't think I would have been able to embrace a man who questioned my legitimacy as President and called me names for more than eight years.
(7) Ten brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- The Trump name appears 3540 times in the Panama Papers
- Trump considers anti-intellectual David Gelernter as Science Advisor
- US Navy developing smart mini-missiles to take out drones
- Deadly avalanche hits hotel in earthquake-stricken central Italy
- Mom sentenced to 43 years for killing her 11-year-old daughter
- Rabbinical waiver lets the Kushners ride in a car this evening
- Eiffel Tower lit green, white, & red to honor Iranian firefighters
- Trump continues blaming ills on other countries in inaugural address
- Anti-Trump protesters/rioters clash with police in Washington, DC
- Trump cabinet nominees grilled extensively by Congress
(8) One of the initial actions of Donald Trump as President: HUD's suspension of a planned cut in FHA mortgage insurance premiums; 40,000 potential home-buyers will be hurt, according to Senator Elizabeth Warren.
(9) Planeloads of women are headed to Washington, DC, for tomorrow's protest march.

2017/01/19 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Photo of indoor mall in Tehran's destroyed Plasco Building (1) Fire destroys an iconic building in Tehran: Known as Plasco Building (the photo shows the building's indoors mall), the 54-year-old tower, housing some 600 small businesses in a business district I frequented as a young man, burned for a couple of hours before collapsing. Dozens lost their lives and many others were injured, mostly firefighters. News reports indicate that cars and pedestrians stopping to take videos and selfies impeded the firefighting and, later, search and rescue efforts. Apparently, no terrorism was involved, but political exploitation of the event is underway, given the proximity of Iran's presidential and parliamentary elections. The event also has residents, living in even taller residential towers in northern Tehan, worried about the adequacy of firefighting and safety provisions in such buildings.
(2) Quote of the day: "The world is divided into men who have wit and no religion and men who have religion and no wit." ~ Persian polymath Avicenna [980-1037], who wrote on astronomy, chemistry, geology, religion, logic, mathematics, and physics, while also producing some poetry
(3) Productive nations: Rank / GDP per hour worked / Average workweek (hours) / Country
- 1 / $93.40 / 29.0 / Luxembourg
- 2 / $87.30 / 33.5 / Ireland
- 3 / $81.30 / 27.3 / Norway
- 4 / $69.70 / 29.8 / Belgium
- 5 / $68.30 / 33.6 / USA
(4) Hitchcock's "Blackmail": I just returned from a screening of the 1929 silent film at UCSB's Pollock Theater with live piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. The film, the story of a couple's indiscretions and an eventual murder watched by a third man (the blackmailer), features a stunning chase sequence through the British Museum. The film was released in both silent and sound versions, with the latter release being the first British sound film production. The silent version was actually released a bit later, because many theaters in those days were not yet equipped for sound films.
(5) Ellen honors the Obamas' 8 years in the White House. [Video compilation]
(6) Free stuff from UCSB Arts & Lectures: A pair of tickets to Douglas Brinkley's 1/26 lecture "Presidents and the National Parks: From Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama" and a copy of Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad are what I got as special treats to UCSB's faculty and staff.
(7) Final thought for the day: "Many a dead man lives on through knowledge." ~ Iraqi logic theorist and physician Yahya ibn Adi [893-974]

2017/01/18 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Photo of the nearly completed Bioengineering Building at UCSB (1) A new bioengineering building is taking shape on the UCSB campus.
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Former First Couple George and Barbara Bush hospitalized
- Obama defends decision on Chelsea Manning in last press conference
- Trump promises 'insurance for everybody' in replacing Obamacare
- One child dead, another seriously injured, in Atlanta pit bull attack
- Houston-area teacher pregnant by student gets 10 years in jail
- FBI and other agencies probing possible Kremlin cash to Trump
(3) An open letter from the US Press Corps to President-elect Trump, about his banning various reporters and news organizations, kicking the Press Corps out of the White House, and otherwise making access difficult: "We are very good at finding alternative ways to get information; indeed, some of the best reporting during the campaign came from news organizations that were banned from your rallies. Telling reporters that they won't get access to something isn't what we'd prefer, but it's a challenge we relish."
(4) UCSB's World Music Series: Today, I attended the first of the winter 2017 concerts at UCSB's Music Bowl (Wednesdays at 12:00 noon). [Video 1] [Video 2: "Fried Grease"]. Here is the complete list for the quarter.
- January 18: UCSB Jazz Ensemble (Dave Brubecks's "Fujiyama," Woody Shaw's "Katrina Ballerina," more)
- January 25: Miguelito y Grupo Maferefun (Afro-Cuban singing and drumming)
- February 01: Mariachi Las Olas de Santa Barbara (Dia de la Candelaria, or Candlemas, Music)
- February 08: UCSB Brass Ensemble (repertoire from the Renaissance to modern jazz)
- February 15: Charlie King & Bev Grant: A Century of Song, Still Going Strong (storyteller & political satirist)
- February 22: Three for Joy (Padula siblings, Angela Rose 10, Joseph 11, and Dominic 13, perform Celtic music)
- March 01: Gamelan Music from Indonesia (ancient style of Gamelan from Cirebon and West Java)
- March 08: UCSB Gospel Choir (traditional & contemporary songs from African-American religious traditions)
(5) UCSB among top 10 schools nationally in terms of mid-career salary potential in engineering.
(6) UCSB Faculty Association's Day of Democratic Education: Given all the uncertainties among students and staff about personal/press freedoms, gender/racial equality, access to health care, and climate-change policy upon the takeover of the new US administration, multiple seminars, panel discussions, and town halls were held on the UCSB campus today. I was able to sample a couple of the sessions in the time slots between my class, office hours, a technical seminar, and other commitments.
- "Why Is the Temperature on Venus 950 Degrees?" Robert Antonucci, Broida 1610, 2:00-3:00 PM
- "Democratizing Education, Race & Privatization." Diane Fujino, Tricia Rose, Kim Yasuda; Girvetz 1004, 3:30-4:45
- "Politics of Fear / Politics of Hope." Claudio Fogu, Howard Winant, Robert Samuels; Corwin Pavilion, 4:00-5:00
(7) [An amazing 47-minute documentary film] The boy who can see without eyes: After Ben Underwood lost both eyes to a rare form of cancer, he taught himself to see using echos of sounds that he makes (known as echolocation). He lives a nearly normal life, shooting hoops, playing video games, riding a bike, roller-blading, and walking (even without a cane). UCSB, where he went to participate in a research study, is featured in the video. Unfortunately, this remarkable boy passed away in 2009, when his cancer relapsed.
(8) Final thought for the day: Everyone made fun of Sarah Palin when she said she could see Russia from her house (she actually said from Alaska). Now Trump and everyone else can see Russia from the Trump Tower!

2017/01/17 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Chart showing US housing price trends (1) US housing price trends: The mid-2000s housing bubble is clearly visible on both the nominal (blue) and inflation-adjusted (red) curves. As a long-term investment, a house's value just barely makes up for inflation, staying less than 0.5% above it (a rise of 20%, from $150K to $180K, in the 40 years between 1972 to 2012). This is why many economists advise against buying a house, recommending instead renting as a better option for most people.
(2) For the ninth year in a row, respondents to a Gallup poll ranked Barack Obama as the most admired man in America.
(3) Kellyanne Conway, before she became a Trump apologist: She says in this video clip that Trump, far from being a champion of the little guy, has built his business empire on the backs of little guys!
(4) Let's call the Trump presidency the comb-over years: A period when bald lies are covered with other lies.
(5) A couple on an Iranian beach: What exactly goes through the mind of this man about it being okay for him to stroll freely in a revealing swimsuit (I am imagining the front side!), while his significant other is forced to appear fully clothed in the scorching heat?
(6) Future winter-quarter events under the auspices of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran:
- Sunday 1/22, 4 PM, Mehrangiz Kar (Persian): "Ups and Downs of Women's Quest for Equal Rights under IRI"
- Thursday 2/09, 3 PM, Nasrin Rahimieh (English): "Contested Terrains of Iranian Culture"
- Tuesday 2/14, 3 PM, Abbas Daneshvari (English): "Metaphysical Subversions in Contemporary Iranian Art"
- Sunday 3/05, 4 PM, Manochehr Dorraj (Persian): "Iran-China Relations in a Changing World"
(7) Santa Barbara will have its own Women's March on Saturday, January 21, 2017. The event will start with a noon rally at De La Guerra Plaza.
(8) Quote of the day: "When a woman thinks she is nothing, the little sparrows cry. Who can defend them on the terrace, if no one has the vision of a world without slingshots?" ~ Fatema Mernissi [1940-2015], Moroccan feminist and sociologist; see the next item about Islamic philosophers you should know (9 men and this woman)
(9) Islamic philosophers you should know: These under-appreciated philosophers produced original thoughts of their own and they were also instrumental in our regaining access to the thoughts of Aristotle and Plato. In each of the 10 cases (9 men, 1 woman) listed, an image and a brief introduction are followed by a quote.

2017/01/16 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Google doodle for 2017 MLK Observance Day (1) Celebrating MLK Day: This year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day takes on a new significance. MLK's message of love, peace, unity, and respect must be repeated more than ever, in order to counteract the hate, conflict, division, and discourtesy practiced by President-elect Trump and his team. [Image credit: Google]
(2) President Obama's reference to Atticus Finch in his farewell speech is multi-layered: It goes beyond what we understand on the surface (racism has been around for many years and it is abhorrent). It also acknowledges the need for us liberals to put ourselves in the shoes of economically disadvantaged lower- and middle-class white men and to see their plight, which in the absence of enlightened/tolerant leadership, manifests itself as racism.
(3) For book lovers: Books played an important role in President Obama's surviving the White House years.
(4) Humor: Scottish Sunday Herald TV Guide's description of Trump's inauguration coverage.
(5) A case of "follow the leader": Connecticut Republican, arrested for pinching woman's genitals, is relieved he no longer has to be politically correct.
(6) Trump's attention is focused on his business deals and "Celebrity Apprentice" ratings, leaving little time for the economic and social problems of his fellow Americans. [Article]
(7) He has a point: "Feh! In my day, if a politician compared the CIA to Nazis there'd be a dead hooker in the trunk of his car by week's end. Not like today!" ~ John Fugelsang
(8) The secret intelligence report on Trump-Putin ties: I just finished reading on BuzzFeed the recently-leaked 35-page secret document on Trump's ties to Russia and the compromising dossier Russia has compiled on the US President-elect. The report was prepared by a private investigator hired by Trump's Republican and, later, Democratic, election opponents. Given all the details and names in the document, I think it is highly unlikely that the entire thing is made-up. There may be exaggerations and falsehoods here and there, but the overall story is credible in my assessment. There is just too many explosive facts about intelligence exchanges and secret meetings in the report for it to be swept under the rug. There will no doubt be extensive investigations of the allegations, and this is what makes Trump so angry whenever the report is brought up. An interesting point, that I have not heard in the coverage by the US media, is that there is a significant outrage about these ties within Russia. Some members of the Russian government and of its intelligence agencies think that Putin has gone too far and that his actions have damaged relations between the two countries. If true, then the recent sanctions imposed by the US will intensify the rift within Russia.
(9) Signing off with half-dozen Martin Luther King Jr. quotes, on the occasion of his day of remembrance:
- "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
- "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
- "We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."
- "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
- "We need leaders not in love with money but with justice. Not in love with publicity but with humanity."
- "Men of humane convictions must choose the protest that best suits their convictions. But we must all protest."

2017/01/15 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cartoon illustrating the absurdity of trickle-down economics (1) Cartoon of the day: Trickle-down economics.
(2) There is a store in NYC that allows you to snap and print a 3D selfie.
(3) Real-life soap opera: A sterile man hired his neighbor, a married man with children, to impregnate his wife. When 72 attempts produced no result, he had the neighbor tested and, sure enough, he was also sterile. The man is now suing his neighbor. And the neighbor's wife has "some splaining to do."
(4) On Iranian laws: As a rule, laws in Iran are applied selectively. They don't look at what you have done to see whether it is against any laws. They decide whether you are a person to be detained, harassed, or blackmailed and then look for laws that can be used against you. The new law forbidding dual citizenship helps in their quest to punish reporters and other pesky individuals.
(5) Kurdish kids in traditional clothing. [Photos]
(6) The remodled and expanded Faculty Club on the UCSB campus has reopened for business.
(7) Persepolis after Alexander: This was the title of a very interesting Persian talk this afternoon by Dr. Ali Mousavi as part of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran (121 Dodd Hall, 4:00 PM). The talk covered the story of the ruins of Parseh, City of Persians, or Takht-e Jamshid (The Throne of Jamshid, a mythological king) since it was set on fire by Alexander nearly 24 centuries ago. Its construction and more than two centuries of use were outside the scope of the talk, although the topics did come up during the Q&A period.
Dr. Mousavi was born and raised in Iran, earned BA and MA degrees in art history and archaeology, respectively, from University of Lyon, and a PhD degree in archaeology of the ancient Near East from University of California, Berkeley, and is now teaching art and archaeology of ancient Iran at UCLA. Among his many publications are the book Persepolis: Discovery and Afterlife of a World Wonder and the edited volume Ancient Iran from the Air.
Dr. Mousavi presented a century-by-century account of what went on at the ruins through periods of destruction/looting, neglect, linkage with fables/myths, new discoveries, and transformation. I learned from this talk that the destruction of Persepolis was gradual, for even though the fire set by Alexander razed many structures, others remained erect and usable for decades afterwards. Over the centuries, interest in preserving and reviving Persepolis arose at various times. Many Western experts on Iran have traveled to the site, leaving mixed legacies. They helped in the understanding of the site's significance and history, but they also removed many artifacts that were usurped by Western museums and private collectors.
Interest in restoring and maintaining the Persepolis ruins as symbols of Iran's illustrious history dates back to Reza Khan's rise to power, who upon becoming king, founded the National Monuments Council of Iran, a governmental body which is still active with a slight change of name. In the 1960s, the Shah ordered major improvements and renovations, including the design of a park next to the ruins, in preparation for the arrival of visiting foreign dignitaries on the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire.
Over the years, many additions and improvements have been made to preserve or restore Persepolis. The southeastern palace has been partially reconstructed to give a feel of the original structure to the visitors of the museum it now houses. There have also been efforts to build a 3D model of Persepolis as it looked during its heyday. These days, the ruins host nearly 0.5 million visitors each Norooz. Steps taken to minimize wear and tear include the installation of wooden planks (so that the visitors do not walk on the original stone walkways), guard-rails, glass enclosures, and making certain areas off-limits.
The palace complex is built atop a rectangular platform of approximate size 450m by 350m. The tallest columns are about 20m high. Considering the 20m elevation of the platform and allowing another 10m for ceiling rafters and roofs, the height of the structure as seen by an approaching visitor would have been an impressive 50m in ancient times. [Persepolis from the Air]
I was curious as to how much virtual 3D modeling has been done for Persepolis (excellent work is in progress in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, where recent destructions of historic sites by Islamic extremists have prompted archaeologists to preserve as much data as possible). The 3D model of Persepolis that does exist appears primitive compared with what is now possible with modern computer graphics. In fact, UCLA's Urban Simulation Team has produced a wonderful model of Jerusalem Temple Mount's Second Temple, as it looked before destruction nearly 20 centuries ago. Perhaps with suitable direction and financial support, a more advanced 3D model of Persepolis can be produced.

2017/01/14 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cover image of Time magazine, issue of January 16, 2017 (1) The Swiss-army-knife of medications: Developed and approved for wrinkle removal, Botox is now being used to treat some 800 ailments.
(2) Half-dozen sci/tech news headlines of the day:
- Facebook job postings hint at R&D on brain interface
- Alcohol stimulates brain cells that pruduce the urge to eat
- Ants need work-life balance, research suggests
- Uber to supply aggregate ride data to city planners
- Giuliani to advise Trump administration on cyber-security
- Scientists cool microscope drum below quantum limit
(3) Scientists have twisted molecules into the tightest knot ever: Just as tying knots in ropes, braiding, and weaving have led to all sorts of breakthroughs, such as fishing nets and clothing material, doing the same at the molecular level can produce many scientific advances in smart materials and nanotechnology.
(4) 17 for '17: Seventeen women scientists at Microsoft Research around the world present their views on what to expect in 2017 (and 2027).
(5) Quote of the day: "Experts claim that 55 percent of communication is body language. Amid Trump's more obvious, aggressive forms of communication (yelling and finger-pointing) lies a message that the president-elect is on the defensive and perhaps has a little something to hide." ~ Jessica Firger, writing in Newsweek on-line
(6) Traditional Persian music by the Sarvan Ensemble: Full credits listed with the video.
(7) Amazon's Alexa steals the show at CES: The voice assistant is slated to facilitate interaction between humans and the Internet of Things.
(8) Arch2030: A vision of computer architecture research over the next 15 years is presented in this report of the Computing Community Consortium, by Luis Ceze, Mark D. Hill, and Thomas F. Wenisch (2016).
(9) Trump, as the elected President, should get our support: This is what conservatives are hammering every chance they get; through social-media posts, comments on posts, and so on. I don't know where this idea that we must support an elected President comes from. Going back to the early days of the Republic, a President always had his critics within the government (even his own cabinet and, sometimes, his VP, when the latter was elected independently of the President), Congress, state officials, and ordinary citizens. Some states went to war with the elected President because they disagreed with him on slavery. It is our right as citizens to oppose a President whose policies we do not agree with and to work, individually and collectively, to make sure he is not re-elected. Even working toward impeachment of a President is within our rights.

2017/01/13 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon representing the US presidential transition (1) Cartoon of the day: US presidential transition.
(2) Iconic California "Tunnel Tree" toppled in Calaveras Big-Tree State Park after heavy rains and flooding.
(3) Quote of the day: "Take your broken heart, make it into art." ~ Meryl Streep, relating an advice she received from her friend, the late Carrie Fisher
(4) Laurel and Hardy's slapstick comedy montage.
(5) President Obama's heartfelt address at a White House ceremony to honor VP Joe Biden, ending with awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction.
(6) President Obama publishes a policy note in Science: The note, entitled "The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy," has a one-sentence tweetable abstract ("Private-sector incentives help drive decoupling of emissions and economic growth."). Under author affiliation, it lists the author's contact address after January 20 as Here is an important passage from the note: "Since 2008, the United States has experienced the first sustained period of rapid GHG emissions reductions and simultaneous economic growth on record. Specifically, CO2 emissions from the energy sector fell by 9.5% from 2008 to 2015, while the economy grew by more than 10%. In this same period, the amount of energy consumed per dollar of real gross domestic product (GDP) fell by almost 11%, the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of energy consumed declined by 8%, and CO2 emitted per dollar of GDP declined by 18%."
(7) Trump and AG-nominee Sessions may gut the H1B visa program: The program that brings highly skilled tech workers (from India and other countries) to the Silicon Valley may disappear or become highly curtailed, hurting the tech industry in the US.
(8) Graph isomorphism continues to be a hard problem: Theoretical computer scientist Laszlo Babai thought he had a nearly polynomial-time algorithm for determining whether two graphs are isomorphic, but the proof turned out to have a subtle error. Still, his algorithm represents a major improvement over the prior state of the art. Yesterday (January 9, 2017), Babai claimed that he has fixed the snag in the proof and is renewing his claim. Stay tuned for the final verdict!
(9) Final thought for the day: The scariest Friday this month isn't the 13th but the 20th!

2017/01/12 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing humorous titles for updated classics (1) Cartoon of the day: Literary classics updated (by John Atkinson).
(2) Nine brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Six VW execs indicted, $4.3 billion fine paid, for emissions fraud
- Fox News defends CNN against Trump belittling its reporter
- Christopher Steele is the spy behind salacious report on Trump
- George Soros lost $1 billion in post-Trump stock market rally
- Keeping a busy schedule helpful for better aging of the brain
- True to form, Trump asks vaccine skeptic to lead safety study
- President Obama advises hope, thanks many, in farewell address
- Rafsanjani's funeral procession turns into anti-regime rally
- LA's Expo Park will be home to $1 billion George Lucas Museum
(3) New allegations about President-elect Trump: Juicy revelations about the relationship between Trump operatives and Moscow, and Russia's intelligence agencies holding damaging personal and business info about Trump himself, dominated the news cycle yesterday and will likely continue to unfold over the next few days.
(4) The most ironic quote of the day: "Rich celebrities such as Meryl Streep should stay out of politics." ~ Some Trump supporters
(5) Comic (fake) news headline of the day: Canadian PM Trudeau appoints new Minister of Keeping Trump Away from Me [Source: CBC Comedy]
(6) Joke of the day: Businessman with 6 bankruptcies in his past calls actress with 157 awards "over-rated"!
(7) Trump's web of lies keep growing: And no matter how much his apologist Kellyanne Conway tries to sugar-coat his foul-tasting words and actions, the foul taste still dominates.
(8) Trump is picking too many fights: For someone who made a name for himself on TV, Trump does not seem to understand the news business. He is attacking reporters and news organizations constantly, thinking that he is punishing them by not answering their questions. This approach will definitely backfire. Investigative reporters have a myriad of ways of getting information, from leaks and anonymous sources to officials in the government who may not have the same views as Trump. He cannot fight on all fronts forever by ticking off the media, the Congress (some of whose members have at best a shaky support for him), intelligence agencies, the nation's industrial giants, our major trading partners, and virtually everyone else. Getting info directly from the President is a formality and a courtesy; the real info does not come from the President's mouth but from back channels. Just acting angry will not make any allegation go away.

2017/01/11 (Wednesday): Book review: Steinem, Gloria, My Life on the Road, unabridged audiobook on 8 CDs, read by Debra Winger, Random House Audio, 2015. [My 3-star review on GoodReads]
Cover image for Gloria Steinem's 'My Life on the Road' This is 82-year-old Steinem's first book in more than two decades. In it, she focuses on her travels through the years and chance meetings (with taxi drivers, airline stewards/stewardesses, truckers, and the like) that shaped her views and strengthened her resolve to work on behalf of women and other oppressed groups. This isn't a book from which to gain detailed knowledge about Steinem's life and activism, although the important parts do appear: causes pursued, conventions attended, campaigns supported, speeches given, politicians met, and so on. However, the book is first and foremost a travel diary.
Steinem came from a dysfunctional family and her stunning good looks served as a double-edged sword for her: they got her noticed but also tended to make people dismiss her as just another pretty face. She drowned herself in activism, organizing, and writing, never caring much for personal success or wealth and not getting married until late in life (she married at 66 a South African businessman, who died of cancer 3 years later and whose role in the author's life is curiously missing form the book).
Steinem was active in the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy (with whom she became disillusioned when he appeared uninspired and started attacking Robert Kennedy) and George McGovern (who never fully embraced women's rights). In 2004, she fiercely opposed the re-election of George W. Bush due to his hostility toward women's equality and reproductive freedom.
When Steinem worked for Hillary Clinton's campaign before the 2008 presidential election, she was torn because she viewed both Democratic candidates as equal, given Clinton's pursuit of minority rights and Obama's feminism. She gives us this gem of an observation about the Clintons' marriage and why it survived the act of infidelity and the ensuing public shaming of both Bill and Hillary. She notes that when a woman's place in a man's life is primarily sexual, affairs become morbid events, as they show the woman that she is replaceable. Whereas when sex is only a (small) part of the attraction, and the couple shares in dreams and aspirations, affairs might become survivable.
Steinem's life would not have proceeded as it did, were it not for a British doctor who helped her with a then-illegal abortion, saving her from the burden of single motherhood in her early 20s. The sheer number of unusual characters Steinem meets during her travels and the level of engagement and knowledge they exhibit makes one suspect that not all described personalities and events are accurate reflections of reality.
I enjoyed listening to this audiobook, in part because of the warm, engaging voice of Debra Winger and partly because I really respect Steinem for all she has done over several decades to advance the cause of women's rights, to the detriment of her own well-being and prosperity. Her commitment to the cause shines through this otherwise unremarkable book.

2017/01/09 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image depicting the fact that love is the key to happiness (1) Here is your key to happiness!
(2) Quote of the day: "We in this room belong to the most vilified segments of American society. Think about it: Hollywood. Foreign. Press." ~ Meryl Streep, in accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at last night's Golden Globe Awards ceremony (she went on to deliver the most powerful take-down of our President-elect, referring to his heartbreaking performance in imitating a disabled reporter, who was much lower than him is status and power)
(3) It was bound to happen: In a series of three tweets, between 3:27 and 3:43 AM today, Trump called Meryl Streep an over-rated actress and a Hillary flunky. Streep is just Trump's latest victim. Previously, he had tweeted that Jon Stewart, Megyn Kelly, and Jerry Seinfeld are over-rated. The irony is, of course, that Trump himself is the most over-rated celebrity of all!
(4) Q: How many politicians does it take to change a lightbulb? A: Two; one to change it and a second one to change it back.
(5) Iran's Hashemi Rafsanjani takes many of the Islamic regime's secrets to his grave: But just as Ayatollah Montazeri's son divulged secrets pertaining to his father's activities decades after they happened, Rafsanjani's children will no doubt not let their father's notes and documents be buried by Khamenei's hard-liner allies.
(6) An unlikely alliance: Putin, France's Le Pen, and Trump. [Photo from Time magazine, January 16, 2017]
(7) Realistic male mannequins coming to stores near you! [Photo]
(8) A proposal to the US Congress: Apparently, Trump has asked the Congress to allocate funds for building a border wall, whose cost will be reimbursed by Mexico at some future time. I suggest that the Congress make a business proposal to Trump that will benefit him and US taxpayers. He should go ahead and build the wall as a Trump project, using his personal funds and loans. When he recovers the cost from Mexico, he can keep any leftover funds as tax-free profit.
(9) Intermittent- or mini-fasting diets: These "Feast-Fast-Repeat" diets are all the rage now. The most common ones are "The 5:2 Diet" (limit intake to 500-600 calories on two nonconsecutive days per week), "Every-Other-Day Diet" (feast days, when you can eat all you want, alternate with 500-calorie diet days), and "Prolonged Nighttime Fasting" (limiting eating period to an 8-hour window per day). These diets have no known risks for healthy individuals, but they are not recommended for pregnant women, frail elderly individuals, or those with diabetes or otherwise prone to high blood sugar levels. [Source: AARP Magazine]

2017/01/08 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about a baby having produced her first emoji (1) Cartoon of the day. [Source: AARP Bulletin]
(2) Andre Rieu's wonderful performance of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" brings tears of joy to some audience members.
(3) Nothing like the original: No one can do justice to "The Sounds of Silence" like Paul Simon and Art Gurfunkel, even after 52 years.
(4) Iran to annul the citizenship of those who acquire a second citizenship: Dual-citizenship will no longer be recognized. It would be interesting to see how the new decision will affect certain members of President Rouhani's cabinet and a number of ayatollahs' children who are citizens of other countries.
(5) Q: How many cars does it take to fill a mall with shoppers? A: A whole lot.
(6) Q: How many politicians does it take to change a lightbulb? A: Two; one to change it and a second one to change it back.
(7) Boss: "Send me some funny messages." Employee: "Can't. I'm working now." Boss: "LOL. Send another."
(8) Iran's Ayatollah Rafsanjani dead at 82: A peer of Khamenei during the early years of the Islamic Revolution and complicit with him in the regime's most brutal acts against dissidents, he had been sidelined, along with all other former presidents of Iran, as a result of Khamenei's power grab. But he worked behind the scenes and was instrumental in Rouhani's election to presidency. He was starting to gather momentum in influencing who will succeed Khamenei, even though he was too old to be the successor himself. Now, Khamenei will mourn and praise him in public, while he is likely jubilant that a troublesome adversary has been removed.
(9) Final thought for the day: The most critical thing in the new US administration will be Bannon vs. Trump. One has an ideological agenda and will do anything in his power to advance it, the other has no attention span and sees a lot of shiny objects. ~ David Brooks (not an exact quote)

2017/01/07 (Saturday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Photo of two-layer pudding dessert (1) Two-layer chocolate/lemon sugar-free pudding dessert, with chocolate wafers between the layers (not seen) and fruit toppings.
(2) Joe Biden's final interview as VP: Listen to this PBS interview to get a sense of what a grown-up politician sounds like. Interestingly, he tells Trump to "grow up"!
(3) Mural honoring women engineers: Case Western University's colorful 10-meter mural celebrates women's many contributions to engineering.
(4) Superhero vision coming soon: IBM researchers predict that hyper-imaging technology, using a large array of mini-sensors and many parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, will allow us to see much more than is otherwise visible (human eyes can see only 0.1% of the spectrum).
(5) An island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island: Lake Taal on the island of Luzon, in the northern end of the Philippines archipelago, is one of only two lakes in the world to have a third-order island within it. Volcano island in Lake Taal has a crater lake with a tiny island of its own, Vulcan Point, barely visible in this photo, taken from the International Space Station. [Source: Amusing Planet]
(6) I read the following statement three times, before I got the humor: Media reports that people in Dubai don't understand the humor in 'The Flinstones,' but I know for a fact that people in Abu Dhabi do.
(7) Mina's Revolution: This is the title of a 75-minute play by playwright Paul-David Halem, based on a 260-page novel of the same name by Iranian-American author Mehrnoosh Mazarei. The story follows the life of its title character, from the 1970s Iran to 2001 in New York City. [The stage-play as PDF file]
(8) 'Tis the season for tax fraud: Tax filing season is upon us and criminals can't wait to get your tax return check and spend it for you! Each year, many people are surprised to learn upon trying to file their taxes that someone has already filed and received the refund. This is usually done via identity theft over the holidays, when people tend to pay less attention to their bank and credit-card statements. Be vigilant! If you become a victim of identity theft, California's Attorney General has some useful information for you.

2017/01/06 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing Trump taking the Oath of Office (1) Cartoon of the day: Donald Trump taking the Oath of Office.
(2) One dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- US auto industry reports record-breaking sales in 2016
- For-profit Sage College closes, leaving students in limbo
- Living near busy roads increases dementia risk
- China tells President-elect Trump to lay off Twitter
- Black church bombing in Mississippi stirs race debates
- Four blacks charged with hate crime in beating of white man
- Swift action curbs potential measles outbreak in Santa Barbara
- Snowden not pardonable due to inconsistencies in his story
- Army Secretary nominee violated trade rules for years
- Obama's farewell party will feature many A-list stars
- Alaska Airlines has begun flying between Los Angeles and Cuba
- Russia's election interference went far beyond computer hacks
(3) Dr. Saud & Mr. Jihad: Saudi Arabia's two faces in the political universe and in its relationship with allies.
(4) Rumi of Westerners vs. the real Moulana Jalaluddin Balkhi: Rumi, as known in the West, is a mystic poet, bearing no signs of a religious scholar whose epic work "Masnavi" has been called "the Persian Quran" by many and "the roots of the roots of the roots of religion" by himself. [Rozina Ali's New Yorker article]
(5) The unclassified version of the Russia hacking report is out: "Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump."
(6) I don't understand this, but I'm excited: NASA's concept starship IXS Enterprise could reach Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system (at 4.3 light-years), in just 2 weeks, by distorting the space-time around it.
(7) Finally, Billy Joel in SoCal: My daughter and I have been wanting to see Billy Joel in concert for some time now, but it seems he prefers to perform on the East Coast (Madison Square Garden, in particular); you might say he is in a New York State of mind! Well, he will be performing at LA's Dodger Stadium on Saturday, May 13, 2017. Not the ideal venue for a concert, but we are going.
(8) Final thought for the day: The strictest parents raise the most skillful liars.

2017/01/05 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Trump luxury tower ad on a street littered with the homeless (1) Trump billboard in Mumbai: What irony!
(2) Scientific quote of the day: "You matter, unless you multiply yourself by the speed-of-light squared ... then you energy." ~ From "Neil Tyson Fan" Facebook page
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Mobster Joey 'No Socks' hosted by Trump at New Year's bash
- Ivanka Trump set to move to Washington, not far from the Obamas
- Trump promises to reveal his information about alleged hacking
- Protests expand in Mexico over a sudden spike in gasoline prices
- Blacklisting plan for Israeli companies follows UN settlements vote
- New York governor Cuomo unveils plan for free college tuition
(4) Drone light show set to classical music: A world-record collection of 100 drones dazzle in this musical light show.
(5) Mariah Carey's agent: "I am sorry, Mariah, but all I can get you booked on now is the Inauguration." ~ New Yorker cartoon caption
(6) Trump repeatedly disparages "intelligence" reports about the Russian hacking, then reverses himself, while blaming the dishonest media for making it look like he dislikes US intelligence agencies! [The quotes around intelligence are Trump's, presumably to mock their abilities.]
(7) Redefining respect: Donald Trump has said, on multiple occasions, that nobody respects women more than he does. Watch this interview of his with Howard Stern and see for yourself what he means by "respect."
(8) These are the people who now say we should accept and respect our President-elect!
(9) Joke of the day: Jack asks his friend Max if it is okay to smoke while praying. Max tells him to go ask the priest. Jack goes to the priest, who answers the question with an emphatic "no." When Max hears about what happened, he tells Jack that he did not ask the question in the right way. Max then goes to the priest with Jack in tow and asks whether prayers are allowed during smoking. The priest answers that there is no bad time for praying. The moral of this story for Iran's Islamic officials is that they should ask their spiritual leaders whether thieves and con men can pray, not the other way around!

2017/01/04 (Wednesday): Book review: Sedighim, Fariba, Liora (in Persian), Nogaam Publishers, 2016.
Cover image for Fariba Sedighim's 'Liora' I received a copy of this book in December 2016 from the author, whom I got to know (virtually) through a friend's introduction. I also learned a bit more about Ms. Sedighim as well as her books and writing style from a segment of the radio program "Breakfast with Homa Sarshar" (aired on December 17, 2016, and available on-line).
Let me preface my review by mentioning that Liora is the first Persian-language book I have read in many years. It is also the first fiction book in quite a while. In recent years, my focus has been English-language nonfiction. I mention these facts to warn the readers that my skills in judging Persian books and works of fiction are quite rusty.
This well-written book, organized in three uneven chapters, comprising 249, 93, and 14 pages, is the story of Liora (a Hebrew name and term of endearment meaning "my light" and related to the English name "Laura"), a Jewish woman born within a dysfunctional family in Nahavand, a city in the western Iranian province of Hamadan, and raised there and, later, in the capital city of Tehran.
Influenced by an authoritarian mother, incapable of emotional engagement, and a weak, mostly-absent father, who disappears for a year with another woman, Liora suffers from inner conflicts that make it difficult for her to lead a fulfilling life. Her life story is riddled with instances of indecision and emotional paralysis, unable to make a decision even after all the pertinent information is available to her.
Despite the dysfunction at the top of her family, there are characters who nurture and support Liora or strengthen her resolve, preventing her from going completely berserk. These include her grandmother, older sister Edna (the target of her mother's undeserved wrath, because she had Edna when she was only 14), and her brother Yousef, who is an imaginary companion during Liora's frequent daydreams. One can't help but think that Liora's adventurism, including dangerous political activism and her craving for attention (particularly from men, perhaps as a substitute for her emotionally-distant father and physically-distant brother) are nothing but covers for her inner conflicts and self-doubts.
Sample half-page from Fariba Sedighim's 'Liora' In her early 20s, Liora is torn between two men, the decent and reliable Homayoun (4 years her senior, a Jew, a soulmate, an easier choice from the family-approval standpoint) and the artful, adventurous, and cunning Kian (a Muslim she meets at work during Homayoun's absence for two years of graduate studies in the UK). She and Homayoun had decided to wait for each other. And it is quite evident from the story that Homayoun intended to keep his end of the deal (but there is a twist, of course). Much of the fictional tale, happening in Iran and, later, in Los Angeles, pertains to Liora's relationship with these two men and her eventual regrets for choosing Kian over Homayoun.
The story, told in first-person, begins on a cloudy autumn day in Los Angeles, where Liora, sitting on a park bench, daydreams about her birth city of Nahavand. This flashback style of story-telling continues throughout the book, until the figurative concluding scene at her father's grave, where Liora seems to finally be able to bury the ghosts of her past insecurities and cheating husband.
The conflicts experienced by Liora and their effects on her paralysis and inability to pursue meaningful attachments, are not atypical among Iranian women (and men). The conflict between marrying within the faith or outside of it are also quite common for Iranian Jewish women and, to a lesser degree, men. One suspects that at least some elements of the story (including those pertaining to the lifestyles of Jewish families in Iran) are autobiographical. In the words of P. D. James, "All fiction is largely autobiographical and much autobiography is, of course, fiction."
Liora is a fun-loving and sensitive woman. She needs a purpose in life, is mildly suicidal, and feels incomplete without a man. Her marriage to Kian goes south after they emigrate to Los Angeles. She is almost sure that her husband is seeing another woman, based on his coldness, frequent late returns from work, and a couple of pieces of physical evidence, but she has never met or run into the other women. He has a habit of belittling Liora and dismissing her opinions, which she tolerates for some reason and even interprets it as affection, in a typical instance of dependency. At the end, Liora decides to leave the unfaithful Kian, having lost hope in rekindling their intimacy and romance. We are led to believe that Liora will follow through on her resolve, but the author does not totally slam shut the door to a possible reconciliation with him.
It appears that Liora's relationship with Kian arose from sexual attraction and her youthful infatuation with the unknown and the mysterious. At one juncture, just before Liora goes to meet Kian after office hours, when he would be alone at his workplace (presumably to start an intimate relationship with him), Liora characterizes her feelings towards Homayoun as love and her attraction to Kian as a compulsion, a viral ailment, a brain-eating cancer, a madness. Near the book's end, thinking of her dead father, Liora pours out her bitterness over his absence and weakness toward women, which is ironic, given her own feebleness towards men.
I happened to be listening to the audiobook version of Gloria Steinem's My Life on the Move in parallel with reading this hard-copy book. One of Steinem's observations, pertaining to the relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton, struck me as relevant to Liora's predicament. Steinem states that if the relationship of a woman to a man is primarily sexual, then infidelity may be unbearable, because the woman thinks that she may be replaceable at any time. This feeling of temporariness and replaceability may be at the heart of Liora's troubles.
Having been born and raised as a Jew (though a non-practicing one) in Iran, I can identify with may elements of Liora's story. There are major differences between life in Tehran, where I was born, and life in Nahavand, and between the experiences of a man versus a woman, but there are also many commonalities. This familiarity made the story more absorbing to me. On the other hand, the part of the story happening in Los Angeles is rather shallow, devoid of details and insights, other than what goes on between Liora, her husband, and, to some extent, her ailing parents.
Because of the flashback story-telling style, reading this book feels like detective work, an activity that Liora herself seems to enjoy. The reasons for behaviors and decisions come to light many pages later, when the pertinent pieces of the story have been told. This is why it would be easier to read the book in a small number of sittings within a few days, rather than as a longer-term perusal.
[My review of Liora on GoodReads] [Persian version of the review on Facebook]

2017/01/03 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) Jump up for joy in 2017!
(2) Adorable 4-year-old has a New Year's message for you.
(3) Six brief news headlines of the day:
- Israeli PM Netanhahu to be investigated for misconduct
- Ford cancels $1.6 billion plant in Mexico under Trump pressure
- Fox News ratings will take hit from Megyn Kelly's departure
- Trump criticizes Time magazine's PC title "Person of the Year"
- New US Congress opens, prepares to battle over Obamacare
- Four Texan kids die from mouse poison gas release into home
(4) Young Iranian woman's plea: As she walks on the street wearing no headscarf, she calls on women, and men, to express their opposition to compulsory hijab laws, which are insults to both sexes.
(5) BBC Persian's report on widespread academic dishonesty in Iran: Many research papers and theses/dissertations are copied from other sources or bought from academic merchants for large sums of money.
(6) Republicans vote to gut Congressional Ethics Office: Ethics is a Chinese hoax for reducing US productivity!
[Addendum: Plans to gut the ethics watchdog scrapped in GOP emergency meeting after Trump reaction.]
(7) Math humor: Too much "pi" gives you a large circumference!
(8) Donald Trump's most outrageous lies: A partial list of 101 instances.
(9) Trump's understanding of cyberspace flawed: The President-elect's assertion that computers can never be made secure is toxic for research programs to protect our country's cyber-infrastructure. Computers aren't just used to send e-mail, so that couriers can replace them, as suggested by Trump.

2017/01/02 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of the entrance of The California Science Center (1) Visiting the California Science Center: Today, my daughter and I visited "The Science Behind Pixar" exhibit and the Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center, near the Los Angeles Coliseum. Both exhibits are fascinating and highly educational. The Pixar exhibit allows visitors to participate in animation, lighting, and other production steps in creating a computer-animated film.
Video 1: A Pixar animation display showing digital 3D modeling.
Video 2: The nine stages of creating a computer-animated film.
[P.S.: Why the British spelling for Endeavour? The orbiter is named after the British HMS Endeavour, the ship which took Captain James Cook on his first voyage of discovery (1768-1771).]
(2) Creative problem solving. [1-minute video]
(3) President Obama dances "Baba Karam" (a Persian dance) with his Iranian-American assistant. [Photo]
(4) Fair/impartial justice in Iran: The bonds for imprisoned political activist couple Arash Sadeghi and Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee have been set at 5000 and 3000 times that of Saeed Mortazavi, a murderer and a mass rapist. Fair indeed!
(5) Humorous quote of the day: "Trump to cancel agreement between subjects and verbs." ~ Andy Borowitz
(6) Donald Trump, when asked why Lincoln was a successful President: Replace the words Lincoln/President with Einstein/scientist, Hitchcock/director, Elvis/singer, or Francis/Pope and the exact same answer would apply.
(7) Persian poetry and music: A timeless Rumi poem, sung by Marjan Vahdat.
(8) Then and now: It used to be that if people saw a hazard or an obstacle on the train track, they would run in the direction of an oncoming train to warn the engineer. Now, they just stand there with their cell-phone cameras out and ready!
(9) A final thought: Did you know that Santa gives more expensive presents to rich kids than to poor kids?

2017/01/01 (Sunday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Happy New Year 2017 (1) Happy New Year! Wishing all my family members and friends a very happy, healthy, hopeful, and prosperous New Year 2017!
(2) Kurdish musical ensemble: Sheno Band plays a medley of Kurdish and other regional music from Iran.
(3) A fine example of Arabic calligraphic art. [Image]
(4) Half dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Trump: Paper documents sent by courier solve cybersecurity problems
- Istanbul night club attack during New Year's party leaves 39 dead
- Mexicans upset after waking up to 20% gas price hike in the new year
- Recovery efforts starting for plane that disappeared with 6 on board
- Portugal's Antonio Guterres begins his term as UN Secretary-General
- In Acapulco, Mexico, 3 men decapitated, 2 more slain over New Year's
(5) Hypocrisy at its worst: Evangelicals think that Donald and Melania Trump will make a fine First Couple. What's wrong with a POTUS who has violated nearly all of the Ten Commandments? What's wrong with a womanizer, who lusts after his own daughter, as the US President? What's wrong with a First Lady who was a nude model (she was just showing off the beauty of God's creation), even though a Miss America was forced to resign for the same offense? What's wrong with a President's wife whose last educational experience was at a Slovenian school for soft-porn models?
(6) President Obama's New-Year message: He reviews his accomplishments over the past eight years and pledges to remain politically active as a private citizen.
(7) My 8th Facebook anniversary: Yesterday, I was reminded by Facebook that I have been a member since December 31, 2008. And today, I was reminded that I have been FB friends with my daughter for 8 years.
(8) The number 2017: As we begin the new year, let's consider the properties of the number 2017. It is the 306th prime number (the next prime year will be 2027). Not much else is notable about the new year's number; it's not a Fibonacci or any other special kind of number. We will witness a prime-sequence date, 11/13/17 late in the year. The new year will also contain the Pythagorean-triple date 8/15/17 (8^2 + 15^2 = 17^2). Can you add to this list? Also, can you insert math symbols in 2 0 1 7 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 17  |  1 = 2 + 0 – 1^7  |  2 = 2 + 0 x 17  |  3 = 20 – 17  |  4 = –2 + 0 – 1 + 7

Blog Entries for 2016

2016/12/30 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image of a heart-shaped rope knot (1) A year-end wish: As we approach the end of 2016 and look past the gloom and doom predictions to 2017, may your final days of this year be filled with joy and may the new year bring you much hope, health, happiness, and success.
(2) In memoriam: Some of the entertainers and other notables lost in 2016. Let's hope the list does not expand further over the next couple of days!
(3) Quote of the day: "Sandwiched between Bush and Trump, the Obama years will be remembered as an odd period in American history when the President spoke in complete sentences." ~ Humorist Andy Borowitz
(4) Racists coming out in full view: After 8 years of covert and elusive attacks on President Obama and the First Lady, racists have been emboldened and are now attacking and insulting the First Family overtly, on social media and in print. A shameful chapter in US history!
(5) Trump dismisses sanctions against Russia as focusing on the little things: "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation," he wrote. If he had not skipped the daily intelligence briefings, he would already know the facts. Perhaps, he doesn't really want to know certain inconvenient facts!
(6) Free towing by AAA on New Year's Eve: Though not available everywhere, this life-saving service takes a drunk person and his/her car home at no charge, even for non-members.
(7) Kurdish wok? Cuisine, lifestyle, and music from rural areas of Iran's Kurdistan province.
(8) A powerful and highly informative film: Today, I watched the 2016 docudrama "Rabin, the Last Day" on Netflix. I usually don't write movie reviews, only book reviews. But this film about the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin 21 years ago really moved me. It presents evidence that some influential rabbis had indicated a desire for bringing Rabin to justice in a religious court, calling on everyone to help toward this goal (the Jewish version of a fatwa). There were other extremist groups that were unhappy with PM Rabin's policies and wanted him eliminated. We see that at a Netanyahu rally, supporters chant "Death to Rabin," "He is a traitor," and "We'll get rid of Rabin with blood and fire." The rabbis were apparently never prosecuted. In one scene, seeming like an official hearing, the country's then Attorney General says that he does not have enough evidence to bring charges against the rabbis. This could be an indication of the high standards of Israel's system of justice for indictments. It could also be due to at least two other reasons: The rabbis were too powerful and the government did not want to rock the boat, or the establishment was itself complicit in Rabin's assassination. There are many elements that feed conspiracy theories, such as the car taking the still-alive Rabin to a hospital only 500 meters away getting there after 8+ minutes, and inconsistencies in the bodyguards' testimonies. If you have the patience for a slow-moving 2.5-hour film, I recommend it to you. [Trailer]
(9) Final thought for the day: "It is the men who are attacking the women—if there is a curfew, let the men stay at home." ~ Israeli PM Golda Meir, when asked to establish a curfew for women to end a series of rapes

2016/12/29 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
(1) President Obama orders sanctions against Russia and some of its officials: These measures, which include the expelling of 35 Russian nationals, are meant as retaliation for Russia's meddling, through hacking, in the 2016 US election.
(2) John Kerry delivers a very well-crafted and comprehensive speech about why the continued growth, and recent accelerated building pace, of settlements on the West Bank is killing the prospects of the two-state solution, and thus peace, between Israel and the Palestinians.
(3) One dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Singapore unveils its first petascale supercomputer
- Free tool estimates your worth to Facebook
- Trump tweet helps Boeing, hurts Lockheed Martin
- Trump attacks media over coverage of his foundation
- Trump and Obama engage in a nasty war of words
- White Nationalists unhappy over inauguration guest list
- Taliban behead woman for shopping without husband
- Next year's "Star Wars: Episode VIII" features Carrie Fisher
- Montana lawmakers denounce plans for Neo-Nazi rally
- George Michael's death was due to heroin overdose
- Microsoft admits to serious abuse in Windows 10 auto-update
- Japanese PM Abe pays respect to victims at Pearl Harbor
(4) A new kind of hoax: I have been receiving messages from multiple Facebook friends about not accepting Facebook friend requests from Christopher Davies and Jessica Davies, because they are hackers and will try to infect your computer. This is a hoax that has been going around for at least a couple of years. The motivation for the hoax is unknown: could be just someone having a sick kind of "fun" or trying to smear the names of their enemies. These two names and others have been used in variations of the hoax. Don't accept any claim that does not cite a verifiable source. Statements like "it was announced on the radio today" or "it has been reported" are worth nothing.
(5) Brain drain: Marjan Davoudi, a Baha'i woman wo was denied university education in Iran, is now a clinical psychologist based in San Diego and a former part-time faculty member at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. [Dr. Davoudi's Web site]
(6) Worth remembering: The so-called "weak" candidate was brought down narrowly by a collusion between RNC, FBI, Wikileaks, and Russia, and she still won nearly 3 million more votes than the elected President.

2016/12/27 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo showing three books about Iran (1) Books about Iran, which I found among our public library's excess-book sales (offering books at $1.00-2.00 per volume).
(2) Saddam Hussein's unfinished mosques: Of the three grandiose mosques that the Iraqi dictator planned to build in the late 1990s to bolster his Islamic credentials, only one was completed. This article contains photos of all three.
(3) A musician in tears: A female violinist, playing in the band of pop music star Benyamin, was prevented from performing in the singer's concert in Tehran. The concert went on and there was no overt protest by the band or its audience.
(4) In case you forgot, we have entered the weight-gain saving time: Remember to set your scale back 10 lb!
(5) Roasted corn on the cob, dipped in saltwater, a yummy treat offered by street vendors in Iran. [Photo]
(6) Tehrani homeless living in pre-dug graves: In a section of Tehran's municipal cemetery, pre-dug graves have become shelters to many homeless people. This is while Iran is providing billions of dollars in military aid to Lebanon and Syria and spends large sums on renovating gilded Shi'i shrines in Iraq and elsewhere. Asghar Farhadi, the Oscar-winning Iranian film director, has written an open letter to Supreme Leader Khamenei, expressing shame that Iran with its vast resources isn't taking better care of its own citizens.
(7) Israel increasingly isolating itself: Netanyahu has reportedly ordered cutting back Israel's ties with 12 UN Security Council members that voted for the resolution criticizing the Jewish state on its settlement-building activities. The extent of restrictions against Britain, France, Russia, China, Japan, Ukraine, Angola, Egypt, Uruguay, Spain, Senegal, and New Zealand is unknown at this time.
(8) Facebook's Persian font is illegible: On-line fonts must be designed for comfortable reading on a variety of desktop and mobile devices. Desirable traits of on-line fonts are different from those used in print, where there is higher contrast and better resolution. For the English language, numerous fonts exist and Web designers can conduct many experiments before choosing a font that satisfies their goals. In Persian, however, the choices are much more limited and the default font used for Facebook posts is among the worst. For better legibility, it should be improved, for instance, by increasing the minimum line thickness, enlarging the dots appearing above or below some letters, and improving the spacing within and between words.
(9) Final thought for the day: "Religion is needed to interpret science because maybe it's just propaganda." ~ HUD Secretary nominee Ben Carson [Good that his cabinet position doesn't have much to do with science!]

2016/12/25 (Sunday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Book light that looks like a book when closed (1) Book light: This holiday present of mine closes to look like a smallish-size hardcover book. It comes with a USB charging cable for its battery and cycles through four different light colors, moving to the next color each time you open it for use.
(2) Half-dozen news headlines of the day:
- Singer George Michael (ex-member of Wham) dead at 53
- Pakistan threatens Israel with nuclear attack in Twitter feud
- FBI warns of possible attacks on churches over the holidays
- Russian military jet carrying 92 crashes en route to Syria
- Trump's WH Communications Director backs out of job
- First female Afghan military pilot seeks asylum in the US
(3) This couple challenges Iranians by kissing in public, in a country where open display of affection is prohibited but public executions are the norm.
(4) A man from Tabriz (Iran) feeding animals during a cold winter night; he has been doing this for 10 years.
(5) Signing off by again wishing all a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, and a joyous holiday season!

2016/12/24 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cartoon image for Christmas and Hanukkah greeting (1) Wishing everyone a merry Christmas and a happy Hanukkah! May you have a joyous holiday season. Christmas Day and first day of Hanukkah coincide this year, with festivities beginning tonight for both holidays.
(2) Notable anniversaries coming up during 2017 [Source: Time magazine]:
- 500th: Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to a church door (October 31)
- 100th: The United States entering World War I (April 6)
- 80th: Golden Gate Bridge's official opening (May 27)
- 75th: FDR's executive order to relocate Japanese-Americans (February 19)
- 60th: Little Rock's Central High School being integrated (September 25)
- 50th: Six-Day War between Israel and its neighbors (ended on June 10)
- 30th: AIDS drug AZT getting federal approval in the US (March 20)
- 20th: Madeleine Albright's swearing in as first female US SoS (January 23)
- 10th: Apple's release of the iPhone to US customers (June 29)
(3) Predictions market not so hot: It has become a tradition in the US for talking heads and pundits to present their predictions for the coming year during the holiday season. After what happened in 2016, I have serious doubts that such predictions will carry much weight! Nonetheless, if you want to try your luck, answer these half-dozen questions posed by Time magazine in its last 2016 issue regarding what will happen in 2017.
- The most interesting political figure not named Trump will be ___
- The most dramatic domestic-policy change will be ___
- Rex Tillerson's nomination as Secretary of State will ___
- The decade-long boom in Miami condo sales will ___
- The most likely headline in religion will be ___
- The big news from the Korean Peninsula will be ___
(4) Political humor: Donald Trump has decided to retweet the presidential Oath of Office, instead of reciting it.
(5) Moore's Law just wouldn't die, despite repeated predictions that its end is near: Both computational power and communication bandwidth have been growing exponentially for decades. The January 2017 issue of Communication of the ACM contains an article focusing on Moore's and other exponential laws of computing.
(6) Koomey's Law on energy efficiency in computing: Over the past six decades, computational power in our digital systems per kWh of energy has doubled roughly every 1.6 years and no slowing is in sight, yet. Details can be found in the same article cited in item 5 above.

2016/12/23 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Painting, depicting a wolf on a cliff, jumping off to attack a bird (1) A lesson for everyone, especially our President-elect: It's not wise to respond to every provocation!
(2) Maz Jobrani hushes his mom who utters "Allah-u Akbar" during air turbulence!
(3) A super-funny retelling of how the US states got their 2-letter abbreviations.
(4) Now for something different: Not Russian hackers, but Russian dancers!
(5) Trump suggests that the US should expand its nuclear capability: This guy knows only real estate and treats everything according to what he knows. If you own a house you renovate and expand it to increase its market value and, of course, you use it in some way (no sense owning a house if you don't live in it or rent it out). So be prepared for an expanded arms race with Russia after decades of mutual containment, as well as suggested uses for our nuclear arsenal!
(6) American English, eastern vs. western: In his book, Speaking American, Josh Katz shows that people in the eastern (no, western) United States talk funny! Sneakers to the easterners are tennis shoes in the west. Here are some more examples of eastern (western) American English.
Yard sale (Garage sale); Skillet (Frying pan); Scrap paper (Scratch paper); Scallions (Green onions); Highway (Freeway); Lightning bugs (Fireflies). [Source: AARP magazine, issue of December 2016 and January 2017]
(7) EVs and grid capacity: Here is an interesting question. We all agree that electric vehicles are good for the environment, but as EVs rise in popularity, how will they affect the electric grid and its ability to supply the needed energy? Some forecasts put the number of EVs on the road as 1.5M by 2025. If each vehicle uses 10 kW, a total of 15 GW of new power will be needed. Generating this additional power is only one side of the story. Currently, 4-7 US homes are served by each customer-side transformer. These transformers typically have extra capacity, so when one home in the group acquires an EV, the load can be readily accommodated. But eventually, the added load will dictate capacity upgrades on the transformers, quite an expensive proposition. Current regulations require homeowners to pay a big chunk of upgrade costs when they introduce sizable added load. How will this be worked out for EVs? Can we hope that home-based solar power will offset much of the load?
(8) Someone who seems to be enjoying his line of work! [Image]
(9) An investigative researcher exposes how the sugar industry got us hooked: Describing herself as a proud introvert, former dentist Dr. Cristin Kearns started investigating the sugar industry after attending a dental conference on diabetes. In her interview with Time magazine (double-issue of December 26, 2016, and January 2, 2017), she discusses her research, including her take on an industry memo, entitled "Sugar in the Diet of Man," sent out to its PR guys, which concluded that sugar did not have a role in heart disease, diabetes, tooth decay, obesity, and other ailments. From the interview, we also learn how the sugar industry funded research to blame fat, instead of sugar, as the leading cause of heart disease.

2016/12/22 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Art created from fallen leaves by Japanese artists Photo of seven different emoticon cushions Desert for Yalda Night in Santa Barbara (1) Interesting photos, from right to left: Fallen-leaves art from Japan, apt for the just-ended automn season;
My growing collection of emoticon cushions—time to give them away as holiday gifts;
Quick dessert made with banana, kiwi, pomegranate (or persimmon slices), and chocolate syrup or Nutella.
(2) Trump at a rally: See if you can spot his African-American! [Photo]
(3) Kurdish female fighters: And here in the US we are still arguing whether women can serve in combat roles!
(4) Maps showing different countries' claim to fame: This Daily Mail article presents maps on which countries are marked with what they are famous for. The entry for the US? "Nobel Laureates and lawnmower deaths"!
(5) Tic-tac-toe variant on an infinite checkerboard: The goal is to place four pieces in a row. Show that white going first can win in 5 or fewer moves.
(6) Quote of the day: "When I was 45, the idea of being 70 was 'Arghhh!' But you only have two options in life: Die young or get old." ~ Actress Helen Mirren, 71, in an interview with AARP Magazine
(7) The "liberated" city of Aleppo: Thank you Bashar Assad, Russia, and Iran for razing a proud, historical city, and thank you USA and Turkey for your support of "rebels" who had a part in bringing about this devastation.
(8) A cheerful group of Jews on Macy's Day Parade: Good to see the jolly spirit, but it does not take me long upon watching such a video to ask, "Where are the women? Why don't they participate in the fun?"
(9) Obama administration to adopt pipeline safety rules in its final days: Despite concerns that President-elect Trump might cancel them, the White House is expected to push through long-delayed safety measures for the sprawling network of oil pipelines in the US. This is good news, because transporting oil by pipeline is many times safer than using trucks or trains, so additional safety measures will make pipelines even more useful. [From: AP]

2016/12/21 (Wednesday): Course review: Whaples, Robert (Professor of Economics, Wake Forest University), Modern Economic Issues, 36 lectures in the "Great Courses" series, The Teaching Company, 2007. [Includes a guidebook and is packaged in 3 parts, each comprising of 6 CDs]
Cover image for the audio-course 'Modern Economic Issues' This course is about economic implications of making choices, be they at a personal level or pertain to public policy. It shows the reader that life is about making trade-offs, both consciously and unconsciously, as we go from event to event and crisis to crisis. In the process, we learn to become wiser consumers and better managers of our economic future.
The coverage includes standard economics topics, such as Social Security, inflation, unemployment, immigration, and taxation, alongside less common, even surprising, topics, such as gambling, overeating, and sports franchises. One striking example of the insights gained from this course is that the reduced birth rate in the US is in part explained by Social Security's safety net, which has removed one incentive for couples to have more children to benefit from their support in later years.
One drawback of the course is that it was published in 2007, right before the 2008 start of the Great Recession. So, the lessons we learned from the crash under President George W. Bush and the ensuing recovery during President Barack Obama's two terms aren't included in the lectures and associated discussions.
One interesting resource mentioned in the course is the Web site, which has a host of data on GDP (nominal, real, per-capita), CPI, purchasing power, inflation rates, stock market, and so on.
A useful fact I learned from the book is that dividing 72 by an annual rate of growth yields the number of years needed for something to double (the same works for the growth of investments with given interest rates). For example, if a country's GDP grows by 2% a year, it will take roughly 72/2 = 36 years for it to double. The 0.72/r rule, or 72/r when r is stated in percentage points, is an approximation of the precise expression ln(2)/ln(1 + r), with the denominator approximated by r when r is small. The actual number in the numerator should be 69.3 (yielding the rule of 69.3), which provides more accurate results when the rate of growth is small. The rule of 72 provides fairly good results for growth rates up to 20%, overestimating the doubling period for small values of r and underestimating it for larger values of r.
Here is another interesting tidbit. An indicator of social mobility in a country is father-son income correlation. A correlation of 1 means that a son will make exactly the same as his father, so the poor will remain poor and the rich will remain rich. Conversely, a 0 correlation means that a son's income has no relationship with his father's. Using Social Security data, the US father-son income correlation has been determined to be 0.6.
For a full description of the course contents and a list of lecture titles with a brief description of each, see The Teaching Company's Web page for the course.

2016/12/20 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Traditional Yalda Night celebration treats (1) Tonight is the Persian Yalda/Chelleh: The eve of the first day of winter is celebrated by Iranians as the night when forces of evil (darkness) have reached maximum strength and the Sun begins its offensive as the days get longer. Poets have written about this festival, at times likening a loved one's dark hair or a long period of separation to Yalda. Here is the Engllish translation of a verse from Sa'adi.
The sight of your face each morning is like Norooz
Any night away from you is the eve of Yalda.
(2) New signs of water on Mars: Veins of calcium-sulfate were found on Mars surface by NASA's Curiosity rover, and the veins contain the element boron, signs of once-flooded sites, where the water has evaporated away. [Sources: Washington Post and Spaceflight Now, reporting on last week's American Geophysical Union Conf.]
(3) Harvard researchers build a radio receiver from tiny components the size of two atoms: Here is the holiday song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" played through the radio.
(4) Scientists measure light from antimatter for the first time.
(5) Quote of the day: "Reconstruction of Aleppo is one of our priorities." ~ Ali Akbar Velayati, Iranian official (former Foreigh Minister) [Images showing neglected parts of Iran and its poor.]
(6) What made Donald Trump 'sad' in 2016, according to his tweets.
(7) Drones are transforming wildlife photography: Tigers in deep snow, up close and personal.
(8) "Corruption" redefined as "Smart business": Deutsche Bank stock has shot up 37% since Trump won the election. Why, you might ask? The bank gave Trump a $170M loan for his Washington, DC, hotel. Trump's go-to bank faces $14B in fines from the US Department of Justice (recently slashed to less than half that amount). Trump's appointed AG will soon take over the Department of Justice! Now, see if you can make Trump supporters connect the dots!
(9) Iran has three universities that admit Twelver Shi'ites exclusively: The universities train graduates for assuming key government positions. So, not only minorities are illegally banned from attending regular universities or have a higher admission bar, they are lawfully excluded from these three schools which overtly admit only Shi'i Muslims.

2016/12/19 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of Donald Trump kissing his daughter Ivanka (1) Ivanka Trump to take on "First Lady" role in the White House: She will move into the office reserved for the President's spouse and will play an active role in the Trump administration. [Note added on 2016/12/21: deems this story false.]
(2) Terrorism in Berlin: A truck plowing into crowded Christmas market kills at least 9 and injures 50. After a similar attack in Nice, France, police had issued warnings about an uptick in vehicular terrorism by Islamic extremists.
(3) Volkswagen agrees to $200 million settlement: The company will pay the sum to offset emissions from 80,000 diesel vehicles in the US. [Source: Reuters]
(4) Russian ambassador to Turkey assassinated: The gunman, also killed at the scene, was an off-duty police officer who shouted, "Don't forget Aleppo. Don't forget Syria." Putin has characterized the attack as a provocation aimed at disrupting the normalization of Russian-Turkish relations. Three others were wounded in the attack.
(5) A sickening example of what ails the world today: Man kicks unsuspecting woman down the stairs at the Berlin metro. Fortunately, the woman is unhurt and a security camera captures a clear view of the man.
(6) Quote of the day: "I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house." ~ Hungarian-born Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, who passed away yesterday at age 99
(7) Oddities of nature: A walking fish.
(8) Fascinating time-lapse videos from Google Earth, showing how our planet has changed over 30 years.
(9) I spent a crisp, sunny afternoon at a local Starbucks, listening to beautiful harp music by a street musician, with an arts/crafts market in the background.

2016/12/18 (Sunday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf at sunset (1) Santa Barbara in winter, due to arrive in days.
(2) Iranian regional cuisine: From the western province of Lorestan.
(3) Oklahoma police officer saves woman's life: He administers CPR to an unresponsive heart-attack sufferer being driven to hospital in a speeding pick-up truck. Excellent news amid stories of violence by and against the police!
(4) Impressive wooden furniture designs that become completely flat for storage.
(5) Pedophile abuse network busted in Norway: While we were occupied by the Pizzagate fake scandal in the US, Norwegian authorities uncovered a vast pedophile network that included a police officer and prominent individuals, arresting 20. Other sources report that he ring was uncovered when the computer of a man suspected of an unrelated crime was searched.
(6) Another conflict of interest in the Trump administration: Secretary-of-State nominee Rex Tillerson is a long-time director of a US-Russia oil company registered in the tax haven of Bahamas.
(7) CBS "60 Minutes" newsmagazine's report on the horrors of Aleppo: Amid the destruction and air attacks on civilian targets (including dropping bombs on rescue sites), the only bright side is a group of Syrian rescuers called "The White Helmets" who help those buried under the rubble or otherwise affected by the brutal military attacks on the city. The US supplies about a quarter of the budget for the rescue group.
(8) Beware of charity scams: Scammers take advantage of natural and other disasters to target kind-hearted people who are moved to help. The Aleppo tragedy is the latest tool for these scammers. Do not donate to a "charity" unless you know it from past experience or do on-line research about its status and reputation.

2016/12/17 (Saturday): Here are three items of potential interest.
(1) Book review: Boo, Katherine, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, unabridged audiobook on 7 CDs, read by Sunil Malhotra, Random House Audio, 2012. [Read it on Goodreads]
Cover image of Katherine Boo's 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' In this fascinating nonfiction book, Pulitzer-Prize-winning Katherine Boo describes in heart-wrenching detail the lives of a multitude of residents in Annawadi, a shantytown near Mumbai's airport. The trash of fancy airport hotels provides the livelihood of a number of individuals in the slum who are engaged in garbage sorting for sale to recycling and other businesses.
As if their miserable lives and works aren't enough, the young and old in the settlement are further squished by corruption, both of people living among them and politicians who begin promising reforms and new entitlements, as elections approach. No one can accomplish anything without paying bribes to a multitude of clerks, officials, cops, and middlemen.
For example, a program of bank loans is set up to allow the establishment of job-creating businesses, but by the time all the people involved in the loan's approval have taken their cuts of the proceeds, what is left may be inadequate for the actual purpose of the loan, and no one checks or follows up to see that the net amount is put to appropriate use.
Despite all these afflictions, even the poorest of Annawadians live with hopes of achieving "the full enjoy" someday. They perform their daily chores, pursue educational opportunities, and try to comfort and help their loved ones. This is simultaneously a sad tale of the debilitating effects of caste, religious dogma, envy, illicit sex, and cruel exercise of power, alongside the supremacy of the human spirit in rising above the fray and ensuring that the next generation fares better than the present one.
Boo's narrative is difficult to hear or read, but closing our ears and eyes to the pain arising from injustice, corruption, and a cold-hearted globalization regime isn't a good alternative to learning about life in such slums, even if the tale comes to us through the filter of a privileged white person.
Sunil Malhotra does an excellent job of reading, complete with emulating multiple voices and accents.
(2) A new tissue engineering method approved: The US Food and Drug Administration has approved "Maci," a tissue engineering technique involving growing a patient's own cartilage on scaffolds and then implanting the cell-covered device back into their damaged knees. There is a great deal of hope that the new technique will help many patients with cartilage defects. [Source: The Scientist]
(3) A brisk, wonderfully sunny end-of-fall afternoon in Santa Barbara: As I strolled through downtown Santa Barbara today, I snapped these photos of a church and a lush private garden, located on the northern side of State Street, on the two sides of Micheltorena Street. The (commercial) spirit of the holiday season was everywhere. An then, I returned home to this gorgous sunset over Goleta's Devereux Slough.

2016/12/16 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Map of the Middle East, showing the distribution of Kurds (1) Half of the world's Kurds are in Turkey: I wonder if the distribution shown on this map has changed much since the ravages of war and IS in Iraq and Syria?
(2) Tweet of the day: "What's that, America? A foreign gov helped install a puppet leader? Sorry, I can't hear u over the sound of ALL of Latin America laughing." ~ Derrick Lemos [P.S.: Somehow, I think the US will benefit in the long run, having been on the receiving end of political meddling.]
(3) Modern Iranian orchestral music: Unfortunately, I don't have any info about the composer, the orchestra, or the venue. Will post the info if I get it.
(4) Tehran of 60 years ago: Laleh-zar street, featured in this 2-minute video, was a hub for retail businesses in those days. You see even fewer women on the street then than you would today.
(5) Quote of the day: "We've got the scientists, we've got the lawyers and we're ready to defend. ... Keep it up. Don't flag. We've got a lot of work to do." ~ California Governor Jerry Brown, addressing the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, indicating that California would go it alone should the federal government mess around with the state's renowned science facilities or impede efforts to thwart climate change research
(6) IBM's Watson is said to have discovered five genes linked to ALS: This is Watson's first discovery in neuroscience, and raises hopes for potential new research discoveries relating to other neurological diseases.
(7) Joke of the day: Older man to woman at the bar: "Where have you been all my life?" Woman to man: "The first two-thirds, I wasn't born yet."
(8) DeVry University agrees to pay $100 million for misleading ads: After being targeted by the feds, private colleges and universities are admitting to wrongdoing and deceptive advertising to pocket students' money and leave them in huge debts, without any real job prospects. All indications are that such institutions of higher deception will be back in business soon.
(9) Is our democracy in danger? Yes, it clearly is! "The clearest warning sign is the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. Drawing on a close study of democracy's demise in 1930s Europe, the eminent political scientist Juan J. Linz designed a "litmus test" to identify anti-democratic politicians. His indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals' civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments."

2016/12/15 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Syrian artist's Statue of Liberty, built from Aleppo's bombing rubbles (1) Syrian artist builds Statue of Liberty from bombing rubbles in Aleppo.
(2) Quote of the day: "Beauty without intelligence is like a hook without bait." ~ Moliere
(3) This is an in-car phone holder I was considering buying for $6.95 on Tuesday. Luckily, I spotted the disclaimer "'IPHONE' NOT INCLUDED" on the bottom left of the package and changed my mind!
(4) Three of Trump's adult children and his son-in-law attended his meeting with tech execs yesterday: I am starting to think that maybe Trump has some sort of attention deficit or learning disability, so he uses his children, who are super-loyal to him, to help him remember stuff or explain to him what happened at the meeting. Otherwise, why would he need his children, when he has so many older and wiser advisers? Interestingly, Twitter chief, who had rejected a Trump request for introducing a special emoji for "Crooked Hillary," was not invited to the meeting. Childish vengeance and bullying continues!
(5) Palindromic lyrics: After I posted the palindromic sentence "WAS IT A CAR OR A CAT I SAW?" on Tuesday, I learned that there is an entire Weird Al Yankovic song (called "Bob") with nothing but palindromic setences as lyrics.
P.S.: Weird Al Yankovic also has an interesting song called "Word Crimes."
(6) Presidential transition: Exxon-Mobil at State, Goldman-Sachs at Treasury, fast food at Labor, anti-gay Attorney General, "King of Bankruptcy" at Commerce, public-education foe at Education, World Wrestling Entertainment at SBA, climate-change denier at EPA, Mitch McConnell's wife at Transportation, and the guy who famously forgot Department of Energy as one of the three government agencies he wanted to abolish (along with Education and Commerce) at, where else, Energy! What could possibly go wrong?
(7) Facebook unveils new tools for preventing the spread of fake news: The tools make it easier to report fake news and will warn viewers if an item in their Newsfeed has been challenged or reported to be fake by reputable third-party sites, such as The tags are advisory in nature and won't prevent a user from reposting a fake news story.
(8) Final thought for the day: "A pedestal is as much a prison as any small space." ~ Anonymous

2016/12/14 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) Widespread destruction and mass killings reported, as Syrian army gains control of eastern Aleppo.
(2) The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic play "Libertango": Wonderful music and performance.
(3) Why did the fish cross the road? Because there was flooding in Washington State and the road looked like a shallow stream. [Video]
(4) Nail-less and glue-less assembly: Japanese wood joinery techniques that are 1000 years old and do not require nails or glue.
(5) Women's rights in the Middle East: German Defense Minister causes furor in Saudi Arabia for showing up at a meeting without a hijab. Good for her! Saudi Arabia recently arrested a young woman for posting a hijab-less photo of herself on-line. Elsewhere, I read that some Iranian musical groups have begun a self-censuring practice by giving female musicians less prominent roles, or no role at all, when performing in certain cities. These abhorrent practices must stop, and Western diplomats visiting these countries are uniquely positioned to help.
(6) Tips on how to detect fake info on-line: Very informative, especially the part about a quick way of checking who links to a site that you suspect of fakery. Do a Google search "link:URL" using the site's URL. [Note added on 12/15: I was misled into believing that a regular Google search would produce a list of links to a given site. It is evidently a bit more involved. You have to sign up for Google Webmaster Tools, a free service.]
(7) One more step toward draining the swamp (!): "I've come to appreciate him. ... He's like a fine wine. Every day ... I appreciate his genius more and more." ~ President-elect Donald Trump on House Speaker Paul Ryan
(8) Quote of the day: "Trump is changing his slogan from 'draining the swamp' to 'fill her up.'" ~ Comedian Jimmy Kimmel, referring to the nomination of Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State
(9) A final thought: I hate it when I see an old person and then realize that we went to high school together.

2016/12/13 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
The newly introduced hand-on-face emoji (1) Hand-on-face emoji: Recently introduced, just in time for the next four years.
(2) Improve your vocabulary: Strong words to use in lieu of the weak form "very X."
(3) Before virtual reality was cool: These 1963 prototype "teleyeglasses" contain two tiny CRT displays for viewing 3D TV programs using battery power. [Image credit: IEEE Spectrum, issue of December 2016]
(4) Palindromic sentence: WAS IT A CAR OR A CAT I SAW? [One of the very few examples in the English language, ignoring spaces and punctuation.]
(5) Golden Globe Awards nominations: The full list of nominees is available on this Web page. The musical "La La Land" fared well by garnering 7 nominations. Asghar Farhadi's "The Salesman" is among foreign-language nominees (from Iran/France). The Sunday, January 8 awards ceremony will be hosted by Jimmy Fallon.
(6) A Harvard education not what it once was: Incidents leading to negative media coverage in recent months have eroded Harvard's reputation as the epitome of an academic institution. Harvard was featured prominently in the documentary "The Hunting Ground" (about campus sexual assaults) and its men's soccer team was recently exposed as rating the sexual appeal of individuals on the women's team. [Source: The New York Times]
(7) Bill Gates among those backing $1 billion new-energy fund: Dubbed "Breakthrough Energy Ventures," a new fund, backed by more than a dozen of the world's wealthiest individuals, aims to pump money into risky, long-term energy technology for dramatically reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. [Source: Bloomberg News]
(8) Women's Rights and Feminist Movements in Iran: This is the title of a highly informative article, with the subtitle "An Overview of How the Iranian Women's Movement Has Emerged in the Face of Unique Contexts," written by Nayereh Tohidi of Cal State Northridge. According to Professor Tohidi, stages of Iranian women's struggles for their rights parallel the stages of political developments in the country. These stages are: * Constitutionalism, 1905-1925; * Modern nation-state building, 1920s-1940s; * Oil nationalization, 1940s-1950s; * Modernization, 1960s-1970s; * Islamization, 1979-1997; * Post-Islamist reform, 1997-2005; * Populist backlash, 2005-2013; * Era of moderation, since 2013.
(9) The short-list for Time magazine's Person of the Year: Donald Trump was chosen, with the following five also on the short list: * Hillary Clinton, the aspirant; * The Hackers, the disrupters; * Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the autocrat; * The CRISPR Pioneers, the trailblazers; * Beyonce, the messenger.

2016/12/12 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Puzzle about three triangles and their angles (1) Find the sum of the green angles in this diagram, without making any assumptions about the three triangles.
(2) Masih Alinejad's passionate speech (in Persian) about compulsory hijab laws and numerous other women's rights violations in Iran.
(3) Underwater caves at Zakynthos, an Island in Greece.
(4) Persianized music: A duo plays a Persian dance-music version of "Jingle Bells" and comedian Maz Jobrani demonstrates the Persianized version of the US National Anthem.
(5) A thought experiment in feminism: One of the best things you can do to advance the cause of feminism is to imagine Clinton and Trump each being of the opposite sex, pondering who would have won the election.
(6) Learning about "deep learning": Hardly a day goes by when we don't hear about some emerging application of, or a new result in, the subfield of artificial intelligence known as "deep learning." Where does one start to get into this red-hot area? Open courses on the math prerequisites (linear algebra, statistics, optimization), basics of machine learning, and deep learning notions are compiled in this Web page. A very helpful resource!
(7) Book interview: Michael Lewis, best-selling author of The Blind Side, Moneyball, The Big Short, and Flash Boys, talks to Steven Colbert about his new book, The Undoing Project, a fascinating treatise on how we think and why stereotyping is so prevalent. A lot of our bad decisions arise from projecting certainty, via justifications and story-telling, where there is none. [6-minute video]
(8) "Never again!" isn't just for Jews: "The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on American soil, possessed of American citizenship, have be come 'Americanized,' the racial strains are undiluted. ... It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these are organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity. The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken." ~ General John L. DeWitt, head of US Army's Western Defense Command
(9) The GOP already at work on cutting Social Security benefits: Legislation just introduced will cut revenues by $2.0 trillion by eliminating income taxes on SS benefits for affluent retirees and will reduce expenditures by $13.9 trillion by changing the benefits formula, reining in cost-of-living adjustments, and increasing the normal retirement age. A preview of what to expect in the next 4 years.

2016/12/11 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of Fidel Castro giving a speech in the early 1960s (1) Quote of the day: 'In the immediate aftermath [of Castro's death], the world waxed nostalgic about the younger, 20th century Fidel ... He seared that picture [of a revolutionary] into our imaginations with his cigars, fatigues and beard, the hours-long speeches slinging Davidic defiance at his 'imperialista' Goliath, ... But most of those admirers didn't have to live in Cuba. ... To his fans, the fact that Fidel died with his revolution still intact means he won. But the shambles it has left in Cuba—the fact that Raul has had to adopt capitalistic reforms and reestablish relations with the U.S. to keep it alive—signals a failure that only Fidel couldn't see." ~ Tim Padgett, writing for Time magazine, issue of December 12, 2016 [The photo is from the early 1960s]
(2) Exactly 68 years before yesterday, UN's declaration of human rights was born. Let's celebrate these rights and redouble our efforts to make them accepted and honored in countries such as Iran, which change the subject every time human or women's rights are mentioned.
(3) Beautiful song, wonderful singers: "Hey Jude" performed by Paul McCartney and several other musical legends, with impressive orchestration and back-up vocals.
(4) Bob Dylan a no-show at Nobel Prize ceremony: He cited other commitments. American singer-songwriter Patti Smith, performing Dylan's classic "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" forgot the lyrics midway through, telling the audience, "I apologize. I'm sorry, I'm so nervous," before starting over. Wonderful song, and a confirmation that songwriting and writing literature are not really different.
(5) Chimpanzee reacts to iPad magic tricks.
(6) Our President-elect doesn't like the CIA: Trump has been skipping intelligence briefings (no intelligence needed?) and his transition team has just attacked the company for its findings that Russia was definitely involved in hacking to influence our just-concluded presidential election. The rift and lack of trust is sure to lead to national security crises. Putin's dream realized, whether or not his intervention was actually effective!
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Nigerian church collapses, killing 160
- Explosion in Turkey kills 38, mostly police officers
- Blast at cathedral near Cairo kills 25
- Ford's small-car assembly moving, despite Trump's threats
- Boeing sells 80 passenger jets to Iran for $16.6 billion
- Rand Paul threatens to block Bolton nomination
(8) Viruses to the rescue: How a patient's untreatable bacterial infection was tamed by a bacteria-eating virus.
(9) Mr. Trump: Please talk to yourself and your daughter about bringing jobs back to America. Surely for products that are being sold at 10 times their cost, you can afford to do that, much more so than other companies like Apple, which have a 50% mark-up at most. [Image]

2016/12/10 (Saturday): Book review: Moaveni, Azadeh, Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran, Random House, 2009, 340 pp. [My five-star review of this book on Goodreads]
Cover image for 'Honeymoon in Tehran' This is an interesting and rather unusual book from the author of Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran. For someone born outside Iran, learning about the country's culture second-hand before she went to visit and live there, Moaveni has some very profound and spot-on observations about the country and its people, as evident from the rest of this review and this example of relating her fear of raising a child in Europe, where mothers and infants lead pretty isolated lives: "The culture of proximity I had found so cloying when I was single now seemed sensible and wise." The unusual part starts at the very beginning, where there is no foreword: only an English translation of a few Rumi verses leading directly to Chapter 1.
Moaveni, a girl born and raised in California, ended up in the Middle East and eventually decided to live and get married in Iran, the country she fell in love with during short visits from her base in Beirut for reporting assignments. It helped that she was given easy access to authorities for her news stories by virtue of her family connections. Eventually, though, Moaveni discovered the hard way that she and her newly formed family really did not belong in that society. Moaveni's life challenges did not consist solely of the Iranian government's heavy-handed treatment of journalists. She was subjected to the same double-life that many Iranians live (private, public), while also having to fit in a third life—the Western one. Contradictions show up everywhere, such as in people who fast but also enjoy an occasional drink. Humor plays an outsize role in making the double life tolerable. And, of course, humor also comes in the two private and public varieties.
As she settled in Iran, Moaveni met with her government minder at unoccupied apartments or secluded hotels (always in a room, not at the lobby), trying to secure permissions for various reporting projects and receive instructions about taboos and red lines. During one of her dealings with the authorities, a man with two wives propositioned her, perhaps taking pity on her for being single at an "advanced" age. After falling in love with the Western-educated Arash Zeini and getting married, she tried to resort to the authorities' Islamic sensibilities to get out of the secret meetings on the grounds that her husband was uncomfortable with them, but they would not budge. Moaveni found it ironic that Iran had turned into a society where neither Islamic arguments nor secular humanitarian ones carried any weight.
In the words of an advice-giver, talking about those who live in Iran while trying to maintain Western sensibilities: "If you want to live a German life, you need to live in Germany. If you are going to live in Iran, you need to live as everyone else does. The same cereal, the same schools, the same [outdated] vaccines. You can't live like an alien in your own society." Alas, Moaveni and her husband did not heed this advice and suffered as a result, including one time when they decided to vaccinate their son in Europe and went through a great deal of trouble in trying to transport subsequent doses of the modern vaccine, which was unavailable in Iran and required refrigeration, back to Tehran.
As a modern, financially independent woman, Moaveni's values and lifestyle, such as not considering premarital cohabitation and sex a big deal, were in conflict even with members of her own family. Now, imagine having to hide different aspects of your life from your family, from neighbors, from your circle of friends, from the society at large, and from government enforcers! No wonder psychotherapy has become prevalent, at least in Tehran, and is no longer a taboo subject it once was. And then there is the all-important issue of proper disposal of nose parts resulting from rhinoplasty, a very common cosmetic operation in Iran.
Photo of Azadeh Moaveni, the author The author relates her own experience with a therapist (when the pressures of wedding arrangements, combined with family feuds got to her and her husband), who mostly talked about himself and his plans to immigrate to the West! Part of the stress came from the need to hide her pregnancy before and during the wedding ceremonies. In fact, Moaveni confides that she was surprised by her own feeling of shame due to the premarital pregnancy. We people of Iranian origins, who have lived in the West for decades without going back for visits, learn from this book that Iranian wedding packages now come with a "security" arrangement, whereby for a sum of money, the security company provides physical protection and also pays off local authorities to insure their non-interference in the festive gathering.
Then there was the matter of Moaveni preserving her personal rights after becoming a wife. Many modern marriages include prenuptial agreements about the husband forfeiting some of his rights according to Islamic laws, such as barring his wife from traveling alone. Young, educated Iranian women sometimes do not worry about such issues, as they believe their equally modern and educated husbands would never exercise such rights. However, "every family had instances of sound marriages in which the secular, civilized husband used the country's discriminatory laws to exact revenge or harass a wife."
Interestingly, Moaveni found that people's expectation for a dignified life had been transformed under the brutal Islamic regime. They are now satisfied that the police force showing up to destroy satellite dishes on rooftops went about its business without insulting, abusing, or fining the tenants! She was pleasantly surprised when the topics of women's sexual fulfillment and health were discussed at the educational sessions held by the marriage health bureau, where men were advised not to roll over and go to sleep immediately after sex. Some baby names are forbidden outright, but others are on the fringe of acceptability and can be gotten by giving a suitably large bribe to the officials. You typically mention the name you want and then fake disinterest by mentioning other names, in an effort to get away with a smaller bribe!
Infants present many challenges to parents, who must spend time and much money on necessities such as good-quality baby formula and diapers. The difficulties multiply once the kids grow up, as they must be trained to respond appropriately to trick questions at school, such as "Whose parents consume alcohol at home?" Then there is the matter of school curricula. The third-grade textbook, for example, follows the life of a devout Muslim family whose fun outings consist of going to religious shrines; on rare occasions when the family goes on a road trip, they skip important cultural/historic sites, such as Persepolis near Shiraz.
Upon returning to work three months after giving birth, Moaveni discovered that the political scene had changed and she would no longer be able to file edgy stories that even during the reform period, rubbed the authorities the wrong way (she received warnings and even threats for her work). She began writing benign news stories and, at first, thought that perhaps too much focus on the negative aspects of the Iranian society and government wasn't the right thing to do anyway. But this kind of bland reporting turned out to be unsatisfying at the end. These professional hurdles, combined with social inconveniences, the problems of raising a child, and a cancer-stricken mother in California convinced Moaveni and her husband that it was time to return to the West. They settled on Europe as their new base, which allowed relatively easy access to the Middle East for reporting assignments, in case they required travel.
Moaveni, her husband, and their son left Iran in the summer of 2007, around the time of gasoline rationing by the Ahmadinejad government and the unrest it caused on the streets, which went unchecked because the police had not been informed of the sudden change from unlimited supply at subsidized prices to quotas, beyond which free-market prices would apply. This state of affairs made it easier for the couple to abandon sentimentalism and to accept that they did not belong in the country. The couple settled in London's Kilburn neighborhood, which they had chosen because of its affordability and multicultural composition. They learned only later that the neighborhood they soon dubbed Little Riyadh was more like a joyless Muslim village, featuring markets named "Ashoura," whose Pakistani owner refused to sell haram candy to Muslim customers, and "Al-Mahdi." Moaveni found it rather discomforting to have fled an Islamic theocracy only to land in the middle of an even more repressive form of the Islamic culture and the scornful looks of the white Brits.
Moaveni writes that she went back and forth between a feeling of exaltation for living in a free country and longing for the country and culture that she had left behind, unable to resolve whether she had made the right decision to leave Iran. These doubts gave way to certainty when she and her son went on a 2-week vacation in Tehran. As they were headed back to London, her son's finger got crushed by a moving stroller part, because it had to be dismantled again for a second x-ray examination at the airport. Paramedics not only arrived very late but dismissed the injury as not requiring any treatment. It became clear back in London that antibiotics were required to prevent infection and other complications. This incident served to remove any doubt that leaving Iran was the right decision.
Moaveni realized that living in Iran took a toll due to the constant outrage it exacted on a modern person. Censorship, through heavy-handed oversight and permit requirements for various professions, jamming of satellite signals, blocking and intentional slowing of Internet connections, was unbearable to a free-thinking person like Moaveni. However, much of the social and administrative difficulties was likely due to human incompetence, a condition that is also present in the West. In short, Moaveni realized that even though the lack of composure and balance in her Iranian life could not all be blamed on the government, it was still the case that she needed these qualities for a rewarding family and professional life and that she should be satisfied wherever these qualities existed, even if not in perfect forms.
Let me end my review by this final sentiment on the last page of the book. The rich heritage of Persian literature, especially the work of its great poets, "are a reminder that though today Iranians are diminished by the cruel laws of unjust tyrants, it has not always been so, and thus will not always be."
[Postscript: The book's acknowledgment section reflects the nature of relationships that afforded the author access to government officials in Iran. She thanks many friends and mentors, her husband and mother-in-law, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi (a close friend whom Moaveni helped with a book she was writing), three female employees of the Ministry of Guidance and Islamic Culture, and Ambassador M. Javad Zarif (currently Iran's FM).]

2016/12/09 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) Time magazine names Donald Trump "Person of the Year" for 2016: The cover caption reads "President of the Divided States of America."
(2) The future of for-profit colleges: In the past couple of years, the US federal government has exerted a great deal of pressure on for-profit colleges which have been scamming students and the US government alike (via student loans). They have been forced to return the monies and pay punitive damages in many cases. The Wall Street Journal reports that such colleges are hopeful about Trump reversing some of the regulations and/or a more benign enforcement regime. Remember that Trump himself ran one such university and was forced to settle for $25M a class-action lawsuit against him.
(3) Iran's government officially changes the country's monetary unit from rial to toman (= 10 rials). I think they should have taken this opportunity for change to go directly to a larger unit such as 1000 tomans (~ $0.25 at the current exchange rate), which is already being used as the de facto unit in many transactions.
(4) Gene-editing technology for battling cancer: Interview with Jennifer Doudna about CRISPR and its impact on research and healthcare.
(5) Interesting Web content I discovered on the Internet today:
- Ann Patchett's list of must-see bookstores in the US.
- History of the Cuban-American relations in 6 minutes.
- A selection of amazing sculptures from around the world.
- Photo of the Obamas on the 2016 White House Christmas card.
- Cardio exercises to Persian dance tunes. [Persian Zumba]
- The Persian dessert "sholeh zard" is "saffron custard" in English.
(6) Brave Iranian student criticizes many years of misguided policies by the Islamic Republic, from the hostage crisis and mass executions during the early years to more recent oppression, corruption, and helping with the genocide that has produced half a million deaths in Syria. [Speech in Persian]
(7) Old drivers in Japan given incentives to turn in their licenses: Free or discounted food, such as ramen noodles, coupons for buses and taxis, and other incentives are intended to reduce the number of very old drivers, responsible for a large fraction of traffic accidents, on the roads.
(8) Sexist double standards: General David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell had an extramarital affair during which, Petraeus disclosed loads of classified information (including battlefield directives) to her because she was writing his biography. Both were married at the time, and still are. Not only did he disclose classified info to his lover, he actually hid several binders full of them inside a wall at his home, where they were potentially accessible to anyone. As a US citizen, Broadwell should have been wary of receiving unauthorized classified info, so she isn't innocent either. But look what is happening to the lovers' lives now. Petraeus is being considered for the top cabinet job in the Trump administration and Broadwell, after losing her security clearance, being demoted, and getting a reprimand, has been struggling to follow a normal life since their affair ended. [Info from stories on, The Guardian, and CBS News]
(9) A final thought: I hate it when I type "dead" instead of "dear" and don't catch the error before posting.

2016/12/08 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) Full-size replica of Titanic being built in China: The replica will be docked permanently on a reservoir in a rural area of the Sichuan Province.
(2) Saman Ehteshami's playful mixing of classical music with Iranian dance tunes during a concert in Tehran.
(3) When you see an accident that's about to happen: And It does, but not in the way you thought!
(4) So, you think you can dance, Jack Trapper? [Video]
(5) Apparently, Fidel Castro, who lived through 11 different US Presidents and antagonized most of them decided he could not bear the twelfth!
(6) Quote of the day: "It's been almost a month, will I ever get used to Trump? Hell no. It's like watching a toddler playing with a gun—You're always nervous." ~ Bill Mahr
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- American astronaut and former Senator John Glenn dead at 95
- Paris curbs car use, offers free bus/metro as air pollution chokes city
- Knife-wielding student shot by officer at Nevada high school
- Multiple deaths in 40-vehicle pile-up during Michigan snowstorm
- In rare speech after the election, Clinton warns of fake news dangers
- Apple represents biggest test case for Trump's offshoring policy
(8) USA-Japan relations: Following President Obama's unprecedented visit to Hiroshima, Shinzo Abe will be the first Japanese PM to visit Pearl Harbor. The 75th anniversary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor was observed yesterday at Hawaii's World War II Museum and around the US.
World map, marked with locations of societies/cultures with relative and absolute styles of cognition (9) The Golledge Lecture (UCSB's Department of Geography): Dr. Stephen C. Levinson, Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, and Professor of Comparative Linguistics at Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands, spoke on "Spatial Cognition and Language Evolution." The bottom line of the theory he presented is that we humans pay a price for our linguistic and social networking abilities in terms of reduced navigation skills, because part of the hippocampus where the navigation circuitry of humans and other animals reside has been repurposed for language and social networking.
The map above shows the distribution of two distinct cognitive styles around the world. Red dots represent societies/cultures where the style is relative and blue dots represent absolute frames of reference. In the latter case, if you teach someone a dance move by demonstration and then turn the person around and ask him to do the move, he will move his arms and legs in the same absolute direction (east, west, etc.) rather than in the same relative direction (left or right).
Here is the talk's very informative abstract: "In this lecture, I will argue that language evolution may have been closely tied to spatial cognition. We are natively poor navigators, compared to many animal species (although we make up for this with cultural prostheses, including language). This may have to do with the recruitment of the human hippocampus for things other than spatial navigation, namely memory and language. That cooption of spatial mechanisms may have left its mark deep on the conceptual structure of language, providing conceptual primitives differentially exploited in different languages—easily illustrated in the spatial domain. Reasons for that recycling of neuronal circuitry from space to language may have to do with the natural preoccupations in human communication with spatial and social concerns, both of which have a network structure coded in the hippocampus. Above all, gesture—a spatial modality ideal for indicating spatial concepts—seems to have anteceded spoken language in human communication, and may have been the Trojan horse facilitating the invasion of spatial circuitry by language. A crucial additional ingredient, explaining why other animals haven't gone the same route, is the development of an interactional infrastructure for communication, which is exclusive to humans. A long-standing strand of linguistic thought, together with increasing evidence about the deep history of language (including its gestural origins), seems compatible with this story."

2016/12/07 (Wednesday): Book review: Piketty, Thomas (translated by Arthur Goldhammer), Capital in the Twenty-First Century, unabridged audiobook on 21 CDs, read by L. J. Ganser, Audible Inc., 2014.
Cover image for 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' Piketty's book can be viewed as an update of Marx's Das Kapital for the 21st century, the era of big data. The two books are similar in their global or macro views in historical context. Marx considers the development of inequality an inherent part of capitalism and a cause of its eventual downfall. Piketty, with his access to huge income and wealth data sets from several different countries, believes that capitalism and free markets can survive but that conscious action is needed to reign in inequality, which if unchecked, can have dire consequences.
I learned quite a bit from this book, including two simple, yet powerful, laws of of economics at the national level. Piketty calls them fundamental laws of capitalism, but there is nothing specific to capitalism where these laws are concerned, as they are essentially accounting identities.
The first law is a = rb, where b is the ratio of national capital to national income (or the capital/income ratio, typically in the 3-6 "normal" range, with possible outliers), r is the rate of return on investment, and a is the share of national income from capital. National income is usually close to GDP, differing from it by less than 10%. If b = 5 and r = 0.05, for instance, about a quarter of national income would come from capital and 3/4 from labor and production.
The second law is b = s/g, which yields the value of (the ratio of national capital to national income) b as the ratio of savings rate and growth rate. A country whose citizens save 10% of their income and has a growth rate of 2% will have b = 5.
The fundamental structural contradiction of capitalism, according to Piketty, is represented by the inequality r > g, where r is the rate of return on capital (hovering around 5%, net) and g is the rate of growth. The latter parameter has two components: the population growth and productivity increase. Many developed countries have near-zero population growth or will soon reach that state, making growth rates in the range of 1-2% the norm for the near future. The parameter g is what allows people to move up the social ladder and get rich, while the parameter r is an indicator of income one can receive from accumulated or inherited capital. When r > g, capital tends to accumulate, growing in value from generation to generation, increasing the role of capital vis-a-vis labor and/or creativity in wealth and widening the wealth gap. This is what has been happening in the West, most seriously in the United States, leading to unprecedented income and wealth gaps.
According to Piketty, economics (a social science) is imprecise and formulas and inequalities are useful to the extent that they describe expected or average behaviors. In the end, economic decisions are made by people, for whom optimization and personal or social well-being are only parts of the overall picture. They are also affected by emotions, connections, prejudices, and so on.
Piketty's book, with its constant allusion to various data sets and deduction methodologies, reads more like a research monograph than a popular book. But there is something in the book for everyone, including non-specialists. Rather than reproduce informative charts from the book here, I refer interested readers to the Web page "A Piketty Primer: 'Capital' in 10 Graphs" (see, in particular, the graph at the beginning of the page, appearing again later as Figure 1.1, which depicts the share of national US income by the top 10% rising to around 50% in the late 1920s, falling to and hovering around 33% in the 1940s through 1970s, and shooting up at a steady rate toward today's 50%, beginning in the Reagan years).

2016/12/06 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Puzzle image showing the three angles x, y, and z (1) Math puzzle: What is the sum x + y + z of the three angles shown in this diagram composed of nine 1 x 1 squares?
(2) Will there be anyone in heaven? [Photo]
(3) An unusual jigsaw puzzle: Instead of a landscape or portrait, the completed form of this 1000-piece puzzle contains the full CMYK color spectrum, with each piece holding a specific hue.
(4) Giraffe and would-be predator. [GIF image]
(5) Wonderful, space-saving furniture designs.
(6) Trump's nominee for National Security Adviser is a fake-news spreader, as is his son. Truly a match made in heaven! Some comedian said this in response to Trump's musing that with him as President, everyone will say 'Merry Christmas' again: I don't know about that, but there will be lots of people uttering 'Jesus Christ'!
(7) Unexpected benefit of Trump presidency: American Jews and Muslims putting aside divisions to combat a new wave of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. I think Christians should also join in, as Trump is hurting their causes as well. Most devout Christians are for helping refugees and other needy individuals.
(8) Trump's 15 flip-flops in 15 days: Remember the good old days when a single flip-flop would get a politician in deep trouble?
(9) A thin-skinned, reckless President-elect: Shortly after Boeing's management criticized Trump's anti-trade policies, his factually incorrect tweet about the company and Air Force One wiped $1B off Boeing's share values. The pair of planes (one to serve as a spare) haven't been ordered yet and are in preliminary design stage. What kind of President cancels a multibillion-dollar order with a tweet?
Here is Trump's 12/6 tweet: "Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!"

2016/12/05 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon illustrating abusive language (1) Automatic detection of abusive language: Having endured a great deal of abusive language, holier-than-thou lecturing, condescending comments, hateful behavior, and trolling during this past election season, I have given some thought to what makes comments and other Facebook reactions abusive or hateful. The boundary between abusive/hateful language and ordinary comments is rather murky. Abuse/condescension/hate can be as subtle as a "laugh" reaction to a serious post, or it can he as overt as calling someone a "naive liberal/lefty."
Facebook and other social media operators are hard at work to find the process for detecting slurs and hate speech. I don't know what they will do with it once they find the magic algorithm, but one can imagine hiding the comment and replacing it with a link such as "strongly abusive comment" that one can pursue if so inclined. If, someday, the algorithm is offered as an app that accepts a piece of text and rates it on predefined scales with respect to abuse, condescension, and hate, I will use it to evaluate some of the comments on my posts. I am willing to bet that the various rankings in comments to my posts will be several notches higher than the corresponding figures for the text of each post of mine.
(2) Supersonic passenger planes will be back soon. [LA Times story]
(3) What is intelligence? Artificial intelligence is being discussed intensely these days and many of those discussing it won't be able to define what it is, if asked. Before defining artificial intelligence, we need to have a clear idea of what constitutes intelligence. The dictionary definition is of limited help: "The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills." Recently, while attending a conference session, I encountered this more technical defition of intelligence: "Making accurate and desirable decisions with limited data and computational resources in a robust, flexible, and adaptable fashion." The limitations in data and computational resources in this definition are important because they rule out exhaustive analysis based on nearly-unlimited data and computational resources, the latter allowing complicated modeling and gradual refinement from many iterations performed in a very short period of time. Robustness, flexibility, and adaptability of decision-making imply that if some aspect of the problem at hand changes, or if an equivalent problem is encountered in a different context, an intelligent agent will not reprocess the data from scratch, but will adapt the previous analysis to the new situation.
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- The feds step in to put plans for North Dakota Access Pipeline on hold
- Trump names Ben Carson to head Health and Urban Development
- John Huntsman added to long list of Secretary-of-State candidates
- Al Gore meets with Donald Trump "in search of common grounds"
- Baldwin offers to stop impersontating Trump if he releases tax returns
- Oakland warehouse operator mourns loss of venue, not victims
(5) Are Trump's business interests in conflict with our national interests? This article seems to give a positive answer to the question.
(6) Persian music: Old-time folksy Iranian singer Sousan performs "Douset Daaram" ("I Love You").
(7) I know the US presidential election is over, but these word/name inventions of Trump (such as Department of Environmental, DEP) will stay with us at least for the next four years. We might as well learn and get used to them!
(8) Results of a multi-year art creation effort by a Japanese artist are stunning in scope and detail.

2016/12/04 (Sunday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Photo of the speakers and moderator at today's UCLA book talks (1) Two Persian-language book talks at UCLA: Today's installment of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran (4:00 PM, 121 Dodd Hall) was devoted to a pair of book talks that were quite different but overlapped a bit in covering the events leading to the nationalization of Iran's oil industry under the leadership of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in the 1950s and his eventual downfall at the whim of big-oil interests.
In the photo above, you see, from left to right, Ghobad Fakhimi, Fredun Hojabri, Goel Cohen, and Nayereh Tohidi (Director of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran and today's moderator).
Cover image of 'Thirty Years Iran Oil' In part 1, Ghobad Fakhimi was to talk about "Iran's Thirty Years of Oil History: Personal Memoirs Intersecting Declassified Documents" (focus on 1969-79), based on his book of a somewhat different title. Unfortunately, however, Fakhimi did not really talk about his book but related some disjoint facts and anecdotes that sounded more like name-dropping. From the very beginning, the author was defensive and seemed eager to justify his actions and those of his peers at the National Iranian Oil Company vis-a-vis their loyalty to the Shah. Even though the lead role of the US in Mosaddegh's ouster and return of the Shah to power and, subsequently, the outsize influence of the US in controlling oil prices by playing OPEC members against each other are now indisputable, some of the events and cause-effect relationships that the author put forward did not match what other memoirists and oil industry insiders have related in their writings. Such diversity is generally not a problem, as it is indeed the case that history is best understood by each actor telling his/her side of the story. In this case, however, the story, as told in the lecture, was quite disjointed and did not add to my understanding of the events (I admit to not having read the book, which I will pursue at the first opportunity). The Arab oil embargo as a result of the Yom Kippur War and the subsequent rise to power of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya were key events that led to a sudden irreversible rise in oil prices and the beginning of greater intervention by the West to ensure the smooth flow of oil, at what industrialized countries deemed a reasonable price. The speaker's story lacked a focus on Iran's internal players and conflicts (even though the Shah made all major decisions with regard to oil production and pricing, he had influential advisers and quite a few experts that would pull the strings behind the scenes).
Cover image of 'Bar Ab o Atash' In part 2, Fredun Hojabri was to talk about his book, Bar Aab-o Aatash (Upon Water and Fire) a memoir on oil nationalization, student movements, and formation of Arya-Mehr (now Sharif) University of Technology (AMUT/SUT), where he served as a faculty member and, briefly, as Vice-Chancellor for Education. Instead, this part consisted of Hojabri's editor, Goel Cohen, talking about him and his contributions to Iran's sociopolitical, technical, and academic scenes. It is highly unusual that in an event advertised as a "book talk" and with the author present, someone else would talk, not about the book per se, but about its author. At times, the speaker seemed to be apologetic for the convictions and actions of Hojabri, as he tried to explain and justify them. We were told that Hojabri begins his book with the oil nationalization period in Iran's history, because Mohammad Mosaddegh is his hero. Indeed, with the exception of a couple of names arising tangentially during the Q & A period, this talk was devoid of any other name (besides Mosaddagh and Hojabri himself), leaving the audience with the impression that Hojabri achieved a great deal single-handedly and without anyone else's help. Even Mohammad Ali Mojtahedi, the driving force of the newly established university and its founding Chancellor, widely considered a highly effective leader, was not named during the talk. This is misleading, as there were both overt and covert bodies of faculty members and staff, as well as several visionary administrators, that made the flourishing of AMUT and the survival of its Tehran campus possible, despite the Shah and his cronies wanting to close the campus and transfer all the faculty and other resources to Isfahan, where a new campus had just been established. This relocation was, for the most part, a reaction to the extreme activism of students and a sizable subset of faculty members, who were not disposed to following orders blindly.
(2) Pointy-haired boss to Dilbert, after learning that showing interest in employees' well-being increases their productivity: "How's your wife, or girlfriend, or same-sex partner, or loneliness?" [From a "Dilbert" cartoon]
(3) Invisible cities: Using neural-network learning, a team of engineers has designed a machine that can take an aerial photo of a city and transform it to match the distinct look of a different city (say, changing Naples to look like NYC). The machine can also dream up entirely new cities, with realistic-looking satellite images, given only a hand-drawn sketch of the city's general design.
(4) Death toll in the Oakland warehouse fire climbs to 33: The building apparently had many known safety violations, including housing units without appropriate permits.

Cover image of the audiobook 'A House in the Sky' 2016/12/03 (Saturday): Book review: Lindhout, Amanda and Sara Corbett, A House in the Sky, unabridged audiobook on 11 CDs, read by the first author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2013.
[Amanda Lindhout is the founder of Global Enrichment Foundation, which focuses on development, aid, and educational projects in Somalia and Kenya. Sara Corbett is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, who has also written for several other publications.]
Lindhout survived a childhood with a violent family, finding refuge in the pages of National Geographic, which instilled in her a passion for exploration and travel. As a young woman, she backpacked through several Latin American countries, Laos, Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Somalia, using saved tips from a waiting job and, on occasion, making additional money as a reporter.
A few days after her arrival in Somalia, Lindhout and a former boyfriend, who was traveling with her in Africa to rekindle his passion for photography, were abducted by masked men and held hostage for 460 days. To survive, she converted to Islam and took "wife lessons" from a captor. One of her Somali captors began raping her first, and then most of them joined in, visiting her room from time to time. The titular "house in the sky" alludes to what Lindhout imagined, laying on her back and looking at the ceiling, being raped: a safe place, an imaginary place she could occupy to divert her mind from the brutality and cruelty she experienced in captivity.
Lindhout and her former boyfriend eventually attempted a daring (unsuccessful) escape, whose details are hair-raising and awe-inspiring. They were eventually released when their families, after much struggle, put together $1M to pay the ransom money (significantly discounted from the original amount, once the captors realized that the families can't meet the asking price) and a host of intermediaries, such as private investigators and "facilitators." In an epilogue, Lindhout writes about her feelings toward her captors; about the difficulty and necessity of forgiveness.
The book touched and horrified me. I have read many stories about women abducted (in Somalia, and more recently in Iraq and Syria) for monetary gain and/or as sex slaves. Yet, hearing a story first-hand, from the person who suffered at the hands of beasts, masquerading as human beings, was eye-opening for me.
A movie based on this book is in development and reportedly features Rooney Mara in the title role.
[Here is my 4-star review of the book on Goodreads.]

2016/12/02 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's image on a German billboard (1) This billboard showing a photo of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei with a message inviting readers to learn about true Islam from reliable sources, has appeared in two German cities, in this case paired with a rather ironic Italian lingerie ad.
(2) Joke of the day
CNN: How do you feel about Trump winning the election?
Gary Johnson: Winning what? When was the election?
CNN: Yesterday.
Gary Johnson: ???
(3) Sarah Palin calls Trump's offer of tax credits to Carrier to save a few hundred jobs crony capitalism and a source of corruption. Who knew?
(4) Ann Coulter joins Sarah Palin in criticizing Trump: While Palin hammered the President-elect for crony capitalism in connection with his Carrier jobs deal, Coulter's beef is with his reneging on the promise of building a wall and with his picking Nikki Haley as UN Ambassador. I hate to be on the same side as Palin or Coulter, but ...
(5) Photo of private citizen Hillary Clinton on a hike, wearing a 22-year-old patterned fleece, goes viral.
(6) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Tennessee wildfires have killed at least 11
- CNN reportedly trying to recruit Megyn Kelly after she left Fox News
- Breitbart urges boycott of Kellogg's products after the firm pulled its ads
- Hillary Clinton's popular-vote lead surpasses 2.5 million
- Parents discover missing guns, rush to school to avert a disaster
- Charles Barkley describes the Warriors' style of basketball as "girly"
(7) Something to think about: Having determined that the average number of goals scored in a soccer game is 2.5, two friends argue whether having 2 goals scored is more likely than 3 goals. One says the two outcomes are equally likely, given the half-way average. The other thinks that in any given game, it is more likely to have 2 goals scored than 3. Who is right and why? [Source: E&T magazine, issue of December 2016]
(8) True or false? Glaciers are found in both North and South America. [Source: See the previous item]
(9) The 'Pizzagate' fake scandal and how it spread on the Internet: A baseless Alt-Right conspiracy theory is picked up by Pro-Erdogan forces in Turkey for their own propaganda purposes and, before you know it, becomes a worldwide sensation, with millions re-posting and re-tweeting the story with absolutely no idea about the original source or its credibility.

2016/12/01 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) Remember the hungry at each meal. [Image credit: UNICEF]
(2) Anna Popovic Live in Amsterdam: In this 75-minute concert, the fabulous Belgrade-born, LA-based guitarist/singer plays funk, rock-n-roll, and blues, including covers of Jimmy Hendrix songs.
(3) Threatening journalists, and now blacklisting professors: Certainly, not restoring greatness to our country.
(4) How UC is dealing with the new wave of hate speech: University of California President Janet Napolitano has convened a working group to develop responses to possible changes in US immigration policies in light of an uptick in hate messages posted on-line and incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence against targeted UC student groups. In a separate statement, Napolitano has asked campus police forces not to contact, detain, question, or arrest any individual solely on the basis of his/her suspected undocumented immigration status.
(5) The outrageously funny Mr. Bean makes a sandwich.
(6) Trump on Obama's visit to Hiroshima: what a striking difference in humanity and empathy!
(7) Quote of the day: "A drawing is simply a line going for a walk." ~ Paul Klee
(8) The case against reality: I am often characterized as an optimist, but I tend to think of myself as a realist, one who places a high premium on the truth. So, this article in The Atlantic piqued my interest. It is based on research by Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at UC Irvine, who maintains that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses. In other words, there are as many different worlds or realities out there as there are human beings on earth. I do not argue with the facts that our senses are imprecise and our perceptions limited by our experiences and world views. However, I have a hard time accepting that there is no fundamental reality underneath our different perceptions. Hoffman cites, as an example, the field of quantum physics which asserts that particles do not have an objective, observer-independent existence. "So while neuroscientists struggle to understand how there can be such a thing as a first-person reality, quantum physicists have to grapple with the mystery of how there can be anything but a first-person reality. In short, all roads lead back to the observer. And that's where you can find Hoffman—straddling the boundaries, attempting a mathematical model of the observer, trying to get at the reality behind the illusion."
(9) Final thought for the day: "One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time." ~ Robert Kennedy

2016/11/29 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about Trump's tweet advocating punishment for flag-burners (1) Cartoon of the day: Master of distractison at work (viz. Trump's tweet advocating punishment for flag-burners).
(2) Quote of the day: "I was chilled when [Trump's] first tweet after the election was about professional protesters incited by the media. First the media is accused of inciting, then sympathizing, then associating. And then suddenly they find themselves accused of being full-fledged terrorists and subversives. And then they end up in handcuffs, in cages, in kangaroo courts, in prisons, and then who knows what." ~ Chief CNN International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, during her acceptance of the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists [Full speech]
(3) Second quote of the day (see the previous quote for source): "It's time to recommit to robust, fact-based reporting, without fear or without favor, on the issues. Don't stand for being labeled or called 'lying,' or 'crooked,' or 'failing.' I learned a long, long time ago ... never to equate victim and aggressor. Never to create a false moral or factual equivalence ... So I believe in being truthful, not neutral. And I believe we must stop banalizing the truth. We have to be prepared to fight especially hard right now for the truth." ~ Christiane Amanpour
(4) A brief excerpt from Nasim Basiri's forthcoming book, A Feminine Voice from Southern Iran: A Response to Sexual Violence and Oppression.
(5) Scientists are concerned about the future of science and technology under Trump: "Trump operatives didn't do any outreach to the scientific establishment, and its agenda wasn't addressed during the campaign."
(6) Brazil devastated by soccer team's plane crash: A plane carrying Brazil's Chapecoense soccer team, on its way to the final match of Copa Sudamericana, crashed near Medellin, Colombia. Of the 77 on board, 71 died and 6 miraculously survived.
(7) Violin virtuoso David Garrett plays "Adagio." [5-minute video]
(8) Cellist Mahsa Ghassemi plays "Libertango." [3-minute video]
(9) Holoscope: A cube with its corners cut off, allowing light to enter trough the triangular openings and bounce off its interior mirrors to create interesting 3D patterns. [Demo 1] [Demo 2]

2016/11/28 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Fruit plate with berries, grapes, and pomegranate (1) Nursing a nasty cold with a variety of fruits (berries, grapes, pomegranate) as well as tea with lemon juice and honey.
(3) Israeli police detains 23 on suspicion of arson: With active fires reduced to a handful and fire crews dealing mostly with hot-spots and clean-up, Israel has shifted its focus to identifying the terrorists whose acts devastated large areas of the country and destroyed countless homes.
(2) US reaction to Fidel Castro's passing: As usual, conservatives live in the past and look backward. Newt Gingrich has said that President Obama, VP Biden, or SoS Kerry should not attend Castro's funderal, because he was a tyrant. As expected, President Obama has sent a very thoughtful message to Cubans: "... we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans—in Cuba and in the United States—with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him." Instead of dwelling on the past, we should look forward to the economic and cultural future of two countries separated by a fairly narrow waterway.
(4) How to cut a pomegranate: There are many on-line videos about the best ways of preparing and serving fruit. Here is one about a clean, simple way of cutting a pomegranate.
(5) ISIS sympathizer carried out terror attack at Ohio State University: He rammed his car into a crowd and then slashed a number of people with a butcher's knife; 11 have been hospitalized. He was taken out by a police officer less than a minute after he began his hideous attacks.
(6) Donald Trump, a master of distraction: He did it during the campaign by manufacturing artificial crises and timed "leaks" to distract the attention of voters from serious issues, about which he knows next to nothing. He is doing it again now by issuing baseless tweets about voter fraud (something that even many of his supporters admit is inappropriate) to deflect attention from unprecedented and very serious conflicts of interest that must be resolved before he takes office in January. Many of the businesses that Trump licenses in other countries are under full or partial control of the governments of those countries. So, his business interests will definitely conflict with the US national interest. Even if Trump and his family members act ethically (an iffy proposition), those governments may offer unsolicited favors to Trump (going to his golf courses, approving new businesses, and speeding up business permit processes, to gain favors in return.
(7) Final thought for the day after a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend with the family: "I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual." ~ Henry David Thoreau

2016/11/26 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Ancient monestery in Israel's Judaean Desert (1) This monestery, more than 1000 years old, stands fast in Israel's Judaean Desert. [Credit: National Geographic]
(2) Former Cuban President Fidel Castro dead at 90: Perhaps his death will lead to a new chapter in US-Cuba relations.
(3) Artificial intlligence will fuel the next tech revolution: Technological revolutions occur when some fundamental activity becomes simple and cheap. It was communication, then searching, that produced earlier leaps. Now, it's prediction. Driving a car and diagnosing a disease, just to name two areas, will benefit from the prediction ease and accuracy afforded by ubiquitous artificial intelligence.
(4) Cartoon of the day: There is absolutely no racism or sexism in this cartoon, if you believe Trump supporters!
(5) Poster seen in front of Whole Foods in Thaousand Oaks. [Photo]
(6) One of four Persian bookshops on Westwood Blvd. in West Los Angeles, between Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvds. This one also sells calligraphic art and accepts custom orders for artistic Persian writing. [Photo]
(7) Scores of Iranians dead in two separate incidents: A suicide truck bomb, targeting Iranian pilgrims returning from Karbala and the collision of two trains in north-central Iran left many people dead or injured. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the first incident. Three railroad employees have been detained over the latter incident.
(8) The fake-news life cycle analyzed: How a now-deleted ignorant tweet by someone with a few dozen Twitter followers snowballed into widespread accusations of paid/bussed anti-Trump protesters.
(9) Millions of women to march the day after Trump's inauguration: The main march will be in Washington, DC, from Lincoln Memorial to the White House, but marches on Los Angeles and other cities are also planned.

2016/11/24 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Thanksgiving turkey maze puzzle (1) A very happy Thanksgiving Day to everyone! Let's all celebrate the day (Native) Americans fed undocumented aliens from Europe! What's Thanksgiving without a turkey? So, here is a turkey maze for you to solve while recovering from eating too much turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce! [Move from green dot to red dot.]
(2) Pre-Thanksgiving gridlock in Los Angeles: One more reason for those of us who do not live in LA to give thanks!
(3) Time magazine's 100 most influential photos of all time.
(4) Malware that turns PCs into eavesdropping devices: Researchers at Israel's Ben Gurion University of the Negev have demonstrated a scheme for turning even microphone-free computers into eavesdropping devices. The vulnerability arises from the little-known facts that headphones, earphones, and speakers are physically similar to microphones and that the role of a PC's audioport can be reprogrammed from output to input.
(5) US to build two exascale computers starting in 2019: Assuming that the Trump administration does not scrap the plans, the $200M+ machines, with different architectures, will become ready for use by 2023. There are fears that science and technology funding, including support for this project, may falter under Trump.
(6) Not done giving thanks, after spending Thanksgiving Day with family: Persian Poem by Shokoufeh Taghi.
(7) Full-scale model of the 1964 Ford Mustang, made entirely of Lego blocks.
(8) [Diary of a highly motivated dieter] Day 1 of my new diet: I removed all the bad food items from the house. They were delicious!
(9) Final thought for the day: What is less likely than being struck by lightning? Being struck by a piece of space junk. A woman in Tulsa, OK, felt something brush her shoulder while on a walk in 1996. She was not hurt and is thought to be the only person ever to be struck by re-entering space debris. [Source: Time magazine, double issue of November 28 / December 5, 2016]

2016/11/23 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about a man who can no longer communicate without PowerPoint slides (1) Cartoon of the day: For PowerPoint aficionados and haters.
(2) Twitter suspends the account of alt-right leader Richard Spencer: The broad purge includes other alt-right hate-mongers.
(3) Half-dozen brief tech news headlines of the day:
- Google to open AI-focused (machine learning) division in Montreal
- Samsung smartphone owners remain loyal, despite Note 7 debacle
- EPA downplays Trump's ability to stop shift away from fossil fuels
- Zuckerberg sells $95M in Facebook stock to fund philanthropy efforts
- Two female tech pioneers honored: Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton
- Post-election backlash spurs fake-news crackdown on social media
(4) Remember the names of these five Baha'i women arrested in Shiraz, Iran, for merely practicing their faith: Lala Salehi; Parisa Sepehri; Samar Ashnaee; Nasim Kashaninejad; Rezvan Yazdani.
(5) Low-tech smoothing of a freshly-made cement curb. [1-minute video]
(6) Quote of the day: "It was Han and Leia during the week, and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend." ~ Actress Carrie Fisher, admitting for the first time that she had an affair with the then married Harrison Ford during the filming of "Star Wars" some 40 years ago
(7) Electric and hybrid vehicles are just too quiet: Lack of strong audible sign of a vehicle approaching increases the chance of collision with pedestrians. US Department of Transportation is asking the manufacturers of such vehicles to add some audible noise to them in an effort to prevent an estimated 2400 injuries annually.
(8) Foreign students at US colleges: The top 10 countries are China (329K), India (166K), Saudi Arabia (61K), South Korea (61K), Canada (27K), Vietnam (21K), Taiwan (21K), Brazil (19K), Japan (19K), and Mexico (17K). Iran (12K) is ranked 11th. [Source: Institute of International Education]
(9) Final thought for the day: It is worrisome that Trump is so passionate about the Second Amendment but apparently has no regard for the First!

2016/11/22 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Side-by-side comparison of the Ryan and Trump tax plans with the current marginal rates (1) Guess who gets a tax hike under both Paul Ryan's and Donald Trump's tax plans? Those with (adjusted gross) incomes under $18,550 will see their rate rise by 2%, from 10% to 12%. Everyone else sees either no change or a tax break, with the biggest tax cut of 6.6% (39.6% to 33%) going to those earning more than $466,950 annually. Both plans essentially transfer money from low-income individuals to the rich. And if the transfer isn't enough to make the plans revenue-neutral, we will also see rising deficits. [Chart source: Time magazine, double-issue of November 28 / December 5, 2016]
(2) "Hamilton" actor a hypocrite: I have seen enough stories about racist and misogynistic tweets from the actor, who read a statement to VP-elect Mike Pence, to conclude that the show's cast and crew made a mistake in choosing him as their spokesperson.
(3) I found a message on my answering machine from Costco about recall of some Sabra Hummus products. The recalls are general for the listed products and do not apply only to Costco.
(4) Old movie dances put to new music: Incredible editing job!
(5) After distribution of Nazi propaganda material in its area, Montana's Har Shalom Synagogue has asked for and received greater police protection.
[To those who ask, "So what that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis support Trump? He isn't racist just because racists support him": There are consequences to making racist statements, even if you did not mean them and used them only to get votes.]
(6) An elaborate spiral-shaped domino chain-reaction design that took 25 hours to set up: Provides a 1.5-minute visual feast.
(7) This tower, slated for mass production in 2019, extracts drinking water from the air via condensation.
(8) President Obama awards his last Presidential Medals of Freedom: Among the 21 honored are Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Bill and Melinda Gates, Ellen DeGeneres, Diana Ross, Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Lorne Michaels (wait for the tweet on the medals being rigged), Frank Gehry, and Margaret H. Hamilton.

2016/11/21 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon of high-ranking cleric in Mashhad, Iran, who defies Iran's central government (1) Cartoon of the day: Mashhad embassy reopens in Iran. [The cartoon alludes to the differences between a high-ranking cleric in Mashhad, who has become very hostile to Rouhani's government, preventing scheduled musical concerts from being held and cancelling lectures by members of parliament and government officials, essentially establishing self-rule in the eastern Iranian province. Pointedly, the cleric has his own picture on the wall behind him, instead of photos of Khomeini and Khamenei.]
(2) Music on a street in Tehran: Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love," played the day after his passing. [6-minute video]
(3) Middle-Easterners love to laugh and dance: Westerners won't believe these claims, because they have never seen a laughing or dancing Middle-Easterner on TV or in film; okay, maybe they have seen "evil laughters"! Comedian Maz Jobrani does another one of his trademark stand-up routines (in English, with Persian subtitles).
(4) Hail Trump: Both the New York Times and The Atlantic have covered a gathering of 200 White Nationalists, members of the National Policy Institute, at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC, where they discussed their organization's tenets of safeguarding the "heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world." They also celebrated the election of Donald Trump with the salute "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!" The report includes a video clip of some of the event's highlights.
(5) Political humor: After meeting with some generals as part of his transition efforts, the President-elect is considering holding a 2-day intensive course at Trump University to teach them about ISIS, for a mere $20K apiece. [He had said during his campaign that he knows more about ISIS than the US military generals.]
(6) Iranian-American refugees supporting Trump: I'll never understand certain fellow Iranian-Americans who, after fleeing Iran on mules via the country's smuggler-infested mountains on the southeastern or northwestern border or being admitted into the US as political asylees, agree with Trump's policy of slamming the door shut on new refugees.
(7) Iranian music: Maureen Nehedar sings "Dokhtar-e Man" ("My Daughter").
(8) Iran arrests 12 of its nuclear negotiators on espionage charges: It seems that Iran's Supreme Leader won't wait for Trump to annual the nuclear deal. I won't be surprised if Rouhani and Zarif are forced out or resign over these arrests.
(9) Parhamis in Iran: I used to believe that all members of my family had left Iran by the end of the 20th century. A few years ago, I received a tip that there is at least one member of the family living in Iran, but the person providing the tip didn't want to say more (I have no inkling why). Having no idea about the identity of this mystery family member, I began doing some research. My on-line probes did not identify the said person, but they led to a Parhami family, unrelated to ours, in Shiraz. The family includes a filmmaker and at least a couple of post-graduate researchers. It also runs a boutique hotel, Parhami Traditional House, mentioned and positively reviewed on several travel sites. I became friends on Facebook with one member of that family to establish a connection and look forward to learning more about them.

2016/11/20 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest (presidential transition edition).
(1) Quote of the day: "[Trump] is an insult to our history ... Do not be deceived by his momentary good behavior. It is only a spoiled, misbehaving child hoping somehow to still have dessert." ~ Filmmaker Ken Burns, speaking at Stanford University's commencement last June
(2) Those pesky liberals, always talking about rights and stuff: I saw a picture of VP-elect Mike Pence leaving a "Hamilton" performance and he wasn't very happy. Now I know why! [PBS report about a "Hamilton" cast member reading a statement to Mike Pence.]
(3) "Hamilton: The Musical" in the spotlight: Following a cast member reading a statement addressed to VP-elect Mike Pence during his visit, and Trump supporters calling for a boycott of the show, there is a surge of support for the highly-regarded modern musical, which is sold out on Broadway until August 2017 and has enjoyed similar success in San Francisco. Here is the show's full soundtrack on YouTube.
(4) Governing by tweets: Here are two Donald J. Trump tweets from early this morning.
- "The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior."
- I watched parts of Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show—nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?"
(5) Irony of the day: Mitt Romney, one of the people who was most forceful in calling Trump a know-nothing con artist, is now considering becoming his Secretary of State. Absolutely no principles left among our politicians!
(6) Peaceful protests against Trump/Pence in Santa Barbara: About 2000 people participated in a march on State Street, according to Santa Barbara Independent. Earlier, according to other local sources, about 1000 individuals protested on the UCSB campus, where a few men shouted rape threats to participating women.
(7) Trump settles lawsuits against his University for $25M: And this after emphatically stating during his campaign that he would never settle, on principle.
(8) In full-page NYT ad, ACLU urges Trump to reconsider his racist and discriminatory plans: He is threatened with the unleashing of the full force of ACLU's legal and human resources, if he proceeds with implementation.
(9) On Jared Kushner's admission into Harvard: According to Business Insider, a little-known book, The Price of Admission, which is experiencing strong sales after the election of Donald Trump, claimed in 2006 that Trump's son-in-law Jared and his brother Joshua were admitted into Harvard shortly after their father (a real estate developer with a criminal record) made a $2.5M support pledge to the school. Neither of the Kushner brothers was a noteworthy student in high school.

2016/11/18 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon, showing a monster in a girl's bedroom (1) Cartoon of the day: "I know you're scared, honey. But he's already in your room. Why not give him a chance?"
(2) Animated cartoon of the day. [GIF image]
(3) Quote of the day: "When I meet President Trump, I may first grab his crotch—to get his attention—then discuss Science with him." ~ Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson
(4) Draining the swamp? Elizabeth Warren's take on how Trump, instead of draining the swamp, is just putting clean shirts on the worst of the swamp monsters that now run his transition team.
(5) Never may be now: Many of us Jews will register as Muslims if a registry of Muslim citizens is ever set up in the US. "We will not forget the Holocaust!" and "Never again!" aren't just empty slogans. We are all Muslims!
(6) Top five fake election news stories in terms of Facebook engagement (shares, comments, and reactions): Three of the five are from the site "Ending the Fed," which had many other outrageous false stories. One is from "The Political Insider" and the final one is attributed to the nonexistent Denver Guardian.
(7) Colorful clouds and their reflections in Devereux Slough, at sunset yesterday. [Two photos]
(8) Persian poetry: A wonderful love poem by Parinaz Jahangir.
(9) Immigration by the numbers: This presentation, with its compelling visual aids, will please anti-immigration conservatives. There is just one problem: its conclusions are based on the misleading assumption that immigration is advocated as a cure for all of the world's problems, including poverty. It isn't. Immigration policy in the US is primarily a selfish ploy to benefit our country by selecting physicians, entrepreneurs, tech specialists, and other capable individuals from around the world and bringing them to our country, and then making them stay by allowing their loved ones to also come here. Immigration also saves lives in the case of refugees and persecuted minorities. Some poor folks come here among the second group, but only because we believe their lives are in danger, not because we want to cure poverty. We do work on helping the poor in their own countries through various governmental aid programs and NGOs, such as Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Clinton Foundation, the latter currently being the object of much hateful propaganda by the right wing.

2016/11/17 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing supplements and pacebos on store shelves (1) Supplements no better than placebos: Americans spend about $100 per capita annually on dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals, herbal products, and the like. Studies show that many such products are unnecessary or of doubtful benefit.
(2) Quote of the day: "We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence enourages the tormentor, never the tormented." ~ Elie Wiesel
(3) Fake news items generated more comments and shares on Facebook than genuine news items during the last three months of the presidential campaign. [Buzzfeed News investigation result]
(4) Registry for Muslims inches toward implementation: In this interview, a Trump surrogate cites the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as precedent allowing the President-elect's proposed registry of Muslim-Americans. There's no talk of a scarlet letter 'M' yet!
(5) Advice to my friends on social media: Ignore trolls, and if they become unbearable, block them. No one has the right to disturb your peace and that of your friends. [Troll definition, from Wikipedia]
(6) Sting's new song, "Inshallah," acknowledges refugee hardships. [6-minute video]
(7) Iranian women continue to be persecuted: These women were flogged because they attended mixed-gender parties. Barbaric!
(8) Why Chris Christie was ousted from Trump's transition team: According to MSNBC, Charles Kushner, father of Trump's son-in-law Jared, was convicted in 2005 by Christie when he was a criminal prosecutor.
(9) Democrats may try to exploit the rift between Trump and establishment Republicans: In matters such as infrastructure spending, preventing businesses from taking their operations and money overseas, paid maternity leave, and dismantling trade agreements, there is much alignment between President-elect Trump's proposals and long-time goals of Congressional Democrats. The first case of Republicans shooting down a Trump proposal will come soon. It will be interesting to watch the fireworks and read the ensuing tweets. Equally interesting, but perhaps less likely, would be a Trump proposal passing with support from Democrats and dissident Republicans.

2016/11/16 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Persian calligraphy image (1) Calligraphic rendering of a Rumi verse: "Kay shavad in ravaan-e man saaken?"
(2) Quote of the day: "The nation will not be healed from the White House. It has to be healed in backyards, in halls of worship, in public parks and clubhouses." ~ David Wolpe, Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles
(3) Our four-year mission: "Make America smart again." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
(4) UN calls on Iran to end the house arrest of its political opponents: Not that it will make any difference. Iran's rulers wear any international criticism of their actions as a badge of honor, using them to brand opponents as foreign agents.
(5) Today's noon concert at The Music Bowl: UCSB's Gospel Choir performed some much-needed and appreciated cheerful music.
(6) Please do not fall for smear tactics: Several people have posted photos purported to be from a Washington, DC, anti-trump rally, in which a protester is holding up a sign that reads "Rape Melania." This message is so repugnant that I took it upon myself to do some research about the photos. My go-to site for such topics is While not saying outright that the photos are fake, presents some evidence that they are doctored, including side-by-side comparison of two photos from different distances and angles in which the sign remains the same size and video still images showing the same protester holding a different sign.
(7) Get to know Steve Bannon: Former head of Breitbart News responsible for these racist, misogynistic, and anti-gay headlines.
- Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy
- Hoist it high and proud: The Confederate Flag proclaims a glorious heritage
- Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?
- Gabby Giffords: The gun control movement's human shield
- Gay rights have made us dumber, it's time to get back in the closet
- The solution to online 'harassment' is simple: Women should log off
- Bill Kristol: Republican spoiler, renegade Jew
- There is no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews
- Science proves it: Fat-shaming works
- Suck it up buttercups: Dangerous Faggot Tour returns to colleges in September
(8) Many Jewish historians voice concerns over the election of Donald Trump. And here is the same story, as reported by Haaretz.
(9) Did you read the Denver Guardian article about an FBI agent, assigned to Clinton's e-mail probe, being found dead in a case of murder-suicide? If you think you did, you aren't alone. Millions of others think they did too. There are just a couple of problems: There is no publication named "Denver Guardian" and no FBI agent was found dead. You were probably duped by a Facebook post or a tweet. Social media, which had the potential of transforming our lives for the better, have become instruments of mass deception and ideal tools for demagogues to spread lies and hatred. Be vigilant and do not accept claims from dubious sources. Examples of such sources include YouTube videos (YouTube isn't a news source; anyone can post anything there) and images bearing a statement with no attribution. An example of the latter is a photo of Melania Trump wearing a see-through blouse, accompanying a snide remark about the future First Lady. The image is fake, although the doctoring isn't obvious. It is just safer to ignore all unsourced or dubiously-sourced material.

2016/11/15 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Dinner plate photo (1) Clam chowder in a bread bowl, with Persian herbs.
(2) Quote of the day: "It's important that we show President Trump and his Republican allies the same respect and cooperation that they showed President Obama." ~ Anonymous
(3) Introducing Donald Trumps newly appointed misogynistic Chief Policy Adviser: "These women [Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, and Ann Coulter] cut to the heart of the progressive narrative ... That's one of the unintended consequences of the women's liberation movement—that, in fact, the women that would lead this country would be feminine, they would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn't be a bunch of dykes that came from the 7 Sisters schools." ~ Steve Bannon
(4) The glass ceiling is still standing: Yes, it has another huge crack, but it doesn't show any signs of shattering to pieces. Hillary Clinton is done. Elizabeth Warren is too old. Perhaps the new generation of Democrats, such as Kamala Harris or Kristen Gillibrand, can show more courage in assuming progressive positions to confront the Republicans' newfound populism. Ironically, female politicians toeing the establishment line and not being bold are byproducts of the same patriarchal way of thinking that erected the glass ceiling, and which now uphold it.
(5) It was sexism after all: "It's possible that a male candidate with Clinton's political baggage would have been allowed to transcend his mistakes and outrun his errors. It's possible that a male candidate would not have faced the same scrutiny and suspicion, or have been held to the same impossible standards. It's possible that a male candidate would not have been dogged by questions of likability and stamina. There's simply no way to know, except to look at all the other male politicians with less accomplished resumes (like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, for example) who faced fewer obstacles and more goodwill." ~ Charlotte Alter, writing in Time magazine, issue of November 21, 2016
(6) Donald Trump's coalition isn't hierarchical: As he reneges on his campaign promises one after another, there is no mid-level leadership in his support network to keep him accountable (traditional Republicans are all too happy to see his fringe ideas thrown out). The farmers in Idaho or the factory workers in Wisconsin have no way to demand that he keep his promises. Yes, they voted, but lack of organization will keep them in the background, until they are awakened, if at all, four years from now. It is him and his cronies at the top and millions of supporters at the bottom; nothing in between. This is why he wants to keep his Twitter account as President. Twitter is an ideal communication channel for a dictator. He will write a short accusatory statement and his supporters will cheer. If the media and pundits bring up his flip-flopping and reneging on campaign promises, he will just tweet that they are continuing their elitist agenda, and his followers will cheer some more.
(7) The modern weather forecast: Just heard on the KEYT Santa Barbara local news about tomorrow's forecast. According to the weatherman, he used two different models, one predicting a clear day with no rain and the other predicting measurable precipitation. I kid you not!
(8) Ben Carson removes himself from consideration for a cabinet position, citing lack of experience. Apparently, a cabinet position needs more experience than the presidency!
(9) Final thought for the day: "It's like you came to a party and now it's a funeral." ~ Michael Zorek, father of 10-year-old Diana, who had gathered with his family to celebrate the election of the first female US President

2016/11/14 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Map of the city of Konigsberg at the time of Euler (1) The seven bridges of Konigsberg: This classic puzzle dates back to the time of Euler, who developed methods for analyzing problems of this kind. The city of Konigsberg in Prussia, set on both sides of the Pregel River, included two river islands, with seven bridges connecting the islands to the mainland and to each other. Is it possible for a person to walk (no swimming allowed) in Konigsberg in such a way that s/he crosses each of the bridges exactly once? [Source: Wikipedia]
(2) Quote of the day: "Trump went to the White House and showed how brave he is by meeting with the man who founded ISIS." ~ SNL Weekend Update (November 12)
(3) SNL's November 12 reflection on Clinton's election loss incorporated a tribute to Leonard Cohen.
(4) Did Trump win the election or did Clinton lose it? Yes and yes. Trump won Florida, despite Clinton getting way more votes there than Obama, because Trump increased the Republican turnout by an even wider margin. Clinton lost Wisconsin, even though Trump got fewer votes there than Romney. [Insight from yesterday's "Meet the Press" program.]
(5) New Facebook posts: Over the past couple of days, my conservative friends have posted nothing but gloating rants, previous predictions of a Clinton victory followed by "I told you Trump would win," continued attacks on Hillary Clinton and President Obama, and doctored photos of protesters displaying despicable signs such as "Rape Melania." Then there are testimonials by a couple of celebrities endorsing Trump, posted by many individuals, after the same individuals dismissed numerous celebrity endorsements of Clinton as a sign of weakness for "needing statements by clueless Hollywood elites." I guess even in victory they have no idea about what needs to be addressed and what Trump plans to do.
(6) Incidents of hate crimes spreading on college campuses and elsewhere: CNN, ABC, BBC, and other major news outlets have reported many recent hate-crime incidents, ranging from harassment and threatening graffiti to fake deportation letters handed out to Hispanic students. The crimes have been characterized as even worse than post-9/11. Breitbart News has called the reports "fake."
(7) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Gwen Ifill, long-time PBS news anchor dead of cancer at 61
- In highly unusual move, Pepsi CEO attacks Trump on his misogyny
- Donations in Mike Pence's name pour in to Planned Parenthood
- Network of immigration sanctuaries being built by some US colleges
- Trump chooses White Supremacist Steve Bannon as Chief Policy Adviser
- Iran signs a military cooperation pact with China
- Powerful 7.8-point quake hits New Zealand, trapping tourists in a coastal town
- Russian fighter jet crashes at sea while trying to land on an aircraft carrier
(8) Looking at the bright side: My home phone has stopped ringing ever since the election night!
(9) Where are the conspiracy theorists? I am waiting for conspiracy theorists to step forward and present the theory that Trump was supposed to become President all along according to clandestine plans, and that Hillary Clinton and her e-mails were just clever distractions.

2016/11/13 (Sunday): Here are four items of potential interest.
US presidential election votes by educational attainment level (1) Trump's victory, analyzed by race, gender, and education: This article and its highly informative charts provide Pew Research Center's breakdown of how Americans of various races, genders, and educational attainment levels voted in the last 10 US presidential elections, from 1980 (Reagan's first term) to 2016 (Trump). Some of the charts go back to 1972 (Nixon's second term).
(2) Here is to patriotism and compassion, combined. [Image]
(3) Quote of the day: "Three things [are] extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one's self." ~ Benjamin Franklin
(4) Why Donald Trump isn't my President: This is a fairly long essay, so let me clarify at the outset what my statement means. Many of my conservative friends are impatient and read only the first couple of lines, before opining that I better wake up and smell the coffee or lecturing me about democracy. Trump is the rightful next President of the United States and I accept that. Voters have spoken and, ignoring voter manipulations and external influences, which have always been parts of our political scene, he was elected through the same process that put Barack Obama and those preceding him into the White House.
Still, Trump isn't "my President," because I do not share his guiding morals and world view. I am thankful that my adopted country allows me to vote and to express disagreement with its elected leader. I understand and appreciate democracy, having lived a good chunk of my life under two different dictatorial systems. Here, I can express my discontent, without fearing a knock on the door within hours. I condemn any kind of violent protest, or gloating celebration, preferring instead to express my opinions with pen and paper (or, actually, keyboard and screen). Accepting Trump as the US President at this time does not mean that I will sit idle and won't work hard to expose his glaring shortcomings; to ensure his withdrawal or defeat 4 years from now; to plan ahead for the next congressional elections in 2 years.
Trump has claimed, and his supporters cheerfully echo, that he will fix this or that economic problem; bring jobs back to the US; double the country's economic growth. Having studied economics as a hobby and knowing about the workings of Washington after living in this country for half of my life, I doubt the simple-minded assessment that everything will become "wonderful." But, this isn't my entire objection. If the US President locked himself up in the White House with his economic and military advisers and ran the country away from the public eye to achieve the stated goals, it would be a different story.
Alas, the US President is the face of this nation. The assertion that a President shouldn't be viewed as a role model for our children does not hold water. He is seen and heard daily on TV, in print media, and on social networks, as he travels in this country or around the world. He will host and be hosted by business and tech leaders, mingle with world authorities, visit schools and factories, send greetings on national and international occasions, and try to comfort us when a natural or man-made disaster strikes. The videos of him demeaning women or mocking a disabled person will persist forever and will be viewed not just by our children and grandchildren, but by the entire world.
On a different front, having a President who has been in and out of courtrooms for his entire adult life isn't something to cherish. Dozens of legal cases are still pending against him and only future can tell whether any of them is meritorious. True, any famous person will get his/her share of frivolous lawsuits. But, for a super-rich tycoon, with access to the best legal counsel, having financially settled numerous legal cases doesn't pass the smell test. We will see if some of the pending cases are also settled without trials.
So, I will continue my public and private efforts to expose and defeat Trump, while also working on understanding and rectifying the underlying reasons for his success in the face of mounting evidence that a person who has lived in the lap of luxury since childhood, and who, by his own admission, does not read books, cannot possibly understand the plight of the downtrodden.

2016/11/12 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Safety pin signals 'You are safe with me.' (1) The safety-pin movement: Immediately after the Brexit vote, some Brits began wearing safety pins to convey the message "You are safe with me. I stand beside you." to comfort those who were fearful of the vote's implications and the xenophobic mindset that led to it. An anti-Trump safety-pin movement in afoot in the US.
(2) Don't agonize, organize: I wonder if we'll see a million-woman march on Washington any time soon.
(3) A fond farewell to our classy First Family: Hope they find peace in their private lives, after facing eight years of obstruction, false accusations, and outright hostility (not even counting the campaign that preceded it). I do hope that the youthful First Couple will consider serving this country in official positions, after a suitably long period of rest, of course!
(4) It seems that Donald Trump has gotten his Twitter account back. Sad! He is apparently being coached to sound more presidential. Note the change of tone from tweet 1 to tweet 2, separated by 9 hours.
"Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!"
"Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country. We will all come together and be proud!"
(5) The leading candidate for DNC Chair is a Muslim-American: Keith Ellison is the first Muslim-American ever elected to US Congress. Apparently, this push is part of the Democratic Party's plan to move left in order to increase its appeal to working-class people, who voted for Trump. Part of me applauds the Democratic Party leaders who have proposed and endorsed Ellison. Another part of me fears that among the thousands of people connected to him by 1-3 degrees of separation, there might be someone who talked about, met with, or wrote a letter to a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, or similar organizations. I am visualizing the presidential election in four years and the fear-mongering that may ensue (in the same way that Clinton Aide Huma Abedin was demonized by false accusations).
(6) Women have become marriage-shy in Iran: According to Los Angeles Times, more than 3M educated Iranian women over 30 are unmarried. These women have discovered that it is quite difficult to find an open-minded man willing to embrace an independent, liberated woman.
(7) After Trump said that he will keep some elements of Obamacare (despite previously promising to repeal and replace it right away), the following joke is making the rounds on the Internet.
Trump: "Let's get that Muslim band going!"
Pence: "Band? We thought you said ban!"
Trump: "No way, that's harsh! Also, how's that Mexican border mall coming along?"
(8) Previous lie to make kids feel good, and current truth: "Anyone can become President."
(9) Dance Me to the End of Love: This is one of the better-known songs of Leonard Cohen, the poet, novelist, musician, songwriter, and singer who passed away a few days ago at 82. I particularly like the 6-minute video.

2016/11/11 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Map of US, color-coded with the intensity of cyberattacks on October 21, 2016 (1) Heat map of the October 21 cyberattack: A collective calling itself "New World Hackers" has claimed responsibility for the widespread attacks that affected the US and several other countries. [Source: Time magazine, issue of November 7, 2016]
(2) Happy Veterans' Appreciation Day: We remember and honor the courage, resolve, and sacrifices made by members of the US armed services in protecting the United States of America and the freedoms we cherish.
(3) If this isn't racism, I don't know what is: Genetics is real, but flaunting your abilities, your height (Trump has boasted about his 6-foot-plus frame), your money, your beautiful women, and the like to imply superiority is a sure sign of low class; maybe there is a gene for that!
(4) TRUMP is actually an acronym: Tacky; Racist; Unqualified; Misogynist; Prejudiced.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Musician/singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen dead at 82
- If only people 18-25 voted, Clinton would beat Trump 504-23 in electoral votes
- VP Mike Pence will head Trump's transition team in lieu of the ousted Chris Christy
- Memoir of Megyn Kelly, Fox News anchor, reveals details of exchanges with Trump
- North America flooded in warmth; no signs of winter
- Trump says he will keep parts of Obama's Affordable Care Act
(6) [Since everyone's occupied these days with voting and voting outcomes, this post might interest you.]
On the mathematical theory of voting: Voting seems like a simple process of selection and counting, but this simplistic view is far from the reality. Voting schemes have been studied by sociologists (under the heading of social choice), political scientists, mathematicians, and computer scientists/engineers. Safety-critical computer systems, such as those guiding spacecraft or bullet trains, use replicated computers with voting to counteract the effects of malfunctioning units by making sure their potentially incorrect outputs are masked by other correctly functioning units when the bad units are in the minority.
Because of my longstanding research interest in fault-tolerant computing, I have studied voting schemes in some detail. Here is a tutorial/survey paper of mine, if you are interested in learning more about the latter application domain.
So, why is voting non-trivial? There is a mathematical theorem, known as Arrow's Theorem, that states that, under some reasonable assumptions, no voting scheme is perfect, in the sense that any system, no matter how complicated or carefully devised, is subject to tampering and yielding non-optimal or absurd results. There are voting procedures that come close to being ideal, but they are not the ones in widespread use.
Let me explain this by way of an example. Consider a set of three candidates {A, B, C}. With respect to their preference for these candidates, voters can be divided into 6 categories:
A > B > C   |   A > C > B   |   B > A > C   |   B > C > A   |   C > A > B   |   C > B > A
(the symbol > represents preference, so that B > A > C voters prefer B to A and A to C).
Our commonly-used simple "first-choice" voting scheme forces the first two groups to vote for A, their first preference, the next two groups to vote for B, and the final two groups to vote for C, regardless of how they view the other two candidates.
Now suppose C is a third-party or fringe candidate with little chance of winning. Then, a C > A > B voter may strategize and vote for A instead, so that s/he has a say in the outcome. If voters were allowed to present an ordered list of candidates, instead of voting for a single candidate, many of the problems would go away. In this scheme, the votes for first-choice candidates are counted as usual, but at the end of this first counting phase, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the votes shift to second-choice candidates in those cases. The process of eliminating the candidate with lowest support continues until we are left with just two candidates and can use straightforward counting. This voting scheme allows people who prefer a candidate, say C, to put him/her in first place, without fearing that they don't have a say in the choice between A and B, should C not win.
Another approach is known as "approval voting," where each voter can mark the names of as many candidates as s/he wants, essentially indicating that the remaining candidates are unacceptable to him/her. This voting scheme isn't as trouble-free as the ordering scheme, but it also allows voting for third-party candidates without apprehension. It is also easier to implement (many voters would get confused if they had to rank-order a large number of candidates).
For both of the voting schemes above, primary elections can be eliminated, but again having a long slate of candidates may confuse the less-educated voters.

2016/11/10 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
'I'm still with her' poster (1) I'm still with her: "I'm with her" does not end with electoral defeat, nor is it tarnished by e-mails and other manufactured scandals. It represents the belief that every little boy and girl should be able to grow up without fear of being bullied or sexually harassed. It means that education is a vital national resource, not an expense item to be minimized. It means that a country cannot be deemed prosperous or great, unless all of its citizens enjoy free healthcare and a social safety net. It means that science and scientists are treasured not demeaned.
It means that people whose ancestors came here a generation or two before others don't consider themselves the country's rightful owners. It means that freedom of speech and other basic freedoms, including freedom from fear of being killed by a gun-crazy individual, are honored in deeds and not just in words.
(2) A multi-ethnic, multi-cultural musical tribute to Iran.
(3) Quote of the day: "Inhabiting a novel can be transformative in a way that using a self-help book isn't." ~ Ella Berthoud, bibliotherapist
(4) Borowitz Report (humor): President Trump to create jobs for unskilled white workers, beginning with Rudi Jiuliani and Newt Gingrich!
(5) Let the reflection / action begin in light of the following facts about the just-completed presidential election. Have I missed anything, my fellow Democrats?
- Electoral landslide was predicted by some, but in the wrong direction!
- Confirmed: A highly qualified woman can still lose a job to an unqualified man.
- Trump outperformed Romney among all three groups: women, blacks, Hispanics.
- There were hidden Trump voters after all!
- Late-stage undecided voters went predominantly with Trump.
- Industrial states (Michigan, Pennsylvania) turned red.
- Blaming the Clintons, Sanders, Comey, turnout, pollsters, racism, sexism, ... will get us nowhere.
(6) Color-coded word puzzle: Complete each of the following words.
_ R _ E _ D | _ B L _ _ U E | _ G R E E _ _ N _ | _ _ O R _ _ _ A N G E | _ E C R U _ _ | _ _ _ T A _ _ U P E
I _ V _ _ _ O R Y | _ A M _ _ B E R _ | I N D I G _ _ O _ _ | _ P U _ _ _ C E | M A _ _ U V E _ | B E _ I _ G E

2016/11/09 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Sketch portrait of Donald Trump with an American flag in the background (1) Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States: Do not panic! This is the only advice that comes to my mind on this shocking day.
"Tomorrow is another day," and I, personally, will begin reflecting on where, we Democrats, went wrong. The good news is that Trump will be humbled and kept in check by his own party, now in full control and thus owning any mishaps. He can no longer ignore his reluctant allies, Speaker Ryan and VP Pence.
Trump will find out, soon enough, that he can't do all that he said he will do and that he must share power with other egos in Washington; a very difficult thing for him to do. Our jobs are much easier than Hillary Clinton's, in conceding to DJT, and President Obama's, who will be shaking his hand on Thursday and helping him during the transition period. With hopes of better times for our beloved country!
(2) Hillary Clinton bows out: People who showered Clinton with insults such as crooked, nasty, corrupt, power-hungry, adulterer, murderer, and ISIS founder, are expressing disappointment that she was not more gracious in her concession speech.
(3) Did you know that the common swift (a bird) can stay in the air without landing for up to 10 months? [Source: Current Biology] [I bet this is the bird that often stains my car!]
(4) Sleepless bunch: In a study of 13 countries, UK emerged on top with 37% of its population saying they did not get enough sleep. The US came in fourth with 31%. India with 9% was last. [Source: Time magazine, issue of November 14, 2016]
(5) Quote of the day: "Is telecommuting work? The answer isn't in the fridge. (I already looked.)" ~ Title of a humorous essay by David Von Drehle, in Time magazine, issue of November 7, 2016
(6) What I learned from this awful election cycle: I learned that liberalism and social democracy are the only way to go. Nearly all of the free world has embraced social democracy as the best way of combining the efficiency and productivity of capitalism with tolerance and human compassion, our beloved US being one of the last holdouts (now, perhaps, moving further away from this ideal). I learned that racists and bigots do not consider themselves racists and bigots, so arguing with them gets you nowhere. I learned that blaming others will do you no good, so I will refrain from blaming the Clintons, Sanders, Comey, the pollsters, talking heads, or anyone else. I learned that some of my relatives, whom I have tolerated in social settings, because the discussion never went deeper than catching up with what everyone is doing in his/her personal life, are really not the kinds of people I'd like to associate with. So, I guess it wasn't so awful after all!
(7) Ending a long day: A day that began with attending several conference talks in Pacific Grove, followed by an audiobook-assisted 4-hour drive to Santa Barbara, and continued with a faculty meeting, a class, an office hour, and a master's comprehensive exam, came to an end with a Big West Conference semifinal playoff soccer match between UCSB (10-6-3) and Cal State Fullerton (9-8-4) at Harder Stadium. After sleepwalking for about 60 minutes and falling behind 0-2, UCSB woke up and scored a goal deep into the second half, too late to turn things around. So, the Gauchos' season ends with this 1-2 loss. Better luck next year!
(8) Final thought for the day: Well, maybe the next President can make America great again!

2016/11/08 (Tuesday): Here are eight (pre-election) items of potential interest.
Time magazine cover photo, issue of November 14, 2016 (1) Wishful thinking? I can't believe that even if he accepts the seemingly inevitable election outcome, Trump would fade into the sunset come tomorrow. More importantly, it will be extremely difficult to return the genie of hatred and distrust that he has unleashed back into the bottle, even if he does not revert to tweeting absurdities.
(2) "Brexit" tops the list as word of the year; "Trumpism" makes the short list.
(3) Good for a chuckle in these final hours before the end of a brutal presidential campaign: Hacked e-mails show nasty Clinton refused to assist a Nigerian prince.
(4) Women supporting Trump: Sure, he doesn't have much support among women in relative terms but, still, some women adore him. Why? This is a question for my sociologist friends and women's rights specialists to address in the coming months. [Photo credit: Time magazine, issue of November 14, 2016]
(5) My early afternoon walk today: After eating a huge fish-sandwich-and-chips dish for lunch, I set out to explore the Asilomar beach on foot. Because the conference had no interesting talks for me until 3:30, I took a long 3-mile stroll up the coast, from Pacific Grove toward Monterey. The intermittently foggy/cool and sunny weather and the rocky shoreline with its crashing waves made my walk quite pleasant. Along this stretch of California coast, one can climb on some of the rocks and be surrounded by foaming water and the soothing sound of the surf, as it meets the rocks (being careful not to slip or lose one's cell phone, of course) [1-minute video]. The winding coastal road is lined with bear-proof trash and recycling bins, to help preserve its pristine beauty. Earlier today, I spotted some deer roaming the Asilomar conference grounds.
(6) The big news is still unfolding, but here are a dozen brief headlines for the week, all from Time magazine:
- Iraqi army discovers mass grave with 100 headless bodies in Mosul
- Iran emerges as champ in Men's Sabre World Cup
- Pope Francis reiterates that women will never be priests
- World's most expensive parking space sold for $620K in Hong Kong
- President Obama insists that his wife will never run for office
- Russian warships have been situated off Syria's coast
- New Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, aims to keep regional fires at bay
- South Korean president in trouble for sharing classified info with old friend
- Swedish "Schindler" Raoul Wallenberg declared dead 71 years after vanishing
- McDonald's pays $3.75M to settle lawsuit by franchise workers in California
- Americans' seafood consumption rose by 1 lb (~ 7%) from 2014 to 2015
- Groundbreaking 1970 discrimination lawsuit by women working for Newsweek comes to film
(7) Cartoon of the day: Generator for 4096 different horror-movie plots. [Credit: John Atkinson]
(8) Signing off with this quote: "Listening to a complicated argument without interrupting, negotiating patiently with her opponents, looking before she leaps. These are not qualities exclusive to women, but they are more common to humans who do not suffer from testosterone poisoning. And given the profusion of masculine bluster in our politics, the unseemly leap into silly wars and overambitious programs, these are qualities that may nudge us toward a less hypercaffeinated politics." ~ Joe Klein, writing in Time magazine, issue of November 7, 2016

2016/11/07 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
The fireplace at the guest commons of the Asilomar Conference Grounds (1) Asilomar Conference Grounds: The Asilomar Conference on Signals, Systems, and Computers, which I am attending until Wednesday, is held at a California state park and nature preserve, featuring peaceful historic guest houses (no TV or other distractions). The fireplace at the guest commons has already been lit, providing a cozy atmosphere for mingling and networking. The conference is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. I have been attending fairly regularly since 1971.
(2) Comedy of errors: FBI clears Clinton ... again!
(3) If you have already voted, thanks. If not, please vote on Tuesday. Democracy thrives only if everyone participates.
(4) Public flogging in Indonesia: I am very surprised that in a country often cited as having a moderate interpretation of Islam, such acts of public shaming and torture take place, apparently with blessings from the police! I hope this is just a misunderstanding and the event is some form of educational display to condemn this sort of punishment.
(5) Today at lunch: As I moved, food-plate in hand, to join a table, I noticed a young man talking on his cell phone in Persian. The Iowa State graduate student failed to notice me when I took a seat next to him and continued to report on his conference experience to his father in Iran. He mentioned among other things that he had met 7-8 Iranians at the conference already. When he finished, I told him that he can add one to his count, as I introduced myself. He seemed embarrassed and apologized profusely. We chatted for a while, as I ate my Cobb salad (he had already finished eating).
(6) A half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Midnight Election-Day voting has begun on the US East Coast
- Former Attorney General Janet Reno dead at 78
- Former Attorney General Kathleen Kane sentenced to 10-23 months in jail
- STD cases reach record high in the US
- Coffee is the most tweeted-about food in America
- Snoopy character "fired" by MetLife after 30 years
(7) The wonders of Pacific Grove: I spent part of my lunch break today walking to the beach via a boardwalk going through sand dunes that have been wonderfully restored with native vegetation. I watched and listened to crashing waves, before returning for the afternoon conference sessions.
(8) Truth-challenged Fox News and other conservative media made it possible for Trump to rise with a whopping 2-to-1 lie-to-truth ratio.
(9) Final thought for the day: Think by using your roots, not your leaves.

2016/11/06 (Sunday): Here are five items of potential interest.
(1) My four-day absence: I am headed north to the Monterey area (Pacific Grove, to be exact) to attend a conference, where I will have a busy schedule of paper presentation and technical discussions. I'll be watching the election night returns up there in my hotel room. I'll be back Wednesday night to celebrate the election of President Clinton and to hear on the news an endless barrage of opinions about how her programs are going to be obstructed at every turn and how she will eventually face an attempted impeachment! So, don't think that you'll have peace of mind come Wednesday!
(2) Fall back: Remember to set your clocks back by one hour today, but come Tuesday, make sure you don't set your country back by 50 years!
(3) Khamenei's calculated risk: He has said publicly that, with regard to America's problems, Trump's views coincide with his (reminds me of the time when he said that Ahmadinejad's views were more like his). With this pronouncement, Khamenei has put himself in a win-win situation, while also pleasing his Russian ally. If Trump wins, Khamenei will brag about predicting the extent of dissatisfaction in the US. If he loses, then Khamenei will go along with Trump's rhetoric of a rigged election. I guess the two despots' agreement is in more than mere politics. They both agree on the place of women being at home and on men taking much younger wives!
(4) The so-called "assassin" at a Trump rally was a protester holding a sign: He displayed a sign reading "Republicans Against Trump" and was wrestled to the ground. All hell broke loose when someone shouted "he has a gun!" Before any info was released on the incident, certain Trump supporters were pointing fingers at Clinton for "assassination" attempt!
(5) [Final thought for the day.] It's not just Trump: Imagine Rudi Jiuliani and Chris Christie in cabinet positions!

2016/11/04 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Photo of Pamela Samuelson, lecturing at UCSB (1) Software likened to novels and plays: Pamela Samuelson, a UC Berkeley law professor with extensive writings on the various aspects of software intellectual property (IP), spoke today as a Computer Science Distinguished Lecturer at UCSB. The title of her talk was "The Past, Present, and Future of Software IP Protections."
Software, being both a technology and a form of writing, has presented complex challenges to the courts, which have to work with the tools they have (existing laws and precedents). In one noteworthy case, an 1879 US Supreme Court decision on the Baker-v-Selden case involving a new method of bookkeeping was referenced in presenting a decision on a software litigation case.
Software patents were pursued vigorously in the 1980s, but they are now deemed inappropriate as a form of IP protection. Some 85% of software patents that have been litigated in recent years have been struck down. Copyright protection has been more successful of late (US Congress passed a law in 1980 to extend copyright protection to object codes), but copyright does not extend to ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, or discoveries. One particularly difficult challenge is that software is often fine-tuned to become as efficient as possible. It would be ridiculous to expect someone adopting the idea to render the derivative software less efficient in order to avoid copyright infringement.
Samuelson used as a case study the ongoing software copyright litigation involving Oracle's claim that Google appropriated 37 packages of the Java API in the Android platform. Oracle's ownership of Java came about when it acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010. Part of Oracle's claim in the trial that began in 2012 was that, with 9 million Java programmers worldwide, Google's use of the technology cut into their market and profits. Working against Oracle was the fact that it had no competing product in the smartphone OS market.
Oracle's case resembles in many ways an earlier case that Google had won by likening the structure of computer programs to the plots of novels and plays. This new case is important in establishing how much protection software does and should get from copyright law. Upon the return of the case to the trial court, a jury ruled in favor of Google's fair-use defense. Oracle has pledged to appeal that ruling. Samuelson reviewed the issues that will be brought up in the appeal, generalizing from the specific Oracle-v.-Google case to the implications of such cases for software developers around the world.
[For more details, see Pamela Samuelson's "Legally Speaking" column entitled "Fair Use Prevails in Oracle v. Google" in the November 2016 issue of Communications of the ACM, pp. 24-26.]
(2) Melania Trump seems to be living in a fantasy world inside Trump Tower: In her first campaign speech after the Republican Convention, she said that our culture has gotten too mean and that social media, while powerful, has a bad side. No kidding!
(3) Colleges disguise tuition hikes by labeling some charges as "mandatory fees": The fees are given euphemistic names, but they essentially cover what used to be covered by tuition. Since 1999, such mandatory fees have risen 30% more than tuition has.
(4) Smart algorithms allow pocket-size high-quality cameras: Cell-phone-size multi-lens cameras, combined with sophisticated image-processing algorithms, can produce photos that are competitive with those from bulkier and more expensive SLRs. For example, one company uses 16 cameras of different focal lengths to provide the raw data to an image-processing algorithm, which recomposes the image. Fitting 16, or even more, cameras in the small case of a cell phone is one of the challenges of bringing this idea to market. [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of November 2016]
(5) Atomic pens: Believe it or not, in the early 1960s, Parker Pen Company built a prototype atomic pen containing a tiny packet of radioactive isotopes that would heat the ink to allow a selectable range of line densities. Crazy, right? But around the same time, when everything atomic was cool, people also imagined atomic cars and planes!
(6) Some Web sites and their contents betray their dial-up roots: When I access the table-of-contents for certain scientific journals, the list is typically split into several pages, each with 5-10 articles. Limiting the amount of data transmitted for each page download made sense with the low bandwidth of dial-up connections, but, today, even a TOC bearing hundreds of items (tens of thousands of characters) will be downloaded in the blink of an eye. In fact, the TOC itself has a negligible size compared with the page formatting info. There is no need to inconvenience the users with page-to-page clicks. [Commercial sites take this approach so that they can show you a new set of ads with each page advance, but here I am talking about scientific and technical organizations.]

2016/11/03 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon of candidates Clinton and Trump sitting on a girder (1) The British are watching, the British are watching: In fact, the entire world is watching our presidential election. This 2-page cartoon in the British tech magazine, Engineering & Technology, is part of a cover feature about US infrastructure renewal to the tune of $3.6 trillion and which of the two main candidates is better-equipped to deal with it. Foreigners, it seems, are far less interested in e-mails and other scandals du jour.
(2) 3D printing applications spreading: Airbus has constructed its testbed aircraft Thor from sixty 3D-printed structural segments.
(3) 3D-printed sculptures come to life when spun under a strobe light.
(4) The longest ongoing championship drought in baseball reduced by 40 years: The Chicago Cubs have just won the 2016 World Series after 108 years. Their opponents, the Cleveland Indians, now have the distinction of being the team with the longest (68-year) drought. And the Cubs did it in a dramatic way, winning in extra innings in game 7, after trailing in the series 1-3.
(5) China funds 3 research institutions to develop an exaflops computer: The 5-year plan will aim to increase the computational power of the Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer, the current world leader in performance, by a factor of 10. The participating institutions include Sugon, the National University of Defense Technology, and the National Research Center of Parallel Computer Engineering and Technology. [Source: South China Morning Post]
(6) All-wooden skyscrapers: Until recently, wooden buildings could be only a few stories high. Cross-laminated timber, with fibers in successive layers being perpendicular to each other, is changing all that. Structures with 10+ stories have already been built and a 42-story building is in the design stage. Once the infrastructure for erecting such buildings is in place, taller buildings may materialize.
(7) It's impossible to vote via texting or any other remote electronic method: You can vote for Clinton by texting [something] to [this number]. This is the latest scam by Trump supporters. I guess they are betting on uninformed individuals who would fall for this wicked plan to keep voters away from polling places.
(8) Final thought for the day: Try to live in peace now; don't just rest in peace after death!

2016/11/02 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of Lucky Knot Bridge in Changsha, China (1) Lucky Knot Bridge in Changsha, China.
(2) We need a mother in the White House: Comedian Louis C.K. Talks to Conan O'Brien about his choice.
(3) Revealed for the first time by Borowitz Report (The New Yorker): FBI is investigating Hillary Clinton's ties to Bill Clinton.
(4) Afghan children perform "Dokhtar Astam" ("I Am a Girl"): Produced by Afghanistan's National Institute of Music. Wonderful!
(5) Mariachi music: Today's noon concert at UCSB's music bowl featured Mariachi Las Olas de Santa Barbara. [Video 1] [Video 2]
(6) A scientific embarrassment for Iran: Springer and Biomed Central have retracted 58 articles by Iranian authors due to the discovery of plagiarism, compromised peer review process, and authorship manipulation issues. Researchers from University of Tehran and Kurdistan University of Medical Sciences have been named in the mass retractions. Retraction Watch has published a list of the retracted papers. I hope Iranian universities and the Ministry of Science punish these dishonest researchers.
My latest quatrain poem in Persian (7) Persian poetry: My latest quatrain.
(8) Iran defeats USA 6-2 in beach soccer: The game was played in Dubai as part of the Beach Soccer International Cup. Beach soccer is fast-moving and fun to watch. [8-minute highlights]
(9) Vote wisely next Tuesday: This is Comedian Jon Stewart's advice in the face of some Twitter exchanges he had with Donald Trump.

2016/10/31 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
My Halloween treats table, with decorations (1) All set for the little trick-or-treaters, who will start knocking on my door shortly. And here is the same table after dark. Earlier in the day, I wore this T-shirt as I headed to class to spook my students with a midterm exam!
(2) Walking home on a sunny afternoon via the beach path.
(3) The gorgeous new addition to the UCSB library looks unfinished in this corner. Perhaps the unfinished surfaces are for art students and faculty to decorate some time soon.
(4) Unlawful acts by the law-and-order candidate's companies: In connection with court orders, Donald Trump's companies destroyed or hid documents, causing lawsuits against them to drag on for years, exhausting the claimants' resources and making them more disposed to out-of-court settlements.
(5) Unsubstantiated attacks on Hillary Clinton continue: Having exhausted the various angles of using e-mails to weaken Clinton, some conservatives have begun attacking her long-time aide Huma Abedin (a Muslim), claiming that she is a spy with connections to the 9/11 attacks; I am not making this up folks! They are, of course, mum on why over the many years she has been associated with the Clintons, intelligence services of the most powerful country on earth have been unable to root out this spy and expose her illicit activities, whereas a bunch of rag-tag conservative bloggers have been able to do so.
(6) Sex as an Algorithm: This is the title of an intriguing article (by Adi Livnat and Christos Papadimitriou) in Communications of the ACM, issue of November 2016, bearing the subtitle "The Theory of Evolution Under the Lens of Computation." Ideas from the theory of evolution, such as mutation and survival of the fittest, have long been used in computation under the banner of genetic algorithms. For example, the traveling-salesperson problem can be solved heuristically by starting from various random, suboptimal solutions and iterating with changing a few links and keeping the new solution if its fitness index is higher than the previous one. Reasonably good solutions to difficult optimization problems can be obtained via this method, which can be characterized as asexual evolution. This mutation-based approach to algorithm design has evolved into the highly successful simulated annealing, which is used widely for solving a variety of problems. Bringing sex into the mix requires us to maintain a population of solutions and allowing them not only to mutate but also to recombine, just as sex allows features from a male and a female to appear in their offspring. This latter approach is much harder, because often it's not obvious how two different solutions (to the traveling-salesperson problem, say) can be combined. If we can figure this out for a particular problem, the rest is easy. Allow the beneficial recombinations to occur more often than others (let the fit "couple" have more children) and convergence to an excellent solution is virtually guaranteed. I recommend this highly readable article to anyone interested in algorithm design.

2016/10/30 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) College soccer: In today's game between UCSB and UC Davis, the Gauchos gave up a goal early in the rainy first-half and could not recover in the sunny second half, losing 0-1. Despite this loss in the final game of the regular season, UCSB is headed to the Big West playoffs, having sealed a first-place finish in the northern division of the Conference. UCSB will play its first playoff match against an as-yet unspecified team at home on 11/9.
(2) Investors' fear of a Trump presidency: Each time the probability of a Trump win rises (as when the FBI said it had of new Clinton e-mails), the markets stumble, and vice versa (as after each of the three presidential debates). It seems that Trump's affinity for keeping people guessing does not sit well with investors.
(3) The toxic aftermath of Donald Trump's failing presidential campaign: Writing in Time magazine, issue of October 31, 2016, Joe Klein observes that staunch Trump supporters (not the Republicans holding their noses as they vote for Trump), who number in the tens of millions, will not be easily brought back into fold by establishment Republicans, especially if Trump continues to court them to settle various grudges. The possibility of a split in the Republican party is very real, something that will make it even harder for opposition members in the Congress to work with the President.
(4) Fighting cancer with quantum dots: The atomic-scale technology of quantum dots, which is being used to build faster and lower-power computational circuits (including some being considered in my own research) may also hold the key to new processes that zap tumors and deliver cancer drugs.
(5) New ultralow-power transistor can function for years without a battery: A new transistor designed by University of Cambridge researchers captures a tiny leakage of electrical current and harnesses it for its operations. The transistor's operating voltage is less than a volt, with power consumption below a nanowatt. The new transistor isn't very fast, but it is suitable for applications where power efficiency trumps speed. [Source: University of Cambridge Web site]
(6) Inexact computing can help produce more accurate answers: This highly counter-intuitive statement represents something that Rice University researchers have demonstrated. Complex scientific simulations, usually run on top-of-the-line supercomputers, are energy-intensive. Inexact computing focuses on saving energy where possible by paying only for the accuracy that is required in a given situation. Using the Newton-Raphson tool of numerical analysis, a Rice team demonstrated the possibility of leapfrogging from one part of a computation to the next and reinvesting the energy saved from inexact computation at each new leap to increase the quality of the final answer, while retaining the same energy budget. [Source: Rice University Web site]
(7) The foul smell of data leak: The US government requires that a sulfur smell be added to odorless natural gas to signal leaks. A pair of Dutch inventors have proposed a similar idea for data leakage from computers. A device they are marketing syncs with smartphones and computers and emits a metallic odor when users visit an unprotected Web site or connect to a nonsecure hot spot. [Source: Time magazine, issue of October 31, 2016]

2016/10/29 (Saturday): Here are three items of potential interest.
Poster for the film 'Dust--Flower--Flame' (1) Today's screening of the documentary film "Dust–Flower–Flame" at UCLA [Dodd Hall, Room 121, 2:00-4:00 PM]:
Shabnam Tolouei's film, narrated mostly in Persian with English subtitles, is the life story of poet, theologian, and women's rights pioneer Tahirih Qurratul Ayn, who lived in 19th-century Iran.
Tolouei's interest in TQA dates back to her childhood, when growing up in a Baha'i family, her father told her stories about the poet and her sad fate. At age 13, Tolouei asked a question of her teacher about TQA and was admonished for mentioning someone of ill repute.
Tolouei later graduated with a degree in theater studies from Paris 10 University. She has devoted 2.5 years to making this film with help from a wide variety of scholars, including Saghar Sadeghian, a specialist on non-conformist thinkers ("degar-andishan" in Persian) in the Qajar period, who did the research for the film. The list of credits at the end of the film is rather long. At this time, the documentary has not been scheduled for screening at film festivals and there are no plans for its mode of distribution.
TQA was ahead of her time in many ways. She was a theologian, much to the dismay of her male contemporaries. Her family viewed her as a lunatic for her nontraditional behavior and beliefs. She had four children, 3 sons and a daughter, from a rather unsuccessful marriage. The divide between TQA and her husband, Mullah Mohammad, a cousin of hers and the son of a prominent Friday Prayers leader, grew, until she asked for a divorce, a daring act at the time.
When TQA's father-in-law was murdered, she was accused by her husband and others of plotting the murder. In the late 1940s, contemporaneously with the women's movement in the US, TQA mingled with men and challenged them to debates and theological discussions. In one gathering, she appeared without the traditional hijab and delivered a lecture, causing some to flee in horror and others to accuse her of immodesty.
TQA wrote to Seyed Ali Mohammad Bab and was chosen by him as of his disciples in the Bab movement, which was later transformed into the Baha'i faith. She emerged as one of the leaders of the movement, which started within the confines of Islam but later rebranded itself as a new faith.
Portrait of Tahirih Qurratul Ayn When TQA become a headache for the government, she was taken to Tehran and kept under house arrest, where she was even denied the use of pen and paper in order to prevent her from communicating with the outside world. Nasir-al-Din Shah Qajar asked her to stop following the Bab, aspiring to make her the lady of his harem. When Bab was killed by the King's men and some of Bab's followers tried to assassinate the King in revenge, he becomes outraged and had a large number of followers of the Bab killed. The mullahs insisted that TQA must also be killed and the King followed their wishes.
TQA never explicitly discussed women or women's rights, yet it is quite appropriate to consider her a pioneer of women's rights in Iran by virtue of her bold actions that defied the traditional women's role at the time and of her speaking up where women did not dare to speak.
I learned of TQA many years ago, first as a poet, with compositions that were structurally and semantically rich. Only later did I learn of her role as a leader of the Babi movement and of her losing her life for her convictions and defiance of backward restrictions against women. According to today's film, some believe that the beautiful poems attributed to her aren't really hers. I wonder if this is a misogynistic pronouncement, essentially saying that women are incapable of producing such magical poetry.
The film screening was followed by Q&A and discussion in Persian, with English translation.
(2) Joining the campaign to urge the Iranian government to free Narges Mohammadi, a human and women's rights activist sentenced to a 16-year prison term.
(3) The best places to be a girl: Sweden tops the list. Israel at 17th and South Korea at 27th fare better than the 32nd-ranked United States. Niger at 144th is the absolute worst, preceded by Brazil at 102nd, India at 90th, and Syria at 78th. For the full ranking, see the PDF report entitled "Every Last Girl." [The full ranking is given in a chart at the beginning of Section 6, p. 24]

2016/10/28 (Friday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) Humorous quote of the day: "Sure, it feels like this Presidential election isn't about issues and is instead a barrage of insults, anger and ugly revelations. But as anyone who has ever been in a romantic relationship can attest, a barrage of insults, anger and ugly revelations is how you know you're talking about issues. When you're having a calm, rational discussion, one person is talking and the other is thinking about what there is in the house to eat." ~ Joel Stine, writing in Time magazine, issue of October 31, 2016
(2) Giant jade stone unearthed in Burma: At 210 tons, 14 feet high, and 18 feet long, the stone is worth an estimated $170 million.
(3) A tribute to Hooshang Seyhoun [1920-2014]: Architect and artist extraordinaire, who is considered by some as the most influential Iranian artist in modern times.
(4) Let your children be bored: Don't rush in with ready-made solutions. Let them figure it out by themselves. Also the inner quiet is good for them. [1-minute video]
(5) A church bottles industrial bleach and markets it as a miracle cure for all ailments, from autism to cancer. The ABC program "20/20" runs an expose.
(6) Norah Jones sings "My Dear Country," one of the songs she performed at her Santa Barbara Bowl concert last night. Quite topical, because it mentions both Halloween and election day, and funny! Lyrics follow.
And here's another beautiful song from the concert: "How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart?"
And here's Norah Jones' wonderful slow version of Kris Kristoferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night."
'Twas Halloween and the ghosts were out, | And everywhere they'd go, they shout, | And though I covered my eyes I knew, | They'd go away.
But fear's the only thing I saw, | And three days later 'twas clear to all, | That nothing is as scary as election day.
But the day after is darker, | And darker and darker it goes, | Who knows, maybe the plans will change, | Who knows, maybe he's not deranged.
The news men know what they know, but they, | Know even less than what they say, | And I don't know who I can trust, | For they come what may.
'cause we believed in our candidate, | But even more it's the one we hate, | I needed someone I could shake, | On election day.
But the day after is darker, | And deeper and deeper we go, | Who knows, maybe it's all a dream, | Who knows if I'll wake up and scream.
I love the things that you've given me, | I cherish you my dear country, | But sometimes I don't understand, | The way we play.
I love the things that you've given me, | And most of all that I am free, | To have a song that I can sing, | On election day
(7) The social cost of solitary confinement: Solitary confinement, which is justifiable when the prisoner's life or those of others are at risk, is grossly overused in the US. Not only it is three times as expensive as regular imprisonment, it exacts psychological problems (due to sensory deprivation) that the society eventually pays for, either during the inmate's term or after his release. [Source: Time magazine, issue of October 31, 2016]

2016/10/27 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing Trump's campaign ship about to go over a waterfall (1) Cartoon of the day: "Relax ... I can turn this around!"
(2) Shameless and increasingly desperate Trump supporters are now faking endorsements by politicians and popular celebs. [, on the claim that Tom Hanks supports Trump.]
(3) Will we have artisans and handicrafts in a century? The answer isn't clear. A robot has erected at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London a glass-and-fiber canopy that covers more than 200 square meters and weighs less than 2.5 metric tons. The University of Stuttgart design is inspired by the lightweight filament shells that protect flying beetles. [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of October 2016]
(4) The megaprocessor: The term "microprocessor" has been used for several decades to refer to a microchip that contains a computer's central processing unit in a small space. Such microprocessors now come with gigabytes of memory integrated on the same chip. James Newman's living room houses the exact opposite, a gigantic processor, with seven 2-meter-tall panels holding a CPU and a whopping 256 bytes of memory, composed of painstakingly hand-soldered discrete transistors. He built his megaprocessor as a learning tool for himself. [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of October 2016]
(5) Brace yourselves for posts like this one: Crooked Hillary Clinton nearly crashed the plane of the Republican VP candidate Mike Pence by causing extreme weather conditions, including heavy rain, near NYC's La Guardia Airport. All passengers are okay after the plane skidded off the runway today.
(6) UCSB earns 24th ranking in the world: US News and World Report has placed UCSB in the 24th position among 1000 top universities worldwide and 7th among US public universities for 2017. Two UC campuses are in the top 10: Berkeley at #4 and UCLA at #10.
(7) Everything isn't a disaster: It's good to see and report positive developments in a world filled with negativity. During 2014-2015, the last academic year for which we have data, 83.2% of US high school students graduated on time, setting a new record for the fifth year in a row. [Source: Time magazine, issue of October 31, 2016]
(8) Norah Jones at Santa Barbara Bowl: Tonight's concert, composed of an 80-minute main set and a 15-minute encore was held under intermittent mild rain. It was nevertheless quite enjoyable. Jones began on the piano, switching to guitar for some of her songs. In her own words, she likes the piano, which represents her roots, and has tried to use it more in her new album. I had my best seat ever at SB Bowl, due to a combination of very early purchase and the fact that I bought a single seat. Opening for Jones was Valerie June. [A different 88-minute concert by Norah Jones] [The song "You Cant Be Told" by Valerie June]

2016/10/26 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Gretchen Carlson on the cover of Time magazine (1) Gretchen Carlson aspires to lead the fight against sexual harassment: The fired Fox news anchor, who took on her boss Roger Ailes, plans to testify before congress about forced arbitration, a common clause that muffles women's voice in sexual harassment cases.
(2) Microsoft speech recognition technology now performs on par with a human professional transcriptionist: Microsoft researchers continue to develop ways to make sure speech recognition works in places where there is a lot of background noise, can assign names to individual speakers when multiple people are talking, and can accommodate a variety of voices, regardless of age, accent, or ability. [Source: Network World]
(3) Hillary Clinton turned 70 today: Happy birthday to our future President! Also, according to AARP Magazine, issue of November 2016, two talented actresses turn 70: Susan Sarandon had her birthday on October 4 and Sally Field will have hers on November 6.
(4) The 2016 US election could be the most expensive ever: The two presidential candidates have spent $200M more than the $913M spent at this time in 2012. The total cost is projected to be $6.6B. [Source: Newsweek]
(5) Trump rose not in spite of his incendiary talk but because of it: A new area of science, called "sociophysics," models and predicts how a minority viewpoint can prevail over the majority opinion in a democracy. "Trump, by shocking people, by making outrageous statements, was awakening prejudices inside some of the voters that had been frozen, provoking discussions and driving the tipping point in Trump's favor. His success wasn't in spite of the shocking statements he made; he succeeded because of them. Trump's opponents' less incendiary remarks, meanwhile, failed to activate prejudice to the same degree."
(6) Donald Trump's post-election plans: In these final days of the campaign, rather than focusing on extending his support, Trump has aimed to intensify the sense of grievance for his own post-election plans. Now that he has resigned to losing, he wants to maximize his financial gain after the loss. He is also looking to blame his loss on others, because, of course, Trump can't lose. He is already looking into a new media entity, both to make money and to settle scores via birther-like campaigns against Clinton and other foes. It's no accident that former Fox News and Breitbart heads are among his closest advisers. [Adapted from: Time magazine, of October 31, 2016] This Vanity Fair article also predicts a Trump News Network, suggesting that it will be "a total disaster"!
(7) Alternative universes: This video clip from Megan Kelly's interview with Newt Gingrich has been posted by the right, with claims that Gingrich destroyed Kelly and exposed the corrupt and biased media, and by the left, with narratives about Gingrich being humiliated by Kelly. I guess each person hears what s/he wants to hear!
(8) Today's noon concert at UC Santa Barbara's Music Bowl: Ensamble Viento del Sur played rumba, bolero, cumbia, and other kinds of Latin American music as part of the World Music Series. The unusual instrument on the right in this video is charango, originally built out of armadillo shells but now carved out of wood. Here is another sample of music played at the concert. Many of the songs were rearranged to make them suitable for performance by a small band of 3 players.

2016/10/25 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Portrait of John Lennon, made with coffee beans and two coffee cups (1) John Lennon portrait, for your mornings!
(2) Pomegranate fall harvesting festival in Iran's Guilan province. [Photo]
(3) Amazingly realistic 3D drawings.
(4) Justice in the Islamic Republic of Iran: A rapist, a murderer, and a terrorist are at large and holding positions of power, while human-rights activist Narges Mohammadi is serving a 16-year prison term. [Image]
(5) An insightful analysis on how Clinton used Trump's weaknesses to prevail in their debates. [8-minute video]
(6) Quote of the day: "He's not trying to win—he's using donors to build an audience for Trump TV." ~ Trump biographer Michael d'Antonio, in a comment that may explain why Trump is aiming for strengthening his base rather than attrcting the new voters he needs for a victory
(7) An Annotated Bibliography of the Writings of Amnon Netzer: In doing on-line searches to find a book I have just learned about, From Saghez [Saqqez] to Jerusalem (by Benjamin Cohen), I came across a PDF document, issued by the Institute of Asian and African Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (first draft, 2004), that lists a treasure-trove of books, articles, recordings, and so on, in Persian and Hebrew, about Jews of Iran through the ages, including their literature, spoken language, religious rites, education, art, and culture. Amnon Netzer (Professor of Persian Language and Literature), who compiled his writings in this bibliography, was born in 1934 in Rasht, Iran, and died in 2008 in Los Angeles, CA. I reproduce here the first and the final three paragraphs of the bibliography's preface:
"For many years I could not find time to embark on preparing a list of all my writings. The idea of preparing such a list originated from friends, colleagues and students who noted the scarcity of historical documents regarding the more than two millennia of Jewish life in Iran. It was especially emphasized at the gathering held at the Hebrew University (April 9, 2003) on the occasion of my retirement."
"To make the bibliography useful to scholars and students, I separated the academic works from the writings published in general forums. The latter, as stated before, contain 3 important information and impartial evaluation concerning communal events which merit scholarly attention. These writings are, in a way, first hand contributions to the history and culture of the Jewish Persian communities in Iran, Israel and the United States. I hope my critical observations and comments regarding the socio-economic structure as well as the leadership in various Jewish Iranian communities will be appreciated. I tried my best to preserve scholarly objectivity, intellectual integrity and unbiased judgement in these writings."
"This bibliography reflects my work as published to date. My travels to many remote cities and villages in Iran during the years 1971-1978 still remain to be written. These travels, which seemed to me of imperative need, involved considerable physical hardship. They were made in search of Jewish communities as well as Muslims who were apparently Jewish converts. The all-embracing culture and local traditions of both communities appeared to me immensely interesting and worthy of academic investigations."
"Finally, I hope that my voyage into the history, culture and traditions of Persian Jewry ... will prove to be a humble contribution to Judeo-Persian studies."
[Amnon Netzer's obituary] [Wikipdia entry for the linguist, writer, historian Amnon Netzer]

2016/10/24 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon captioned 'An alpha male's scarlet letters' (1) Cartoon of the day.
(2) Fifteen dead in crash of tour bus near Palm Springs in California.
(3) The colorful pebbles of Montana's Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.
(4) Fall foliage in Vancouver, Canada. [Photo]
(5) Rewards for Muslim men in Heaven: This prominent Iranian cleric says that men will be rewarded with many virgin girls, who have just developed breasts and will remain virgins even after the act, and young handsome boys, who take care of one's every whim. Shame on IRI, which not only does not condemn these superstitious musings and legitimizations of child abuse, but gives people like him multiple platforms to preach their nonsense.
(6) The year of newcomers: Newcomers are dominating more than politics these days. The two baseball teams to begin the World Series tomorrow have not won a championship for about 7 decades. The Chicago Cubs last played for championship in 1945 and have not won the series for more than a century (since 1908). The Cleveland Indians last won the series in 1948; they have made it to the championship series 3 times since then, coming back empty-handed each time.
(7) Mike Pence calls Michelle Obama "vulgar": Referring to her criticism of Donald Trump's sexual-assault talk, Pence has said that it isn't lady-like for the First Lady to bring up Trump's words; I assume he thinks that Trump's uttering of those words is gentleman-like!
(8) SNL's presidential debate skit from last Saturday (in case you missed it): Tom Hanks, who hosted the show, plays Chris Wallace.
(9) Political humor—Trump's Gettysburg Address (written by Sidney Blumenthal for Newsweek): Four polls and seven news cycles ago, our dishonest mainstream media brought forth on these television channels a totally rigged system, conceived in corruption and dedicated to the proposition that the least racist man you've ever known who should have won the Emmy for The Apprentice is created unequal. ...

2016/10/22 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Raytheon's microwave 'stove' from 1946 (1) When nuking food was a novelty: This 1946 Raytheon microwave "stove" led to the first consumer microwave-oven in 1955. The fridge-size oven looks quite different from today's compact models. It seems, however, that the use of attractive women to promote or sell products hasn't changed much! [Info from: IEEE Spectrum, October 2016]
(2) How the presidential election would turn out if only certain categories of people voted: These electoral maps show Clinton's and Trump's support among various groups. In an earlier post, I noted that Clinton has a 15-point edge among women and Trump has a 5-point advantage among men. So, Clinton will win just on the basis of women's support. The "people of color" map seals the deal. And the Republicans knew this since Romney's loss, but failed to act on this information. Putting Trump forward was the equivalent of a Hail-Mary pass in football.
(3) Anoushirvan Rohani's song, "Maybe I Maybe You," performed in a Ukranian talent show.
(4) A 2500-year-old water duct (ghanaat, in Persian) from the Achaemenid period in Iran's Khorasan province, whose topmost well is 300 meters deep, has become a UNESCO World Heritage site.
(5) Quote of the day: "I grew up behind U.S. barbed wire fences ... It's important to tell the story of this time in history emotionally, reaching people through both the heart and intellect." ~ Actor George Takei, 79, who was interned between the ages 5 and 9, on his plans during 2016, the 75th anniversary year of Pearl Harbor
(6) The amazing soccer rivalry between UCSB and Cal Poly: Known as the Blue-Green rivalry, it is rated by CollegeSoccerNews as the greatest soccer rivalry in the US. Attendance in the last five meetings between the two teams has not fallen below 13K, and it was at or above that number tonight in an exciting game that ended 0-0 after two overtimes. The cumulative record of 46-18-9, which includes both tonight's match and a recent 2-1 UCSB win at Cal Poly, heavily favors UCSB. However, recent results have been more even. In fact, the Gauchos have not won both matches in a season since 2006. The goal difference in 17 of the last 20 matches has been 0 or 1. The Gauchos can clench a Big West regular season title by winning against Sacramento State in their upcoming match next week.

2016/10/21 (Friday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
The famous Shah Mosque of Isfahan (1) Shah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran: Photographed by Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji.
(2) Here is how the first real WMD terrorism case played out: Federal authorities in the US have charged three men with conspiring to use a WMD with the intention of blowing up an apartment complex and a mosque in a predominantly Muslim Kansas neighborhood. The men belong to a group calling itself "the Crusaders," which believes that the US can be awakened and turned around only with a bloodbath. Yes, ironically, it wasn't ISIS or some feared immigrant group in this first case.
(3) These "Nasty Woman" T-shirts were almost inevitable.
(4) And one more result of Trump's vocabulary during Wednesday's presidential debate: Restrooms for "Nasty Women" and "Bad Hombres" at the Trump Tower.
(5) Modern Persian music: Nostalgic song performed by the late Delkash, who sounded just as wonderful in old age as she did at the height of her incredibly successful career.
(6) Andalib ensemble: This wonderful group performs Guilaki and Kurdish folk songs, in addition to traditional Persian music. Here is a sample.
(7) In the year of character, issues still matter: This is the title of an article by editor Nancy Gibbs in Time magazine, issue of October 24, 2016, at the beginning of a comprehensive special feature about issues in the current US presidential election. Here is a checklist I made for myself (adapting them from the section headings), which I hope you find useful as well.
Beating ISIS, and saving Iraq  |  The crises in Syria and Libya  |  The Iran paradox
Battling lone-wolf terrorists at home  |  Russia: friend or foe?  |  Relations with Cuba and other neighbors
Shrinking the earnings/wealth gap  |  The candidates' tax plans  |  Rebuilding of our infrastructure
Has the world reached peak trade?  |  The middle ground on social security  |  The child-care problem
Caring for the caregivers  |  Illicit drugs and opioid addiction  |  Skyrocketing drug prices
Obamacare: curable or terminally ill?  |  Zika and the politics of abortion  |  Race and police violence
Restoring order to the rule of law  |  Guns and gun safety issues  |  Illegal immigration and refugees
Freedom of speech and political correctness  |  The education tab and student loans
The future of engineered food  |  US identity and American exceptionalism  |  Role of the Supreme Court
Environment and climate change  |  Over-expansion of executive powers  |  Science & technology policy

2016/10/20 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon postulating click-baits in the Old Testament (1) Cartoon of the day: Click baits, or their low-tech equivalents on TV ("The world will end tomorrow; details at 11:00"), are annoying facts of life these days. Here are some click baits you might see in an on-line version of the Old Testament.
(2) Going out with style: The Obamas at their last state dinner.
(3) How women are defeating Trump: Nate Silver's analysis shows the gender gap in the current US presidential election; Clinton is leading among women by an average of 15 points, while Trump leads among men by 5 points.
[And no, it's not because women would vote for any woman, it's because women would not vote for a misogynist who has said the vilest things about them, day in and day out.]
(4) #TrumpBookReport on twitter: This hashtag relates to humorous takes on how Trump interprets literary works. Here is an example; read the rest of the dizzying collection for yourself.
"The Hunger Games are rigged, folks. Everyone knows Katniss won b/c she played the woman card. Nasty woman. Very rigged." | "Ahab, not a winner. I'd bomb the hell out of the whale. Btw, the whale got so big and nasty under Obama." | "To Kill a Mockingbird? Nobody kills Mockingbirds better than me. I will kill the families of Mockingbirds. Believe me." | "To Kill a Mockingbird? Didn't read it but many people are saying the African American—those people love me btw—is guilty." | "Nasty woman. Drops a house on a job creator. Steals her shoes. Melts her. I would send her back to Kansas, Believe me."
(5) A hatchet-job of a book: I have read several reviews of Clinton Cash, including this review from Newsweek and, accordingly, decided against reading it. The Newsweek review ends: "'Even if nothing illegal occurred,' Schweizer writes, 'one has to wonder about the political judgment involved.' A very fair point. Clinton put herself in any number of compromising positions over the years. But throwing up a bunch of dots and not connecting them isn't great judgment either." I was also not impressed that the book was made into a film by Breitbart in an attempt to alienate women and the LGBT community.
(6) Hila Sedighi displays her support for the imprisoned Narges Mohammadi.
(7) The sage and the con artist: The third and final presidential debate reminded me of this legend I was told as a kid. A con artist goes to a village, gathers the people around, and challenges the local sage. He says, we both will write "snake" with a stick on this sand and let the people judge which one of us is more knowledgeable. The sage goes first, takes the stick, and writes the word "snake" as neatly as he can. The con artist goes next, draws a wiggly line and then asks the villagers: Which one of these is a snake? The villagers roar in approval, pick up rocks, and chase the sage out of their village.
(8) Following politics is like watching sausage being made: If you think that the internal squabblings of the Clinton campaign revealed in e-mails leave a bad taste in your mouth, wait until Trump's come out, either in leaks or as part of memoirs written post-election. In particular, Trump's campaign manager Kellyann Conway, 49, who appears to be quite intelligent, already shows signs of discomfort with defending Trump's incoherent musings on various topics.

2016/10/19 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Official university portrait of Behrooz Parhami, taken October 2016 (1) My departmental portrait: This photo was taken last week by a UCSB photographer for use in official university publications and Web sites.
(2) What I did during lunch break today: I watched and listened to the The "Gap Tooth Mountain Ramblers" quartet, playing a variety of fiddle and country music, with band members switching effortlessly between instruments (fiddle, banjo, guitar).
(3) Cartoon of the day: Gropegate. [Image]
(4) Endorsement of Hillary Clinton by 70 Nobel Laureates: Nobel Prize winners in science, medicine, and economics believe that Clinton's election is crucial to safeguarding freedoms and constitutional rule. And it's also good for the advancement of science and technology.
(5) It bears repeating: Trump did not sexually assault one particular women is not the same as Trump did not sexually assault any woman.
(6) Quote of the day: "After [major financial] crises, right-wing populist parties and politicians typically increase their vote share by about 30%." ~ Rana Foroohar, writing in Time magazine (issue of October 24, 2016), about the results of a team of German academics, examining 800 elections over 140 years in 20 advanced economies
(7) Mars landing, a short history: There have been some 15 attempts to land on Mars.
NASA has by far the best record, with 7 successful landings.
The Soviet Mars 3 probe landed softly, but transmitted data for only 15 seconds.
The European Space agency had a failed attempt in 2003 and another one days ago. Will try again in 2021.
(8) Observations on Donald Trump and tonight's third and final presidential debate: Firstly, Chris Wallace did a much better job than I expected, particularly with regard to not allowing the candidates exceed their alloted times. Secondly, Donald Trump continues to think that he can dismiss a charge by uttering the single word "wrong"! Thirdly, everything is a disaster or rigged in our country and the world, according to Trump! Clinton did a good job of listing Trump's decades-long history of complaining and saying that things are rigged against him, including his blaming the Emmy Awards when his show wasn't honored; also, the expensive ad he took at the time of President Reagan to allege that the country was not being run properly. Trump made two huge mistakes that will cost him big time! He continued to defend and praise Putin and he refused to say that he will accept the voting outcome. Immediately after the debate, Trump's surrogates claimed that he won, but the match wasn't even close. One of the many "oops" decisions by Donald Trump was to invite President Obama's estranged half-brother, Malik, as his guest at the debate. He is a Kenyan-born US citizen, but reportedly self-identifies as a Hamas sympathizer and a proponent of Palestinians ruling the entire land of Israel, "from the river to the sea." And here's a final point. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel quipped tonight that given the number of disagreements between Donald Trump and his chosen VP, there should be a debate between them to discuss the issues on which they disagree!

2016/10/18 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Official portrait of Barack and Michelle Obama (1) Barack and Michelle Obama: A decent and eloquent couple who got a raw deal from overt and covert racism and who will be judged favorably by historians.
(2) President Hillary Clinton will face challenges: Having given up on Donald Trump's chances of becoming POTUS #45, the Republicans are already talking about continuing their negativity, blocking legislation, and obstructing presidential appointments. I do hope that low voter turnout due to disappointment with those topping the ticket does not lead to the Republicans gaining House and/or Senate majorities. Furthermore, just as overt and closet racists exploited racial tensions and then blamed President Obama for the worsening race relations, expect sexism and misogyny to grow under Clinton.
(3) Leshan Giant Buddha, China: An impressive 233-foot statue, whose construction began in the year 713.
(4) Trump quote of the day: "How stupid are the people of Iowa?" ~ Addressing Iowans at a campaign event in Iowa [Bill Maher has quipped that since Trump is leading in Iowa, his question might have been justified!]
(5) Donald Trump's campaign is hoping for a low-turnout election: Having lost hope for broadening their support in view of scandalous revelations, Trump's campaign is intensifying efforts on ensuring low turnout by independent, women, and minority groups. They are becoming increasingly aware that they need to win with the same, nearly constant, low-40s support among voters.
(6) How thinking like a kid can spur creativity: The observation isn't new, but the practical tips offered by Peter Himmelman in this viewpoint piece (Time magazine, issue of October 24, 2016) are quite useful.
(7) Observations on the evolution of English. [ Cartoon]
(8) Last evening's Faculty Research Lecture at UCSB: Professor Joseph Incandela spoke at 5:15 PM, following a 4:00 PM reception. His very interesting talk, entitled "Searching for the Genetic Code of our Universe," covered a variety of heavy scientific notions, such as Higgs boson, supercolliders, and dark matter, mixed with some welcome humor. His last two slides poked fun at the current US presidential candidates and their support for science. This slide pertains to Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton's included a reference to possibly finding dark matter hidden somewhere in her e-mails.

2016/10/17 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Photo of the just-completed Baha'i temple in Chile (1) The new Baha'i temple in Chile, like several of its counterparts around the world, is a fine example of inspiring architecture.
(2) Great pizza idea: I will definitely try this recipe soon.
(3) The law-and-order candidate's dubious plan for making America "great" again.
(4) Donald Trump quote of the day: "I love women. They've come into my life. They've gone out of my life. Even those who have exited somewhat ungracefully still have a place in my heart. I only have one regret in the women department—that I never had the opportunity to court Lady Diana Spencer. I met her on a number of occasions."
(5) Typical post defending Donald Trump against accusations of improper sexual conduct: Ms. X says that Mr. Trump never groped her or walked in on her when she was undressing, so he didn't do it to other women either.
(6) Comedian/author Jim Gaffigan: Hilarious "Hot Pockets" stand-up comedy routine by Gaffigan, who specializes in fatherhood and food topics, according to Wikipedia. And here is his "Holiday Traditions" routine.
(7) Half-dozen brief news items of the day:
- The battle to retake Mosul and driving ISIS out of the Iraqi city has begun (CNN)
- Galaxy Note 7 banned by FAA; Samsung discontinues the model (ABC News)
- Microchip implant could deliver birth control, osteoporosis treatment (The Guardian)
- Solar array just opened in Maricopa County, AZ, delivers 150 MW (Washington Post)
- Uterus transplants raise hopes for women unable to conceive (Time)
- Glow-in-the-dark bike paths eliminate the need for expensive lighting (Time)
(8) My comment on a misleading post that claimed Hillary Clinton reduced her tax bill by $1M by donating $1M to the Clinton Foundation: Even ignoring the fact that giving to the Foundation isn't putting money from one pocket into another (as the poster claimed), there are other serious problems with the post. Please, please do not spread sourceless garbage, often taking the form of an image or a YouTube video, with no attribution.
"You are either ignorant about the tax code or malicious about spreading misinformation. First, giving $1M to charity reduces your income, not your taxes, by $1M. If you are a high-income person paying the top marginal rate, your taxes are reduced by at most one-third that amount. Most high-income individuals pay alternative minimum tax, in which charitable and other deductions are capped. Even in my case with a much lower income, it does not matter whether I give $500 or $50,000 to charity; my tax liability remains the same due to AMT."

2016/10/15 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
The late John Ritter with four other now-famous people (1) See if you can name a couple of the people in this photo with the late John Ritter.
(2) The universe has 2 trillion more galaxies than previously thought: The revised number is up to 20 times more than the previous figure.
(3) Pocket printer: This robotic printer that moves over a sheet of paper, instead of pulling in the sheet into its print mechanism, was invented by two students from the Jerusalem College of Technology.
(4) President Obama announces more than $300M in sci/tech funding: Wired magazine reports that by announcing the new initiatives during the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh, Obama seeks to cement his legacy as a booster of science and technology. A separate news report indicates $70M in new funding for brain research.
(5) Trump debates himself via contradictory opinions uttered over the years. [6-minute video]
(6) Donald Trump quote of the day: "I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I'm more honest and my women are more beautiful."
(7) Trump debates himself via contradictory opinions uttered over the years. [6-minute video]
(8) Capital ideas (a word puzzle): Complete the following ten words.
_ O _ _ S _ L O _   |   R _ O _ M _ _ E   |   S E _ _ O U _ L _   |   _ A T H E _ _ N _ S   |   C _ A I R _ O _ _ _
B _ _ _ E R L I N _   |   H _ _ A N O I _   |   _ _ Q U I _ _ T _ O _   |   _ _ A C _ C R A _ _   |   _ L _ I M A _ _
(9) College soccer: The UCSB men's soccer team continues its undefeated streak against Big-West opponents. Tonight, UCSB defeated arch-rival Cal Poly 2-1 in an away game to improve its conference record to 4-0-2. Their return match will be next Saturday 10/22 at UCSB's Harder Stadium, where a record crowd is expected.

2016/10/13 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Hundreds of humans form a giant peace sign to honor John Lennon (1) Imagine a human peace sign the size of a football field: Formed last year at NYC's Central Park, in honor of John Lennon.
(2) US federal budget explained in simple terms.
(3) The 2016 Nobel Prize in literature goes to songwriter/musician Bob Dylan for creating new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition. Some people find this choice hard to stomach. But if literature is written to be read and to affect humanity, one cannot exclude songwriting out of hand as one of its forms.
(4) If you want to defend a woman against predatory alpha-males, defend her as a human being, not because she is someone's sister, mother, daughter, or wife.
(5) Hidden camera prank played on Iranian-American mother and daughter by the other daughter, who tells them she is in love with and wants to marry a poet. As if the guy's lack of medical or engineering degree isn't bad enough, he isn't just a regular poet, but an aspiring rap artist.
(6) Donald Trump quote of the day [a new feature on my timeline]: "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."
(7) Ten brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- President Obama says he will sleep for two weeks after leaving the White House (VoA)
- Refugee suspected of terrorism commits suicide in German prison (VoA)
- Saudi Arabia admits that it bombed Yemeni civilians, killing 140 (VoA)
- Iranian women were barred from Iran-Korea soccer match; Korean women were allowed in
- In 2015, TSA pocketed $765,000 in loose change left on security-screening trays (AARP Bulletin)
- Donald Trump apologizes to Serbia for US/NATO bombings under Bill Clinton (Newsweek)
- US launches strikes in Yemen to retaliate for missiles aimed at American ships (MSN)
- King of Thailand, world's longest-reigning monarch, dead at 88 (PBS)
- Hurricane Nicole, worst for Bermuda since 2003, moves eastward (PBS)
- Russian television warns of nuclear war amid US tensions (ABC News)
(8) Trump does not just cater to alt-conservatives; he also seems to be fond of alt-reality, in which he won both debates and leads in every poll.
(9) Tom Hanks, the most likable American actor, speaks up against Trump and his "locker-room" talk.

2016/10/12 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Time magazine's covers of August 22 and October 24, 2016 (1) The Donald Trump meltdown, featured on Time magazine's cover of August 22, 2016, is back two months later on the cover of October 24 issue.
(2) An imaginitavely designed office building in Hamadan, Iran.
(3) Be thankful for the 19th Amendment: Various polls show that Trump would win if only men voted. This is why some Trump supporters are tweeting #repealthe19th!
(4) If Donald Trump wrote a research paper.
(5) Donald Trump quote of the day [a new feature on this blog]: "I think apologizing's a great thing, but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I'm ever wrong."
(6) Here is a page that contains live-streaming links for programs on Iran's TV and radio channels. Under the national TV tab, there are live links to 5 networks, plus news, children's programming, sports, documentary, and several others. Other tabs include regional and international (English, Arabic) outlets.
(7) The tech-savvy Clinton campaign unveils a tool that allows users to see side-by-side what each of the two candidates was doing at a selected point in time.
(8) Hillary Clinton as the sane alternative: "Like her, don't like her, criticize her, but leave off the venom, please! Your vitriol hurts women—all of us. It reinforces the archetypes that see women's power as dangerous and malicious, the same archetypes that contributed to the burning of Witches and that make women vulnerable targets of male rage."
(9) College soccer: Tonight, I attended a disappointing 1-1 soccer match between UCSB and Sacramento State at Harder Stadium. UCSB scored first and Sacramento tied the match in the first half. The second half and both overtime periods went scoreless, despite UCSB having many more scoring opportunities.

2016/10/11 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Artwork paying tribute to pioneering women (1) This image, "Feminism at Work" (by award-winning cartoonist David Trumble), pays tribute to pioneers who moved women's history forward.
(2) Gunmen attack Ashura mourning rites in Kabul : At least 14 were killed and 26 injured.
(3) This message resonated with me, because I saw it right after reading a story reporting that some students at Washington University of St. Louis, site of the second presidential debate, held up signs that read: "George Washington grabbed Martha by the p****." It seems that Trump's vile language is entering our lexicon, and that such statements now pass as humor, not the demeaning, misogynistic filth that they are.
(4) How Trump was fooled by Kremlin's sloppily manufactured "news" story, that was later withdrawn by the original source: "This is not funny. It is terrifying. The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the manufactured story as truth. How did this happen? Who in the Trump campaign was feeding him falsehoods straight from the Kremlin?" [Newsweek article]
(5) Donald Trump quote of the day [a new feature on this blog]: "Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers. The person who came up with the expression 'the weaker sex' was either very naive or had to be kidding. I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye—or perhaps another body part."
(6) Trump's sorry, lonely existence: I have read multiple analyses about how behind the fanfare and bravado, Trump is a lonely, friendless man. His permanent pout and rarity of smiles are telling signs. Whereas other political candidates surround themselves with advisers and run ideas by them before they speak publicly, Trump does not even confer with his VP nominee. Just as he runs his business in a strictly hierarchical manner, he seems to believe that the US Presidency will be similar, with a bunch of yes-men following his every whim.
(7) Iran beats South Korea 1-0 in a soccer World Cup qualifier: Iran now sits alone on top of its group, with pretty good odds of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. The match was played in Tehran's Azadi Stadium on one of the most important mourning days for Shi'i Muslims. The Iranian authorities tried to postpone the match but, not succeeding, they asked the spectators to mourn at the stadium; the half-time program consisted of solemn religious songs. [Highlights]
(8) The 2016 Nobel Prize in economic sciences has been awarded in equal shares to US-based researchers Oliver Hart (Harvard) and Bengt Holmstrom (MIT), for their contributions to contract theory. The work honored pertains to a sort of optimization under incomplete information, that is, they "demonstrated how a principal (e.g., a company's shareholders) should design an optimal contract for an agent (the company's CEO), whose action is partly unobserved by the principal."

2016/10/10 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Time magazine cover for its issue of October 17, 2016 (1) The White Helmets of Syria: Much is posted on-line about the misery in Syria and the plight of civilians who have perished or become homeless and/or refugees. With this post, I want to draw everyone's attention that amid the destruction in war-torn Syria, there is a group of selfless rescue workers who have saved an estimated 60,000 lives. [Image credit: Time magazine, issue of October 17, 2016]
(2) Republicans' fake moral outrage: GOP big-shots, who are fleeing Trump in droves (supposedly over his vile language in a recently released video), are really trying to distance themselves from a losing candidate. Everyone knew, and was telling anyone who would listen, what kind of man he is. His record was available on-line for all to see. So, how is it that this one incident has embarrassed the GOP more than all the previous revelations about Trump, including his own words?
(3) Last night's second presidential debate: Trump took the bait again! He talked about Sydney Blumenthal, accused Anderson Cooper of bias, and called Clinton a liar multiple times. And the sniffling continued!
(4) Who won last night's presidential debate? The consensus seems to be that by not self-destructing on the debate stage, Trump "stopped the bleeding" in his campaign, without changing any minds. Explicitly disagreeing with his running mate, threatening to prosecute and jail his opponent should he become President, repeating the accusation that Clinton has not changed the laws that he took advantage of in not paying taxes (forgetting that there are 99 other Senators, including the oppose-everything Republicans), and answering many specific questions about what he would do as President by generalities about how awful things are now, will come back to haunt him. Various polls indicate that Clinton did better but that Trump exceeded expectations.
(5) One of the most promising applications of IBM Watson, and artificial intelligence more generally, is in healthcare. This episode of "60 Minutes" is devoted to the topic.
(6) On the outrageous lie that Hillary Clinton helped set free a rapist and then laughed about it: Here is a article that assesses the allegations and rates them mostly false. The only true parts are that she was appointed as the attorney in a rape case (against her will), which ended in a plea bargain.
(7) Let this lighthearted 1-minute video erase at the end of day all the bitterness of nasty political posts.

2016/10/08 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Swiss musicians from the south of the Alps, photographed in the early 1900s (1) Switzerland, south of the Alps: A recently discovered photo from the early 1900s.
(2) College soccer: With the Big-West record of 2-0-1 (overall 6-5-1), the UCSB Gauchos hosted Cal-State Northridge tonight at Harder Stadium. After scoring two goals in the first half, the Gauchos gave up a goal in the second half and narrowly escaped another goal seconds from the end of the match, to win 2-1. Tonight's win improves UCSB's Big-West record to 3-0-1 (overall 7-5-1), putting the Gauchos at the top of the conference's northern division. Next will be a home game against Sacramento on Wednesday 10/12.
(3) When Donald Trump talks about women, he doesn't speak with the best of intentions. He delights in locker-room filth, he demonstrates perversion, he conveys sexism, he wants to grab them by their ... whatever. [A composite of several posts and comments I have seen on-line]
(4) Quote of the day: "No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar." ~ Abraham Lincoln
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Iranian-Americans: 52% Democrats, 8% Republicans, 40% independents (Zogby poll)
- Ash Carter accuses Russia and Bashar Assad's regime of war crimes in Syria (AP)
- Kerry openly warns Russia about interfering in the upcoming US election (Newsweek)
- GOP leaders are abandoning Trump in droves after his lewd comments (Yahoo News)
- Cholera breaks out in Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, surge expected (Reuters)
- US Pacific Command forces told to prepare for possible North Korea provocations (UPI)
(6) Today at my mom's: A second cousin of mine, who is touring the US with two buddies, stopped by to visit. His family emigrated from Saghez, Kurdistan, to Israel, where he was born a couple of weeks after their arrival. I learned from him that a man named Benjamin Cohen has written a book, From Saghez to Jerusalem, which contains references to my paternal grandfather and the rest of the Parhami family. I can't wait to get my hands on this very interesting book.

2016/10/07 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
GIF image that visualizes Hurricane Matthew (1) This GIF image visualizes Hurricane Matthew. Here is Matthew, seen from the International Space Station as it passes above. Incredibly, a 'truther' movement has emerged, claiming that the government is exaggerating the dangers of Matthew to promote its political agenda regarding global warming. I hope people on the path of Matthew don't fall for these reckless claims that may cost many lives.
(2) Minimum wage goes up, employment comes down: Right? No, there is absolutely no empirical evidence for this assertion.
(3) The 2016 Nobel Peace Prize goes to Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia, whose efforts to bring the country's 50-year-old civil war to an end (the peace deal was recently voted down by Colombians) took resolve and courage. Had he been successful, the Western hemisphere would have become conflict-free for the first time in modern history.
(4) I am posting these easy-to-follow recipes for my own reference, but you may find them of interest as well.
[Three-ingredient BBQ popcorn chicken] [Layered ham & cheese potato bake (it's turkey for me)]
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- India courted, as it gets ready to place a multibillion-dollar order for fighter jets (WSJ)
- NRA the biggest spender, outside the two major parties, on Senate races (Newsweek)
- Hurricane Matthew stays off-shore, as it moves up the coast toward Carolinas (NPR)
- Emergency declared after flesh-eating screwworms found in Florida Keys (Newsweek)
- Obama's approval rating matches Ronald Reagan's at this time in his presidency (VoA)
- Clinton's lead over Trump is slowly growing ahead of their second debate (Bloomberg)
(6) Recitation of a funny Persian poem about the perils of virtual worlds and friendships.
(7) Some fantastic buildings. [Video]
(8) Norah Jones playing requests live.
(9) On lies about the Clinton Foundation: I find myself in the awkward position of having to respond for the n-th time to lies perpetuated about the Clinton Foundation, that it gives only 5-15% (depending on the liar) to charities, implying that the Clintons pocket the rest of the money. The Foundation does give grants to other charitable organizations, but that is not its primary mode of operation. Rather, it employs professionals, such as healthcare workers, buys medications and other supplies, and ships these items to where they are needed. Millions of lives have been saved by the Foundation's work. Those who repost these lies are either uninformed, simply repeating the malicious accusations of conservative mouthpieces, or else are acting out of their own malice. Either way, I am sorry to see such utter disregard for facts. Unfortunately, in the current political climate, facts are sacrificed for political gain.

2016/10/06 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
(1) Quote of the day: "Trump is not a man of ideas. He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar." ~ Editors of The Atlantic, in endorsing Hillary Clinton (taking sides for only the third time in history)
(2) What's with the tie colors during the VP debate? Shouldn't the colors be reversed?
(3) Chatting Shemr: This man playing Shemr (an armored villain in Imam Hussein's saga, with is often re-enacted at Muharram mourning rituals) is chatting during his break.
(4) The beauty hidden in pi: These art pieces are created based on a large number of digits in the number pi.
(5) College soccer: UCSB Gauchos entered Big-West Conference play with a 5-game losing streak at the tail end of their preseason, a rarity for the highly-ranked team. After tying UC Riverside 2-2 and prevailing over Cal State Fullerton in overtime 2-1 in away games, UCSB Gauchos are continuing their Big-West Conference play in a 3-game home-stand, beginning with UC Irvine tonight, in which they prevailed 1-0 on a first-half goal. This was a rather unsatisfying win against a team with a much weaker record playing on UCSB's turf. There were many lost opportunities for the Gauchos and several defensive errors that luckily did not lead to opponent goals.
(6) Following an article in UCSB Current last week, UCSB's student paper, Daily Nexus, has also covered my new freshman seminar, "INT 94TN: Puzzling Problems in Science and Technology" as a science/technology feature written by reporter Kelly Shi in its October 6, 2016, issue. [PDF file of the complete issue]

2016/10/05 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Algebraic equation of a heart-shaped curve (1) The love formula.
(2) Sony World Photography Award: Ten breathtaking entries in the prestigious competition.
(3) The 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry goes in equal shares to three scientists from US, France, and Netherlands (J. Fraser Stoddart, Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Bernard L. Feringa), for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.
(4) Major networks way behind in 2016 Emmy wins: NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN won 6, 4, 3, and 2 Emmy awards, respectively, with the bulk of the awards going to HBO (22), FX (18), Netflix (9), and PBS (8). [FX ad in Time magazine, issue of October 10, 2016]
(5) As Mike Pence was denying during the VP debate last night that the Trump campaign in insult-driven, Donald Trump was tweeting insults such as: "Kaine looks like an evil crook out of the Batman movies."
(6) On double-standards: In an insightful essay (Time magazine (issue of October 10, 2016), Susanna Schrobsdorff criticizes Donald Trump's "crude machismo" and serial misogyny, but also touches upon our oversensitivity to certain topics: it's okay to make fun of Chris Christy's weight but not a woman's.
(7) Believe it or not [From Time magazine, issue of October 10, 2016].
- Listening to music: Playlists (31%) are more popular than albums (22%), but not as popular as singles (46%).
- Spelling pigeons: After learning dozens of words, 4 pigeons picked out correct spellings from multiple choices.
- Kids and allergies: Children who grow up on farms tend to have fewer allergies.
(8) Floating dorms: High costs of land and construction have motivated the Danish start-up company Urban Rigger to team up with architect Bjarke Ingels to design floating dorms, using recycled shipping containers. The cost-effective method is being considered for constructing refugee housing as well.

2016/10/04 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cover of Time magazine, issue of October 10, 2016 (1) Behind Russia's efforts to hack the US elections: In a cover story, Time magazine (issue of October 10, 2016) discusses the ways in which Russia is trying to influence and undermine the 2016 US presidential election. Evidence of Russia's active meddling include the DNC hack as well as hacking of local election offices that hold voter records. Earlier, Russia is believed to have meddled in multiple European elections.
(2) Biggest data breaches: Top dishonors go to LinkedIn (167M user records compromised), Heartland (card-payment processor; 130M), and Dropbox (68M). [Source: Time magazine, issue of October 10, 2016]
(3) Three scientists (David Thouless, Duncan Haldane, Michael Kosterlitz) share the 2016 Nobel Prize in physics, for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.
(4) Ten times Donald Trump admonished people for not paying taxes: The list includes this priceless 2012 tweet: "@BarakObama who wants to raise all our taxes, only pays 20.5% on $790k salary. Do as I say not as I do."
(5) Iran and the Holocaust: Holocaust denial by Supreme Leader Khamenei and former President Ahmadinejad has painted an unjust, anti-Semitic picture of Iran. Iran actually provided shelter for many thousands of Europeans, particularly children, who were seeking safety. This 9-minute video reviews the Iranian efforts to help persecuted Jews.
(6) Trump campaign: "Donald Trump will be live-tweeting during the VP debate tonight." Clinton campaign: "Oh, good!"
(7) Let's set the record straight: Trump beat Clinton 55-11 in their first debate; that is, in the number of times one candidate interrupted the opponent or the moderator. [Source: Joe Klein, writing in Time magazine, issue of October 10, 2016]
(8) Behind-the-scenes political power-players: Hedge-fund boss Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah are supporting or opposing candidates through their allies and huge donations to super-PACs. [Source: Time magazine, issue of October 10, 2016]

2016/10/03 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Side-by-side comparison of presidential candidates on various issues (1) US presidential candidates compared on key issues.
(2) The 2016 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine goes to Yoshinori Ohsumi for discovery of mechanisms for autophagy (cells that eat themselves), a fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components.
(3) Logical reasoning puzzle: Police detectives have 3 murder suspects and they know that one of them is guilty. They also know that exactly one suspect told the truth when they made the following statements. Who did it?
Alice: "I am not the murderer."
Bob: "Alice is the murderer."
Chris: "I am not the murderer."
(4) Cybersecurity is everyone's responsibility: This is the slogan of the cybersecurity awareness month, October 2016.
(5) Honoring Professor Mohammad Ghodsi on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Computer Engineering Department at Sharif (formerly Arya-Mehr) University of Technology in Tehran, Iran. [8-minute video]
(6) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- I stopped an Israeli attack on Iran: Shimon Peres in a 2014 interview (Jerusalem Post)
- Category-4 hurricane Matthew hits Haiti, headed to the US East Coast (ABC News)
- Gravity fluctuations hint at subsurface ocean on Saturn's moon Dione (Popular Mechanics)
- Hackers targeting Internet-of-things devices for cyber-attacks (Boston Globe)
- New York orders Trump Foundation to stop taking donations in state (Apple News)
- Colombian voters reject peace deal with rebels for ending 5 decades of conflict (PBS)
(7) The Hive: This award-winning open-air installation by Wolfgang Buttress was the centerpiece of UK's Pavillion at the 2015 Milan Expo. It was brought back to the UK and reinstalled at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The LED lights scattered throughout the structure and the musical soundtrack are dynamically affected by activity within an actual hive nearby.

2016/10/02 (Sunday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Image showing Jewish New Year goodies: apples, honey, and pomegranates (1) On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, I wish a wonderful time with family and other loved ones and a peaceful and prosperous year for all who observe the Jewish New Year!
(2) Political humor: Seth Meyers blasts Donald Trump over his long stream of lies about President Obama's birthplace, even as he retracted his claims: "You don't get to peddle racist rhetoric for five years and decide when it's over." In its opening skit, "Saturday Night Live" featured a reenacment of the first debate between Clinton and Trump (played wonderfully by Alec Baldwin).
(3) Anniversary of my family's arrival in the US and in Santa Barbara: It was 28 years ago, on October 2, 1988, that my family arrived in the US from Canada, landing at LAX and driving north in a rental car. It has been a long time, filled with bitter-sweet memories, the sweetest ones being of the kids growing up in this South-Coast paradise (the boys from ages of about 4 and 3 and my daughter born here 6 years after our arrival).
(4) People are desperate for a break from politics: Everyone is so tired of the nasty political climate prevailing these days that they talk/write tons about other matters, whenever they get a chance. We have a lively discussion going on at UCSB's faculty housing complex about ant invasions in several units (including mine). Apparently, such massive invasions are common during droughts, and a number of people have related their experiences from the last drought more than 2 decades ago. Each person has suggestions about how to deal with the ants, from poisoning them to using environmentally friendly solutions. One UCSB colleague shared a memory from years ago, when someone lectured him that killing the ants en masse, using ant stakes or other methods, amounted to practicing genocide! [Article about kitchen ants]

2016/10/01 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing Samsung phones used as fire-lighters (1) Cartoon of the day.
(2) Marking the Iranian Mehregan Festival: Tens of tanboor players gather on September 29 in one of the villages of Kermanshah province (western Iran) to celebratd. [5-minute video]
(3) Film director Asghar Farhadi talks (in Persian) about vicious attacks by Iran's conservative faction on him and his work.
(4) Quote of the day: "If you do not obey the Supreme Leader, he will either be martyred like Imam Hussein or vanish like Imam Zaman." ~ Ali Saeidi, Ayatollah Khamenei's appointed representative to Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps
(5) Nobel Peace Prize: Several high-ranking Iranian officials are said to have been nominated. I hope these are false rumors. Rewarding liars, who insist that there are no political prisoners in Iran and no curtailing of the rights to education and other citizens' rights for any group, would be akin to a kick in the face for Iran's human rights activists, one of whom has just been given a 16-year term.
(6) Emoji literature: A volume by Chinese author Xu Bing, Book from the Ground: From Point to Point (MIT Press), is written using emojis only. Here is a sample.
(7) Quantum computing breakthrough: Israeli scientists at Technion have invented a cannon that can spew entangled photon clusters.
(8) Giants of information technology join forces on AI: Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft have formed a non-profit entity to advance the field of artificial intelligence.
(9) UCSB Engineering turns 50: We have just welcome the 50th class of engineers to our campus. Having joined UC Santa Barbara in 1988, I have been part of its College of Engineering for more than half of its existence. Among planned activities to celebrate this momentous occasion is the burial of a time capsule at the end of the year, to be recovered in 2066 for our 100th anniversary.

2016/09/30 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Number of transistors in microprocessor chips over the years (1) Moore's law is dead, long live Moore's law: Shrinking of transistor sizes, in the exponential manner predicted by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in the 1960s, is bound to stop as we approach transistors that are not much bigger than single atoms. In an intriguing article, forthcoming in IEEE Trans. Circuits and Systems II, Kia Behnam, Kenneth Mobley, and Willam L. Ditto propose the use of non-linear integrated circuits that can do the work of many different circuits, thus allowing performance to proceed on the path of exponential growth, without transistors getting any smaller. If successful, the new method of combining transistors in non-linear and chaotic circuits will allow Moore's law to continue in spirit, if not technically.
[Diagram, from one of the slides in lecture 1, "Predicting the Future," of my fall 2016 freshman seminar course (INT 94TN), shows the number of transistors on chips corresponding to various microprocessors introduced over the past 45 years.]
(2) San Andreas Fault may move this weekend: Some 200 recent undergraound shakers near Los Angeles have led scientists to predict such an event. [LA Times article]
(3) Before and after photos from Aleppo, Syria.
(4) US chess champion foregoes the world championships held in Iran to protest mandatory hijab for Iranian and visiting foreign women.
(5) Andrea Bocelli and Liel Kolet perform "Ray of Hope," a song with lyrics by Shimon Peres.
(6) Clear and present danger: The media, which has been playing along with Trump's candidacy, finding his antics amusing and good for business (viewership, ads), is coming to realize the dangers of his presidency.
(7) We were just kidding: Just like Trump himself, who discounts every previous statement of his that contradicts his current musings as "sarcasm" or "joke," many of his supporters will likely say "we were just kidding" or "we were playing the Devil's advocates" once he is finally exposed and self-destructs.
(8) California Governor Jerry Brown signs a law to expand computer science education: State Superintendent of Public Instruction is directed to create a 23-person advisory panel to develop a long-term plan to make CS education a top priority within one year. The state's Instructional Quality Commission will decide by July 2019 whether to develop and recommend to the State Board of Education content standards for K-12 CS education.

2016/09/29 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
New monument in NYC, featuring intersecting stairs that are 15 stories high (1) A new monument for NYC: With so many iconic landmarks throughout New York City, it is difficult to introduce a new monument that would impress and attract visitors. Slated to open in 2018, The Vessel will be a centerpiece of the new Hudson Yards development. It comprises 154 bronzed-steel staircases, rising 15 stories in the air and intersecting at 80 landings. For those who can't climb the nearly 2500 stairs, there will be an inclined glass elevator to the top.
(2) A thoughtful Guardian article: Imagine how you would view Donald Trump and his behavior if he were a woman. You can't, because no woman ever behaves this way.
(3) Ulysses Jasz (that's the original spelling of "Jazz") in concert: The wonderful octet, performed this evening on behalf of the "Angels Bearing Gifts" charity at Santa Barbara's La Cumbre Plaza. I could record only this short snippet, before my phone ran out of memory. Here are samples of music by this wonderful band on YouTube. [Sample 1] [Sample 2] ["Happy Feet"] [Sample 4] [Photo]
(4) Dr. Shokoufeh Taghi's new book: Entitled A Topology and Classification of Three Literary Genres: Songs, Folktales, and Initiation Tales in Iranian Oral Literature and their Educational Function and published by Uppsala University, this first book in a planned 3-volume series is a welcome addition to works on Iranian literary traditions. I look forward to reading it soon. [Persian description]
(5) One-dozen brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Former Israeli President/PM Shimon Peres dead from stroke at 93 (BBC)
- Jamshid Amouzegar, Iranian PM under the late Shah, dead at 93 (VoA)
- Bernie Sanders: Protest vote will have dire consequences (Washington Post)
- Breaking with Trump, Mike Pence says humans do affect climate change (AP)
- Human rights activist Narges Mohammadi's 16-year jail sentence upheld (LA Times)
- US Senate votes 97-1 to allow 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia (NY Times)
- Republicans admit that the 9/11 bill, passed 97-1, needs to be fixed (Reuters)
- Trump Hotels had illegal business dealings in Cuba during US embargo (Newsweek)
- NJ train plows through terminal wall, killing 1 and injuring 108 (Yahoo News)
- Two men charged in Fullerton triple-homicide of couple and friend (LA Times)
- World leaders arrive in Israel for Shimon Peres' Friday burial (Jerusalem Post)
- Oil prices surge in the aftermath of OPEC deal to reduce production (Reuters)
(6) Raggae version of "Hello": Jamaican singer Conkarah and Rosie Delmah from Solomon Islands do a great job of covering Adele's song.
(7) Music without boundaries, featuring Jun Rong. [6-minute video]

2016/09/27 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
The newly completed National Museum of African-American Culture and History (1) National Museum of African-American History and Culture: The museum was established 13 years ago after decades of planning, but it is very fitting that the new, spacious building designed for it by David Adjaye was completed on the National Mall and opened a few days ago under President Obama.
(2) Go ahead, conservatives: Blame the moderator, the microphone, the podium (they claimed that Clinton insisted on having a bigger one, whereas she wanted a shorter one, given her height, so that the audience wouldn't just see her head and neck), Clinton wearing an earpiece, and whatever other excuse you will produce from this point on to justify Trump's poor performance in the first debate.
(3) Why radical Islam cannot thrive in the US: "When the young jihadists who carried out the terrorist attacks on Paris fled that city, they melted into an underground of sympathetic neighbors in a Muslim ghetto at the very heart of Europe ... There, the most wanted man in Europe hid out for four months before he was finally discovered blocks from his family home. Where was Rahami's [the NY pressure-cooker-bomber's] sanctuary? He was, in the end, alone ... His arrest [while sleeping on the street, outside a bar] after just 50 hours at large demonstrates how much a would-be attacker is up against [in the US]." ~ Karl Vick, writing in Time magazine, issue of October 3, 2016
(4) Homa Hoodfar's release: While I share in the joy that distinguished Iranian-Canadian scholar Homa Hoodfar has been freed from Tehran's Evin Prison, I can't help but feel unease about Iranian officials pretending to be the good guys in releasing her on "humanitarian grounds." In other words, they are saying, implicitly, that she deserved her multi-year prison sentence for "delving into feminist topics" (her official charge), but that the very kind Iranian judiciary is freeing and deporting her instead, for health reasons (no mention of the fact that her health problems resulted from imprisonment). While we should be grateful to those who worked tirelessly to secure Dr. Hoodfar's release, this kind of ad-hoc, one-person-at-a-time fight for very basic human rights (to speak up about feminism or any other subject) and giving brownie points to the Iranian regime each time it releases someone who should not have been imprisoned in the first place, is highly unsatisfactory.
(5) Comedian Maz Jobrani's take on extreme vetting of immigrants under President Trump.
(6) Trump vs. Clinton in their first debate: Since last night, many Trump supporters have claimed that he did well in the debate or even that he beat Clinton. I just quote, verbatim, an example of Trump's incoherent responses and leave it up to the readers to decide whether this is how a US President should sound on a serious topic, in his words, "the cyber."
"As far as the cyber, I agree to parts of what Secretary Clinton said. We should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we're not. I don't think anybody knows that it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She's saying Russia, Russia, Russia—I don't, maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay? ... We came in with the Internet. We came up with the Internet. And I think Secretary Clinton and myself would agree very much, when you look at what ISIS is doing with the Internet, they're beating us at our own game. ISIS. So we had to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is a huge problem. I have a son—he's 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers. It's unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe, it's hardly doable. But I will say, we are not doing the job we should be doing. But that's true throughout our whole governmental society. We have so many things that we have to do better, Lester. And certainly cyber is one of them."

2016/09/26 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Bookmark and pamphlet given out at the Goleta Public Library during a lecture on banned books (1) Lecture about banned books: I attended a talk by Librarian Allison Gray of the Goleta Public Library yesterday afternoon. She talked about some three dozen books, while showing the audience the book covers and occasional picture inside that was deemed offensive, leading to local or national bans or, in some cases, unsuccessful challenges by various groups. The list included several Dr. Seuss books, a Where's Waldo book (that includes a topless sun-bathing women, laying face down, as a tiny character among hundreds on a page), versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Black Beauty (banned in Apartheid-era South Africa, which deemed the juxtaposition of "black" and "beauty" inappropriate), Charlotte's Web (talking animals are blasphemous), Little Women, Diary of Ann Frank (in Lebanon, for positive depiction of Jews), The Great Gatsby (drinking, allusion to sex), several works of William Shakespeare, Merriam-Webster Dictionary (for containing a definition of oral sex), Tarzan books (because he co-habited with Jane in the jungle without being married to her), The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (her self-examination to detect cervical cancer was deemed pornographic), all seven Harry Potter books, and the most ironic of all, Fahrenheit 451 (a book about banning books).
(2) Mere bumps along Iranian women's path to reclaim their rights, including the simple joy of riding bicycles against the recent fatwa by Khamenei banning the activity in public.
(3) Super-hot day in Santa Barbara: On this record-setting, 100-plus-degrees day, I walked to and from work (2 miles each way), and was wet with sweat at each end of the trip. A colleague sent me this photo of two thirsty crows picking ice off the liquid-nitrogen heat-exchanger outside an engineering building on campus.
(4) This man is allergic to the truth: Fact-checking a week's worth of statements by Donald Trump. This should be a very busy evening for fact-checkers!
(5) We need to know the candidates' stance on science: About the push, now several presidential cycles old, to hold a debate focusing on science-based issues. Will it ever happen?
(6) The first presidential debate: There seems to be broad consensus that Clinton outperformed Trump in this first debate. Trump started well by sticking to his rehearsed points. But talk about stamina! He got impatient and defensive 30 minutes in, and it was all downhill for him from there! Clinton must be feeling good tonight. She has been posting several Instagram photos, such as this one.

2016/09/24 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cover image of a Persian-language textbook on data structures and algorithms (1) Data structures and algorithms textbook in Persian: I received this book yesterday, courtesy of its author, my friend and (former) colleague Dr. Mohammad Ghodsi. The book has set a new standard among Persian-language college textbooks in terms of coverage, originality, writing, and production values, including diagrams of very high quality. I hope other faculty members in Iran follow suit and improve the reference material available to Iranian students.
(2) Scenes from the beginning of fall quarter at UCSB: Local merchants are ready to sell stuff to new and returning students (two photos taken on Thursday at the Goleta K-mart). The third photo shows a major road improvement project on a key access road to UCSB, which campus officials and City of Goleta, in their infinite wisdom, chose to roll out on Thursday, the first day of classes, instead of during the summer months.
(3) Mr. Haloo's latest poem, "Mottaham" ("Accused"), recited by him at a poetry-reading venue.
(4) A piano maestro who can't button up his shirt: A gifted musician who is severely disabled in nearly all facets of life.
(5) Andre Rieu: Fourteen immortal love songs. [53-minute video]
(6) Dictator-loving Americans: Here is my partially sarcastic reaction to several Facebook posts, singing the praises of how well the Iraqis and Libyans lived under Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi: "Yes, Muammar Gaddafi was a great man and so was Saddam Hussain. Look at the sorry states of Iraq and Libya now! If I could, I would return the pair to power in some Third-World country and force all of their admirers to go live under their rule. In the case of Putin, no such wishful thinking is needed: He is alive and ruling an actual country now. I am sure he would accept devotees with open arms."
(7) College soccer: This evening, UC Berkeley defeated UCSB 3-2 in overtime. The Gauchos lost their fifth game in a row, but they played much better than in their previous two losses at home. Both teams had many opportunities to score. Several spectacular saves by the UCSB goalie and a couple of goal-line defensive returns of balls that had eluded the Berkeley goalie prevented the game from being even higher-scoring. Harder Stadium's student section was full, but the other sections were very sparsely occupied.

2016/09/22 (Thursday): Here are Eight items of potential interest.
Logo for 'Concert Across America to End Gun Violence' (1) The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence: On Sunday, September 25, 2016, more than 200 venues in 38 states bring together communities across the country to remember those lost to gun violence and to sing out for gun reform.
Santa Barbara's version of the concert, held at Arlington Theater (9/25, 7:00 PM) will include UCSB campus groups and Gaucho alum Zach Gill, as well as Christopher Cross, Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Ozomatli, Venice, and others. The event is chaired by Bob Weiss, whose daughter Veronika was murdered in the 2014 Isla Vista massacre.
(2) Iran beats Brazil 7-6 in futsal World Cup (3-3 in regulation, 1-1 in overtime, and 3-2 on PKs), ousting the five-time world champion from the competition and advancing to the quarterfinals. [Highlights]
(3) Medley of several country songs, with an all-star cast.
(4) Pastors pray against Satanic attacks on Trump: Every day, Trump and his supporters sound more like the populist Ahmadinejad and his clan in Iran.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- CBS sued for film suggesting JonBenet Ramsey's brother killed her (Newsweek)
- MacArthur Foundation announces 2016 'Genius, awards (Newsweek)
- North Korea has only 28 Web sites using the .kp domain (Washington Post)
- FBI confirms complaint against Brad Pitt for child abuse (Yahoo News)
- Man caught drowning 3-year-old jailed for 100 years (Int'l Business Times)
- Donald Trump paid $8.2M to own businesses from campaign funds (Politico)
(6) Woman bioengineer receives a MacArthur 'Genius' award: The $625,000 no-strings-attached grant given to Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a Rice University bioengineering professor, is "a nod to the global work she's done to deliver low-cost medical technology to Third World countries, [including] a piece of machinery she helped develop that assists babies who struggle to breathe and has significantly decreased mortality rates in countries using it." [Source: Houston Chronicle]
(7) SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind lectures: UCSB campus, Thursdays, 4:00 PM, in Psychology 1312.
09/22, Elizabeth Phelps, NYU psychologist and neural scientist, "Changing Fear"
10/20, Tomas Ryan, Trinity College (Dublin) neuroscientist, "Information Storage in Memory Engrams"
12/01, Dacher Keltner, UC Berkeley psychologist, "On Awe and the Evolution of the Sublime"
[Speakers for 2017 include Itzhak Fried (UCLA, 01/30), Karl Deisseroth (Stanford, 03/09), David Anderson (Caltech, 04/20), Joshua Greene (Harvard, 05/18), and Cecilia Heyes (Oxford, 05/25), with talk titles TBD.]
(8) A new freshman seminar at UCSB: I am excited to be teaching during fall quarter the 1-unit freshman seminar INT 94TN ("Puzzling Problems in Science and Technology"), which I designed along the same lines as my 10-year-old required computer engineering seminar, but for non-science/engineering students. This UC Santa Barbara Current article discusses my seminar and a similar one offered by Daryl Cooper, a Mathematics Department colleague. Here is the Web page for the new course, with PowerPoint slides for the first two lectures coming by the end of this week and the rest posted a few days before the corresponding lecture.

2016/09/21 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) Open letter regarding climate change: A group composed of 375 members of the US National Academy of Sciences, including 30 Nobel Laureates, has published an open letter that outlines the real threats of climate change and the dangers of withdrawing from the Paris Accord.
(2) A sample of Donald Trump's supporters: Okay, the sample in this video may be biased, given the source, but it is scary how many people have their minds made up without data or evidence. One woman cites Twitter as her news source!
(3) College soccer tonight: In a disappointing game (not just because of the score, but also poor quality of play on the part of UCSB), Loyola Marymount defeated UCSB 4-3 at UCSB's Harder Stadium. After trailing 0-1 at halftime and 0-2 early in the second half, UCSB came back to tie the game at 2-2, and later at 3-3. But there was no time to recover from a 4th LM goal very late in the game. This was UCSB's fourth loss in a row, two on the road and two at home. I hope that Saturday's home match against the powerful UC Berkeley turns out better.
(4) Quote of the day: "I thought a Bush would never vote for a Clinton. I guess Donald Trump was right: He is bringing people together." ~ Comedian Jimmy Kimmel, after Bush senior indicated that he will vote for Clinton
(5) Challenging Khamenei's edict against women riding bikes: The "My Stealthy Freedom" Facebook page is teeming with women posting photos on bikes, after Iran's Supreme Leader issued a fatwa, barring women from riding bikes. This is how dictators fall: they take themselves too seriously, overreach, and micro-manage people's personal lives, discrediting themselves in the process.
(6) Where the hatred for Hillary Clinton comes from: She has been accused of numerous misdeeds and given shameful names by both men and women. This long article in Rolling Stone attempts to answer the question.
(7) Discussion of race touches raw nerves among Iranians: It's no secret that racial tensions in the US have increased, particularly in the wake of instances of police shootings of unarmed African-Americans over the past few months. This afternoon, I chanced upon a short Facebook status post by Touraj Daryaee (a UC Irvine professor), chastising those who refer to Iranians as Aryans, pointing out that people of many racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds live in Iran and that the notion of race (not to mention a privileged one) has been debunked. This appeared to be a harmless commentary, expressing a particular viewpoint. Far from it! By the time I read the post, it had been shared by 46 others and there were 95 comments, some with reply streams that ran 20 deep. I read the comments and replies for about half an hour, before I lost interest due to the vulgar tone and extraneous nature of many of them. Needless to say that before the idea of a democratic Iran is realized, people of Iranian origins must embrace the notion of civil discourse, even where there are severe differences of opinion. [My Facebook post of this item also contains the Persian version of my commentary.]

2016/09/20 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing a man taking a selfie as he donates money to the needy (1) Cartoon of the day: Selfie.
(2) Blondes for Trump: Other than his daughter and current campaign manager, there are many blondes in Trump's inner circle. Even his pastor, Paula White, described as long-time spiritual advisor, is a gorgeous blonde!
(3) Fish consistently mislabeled in restaurants: Studies from around the world have found that restaurants in many different countries often mislabel fish. Sometimes this is because they want to increase their profits by using cheaper fish, a questionable, but relatively harmless practice. At other times, however, the replacement fish used may cause stomach problems and other ailments for unsuspecting customers. [Source: Time magazine, issue of September 26, 2016]
(4) Compact books (around 150 pages) I found today in the new-books section of the UCSB library for perusal over the next 7 weeks. Both are 2016 editions in Oxford's famed "A Very Short Introduction" series.
- Ritchie, Donald A., The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2nd ed., 2016.
- Maisel, L. Sandy, American Political Parties and Elections: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2nd ed., 2016.
(5) I don't know if this Twitter exchange between Donald Trump and George Takei is real, but I found it quite funny and a good example of what in Persian would be called a "tooth-shattering response."
(6) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day
- Comedian Jim Carrey sued for wrongful death of ex-girlfriend (Newsweek)
- Angelina Jolie files for divorce from Brad Pitt over 'parenting issues' (TMZ)
- Two missing California toddlers found dead in neighborhood pool (AP)
- China's space station, Tiangong-1, falling back to Earth (Popular Mechanics)
- Chopper destroyed after crashing into cow; cow walks away (Business Times)
- German goalkeeper arrested after conceding 43 goals in one game (Yahoo News)
(7) Walls around the world: Donald Trump's border wall isn't the only wall being proposed or built worldwide. Here is a partial list from Time magazine's issue of September 26, 2016.
- Thai and Malaysian PMs have discussed a border wall to help prevent transnational crime
- Israel is building an underground "wall" to thwart tunnel-building efforts by Hamas
- Hungary wants to build a wall along its border with Serbia to reinforce an existing razor-wire fence
- Norway plans to build a steel fence to deter migrants entering from Russia via the Arctic Circle
- Kenya has resumed building a wall along its northeastern border with Somalia to stop terrorism
- Ukraine has been building a wall along its border with Russia to prevent aid for pro-Russian forces

2016/09/19 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cartoon listing reasons why Batman might be a jerk (1) Cartoon of the day: Is Batman a jerk?
(2) Late-night comedians chime in about presidential politics: Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, and Jimmy Kimmel have become increasingly partisan, according to a cover story in Time magazine's issue of September 26, 2016.
(3) Quote of the day: "Can we just admit we may have taken this 'anyone can grow up to be President' thing just a bit too far?" ~ Anonymous
(4) Outlook and social ties affect the way you age: According to Time magazine, issue of September 26, 2016, to gain the most benefit from the extra years we are given due to increased life expectancy, we should embrace technology, lean on family, welcome aging, lighten up, set goals, take risks, and expect the best.
(5) Our campus wakes up from sleep: Pre-instructional activities for fall quarter started today, with classes slated to begin on Thursday 9/22 (my own classes begin next Monday). I held an office hour and attended an interesting talk on engineering education (description follows in a separate blog entry). I also checked out the classrooms where I will be teaching and familiarized myself with computer and projection equipment. Next to one of the classrooms, I snapped this photo of a large area which is fenced off for construction. This happens every fall: the campus misses the opportunity of summer months, when there are far fewer students and faculty on campus and begins road repairs and other projects just as the students begin to arrive.
(6) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- New York bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami arrested (Newsweek)
- China launches Tiangong Space Lab aboard a Long March 2F rocket (AFP)
- The "Dieselgate" scandal still affects Volkswagen one year later (AFP)
- Appeals court suspends construction on Dakota Access Pipeline (Bloomberg)
- Drone registrations exceed 500,000, according to FAA (AP)
- Economists anticipate major public-works push by next US President (NYT)
- Southern California Edison selects Tesla to build battery storage site (USA Today)
- Disasters compared: Health impact of 9/11 on par with Chernobyl (Newsweek)
(7) [This is a rather long blog entry, but if you have an interest in engineering education and its future, you may benefit from reading past the introductory summary paragraph.]
The future of engineering education: Today, I attended a distinguished lecture by Richard Miller, President of Olin College of Engineering, founded in 1997 (using a $500M gift from Franklin W. Olin) with the mission "to rethink what it means to be educated in the 21st century, and rethink what it means to be an engineer." His talk, with the title "Shaping the Future of Undergraduate Education: Lessons Learned from Experimentation at Olin College," explained Olin's learning culture, benefits of not having traditional academic departments, Olin's decision not to offer tenure to its faculty, and why everything at Olin comes with an expiration date.
With the summary above, let me describe some of the details that I found interesting. Olin is a small, private engineering school based in Massachusetts that many people have not heard of, but it ranks quite high in quality of its graduates. It was conceived in 1997, hired its founding faculty member and began campus construction in 2000, offered its first courses in 2002, and had its first commencement in 2006. The school size has been kept small intentionally to make curricular experimentation possible. Olin also has partnerships with schools in the US and internationally to help them modernize their curricula.
Olin realizes that we have already moved past the "knowledge economy," whose educational system was optimized for transfer of content from a "sage" to students seated in rows, who would later be judged by what they knew. The emergence of the Internet and Google created the "maker economy," characterized by the imitate-and-perfect educational philosophy, in which professors are viewed as guides and learning occurs within small groups of students working on projects that teach them how to do things. We are now moving into "innovation economy," where learning occurs in a peers-and-mentor setting. Graduates are judged not by what they know or what they can do, but by what they can conceive. Such students are well-positioned to deal with global challenges in security, sustainability, health, and life quality matters.
Note that innovation is different from creativity, defined as "the process of generating original ideas and insights." If you augment the definition of creativity with the phrase "that have value," you get inventiveness, and if you further add "then implementing them" to the end of the definition, you get innovation. Innovation requires that we combine the feasibility mindset of engineering and science with the viability mindset of business and economics and the desirability mindset of psychology, arts, and humanities. Innovations change our world so completely that we don't remember how it was before they came about. Think of credit cards, whose introduction did not require scientific or engineering breakthroughs, but a gathering of already known concepts.
Entrepreneurs by definition cannot be cynical. So, having hopeful faculty members to mentor students is a must. In the words of an author and UC Davis faculty member, whose name I did not write down and don't remember now, "Hopeful faculty members spread hope, while cynical faculty members spread cynicism."
The speaker presented the following sobering thought: One of the major misconceptions of educational systems throughout the world is the presumption that teaching is necessary for learning. It is not! We need to change knowledge transfer to knowledge construction, the follow-orders attitude to follow-your-passion, the learn-in-class expectation to 24/7 learning, the learn-alone mentality to team learning, and problem-based curricula to design-based. These changes can make our universities and engineering schools places that are exciting, creative, and adventurous.
US educational institutions must overhaul existing programs and methods or do a better job of explaining to the public why things are done as they are, prime examples being the need for tenure, heavy focus on research, sharply rising tuition and fees, and perceived political bias. Nationally, we need to prioritize engineering education. The fraction of US college graduates whose fields have some bearing on engineering is around 4%, while it is 3 times as high in Europe and 7 times as high in Asia.

2016/09/18 (Sunday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Colorful photo of rice fields in Vietnam (1) Nature's painting: Rice fields in Vietnam.
(2) Eight brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Deliberate pressure-cooker blast injures 29 in NY [USA Today]
- Nine injured in Minnesota mall stabbing [The Daily Express]
- Pipe-bomb explodes at Jersey Shore charity race; no injuries
- Asghar Farhadi's "The Salesman" is Iran's Oscars submission
- Giraffes are actually four separate species, not one [Time]
- ISIL beheads alleged Russian spy, perhaps others [CNN]
- Family cleans house, finds pet tortoise missing since 1982 [Time]
- Posting on social media can boost your memory [Time]
(3) A young Iranian girl living a lie and being herself. [Photos]
(4) Last night in college soccer: In a game played in Harder Stadium, 7th-ranked UCLA prevailed over 13th-ranked UCSB 2-1 in overtime. UCSB scored a goal early on and led 1-0 until 5 seconds to the end of regulation, when a foul was called just outside UCSB's box. Normally, in a situation like this, time runs out before the free kick is taken. The referee, however, stopped the clock against the rules, leading to a UCLA goal 3 seconds from the end. UCLA scored a golden goal early in overtime, ending the game 2-1. Very disappointing, especially since UCSB dominated throughout. Attendance wasn't as high as expected, perhaps due to students just having begun to move in. A few years ago, the match drew 16,000+ spectators, an all-time NCAA record.
(5) Three samples of Persian calligraphy.
(6) Daf playing by a large group of Kurds in Iran's western city of Sanandaj. [Video]
(7) Looking forward to the VP debate on October 4: I was very impressed with VP candidate Tim Kaine on "Meet the Press" this morning. I found him to be a decent, prepared, and well-spoken man.
(8) An interesting book, which I have placed on my to-read list: From the back cover (Harper Wave, 2016): "In Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace, acclaimed journalist Jessica Bennett blends the personal stories of her real-life fight club with research, statistics, and no-bullsh*t advice for how to combat today's sexism (and come out the other side). Part manual, part manifesto, Bennett offers a new vocabulary for the sexist archetypes women encounter every day—such as the Manterrupter, who talks over female colleagues in meetings; or the Bropropriator, who appropriates their ideas—as well as the self-sabotaging behavior women sometimes exhibit themselves. With original illustrations and fascinating historical research as well as a straightforward assessment of the gender gap that continues to plague the American workforce, Feminist Fight Club offers practical strategies, stealthy hacks, and much-needed camaraderie for women battling their way through the modern workplace.

Cover image for Maz Jobrani's book 'I'm Not a Terrorist but I've Played One on TV' 2016/09/17 (Saturday): Book review: Jobrani, Maz, I'm Not a Terrorist but I've Played One on TV: Memoirs of a Middle Eastern Funny Man, Simon & Schuster, 225 pp., 2015.
Iranian stand-up comedians were a rare breed, until very recently. Now, there are quite a few such comedians, with Maz Jobrani being perhaps the best-known among them. This memoir is predictably written in a humorous style that pokes fun at both the Iranian-American lifestyles and the American discomfort with all Middle-Easterners, and dark-skinned people more generally.
The book consists of an introduction, an epilogue, and 12 chapters between them which are arranged in three 4-chapter parts. Chapter titles are names of locales where Jobrani has lived and worked (Dallas; Tiburon, CA; Hollywood; Dubai; Beirut; and so on). This is a memoir that portrays Jobrani's real life, but it is difficult to separate stories where he is relating actual events in his life from where he stretches the truth for comic effect.
Jobrani discusses his youth, growing up in an affluent neighborhood of the San Francisco Bay Area. To fit in, he tried to befriend guys with all-American names, particularly during the hostage crisis, when incidents of bullying by his classmates reached new heights. However, pretending to be Italian did not work, as his father's driving a Rolls Royce and the entire family showing up to pick him up from soccer practice foiled his efforts to blend in.
He draws from movies such as "Not Without My Daughter" (a film that "did more to hurt the dating lives of Iranian men in America than the hostage crisis") and "Argo" to depict how Iranians were portrayed in the media. Jobrani was encouraged by his parents to pursue a PhD degree in political science (they would have preferred medicine or law, of course), so when he showed interest in acting and comedy, they were horrified. The types of roles he landed initially made his mother even more uncomfortable: "Vhy you always terrorist?! ... Vhy you couldn't be doctor?!"
After his parents divorced, Jobrani was forced to give up a PhD admission with full financial aid from NYU to play his "man of the house role" for his mother. So, he decided to attend UCLA, but had to quit the program very soon, when he could not reconcile the theoretical discussions of poli sci with the very real tuition bills he had to pay. Shortly thereafter, Jobrani enrolled in a stand-up comedy class. He then went on a long trek of performing at lesser venues, before he became a regular at Hollywood's Comedy Store.
For a while, after being unsuccessful in changing their son's mind, Jobrani's parents played the community card: "People in the community will talk!" When he turned 26, however, his parents finally accepted that being an actor and a comedian was an honorable profession, and not the result of Hollywood liberals turning their son gay, preventing him from going to "law eh-school" or getting a PhD.
A recurring theme in Jobrani's book is the way Middle Easterners, young men in particular, are viewed with suspicion and disdain. He observes that after the end of the Cold War, "Mustafa has replaced Yuri because someone had to be the bad guy." Elsewhere, he observes, "It was not too long after the [9/11] attacks when I began to notice how patriotism was blinding people to basic morality." He jokes that so much fear and distrust from others often made him be suspicious of himself and his motives.
A big chunk of the book is devoted to Jobrani's travels to Arab countries (he cannot travel to Iran, given how many jokes he has told about the mullahs). He never ceased to be surprised that his humor was a big hit in places such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Dubai. In Labanon, he almost performed a set for a group of Hezbollah fighters, but got cold feet and withdrew. In Dubai, the modernity and pace of development impressed him, but there was also chaos typical of Middle Eastern countries. For example, the hotel Jobrani had booked was already built, but there was no road leading to it. In Jordan, King Abdullah attended one of his shows. After Jobrani did some regular touristy things in Jordan, he thought to himself: "I wonder if that happens to everyone no matter how cool they are? When George Clooney goes to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, does he take a picture where it looks like he's the one holding up the tower?"
Jobrani writes that his life changed after he got married and, particularly, after he had a child. He elaborates at length about the challenges of tugging young children on airplanes and of raising them in general. "When you have young kids at home, your entire goal, from the moment they wake up, is to make them tired," so that they collapse into sleep to give you some adult time with your spouse.
I chose to read Jobrani's book after getting rather tired from a long series of deep, challenging books about philosophy, science, and economics (look for my review of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century). Jobrani's book is a good, lighthearted read that is, surprisingly, difficult to put down. I recommend the book to you, regardless of whether or not you are already familiar with the author's humor. You will enjoy it either way.

2016/09/16 (Friday): Here are five items of potential interest.
(1) Hours of fun with maps of America: The map below, from Business Insider, shows the most popular boys' names in the 50 states. Apparently, states most affected by the recent drought have a biblical-scale flood on their minds! This amazing collection of 22 maps has one for girls' names plus the following, among others.
US map, with the most popular boys' name for each state - Disproportionately popular/well-paying jobs
- Population change (domestic, immigration, ...)
- Fraction of people with high school diploma
- Federally owned land (mostly in the west)
- Marriage rates among adults 25-54
- Median age of residents
- Biggest Fortune-1000 company in the state
- States renamed for countries with similar GDPs
- Income ratio between top 1% and bottom 99%
- Median income for millennials
- Gender pay gap (women's to men's pay ratio)
- Relative cost of living (regional price parity)
- Biggest export/import trading partner
(2) Campus dialog during the fall 2016 quarter: Anticipating the possibility that the current political climate might make the campus inhospitable to respectful dialog as we approach the November 8 presidential election, UCSB's Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs has written letters to current campus denizens and incoming students, urging them to honor UCSB's traditions of listening, courtesy, and open-mindedness.
(3) Colin Powell's leaked e-mails: The former Secretary of State's e-mails, in the lead-up to his endorsing the Iran nuclear deal, indicate that Israel might have around 200 nuclear bombs, further elaborating that the Iranians know it would be madness to use a nuke, even if they get one, in view of Israel's 200 warheads all aimed at Tehran, as well as thousands possessed by the US.
(4) An invigorating 10-mile walk along Santa Barbara's waterfront: The walk took me from around Stearns Wharf along Cabrillo Blvd. to the Bird Sanctuary, Santa Barbara Cemetery, and beyond, back to the beach and past the Cemetery on the beach, back along the beach to the Harbor, and back to the starting point. This may well be my final long walk for the summer, as UCSB classes begin next week. These 14 photos show a couple of hotels, a wedding ceremony at the East Beach, and a book that I have just started to read.
(5) On the Dakota access pipeline: The ND Native Americans may have legitimate concerns about the impact of the proposed oil pipeline on their livelihood and quality of life, issues that must be addressed. However, some activists have turned this protest to one against any oil pipeline. This is seriously misguided. Yes, oil pipelines have negative effects on the environment, but the risks must be weighed against the benefits. If we were at a point where we could switch to renewables entirely, then obviously no new oil pipeline should be built. However, as long as massive amounts of oil need to be transported from production sites to refineries, and from there to consumption sites, oil pipelines represent the safest alternative, when compared with the use of tanker trucks or rail. To provide an analogy, we build bridges and freeway overpasses, even though we see that from time to time one of these collapses, with disastrous effects. However, these structures are useful enough for us to willingly tolerate their risks.

2016/09/15 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Optical illusion: Disappearing black dots (1) Optical illusion: This image contains 12 black dots that cannot all be seen at once.
(2) Trump's proposed child-care plan is a joke: The plan does not entail 6 weeks of maternity leave at employer's expense but eligibility for 6 weeks of unemployment benefits; big difference! The employee will essentially be fired for 6 weeks (very Trump-like!), so that she can draw unemployment benefits.This provision, along with his plan to let parents deduct the full amount of child-care expenses (up to the state average), constitutes a major expansion of government's role. Even conservatives are crying foul! And how are we supposed to square these pronouncements with Trump's musings such as a pregnant employee representing an inconvenience for a business, putting one's wife to work being a dangerous thing, and women's bathroom breaks being disgusting?
(3) Former news anchor Paula Lopez back in the news: The Santa-Barbara-area anchor, who was demoted when she was involved in a drunken driving incident and fired upon a second incident, is suing the local ABC affiliate KEYT and its parent company, alleging discrimination because of being middle-aged, Hispanic, and a sufferer from alcoholism. [Source: Santa Barbara Independent, issue of September 15-22, 2016]
(4) Forced marriage in the US: This evening, I watched on the PBS Newshour the second part of a report on forced marriage in the US. In most cases, the marriage itself does not take place in the US but in other countries to which girls and young women are taken. The victims, who have no recourse in a foreign land, are then married according to local laws, which makes it much harder for US officials to intervene.
(5) Paddle-boarders at UCSB's West Campus beach, as the sun goes down and the moon rises.
(6) Too bad the Olympics games are over or this Bakhtiari woman from Iran's southwestern region could have earned a medal in weightlifting!
(7) Modern Persian music: Ahdieh sings "Rizeh-Rizeh" in concert, with masterful piano accompaniment of Anoushirvan Rohani and his son Reza. The Persian text erroneously attributes the video to Shahdad Rohani.
(8) Birthers have become healthers: It appears that Hillary Clinton's faux health issues serve the same purpose as doubts spread about President Obama's birthplace and religion in the past two presidential elections, that is, to divert attention from the Republicans' internal discord and serious issues with their platform and candidate. [This observation has appeared on several Web sites, so I don't know where the credit should go.]

2016/09/14 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon, depicting Disney's seven dwarfs (1) Cartoon of the day: The seven ages of man.
Sleepy; Happy; Dopey; Bashful; Doc; Sneezy; Grumpy.
(2) School of the future: In a Nova program, that premiered at 9:00 PM tonight on PBS SoCal, Dos Pueblos High School and its Engineering Academy were featured. DPHS also had a special program at its Elings Performing Arts Center, where the creator of the Academy, Amir Abo-Shaeer, offered some remarks at 8:45, before screening the Nova program live.
(3) Quote of the day: "One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present." ~ Golda Meir
(4) Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tech-challenged: Their TV generation thinks in a completely different way from the smartphone generation.
(5) Teresa Barnwell has been impersonating Hillary Clinton since 1993, but she isn't Clinton's body double, as claimed by some.
(6) Keith Olbermann's 17-minute take-down of Donald Trump, presenting 176 reasons why he should not be President. The list already needs expanding!
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Natlie Portman offers award-quality performance in the biopic "Jackie" (Newsweek on-line)
- Flooding around border river with China is North Korea's worst disaster since WW II (AFP)
- New York Attorney General opens inquiry into Trump Foundation (ABC News)
- Rapist ex-mayor claims the 4-year-old girl was willing participant (Washington Post)
- Two men, 65, arrested for the 1973 slaying and sexual assault of 2 California girls (People)
- Iowa man, who as a teenager sexually abused 1-year-old baby, won't serve jail time (Tribune)
(8) How 'big sugar' enlisted Harvard scientists to influence our diets: When, in the 1960s, articles were published linking sugar to heart disease, the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) funded a research project at Harvard (overseen by a Harvard faculty member who was also on SRF's scientific advisory board), culminating in a review paper that, to their delight, pointed to cholesterol and saturated fats as the only things to watch for in preventing heart disease. Just like the tobacco industry, the sugar industry not only ignored scientific evidence, but also attacked researchers whose results they didn't like. These nuggets have been revealed by UC San Francisco researchers, in a paper just published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

2016/09/13 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
A 5-year-old girl, without and with hijab (1) Iran's mandatory hijab isn't just for adult women: Very young children also face the compulsion. These photos are from a 5-year-old who was forced to wear the hijab for her passport photo on grounds that the passport is valid for 5 years and by the end of its validity, the girl will have reached the age of consent. As schools open in Iran for the new academic year, children will again be forced to wear the hijab. What is it exactly about this innocent child's face or hair that tempts men and causes them to lose control?
(2) When George W. Bush's White House 'lost' 22 million e-mails: These weren't run-of-the-mill communications but highly consequential e-mails, both from the Oval Office and VP Cheney's office, on a private server run by the RNC, that could have shed light on the reasons for going to war in Iraq. [Source: Newsweek on-line, September 12, 2016]
(3) GM recalls millions of defective vehicles: The 4.3M recalled vehicles, spanning model years 2014 to 2017, have a software defect that may prevent airbags from deploying.
(4) Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone owners should power down and stop using them immediately: FAA and US Consumer Product Safety Commission have confirmed that the phone's lithium-ion battery tends to catch fire spontaneously. Several airlines have already banned the device based on FAA's concerns. Samsung is offering free replacements and has stopped selling devices from the affected batch.
(5) Musings on architecture: As I walked on the UCSB campus this afternoon, I snapped these photos of the old Chemistry Building (on the right) and its more recent extension named "Physical Sciences North." The old building shows the simple lines and curves from the 1960s style of architecture in the US. The extension, built in the 2000s, is a mishmash of old (the columns) and modern styles, whose designers apparently made no effort to blend it in with the nearby structures.
(6) Building precariously balanced on pillars: I snapped this photo of a building on the beach side of Del Playa Drive in Isla Vista, as I walked home from my office via the beach path. In some sections, the waves reached all the way to the bluffs (this is what causes bluff erosion and the need for shoring up the buildings), creating a need for me to time my movements carefully to avoid being doused, sprinting on occasion to get around a corner ahead of an advancing wave.
(7) Abusing hardware race conditions to perform useful computation: This was the title of a talk by Advait Madhavan that I attended this morning (his PhD dissertation defense). Race in hardware, that is, the varying speeds of signal propagation through different paths in a circuit, is often viewed as a negative condition that must be avoided, as it can compromise the stability and correctness of computed results. In race logic, one takes advantage of race conditions to make computations faster and more energy efficient. Race logic is based on encoding information not by voltage levels (the common choice) but by the timing (delay) of signals. So, if a signal transitioning from 0 to 1 at time x represents the value x, the representation of x + 2 is obtained from x by passing it through 2 unit-delay elements. Madhavan has explored how the use of this time-based representation allows faster, lower-power realizations of a number of computations in application-specific circuits. One example is DNA sequence matching.

9/11: we will never forget! 2016/09/11 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) Today is the 15th anniversary of a dreadful event that changed the world: It wasn't the scale of destruction and loss of life that made the event memorable. Many more people have died in wars of the kinds we are still waging. Much more property has been destroyed by natural disasters we no longer remember.
What makes 9/11 memorable is the effect it had on our nation's psyche. The loss of trust it brought about (not only between America and its adversaries but also among us Americans). The end of care-free living it signaled for most of us. But there were also some positives. That horrible event helped open our eyes to deep-rooted ideological, cultural, and economic problems in the world. Let's hope that the outcome of the upcoming US presidential election does not move us further in the direction of hatred, division, conflict, distrust, and injustice.
(2) Donald Trump's Foundation is collecting and spending other people's money: It began accepting donations in 2001, and since 2008, trump himself has donated nothing to his Foundation.
(3) Navid Kandelousi playing the violin: He is a rising young star from the Iranian-American community.
(4) Key technical specs for the new iPhones: The common processing section of iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, based on Arm's Fusion 10 architecture, uses 4 CPU (2 high-performance and 2 high-efficiency) and 6 GPU cores to provide unprecedented performance. Memory capacity ranges from the basic 32 GB to 256 GB. The 7 Plus model sports a 5.5-inch (1080 x 1920) LED-backlit LCD display with 3D touch capability, compared with iPhone 7's smaller 4.7-inch (730 x 1334) device of the same kind. Both versions have 7-magapixel selfie cameras. The main (back) cameras are different, with the 7 Plus model's having dual lenses and a host of other advanced features that will revolutionize smart-phone photography. Battery life is said to be 2-3 hours longer than iPhone 6s.
(5) Millionnaire Iranian-American living in a mansion is being investigated for Medicaid and Foodstamp fraud.
(6) Sexism on full display: Hillary Clinton has faced the question of why she doesn't smile more by talking to Humans of New York on two separate occasions. It is only with women that criticisms such as not smiling enough, smiling too much, dressing too conservatively, showing too much cleavage, wearing the same hairstyle, changing hairstyles too often, and the like become topics of public discussion. To be fair, Donald Trump's hair was also blown out of proportion. But no one has ever mentioned his permanently dour facial expression. A sickening covert sexism still thrives in our society.
(7) We heard from Trump that climate change is a Chinese conspiracy. Now we learn that he considers the bad rap about asbestos a mafia plot. Stay tuned for more revelations and new pronouncements of this kind.

2016/09/10 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Transistor size trends, according to ITRS (1) Transistors may stop shrinking after 2021: As late as 3 years ago, the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) predicted continued shrinkage of transistor size in high-performance integrated logic circuits for at least 15 more years (to 2028; blue line in the graph). The latest ITRS report predicts a flattening of transistor size trend, beginning in 2021 (red line in the graph). [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of September 2016]
(2) Cartoon caption of the day: The three ages of man.
- Younger than your doctor
- The same age as your doctor
- Older than your doctor
(3) High-performance optical switching: This 32x32 multi-stage optical switch, built of 448 simple 2x2 thermo-optic MZ cells, has been integrated on a single chip by the advanced photonics team at Huawei Technologies Canada. [Source: D. Celo et al., Int'l Conf. Photonics in Switching, Niigata, Japan, 2016.]
(4) Kurdish dance music at a wedding: Beautiful, except that the bride does not seem very excited, or mobile!
(5) Kurdish music: Talented young woman sings, while playing divan (a Kurdish stringed instrument).
(6) Today at Ventura Harbor: I visited Ventura's Art and Street Painting Festival with some family members, snapping these 7 photos of the art exhibits and chalk paintings.
(7) Thank you, Facebook: Friendships on Facebook are often described as superficial and no substitute for the real thing. This is true to some extent. Facebook friendship can only go so far, before face-to-face contact is required to deepen and expand it. However, I do have a few Facebook friends whom I know better than most of the friends I have acquired through face-to-face contacts. This shouldn't be surprising. Status posts, selection of reposts, and comments on other people's opinions reveal a great deal about one's personality. This holds throughout the social spectrum, from family members to casual acquaintances and political candidates. I have discovered over the past few years that certain individuals that I tolerate in the realm of safe electronic interaction aren't the kinds of people I would normally associate with in the physical domain. Prior to Facebook, contacts with such individuals consisted of exchanging pleasantries and "catching up" at occasional social events, such as weddings, whereas there are sometimes weekly, if not daily, interactions on Facebook. Differences of opinion exist everywhere, and I have no qualms with that. It is hateful and/or condescending demeanor that gets me.

2016/09/08 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Message in a special 'sign language' (1) A special "sign language": See if you can decipher this message and find the typo in it.
(2) Letter to the UN about the 1988 massacre in Iranian prisons: In a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court, 100 prominent Iranians in exile ask that the massacre of thousands of Iranian prisoners in 1988 be recognized as crime against humanity.
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- F. Scott Fitzgerald's "lost" stories set for 2017 release (Newsweek)
- Eyptian officials under fire over stance on FGM (Newsweek)
- For-profit ITT Tech shuts down after losing federal aid (CBS News)
- Clinton pledges child care on college campuses (Washington Post)
- Stanford develops fabric that keeps skin cool (Washington Post)
- Matt Lauer criticized for lack of follow-up questions (USA Today)
(4) On mandatory hijab in Iran: Masih Alinejad speaks about why mandatory hijab isn't a trivial issue; far from being the minor inconvenience of wearing a piece of cloth, it is an assault on human dignity. She takes down in a lucid and comprehensive manner the following four reasons stated by female dignitaries from other countries to justify their wearing a headscarf while visiting Iran. Well done, Ms. Alinejad!
- Hijab is the law in Iran and must thus be obeyed.
- Hijab is a cultural tradition which merits respect.
- Iran's hijab law is an internal matter.
- There are bigger problems to address than the hijab.
(5) Twistable wings for airplanes: The optimal wing shape for an airplane is different, depending on speed, altitude, and weather conditions. Yet present-day aircraft have fixed wings, whose shape is a compromise among the different optimal shapes. According to IEEE Spectrum on-line, shape-changing wings using new smart material are on the way and will lead to substantial savings in fuel costs, which constitute more than 25% of operating expenses for airlines. [1-minute video]
(6) Wells Fargo pays $185M in fines, refunds millions to customers, and fires 5300 employees for wrongdoing: Since 2011, the bank has been opening new accounts for customers without their knowledge. The stealth accounts then accumulated fees and penalties, costing customers substantial sums. Wells Fargo employees were motivated to open the bogus accounts by the bank's compensation policies and award of bonuses. This is yet another great accomplishment of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a brainchild of Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Cover image for Michael Brooks' 'At the Edge of Uncertainty' 2016/09/07 (Wednesday): Book review: Brooks, Michael, At the Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise, Profile Books, 2014.
Science is full of surprises, whether in the form of discovering X, when no one saw it coming, or discovering Z, when looking for or trying to prove Y. Yet, even though scientists are trained to be prepared for the inevitable surprises, sometimes a discovery is so unexpected that they can't help but scratch their heads. Brooks reviews 11 such discoveries in depth, providing, in the process, a background for the scientific discipline involved, a description of the discovery itself, and an assessment of the scientific and everyday consequences of the advancement.
Brooks begins his introductory chapter with this quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: "Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten, but they may start a winning game." This represents the spirit of science. For every Darwin or Einstein, there are hundreds of scientists who pursue research problems that lead to insignificant results or to dead ends. Even a highly productive and successful scientist encounters lulls and impasses from time to time. To make things worse, any revolutionary advance creates suspicion and resistance at the outset.
Here are the titles of the book's 11 chapters, sandwiched between Introduction and Epilogue and averaging a tad over 20 pages:
01. Triumph of the zombie killers: The science of consciousness has risen from the grave (p. 11)
02. The crowded pinnacle: Human beings are nothing special (p. 33)
03. The chimera era: We are ready to make a whole new kind of creature (p. 56)
04. The gene genie: There's more to life than DNA (p. 76)
05. Different for girls: Men and women all in very different ways (p. 100)
06. Will to live: Your mind has power in your body (p. 120)
07. Correlations in creation: Biology is putting quantum weirdness to work (p. 143)
08. The reality machine: Our universe is a computer, and we are the programmers (p. 163)
09. Complicating the cosmos: Our story of creation is far from complete (p. 186)
10. Hypercomputing: Alan Turing had another good idea (p. 209)
11. Clocking off: Time is an illusion (p. 231)
There is a bit of hand-waving in the descriptions, and the analogies don't always work. Nevertheless, the book is utterly readable and thought-provoking. Brooks succeeds in conveying the important notion that science does not consist of iron-clad facts, but is rather about dealing with uncertainties that permeate both experimental and theoretical work. At its best, scientific research is about open-mindedness, imagination, dismissing nothing out of hand, and thriving at the edge of uncertainty.

2016/09/06 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Beautiful calligraphic design (1) Arabic calligraphy: Writing meets design.
(2) I prepared these burrito bowls today: Garnish will be added once they are heated before eating. [The video recipe which I approximated.]
(3) BBQ chicken mini-pizzas (before baking): A good use for some leftover BBQ chicken from the family's Labor-Day weekend gathering.
(4) It's okay that our kids type rather than write: The typed word can be just as intellectual as longhand. We are in fact in a golden age of writing, because most Americans write substantially more than they did a couple of decades ago. [Based on Sarah Begley's "Book in Brief" piece in Time magazine, double-issue of September 12/19, 2016.]
(5) Israel cashes in on its cybersecurity know-how: Cybersecurity firms have mushroomed in Israel, making the country the second-largest exporter of cybersecurity products and services, after the US.
(6) Khamenei instructs Iranian officials to lie when negotiating with the West: Give them promises, he counsels, but nothing concrete. He then tells a joke to stress his point. A poet goes to the caliph and recites a poem in his praise. The caliph likes the poem and writes a note, promising the poet a sum in gold coins. The poet takes the note to the caliphate's treasurer, who refuses to give him the coins, saying: "You wrote something the caliph liked and he wrote something that you liked, so all's even."
(7) Why we ignore the facts that will save us: This is the subtitle of the book Denying to the Grave, by Sara E. and Jack M. Gorman. In a short piece in Time magazine, double-issue of September 12/19, 2016, the Gormans advise us not to dismiss people who deny facts. "Research has proven that humans are distinctly uncomfortable with events and phenomena without clear causes, and when we don't know something, we tend to fill in the gaps ourselves. ... Because we are fundamentally empathetic creatures, we respond more to stories than to statistics." Thus, the story that someone's child was diagnosed with autism after being vaccinated has a greater effect on us than stats about the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. The piece concludes by reminding us that changing minds is easier with compassion and understanding than with disdain.

2016/09/05 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Logo for Labor Day in red, white, and blue (1) It is Labor Day in the United States: I have been listening to the audiobook version of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which I will write about once I've heard all the 24 CDs. A striking piece of information I have already learned from this book is that national capital-to-income ratio hovers in the range 3-7 for most societies (there are very few outliers), regardless of their social and political structures.
Assuming a long-term net return of 5% on capital, this translates to 15-35% of a country's national income being generated by capital and 65-85% (i.e., roughly 2/3 to 5/6) by labor. It is such an eye-opener to look at economics and associated trends on a macro-scale. Happy Labor Day, everyone!
(2) Bahareh Hedayat, women's and human rights activist, has been freed from Iranian prison after serving 6.5 years of a 9.5-year sentence for anti-state propaganda. [Info: Wikipedia] [Photo, courtesy of Masih Alinejad]
(3) The Mansoorian sisters from Iran display their Asian Games medals (2 gold and 1 bronze) in this selfie.
(4) Kurdish dance music mix. [11-minute video]
(5) Scientists have discovered a sixth taste which explains our love of carbs: The new flavor, "starchy" (now added to salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami), is associated with carbohydrate-rich foods. So, the next time the smell of a freshly-baked loaf of bread makes you salivate, you'll know why!
(6) A Nobel Laureate's letter to his teacher: After winning the Nobel Prize, French philosopher Albert Camus wrote a letter to one of his elementary-school teachers. The third and final paragraph of his letter, dated 19 November 1957, reads: "I don't make too much of this sort of honour. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart."

2016/09/04 (Sunday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Line drawing of Clinton and Trump portraits (1) Presidential and VP debate schedule set: September 26 at New York's Hofstra University, moderated by NBC's Lester Holt; October 9 at Washington University of St. Louis, moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper and ABC's Martha Raddatz; October 19 at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, moderated by Fox News' Chris Wallace. The sole VP debate will be on October 4 at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, moderated by CBS' Elaine Quijano. C-SPAN's Steve Scully will be the back-up moderator for all debates.
(2) On a possible US-China war: According to a Rand Corporation report (link to the full report is provided in this Newsweek article), the probability of such a war is increasing, given China's posture and aggressiveness in the waters around it. If there is a war, naval warfare, limited to the Pacific region, will be its primary component. US mainland will likely not be attacked, except in the cyber-warfare component. "War between the two countries could begin with devastating strikes, be hard to control, last months if not years, have no winner and inflict huge losses on both sides' military forces."
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Lowe's to begin using in-store robots this month (Business Insider)
- GM plans SuperCruise as response to self-driving cars (Bloomberg)
- Amazon saved billions in taxes via Luxembourg tax shelters (Newsweek)
- Mexican soldiers kill 10 after highway ambush near US border (Reuters)
- Japan braces for new typhoon after 15 die from hurricane (AFP)
- Thousands flood Vatican to see Mother Teresa made a saint (NY Times)
(4) Iranian women's team defeats N. Korean team in Asian volleyball. [Full 2:22:37 video]
(5) Cat plays the piano with big orchestra: I rarely post animal videos, but this one is special. Apparently, the cat's contribution was pre-recorded and edited, and the orchestra played along with the recording.
(6) Man realizes that skipping physics classes has real-world consequences. [Funny video]
(7) Cartoon of the day: Idiomatic dietetic schematic.
(8) A math lover's T-shirt: It bears the inscription "integral, from birth to death, of struggle.dt = life"

2016/09/03 (Saturday): Book review: Cline, Ernest, Ready Player One: A Novel, Crown Publishers, 2011.
Cover image of 'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline I came to know this book from an announcement by the Santa Barbara Public Library System that it has chosen the book for summer reading by adults (an extension of its successful childern's and teens' reading programs). The book's title alludes to an old video game's opening message, indicating the system's readiness after the player has logged on.
The library's announcement used the following quotation from Random House to lure readers: "At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed."
The book opens with the news of an insanely rich game developer passing, leaving behind no heirs or even friends. We soon learn that the mogul has recorded a video in which he divulges that he has hidden an "Easter egg" inside OASIS, his most famous MMO (massively multiplayer on-line) game, and he provides the first clue for those who wish to play to win his entire fortune. The hunt quickly becomes a global phenomenon.
The events take place some three decades into the future, when it is quite routine for individuals to have avatars and spend time in virtual worlds, while obsessing about the 1980s pop culture and its retro video games. Avatars have to follow rules, particularly at schools, where it is required that "all student avatars be human, and of the same gender and age as the student. No giant two-headed hermaphrodite demon unicorn avatars were allowed. Not on school grounds, anyway."
The 2040s society where the story unfolds has many ills, including a severe energy crisis and a decades-old recession. People escape these real-world problems by logging on to OASIS and going anywhere their permissions and "credits" allow. The virtual environment includes many planets, plus worlds created over the years for a large collection of video games.
The protagonist, teenager Wade Owen Watts (who lives in a slum with his aunt), believes himself to have a good chance of winning the fortune, given his extreme skill in exploring OASIS and knowledge of the 80s pop culture. He surmises that finding the hidden Easter egg likely entails venturing into dangerous parts of OASIS, which requires skills and a lot of resources. So, Watts sets out to become a full-time "gunter" (short for "egg hunter").
Watts, known on-line as Parzival, is the first to decipher the clues for obtaining the copper key to open the first gate. He achieves this breakthrough early on (page 84 of the book). Along with getting the key, he earns 50,000 experience points, which allow him to raise the level of his avatar. As the sole player atop the scoreboard, Watts knows that he is envied by other players and that his life may be in danger, given the high stakes.
The rest of the story consists of efforts by Watts and a number of rivals in looking for the hidden egg, helping or blockading each other in the cut-throat competition. His most formidable rival is a woman, Art3mis, and their rivalry has a romantic subtext, albeit of the nerdy variety. When the two finally meet in person near the very end of the book and hold hands, Watts revels "in the strange new sensation of actually touching one another." Then comes the inevitable kiss that feels "just like all those songs and poems had promised it would."
If you are a digital gaming fan, you will enjoy this book. For others, the near-exclusive focus on gaming and virtual worlds may be a turn-off. Be aware, however, that even the very nerdy protagonist of this story discovers that the real world, which he had been trying to escape for his entire life, isn't such a bad place.
Interestingly, about a year after the book's release, Cline revealed that the book itself contained a hidden Easter egg and that there would be a grand prize for whoever finds it. A movie based on the book is in the works by Steven Spielberg (2018 release), with Cline, plus Zak Penn and Eric Eason, credited for the screenplay. No major movie stars are involved in the film project.

2016/09/02 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cover images of 'Girls' Life' and 'Boys' Life' side by side (1) This is how sexism is nourished and reinforced in our society: Girls are prompted to pursue their dream hair; boys, to explore their future. [Image credit: Matt Frye]
(2) Quote of the day: "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please." ~ Mark Twain
(3) On mass executions in the 1980s Iran: Revelations (in Persian) by Mehdi Khaz'ali about summary execution of thousands of prisoners at Tehran's Evin Prison, some 20,000 nationwide, under direct orders from Ayatollah Khomeini and overseen by a panel of three men, one of whom is President Rouhani's Minister of Justice.
(4) Creative labeling of the tip basket at a cafe: "If you're afraid of CHANGE, feel free to leave it here."
(5) Today, at the Santa Barbara waterfront: There was hardly a wave on this rather windy day. Kayakers and paddle-boarders seemed to enjoy the unusually calm waters near Santa Barbara's harbor. I ended my afternoon walk, when my daughter's train arrived at the station, bringing her home for the Labor Day weekend.
(6) On nonuniversality of computational devices: For decades, theoretical computer science rested on the premise that any computable function can be evaluated by a Turing Machine, that is, there exists no computation that cannot be carried out by a suitably programmed (universal) Turing Machine. This axiom of "universality" is known as the Church-Turing hypothesis. The opposing 2005 result that "no computer capable of a finite and fixed number of basic operations per time unit can be universal" is known as "the nonuniversality in computation theorem (NCT)." This is a deep discussion that I cannot reproduce here. If interested, you can read the expository article by Selim G. Akl, entitled "Nonuniversality Explained," in the May-August 2016 issue of Int'l J. Parallel, Emergent & Distributed Systems (Vol. 31, Nos. 3-4, pp. 201-219; PDF). Many examples in Akl's exposition demonstrate the genuine power of parallel processing, which allows easy computation of certain well-defined functions that cannot be computed by any sequential machine.

2016/09/01 (Thursday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Evidence for the start of a new geologic epoch (1) We may have entered a new geologic era: Some time around 1950, we left the 11,700-year-old Holocene geological epoch and entered a new era with the proposed name "Anthropocene," according to some geologists. "Most other geologic epochs, which are defined by world-changing events such as mass extinctions, have lasted millions of years or even tens of millions of years. But humans have found a way to disrupt the Earth's natural patterns, and many geologists think it's high time this impact be made official." The new epoch is characterized by the proliferation of radioactive elements, plastic pollution, and an abundance of materials such as concrete, soot, and, I am dead serious, chicken bones!
(2) Quote of the day: "What is the Republican Party today? What is it you're endorsing in this campaign? If you believe the GOP stands for racism, xenophobia, protectionism, nuclear proliferation, torture, war crimes, the reckless use of military force and fanboy support for a powerful and conniving dictator who threatens America, then please proceed. But I am sure you support none of that." ~ Part of an open letter from Kurt Eichenwald to House Speaker Paul Ryan
(3) World Cup 2018 match in Tehran: Today, Iran beat Qatar 2-0 on a minute-94 goal (Reza Ghoochannejad in the middle of 6 minutes of added time), when the Qatari goalie's poorly cleared ball was intercepted, and a minute-101 bullet shot (Alireza Jahan Bakhsh, after more time was added due to a lengthy brawl).
(4) Art installation: Artists express concern over the drying of the Shiraz River and many other rivers in Iran.
(5) Formal spying charges filed against Texan Sandy Phan-Gillis, after an 18-month detention in China.

2016/08/31 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Chart showing some of the national ranks when medals are considered per capita (1) Olympics rankings by medals per capita: From top to bottom, you see the rank, country, number of medals, population per medal, and total population. [Source: Time magazine, issue of September 5, 2016]
(2) Men continue to support Iranian women's fight against mandatory hijab: By taking photos alongside their wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters, while switching head-wear, Iranian men are proving that the government's labeling them as morally loose ("bi-gheirat" in Persian) will not deter them from doing what is right to help earn equal rights for half the population.
(3) Good-size waves brought many surfers to the Coal Oil Point Beach near UCSB today. Some remained to surf, even after the sun set.
(4) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- A man named "Vladimir Putin" was arrested in a Florida supermarket (Esquire)
- Americans feel their lives improved markedly over the past 8 years (Gallup poll)
- Queens car crash leaves 3 dead, 9 others injured, 2 critically (NY Post)
- Trump and Mexico's President give conflicting accounts of their talks (CNN)
- Hillary Clinton's negative rating has risen to near Trump's (Business Insider)
- Brazil's Senate ousts President Rousseff through impeachment (USA Today)
- Mid-air collision of two private planes kills 5 in Alaska (BBC)
- Typhoon Lionrock kills at least 11, causes wide destruction in Japan (WSJ)
(5) The bright side of darker emotions: Book intro. [Source: Time magazine, issue of September 5, 2016]
(6) The August 24 quake in Italy: The town of Amatrice was razed almost completely by the magnitude-6.2 earthquake. [Photo credit: Time magazine, issue of September 5, 2016]
(7) Robots learn to make eye contact and facial expressions: This is only the beginning of the way. As we learn from such experiments, the quality of interactions between robots and humans will improve. A human-like robot isn't that far away.
(8) An enjoyable Glenn Miller Orchestra concert: Last night, I attened a concert by GMO at Santa Barbara Junior High's beautifully renovated Marjorie Luke Theater. One piece the band played, "American Patrol," was dedicated to US veterans (there were quite a few of them in the audience). My recording of this tune did not turn out well, so I am using a version available on YouTube. Other tunes in the two sets included "The Lady Is a Tramp," "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo," and "Chattanooga Choo Choo." My final video from last night's concert is a newer tune from the late 1950s, "Fly Me to the Moon."
GMO's story: The Orchestra was formed in 1937, disbanded in 1938 due to lack of success, recorded many hits during 1939-1943, went to England in 1944 to play for the troops, and lost its leader that same year, when he boarded a transport plane to Paris, never to be seen again. GMO played many of Glenn Miller's own compositions, tunes specifically written for the orchestra and arranged by GM, and a number of movie tunes.

2016/08/29 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
My modest Plan-B dinner Persian chelow-kabob, with two kinds of beef-kabob and one chicken-kabob (1) Dinner, Plan A (left; my favorite smiley-face emoticon) and Plan B (I have no idea how to execute Plan A)!
(2) Boeing at 100: A flagship US technology company with its aircraft prominently on display at airports around the world, Boeing was incorporated on July 16, 1916. This article about Boeing's centenary contains a number of photos from Boeing and aviation history.
(3) Airbag safety recalls: The safety problems at the center of auto industry's biggest recall were known more than two decades ago, when the industry opted for the cheaper Takata airbags to save a few dollars per vehicle.
(4) Quote of the day: "Knowledge is free. Ignorance costs a lot." ~ Anonymous
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- GE moving to become world's top software company (NYT)
- Federal $2.5B loan funds Amtrak upgrades in northeast US (AP)
- Texas embraces development of wind, solar power (WSJ)
- Native Americans protest in ND over major oil pipeline (LA Times)
- Huma Abedin announces split from Anthony Weiner (CBS News)
- Comedian Gene Wilder of "Willy Wonka" fame dead at 83 (CNN)
(6) Final thought for the day: Children need active protection from sexual predators, who are most likely people they know, not strangers. One in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims. Don't say it won't happen to my kids.

2016/08/28 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Persian poem commemorating Badri Ghaffari-Vala (1) In memory of Badri, mother of Bahman and mother-in-law of my cousin Farkhondeh, with condolences to the Ghaffari-Vala and associated families. The first letters of this poem's half-verses spell "Badri" in Persian.
(2) Quote of the day: "When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float." ~ Zen proverb
(3) Burkini ban overturned: France's Supreme Court has overturned the ban on burkinis. A small victory in the battle against the subjugation of women, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.
(4) Elon Musk's plan to kill big oil: Electric cars, solar panels, batteries, and software to efficiently manage power and its trading are parts of the plan.
(5) Vice-Presidential candidate Tim Kaine playing the harmonica on "The Late Show."
(6) The Kurdish spirit: Female soldiers take a break from fighting the most sinister forces in the world.
(7) Traditional Persian music: Twin sisters Mehrnaz and Farnaz Dabirzadeh perform on santoor and tonbak.
(8) A movie for math affectianados: If you have a deep interest in mathematics, you are probably familiar with the name "Srinivasa Ramanujan." He was a self-taught Indian mathematician who discovered some of the deepest and most beautiful results in mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series, and continued fractions, despite a total lack of formal training. In the 2016 film "The Man Who Knew Infinity," Dave Patel plays Ramanujan, with Jeremy Irons portraying his discoverer and mentor G. H. Hardy, the renowned math professor at Cambridge's Trinity College.
(9) Biking in Goleta: For today's late afternoon outing, I began on the UCSB West Campus bluffs, where high tide had made the beach inaccessible via the stairs. After going to my favorite rest stop at Coal Oil Point on this gorgeous Sunday and enjoying the view there, I biked northwest to explore an area that used to be a run-down 18-hole golf course, before being purchased by UCSB. Some of the land was used to build new student and faculty housing and the bulk of it is now public open space. The boarded-up building is the old clubhouse.

2016/08/26 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image of woman with shackles on her feet (1) Quote of the day: "The Elders are not attacking religion as such ... We all recognized that if there's one overarching issue for women it's the way that religion can be manipulated to subjugate women." ~ Mary Robinson, President of Ireland (1990-1997) and UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002)
[The Elders is a group of world leaders convened by Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, and Desmond Tutu "to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world's toughest problems." (from Wikipedia)]
(2) Freeway signs for Persian Square: Part of Wilshire Blvd. in West Los Angeles, previously named "Persian Square," now has directional signs on both southbound and northbound 405 Freeway.
(3) Words to live by: "Live without pretending. Love without depending. Listen without defending. Speak without offending." ~ Mystery of the Journey (Facebook page)
(4) These are nuns on a beach: So, why are burkinis banned?
(5) Foundations compared: People have begun putting the Clinton and Trump foundations side by side and comparing them. And the picture isn't pretty for Donald Trump, who has made attacks on the Clinton Foundation a centerpiece of his campaign.
(6) Kurdish music: New performance of a 50-year-old song. Kurdish lyrics provided, with Persian translation.
(7) Seeing beyond e-mails, health, and other smoke screens: Three key elements of Trump's economic plan are reduction of the top tax rate from 39.6% to 33%, cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%, and eliminating the estate tax, paid only for massive estates. All three of these elements will benefit almost exclusively the top 1% (and please don't invoke the utterly discredited trickle-down economic theory). Meanwhile, Clinton will raise the tax rate and estate tax for the super-rich and use much of the added income for infrastructure improvement. So, don't let distractions and smoke screens hide these fundamental differences. Meanwhile, lost in the hoopla is the fact that a US Supreme Court nominee has been waiting for more than 4 months to get a hearing and be either confirmed or turned down by the US Congress.
(8) More on Donald Trump's health: His personal physician has told NBC News he needed just five minutes to write a glowing public assessment of Trump's health as a limousine waited to carry the letter back to Trump. The letter remains the only publicly released information on Trump's medical history.
(9) Cinema under the stars: After spending part of the afternoon reading in my courtyard and enjoying the soothing sound of a small fountain, I headed out for a walk downtown, followed by seeing the last installment of this summer's Bogart-Bacall film series at Santa Barbara Courthouse's Sunken Garden. The film, "How to Marry a Millionaire," is a lighthearted comedy from 1953, starring Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall; and no, it isn't a biopic about Melania Trump!

2016/08/25 (Thursday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cover image for Stephen King's 'On Writing' (1) Brief book review: King, Stephen, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Scribner, 2000. (Also available in audiobook format.)
Stephen King writes a lot! In fact, while not a fan of his stories, I do respect his work ethic, productivity, and gripping narrative style, which, according to him, emphasizes character development over plot details. He says that he likes to get 10 pages a day, which means he can complete a largish book in about 3 months, working on a continuous schedule, including Christmas, July 4th, and his birthday.
So, it came as a surprise to me to find this book a mere 288 pages long. Part biographical and part composed of tips for aspiring writers, the book ends with a detailed account of the author being hit by a Dodge minivan while jogging on a rural road in 1999, and how writing literally saved his life after sustaining serious injuries from the near-fatal accident. He began writing slowly at first, but was soon back to his normal pace.
King covers his childhood, early influences, college days, and development as a writer. The writing advice itself is rather standard, but the presentation is friendly and inspiring. In addition to the key advice that good writing requires a lot of reading, King offers techniques one can learn from a diverse set of authors, including H. P. Lovecraft, Ernest Hemingway, John Grisham, Richard Dooling, and Jonathan Kellerman. All in all, a pretty good read, in my opinion.
[An aside: I read on that King is a member of a writers-only rock-n-roll band, which also includes author Amy Tan, and that the audiobook version of this work begins with samples of the band's music. Although, if you want to take King's "read a lot" advice to heart, you should pursue the printed version.]
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of thw past couple of days:
- Earthquake in central Italy, measuring 6.2, kills 200+
- New rocket fire from Gaza leads to Israeli air strike
- Fake Syrian passports given to ISIS members discovered
- Gunmen storm American University in Kabul
- Donald Trump to meet with black, Latino activists
- Traffic deaths rising due to cheaper gas, distractions
(3) A new market in my neighborhood: The conversion of the short-lived Fairview Ave. Hagens (before that, Vons) to Sprouts Farmers Market is finally complete. The store was overflowing with shoppers and merchandise on its 8/24 grand-opening day. I had a wonderful panini for lunch at its sandwich shop and stocked up on bargains, such as $1-per-pound strawberries and $0.33 avocados.
(4) An observation: It took 37+ years for Iran to complete its slow transition from an American base in the Middle East to a Russian base.
(5) A couple of questions, and a film recommendation: How many human beings have walked on the moon? How many Americans? The last person to walk on the moon was Gene Cernan, and his story is the subject of the documentary film "The Last Man on the Moon" (2016). [Trailer]

2016/08/23 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Abandoned island with a fort in Key West, Florida (1) Twelve abandoned islands and their back stories: A stretch of islands in Key West, Florida, was first discovered by Juan Ponce de Leon, who named them "Las Tortugas" (the turtles). The most interesting part of the islands is this abandoned fort, which, for some reason unbeknownst to me, is surrounded by a moat (as if the ocean isn't enough of a hindrance)! This article contains the back story of this and 11 other abandoned islands.
(2) Time-lapse video of Santa Barbara's Rey Fire.
(3) Human rights abuses continue in Iran: Attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh has been summoned to court again, with no charges specified. She will represent herself to avoid getting other colleagues in trouble, as happened to three who previously represented her.
(4) Trolling and Internet hate speech: There are two aspects to hateful conduct on the Internet, social media in particular. One aspect pertains to the absence of eye contact and body language in electronic communication, thereby making people less inhibited as well as more prone to misunderstanding. Many studies have shown that people tend to be ruder on electronic media than in face-to-face or even voice communication. This article provides a good overview
The second aspect, known as trolling, has to do with taking pleasure in posting irksome or insulting comments on various discussion threads for no particular reason. The word "troll" is from fishing, which means dragging a baited line through water or trying to find a particular type of fish. Nearly all on-line trolls are anonymous and some engage in trolling full-time. Even though most trolls just want to annoy their targets, some go further through bullying, or even issuing threats of rape or murder. If we want to have an on-line presence, we have to learn to avoid or deal with trolls. Remember that first and foremost, trolls seek attention, so ignoring them is perhaps the best policy. Here are some other tips for dealing with trolls.
Let me end by providing Time magazine's list of ten popular social media sites, from the most trolly to the least (Joel Stein's cover feature, issue of August 29, 2016).
On-line troll: cartoon - 8chan: Trolls' last refuge, where taboo topics are discussed freely
- 4chan: Troll-dominated, with few regular people to be trolled
- Voat: Number of users surged when Reddit nixed certain threads
- Reddit: A favorite place for hate groups to organize and infiltrate
- YikYak: Local, anonymous posts have led to bullying on campuses
- Twitter: Anonymous users can tag people they don't know
- YouTube: Nasty comments by organized groups are commonplace
- Facebook: Lack of anonymity and focus on safety drives away trolls
- Instagram: Relatively safe, despite some high-profile incidents
- Snapchat: Pictures disappear too quickly to allow hate build-up
(5) Celebrities turning 50-90 in August and September 2016, according to the August/September issue of AARP magazine: Halle Berry (50), Salma Hayek (50); Joan Allen (60), David Copperfield (60); Joe Greene (70); Robert Redford (80); Tony Bennett (90)
(6) The lights of Los Angeles and surrounding communities. [4-minute time-lapse video]

2016/08/22 (Monday): Book review: Dulchinos, Donald P., Neurosphere: The Convergence of Evolution, Group Mind, and the Internet, Weiser Books, 2005.
Cover image of 'Neurosphere The difference between brain and mind has occupied philosophers, scientists, and lay people for decades, if not centuries. Much is known about the electrical (electromagnetic) nature of brain's signaling, and progress has been made in connecting the brain's circuitry to external devices, for both extracting information and influencing human behavior. A key thesis of this book is that while our bodies, including the parts in our heads, are separate from one another, each contained in its own physical frame, our minds are much more connected than we realize.
According to neuroscientist/philosopher Sam Harris (a prominent atheist), whose book Waking Up I previously reviewed (see blog entry for May 17, 2016), the notion of self, or the "I" in our head, is purely psychological; we are part of the world and the boundaries between individuals are quite artificial. Dulchinos restates Harris' secular sentiment thus: "All of us together, we are God." Thus, the book has religious overtones, but rather than being a treatise on religion, it really focuses on spirituality and on all human beings constituting parts of the same entity, whatever you want to call it.
The word "neurosphere" of the book's title is a variation of "noosphere." According to Paleontologist Pierre Teilhard, "[w]ith social convergence comes traditions and collective memory. This is the beginning of the group mind of humanity, the noosphere." Teilhard places noosphere on top of biosphere, the world of plants and animals, which is itself at a higher level than barysphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmoshphere.
We have likely come to the end of our physical evolution in biosphere (we may be the only species that has stopped branching into other species), but our world-encompassing consciousness and collective memory allow us to evolve further in neurosphere. The brain's extreme adaptability (evident in the production of workarounds when parts of it are damaged) along with an emerging science of consciousness will help us evolve in the new domain much faster than we did in the physical domain.
Interfacing the brain with external electronic devices is clearly feasible. Mind control of prosthetic limbs is already a reality and will become mainstream in a few years. Auditory and visual prosthetics for the deaf and the blind are under intensive study and should become marketable soon. Mind machines emit certain frequencies that brain waves adapt to, causing relaxation. We now know that mountaintops receive ions swept up by prevailing winds and the electrical interaction of these ions with the brain may be the cause of visionary experiences.
Commonalities between brain functions and computing are now well understood. Scientists in the field of parallel and distributed computing have built computer programs to mimic evolution. Such programs, typically, change very little over extended periods of time and then generate significant change over a relatively short time period. It isn't a stretch to think that, just as computer software is ported from one hardware platform to another, some day the mind may be ported to other platforms, electronic or otherwise. This is the premise of a speculative field dubbed "transhumanism." Computers that can replace human brain, or allow for "repairing" certain lost functions, are entirely imaginable.
We have evolved to communicate, and this has been true for a long time, certainly way before computers appeared on the scene. In the words of physician Lewis Thomas, "[w]e spend our time sending messages to each other, talking and trying to listen at the same time, exchanging information. This seems to be our most urgent biological function; it is what we do with our lives." We have reached a critical mass of being able to develop a collective intelligence, in the same way that termites, in large enough numbers, create beautiful columns and curving arches, joining them in just the right way to erect mind-numbing architectures.
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (another prominent atheist) coined the term "meme" for the unit of cultural transmission, in the same way that "gene" engenders biological transmission. So, the Internet, and telecommunications in general, constitute the "soup" of a new evolutionary stage in our existence. Whereas biological transmission requires physical proximity, ideas spread far and wide through verbalization and, eventually, perhaps even without verbalization. For this spreading to happen, however, free information circulation within the neurosphere is a must.
Carl Jung's deduction from common elements (themes, images) of his patients' dreams was that there must be a collective consciousness. According to Jung, archtypes evolved from endless repetition of inner experiences, just as instincts evolved from repeated learned behavior. The existence of similar mythologies in diverse cultures lends credence to Jung's theory. The notion of oneness was given a huge boost by space flight. Having seen the Earth as a whole, with no borders or other dividing lines, astronauts returned with altered perspectives on nationalism and ethnic violence.
Visionary inventor Nicola Tesla had made the following prediction: "We shall have no need to transmit power at all ... our machinery will be driven by a power obtainable at any point of the universe. ... it is a mere question of time when men will succeed in attaching their machinery to the very wheelwork of nature."
Cells band together to create a human being and, thereby, give rise to consciousness. That consciousness cannot be said to belong to any one cell. Similarly, global consciousness supersedes any one human being. It has been estimated that some 10 billion cells are needed before consciousness emerges. So, too, one can say that around 10 billion interconnected individuals are needed to give rise to global consciousness. We are fast approaching that number and the exponential rise of telecommunications technology will ensure that a significant fraction of that population will be interconnected.
Given that global consciousness develops faster with openness and ubiquity, a natural question to ponder is: "How do we secure an asset whose value increases exponentially with the number of computers—or conscious nodes—connected to it?" The conflict between openness on one side, and privacy and safety on the other, is a deep and troubling one. As Dulchinos observes: "For every knee-jerk libertarian encrypting his banal emails, there is a Webcam exhibitionist begging you to look and see." The ongoing war on terror is a prominent form of conflict within the neurosphere. The conflict is not between geographic regions or confined to some areas. Rather, the conflict will rage within the population of a single local entity, where it is nearly impossible to use traditional forms of warfare. You cannot bomb regions of Florida, say, where terrorists might reside.
Dulchinos writes on the final page of his book, before concluding with 21 pages of notes and 3 pages of references, "[t]his is one system that can not allow exclusion. There are no infidels, no heretics, in the neurosphere. You are part of it whether you acknowledge it or not. And so is your worst enemy. Moreover, until you liberate him or her ... , you yourself will never be free." And this may be the perfect basis for a more humane relationship between nations.
This book isn't an easy read. For me, each page required reflection, extensive note-taking, and looking up words/concepts. It took me several months to finish the 193-page book, as I had to take breaks from it to read (or listen to) less challenging material. I am glad I finally finished it, as it has given me a new perspective on the world we live in and on the future of humanity.

2016/08/21 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Donald Trump and one of his many statements that are demeaning to women (1) Trumpian speak: Contrary to the commonly held view of Trump as a blabbermouth, he does choose his words carefully and he does mean exactly what he says. Recently he said that he regrets making certain remarks, and some in the media interpreted it as an apology. Trump is incapable of apologizing, and he has said this himself, because he thinks he is above making mistakes. Firstly, he never identified the remarks that he regrets, leaving it up to speculation to figure out which ones he meant. Did he regret one or two statements, or where there a whole bunch of "hurtful" remarks? Secondly, you may regret an act (such as hitting someone), because it got you in trouble, which is different from being sorry you did it or thinking that you owe the victim an apology. You simply regret the act, because it had negative consequences for you.
(2) It's about time the leadership of this country reflects the facts that 53% of our voters and 47% of workers are women. [3-minute video]
(3) Quote of the day: "It's not a virtue for a woman to extend her leg, kick someone, and win medals. Her virtue is bearing and raising children." ~ Iran's Ayatollah Javadi Aamoli (Kimia Alizadeh's first-ever Olympics medal for an Iranian woman, a bronze in taekwondo, is an apt "kick in the mouth" for this backward mullah)
(4) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Child suicide bomber kills 50 at Turkey wedding (VoA)
- Japan's ambassador arrested in Tehran party serving alcohol (VoA)
- The 2016 Rio Olympic games come to a spectacular close
- USA earns 121 Olympics medals: 46 gold, 37 silver, 38 bronze
- China in 2nd place with 70 medals: 26 gold, 18 silver, 26 bronze
- GB impressive 3rd with 67 medals: 27 gold, 23 silver, 17 bronze
- Iran ends Olympics journey with 8 medals: 3 gold, 1 silver, 4 bronze
- Brazil wins soccer gold medal against Germany on penalty kicks
(5) A very timely topic: I think social studies programs should address the problem of the culture of hate on the Internet in depth. I will post a brief essay once I have read Time magazine's cover feature on this topic in its issue of August 29, 2016.
(6) Joke of the day: Mexicans have started training for Donald Trump's border wall.
(7) Emmylou Harris over the years: Harris is a wonderful performer, with a decades-long history. Here is a sample of her many performances. ["Save the Last Dance for Me"] ["C'est la Vie" (1977)] ["Jambalaya" ("On the Bayou")] ["How She Could Sing the Wildwood Flower"]
(8) Norah Jones' 2002 concert: This 56-minute video, from a live performance at New Orleans, begins with the wonderful song "Cold Cold Heart."
(9) Peculiar fact of the day: Why a marathon is 26.2 miles long.

2016/08/20 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cartoon depicting the first-ever woman to win an Olympics medal for Iran (1) Cartoon of the day: Cartoonist Mana Neyestani's take on the first-ever Olympics medal for an Iranian woman (bronze in taekwondo, earned by Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin, 18), despite all the restrictions placed on women by the ruling clergy.
(2) Montreal botanical gardens. [1-minute Video]
(3) What it is like to have never felt an emotion: The condition known as "alexithymia" (people with this so-called "emotional colorblindness" refer to themselves as "alexes" or "the alex community") is found in around 50% of people with autism, but many of those afflicted do not show autistic traits. In an NPR program I recall hearing some time ago, there was a discussion of treatments for turning the emotions back on, but I cannot find a link or other reference to that program.
(4) An American genocide: This is the title of a book that depicts what happened to California's Native Americans in the mid-19th century. In this Newsweek article, Alexander Nazaryan discusses the events of 150 years ago and how the systematic slaughter of Native Americans in California "was not all that different from what happened to Jews, Armenians or Rwandans."
(5) This guy on the Berlin metro has a poignant message: The Arabic text on his bag means, "This text has no other purpose than to terrify those who are afraid of the Arabic language."
(6) A treasure trove of puzzles and exotic mathematical facts: A few months ago, I introduced Clifford A. Pickover's book, A Passion for Mathematics: Numbers, Puzzles, Madness, Religion, and the Quest for Reality (Wiley, 2005) and posted a sample tidbit from it. Here is another sample tidbit.
The special number 7: In ancient days, the number 7 was thought of as just another way to signify "many." Even in recent times, there have been tribes that used no numbers higher than 7. In the 1880s, the German ethnologist Karl von Steinen described how certain South American Indian tribes had very few words for numbers. As a test, he repeatedly asked them to count ten grains or corn. They counted "slowly but correctly to six, but when it came to the seventh grain and the eighth, they grew tense and uneasy, at first yawning and complaining of a headache, then finally avoided the question altogether or simply walked off." Perhaps seven means "many" in such common phrases as "seven seas" and "seven deadly sins." (These interesting facts come from Adrian Room, The Guinness Book of Numbers, 1989.)
(7) Talk is cheap: I can read from a teleprompter the text of a speech someone wrote for me about helping the poor in Nepal, feeding the hungry in Rwanda, or curing the sick in Burundi. That won't make me a philanthropist, unless my actions match those words. Now, Trump's speech-writers want us to forget everything he has ever said and done and believe that he is a caring and compassionate person, who represents the only hope for disadvantaged African-Americans and other minorities. Forget that he bankrupted many businesses (his own and those of contractors he cheated), paid little or no taxes, makes virtually all of his merchandise overseas, and panders to White Supremacists and anti-immigrant groups. As the governor of Louisiana has said, flood victims need volunteers and financial help, not people showing up for photo-ops, which not only aren't helpful but also drain law-enforcement and other resources that are needed elsewhere.

2016/08/19 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Photos showing the similarities between Mariska Hargitay and her mom, Jayne Mansfield (1) Eerie similarities: Actress Mariska Hargitay and her mom, Jayne Mansfield.
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Justice Dept. announces end to private prisons (Washington Post)
- Uber to use driverless cars in Pittsburgh within weeks (LA Times)
- In a first, Donald Trump regrets using hurtful words (ABC News)
- Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort resigns (Yahoo News)
- Fox employees with ties to Roger Ailes quietly depart (Variety)
- AT&T, Apple, Google, others join FCC to end robocalls (CNET)
(3) Donald Trump's lack of respect for science is alarming: This is the title of a new editorial from Scientific American, which also issued a similar warning about antiscience sentiments four years ago.
(4) Phonetically defined [From a cartoon by John Atkinson]: Lackadaisical: Not enough daisies; Realize: Genuine ocular organs; Sirloin: Knighted cut of beef; Bigotry: Large woody plant; Truculent: Pickup borrowed by a friend; Syllable: Peculiar male cow.
(5) The US media is under-reporting a major disaster (a 1000-year flood, with heartbreaking loss of life and property in Louisiana), while giving wall-to-wall coverage to a stupid prank by a group of privileged young athletes in Rio. Meanwhile, the Louisiana flood is just one of many 100-plus-year events we have witnessed in recent years. What would it take for climate-change deniers to wake up and smell the coffee?
(6) Michigan launches campaign to keep auto companies from relocating to California: Facing competition from high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, traditional auto giants are toying with the idea of moving some of their operations to the Golden State to exploit the information-technology skills needed to design cars of the future.
(7) Message in a brain scan: UCSB neurologist Scott Grafton is using brain scans of musician Sting to learn how he forges musical connections in his mind.
(8) My walk this evening: I walked from Santa Barbara Courthouse to the end of Stearns Wharf and back. I photographed what appears to be an almost-completed new hotel on State Street, near the train station, and part of the "La Entrada" mixed commercial/residential development across the street, which is set to transform the touristy waterfront area for the better. This sign, essentially saying "no diving on the sand," and this man, photographing the waves, were among the other photos I took. The sunset, as seen from Stearns Wharf, was hazy, likely because of a nearby wildfire raging in Santa Barbara and another one in San Luis Obispo County. And here are two photos taken looking toward the mountains, beyond which the Santa Barbar fire is raging. Smoke clouds are visible in both photos. On the way back, I passed by this building on Carrillo Street in downtown Santa Barbara, a building whose interesting architecture caught my eyes for the first time, despite having passed by it dozens of times before. Finally, I went to Santa Barbara Courthouse's Sunken Garden for cinema under the stars, screening the film-noir (crime-drama) "Key Largo" (starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and a very young Ernest Borgnine).

Cover image for Lynsey Addario's 'It's What I Do' 2016/08/18 (Thursday): Book review: Addario, Lynsey, It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War, unabridged audiobook on 8 CDs, read by Tavia Gilbert, Blackstone Audio, 2015.
Nowadays, photography and reporting from battlefields and other conflict zones are quite different from what they were several decades ago. Fierce competition forces journalists to take greater risks in trying to get as close to the action as the military allows (and sometimes without authorization). Armies too, well aware of the importance of public relations in conducting wars, go out of their way to accommodate journalists in what has come to be known as "embedding," meaning that the journalists work, sleep, and eat with, or very close to, the troops.
In wars such as those in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, journalists are particularly vulnerable, given that their capture by the enemy is tantamount to mistreatment, being used as hostages, and, in many cases, summary executions. The dangers are multiplied for female reporters, thus making Addario's memoir particularly compelling. In many areas of the Middle East, being sexually touched or groped is a routine part of a female reporter's experience, even when working among non-combatants.
Addario, whose honors include a Pulitzer Prize (shared) and a McArthur Foundation Genius Grant, has been to many conflict zones, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and several other parts of the Middle East and Africa. She worked under extreme conditions and survived multiple near-death experiences, including a car crash and an abduction.
Addario's stories about civilians caught in brutal conflicts are heart-wrenching, particularly those of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. These stories are interwoven with Addario's personal life, including a couple of long-distance relationships friendships with other members of the press corps who traveled with her, and occasional flings with another half of a long-distance relationship.
For many years, the need to pack up and leave at a moment's notice to cover a new conflict zone made a fulfilling personal life impossible for the author. She chose her career, which satisfied her curiosity and adventurous nature, over the needs of her male lovers, but eventually settled down with a partner who understood her compulsion for covering war zones and their collateral casualties, and was secure enough to let her pursue her passion.
The narrative ends shortly after Addario gives birth to a son and settles down into working on longer-term magazine pieces, rather than fast-breaking news stories. In the "Afterword" chapter, Addario describes her return to work in Syria and the Kurdish region of Iraq, where each young refugee or hungry/sick child reminded her of her own son at home. She acknowledges that, in her line of work, there is a trade-off between having a successful career and child rearing.
This is a captivating book, which I recommend highly. From now on, I will have a much greater appreciation of war-zone photos accompanying news stories. If you can, get the hard-copy version, which I have seen described as containing many photographs.

2016/08/17 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting against the government of Israel (1) On extremism: [On a Facebook post of a friend, I got engaged in a discussion about religious extremism. Some criticized me for daring to suggest similarities between extremist versions of Islam and Judaism. Here is my reply to these criticisms.]
Ultra-Orthodox Jews enjoy the security of living in Israel, are paid by the government without working, don't serve in the military (in fact they hate the state of Israel just as much as extremist Muslims do), demand and get segregated bus lines for men and women in their neighborhoods, abuse women (their own, as well as passersby on the streets if they are not properly attired), set fire to stores selling merchandise they don't like (such as MP3 players), brainwash their children, and clash with police whenever they don't get something they demand.
And all this is in the name of religion and culture, against their Jewish brothers and sisters. So, exactly how are these different from radical Muslims?
(2) On the health of presidential candidates: Clinton has released a standard certificate from an internist that attests to her health and also touches upon her family health history. Recently, conservatives have launched an attack against Clinton, citing all sorts of alleged health problems that make her unfit to serve as US President. This Newsweek article analyzes the ridiculous document that the Trump campaign has released as evidence of his health. It is clearly written by a non-medical-professional and signed, not by an internist, but by a gastroenterologist Trump has been seeing for 26 years. It asserts that all evaluations showed "only positive results" (which, in medical terminology, means that he had every possible disease imaginable)! It ends with this preposterous claim: "If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." You can sort of tell who wrote the text of the letter from the foregoing statement, from all test results having been positive (of course, nothing about Trump can be "negative"), and from the claim that the test results were "astonishingly excellent." Will we hear the standard explanation that Trump was just kidding, or was being sarcastic, in forging this letter?
(3) On Clinton's health: After forging his own clean bill of health, Donald Trump and his cronies are circulating forged documents suggesting that Hillary Clinton is suffering from various ailments. Clinton's longtime physician, whose name appears atop the forged documents, has issued a statement calling the documents "false" and reiteraring her previous declaration that Clinton is "in excellent health and fit to serve as President of the United States." It's the same kind of campaign of lies that Obama faced during his run for presidency (and will no doubt yield the same results).
(4) A dozen brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Russian planes based in western Iran for Syria bombing missions (BBC)
- Man bought gun, killed family, three weeks after wife called cops (AP)
- Wall Street Journal to Trump: Start acting presidential or exit race
- Arsonist arrested, charged with northern California fire, 17 others (AP)
- US makes major Guantanamo transfer of prisoners to UAE (AFP)
- New York City teen, a bullying target, takes own life (ABC News)
- Apple to open R&D facility, increase investment in China (WSJ)
- Ford announces plans for fully-autonomous cars by 2021 (LA Times)
- Tools of hacked NSA's elite cyber-spy team offered for sale (IBT)
- Three die in India, throats slashed by glass-coated kite string (AP)
- Louisiana flooding damages at least 4000 homes (multiple sources)
- Federal officials eye interest rate hike later this year (Reuters)
(5) Daesh in Iran: Islamic Republic authorities claim to have busted the safe house of a Daesh/ISIS terror cell in the western city of Kermanshah. Whether this is an actual Daesh cell or the label is used to crush another dissident group remains to be seen.
(6) University of California loses a second chancellor: One week after UC Davis' Linda Katehi resigned in the wake of allegations of nepotism and financial improprieties, Nicholas B. Dirks of UC Berkeley has also resigned, after investigation into his mishandling of sexual harassment charges against faculty and personal use of public funds.

2016/08/16 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Ledecky, Phelps, and Biles with their Olympics gold medals on the cover of 'Sports Illustrated' (1) Look at all that gold! Swimmers Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps, and gymnast Simone Biles, flaunting their gold medals. Biles has won a fourth gold medal since this photo was taken.
(2) A dozen brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Four members of US swim team robbed at gunpoint in Rio
- Ten Iranians arrested by Kuwait's coast guard
- Trump's campaign chief named in Ukraine corruption probe
- Syrains in Manbij shave, lift veils after ousting ISIL
- Northern California's Clayton fire casues 1000s to flee homes
- Alleged Saudi bombing kills 10 children at Yemeni school
- Woman and suspect die in Swiss train attack; 2 seriously hurt
- Thousands left homeless by rising floodwaters in Louisiana
- SpaceX rocket sends Japanese satellite into orbit, lands safely
- California lawmaker to introduce zero-emission vehicle bill
- Cannes burkini (burka-bikini) ban leads to heated exchanges
- Revolutionary Apple iPad changes forthcoming by 2018
(3) Shanghai ranking of world universities for 2016: There has been some rearrangement in the top-10 category, but the same 10 institutions appear at the top (Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Cambridge, MIT, Princeton, Oxford, Cal Tech, Columbia, Chicago). Seven other University of California campuses are in the top 100 (Los Angeles 12, San Diego 14, San Francisco 21, Santa Barbara 42, Irvine 58, Davis 75, Santa Cruz 83). Two Asian universities (Tsinghua, Nat'l U. Singapore) broke into top-100 for the first time. University of Tehran is bunched with 99 other universities in the 301-400 tier.
(4) Perfect example of a rhetorical question: We all know why Sharif University of Technology no longer occupies a top spot among highly ranked universities in Asia. This "Voice of America" news clip is from SUT Association's August 12-14 reunion in the Washington, DC, area, addressing the question above, among other topics.
(6) Final thought for the day: The Internet makes language more, not less, important. You have to know many words to precisely describe what you are looking for and to engage in thoughtful discourse with people who may not have the same background as yours. You have to know synonyms, and shades of differences between them, for successful searching.

Cover image of 'The Secret Holocaust Diaries'

2016/08/15 (Monday): Book review: Bannister, Nonna (with Denise George and Carolyn Tomlin), The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister, unabridged audiobook on 7 CDs, read by Rebecca Gallagher, Oasis Audio, 2009.
This is the life story of a Russian girl, who fled the horrors of Stalinist Russia, bound for a German labor camp, only to come face to face with the Nazi atrocities. At first, Nonna and her family chose not to evacuate, when Germany invaded Russia in 1941. Nonna and her mother were sent to a different village, which was deemed safer, while her father stayed home in hiding. He was eventually discovered and killed, prompting Nonna and her mother to flee.
Throughout her ordeal, Nonna coped by holding on to the memories of her happy, privileged childhood. She kept diaries in five different languages, which she eventually translated into English when she learned the language after making a life for herself in the US as the lone survivor of her family. Nonna and her mother survived the labor-camp stint and found work in Germany, Nonna as a clerical translator, due to her knowledge of multiple languages, and her mother as a nurse's aide.
During their train ride to Germany, Nonna's mother had been seen trying to help a Jewish boy, tossed to her and her group of women travelers by a panicked mother on a station platform, as their train was pulling away. The boy was later killed in a massacre, while helping save Nonna, who was inadvertently caught in the skirmish. Nonna's mother was arrested by the Gestapo, sent to a concentration camp, and was allegedly killed at the camp.
Nonna never allowed bitterness toward the savagery she witnessed and experienced destroy her faith and positive outlook. She kept the diaries and their contents to herself, locked in a green trunk in the attic; even her husband didn't learn about the diaries and their translation, until 40 years into their marriage. The extra material at the end of the book include an interview with Nonna Bannister, as an elderly woman.
Bannister's book is a stark reminder not only of the genocide experienced by European Jews, something that is still being denied by many, but also of what might have happened to other Europeans (Poles, Czechs, Russians, and others), had the allies not prevailed. This is an important book, but not an easy read/listen; there are frequent editorial commentaries that interrupt the flow of the narrative, which isn't very smooth or engaging to begin with. However, this is someone's real life and one should expect bumps and discontinuities that would have been smoothed out by editors, were the book a novel.
I chose to take the events described in this book at face value and give the author the benefit of doubt when certain passages didn't quite make sense. However, I'd like to point out that several other reviewers have expressed doubt about the veracity of the tales and have even questioned the honesty of the book's title, given that very little of the events occur at a concentration camp.

2016/08/14 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) Quote of the day: "For every knee-jerk libertarian encrypting his banal emails, there is a Webcam exhibitionist begging you to look and see." ~ Donald P. Dulchinos, in Neurosphere, a book that I will review soon
(2) Word of the day: Disinfotaiment, an apt replacement for infotainment, given the current mass media trends.
(3) How a 125-year-old mass lynching of 11 Italian-Americans tried to make America great again.
(4) A dozen brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Turkey seeks 32 fugitive diplomats in post-coup inquiry
- Turkey's getting closer to Russia worries the West
- About 2000 Delta flights cancelled over 3 days
- Michael Phelps ends Olympics career with 23 golds
- Iran wins second Olympics gold medal in weightlifting
- Russian hacking compaign extends to Republicans
- Syrian opposition recaptures Manbij, a key ISIL post
- Afghanistan/Pakistan IS leader killed in US strike
- Imam, assistant fatally shot after leaving NYC mosque
- Unprecedented flooding slams US Gulf Coast; 3 dead
- California wildfire spreads, as crew brace for heat
- Health emergency declared in Puerto Rico over Zika
(5) Chimney fire burns 4000 acres in San Luis Obispo County: Hundreds of firefighters have been called to the scene of the fire, which is only 10% contained and is expected to grow significantly in the upcoming heat wave.
(6) Outdoor cafes alongside streams in Iran: This quaint joint, with special island booths, is located in a Kermanshah village (western Iran). And this inviting rest stop is one of the many along the popular Darband hiking trail in northern Tehran.
(7) Abhorent behavior of insurance companies: Tonight's CBS "60 Minutes" program contained a segment about how insurance companies made billions of dollars from life insurance policies, when beneficiaries did not come forward. Perhaps the policy was stuck in a shoebox and forgotten about, or the insured simply neglected to tell beneficiaries about the policy. In many cases, the companies knew about a policy holder's passing, yet they did not contact beneficiaries. They simply cancelled the policies for non-payment of premiums! In some cases, the companies continued to withdraw the premium from the policy holder's retirement account, despite the fact that their files contained information about the death.

2016/08/13 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Chart showing the level of support for Trump and Clinton over the past month (1) The rise and fall of Trump: His 4.5-point lag of a month ago turned into a slight lead, post convention, and is now at about 7.5 points. [Image credit: Time magazine, issue of August 22, 2016]
(2) Cartoon of the day: Trump supporters read from top to bottom; Clinton's, from bottom to top. [Image]
(3) History on Santa Barbara's de la Guerra Plaza: City Hall (with sidewalk arches) and the SB News Press building. [Photos]
(4) Santa Barbara's amphibian tour vehicle passes through a downtown street.
(5) Quick recipe for bite-size or snack pizzas: Yesterday, I used skinny sandwich buns as the base. These "buns," which come in packages of 8, making 16 tiny pizzas, are sold at Costco and many supermarkets. And here's a 12-second video that Facebook made from my posted photos.
(6) Graffiti artists use crocheting to add a splash of color to the streets of Stockholm.
(7) The inevitability of another war between Israel and Hezbollah: In southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has amassed at least 10,000 short- and medium-range missiles and a smaller number of long-range ones, collectively capable of reaching every population center in Israel, according to Newsweek on-line. Either Hezbollah will be tempted to use its arsenal or Israel will be tempted to try to eliminate it.
(8) Violinist Katica Illenyi plays "Jealousy Tango": Look for her version of the themes from "The Godfather" and "Schindler's List" and many other songs on YouTube.
(9) Humorous saying of the day: "If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, it means nobody liked them. Set them free again." ~ Anonymous (from the "English Jokes" Facebook page)

2016/08/12 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Chart depicting eight virtues and their deficiency and excess extremes (1) The virtue continuum: This is an old chart which I chanceed upon today. It illustrates eight virtues, along with the terms used to denote their deficiency and excess extremes.
(2) A quiet genocide: A documentary exposing how Iran's ruling clerics are bent on systematically and quietly eliminating the country's Baha'i minority.
(3) Quote of the day: "I've come to realize that opposing [Mr. Trump] is no longer a political decision. It is a moral one." ~ Brandon Stanton (of the "Humans of New York" fame)
(4) Putin comes to Trump's aid: The honoray Trump campaign worker explains how Obama created ISIL.
(5) Penguin can't muster the courage to dive, but eventually slips on the diving board and falls into the water. [Video]
(6) I think Trump is outsourcing his campaign ads to China, just like his clothing line and other merchandise. There are at least four errors in this short message.
(7) The US women's soccer team fell to Sweden in the Olympics quarterfinals 1-1 (4-5 in penalty kicks).
(8) I'm an Iranian-American Muslim: Comedian Negin Farsad's take on what it means to be an Iranian-American Muslim in the current climate.
(9) You should be thankful you don't live at the geographic center of the US: Here is why. The company MatchMind offers a service that matches IP addresses to geographic locations. The process is imprecise to begin with and, sometimes, there just isn't a way to tell. In the latter cases, the company has been using a default location that represents the United States. That default location, associated with some 600M IP addresses, happens to be a farm in Kansas, where a couple and a few other tenants live. The couple has sued the company, because over the past few years, they have been living in "digital hell," as targets of investigations for all sorts of crimes, from identity theft to child abduction. The local sheriff's department has been receiving "weekly reports about fraud, scams, stolen Facebook accounts, missing person reports" linked to the residence.

2016/08/11 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Time magazine cover image, depicting Donald Trump's meltdown (1) Meltdown: Donald Trump makes the Time magazine cover for the fifth time, but not in the way he would have liked!
(2) A diverse group of super-talented women gymnasts brings home the "team all-around" gold medal in Rio Olympics.
(3) UCSD Chancellor resigns: Linda Katehi had been suspended in April amid allegations of nepotism and misuse of student funds. UC President Janet Napolitano has issued a statement, saying that an internal investigation has found "numerous instances where Chancellor Katehi was not candid, either with me, the press, or the public (and) that she exercised poor judgment and violated multiple university policies." [Adapted from: San Francisco Chronicle]
(4) Olympics opening ceremonies: A journey through time, from 1908 to 2016.
(5) At Yugoslavia's prehistoric settlement known as "The Salt Pit," a 6300-year-old golden artifact has been discovered: The 2-gram sophisticated jewel appears to be made of nearly-pure (24 carat) gold.
(6) Norah Jones sings "Love Me Tender": Inspired by the just-announced October 27 concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl, I looked for her songs and found this Ken Darby classic tune, made famous by Elvis Presley.
Love me tender | Love me sweet | Never let me go | You have made my life complete | And I love you so
Love me tender | Love me true | All my dreams fulfilled | For, my darlin', I love you | And I always will
And here is Norah Jones' sultry rendition of Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow."
(7) Is there another Republican candidate hidden in the wings? I am no conspiracy theorist, but ...
Could it be that all these Republicans who hate Trump are playing along and ignoring his absurd behavior, because they hope Trump will destroy both his own and Hillary Clinton's credibility, paving the way for an alternate candidate to prevail at the end?
(8) On mass executions in the 1980s Iran: An audio file has surfaced which includes the voice of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri (Khomeini's protege, who later became persona non grata in the Islamic Republic and lived his final years under house arrest) addressing members of Iran's judiciary in 1988. He is heard directly admonishing those present for buckling under pressure from above in executing thousands of political prisoners who were serving jail terms of various durations, without any new indictments or evidence. Khomeini personally authorized the executions, but it seems that his son Ahmad was the instigator and the one who persuaded Khomeini to issue the edict.

2016/08/09 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
My new three-screen workstation at home (1) My new work station at home: Inspired by high-tech work stations seen in movies, I had been wanting to set up a large-screen laptop with two external monitors for some time. The multiple screens allow me to have my diary, ideas notebook, e-mail, contacts, a spreadsheet, my calendar, and several reference documents open and visible at once, as I work on research articles, books, and other writings. I finally finished the project over this past weekend and am now fine-tuning and enjoying the new set-up.
(2) Women of Marivan in western Iran protest a ban on their riding bicycles. [Photo]
(3) Olympics women's soccer: USA advanced to the quarterfinals stage after solidly beating New Zealand 2-0, edging France 1-0, and playing to a 2-2 draw in a disappointing match against Colombia today. The quarterfinals match for team USA will be on Friday, 8/12, 12:00 noon PDT.
(4) "Rows Garden" puzzles: A few days ago, I chanced upon a new kind of puzzle similar to a crossword (it has intersecting words), but much more challenging. There are rows of triangular boxes, with each row coming with clues, but the boundary between one clue answer and the next one is unknown. The triangles are also grouped into hexagons or blooms of three different kinds (light, medium, dark), each holding a 6-letter answer in clockwise or counterclockwise direction. The bloom clues are given for the tree groups, but are not associated with specific blooms. Here is an example from WSJ.
(5) Norway's awe-inspiring nature. [Video]
(6) Weeds or beautiful flowers? These purple and yellow flowers are weeds that have grown in the same flower strip that holds my beloved jasmines. They are obstructing both the walkway to my entry gate and part of the carport, yet I am hesitant to call in the gardeners for removing them.
(7) A four-decade-old memory: I had told this incident to family members several years ago and, recently, one of my sisters reminded me of it. One day, at Sharif University of Technology, I went to class and noticed that no one was there. On the blackboard, someone had written the message "class beh ellat-e naghs-e fanni ta'til ast" ("class cancelled due to technical difficulties'). Later, I discovered that a significant number of students had suffered from food poisoning at the school's cafeteria.

2016/08/08 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cumulative GDP growth chart under the two US parties (1) Cumulative US GDP growth under Democrats and Republicans.
(2) A dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Suicide attack targets lawyers at Pakistani hospital, kills 70 (Reuters)
- Pennsylvania couple and 3 children dead in murder-suicide (KABC)
- Both sides in Syria brace for for crucial battle over Alepo (CNN)
- Trump promises deep tax cuts to jump-start the economy (CNBC)
- Two US sky-divers dead after tandem chute fails to open (UPI)
- Swimmer Michael Phelps wins record 19th Olympics gold medal (UPI)
- Former Iran President writes to Obama over $2B court ruling (AFP)
- Young man murdered while playing Pokemaon in SF Park (LA Times)
- South Carolina girl dies from brain-eating amoeba (Reuters)
- Boy dies on 168-foot water slide in Kansas water park (AP)
- Stanford working on 1000x-faster memory chips (ACM Tech News)
- College Board reports theft of unpublished SAT exam material (WSJ)
(3) Egypt vs. Germany in beach volleyball: This BBC image from the Rio Olympics has stirred much controversy on Facebook and elsewhere. Some point out that both of these athletes must be respected for their clothing choices. Others compliment the Egyptian woman for her modesty and point out that hijab protects a woman's beauty. A third group maintains that the Egyptian woman's outfit isn't sufficiently Islamic. Still others criticize the Egyptian for even playing in front of men. A few hurl insults at the Egyptian woman for her backwardness. There are several other shades of the comments above. A final group blames the messenger, questioning BBC's motive in publishing this photo. Lost in all of these discussions is the match itself and the entire point of competitive sports in general. No doubt the Egyptian woman, and her sisters back home, gain some benefit from this opportunity to participate in the Olympics, but with modern technology, proper attire is as much part of competitive sports as technique and training. It's one thing to play beach volleyball with friends for fitness and fun. It's another thing to compete against the world's best athletes with one hand tied behind your back, metaphorically speaking.
(4) White House 2018: Comedy sketch featuring President Trump and his advisors in the Oval Office.
(5) Final thought for the day: One Facebook post saying that geniuses are often messy people, and every messy person in the world thinks that s/he is a genius!

2016/08/07 (Sunday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon: Hillary Clinton shown feeding a whining Sanders supporter a dose of reality (1) Cartoon of the day.
(2) Amazing artwork made from strings: I am sharing this video, even though I don't quite understand how it works, which makes me somewhat suspicious. An artist connects nails placed around the perimeter of a circular frame by threading strings between them, thereby creating a portrait. It is quite understandable that the dark areas representing the subject's hair or eyebrows are formed by denser placement of strings. What is unclear to me is how the eyes, eyelids, and lips are formed by controlling the string density.
(3) New sculpture made of silver streamers that float above a public square in Los Angeles.
(4) Understanding Donald Trump's rise: An eye-opening piece that suggests hatred for Trump should not extend to the bulk of his supporters. Writing in The Atlantic, the author draws from a book of history and a memoir, addressing the plight of the white underclass, all but forgotten by the elites on both sides of the political spectrum. The article can be viewed as sociopolitical commentary or as a double-book review.
(5) A wave of new executions in Iran includes some one dozen Sunni Muslims and a nuclear scientist.
(6) Members of an Iranian women's association at the time of the Constitutional Revolution 110 years ago.
(7) Old Spanish Days (Fiesta) celebrations: Yesterday and today, I attended a number of events and performances near downtown Santa Barbara, where large crowds and a wide array of street merchants participated in the festivities. On Saturday, there were quite a few music and dance performances. Here are a few music samples from a local band performing at the Paseo Nuevo Mall [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]. The Santa Barbara Courthouse was abuzz with people lounging on the lawn, awaiting the start of entertainment, or taking advantage of free guided tours of the historic building. I bought a few standard Fiesta souvenirs for loved ones, as I walked the streets.
On Sunday, I had my cartoon portrait drawn during a special Fiesta edition of the arts and crafts exhibits along Santa Barbara's Cabrillo Blvd. I had one of these done some 25 years ago in Hawaii, with mostly black hair, which needed updating! On the beach near Stearns Wharf, a group was protesting runaway military spending. One of their banners read, "More than 50% of our $18 trillion dollar debt is from our Mid East wars." Off the end of Stearns Wharf, sailboats, large and small, were taking advantage of a windy day. Strolling along Cabrillo Blvd., I photographed a few of the arts/crafts booths that had Spanish or Fiesta themes. As Fiesta celebrations were winding down, I captured this Mariachi band offering one of the last performances at the Paseo Nuevo Mall.
(8) Signing off with this advice to Iranian women: If you encounter a purse-snatcher on the street, remove your headscarf immediately. The morality police will get there much faster than the regular police. [From an uncredited Internet post]

Cover image for Mark Levin's 'Liberty and Tyranny'

2016/08/06 (Saturday): Book review: Levin, Mark R., Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, unabridged audiobook on 6 CDs, read by Adam Grupper (with an introduction by the author), Simon & Schuster Audio, 2009.
I borrowed this audiobook from the public library in order to educate myself about the tenets of conservatism and the reasons for the widening liberal-conservative gap that has engendered uncivil behavior in executing the daily business of our country, such as the filling of important judicial and administrative positions. Levin, an attorney who had positions in President Reagan's administration, now hosts a syndicated radio show bearing his name. Prior to having his own radio show, Levin was a frequent guest on conservative talk shows such as "The Rush Limbaugh Show" and "The Sean Hannity Show."
There are two ways of evaluating a book such as this volume. One is to assess the ideas, that is, the tenets of conservatism with regard to strengths and weaknesses; structural consistency and contradictions. A second way is to assess how effectively the author expresses the ideas, that is, focusing on clarity and completeness. Levin does a pretty good job of communicating the tenets of conservatism as he sees them. I understand that not every conservative agrees with his formulation, but what he does present is clear and easily understood by a non-conservative such as myself. So, I devote the rest of this review to content.
If I were to summarize the conservative tenets, as presented by Levin, I would say that conservatives favor walls over open interactions. These walls aren't necessarily of the brick-and-mortar kind; they can be virtual or emotional walls between cultures, religions, races, and so on. For instance, conservatives abhor multiculturalism and bilingualism. They see nothing wrong with a small population consuming a lion's share of limited earth resources, because people on the other side of the national border are simply not as important as those inside the border. They hate to view America as one country among many, just as they hate to view themselves as one human being among many.
Conservatives view national healthcare as the mother of all entitlements, based on the theory that it limits a patient's choice, ignoring the fact that many patients have zero choice now, because they lack access. They are against campaign finance laws and believe that people with more money should have greater influence in elections. They are against any kind of restriction on personal rights to achieve a social good, because "God-given" rights should not be curtailed by humans.
Levin views liberals as "soft tyrants" and refers to them as "statists" (people for whom "the state," as opposed to the individual, is of prime importance). His criticism of government intervention is harsher at the federal level than at the state level, on the grounds that local politicians are more familiar with economic and cultural parameters of the citizens they represent. However, it is not clear why this granting of control should stop at the state level, rather than at the county or city level. State boundaries are just as arbitrary as national boundaries, often running through population centers and even tribes. Furthermore, large states such as California and New York are really countries by world standards.
A key problem with the book is that Levin's "statist" is a classic example of a strawman, built to be destroyed. What Levin attributes to this strawman is a large collection of actions and opinions with no attribution, using leading phrases such as "according to some" and "it is observed that." So, unless you are predisposed to accepting these accusations, you will be unlikely to subscribe to conclusions subsequently drawn from long chains of dependent statements.

2016/08/05 (Friday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cindy Lauper, 63, on the cover of AARP magazine (1) Girls just wanna have fun, even at 63: Cindy Lauper is featured on the cover of the August-September issue of AARP magazine, with an accompanying cover story about her life, which included an abusive childhood.
(2) Quote of the day: "Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony." ~ Thomas Merton
(3) Eight brief news items of the past couple of days:
- Apple offers bounties of up to $200K for finding security bugs (Reuters)
- Texas campus-carry-law goes into effect, stirs controversy (Chris. Sci. Monitor)
- Father charged in hot-car death of 15-month-old twin girls (Associated Press)
- British porn star travels to Iran for a nose job (Newsweek on-line)
- GOP sources: Donald Trump is expected to endorse Paul Ryan (CNN)
- Show-trials on Chinese TV signal new phase in attacks on rights (NY Times)
- Donald Trump hints at giving cabinet position to his daughter Ivanka (CNN)
- Rio Olympics open under a cloud of security and health risks (USA Today)
(4) Old Spanish Days (Fiesta): The annual celebration has been going on since Wednesday and will end on Sunday, August 7. I will sample some of the events this evening and over the weekend.
(5) Spectacular Olympics opening ceremony: A city representing Sao Paulo rises from the field, with performers dancing on rooftops and climbing buildings. Amazing effects and choreography!
(6) The final book of Nobel Laureate in Economics John Nash (of "A Beautiful Mind" fame) will be published posthumously: Co-authored with Michael Th. Rassias and entitled Open Problems in Mathematics (Springer, 2016), the book consists of essays on a number of beautiful math problems.
(7) This Iranian man wanted to feel, even if for a brief moment, what his sister feels at work all day under a mandatory headscarf.

2016/08/04 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Brewed coffee with dried rose buds added for flavor/aroma (1) Dried rose buds in coffee: I sometimes add dried rose buds to hot or iced tea for enhanced flavor and aroma. Today, I decided to try them in brewed coffee, with excellent results.
(2) A few one-liners, old and new.
- If in Poland we have Poles, what do we have in Holland? Holes?
- If love is blind, why do we need lingerie?
- If a piano player is a pianist, shouldn't a race-car driver be a racist?
- If "I am" is the shortest sentence, how come "I do" is the longest?
- Isn't smoking section in a restaurant like peeing section in a pool?
- When cheese gets its picture taken, what does it say?
- Why is the person investing your money called a "broker"?
- Why are "a wise man" and "a wise guy" opposites?
- Why do "overlook" and "oversee" mean opposite things?
- Why doesn't anyone say "it's only a game" when his team is ahead?
(3) Quote of the day: "We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear." ~ President Barack Obama, who is celebrating his 55th birthday today
(4) President Obama pens a feminist essay in Glamour magazine: "... perhaps the greatest unexpected gift of this job has been living above the store. For many years my life was consumed by long commutes—from my home in Chicago to Springfield, Illinois, as a state senator, and then to Washington, D.C., as a United States senator. It's often meant I had to work even harder to be the kind of husband and father I want to be."
(5) Our amazing universe: This video takes you from a patch of lawn out to the boundary of the known universe, and back, and then journeys inside the body to the level of smallest physical particles known, and back, all in one continuous shot.
(6) Final thought for the day: What would Donald Trump's reaction be if someone told him that it is impossible for an overweight man with a potbelly and a combover to be a ten? Just wondering!

2016/08/03 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Salads and yogurt dips (1) My assembly-line production of salads and two kinds of Persian yogurt dip (maast-o-khiaar and maast-o-moosir).
(2) Cinema under a roof: There's no "Cinema under the Stars" this week, because of Fiesta events at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. So, I decided to see this evening's screening of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" at UCSB's Campbell Hall. This B&W western, starring Humphrey Bogart (no Lauren Bacall in this one; in fact, no significant female character), features a dizzying number of plot twists. It is quite naive in many senses, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
(3) Quote of the day: "Some have commented on my Facebook [page] that the reason I don't have a picture of myself together with my wife in here, is "gheirat" [a word used to refer to a controlling, protective behavior that a man in certain cultures shows towards the women of his family by not allowing them to be or act sexy in presence of other men. Showing the woman's body/face, unless necessary, is considered sexy by some people affected by this culture]. I should say what these people call "gheirat" is in fact vile perversity. [Real] Gheirat means to be sensitive to [well-being of] your loved ones [and not how much skin they show], to defend their rights and freedoms, and to share in their pain." ~ From a post on "My Stealthy Freedom" Facebook page, with minor corrections in spelling and punctuation
(4) I can't decide whether this is an actual musical instrument or consists in part of virtual-reality elements. Either way, it is impressive!
(5) Fourteen brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Khamenei dismisses talks with the US on regional issues (Newsweek on-line)
- Five killed after bus collides with pole on California highway (ABC News)
- US Navy's massive show of force in the Pacific aimed at China (Business Insider)
- Trump won't support Paul Ryan's and John McCain's reelection bids
- US looking into allegations of toxic gas dropped on Syrian town (Reuters)
- The so-called "ABC proof" may lead to giant math advance (New Scientist)
- Flossing teeth not as beneficial as previously claimed (New York Times)
- Trump says he will give Christianity power in the US (Business Insider)
- US government expands research efforts and funding for drones (USA Today)
- Six charged with concealing lead levels in Flint, Michigan, water (ABC News)
- Private college presidents slam Clinton's free-college plan (Politico)
- Plane crash-lands in Dubai and explodes; a firefighter is killed (ABC News)
- First-ever cop charged with aiding ISIS arrested in New York (ABC News)
- US women beat New Zealand 2-0 in Olympics soccer (Associated Press)
(6) Shardad Rohani to lead the Tehran Symphony Orchestra on a permanent basis: Earlier, he led the orchestra as guest conductor, but his new role has led to some resistance and controversy.
(7) Final thought for the day: I sure hope that Trump isn't assassinated. Political assassinations are morally wrong in every case, but this particular one would also turn him from a failed presidential candidate into a martyr.

2016/08/01 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Google search trends for 'eu' and 'brexit' immediately after the UK referandum (1) Did the Brits know exactly what they were voting for? According to E&T magazine, issue of August/September 2016, the number of Google searches for "what is the eu" and "what is brexit" continued to climb in the UK for more than 8 hours after the polls closed on June 13.
(2) Jumping 7600m from a plane without a parachute (landing in a 30m-by-30m net).
(3) Throwable-ball 360-degree camera: This Panono camera has 36 lenses placed around a ball the size of a large orange. You can throw it up in the air and capture a fantastic 3D view of your location. At around 1500 euros, it is quite pricey at this time.
(4) The BuzzBee nanodrone: This 7-gram quadcopter fits inside a cube of side-length 3 cm.
(5) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Donald Trump escalates feud with Muslim soldier's family
- Trump tries to clarify comments about Russia and Ukraine
- FBI employee pleads guilty to acting as agent of China
- Rebels shoot down Russian helicopter in Syria: five killed
- Violent weekend produces at least 20 deaths in Mexico
- Hot-air balloon hits power lines in Texas, killing 16 on board
- Maryland town devastated by floodwaters after 7 inches of rain
- Average Iranian not benefiting from nuclear deal: Khamenei
(6) Boy plays the Iranian song "Jaan-e Maryam" on the piano, but with a twist!
(7) The art of Maxim Grunin, condensed into this 1-minute time-lapse video.
(8) Abbas Kiarostami's final resting place in Lavasan, Iran, and a Rumi verse (with English translation) about flowers growing on dirt, not on rock.
(9) The Mathematics Department at Sharif University of Technology in Iran has named its library after alumna and first-ever female Fields Medal winner Maryam Mirzakhani.

2016/07/31 (Sunday): Book review: Klein, Naomi, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, unabridged audiobook on 17 CDs, read by Ellen Archer, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2014.
Cover image for Naomi Klein's 'This Changes Everything' In his 1961 UN address, President Kennedy spoke of the need for every single person on Earth to "contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable." He might have as well been speaking about climate change, although his comments were triggered by the potential devastation from hydrogen bombs.
In this anti-globalization manifesto, Klein maintains that the consumption mentality promoted by capitalism makes it impossible to save our planet. She presents an extensive list of arguments and case studies that seem to support her views. She criticizes not only "Big Oil" (which continues to view the atmosphere as a waste dump, while receiving government subsidies), but also "Big Green" (which accepts contributions from major polluters and promotes remedies that are drawn up by such offenders).
As I listened to Klein's impressive compilation, I was constantly torn between her extreme, but utterly impractical, proposals and the stepwise plans of mainstream advocates of clean energy and environmental stewardship. A good example is the cap-and-trade scheme, which uses market forces to make a dent in the pollution caused by fossil fuels. It isn't a perfect system and some corporations manipulate it to their advantage. But rather than proposing fixes for the problems, Klein wants to throw the baby out with the bath water. Perhaps in a perfect world, we could leave fossil fuels where they are and stop extraction altogether, but this plan isn't workable in the absence of a global world government.
Similarly, Klein's argument that advanced countries should contribute more to the clean-up effort and to promoting alternative energy makes perfect sense. After all, such countries had a head start in using polluting technologies to advance their economies and thus cannot expect others to forego the same advances, just because they arrived late at the game. But rather than resorting to shaming and guilt for activities that were not seen as harmful at the time, win-win strategies (something that Klein ridicules) should be formulated, if all countries are to be persuaded to pitch in according to their resources and technological prowess.
Despite the criticisms above, I highly recommend this eye-opening book. The problems enumerated are spot-on; it is with Klein's solution strategies and remedies that I disagree in part. The engineer in me also disagrees with her wholesale dismissal of technological solutions, even as temporary fixes until we develop the means and the will to pursue more permanent solutions.

2016/07/30 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
US election day is Tuesday, November 8, 2016 (1) End of political discussions on Facebook for me: Following initiatives by several like-minded friends, who grew tired of lengthy and time-consuming political discussions on Facebook, where each posting garners likes and positive remarks from the same camp and endless repetition of talking points (often with no direct bearing on the post's subject) from the other side, with no mind ever changed by the arguments presented, I am suspending my FB political posts and commentaries for 2016.
If, by some miracle, constructive and civil exchanges become possible on FB, I will reconsider this decision. Meanwhile, I will continue with posts on science, technology, education, music, books, curiosities, and puzzles.
(2) Quote of the day: "Like Nixon before him, only more so, Trump seems to view the presidency as personal spoils for the victor, rather than a public trust." ~ Michael C. Dorf, writing in a Newsweek opinion piece
(3) The fake app that fooled many: Pooper, an app that summons others to scoop up your dog's poop, is an overnight success, except for one minor detail ... It's a spoof!
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Dozens of Russian athletes banned from the Rio Olympics (those banned include track stars and weightlifters)
- Zika spreads in the US via local mosquitoes (one woman and three men infected in Florida)
- Instagram introduces new feature to fight on-line harassment
- Snowden and WikiLeaks feud over ethical disclosure of secrets (WikiLeaks is against even modest curation)
- No tsunami expected from the 7.7-magnitude Pacific quake
- The deadly Big Sur wildfire is expected to grow severely (5000 are fighting the blaze at a cost of $6M/day)
(5) Campaign against mandatory hijab in Iran: First it was women taking hijabless photos and posting them on the "My Stealthy Freedom" Facebook page. Now, men have joined in by experiencing first-hand the humiliation and discomfort of forced hijab, particularly on these hot summer days. Here is my contribution to the campaign (I had only a Gauchos soccer scarf to use for this selfie).
(6) Finally, with party conventions over, we can look forward to more pleasant news coverage. Let the summer Olympics begin!
(7) Last night at LA's Greek Theater: I attended an enjoyable concert by Chris Botti (trumpet maestro) and The Tenors (Canadian vocal group). The Tenors opened their set with the old favorite "Besame Mucho" (written in 1940 by Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velazquez) and performed many other classics. Here is a jazz favorite, performed by Botti and his fabulous group of musicians. Both groups had David Foster join them as a surprise guest, with Botti performing an improvised version of "Summertime" with him. Botti also summoned The Tenors to the stage for this joint performance of "Time to Say Goodbye."

2016/07/29 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
(1) Concert in the Park: Last evening's final installment of the summer 2016 concert series at Santa Barbara's Chase Palm Park featured The Tearaways, self-described as "the British invasion meets California surf." The band played many songs, including several by The Beatles. ["Chains"] ["Can't Buy Me Love"] ["One after 909"]
(2) Quote of the day (long, but worth reading): "I would be 'dead rich', to adapt an infamous Clinton phrase, if I could bill for all the hours I've spent covering just about every 'scandal' that has enveloped the Clintons. As an editor I've launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I'm not a favorite in Hillaryland. That makes what I want to say next surprising. Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy. ... Many investigative articles about Clinton end up 'raising serious questions' about 'potential' conflicts of interest or lapses in her judgment. Of course, she should be held accountable. It was bad judgment, as she has said, to use a private email server. It was colossally stupid to take those hefty speaking fees, but not corrupt. There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor. ... I can see why so many voters believe Clinton is hiding something because her instinct is to withhold ... Clinton distrusts the press more than any politician I have covered. In her view, journalists breach the perimeter and echo scurrilous claims about her circulated by unreliable rightwing foes." ~ Jill Abramson, a journalist who has followed the Clintons for more than two decades, writing in The Guardian
(3) The puzzle of some Bernie Sanders supporters: I know who to blame if Donald Trump becomes our 45th President. I see a minority of Bernie Sanders supporters who are going all the way in making Hillary Clinton look bad, more so, in many cases, than the efforts by her Republican opposition. Their doing the bidding for Trump may be because they think this corrupt and dysfunctional political system cannot be fixed unless it is completely gutted. Let's hope they don't succeed or, if they do, the entire world is not gutted as a result of conflicts that would make the fight against ISIL look like a minor skirmish by comparison.
(4) The incredible dinosaur wall of Bolivia: Dinosaur tracks are clearly visible on this near-vertical limestone slab that is 300 feet high. The 462 discrete trails on the wall reveal more than 5000 footsteps. No, the dinosaurs did not defy gravity; millions of years ago, this immense wall was a muddy plain upon which dinosaurs frolicked. The strange footstep patterns have prompted palaeontologists to call it "the dinosaur dance floor."
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Melania Trump's Web site has mysteriously disappeared (it now redirects to Donald Trump's official site)
- Egypt jails doctor found guilty of female genital mutilation (the first-ever such punishment)
- Amazon founder Jeff Bezos becomes world's third richest (he owns 18% of Amazon's stock)
- US slated to get its first offshore wind farm (Deepwater Wind and GE Renewable Energy are partners)
- Catholic demographic has picked the US President for 4 decades (as the Catholics go, so goes the nation)
- ISIL seizes Syrian village, executes 24 civilians (village was seized from US-backed Kurd-Arab alliance)
(6) Hope versus darkness: Only conservative racists can interpret a message of hope and possibility as a divisive one. Michelle Obama said in her DNC speech that she wakes up every morning in a house built by slaves and is heartened to see her daughters play with their dog on the lawn. Her message of "look how far we have come" has been flipped on social media to "I hate this place." There is nothing a black woman can say that would not offend bigots and racists!

2016/07/28 (Thursdsay): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Persian poem to commemorate Mrs. Parvin Shadi's passing (1) Rest in peace, Parvin Shadi! Yesterday, I attended a memorial service for an uncle's mother-in-law, during which her children and grandchildren spoke lovingly about her and what she meant to them. I was inspired to write the following Persian poem, which I dedicate to Mrs. Shadi's family.
(2) Joe Klein, on the US presidential election: Closing of his column in Time magazine, issue of August 1, 2016.
(3) Several right-wing Web sites have claimed that American flags (in physical or digital form) were banned at the DNC Convention in Philadelphia. Here is evidence from that the claims are false.
(4) Anti-Trump delegates nearly upended his candidacy: A majority from seven delegations was needed to force a roll call, and the rebels initially got nine. GOP leaders and Trump campaign staff managed to reverse the results of three delegations by pressuring some delegates to take back their signatures in the nick of time. [Source: Time magazine, issue of August 1, 2016]
(5) Fantastic speech by Michelle Obama: If Trump runs again in four years and if he is still married to someone with limited English skills, we may hear parts of this speech again!
(6) Not even a hint of subtlety: "This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army." ~ Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey
(7) Messaging services on the rise. [Chart] [Source: Time magazine, issue of August 1, 2016]
(8) Interesting fact about the number of days in a year: 365 = 10^2 + 11^2 + 12^2 = 13^2 + 14^2
(9) Costco French baguettes are the best in my neck of the woods and they make excellent pizzas!

Cover of the audibook 'Why We Want You to Be Rich' 2016/07/26 (Tuesday): Book review: Trump, Donald J. and Robert T. Kiyosaki (with Meredith McIver and Sharon Lechter), Why We Want You to Be Rich: Two Men — One Message, abridged audiobook on 5 CDs, read by John Dossett and Skipp Sudduth, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2006.
I chanced upon this audiobook at the Goleta Public Library, and not having read any book by the Republican presidential candidate, decided to check it out. Going in with low expectations, I can't say that I was disappointed.
The authors, billionaire businessman Donald Trump and millionaire writer (Rich Dad, Poor Dad) Robert Kiyosaki, clarify early on that this isn't a how-to book. Their thesis is that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, with the middle class gradually disappearing. So your options are to get rich or to become/remain poor.
Social Security and Medicare are ridiculed as welfare programs that nurture dependency, totally ignoring the fact that Americans pay into these programs, which are, or should be, if correctly managed, forms of savings/investment, not welfare. To be fair, the authors also attack corporate welfare. Leveraged investment is praised, without specifying how everyone can engage in them, without there being ordinary savers whose savings are used (in the form of loans) to provide the requisite leverage.
This book isn't a typical collaborative work between two authors (four, actually, but the role of the two female authors is unclear). Rather, it reads like a set of interview questions to which the two rich men provide separate answers, quoting and lavishly complimenting each other in the process. Trump, in particular, does not seem to have invested (pun intended) much time in preparing his answers. This gem from Trump, about the challenge of forecasting, is typical of his content-free statements: "The future has changed dramatically from what it was a few decades ago."
Both authors use cliches and general statements we have heard many times and from many different sources before. The same empty slogans, such as "investing to win," are repeated in multiple contexts. There is one piece of advice, though, that is well worth heeding: It is important that we pay attention to our own and our children's financial education. Currently, high schools and colleges teach next to nothing in this regard.
Bottom line: I don't think this (audio)book provides adequate value for the time spent on it, unless, like me, you want to learn firsthand what the current Republican presidential candidate is all about.

2016/07/25 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cartoonish image of Trump and Clinton in US flag colors (1) The Republicans' women problem: The upcoming US presidential election is shaping up to be historic for women. Not only is the first major-party female candidate slated to win, but she will win with unprecedented support from women voters (a recent poll gives her a 52-to-36 percent edge among women voters; Obama won the women's vote by 12% [Source: Newsweek]).
Recognizing their problem with women, the RNC lined up a wide array of women speakers at the GOP convention last week. However, in his 75-minute acceptance speech, Trump himself mentioned women only twice. Heckling of Ted Cruz's wife, who was removed from the convention hall for fear of her safety, T-shirts worn and sold at the site with inscriptions such as "Trump that Bitch!" and "Clinton sucks, but not as much as Monica," and a smear campaign against Ivana, Trump's ex and Ivanka's mom, are more telling in this regard. [Image adapted from a recent New Yorker sales ad.]
(2) Fourteen brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Ten killed in Munich shooting by German-Iranian teen
- Democratic VP pick Tim Kaine appears with Clinton in Miami
- UC to curb study-abroad programs after student deaths
- Syrian refugee kills woman, injures two in Germany
- DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigns post
- Democratic National Convention opens in Philadelphia
- Sanders, vindicated by e-mail leaks, still backs Clinton
- FBI to investigate the hacking of DNC computers
- Yahoo sold to US telecommunications giant Verizon
- Southern California wildfires cause mass evacuations
- Turkey issues arrest warrants for 42 journalists
- Nintendo shares crash as Pokemon Go's value revised
- Japan Sagamihara knife attack leaves at least 15 dead
- President Obama's half-brother supports Donald Trump
(3) Lesson from the past: During the 2000 presidential election, Nader won 97,488 votes in Florida; Gore lost the state (and, therefore, the presidency) by 537 votes, that is, 0.55% of Nader votes. In other words, had Gore won 50.3% of Nader votes to Bush's 49.7%, the election would have flipped. In the wake of DNC's e-mail leaks, Donald Trump just praised supporters of Bernie Sanders, claiming that Sanders gave up too soon. Think carefully about what Trump is trying to do.
(4) Iranian-American Rudi Bakhtiar joins the group of woman alleging sexual harassment at Fox News.
(5) Quote of the day: "I am ninth-generation American. We did not cross the border, the border crossed us." ~ Actress Eva Longoria, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, alluding to the fact that Texas was once part of Mexico

2016/07/23 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Two samples of Persian calligraphy (1) Persian calligraphy has endless variations: Sometimes it's just the words; at other times, it includes ornamental designs.
(2) Human cells are regenerated at various rates: Your skin, bones, and red blood cells are replaced completely after a while. But half of your heart remains the same from birth to death, as does 100% of your eyes' lenses.
(3) Iran is one of the countries that will experience extreme drought in the coming decades: Cruelty to animals and indifference to the destruction of nature have been the norms in the past. But a vigorous environmental movement is afoot and is expanding rapidly.
(4) I posted this photo of Trump's home on someone's Facebook status that criticized Hillary Clinton for being an elitist, because she wore an expensive jacket.
(5) A star is born: Jayna Brown is only 14, which makes her voice and this highly seasoned performance even more remarkable.
(6) Honda has recalled a large number of Civic models (2006-2011): The defect that prompted the recall has to do with "over-aggressive combustion" when the passenger-side airbag is activated, leading to a number of metal fragments passing through the airbag and causing serious injuries. As if the 2-5 months of delay before the availability of replacement parts isn't bad enough, Honda suggests, rather nonchalantly, "that you avoid having a passenger sit in the front passenger's seat until the recall repair has been performed." Just a minor inconvenience, I guess!
(7) Today's walk around Santa Barbara Harbor's breakwater: After reaching the end of the concrete wall that separates the harbor from the ocean, and taking photos in various directions (Stearns Wharf, downtown SB) and of a memorial for those lost at sea, I proceeded to walk on top of an 8-inch-wide wooden wall, shored up on both sides with rocks, to get to the entry channel for the harbor. There is a fairly large beach at the end of the narrow wooden walkway. It's hard to believe that all the people enjoying this sunny Saturday got there through the same narrow path. Some likely got to this wonderful beach on canoes and paddle boards rented on the other side of the entry channel. Finally, I made my way back, first atop these rocks and then over the wooden wall. And here are a couple of videos shot from the top of the rocks. [Video 1] [Video 2]

2016/07/22 (Friday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Friedrich Bayer Bridge in Sao Paulo, Brazil Infinite Bridge in Aarhus, Denmark (1) Unusual bridges: Infinite Bridge in Aarhus, Denmark, and Friedrich Bayer Bridge in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
(2) These six British siblings have been playing music together for most of their lives. [3-minute video]
(3) Donald Trump paints a gloomy picture of today's America: Fact-checkers have already pointed to serious errors and gross exaggerations in Trump's 75-minute acceptance speech, the longest in four decades. Regardless of whether the errors were deliberate or represented lack of perspective on the US economy and national security, Trump should be asked why the markets and consumer confidence have not plummeted as a result, a characteristic reaction to a dire state of affairs in a capitalistic system? Quite the opposite, both DJ and S&P are up by about 6% for the year. And what was with Ivanka Trump sounding like Hillary Clinton in talking about child care, family leave, and other women's issues? Why haven't any of these topics been discussed by Trump himself?
(4) Movie under the stars: Tonight's screening of "To Have and Have Not" (based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway) was the third in the summer 2016 series of films at Santa Barbara Courthouse's Sunken Garden, featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I missed the first two, "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca," due to travel and other commitments.
Cover image for Lahiri's 'In Other Words' (5) Brief book review: Lahiri, Jhumpa, In Other Words, unabridged audiobook on 6 CDs, read by the author in English and Italian, Randomhouse Audio, 2016.
Lahiri, who earned three MA degrees in various fields and a PhD in Renaissance Studies from Boston University, rose to fame when she received multiple honors, including a Pulitzer Prize, for Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories set in India and the US. This autobiographical book is Lahiri's love letter to the Italian language, which she studied for many years, before moving to Rome to immerse herself in the language.
Lahiri believes that writing in a different language allows her to break the molds and express herself more freely, perhaps even finding a new voice in the process. Yet, no matter how hard she tried in Italy, she was not accommodated by the local population, because she does not look Italian. Her husband, on the other hand, found it much easier to blend in, because of his southern European looks, despite being less proficient in the language than Lahiri.
I listened only to the introductory parts of the book, which are written in English, sampling the Italian chapters to get a sense of the language and the author's passion for it.

2016/07/21 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Photo of the 1949 solar-powered death ray built in the French Pyrenees (1) Hot! Hot! Hot! "Constructed in 1949 in the citadel of Mont-Louis in the French Pyrenees, this solar-powered death ray used concentrated photonic energy to melt just about anything that wandered into its 3000 °C beam. It was never used in combat due to an easily exploitable 12-hour safety lockout (otherwise known as nighttime) and was eventually repurposed to fire decorative pottery." [From: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of July 2016]
(2) Is Donald Trump a sociopath, as claimed by his biographer and ghostwriter? This article in The Atlantic presents a convincing case.
(3) It's not about supporting Clinton: It's about safeguarding the Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Air Act. Clean Water Act, Social Security, Medicare, Voting Rights Act, gender equality, marriage equality, affordable healthcare and public education, etc. To make a long story short, preventing 80 years of progress from being wiped out in a few years. [Adapted from multiple sources.]
(4) Jon Stewart returns to his Daily Show style on Colbert's Late Show and exposes the hypocrisy of some conservatives, who embrace in Donald Trump the very qualities they said they hated about Barack Obama.
(5) Wonderful ventriloquist routine, with live dummies.
(6) My walk along Santa Barbara's East Beach: One sees all sorts of strange vehicles along the SB waterfront. The blue barge is a mystery, as it does not fit in with sailboats and house boats one usually sees in this area. The beach volleyball courts are deserted on this very hot afternoon. Having walked all the way to Santa Barbara Zoo's bird refuge and SB Cemetery, I decided to try returning to Chase Palm Park for this evening's concert from the other side of the lake, but, alas, the trail ended about 3/4 of the way around, forcing me to trace my steps back via Cabrillo Blvd. On the return path, I saw a beachside inn, with very expensive breakfast! And this hotel, which my family should recognize, was getting ready for a wedding reception.
(7) This evening's concert in the park: Queen Nation, a Queen tribute band, was featured in this evening's concert at Santa Barbara's Chase Palm Park. Other than rock tunes with fantastic, complicated rhythms, Queen Nation's music includes some impressive ballads, with guitar and keyboard improvisations. Queen Nation performed "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" to the attendees' delight. Of course, no Queen tribute would be complete without "Under Pressure" and "We Will Rock You." Tandem bicycles and other unusual transports were parked everywhere at Chase Palm Park this evening.

2016/07/20 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Science answers the chicken-versus-egg question (1) Science answers an age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
(2) A dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Film and TV legend, director Garry Marshall, dead at 81
- Pro-Hamas protesters trap Jews in a Paris synagogue
- Roger Ailes of Fox News ousted for sexual misconduct
- Failed Turkey coup attempt poisons relations with US
- As many as 50,000 purged in the aftermath of Turkey coup
- Erdogan supporters attack and destroy a bookstore
- NY to host 1st presidential debate after Ohio bows out
- Ben Carson connects Clinton to Satan in RNC address
- More than 100 Chinese Muslims have joined ISIS
- Two dozen children killed by airstrikes in Manbij, Syria
- Moroccan man stabs woman and 3 daughters in French Alps
- Philippines' ex-president Arroyo freed from jail after 5 years
(3) Welcome to politics, Mr. Trump! Insults and mockery have a way of catching up with you. Getting things done requires gathering smart and influential allies, at least within your own party, if not across the aisle and within the mass media. [With reference to Donald Trump's tweet: "The media is spending more time doing a forensic analysis of Melania's speech than the FBI spent on Hillary's emails."]
(4) At tonight's GOP convention: Newt Gingrich, a man with many skeletons in his closet, lectured Americans about the importance of honesty in elected officials. He is guilty of: "Repeated adultery with younger women, while each successive wife was seriously ill. Attacking mortgage lender Freddie Mac, while secretly getting paid $1.6 million as a lobbyist for them. A half-million charge account at Tiffany's Jewelers for his latest, youngest woman (that we know of). Attacking Congress for gridlock, when he personally led the destruction of Congress' civility and traditions in the 1980s as a 'bomb-thrower' and evil genius tactician."
(5) It's been a while since I posted a flashmob: Children's symphony orchestra and choir pull it off beautifully at a shopping mall (or maybe it's a department store).
(6) Long walk on Goleta Beach: It was a beautiful afternoon for my planned 6-mile walk, going east from Goleta Beach. However, after about 1.5 miles, I encountered this impasse, at least with the shoes I was wearing and the prevailing tide level. I will have to come back to this section of the beach, which I explored for the first time today, after living in the area for 28 years. This photo was taken from atop a wall of rocks, placed along the east shore to prevent further beach erosion. Here are a few more photos from my walk. Goleta pier begins and ends this 360-degree video, with novice canoeists and UCSB campus appearing in the middle.

2016/07/19 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Three cartoons about the future of Earth and Earth Day (1) Cartoons of the day: The future of Earth and Earth Day.
(2) Remembering Nelson Mandela: Champion of human rights around the world. Yesterday was Nelson Mandela Day.
(3) Ten brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- GOP convention opens amid chaos, inside & outside the hall
- Melania Trump accused of plagiarizing her convention speech
- Paul Ryan and Chris Christie spoke on RNC's second day
- Chilcot report: Bush ignored warnings before Iraq invasion
- Mercedes deploys first self-driving city bus in Amsterdam
- Germany to require "black boxes" for self-driving vehicles
- Pakistani brother strangles his model sister in honor killing
- Indian rape survivor gang-raped again by the same men
- Taiwan tour bus inferno kills 26, mainly Chinese tourists
- SoCal beaches closed after massive raw sewage spill
(4) There is no end to the ingenuity of scammers for stealing your personal info. Be vigilant!
(5) Plagiarism in the spotlight: I believe that Melania Trump is a victim in the raging plagiarism controversy. In many countries of the world, copying someone's words (or homework or designs) isn't viewed as a moral transgression. She has been ill-served by advisers who should have known better than to leave this newcomer to the ocean of politics to swim on her own. She should have been given crash courses in the English language and the American culture.
(6) Chris Christie wants to be Attorney General: After Christie spoke at tonight's GOP convention, pundits pointed out that his speech sounded like he was auditioning for the AG position. He read out a list of Clinton offenses, asking the crowd for a "guilty" verdict after each item. Ironically, nothing disqualifies someone from assuming a legal position than trying an accused with no legal representation, based only on prosecutorial claims and cheers from a friendly crowd.
A Rumi quatrain and two of mine inspired by it
(7) Persian love poetry: My latest quatrains (above, left and middle), inspired by a Rumi quatrain (above, right). I composed these couplets on recent long flights between Los Angeles and Taipei, as a way to pass time.

2016/07/17 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Calligraphic rendition of a couple of verses from Rumi (1) Beautiful calligraphic rendition of a couple of verses from Rumi: Artwork by Esrafil Shirchi.
(2) A hard pill to swallow: US male doctors make on average $20,000 per year more than equally experienced female doctors. [Info from: Time magazine, issue of July 25, 2016]
(3) A fascinating optical illusion.
(4) The little pianist, with amazing talent and focus.
(5) President Obama's personal side: His opponents have called him "the worst President ever," "divisive," "traitorous," and "Manchurian President." I, for one, will miss this cultured, eloquent, and self-deprecating man, who did a great job of cleaning up the mess left by his predecessor, no matter who replaces him next year.
(6) This app (Photomyne) was suggested to me by Facebook: Maybe I'll finally be able to digitize all the old photos in my albums.
(7) Here are half-dozen one-liners from Jewish comedians.
- A Jewish man said that when he was growing up, they always had two choices for dinner—Take it or leave it.
- I've been in love with the same woman for 49 years. If my wife finds out, she'll kill me!
- My wife and I went to a hotel where we got a waterbed. My wife calls it the Dead Sea.
- I just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport.
- Judge to drunk: "You've been brought here for drinking." Drunk: "Okay, let's get started."
- The Doctor gave a man 6 months to live. He couldn't pay his bill, so the doctor gave him another 6 months.

2016/07/16 (Saturday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Bugs changing a friend's burned-out bulb (1) Cartoon of the day: Another one involving light-bulbs!
(2) The military coup, which began unfolding in Turkey yesterday, seems to have been neutralized by government forces.
(3) Obama's peer-reviewed scholarly article in JAMA is a first for a sitting US President: The article's title is "United States Health Care Reform: Progress to Date and Next Steps."
(4) Obon Festival and Dance: Obon, or just Bon, is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one's ancestors. The tradition, which includes a dance known as Bon-Odori, has evolved into a family reunion holiday, during which people return to ancestral places and clean their ancestors' graves. Today's festival, held at the Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara, included music (flute, drums), dancing, and Aikido/Judo demonstrations by my son, Sepehr, and other members of his school. [Aikido 1] [Aikido 2] [Aikido 3] [Judo]

Cover image for the course 'Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendentalist Movement' 2016/07/15 (Friday): Course review: Nichols, Ashton (Professor of English Language and Literature at Dickinson College), Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendentalist Movement, 24 lectures in the "Great Courses" series, The Teaching Company, 2006.
How did America evolve from its colonial past, where slavery was more than tolerated and education was meant to break the will and subdue the spirit, to its current version, a country that champions human rights and encourages students to learn through independent thinking and active participation?
The thesis of this course is that Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau played key leadership roles in defining and championing a number of American values, including rugged individualism, respect for human (as well as women's and minority) rights, love of nature, and more. Boston and the town of Concord, Massachusetts, were major centers of thought in the 1800s that created and nurtured what later became known as Transcendentalism, a world view that considers divinity pervading all nature and humanity; an antidote to rationalism. The titles of this excellent course's 24 lectures follow.
01. Emerson, Thoreau, and Transcendentalism    02. The Roots of American Transcendentalism
03. Emerson and the Idea of America    04. Emerson and Transcendentalism
05. Emerson's Influence    06. Thoreau—An American Original
07. Thoreau at Walden and Beyond    08. Thoreau's Politics
09. William Ellery Channing and Unitarianism    10. Theodore Parker—Social Reform in the Pulpit
11. Amos Bronson Alcott    12. Louisa May Alcott
13. Margaret Fuller and Rights for Women    14. Transcendental Women
15. Moncure Conway—Southern Transcendentalist    16. Transcendental Eccentrics
17. Transcendental Utopias—Living Experiments    18. Transcendentalism and Education
19. Thoreau, Abolition, and John Brown    20. Frederic Douglas
21. Emily Dickinson    22. Walt Whitman
23. Transcendentalism's 19th-Century Legacy    24. The Legacy in the 20th Century and Beyond

2016/07/14 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Deanna Bogart Band, performing at Santa Barbara's Chase Palm Park (1) Concert in the park: Deanna Bogart Band performed this evening at Santa Barbara's Chase Palm Park, with its unique brand of blues fusion. Deanna herself is a master of both keyboard and saxophone. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]
(2) Pottery with holes, masterfully placed.
(3) Quote of the day: "A man who buys a dishwasher for his wife pushes her from the kitchen into watching satellite TV channels and practically forces her to prostitution." ~ Friday prayers Imam in Daaraab, Iran
(4) Terror attack in France leaves 70+ dead: The attack was carried out by a truck which crashed into the crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice.
(5) A sociological/feminist view of the attacks against Hillary Clinton: Dr. Nayereh Tohidi is interviewed (in Persian) about a number of issues, including the treatment of political prisoners in Iran. Beginning at minute 34:00 of this 56-minute program, the subject turns to the current US presidential election. At one point, Dr. Tohidi struggles with the Persian equivalent of the term "double bind." I believe "choob-e do-sar talaa" is the best equivalent in this context.
(6) Final thought for the day: "It is very unnerving to be proven wrong, particularly when you are really right and the person who is really wrong is proving you wrong and proving himself, wrongly, right." ~ Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book

2016/07/13 (Wednesday): My report on the 23rd IEEE Symposium on Computer Arithmetic.
One of the tables at the July 11 lunch during ARITH-23 I spent the past three days in Santa Clara, CA, attending what experts in the field call ARITH-23. Computer arithmetic is a fairly old subfield within computer architecture and hardware design that deals with designing and optimizing circuits for performing addition/subtraction, multiplication, division, square-rooting, and evaluation of a number of functions of interest, under cost (VLSI chip area), speed, throughput, energy/power consumption, and a host of other constraints.
I was a member of the technical program committee for this year's event, presented a paper on Monday, and chaired a session today.
The photo above shows my lunch companions on Monday 7/11, which included old-timers Jean-Michel Muller, Milos Ercegovac, John Gustafson, and Israel Koren. Both Ercegovac and Koren have computer arithmetic textbooks that compete with mine in the market.
Monday morning's keynote session by Kathy Yelick, entitled "Antisocial Parallelism: Avoiding, Hiding and Managing Communication," was only tangentially relevant to the conference topic. She pointed to the difficulty of searching for science data on the Web, because many scientists either don't share or don't do a good job of data archiving and indexing. Compare this with the extreme ease of finding something to buy. She also discussed DoE's Exascale Computing Project.
Tuesday morning's keynote talk by Bryan Catanzaro of BYU was entitled "Computer Arithmetic in Deep Learning." Since 2011, deep learning has been applied with much success to problems in content guidance, keeping organized, automatic image captioning, speech recognition, and improved user interfaces. Deep learning views the solutions to these problems as input-to-output mappings, or functions, to be discovered, with little or no attention to semantics, by a multi-level (deep) neural network, trained with gigantic data sets. The neural network consists of alternating layers of linear and simple non-linear transformations, whose computations entail the multiplication of large matrices. On the order of 100 exaflops of arithmetic operations are needed in total (several megaflops per byte of data). Thus, efficiency and speed of arithmetic operations determine whether the method is practical. When the speaker's research team began using 16-bit floating-point numbers in lieu of 32-bit numbers, they observed significant improvement in learning performance for speech understanding, despite the greater arithmetic errors.
Tuesday afternoon's keynote talk by Stuart Oberman was entitled "30 Years of High-Performance Arithmetic." The gist of the talk was that when you take a combination of speed and energy economy into account, complex, seemingly smart designs may not be the best. One can often replace a high-speed design with a high-throughput one, which may have longer latency, to get a winning design. Processor energy is usually a small part of the total. The cache and DRAM each use comparable energy, so even saving 50% in processor energy will make only a small dent. Energy-efficient memory design is where we should place our effort.
In a special session just before the conference banquet on Tuesday night, entitled "The Great Debate" and moderated by James W. Demmel of UC Berkeley, John L. Gustafson (Nat'l U. Singapore) and William M. Kahan (UC Berkeley) defended the two sides of the question of whether one can perform complicated computations, without understanding the underlying machine representation and carrying out sophisticated error analysis. Gustafson went first, claiming that his Unum (universal numbers), presented in his book The End of Error, offer the tools needed to users to stop worrying about implementation details and to focus instead on the computation at hand. Unum makes no distinction between integer and real numbers and offers the benefits of interval arithmetic. Unum avoids exceptions and uses a variable format for storage efficiency. Gustafson claims that use of Unum does not even require familiarity with calculus. [Here are Gustafson's PowerPoint slides about Unum.] Kahan is of the opinion that a fundamental understanding of errors and methods to control them is needed for writing efficient and numerically robust programs. In today's debate, Kahan offered a detailed critique of Gustafson's claims by quoting passages from the aforementioned book, followed by examples that in his opinion, contradicted the claims. Details of these arguments are available in this on-line document. [I am looking for a link to Kahan's critique of Unum, but have been unable to find it thus far.] The panelists' 30-minute position statements were followed by questions and comments by the moderator and members of the audience.
Next year's edition of the conference, ARITH-24, will be held during July 24-26, at London's Imperial College.
Other than keynotes and the debate session noted above, there were two special sessions on IEEE 754 standard and the state of the art in its hardware and software support, along with the following nine regular sessions.
7/11, 10:10-11:00, Session 1: Arithmtic Units (my talk was the second one in this session)
7/11, 11:30-12:20, Session 2: Security and Cryptography (I)
7/11, 14:00-15:15, Session 3: Big Numbers
7/11, 15:45-17:00, Session 4: Accuracy and Reproducibility
7/12, 10:10-11:00, Session 5: Floating-Point Implementations
7/12, 11:30-12:20, Session 6: Less-Conventional Number Systems (I)
7/12, 15:15-16:30, Session 7: Security and Cryptography (II)
7/13, 09:45-11:00, Session 8: Less-Conventional Number Systems (II)
7/13, 11:30-12:45, Session 9: Logarithm Implementations (I chaired this session)

2016/07/10 (Sunday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cartoon: Hanging the one who doesn't conform (1) Cartoon of the day.
(2) My interview about parallel processing: This is a mock interview in which I describe the challenges and benefits of parallel processing to a reporter, who is preparing a science-program segment for TV. This interview was an exercise at the Alda-Kavli Science Communication Workshop, which I attended from June 29 to July 1, 2016. The idea is to help make advanced science and technology topics accessible to the general public by using simple language and avoiding jargon.
[And this 7-minute pitch to secure research funding for studying system-level fault diagnosis is from the same workshop.]
(3) Musical waterfall: Precision digital control of water droplets in fountains has led to the use of jet streams with intricate patterns. This waterfall is one of the many recent examples.
(4) US car culture may be dying: Automobile purchases by young American adults, both in recent years and long-term, have been in decline. The Federal Highway Administration stats show that the number of young licensed drivers dropped significantly from 2009 to 2014 to the lowest number since the 1960s. High car prices may be part of the reason, but others attribute the fall-off to Millennials' lifestyle choices, including their disapproval of carbon-emissions that contribute to global warming. A fascinating theory is that the Internet is displacing the car, which is, in part, a social instrument. I don't know whether Internet-based ride-sharing services have already had a chance to affect the stats, but that too may be a big piece of the puzzle.
(5) Kiarostami's funeral in Iran: For the past few days, every other post on Facebook seems to be about the recently deceased film director Abbas Kiarostami. While much of the hoopla is no doubt out of respect for him and his work, politics seems to be a major consideration in blowing the story out of proportion. Like many artists, Kiarostami was unpopular with Iran's Islamic regime. Thus, his death and funeral give the opposition an opportunity to vent.

2016/07/08 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
(1) Edward J. McCluskey [1929-2016]: The pioneer of digital design and testing, and a world-renowned educator with many innovations to his credit, died in February 2016 at age 86. I met McCluskey quite often, at conferences and other technical gatherings, during my early career as a researcher and learned a great deal from him and his many writings. Besides being a man whose name was at the top of the list of experts for many decades, whenever digital design was discussed, McCluskey had a great sense of humor, often appearing at meetings with funny/silly clothing or hats.
(2) Half-dozen brief science/tech headlines of the day:
- 3D-printed car on display at American Museum of Science and Energy
- Facebook is testing end-to-end encryption for Messenger
- Google tests new encryption for Chrome to fend off quantum attacks
- U. Washington teams up with Microsoft on DNA-based data storage
- Tech investor Pishevar brainstorms app to stop police killings
- Dallas police uses bomb-equipped robot to kill one police shooter
(3) Dallas was another gift handed to Trump: The deadly outcome of protests against police brutality (5 cops killed, 6 others injured by rooftop snipers in a premeditated ambush) will feed into public unease about movements such as "Black Lives Matter." A former congressman tweeted (later removed), "This is now war. Watch out Obama."
[To avoid misunderstanding, I am not making light of the Dallas tragedy. I meant the "gift" characterization in the same way that rounding up 100,000 Jews would have been considered a gift to Hitler.]
(4) [I wrote the following retort on a Facebook post of mine that led to a lengthy "discussion" entailing some uncivil comments. I am offering it as a post here, for broader dissemination.]
I have a policy of not responding to name-callings and unsubstantiated opinions. However, I see that some of my conservative "friends" are bent on commenting on every sociopolitical post I make, using a lecturing style and condescending language, without adding any substance to the discussion. I may unfriend all such people (not that it will be a loss to them, but it will certainly protect my sanity and that of my friends).
(5) Texas professors sue to block guns in classrooms: The three women from College of Liberal Arts at UT Austin are requesting a federal injunction to block the SB11 law, before it goes into effect on August 1.
(6) Maybe "pea brained" should be a compliment: Plants take risks and plan for the future, in ways comparable to us humans. Most of us would stay with a boring job, if it pays the bills, in preference to joining a start-up with big payoff potential but also a risk of ruin. Like us, plants are tame and predictable when they have surplus resources. Put them on the edge of survival, however, and they start taking all sorts of risk. They can also plan for the future by detecting the level of nutrients available to them and the rate of change, using the info to develop more roots in areas where it's improving.

2016/07/07 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Map showing where Eduroam service is in effect (1) Eduroam WiFi access: After starting in Europe, the reciprocal WiFi access agreement between educational and research institutions has spread to all the countries in dark shade on this map. University of California and Cal State campuses are part of this program that allows each member of the participating institutions to go on-line for free at any other institution, after setting up an account.
(2) Fascinating magic tricks with Rubik's Cube.
(3) Checking whether your on-line data has been compromised: I got the following advice from UCSB's Chief Information Security Officer. I am passing it on, because it is extremely useful. I found out that my data was compromised on one Web site. I am going to change my password for that site. The info is not complete, but it gives you some idea of where you stand in the info security jungle by providing only your e-mail address.
"Over the past few years, criminals have stolen more than a billion usernames and passwords from many sites across the Internet, including LinkedIn, Adobe, and Tumblr. Criminals use these stolen usernames and passwords to login to other sites including TeamViewer, GoToMyPC, and Carbonite. Many of these logins succeed because people reuse their passwords."
"Please remember to use separate passwords for each of your accounts."
"If you reuse any of your passwords, please change them immediately. You can check to see if your password was stolen in one of the larger breaches at You do not need to supply your password to check. This database does not include all breaches, so even if your password is not listed as stolen, you may still be at risk."
(4) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Angela Merkel: Iran still seeking illegal nukes
- MN Governor: Race had a role in police shooting
- FBI chief testifies on Clinton e-mail probe
- Texas bridge collapse kills child, injures woman
- George W. Bush defends Iraq invasion
- Clinton adopts Sanders' free-college idea
- Newly discovered planet orbits a trio of stars
- Eleven officers shot in Dallas; four are dead
(5) Comey explains the difference between Clinton and Petraeus to Congress: "The Petraeus case to my mind illustrates perfectly the kinds of cases the Department of Justice is willing to prosecute. Even there they prosecuted him for a misdemeanor. [Petraeus] not only shared [classified information] with someone who was not allowed to have it, but we found [notebooks containing identities of covert officers, war strategy, and discussions with the president] in a search warrant under the insulation in his attic, and then he lied to us about it in the investigation. Petraeus obstructed justice and committed intentional misconduct and later admitted it was the wrong thing to do. You have a perfect illustration of the kind of cases that get prosecuted."
(6) Santa Barbara's "Concerts in the Park" series kicks off: Today's first of four concerts during the month of July brought "Captain Cardiac and the Coronaries" to Chase Palm Park to perform 50s and 60s rock-n-roll music. Here are representative samples of their music from the first and second sets. [Video 1] [Video 2]

2016/07/06 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
(1) Santa Barbara's Concerts in the Park series returns for 2016, during the month of July (Thursdays, 6:00 PM). Here is the program.
7/07, Captain Cardiac and the Coronaries; 50s and 60s rock & roll
7/14, Deanna Bogart Band; blues fusion, soulful sax, smoky vocals
7/21, Queen Nation; tribute to the music of Queen
7/28, The Tearaways; the British invasion meets California surf
(2) Santa Barbara's Movies under the Stars: The series returns for 2016, during the months of July and August, with the theme "Bogie & Bacall" (Wednesdays at Campbell Hall, 7:30 PM, and Fridays at the Courthouse Sunken Garden, 8:30 PM). Here is the program.
7/06-08, "The Maltese Falcon" (mystery/romance/thriller, starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor)
7/13-15, "Casablanca" (World War II drama/romance, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman)
7/20-22, "To Have and Have Not" (based on a Hemingway novel, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall)
7/27-29, "The Big Sleep" (detective mystery, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall)
8/03: "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (western, starring Humphrey Bogart)
8/10-12, "Dark Passage" (mystery, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall)
8/17-19, "Key Largo" (noir crime drama, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall)
8/24-26, "How to Marry a Millionaire" (comedy, starring Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe)
(3) Unimaginable bravery: University student, whose father died in the war against Iraq when he was 3, criticizes Iran's Supreme Leader to his face in this 9-minute speech (in Persian).
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Second Tesla Model S crashes in autopilot mode (Detroit Free Press)
- College affordability included in Democratic platform (Market Watch)
- IARPA calls for reliable 3D maps from satellite imagery (Federal Times)
- Crashed EgyptAir Flight 804 had fire on board (The Guardian)
- Spanish soccer star Messi sentenced to prison for tax fraud (
- US Justice Department won't pursue charges against Clinton (
(5) Roots of Trumpism: In 1994, when California economy was in shambles, Pete Wilson won re-election in a landslide by making illegal immigrants the centerpiece of his campaign, blaming them for all problems. As a result, the Republican Party, which, until then, competed evenly in elections and won many statewide offices, has done miserably since. Whereas Trump points to token Latino supporters, 87% of registered Latino voters have an unfavorable view of him (Mitt Romney did better, winning 27% of the Latino vote). So, while Trump may win in 2016, lessons from the California backlash should not be forgotten. This year, Millennials overtook baby-boomers as the country's largest generation, so the era of old, angry voters may be over. [From Newsweek on-line]
(6) Racism in the early 1990s: Trump's 1993 testimony in front of the Native American Affairs Committee.

2016/07/04 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Fourth of July banner (1) Happy 4th of July to all Americans! Our country was born 240 years ago and I, for one, am grateful for that. America educated me in the early 1970s and later accepted me with open arms in the late 1980s, when my country of birth made life miserable for me and my family as members of a religious minority.
Even though it is becoming increasingly difficult to recognize, from news headlines and campaign speeches, the generous and tolerant nation that took me in, I am still in awe of my fellow Americans for their warmth and compassion in my day-to-day interactions. Here is to the hope that the public face of America returns to matching the private sentiments of the vast majority of Americans!
(2) Fourth-of-July in Santa Barbara: The State Street underpass was closed to traffic, as people headed to the Santa Barbara waterfront for fireworks and other festivities. Stearns Wharf was bustling with a large crowd, on a breezy but beautiful afternoon. Everyone was in good spirits and music was playing on multiple stages on the beach and on the Wharf. ["You Make Me Feel"] ["We Are an American Band"] The West Beach looked gorgeous, as the sun went down and the crowd started to prepare for the fireworks show. Following the fireworks show, the huge waterfront crowd returned to town via the State Street underpass.
(3) Summer reading for grown-ups: The Santa Barbara public library system has chosen for its 2016 community reading program an unusual book, Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, which is described as "a mystery set in the future using clues from the past." The book discussion and virtual reality experience will be held at the Central Library, on Wednesday, July 27, 5:00 PM. Call 805-564-5659 with questions.
(4) Seven brief news headlines of the day:
- Famed Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami dead at 76
- Juno spacecraft poised for one-shot try to orbit Jupiter
- UN warns of starvation in Syrian towns, demands access
- ISIL claims deadly Baghdad shopping-street bombing
- Kerry has new exchnages with Russia's FM about Syria
- Father accidentally kills son at gun range
- FBI offers help to Bangladesh police in terror attack probe
(5) The upside of all your smartphone pics: It has been said that interrupting an experience to take photos may reduce enjoyment. USC marketing professor Kristin Diehl has found otherwise in her research. People who take photos of their lunch were found to be more immersed in their meals. Similarly, those who take photos of special moments or cultural experiences (e.g., sightseeing) enhance their enjoyment, because they look for things to hang on to and direct their attention, which heightens the viewing experience. [Info from: Time magazine, issue of June 27, 2016]
(6) People in this New York community are prepared for the election of Donald Trump as US President.
(7) A new country music star is born: Emi Sunshine sings "Me and Bobby McGee" like a pro. And here is the talented 11-year-old's rendition of "Folsom Prison Blues."

2016/07/03 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Chart showing deaths from massacres in the US over 40 years (1) Forty years of massacres in the US: Informative chart from Time magazine, issue of June 27, 2016.
(2) Fantastic painting of a wave.
(3) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, dead at 87
- Baghdad terror attacks leave 126 dead, including 25 children
- California enacts sweeping gun-control legislation
- UAE warns citizens not to wear traditional Arab clothing abroad
- Flash floods kill 43 in northern Pakistan
- Author of Eat, Pray, Love splits from husband
- Gun-toting man shot by Secret Service near White House
- Bomb attack outside US consulate in Jeddah injures 2
(4) Fabric-covered floating walkway on Italy's Lake Iseo: The 2-mile-long recent installation, assembled from 220,000 cubes, was first conceived by the artist Christo with his late wife Jeanne-Claude in 1970.
(5) Quote of the day: "No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them." ~ Elie Wiesel [1928-2016]
(6) Guns have changed, so our gun laws need updating. [30-second video]
(7) This is one of the best a cappella performances I have seen: "Carol of the Bells" by Pentatonix.
(8) Kinga Glyk's wonderful instrumental rendition of Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" on bass guitar.
(9) The hypocrisy of the conservative protest movement in the US: One of the rallying cries of conservatives, particularly in the current election cycle, is that they want less government and thus lesser taxes to pay for it. However, their rhetoric indicates that their desire for a smaller government pertains only to areas that would benefit them financially. They want smaller payments to the IRS and fewer regulations on businesses in terms of energy efficiency, environmental protection, minimum wage, healthcare availability, and retirement benefits. At the same time, they want bigger government when it comes to regulating commerce, imposing tarrifs on foreign products, ensuring the safety of shipping lanes to protect their imports and exports (notably for oil and related products), and expanding the military. It seems, therefore, that they do not want to pursue lesser spending by the government but to redirect the spending to other areas. They want fewer regulations to protect consumers against financial shenanigans and profiteering by big banks and more regulations against off-shoring, imports, and immigration. And all this in addition to some of the most vocal proponents of bringing off-shored jobs back to the US personally benefiting from off-shoring and unencumbered foreign trade!

2016/07/01 (Friday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Alan Alda speaking on the first day of the workshop during a general session (1) Alda-Kavli Science Communication Workshop: I attended this 3-day workshop at Santa Barbara's Fess Parker Resort. Sponsored by Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, Stony Brook University's School of Journalism, and UCSB's Office of Research Development, the workshop aims to sharpen the skills of scientists in reaching their audiences through distilling the message in a goal-oriented way and making personal/emotional connections by means of story-telling. Alan Alda, most famous for his role in the TV series "Mash," is a passionate advocate for science and science communication.
One person described the workshop as "improv for scientists." We had, in fact, a number of improv exercises that helped improve our reading of audience reaction through visual cues. I missed the 6/28 opening reception of the workshop in which Alan Alda spoke about "Getting Beyond a Blind Date with Science," because I was on my way back from Taiwan.
In Wednesday's first session, a scientist's abstract was presented to us and we had the task of making it understandable to non-science/tech types through rewording and making connections to everyday concepts, including providing a big picture and thinking about why they should care about what is presented; viz, why the notions are important to their lives and priorities.
Then, we broke out into two smaller sessions, with my Group B instructed by Alan Alda himself. The activities included mirroring, imagining an object such as a ball and interacting with it, going around a circle and asking each person to add a word to what would eventually become an interesting aphorism, and showing the audience a blank piece of paper and describing an imaginary photo on it that holds a special significance in your life. The idea was to break down inhibitions and allow participants to communicate openly and honestly.
Later during the day, we were given an opportunity to present a pitch about one of our ideas to a smaller group and convince them of the idea's importance (call to action such as legislation, ask for funding, etc.).
The workshop's second-day program consisted of tips on honing your message (characterizing your audience in terms of their level of understanding and defining/practicing the key ideas you want to convey), as well as skills needed for participating in media interviews of the kinds one sees following major scientific developments or natural disasters. Examples include explaining the significance of a new particle discovery, reasons for and scope of an earthquake, or promoting your research (e.g., to obtain support).
Each participant was interviewed by a professional reporter on a scientific subject s/he knew well and was passionate about, with the interview recorded and played back for analysis and critique. There were also improv activities, such as presenting a sales pitch for an imaginary product whose name you put together from randomly chosen words and listening to a partner's scientific presentation and then pretending to be that person in explaining the subject matter to a non-specialist group.
The program for day 3 consisted of continuation of interview/pitch skills, where each participant chose a topic and presented it to a philanthropist, a funding agency officer, or a skeptic, with the goal of winning that person over within a few minutes. The time limit wasn't as stringent as in the day-2 version, because there were fewer participants in this more advanced session. The instructor and our peers provided feedback in the form of suggestions for sharpening the pitch for stronger effect. For my pitch, I chose a research program on fault diagnosis in interconnected computers, pretending that I was trying to secure funding for this line of research. As before, the sessions were recorded and the video clips will be made available to workshop participants for their personal use.
A number of workshop participants suggested that the group keep in touch via regular meetings, in order to hone their skills further and to transfer what they have learned to others. Besides learning about the science of science communication, I learned a great deal from UCSB colleagues who attended the workshop and made some good friends.
(2) Tips for public speaking: TED speaker coach Gina Barnett shares some tips on becoming a better public speaker, including setting goals for your presentation, being aware of your body language, avoiding filler words, and using uncluttered slides that complement your words. View your talk as a gift that you are giving, which the audience may or may not accept, rather than as an instrument for getting attention and love.
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the past few days:
- First fatality for Tesla Model S while on autopilot
- US probes Chinese ownership of CIA-linked insurance company
- Panama finally opens the long-delayed expanded canal
- Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, dead at 87
- Palestinian stabs and kills American girl at home in Israel
- Texas mom shoots her two daughters, blames husband
(4) College grade inflation appears to be getting worse: A recent study by Inside Higher Ed shows that 42% of 4-year college grades are A's and 77% are A's or B's. One theory about the cause of the worsening grade inflation is that students paying high tuition expect to be treated like consumers and not like apprentices or scholars.

2016/06/30 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) This is how misogynists view women: It is all but impossible to use obviously misogynistic terms to address one woman and not view all women in the same way. I usually do not post or repost anything that contains foul language, but decided to make an exception here. My apologies! [Blog post, with reply]
(2) San Francisco State University's Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies: CIDS will be established from a $5M gift by the school's alumna Neda Nobari. Under the leadership of a named distinguished chair, CIDS will engage in studies "about Iranian diaspora, communities, their development, contributions to host societies and impact on Iranian identity."
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the past week:
- Brexit/Britex wins. PM David Cameron to resign.
- Brexit's telling stats: The old outgun young voters
- Chile wins Copa America; Spain's Messi calls quits
- Amazon to create on-line marketplace for education
- ISIL Istanbul airport suicide attack kills 42, injures 140
- US airstrike kills at least 250 ISIL militants in Iraq
(4) An analysis of Brexit's impact on UK's engineering/tech sector: There will be challenges in attracting and retaining talent, but also opportunities that can be exploited.
(5) Broadway sings for Orlando: "What the world needs now is love, sweet love ... "
(6) Enchanting piano music, with the backdrop of collapsing ice caps.
(7) Plight of Iran's female political prisoners: Their treatment is even against Iran's own laws. [1-minute video]

2016/06/28 (Tuesday): More on my week-long trip to Taiwan. [Not all the links work at this time.]
Map of Taiwan (1) This is a continuation of my blog post of June 25, covering a 2-day trip to the countryside and further technical discussions at NCKU on 6/28, my final day. Taiwan is virtually cut into two parts by high north-south mountains. The highest peak has an elevation of 3952 m. The Wusanto reservoir and dam, which we visited on 6/26-27, is located at the starting point of the mountains going northeast from Tainan.
(2) Sunday 6/26: Today was nature day. We drove to a wilderness area that is managed by NCKU's Agriculture Department. We hiked for ~ 5 km (3 mi) in scorching heat and had a light lunch, in order to leave room for dinner. We then visited an old town, with street buildings and a public gym facility from a century ago (Japanese occupation period). Several of the buildings had a section of glass-covered floor to show the Japanese method of placing buildings on coil springs, without a standard rigid foundation. Later in the afternoon, we arrived at the Wusanto Huching Resort Hotel and proceeded to walk on an 80-year-old dam, again built by the Japanese out of rocks and dirt moved by a special railroad constructed for the project. A downpour made us return early for dinner, leaving the rest of the exploration for tomorrow.
(3) Monday 6/27: This morning, we explored the Wusanto Reservoir, the 80-year-old dam that created it (built by the Japanese from rocks and dirt), and some surrounding structures. The enormous dam is an engineering marvel, which took about a decade to complete. The Japanese built a complex of single-family houses and other structures for the engineers who worked on the dam and, later, for those who operated the facility. The temple you see in some of the photos (partially damaged by a recent earthquake, so it was closed to visitors, until repairs are completed) was built by Chiang Kai Shek, the leader of nationalist Chinese who fled from mainland China and resettled in Taiwan. Shek was nominally a president, but he had aspirations of becoming an emperor, as evidenced by the construction of this temple, which is a 3/4 replica of a royal temple in China, reserved for the emperor's exclusive use. Shek ruled with an iron fist and installed his son to rule after him. The son, I am told, was a good man and he decided against appointing his own son to follow him, thus discontinuing the dynasty.
In the afternoon, we visited the Fort Zeelandia Museum, built at and around a fort from the Dutch rule period. The country's history, primarily up to 400 years ago, when the Taiwanese defeated the Dutch and became independent, is on display at this wonderful museum, which houses scale models of structures, paintings and other art, and artifacts recovered from the site. There is an observation tower that allows visitors to look down at the complex and at Tainan City in the distance.
Dinner at Tucheng Seafood Restaurant was a true feast and consisted of 8 different dishes (including crab, oyster, two kinds of shrimp, fish, and oyster noodles), shared family style.
(4) Tuesday 6/28: Today's morning and afternoon technical sessions, during which post-docs and graduate students working at Professor Hsieh's lab presented their research, were separated by lunch at a restaurant near the NCKU campus. I was then taken to the Kaohsiung Airport for the start of a 27-hour trip that would take me home on Wednesday 6/29, via Taipei and Los Angeles. Interestingly, my local landing time of 8:50 PM at LAX is exactly the same as my departure time from KHH, creating the impression of travel at the speed of light!
(5) Returning home from Taiwan: The trip back home, from 4:30 PM on 6/28 when I headed from Tainan to Kaohsiung Airport to 1:30 AM on 6/29 when I arrived at my home, took exactly 24 hours, considering the 15-hour time difference between the two cities, making my 6/28 working/traveling day 33 hours long.
The 55-minute Kaohsiung-to-Taipei flight was comfortable and uneventful. The crowded Taipei Airport was a different story. The assigned gate was changed twice, the second time without a PA announcement, causing me to almost miss my flight. Once I boarded the 12-hour flight (the flight back was 2 hours shorter), its take-off was delayed by more than an hour, which, combined with long passport-control lines at LAX caused me to miss my scheduled Airbus trip (the last one of the day) to Santa Barbara, becoming stranded at the crowded airport.
While I was considering my options, including staying at a local hotel and heading home in the morning (undesirable, because I had been looking forward to attending a very interesting 3-day workshop that begis tomorrow), I spotted a gentleman of Mexican heritage who was asking passersby whether they needed a ride. I told him about my destination and we agreed on a price.
Here it gets interesting. He called his wife, who together with their sleeping 2-year-old were waiting in their car nearby, and asked her to drive to LAX's Bradley Terminal. Then, the four of us began our drive toward Santa Barbara. The man's wife spoke much better English than him, so we carried on a conversation for the entire duration of the trip. The family needed to generate additional income from a side business in order to get by. Despite this added challenge to make a living, I learned that the couple's other 5 children are all attending school or are college graduates, with one doing graduate-level work. They spoke eloquently about social problems and issues in the current presidential race and had the usual parental complaints regarding their children having their own ideas about careers, marriage age, religious traditions, and so on. Even though I had bargained down the fare during our negotiations, I decided to pay the driver what he had asked for, given how kind and deserving they were. I left their car, having been re-energized after a very long day.

2016/06/25 (Saturday): Partial account of my trip to Taiwan. [Not all the links work at this time.]
Map of Tainan City (1) From Goleta to Tainan in 25 hours: I left home on Monday 6/20 and arrived in Tainan, via Taipei and Kaohsiung, on Wednesday 6/22. A daily summary of activities appears below. I will go on a 2-day exploration of the countryside around Tainan tomorrow, returning for more meetings on Tuesday 6/28 and returning home later the same day. Tainan and areas around it are the oldest parts of Taiwan and have much history. Many of the buildings date back to periods of occupation by the Dutch and the Japanese. NCKU's Computer Science Department, for example, is housed in two buildings: a historical building remaining from the country's oldest university built by the Japanese more than a century ago and a 12-story modern office tower.
Tainan has been extremely hot over the past few days and is expected to remain hot through the rest of my stay. The 14-hour nonstop flight between LAX and Taipei was grueling but the stay here has been very pleasant, thanks to Professor Hsieh's generous support and the extreme hospitality of his group of graduate students, post-docs, and administrative staff.
(2) Wednesday 6/22: The day's highlights were having delicious local food (several courses, including a sweet "dessert soup") for lunch and visiting a traditional tea house, where we were taught how to prepare and enjoy a variety of teas. Briefly, you warm up the teapot by half-filling it with boiling water. You then empty the pot, put tea leaves in, and fill it to the brim. Then cover the tea pot and pour boiling water on the outside. After several minutes, pour the tea in three stages: first into a special mug, then serve into small, tall cups and enjoy the aroma, finally pour from the tall cup into flat, shallow cups to drink (along with carrot crackers and a sweet-potato dessert). After the tea house, we visited a calligraphy exhibit within the halls of a 200-year-old mansion, now partially replaced by high-rises.
(3) Thursday 6/23: I presented my technical talk about interconnection networks for data centers and parallel processing. Before the talk, Prof. Hsieh showed me some interesting sights around the NCKU campus, including a 400-year-old structure surviving from the Dutch-rule period and a 113-year-old banyan tree from the Japanese occupation period. A second similar banyan tree nearby was seriously damaged by a typhoon and is now under the care of a tree doctor. The talk itself went well (for the curious, it was based on an invited paper, forthcoming in a special issue of Scientia Iranica for the 50th anniversary of Sharif University of Technology, which will be made available in a few days via my Publications Web page). For lunch, we hopped from one quaint specialty cafe to another, eating a small dish at each place, until we were stuffed. In the afternoon, we explored the Anping Tree House historical site and adjacent history and art museums, with Professor Hsieh and Dr. Ding-Ming Kwai, a former PhD student of mine. The Tree House is a historical mansion that was abandoned when roots of a banyan tree took over and protruded through the walls and roof. It is a testament to the power of nature and the respect the Taiwanese have for it. An adjacent museum takes you through a short history of Taiwan, including the Dutch rule of some 400 years ago and the Japanese occupation, beginning in the early 20th century. Another adjacent museum is a converted artist's house.
(4) Friday 6/24: NCKU computer science graduate students presented their research to me in two groups during morning and afternoon sessions. In between, we had lunch at a traditional Taiwanese restaurant, with a variety of dishes shared by those present, family style. For "dinner," a number of NCKU graduate students and I went to a tiny, but quite famous, cafe that serves small dishes. As we didn't have much of an appetite after a huge lunch, nearly everyone ordered rice cake (a dessert, really). Like many traditional businesses, the joint had a fountain with running water (good for business, according to local lore) on the sidewalk in front of it. Tainan is a city of scooters (more of them are on the road than cars) and of maddening traffic jams on its old, narrow streets. Scooters are convenient due to Tainan's warm weather and the availability of ample parking spots on city sidewalks. A scooter owner can typically park right in front of the business s/he wants to visit, whereas a car driver will have a hard time finding a parking spot within a few blocks. Driving in this city of 800,000, while avoiding pedestrians and scooters, is a big challenge. A curious feature of this very old city is that there is no such thing as ADA (or should I say TDA) compliance. Each section of the sidewalk (typically covered) is built by the shop owner in front of it at an arbitrary height and incline, so that you have to step up and down many times, even during a short walk.
(5) Saturday 6/25: Today was designated as "Temples Tour" on my visit schedule, but between two impressive temples, I was taken to the National Museum of Taiwan History, which opened in 2011 with 60,000 artifacts, after 12 years of construction. The museum exhibits, spanning the Aboriginal, Dutch, Spanish, Chinese, British, and Japanese influences on Taiwan are indeed impressive. They include scale models of villages/towns and recreation of shops, people at work, and rituals. A highlight of the visit was a time-travel exhibit, a train ride that took you back through Taiwanese history via projected images on both sides of a train car (a la parts of the Universal Studios Hollywood tram ride). The train car was stationary, but vibrated and slightly tilted to create a feeling of motion through towns, harbors, war zones, and natural vistas.
Before the history museum, we visited Orthodox Lu-Erh-Men Sheng Mu Temple. With some 5000 temples in and around the city, Tainan is the world's temple capital. Generously doubling the city's 800,000 residents to account for the surrounding areas, there is one temple for about 300 residents. Dr. Hung, one of the two post-docs who kindly showed me around today, tells me that there are 3 temples in the community of about 400 people where her mother lives. A temple typically houses multiple Buddhas and other deities or "guards." A guard is in charge of some aspect of life, such as marriage (where mothers go to ask for his/her favors in finding suitable spouses for their children), pregnancy, and even examination (this particular guard receives many visitors just before university entrance exams). Temples are maintained from donations, with no interference or contribution by the government. There are no priests or religious texts; rituals are passed on from one generation to the next. Young people dress up as temple guards during weekends and pay ceremonial visits to other temples. The following videos show visiting guards from other temples and their rituals. [Video 1] [Video 2]
Later during the day, we visited Nan Kun Shen Dai Tian Temple, the largest in the Tainan area. It is an expansive complex, with many ornate structures and an on-site hotel. One striking feature of the Taiwanese, which I observed during my temple visits, is their accommodating attitude. There were no entry gates, no security personnel, no bag searches, and no frowning upon strangers snapping photos. Those who prayed and those who were just visiting mingled, with no conflict or problem; each group was mindful and respectful of the other. The following videos show visiting guards rituals similar to those at the first temple. [Video 3] [Video 4]
(6) A bit about Tainan City, from Wikipedia: Tainan (literally "Taiwan South"), officially Tainan City, faces the Taiwan Strait in the west and south. Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan and also commonly known as the "Capital City," for its 200+ years of history as the capital of Taiwan under Koxinga and later Qing dynasty rule. Tainan's complex history of comebacks, redefinitions and renewals inspired its popular nickname "the Phoenix City." Tainan was initially established by the Dutch East India Company as a ruling and trading base called Fort Zeelandia during the period of Dutch rule on Taiwan. After Dutch colonists were defeated by Koxinga in 1661, Tainan remained as the capital of the Tungning Kingdom until 1683 and afterwards the capital of Taiwan Prefecture under the rule of Qing Dynasty until 1887, when the new provincial capital was moved to Taipei. Tainan is one of the oldest cities in Taiwan, and its former name, Tayouan, is said to be the origin of the name "Taiwan." It is also one of Taiwan's cultural capitals, for its rich folk cultures including famous local foods, extensively preserved Taoist rites, and other living local traditions covering everything from child birth to funerals. The city houses the first Confucian school-temple, built in 1665, and countless other historical monuments. Tainan claims more Buddhist and Taoist temples than any other city in Taiwan.

2016/06/19 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
One of two Fathers' Day cards I received from my three children (1) Today is Fathers' Day: Warm greetings and congratulations to all fathers among my readers, as well as those mothers who have had to also act as fathers at times. This image shows one of two Fathers' Day cards I got from my three children. A second card contained individual personal notes, so I will keep it close to my heart and not share it here.
(2) Mont-Blanc speed flying: Six para-gliders with skis descend from the 4304-meter-high mountain. Beautiful videography (best short film at the 2009 Banff Mountain Film Festival) and piano music ("I Give Up," written/performed by Elijah Bosserbroek)! [10-minute video]
(3) The US national soccer team advances to Copa America's semifinals: After beating Ecuador 2-1 in a hard-fought game and with three of its key players suspended, USA will play Argentina (top-ranked team in the world, which beat Venezuela 4-1) on Tuesday 6/21.
(4) Harvesting and packaging radishes. [2-minute video]
(5) Sam Harris on Donald Trump: The first 40 minutes of this 160-minute podcast are devoted to a searing assessment of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate.
(6) Filmmaker Ken Burns' 2016 commencement address at Stanford University: A look back at the role of history and the principles upon which this country was founded.
(7) College World Series: UCSB's men's baseball team advanced to its first-ever super-regional competition, surprising everyone by subsequently winning two games to advance to NCAA's double-elimination national championship round in Omaha, where it lost a heart-breaker to Oklahoma State 0-1. The Gauchos will next play on Monday 6/20 against third-seeded Miami (1-5 loser to Arizona) for a possible second chance at the championship game.
(8) NBA championship, game 7 (Cleveland at Golden State): After several lead changes, GS led 49-42 going into the second half and 76-75 at the end of the third quarter. After an exciting fourth quarter, in which James shone on both ends of the court, Cleveland prevailed 93-89 to take the championship.
(9) Be careful with the new Facebook emoticons/reactions: It's just too easy to indicate "anger" or "sadness" when you meant "like" or "love." Today, an error of this nature caused much puzzlement on the receiving side and embarrassment on my part.

Cover image for the audiobook 'Notorious RBG' 2016/06/17 (Friday): Book review: Caromon, Irin and Shana Knizhnik, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, unabridged audiobook on 5 CDs, read by Andi Arndt, Harper Audio, 2015.
This is an intimate and irreverent look at the life and work of the second ever female justice on the US Supreme Court. Sandra Day O'Connor preceded RBG and served as an important role model for her. Since then, O'Connor has retired and the Court has acquired two new female justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, necessitating the addition of a women's bathroom to the common area of the Court.
The book's second author is a young lawyer who started the Internet sensation "Notorious R. B. G." on Tumblr, playing on the name of rap-music artist "Notorious B. I. G." The site featured memes of Ginsburg as well as some of her words that inspire women.
Knizhnik teamed up with Caromon, a journalist, to write this playful, yet serious, biographical book based on interviews with Ginsburg, family members, friends, and colleagues, using passages from RBG's legal writings, where appropriate.
Ginsburg shuns the limelight and prefers to work quietly behind the scenes. She believes in reform via small incremental steps that opponents can stomach, instead of major reversals that are much more difficult to sell; a rare exception is her siding with the marriage-equality ruling that overturned many state laws. Her determination and forceful arguments defy her meek demeanor and grandmotherly appearance. In the course of her long career, RBG has done more for the cause of women's rights than many vocal activists, some of whom criticize RBG for her timid approach.
One example of her methodical and deliberate approach is her advocacy on behalf of men who were denied time off by their employers, when life events made them care-takers of young children. Ginsburg thought that the male majority on the Court is more likely to empathize with such men; yet once these men are given their due rights, the cases would readily become precedents for similar claims by women. In other words, she approached women's rights from the angle of human rights, that is, she advocated gender-neutrality in laws.
As a woman, RBG did not have many opportunities during her law school days and later was passed over for job opportunites because she was a mother. These injustices shaped her character and informed her activism on behalf of women's rights. She carried the torch of women's rights long before the topic had become familiar and activism on its behalf accepted.
RBG is quite easy-going and comfortable in her skin. When a newly discovered species of praying mantis was named after her, she reacted thus: "[In Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis,] Gregor Samsa woke up one morning to find himself changed into a big black bug ... Praying mantis, female too, is ever so much more attractive."
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg remains an enigmatic individual; this book demystifies her only partially. She had a close and cordial relationship with Justice Antonin Scalia, the late stalwart conservative who was nearly always on RBG's opposite side in Court-issued opinions. Yet, when it came to formal disagreements with Scalia, RBG did not mince her words.
I enjoyed listening to this audiobook and learned a great deal from it. It is easy to dismiss RBG's efforts in comparison with today's forceful pursuit of women's rights by both women and men. Yet, we must allow for the fact that she spent much of her legal career in different times, when a direct confrontational approach might have been counterproductive.

2016/06/16 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Iranian and European diplomats sitting across from each other (1) A practical lesson in gender equality: Whether the fact that six male diplomats from Iran were met by six female diplomats representing the European Union is a mere coincidence or a deliberate plan, it will make the Islamic Republic diplomats and their bosses sweat in explaining the photo in Iranian media. Surely they can't claim that Iranian women are less capable than their Western counterparts.
(2) Joan Baez and Paul Simon, two singing legends, performed "The Boxer" on a PBS special last night. [Repeats on Sunday.]
(3) Enormous 2000-year-old monument uncovered in Petra: Using high-resolution satellite scans, drone photography, and ground surveys, archaeologists in Jordan have uncovered a ceremonial platform (56 m by 49 m), which was literally hidden in plain sight near the UNESCO World Heritage site.
(4) Some US veterans join efforts to curb gun violence: Just two days before the Orlando shooting, a prestigious group of US military veterans had launched a coalition to urge elected leaders "to do more to prevent gun tragedies," especially mass shootings.
(5) Digging deeper into same-sex desires in Islamic societies: Saying that Islam abhors homosexuality and deems it punishable by death is simplistic. Homosexuality exists and is pretty much overlooked in the Middle East, because it is not viewed as an identity, according to Mehammed Amadeus Mack, writing for Newsweek. The talk of punishment comes exclusively from Hadith, not Quran itself. Thus, LGBT individuals in Islamic socieities tend to belong to the Quranist School, which deems Quran to be complete and not in need of augmentation by Hadith. So, acceptance or rejection of same-sex desire is far from settled in Islamic societies.
(6) Self-healing circuits for wearable tech: The flexible circuits developed by researchers at Penn State University can withstand extreme physical deformation, including being cut in half.
(7) The Sherpa fire continues to burn north of Santa Barbara: Highway 101 is backed up and intermittently closed in both directions between Goleta and Buelton to allow firefighters a chance to tackle the huge, out-of-control fire, which is said to be 0% contained at this time. Smoke is in the air in our area and ash covers everything, from our car to patio floor and furniture.

2016/06/15 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Scenes of filth and trash in Isla Vista (1) End of the academic year: Walking back from Isla Vista, where my children and I went for lunch today, signs of students moving out of this residential community that abuts UCSB were evident everywhere. These eyesores will persist for a few more days, until treasure hunters and, ultimately, the trash company clear the debris.
(2) Bendable smartphones that wrap around your wrist: Lenovo has already demonstrated the concept and Samsung has a number of bendable products on the way.
(3) Former IBM software engineer charged with economic espionage: Xu Jiaqiang, arrested in December 2015, faces a six-count indictment, disclosed yesterday. He is accused of stealing and selling (to undercover agents) proprietary source code from his employer and for planning to transfer the code to Chinese entities.
(4) Would you trust a robot surgeon to operate on you? This question is asked in the June 9, 2016, issue of an electronic newsletter affiliated with IEEE Spectrum magazine, pondering the rise of robotic aids to surgery. Given horror stories I have heard about surgeries gone wrong, I would pose a different question: Now that robotic surgeons are becoming available, would you trust a human surgeon to operate on you?
(5) Here is how a child's imagination works. [1-minute video]
(6) Father of the Internet worries about our digital history: Vint Cerf, Google's "Chief Internet Evangelist" and one of the recipients of the inaugural Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering in 2013, worries that while bits may persist into the 22nd century and beyond, their meanings may get lost to hardware/software upgrades and technological changes. Data on the Internet changes at a dizzying pace and links become obsolete equally quickly. While this speed of change and constant freshness is viewed as an advantage now, it isn't so good for historical preservation. Cerf was one of the pioneers of ARPAnet at UCLA in the early 1970s, which later led to the Internet as we know it today; I was at UCLA at the time and witnessed the developments up close.

2016/06/13 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
With my daughter, at her UCLA graduation (1) Graduation weekend: Over the past couple of days, I was occupied with my daughter's graduation from UCLA and gatherings and outings with family members who participated from near and far. After attending the commencement ceremonies at UCLA on Saturday, we feasted on Persian food at Santa Monica's Javan Restaurant, and we visited Universal Studios Hollywood on Sunday. We had seafood for lunch and took an afternoon stroll in Santa Barbara's waterfront area today. Tomorrow, it will be back to normal schedule, until I depart for Taiwan on June 21.
(2) Cited as evidence of foreign policy qualifications:
Sarah Palin: "I can see Russia from my house [in Alaska]."
Donald Trump: "I ran the Miss Universe pageant in Russia."
(3) The Orlando mass shooting: This latest massacre, which left 50 dead and about the same number injured, has three elements (terrorism, gun violence, and hate crime) that demand suitable responses. First and foremost is radicalization of Muslims in the US, which is even more dangerous than in European countries, given the much easier access to guns and explosives in this country. Second is the easy/legal acquisition of guns by someone who had had multiple run-ins with law enforcement and a record of mental illness. The final aspect has to do with tracking methods and police training. Reports indicate that it took the police 3 hours to become fully engaged after they first encountered and exchanged shots with the suspect. It is time to act on all these fronts. Another round of empty political statements and expressions of sorrow/shock just won't do.
(4) Eerie silence from terrorist groups: Even though pieces from EgyptAir flight 804 have been found, the cause of the crash is still unknown. And the unusual silence from terrorist groups adds to the mystery.
(5) "Ben Hur" remake: The new film is scheduled for release in August 2016. It is unclear why anyone would want to remake one of the most successful movies in history (11 Oscars). Better special effects and sets augmented with CGI are hardly good excuses, as evidenced by a number of expensive remakes that fizzled, both financially and critically.
(6) Copa America soccer quarterfinals: USA outlasted Paraguay 1-0 to advance to Copa America's quarterfinals, where it will play Ecuador on Thursday 6/16. Peru will play Colombia on Friday 6/17. The line-ups for the other two quarterfinals matches on Saturday 6/18 are yet to be determined. Mexico and Venezuela are already in, but either one can advance as the Group C leader. From Group D, Argentina will most likely advance, along with Chile or Panama. [4-minute highlights of USA vs. Paraguay]
(7) Iran captures fifth straight freestyle Wrestling World Cup title.
(8) Final thought for the day: You can't make America great again by electing a President who is ridiculed by the entire free world and praised by America's enemies.

2016/06/10 (Friday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
The four previous 'Time' magazine covers devoted to Muhammad Ali (1) Time's fifth cover on Muhammad Ali: The magazine's June 20, 2016, long cover story and cover image are devoted to Ali. The cover feature includes several historical photos.
(2) Retired aerospace engineer, 82, sings on "America's Got Talent": I hope other engineers learn from this experience and stick to their day jobs! [Note to self: Update retirement plans.]
(3) Concordia University professor Homa Hoodfar arrested and jailed in Iran: The distinguished anthropologist, 65, has published about sexuality and gender in Islam and is an advocate of women's health and their reproductive and economic empowerment. She has been accused of "cooperating with a foreign state against the Islamic Republic of Iran," a standard charge for those who hold unsanctioned social or political views.
(4) Leonardo DiCaprio to be cast as Rumi: I thought about who I would have chosen. It's a tough call. Several high-power stars are out because they won't be believable in the role. Others lack the requisite looks or gravitas.
(5) Honoring life vs. celebrating death: While Jewish and Arab medical workers in Israel were at work trying to save the life of one of the two terrorists who killed four Israeli civilians and injured several others in Tel Aviv, some residents of the West Bank and Gaza were celebrating, passing out sweets, and hailing the terrorists as heroes.
(6) Elizabeth Warren shames Donald Trump: What an effective campaigner for Clinton she can be! Using the presidential campaign pulpit to launch personal attacks and settle scores is so out of bounds that even the Republicans can't bring themselves to defend it.
(7) President Obama endorses Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, key supporters of Bernie Sanders say he should concede to Clinton. Sanders had previously said that he planned to gain the support of superdelegates. Suppose he succeeds in getting more support than Clinton, despite losing in pledged delegates. Then after speaking for months about how superdelegates skew the primaries by overriding the will of the voters, how will he justify being nominated on the strength of their support?

2016/06/08 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) Opening thought for the day: Stop worrying about men potentially pretending to be women in order to rape girls and devote your energies to preventing and appropriately punishing actual rape by those who do it with no pretenses. [Adapted from multiple FB posts on the Stanford University rapist, whose six-month sentence amounted to a slap on the wrist.]
(2) Half dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- ISIS burns 19 Yazidi women to death in Mosul for refusing to have sex with fighters (The Independent, UK)
- Palestinian gunmen kill 4, injure several others, in Tel Aviv attack; both terrorists nabbed (USA Today)
- Car bomb in Istanbul kills 11; another bomb in the Kurdish southeast region of Turkey kills 5 (ABC News)
- Hit-and-run driver kills 5 cyclists and injures 4 others in Michigan (NBC News)
- Actress Helen Mirren testifies at congressional hearing on recovering Nazi-looted art (World Jewish Congress)
- Iranian-American man goes missing en route from Santa Catalina to Van Nuys on a Cessna 172 (ABC News)
(3) Fighting hate with punctuation: Anti-Semitic groups have started putting three sets of parentheses around the names of Jews on social media posts, to identify and track them. Many are now co-opting the movement and changing their user names to something like (((Brian Teeman))) to stand up against hate.
(4) Shedding light on memory: According to new research from MIT, Alzheimer's patients continue to process and store memories; it is their retrieval process that is damaged. This is very good news, because various types of nerve-cell stimulation may be able to assist with recall. [From: ASEE Prism magazine, issue of June 2016]
(5) Electronic bank heist: In one of the biggest bank robberies in history, $81M was wired by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to various bank accounts in Asia, as a result of hackers infiltrating Bangladesh's Central Bank and firing off some three dozen forged inter-bank SWIFT messages to other banks. By sheer luck, a misspelling raised red flags, leading to most of the transfers being stopped. Otherwise, the loss would have amounted to about $1B. [Source: Time magazine, issue of June 13, 2016]
(6) President Obama has only six months to save Fox News from one of its biggest lies: Fox News has been telling its viewers for years that Barack Obama will take their guns away. The result has been a significant upsurge in US gun sales and millions more guns on the streets. With six months left in his presidency, Obama better act quickly, or someone's pants will catch fire.
(7) USA team in Copa America: After losing its opening match 0-2 to Colombia, the US men's national soccer team rolled over Costa Rica 4-0. Clint Dempsey scored on a penalty kick in the 9th minute and assisted on two goals in minutes 37 and 42. The 4th goal came in minute 87. The final group-stage match for the US will be against Paraguay on June 11. [7-minute highlights of USA vs, Costa Rica]

2016/06/07 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Four new varieties of dinosaurs just discovered (1) Cartoon of the day: Newly discovered dinosaurs.
(2) A highly improbable lightning strike: On May 28, 2016, during a child's birthday party in a Paris park, 8 children and 3 adults were injured, some critically, by a lightning strike. [From Time magazine, issue of June 13]
(3) How to stay married: This is the title of a cover feature in Time magazine, issue of June 13, 2016, which begins thus: "Staying married is more challenging than ever. But new data says it's worth it." The article goes on to quote Mark Twain, who said: "To get the full value of joy, you must have somebody to divide it with."
(4) Kevlar bulletproof backpacks: A company is marketing high-tech bulletproof backpacks to students and faculty in Texas, where "campus carry" goes into effect in August. [Source: Newsweek on-line]
(5) A nightmare opponent for Trump: The presumptive Republican nominee, who tried hard to get Bernie Sanders to run against, is now stuck with Hillary Clinton, who will bring his misogynistic past statements and tendencies into full view. With President Obama seemingly ready to throw his support behind the Democratic nominee, Bernie Sanders dropping subtle hints that he will back Clinton, and Republican heavyweights either distancing themselves from or providing lukewarm support for Trump, election of the first female US President seems to be a done deal.
(6) Reinventing the wheel: Goodyear has been working on spherical concept tires to be manufactured via 3D printing. The new tires provide better maneuverability, lateral movement capability, and adaptability to road conditions. I still can't wrap my head around how the tires will be attached to vehicles, though.
(7) Virginia-to-Spain undersea cable: The 4100-mile cable will be built jointly by Microsoft and Facebook. [Source: Time magazine, issue of June 13, 2016]
(8) Omnifocal glasses: DeepOptics, an Israeli start-up company, has developed the technology for transparent liquid-crystal coating that can be applied to prescription glasses to provide smooth transition between various focal lengths, depending on what the user is viewing at each instant. "Sensors in the glasses track the pupils of the wearer. Changes in pupillary distance, or the distance between the centers of the two pupils, indicate the depth of an object that a person is trying to focus on. A processing unit built into the glasses can use the pupillary distance to calculate exactly how far the user is from the object, and the correct electrical current alters the liquid-crystal layer to provide the perfect prescription in real time."

2016/06/06 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
(1) Vacuum tubes may be coming back: The invention of transistor is thought to have been a turning point in allowing denser, more energy-efficient digital circuit. Now, in an ironic twist, vacuum tubes may save us from the dead end caused by our inability to shrink the transistor size further. Caltech researchers are working on electronic circuits made of vacuum-tube-like elements, each one-thousandth the size of a red blood cell.
(2) Still more detail about the UCLA shooting: The shooter believed that Professor William Klug, the victim, had stolen his research ideas and not given him credit for them. In reality, Klug helped him graduate with a PhD degree when some other faculty colleagues deemed his dissertation not good enough. Professor Christopher Lynch, whose office was near the shooting site, has been given credit for possibly saving lives by holding an office door shut while the shooter was inside, thus effectively isolating him until he killed himself.
(3) Feature article in the June 2016 issue of AARP Bulletin: How one doctor led a ring that scammed Medicare out of $375M (the total annual Medicare fraud toll is said to be around $60B).
(4) Trump steps in it one more time: His shoes now look and smell awful and his fellow Republicans have condemned his calling the judge presiding over the Trump University lawsuit "a Mexican." The judge is indeed of Mexican heritage, but was born in the US. Furthermore, as a prosecutor, he courageously pursued Mexican drug cartels and was under Federal protection for a year due to threats against his life. As usual, Trump is doubling down and can't bring himself to say he made a mistake. As one observer noted, this is a new low in the American political scene. Any previous presidential nominee would have been disqualified for statements of the kind Trump is making on a daily basis.
(5) Doh, Mark! Zuckerberg, that is. Several of his social media accounts were compromised, because he used the password "dadada" for all of them. What was it you were saying about password strength?
(6) On words to describe family relationships: It the course of the Parhami Family Reunion, held last Sunday, the need arose to describe the relationships of various family members. Besides the familiar terms such as "cousin," "uncle," and "grandson," terms such as "second cousin," "first cousin once removed," and "second cousin once removed" came into play. I had previously written about how Persian terms to describe family relationships are more specific than their English counterparts. For example, there are two words for "uncle," depending on whether the said person is the brother of one's father or brother of one's mother. There are eight words for cousin, depending on the sex of the person and which of the uncles or aunts gave birth to him/her ("dokhtar-amoo," "pessar-khaaleh," etc.). And there are single words for great-grandchild ("natijeh"), great-great-grandchild ("nabireh"), and great-great-great-grandchild ("nadideh"). Now, for the more distant relationships, Persian also offers more descriptive terms. For example, "naveh-khaleh" (grandchild of aunt on the mother's side) is one of the four terms used in lieu of "first cousin once removed."

2016/06/05 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
The sun, as seen behind the clouds in King City, California, June 4, 2016 (1) I returned from the San Francisco Bay Area yesterday, after a 2-day trip. This photo shows an unusual view of the sun in King City, where I had stopped for a brief break on the way back. During this trip, I finished listening to an audio course (see my review, posted late last night) and got started on another audiobook entilted Notorious RBG (a biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg).
(2) Quote of the day: "I wake up each day in a house built by slaves. ... The American dream endures in our time." ~ Michelle Obama, in yesterday's commencement address at NY City College
(3) Iranian FM's tweet honors Muhammad Ali and praises his "fight for justice, dignity and peace": Of course, Mr. Zarif conveniently ignores the fact that the same kind of peaceful activism in his own country (even writing critical poems or drawing cartoons) is punished by long prison terms.
(4) Dancing in the Islamic Republic: Decades of restrictions and threats of punishment have been ineffective in dampening Iranian women's love for music and dancing.
(5) World's oldest soccer tournament is now in progress: The US is hosting the 100th edition of Copa America, but US soccer fans were disappointed to see their team lose at home 0-2 to Colombia in the opening match, played in Santa Clara's Levi Stadium.
(6) Hillary Clinton's most effective campaign speech to date: She uses Donald Trump's words, verbatim and without embellishing them for comic effect, to make the case that he is unfit to become President. An admirable woman, warts and all!
(7) Paul Simon's concert at Santa Barbara Bowl: Tonight, some family members and I attended a highly enjoyable concert by the still-great-sounding music icon, who performed four tunes from his just-released album and many of his standard songs, but unfortunately not "The Sound of Silence" or "Bridge over Troubled Water." For about two hours, including two encore sets, Simon had the audience sing along and dance to his exquisite rhythms (albeit in the subdued form typical of admirers of a 74-year-old singer). Everybody hummed along when he performed "The Boxer" (the video is from a different concert).

2016/06/04 (Saturday): Course review: Nichols, Shaun (Univ. of Arizona Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science), Great Philosophical Debates: Free Will and Determinism, 24 lectures in "The Great Courses Series" on 12 CDs (with a 133-page guidebook developed by Professor Nichols), The Teaching Company, 2008.
Cover image for the audio course on free will and determinism Do we have a precharted destiny or do we make our own life choices? Our answer to this question, whose roots go back to more than 2500 years ago, affects every detail of our daily lives individually and how we view social structures and criminal justice laws/punishments at the collective level. This age-old riddle, viz. free will vs. determinism, has occupied not just philosophers, but also scientists and other great minds for centuries.
Determinism means that because nothing happens without a cause, everything is predetermined. For example, if we could roll back the universe to its exact state at the beginning of January 1, 1900, everything that has happened since then will happen again, and in exactly the same manner. The notions of fate and karma are in line with this way of thinking. Proponents of free will, or libertarians (not to be confused with a political philosophy that goes by the same name), contend that humans, and to some extent lower life forms, are capable of making decisions which can lead to choosing one path over another, thus potentially resulting in vastly different outcomes in the long run.
Most versions of the argument for free will postulate that it is incompatible with determinism. In other words, they take the conditional statement "If determinism is true then there is no free will" to be true. However, determinism being false does not automatically imply the existence of free will. One can point to probabilistic events (a la quantum mechanics) which lead to nondeterministic or unpredictable outcomes, even in the absence of free will. Of course, there is also the argument that some things appear to be random only because our knowledge is not yet deep enough to understand them.
One of the main arguments for the existence of free will is that humans seem to be wired for the concept. Children as young as 2 or 3 understand what it means to decide between alternatives. We humans are also wired for moral responsibility, which is nonsensical in the absence of free will. Determinism is supported by predictability in nature based on scientific laws. Given precisely known initial condition, natural laws predict what happens next, and there is no reason to think that our mind and the deliberation processes therein are exempt from such laws. Compatibilism is the view that determinism and free will are not mutually exclusive. This is sometimes viewed as the chicken's way out of a serious debate.
Harry G. Frankfurt, an effective proponent of the free-will theory, is, unfortunately, better-known for his semiserious book, On Bullshit, which got him a gig on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show," an indication that philosophical topics aren't all that interesting to the general public! Frankfurt argued that the principle of alternate possibilities (someone can be said to have acted on free will only if he could have done otherwise) is not necessary for free will. He then advanced the concept of second-order desire (the desire to have a certain desire), which is unique to humans, as a hallmark of free will, in the process removing some of the prior objections to compatibilism. But problems remain nevertheless. [PDF summary]
In the 24 lectures of this highly enjoyable and informative course (listed at the end of my review), Professor Nichols tackles the problem from every possible angle, as he tries to shed light on why the problem is indeed very profound and how both psychology and neuroscience are playing key roles in advancing our understanding of the main issues. Hearing about these ideas from an award-winning professor is much more effective that reading a book. I recommend the course highly.
01. Free Will and Determinism    02. Fate and Karma    03. Devine Predestination and Foreknowledge
04. Causal Determinism    05. Ancient and Medieval Indeterminism    06. Agent Causation
07. Ancient and Classical Compatibilism    08. Contemporary Campatibilism    09. Hard Determinism
10. Free Will Impossibilism    11. The Belief in Free Will    12. Physics and Free Will
13. Neuroscience and Determinism    14. Neuroscience of Conscious Choice    15. Psychology and Free Will
16. Deontological Ethics and Free Will    17. Utilitarianism and Free Will    18. Responsibility and the Emotions
19. Pessimism and Illusionism    20. Optimism and Skepticism    21. The Ethics of Punishment
22. The Power of Punishment    23. Moral Responsibility and Psychopathy    24. The Future of Responsibility

2016/06/03 (Friday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Portrait of Muhammad Ali as a young man; he died today at age 74 (1) Boxing legend Muhammad Ali dead at 74: I am posting this item despite the fact that I have no respect for boxing as a sport. Ali himself was the poster child for the harmful effects of the sport on a boxer's physical health, and this is in addition to promotion of violence and the psychological damage it can do. However, later in his life, Ali emerged as an eloquent spokesperson for social justice and racial equality. Rest in peace, champ!
(2) More details about the UCLA shooting emerges: The shooter, who killed professor William Klug and himself, left behind a list of three people he wanted to kill. Another UCLA professor named on the list is unharmed but the shooter's (ex?) wife was found dead at her Minnesota residence.
(3) Paul Ryan endorses Donald Trump: Not that he had any choice! The Never-Trump movement has lost traction and going against the will of Republican voters would have spelled disaster for the party. Meanwhile, in what appears to be a turning point in her campaign, Hillary Clinton has delivered her most scathing attack on Trump, pointing to his anti-NATO stance and asserting that "they'll be celebrating in the Kremlin" should he be elected President.
(4) Black women are America's most-educated group: According to National Center for Education Statistics, a higher percentage of black women—9.7% to be exact—are enrolled in college than any other racial or gender group, including white men, white women, and Asian women.
(5) Traditional Iranian music: Young girl on santoor and young boy on tombak play a beautiful piece in "Chahar Mezrab-e Esfahan."
(6) Here is an interesting word game, with my answers filled in. See if you can do it, beginning with your own name, so that each answer starts with the last letter of your previous answer.
Name - Behrooz | Animal - Zebra | Girl's name - Abby | Color - Yellow | Movie - "Wall Street" | Something you wear - Tunic | Drink - Coffee | Food - Eggs | Item in the bathroom - Soap | Place - Panama | Reason to be late - Alarm clock failure
(7) Useful tip from a stranger: As I was sitting at a Starbucks on my way to the SF Bay Area (where I am headed to visit a dear old friend), a gentleman approached and told me that pressing control-plus will enlarge a browser's screen image, so that one can read the text without having to stoop forward. And control-zero will take it back to the original size.

2016/06/01 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Doglike robot being kicked as part of a balance test (1) The ethics of kicking a robot: As robots begin to look and act more like living beings, subjecting them to violence makes some people feel uncomfortable. In this photo, an employee of Boston Dynamics is shown kicking the company's doglike robot to test whether it can keep its balance.
(2) Murder-suicide at UCLA: The school, where my daughter studies, went on lock-down today due to a shooting incident in its Engineering IV Building. It became evident later that the incident was a murder-suicide, with the shooter (a student) killing a professor and himself.
(3) Finland has decided that fewer school hours for kids produces better, happier students.
(4) Three women save another woman from being raped: I saw a TV news report on these women, whose alertness and willingness to act saved another woman from being raped. A while ago, ABC news conducted an experiment as part of their "What Would You Do?" series of programs in which a man put some powder in his female companion's drink when she went to the bathroom (both were actors working for the program). Many people who saw the incident chose not to intervene, but a few went and talked to the woman to warn her about what happened.
(5) Erdogan joins Khamenei in denouncing birth control: The Turkish Prime Minister and the Supreme Leader of Iran both believe that Muslims should be fruitful and multiply and not pay attention to the Western notion of family planning.
(6) Taraneh Alidoosti's feminist tattoo may derail her film career in Iran: The popular actress is unapologetic about her "woman power" wrist tattoo and feminist views and believes everyone should be a feminist. She asserts that the misguided view equating feminism with anti-male arises from misogynistic tendencies.
(7) Governor Jerry Brown endorses Clinton: I had been wondering whether Brown would take a stance. I am glad he has done so. Given Brown's track record and popularity, this will mean a lot in CA's primary outcome.
(8) Stephen Hawking is puzzled by the Trump phenomenon: Through sheer determination and respect for scientific facts, Hawking has done more to advance our understanding of the world than all blabber-mouthed demagogues combined. Yet, this bright scientific mind is at a loss to explain Trump's appeal.
(9) Trump agrees with ISIL that Islam should not mix with other religions: Former head of the CIA and the NSA asserts that Trump is helping ISIL.

Cover image for the audiobook 'Last Lion' 2016/05/31 (Tuesday): Book review: Canellos, Peter S. (ed.; based on the work of a group of Boston Globe reporters), Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy, abridged audiobook on 6 CDs, read by Skipp Sudduth, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2009.
Ted Kennedy [1932-2009] grew up in the shadow of his older brothers Jack and Bobby, who went on to realize their father's ambition about the family's public-service legacy. Ted was the least academically successful of the three brothers (the fourth and oldest brother, Joseph, had died in battle during World War II).
When both older brothers were assassinated before they had implemented their full political agendas, the torch was passed on to Ted, who was unprepared for the enormous political burden, alongside assuming the role of the family patriarch. The 1969 Chappaquiddick fatal-car-crash scandal, heavy drinking, philandering, and divorce from his wife Joan forced him to forgo running for US President in the 1972 and 1976 elections.
His failed 1980 presidential candidacy seemed like the end of his political ambitions, but there was a second act to his life; hence, the "fall and rise" of the book's title. His failed bid to become US President may have actually freed Kennedy from family and public expectations, allowing him to transform himself from a poster boy for nonchalance and youthful folly into a symbol of wisdom and bipartisan policy-making.
Whereas civil rights legislation under President Johnson would have likely passed without Kennedy's help, he deserves full credit for efforts to prevent Reagan and others from rolling them back. For these and many other efforts over several decades of service, he became known as the Senate's liberal lion.
Kennedy married Victoria Reggie in 1992 and their loving relationship lasted until his death at age 77. His personal life mellowed, as he focused on his duties toward younger members of the Kennedy clan (uncle Teddy).
As his health continued to deteriorate in the years leading to the 2008 presidential election, he made a valiant effort to remain active and to pass on the torch of liberalism to a new generation of Democrats, He and his niece Caroline emphatically endorsed Senator Barack Obama, who went on to become the 44th US President.
Kennedy worked on many pieces of legislation, but his passion as a Senator was in the areas of education and healthcare. He forged partnerships with other lawmakers and was able to earn respect on both sides of the aisle. The book reveals many intimate details of these friendships on Capitol Hill and of Kennedy's family relationships.

2016/05/30 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
(1) Happy Memorial Day: The day we honor the memory of those who fell to protect our freedom.
(2) The sixth annual Parhami Family Reunion was held yesterday in the Los Angeles area with 114 attendees. This gathering, on the Sunday of the Memorial Day Weekend, is becoming a much-cherished family tradition. Next year's 7th annual gathering has already been scheduled.
Group photo taken at the sixth annual Parhami Family Reunion (3) California drought is a hoax: This is the latest musing from Donald Trump, who had previously declared climate change a handiwork of the Chinese, who are trying to make American businesses less competitive.
(4) To Bernie Sanders and his Bernie-or-bust followers: Please remember Ralph Nader's legacy from 2000. Because of Nader, Al Gore lost by razor-thin margins in Florida and New Hampshire, either one of which could have given him the presidency. The consequences: two of history's longest wars, hundreds of thousands dead, a world that is less safe, and an economic collapse.
(5) India's ancient stepwells: These architectural marvels are ponds deep below the ground, whose water can be reached by descending a set of steps.
(6) New York City's sky gardens, complete with lawns and trees, are hidden from street-level views. [Pictorial]

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, 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.
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 toda