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Behrooz Parhami's Blog & Books Page

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Page last updated on 2017 July 27

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

Cover image for Terrence W. Deacon's 'The Symbolic Species' 2017/07/27 (Thursday): Book review: Deacon, Terrence W., The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain, W. W. Norton, 1997.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This impressive book by an imminently qualified brain specialist, who also displays a firm grasp of language acquisition mechanisms and associated disorders, is structured in three parts, each having 4-6 chapters (see the table of contents at the end of this review). At 525 pages, each packed with information, it isn't an easy read but persevering pays out handsomely at the end. One appealing feature of the book is its many helpful diagrams and charts.
Deacon begins Chapter 1 with this wonderful quote from Soren Kierkergaard: "[T]he paradox is the source of the thinker's passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling: a paltry mediocrity."
Deacon's thesis is that a sort of grammar mechanism is hardwired into the human brain, which accounts for the facility with which we learn language. Other species, by contrast, have a very hard time doing so. Many species do develop sophisticated communication systems, but the symbolic nature of human languages, with its immense representational power, is missing from all such schemes. The figure below shows three oft-cited examples of animal communication systems possessing elements that can be likened to a vocabulary. But these systems lack the generality of human language, which requires "symbolic competence" for understanding.
Three species with sophisticated communication skills Having stated his thesis clearly and forcefully, Deacon sets out to methodically describe and argue for the supporting evidence. One key observation is that we should avoid the illusion of progress toward understanding human language acquisition mechanism that results from using more and more precise terminology for what we don't know, rather than actually discovering what is missing. "Linguists have progressively redefined what supposedly cannot be learned in ever more formal and precise terms, and so we may have the feeling that these accounts are approaching closer and closer to an explanation." I have been bothered by a similar phenomenon in astrophysics, where gaps in our knowledge are filled with ill-defined notions such as dark matter, which is, in effect, a way of increasing the mass available in the universe in order to balance our equations, without adding understanding as to why the discrepancy exists to begin with.
In the course of human evolution, language and thinking have become virtually inseparable. "The way that language represents objects, events, and relationships provides a uniquely powerful economy of reference. It offers a means for generating an essentially infinite variety of novel representations, and an unprecedented inferential engine for predicting events, organizing memories, and planning behaviors. It entirely shapes our thinking and the ways we know the physical world. It is so pervasive and inseparable from human intelligence in general that it is difficult to distinguish what aspects of the human intellect have not been molded and streamlined by it."
The reproductive advantages of better language skills are rather obvious, explaining the evolutionary path for human language. Language skills help cooperative behaviors, such the the ability to pass on information about distant food supplies or organizing labor for a hunt. They also lead to more successful social manipulation and deception, such as misleading one's competitors. In fact, it is quite difficult to imagine any human endeavor that would not benefit from better communication.
Despite catchy chapter titles and mostly informal style of writing, this is no popularized science book. Many passages are taxing and require concentration. Nonetheless, the book has my highest recommendation for those who seek to understand human communication and the mechanisms that have evolved over millions of years to support it.
I end this review by listing the book's table of contents.
[One: Language] 1. The Human Paradox. 2. A Loss for Words. 3. Symbols Aren't Simple. 4. Outside the Brain
[Two: Brain] 5. The Size of Intelligence. 6. Growing Apart. 7. A Darwinian Electrician. 8. The Talking Brain. 9. Symbol Minds. 10. Locating Language.
[Three: Co-Evolution] 11. And the Word Became Flesh. 12. Symbolic Origins. 13. A Serendipitous Mind. 14. Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made on.
Notes (19 pp.), Additional Reading (4 pp.), Bibliography (22 pp.), Index (17 pp.).

2017/07/26 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Woman saying no to mandatory hijab laws in Iran Teddy bear and doll leaving dejectedly Photo of young and old hands together (1) Images above, from left to right: No to mandatory hijab [Image credit: Masih Alinejad on Instagram]; Cartoon of the day; Generations.
(2) Sima Bina sings an Iranian folk song in Germany.
(3) Iranian TV program introducing Tehran's Book Garden, the world's largest bookstore: One must add to this description the fact that every book on display at this impressive complex must be government-approved.
(4) The Rosenberg boys: Now in their 70s, Michael and Robbie are the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the spies who were executed in 1953 for passing atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union. Their story is heartbreaking. No family member was willing to take care of them, fearing retribution, so they were sent to an orphange. As adults, they made it their life goal to prove their parents' innocence. Later, they came to the conclusion that their father had indeed been a spy recruiter, but that their mother, though an accessory, had been framed based on false testimony so as to be given the death sentence. [25-minute CBS video]
(5) The good old days: Pan Am 747 economy-class seating in the 1960s.
(6) Neuron and galaxy networks are similar from an information-theoretic viewpoint: "Despite extraordinary differences in substrate, physical mechanisms, and size, the human neuronal network and the cosmic web of galaxies, when considered with the tools of information theory, are strikingly similar."
(7) Scientists turn frustration into political action: Researchers have traditionally eschewed politics, but with Trump administration's hostility toward science, a new brand of Democratic candidates is emerging. Former New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt, a physicist and now chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, indicates that he is fielding more calls from scientists considering running for public office. [Source: Politico] [Rallying cry of scientists-turned-activists: Science not Silence]
(8) Fully electric airplanes are coming: Within 10 years, Wright Electric, a Massachusetts-based start-up, wants to sell electric aircraft that carry 150 passengers on journeys of less than 300 miles, using swappable modular batteries that permit multiple flights per day without recharging. Short-haul flights make up 30 percent of the global market, a chunk valued at $26 billion. Electric jets would be both cheaper and cleaner; EPA estimates that aircraft contribute 8% of all greenhouse gases emitted by America's transportation. [Source: ASEE Prism magazine, issue of September 2017]
(9) Summer film series continues: The 1967 film "You Only Live Twice" was screened at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight as the fourth entry in the James Bond film series. This was the the last of four films shown this summer that feature Sean Connery.

2017/07/25 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Iranian healthcare for the rich/powerful and for the poor (1) Cartoon of the day: Helathcare options for Iranians; top mullahs vs. the rank and file.
(2) Amazon is completing F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished novel: Published in 1941, a year after his death, The Last Tycoon showed all the signs of a rough, unfinished work. Amozon's TV series is much more polished, but it shows little resemblance to the book on which it is purportedly based. [Source: Time magazine, issue of July 31, 2017]
(3) The International Olympiad in Informatics returns to Tehran for its 29th edition. (July 28 to August 4, 2017)
(4) The first hyperloop super-fast transport gets verbal go-ahead for connecting New York, Washington, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The NYC-Washington travel time is estimated to be around 30 minutes.
(5) US Navy ship fires warning shots at Iranian boat in Persian Gulf.
(6) Trump's embarrassing speech to a large gathering of boy scouts: Instead of inspiring them with talk of honesty and trustworthiness, he attacks the press, opponents of his healthcare (I mean, tax cut) bill, and Obama, and elaborates on the life of a businessman who did wild stuff on his yacht.
(7) The death of the shopping mall: As America's malls close down, they take with them not only stores but a good chunk of the American culture. The first enclosed mall in the US, the Southdale Center of Edina, MN, was built in 1956. Mall-building peaked just after the opening of the 4.2M square-foot Mall of America in 1992, reaching the rate of one mall every 2.5 days in the mid 1990s. Shortly afterwards, Amazon and Netflix started the on-line business revolution, leading by the early 2010s to a rapid decline in mall visits. Sears' and K-mart's store closings were followed by downsizing of other brick-and-mortar businesses, as Amazan's share prices soared. [Source: Time magazine, issue of July 31, 2017]
(8) The secret history of the 2016 US election: President Obama came close to calling out the military to guard the vote from a Russian hack. Many reports were coming in that people going to the polls could not vote because their voter registration data had been tampered with and, in quite a few cases, it was verified that hackers had accessed and modified the data. One week before Election Day, the White House went as far as plan for widespread disruptions during actual voting. One unfortunate side effect of the Russian hacking will be diminished confidence of American voters in the integrity of the election process. As new information indicates that the Russian meddling was more serious than initially thought, voter confidence will erode even further. According to post-election studies, the voting systems of 39 states showed forensic evidence of scanning and at least 20 were determined to have been compromised. [Source: Time magazine, issue of July 31, 2017]
(9) Final thought for the day: Must try to remember that the best response to fools is silence. [I keep this English saying, and its nearly identical Persian version, in front of me, to counteract the temptation of responding in kind to certain individuals.]

2017/07/24 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Image: Guide to the Oxymoron Museum (1) Guide to the Oxymoron Museum. [By John Atkinson]
(2) Live-streaming of Sharif Univ. of Technology Assoc.'s memorial for Professor Maryam Mirzakhani: The 2.5-hour proceedings begin at the 10:30 mark of this video.
(3) Hundreds of climate scientists are taking Emmanuel Macron up on his offer of employment in France.
(4) Ceramic implant provides a window into the brain: Developed in a collaboration between Mexican and US scientists (undeterred by talks of a wall and other barriers), the implant helps prevent frequent removals of a portion of the skull to allow the use of a laser beam to treat cancer and traumatic brain injuries.
(5) Here are half-dozen brief international news stories from Time magazine's issue of July 31, 2017:
- Six activists jailed in Turkey: Those imprisoned for alleged links to a terrorist group include Amnesty International's local director.
- A low-caste farmer's son to become India's 14th president: Ran Nath Kovind of the Bharatiya Janata Party is a member of the lowest rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy, historically opposed by higher-caste Hindus. Kovind's presidency is expected to help PM Modi's re-election bid in 2019.
- Iran sentences US graduate student for spying: Xiyue Wang's 10-year sentence was said to result from his "spying under the cover of research" for his dissertation.
- The woman who was photographed wearing a miniskirt in one of Saudi Arabia's conservative towns has been arrested for violating the kingdom's dress code.
- Abuse of German choir boys rampant: Investigation shows that at least 547 members of a Catholic boys' choir in Regensburg, Germany, were physically or sexually abused by church members over seven decades.
- Acid attacks have become a brutal new trend in the UK: Unlike in south Asia, where victims of acid attacks are mostly women, in the UK, two-thirds of the victims have been men, and there is no obvious pattern for law enforcement to use in formulating a response plan.
(6) Here are half-dozen brief Trump-related news stories from various sources:
- Trump lashing out at Republicans in a 2017/07/23 tweet: "It's very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President."
- Trump's business ties to Russia: If a reporter with limited reach into the practices of money-laundering shell companies can unveil so much dirt, imagine how much more the special counsel will discover!
- Forgive our president's grammar in this tweet dissing Jeff Sessions, for he is quite nervous about where the Russia investigations are going: Exposing not just political collusion but also decades of financial dealings with oligarchs and mobsters, who laundered their money through the Trump Organization. It's difficult to sympathize with Jeff Sessions, but talk about back-stabbing a staunch supporter to try to save your own behind!
- WH Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci quotes an anonymous source on TV: The source is later revealed to be Trump himself! Yes, it is absolutely true that the current US President, a former presidential candidate, a rich businessman, a real-estate developer, and a former reality-TV star all think that the Russia probe is a witch hunt!
- Rex Tillerson may quit before the end of the year: He is said to be increasingly frustrated over Trump's unprofessional treatment of AG Jeff Sessions. He has also run into troubles of his own for having violated Russia sanctions while serving as CEO of Exxon Mobil.
- Watch Obama pull out facts and figures to answer Anthony Scaramucci's questions during what appears to be a town hall meeting.
(7) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Mike Mahan (biology; affiliated with UCSB since 1993) presented an interesting talk entitled "People Aren't Petri Dishes: Why Antibiotics Fail" as the final installment of the summer session's series of public lectures. I will miss these wonderful lectures for the rest of the summer, until normal academic seminars resume in fall.
We have all heard of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, the so-called "super-bugs." Since the invention of penicillin in 1929, we have made enormous progress in discovering new and highly effective antibiotics. As we discover new antibiotics, bugs discover, through normal evolutionary adaptation, ways of becoming immune to them. It's a race between us humans and the bugs we are trying to defeat, which is quite natural and unavoidable. However, there are two things that we have been doing, and continue to do, wrong. One is overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals that has accelerated the development of super-bugs, now exceeding 2 million varieties. The second, which was the focus of Professor Mahan's talk, is the standard in-vitro testing of the effectiveness of antibiotics.
Research has shown that bacteria behave differently in-vitro and in-vivo, which has two consequences. When the standard AST test indicates that an antibiotic is effective for a particular infection, it may not be very effective inside our bodies, and, conversely, when the test shows it to be ineffective, it may in fact work in-vivo. Interestingly, there are small changes we can make to the in-vitro tests to vastly reduce the mismatch. For example, adding material normally found in the human body (urine, feces, and, in some instances the cheap, lowly baking soda) to the testing environment can make the tests much more accurate in their predictive power. This also gives rise to a hope that antibiotics previously ruled out as ineffective, and already-existing synthesized compounds owned by pharmaceutical companies, may become usable with more accurate tests.

2017/07/23 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Meme showing 'WE ARE SISTERS' morph into 'RESIST' Sign of the times at a bookstore Photo of Mona Lisa statue and the artist (1) Brief descriptions for the images above, from left to right, are presented in what follows.
- Kudos to women for this smart meme: WE A[RE SIST]ERS
- Sign of the time at a bookstore: Post-Apocalyotic Fiction has been moved to our Current Affair section.
- This Mona Lisa statue, by Tabrizi sculptor Ahad Hosseini, was exhibited in Paris more than two decades ago.
(2) Everyone enjoys music and understands this wonderful universal language, regardless on his/her physical or mental abilities. Kudos to Leonardo Barcellos who brought joy to this group of children.
(3) A gathering of Disney cartoon princesses: I guess it's actresses voicing those characters!
(4) The US sides with Qatar: Saudi Arabia and UAE come to regret their failed blockade of Qatar. The US State Department and national-security apparatus support Qatar, despite our clueless president taking the side of Saudi Arabia.
(5) This morning on CNN's "State of the Union": The new WH Communications Director is just as clueless as his predecessors. He is a smoother talker, but in substance, he is ill-informed, avoids answering questions directly, and blindly backs every Trump position (even contradictory ones). He went into a tailspin when asked why Trump's position on the Russian meddling is different from those of every other part of the US government.
(6) Quote of the day: "Mr. President, I demand you do your duty and insult me. Please?" ~ Joel Stein, Time magazine's humor columnist, feeling insignificant and left out, because Trump has not once threatened, mocked, discredited, or belittled him
(7) Hidden data harvesting: You are very kind. You are highly intelligent. Your friends adore you. You look like Audrey Hepburn. These are just some of the flattering outcomes of personality quizzes and similarity comparisons. They flatter you, because they want you and your friends to click on the links again. Meanwhile, with each click, you are making your personal FB data available to a stranger, who is at best someone selling stuff and at worst a scammer who will sell or otherwise abuse your personal information. This NBC-2 story contains useful hints to keep you safe. I'd go further and suggest that you avoid all such click baits.
(8) Musings of a grand ayatollah, immortalized on a wall in Iran: Pay frequent visits to imamzadehs (religious shrines purported to be burial sites for children of imams), for each has its own unique properties and effects [in granting your wishes], just as fruit varieties offer different vitamins.
(9) The worst of the worst in the medical profession: FBI has charged 412 healthcare workers, including 56 physicians, for prescribing medically unnecessary opioids, endangering many lives and collectively defrauding the government of $1.3 billion. [Source: Time magazine, issue of July 31, 2017]

Cover image of Jane Mayer's book 'Dark Money' 2017/07/22 (Saturday): Book review: Mayer, Jane, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, unabridged autiobook on 14 CDs, read by Kristen Potter, Random-House Audio, 2016.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Two events in 1980 gave a new hope to US Republicans, who had not controlled either chamber of the Congress or a majority in state legislatures for a quarter century. One was the election of Ronald Reagan as president. The other was Charles and David Koch, super-rich oil businessmen, deciding to begin spending large chunks of their fortune on electing conservatives at all levels of the US government. The strategy doggedly pursued by the Koch brothers for decades bore fruit in 2010, when the Republicans dominated state legislatures and governorships.
Jane Mayer is a staff writer for The New Yorker, who spent five years expanding an article she wrote about the Koch family into this meticulously researched book. The author has used hundreds of sources across the political spectrum, from conservative campaign operatives to liberal political opponents who were targeted by the expansive Koch network. A great deal of what Mayer has penned was already known, but her systematic and detailed presentation ties all the puzzle pieces together and offers new insight into how the conservatives rose from the ashes to control many governance positions and instruments, both nationally and locally.
By spending money on think tanks, advocacy groups with names that sound as American as apple pie (such as "Americans for Prosperity," which opposes climate-change research), funded faculty positions, and similar presumably non-political mechanisms, the Koch brothers avoid limitations on their contributions. Money pouring in from the Koch brothers and like-mined conservatives has allowed them to create a parallel power center rivaling the Republican establishment. Political candidates compete for the attention of these funding sources.
Whether this rise of conservatism represents a hijacking of our democratic system or a return to the roots of this nation as conceived by our founding fathers depends on one's political leanings. At the root of the debate, which has raged in our legal system, going all the way up to the US Supreme Court, is whether spending money is a form of free speech and, thus, whether corporations should have a say in the democratic process. For me, personally, the corrupting influence of money in politics is beyond doubt, whether the money comes from organized labor or from PACs formed around specific political goals.
This book, and its underlying research, leaves no doubt that the rich have succeeded in circumventing the notion of one-person-one-vote, for even though we still go to the polls as individuals to cast our votes, we (who organize locally around small causes that are dear to us) are no match for the vast sums of money, which pay the salaries of high-powered political operatives and fund extensive misinformation campaigns. This book was written before Donald Trump became president, but we now see that the same strategies used by domestic multi-billionaires are also available to our foreign foes, who can perhaps achieve their goals with much less money, to damage our democratic system.
In the age of big data, it isn't difficult to discover, given enough money and other resources, which buttons to push for getting the votes of specific voter blocs. Money buys you access to the airwaves and newspaper pages. It can even buy you your own news channels and newspapers. Taking advantage of our fragmented society, these private communication empires can lock in vast numbers of voters and then look around for on-the-fence voters to attract via carefully-planted fake stories.
To reclaim our democratic system, we have a lot of work to do. The starting point is becoming informed, via books such as this one, of how money influences our (traditional or new-age) media and the way important stories are covered. Next comes reducing the degree of fragmentation that has led to each group listening to or reading only the media that are aligned with their biases.

2017/07/21 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Persian calligraphy, rendered in the shape of a horse (1) Persian calligraphic art: Maece Seirafi's Pointillist Zoomorphic Horse (pen and ink), 2014.
(2) How well do you know the shapes of US states? This Time magazine interactive site allows you to draw each state, be graded on the accuracy of your depiction, and see a US map with the states as you drew them.
(3) Coffee, anyone? I bought these Eight O'Clock beans last month from and have been quite satisfied with them. I paid about half the price of similar Starbucks products for the bag, but prices do vary and I may have hit a promotion or something. Walmart carries the brand as well. Of course, coffee preferences are quite personal, but I thought I should pass on my experience to friends.
(4) Santa Barbara area news: The Whittier fire is now 83% contained. Fire crews have begun studying the already burned areas to see what needs to be done to prevent mudslides, on both sides of the mountains, in the upcoming rainy season. Meanwhile, according to Los Angeles Times, a great white shark bit into a man's kayak, causing beach closure in Santa Barbara on Thursday.
(5) Seems like Iranian women will never be tamed to the satisfaction of the ruling mullahs: There are reports that certain elements of the Islamic regime are floating trial balloons about repealing the mandatory hijab laws (stealthily, of course, like the Facebook page which shows women exercising their freedoms stealthily, for the said regime elements do not dare to openly oppose the top mullah). If this happens, it will be but a small step toward full equality, but an important symbolic victory for women (and men who believe in "Woman = Man"). [Persian version of this item]
(6) Fasten your seat belts, because America is headed full-speed toward a constitutional crisis! Here are some of the latest developments:
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions was dissed, but he is hanging on to his job.
- White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was fired.
- Special Counsel Robert Mueller was threatened with firing.
- Trump is considering pardoning his family and himself.
- Trump is demanding that the Senate vote on healthcare.
- Many GOPers hate Trumpcare but are afraid of voting no.
(7) A letter from the imprisoned Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi: They say that in this wretched land, one cannot be both a mother and a defender of human rights, as one choice negates the other. Love of family and idealism cannot coexist; you should choose between them. And this advice comes not only from interrogators, who use your womanhood and motherhood as tools of oppression and psychological torture, and not just from certain men who are eager to limit you and urge you to stay within your bounds, but also from some women. [Full letter, in Persian]
(8) Cinema under the stars: Tonight, "Goldfinger" (1964), the third film in this summer's James Bond series (and the third of four featuring Sean Connery) was screened under the auspices of UCSB Arts & Lectures at the Courthouse Sunken Garden. The weather was perfect for the well-attended outdoors cinema event.
(9) Final thought for the day: Today marks the end of 6 months of Trump's presidency. Here is what he has done so far, according to CNN:
Number of tweets: 991 | Days spent golfing at Trump properties: 40 | Major pieces of legislation passed: 0

2017/07/20 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cover image for Lisa Scottoline's 'Most Wanted' (1) Book review: Scottoline, Lisa, Most Wanted, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Julia Whelan, McMillan Audio, 2016.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
A teacher opts for retirement when she finds out she is pregnant after trying for 3 years with artificial insemination. She and her husband are looking forward to the arrival of the baby, until the woman accidentally finds out during her retirement party that the sperm donor may be a serial killer. Catching a glimpse of a CNN breaking-news report about the arrest of a suspect in multiple murders, she notices strong similarities between the suspect and the sperm-donor photos the couple had been shown.
This discovery, early in the story, generates a vast array of emotions and actions. The woman sets out to discover whether the accused is actually the biological father of her baby. The husband considers legal action against the sperm bank for inadequate psychological screening of donors. The events that ensue create a rift between the couple, which they try to work out, while also dealing with the horrible possibility of having a serial killer as their child's biological father.
Scottoline does a good job of discussing the myriad of challenges that such a critical life event would unleash. Is the suspect guilty? Is the suspect really sperm donor 3319? What would they do if the suspect were the donor and turned out to be a serial killer? Is it really the case that the tendency to commit crime is genetic?
All in all, Most Wanted is an interesting and well-crafted mystery, with a wealth of commentary on social and marital issues.
(2) Scientist-turned-whistleblower under an anti-science administration. [Washington Post story]
(3) Poetry meets film: Here are four examples of cinematic-review haikus by Brad Novicoff.
- "The Birds": Sinister events | Defying explanation | Yep, that's the '60s
- "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel": Drop these seasoned pros | In a Barstow Best Western | They'd still be smashing
- "Boyhood": The flesh betrays us | But the spirit within it | Stays largely constant
- "Once Upon a Time in the West": Revenge can take time | But harmonica playing | Eases the waiting
(4) Persian music: A wonderful performance on ghanoon and daf. [1-minute video]
(5) Fake news, Iranian style: The latest story running in Iran about the late Professor Maryam Mirzakhani is that she was poisoned ("biologically assassinated") to prevent her from returning to Iran. Of course, no one here in the US believes this fake story (okay, maybe certain Trump supporters think that this act would have been a genius national-security move), but many Iranians do believe that the West cannot bear to see a successful Iranian or Muslim, as she was earlier portrayed in the media, who isn't in their service. Apparently, some so-called conservatives in Iran could not bear to see a woman dominate the news, along with her real and PhotoShopped images gracing the front pages of many newspapers, even if just for a few days. So, they decided to smear her memory by fake headlines and conspiracy theories. Professor Mirzakhani's family is indignant that amid their mourning, they have to answer questions about these fake stories. They say that she had no intention whatsoever to return to Iran and that they saw up-close the valiant efforts of physicians and other medical workers to save Maryam's life.
(6) Today's concert in the park: Playing at Santa Barbara's Chase Palm Park on a gorgeous, spring-like afternoon was Crooked Eye Tommy, a band whose style is described as "SoCal original blues." The crowd was smaller than usual, perhaps because, with the band playing original material, there were no recognizable tunes and no sing-along possibility. I photographed a few sights around the park during the intermission, including a fountain with four directional signs etched in the concrete around it that provide interesting geographical facts to the visitors. The "E" direction lists Zardak, Iran, as being exactly halfway around the world from the park (12,450 miles). [Video #1] [Video #2] [Video #3] [Video #4] [Video #5]

2017/07/19 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Portrait of the late Maryam Mirzakhani, made from numbers (1) Basking in Maryam Mirzakhani's glow: Suddenly, everyone is praising the math genius and trying to get some attention or claim some credit in the aftermath of her passing. One by one, Iranian politicians with dismal records in the area of women's rights and unwillingness to help with Maryam's specific personal problems arising from her marrying a non-Muslim foreigner, shed crocodile tears and boast about the honors she had bestowed upon her motherland. The mourners and philosophizers include Abdolkarim Soroush, a key member of Iran's Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution in the early 1980s. Yes, people do change, but I have a hard time accepting Soroush's change of heart, having witnessed first-hand the destruction he and his ilk created at Iranian universities. He has never apologized for his role in the purges and atmosphere of terror of the early 1980s, when I was a professor at Sharif University of Technology (also, Maryam's alma mater; of course, she was only a child then). Iran's universities suffered through much indignity, including three years of full closure, under the guise of Cultural Revolution. Establishing a religious litmus test for university admissions and denying education to certain groups like the Baha'is are direct results of the way of thinking he promulgated. [Persian version of this co mmentary on Facebook]
(2) A country that drives its experts away: Maryam Mirzakhani's passing has brought renewed attention to the case of Ghassem Exiri-Fard, one of Maryam's contemporaries and her teammate in science/math competitions. Exiri-Fard, a physicist who returned to Iran to pursue an academic career, was denied employment by the Ministry of Science, on the grounds that his feminine voice would be a distraction to students. So far, he has persevered and has not left his homeland, but he is running out of options for authorities and institutions to contact to intervene for reversing this absurd decision.
(3) My afternoon walk, yesterday: I snapped these photos along the path of my invigorating walk during Tuesday's breezy afternoon. The Devereux Slough is now more or less dry, holding water only in the section closest to the ocean.
(4) The swamp stinks more with each pick: Science-Bible story writer tapped to head important EPA office.
(5) Persian poetry: A verse from Sa'eb Tabrizi, with this rough translation.
When you are mistaken, do exhibit regret | For lack of contrition is but a second error
(6) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Jean Carlson of our Department of Physics presented an interesting talk entitled "Complexity and Robustness: How Biology, Ecology, and Technology Balance Trade-offs in an Uncertain World" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. Professor Carlson's work on complex systems spans neuroscience, immunology, earthquake physics, deformations, and ecology. In the latter area, she has been working on modeling wildfires and associated prevention and response measures. With the Whittier fire still raging in our area after a week, this topic was quite timely. Like many complex systems, natural and technological disasters follow the power-law, meaning that there are a very small number of extreme disasters and gradually increasing numbers of smaller disasters, leading to a straight line on the log-log plot of the frequency-versus-impact distribution. The same pattern is observed for natural disasters, technological disasters, and even blackouts. Professor Carlson looked at trade-offs between robustness and fragility that occur in biological, ecological, and technological systems that are driven by design, evolution, or other sorting processes to high-performance states which are also tolerant to uncertainty in the environment and components. This leads to specialized, modular, hierarchical structures, often with enormous "hidden" complexity, with new sensitivities to unknown or neglected perturbations and design flaws. Taking the case of the human immune system as am example, one notes that it adapts to illnesses and develops specializations in dealing with previously encountered threats, but this specialization may make it more vulnerable to new illnesses. Such systems are robust, yet fragile! Understanding these trade-offs gives insights for environmental policy, healthcare, and technologies. [Professor Jean Carlson's Web site]
(7) IEEE Central Coast Section meeting: After eating pizza at the Goleta Rusty's located on Calle Real, we were treated to a talk entitled "Big Bang: Creation of the Universe" by Dr. Brian Williams. In the one-hour-plus talk, Dr. Williams began by discussing our knowledge of what happened during the first 10 seconds or so after the Big Bang: a lot it seems, with much of it happening over the initial microsecond, itself divided into the first picosecond, which led to the quark epoch, and the remainder, when electrons, protons, and neutrons emerged. I keep attending talks and reading books about the Big Bang, and astrophysics in general, until I develop some understanding of what is going on in our universe. At the rate my understanding is developing, it will take many more lectures and books! An interesting chart shown by Dr. Williams indicates that in the first 50,000 years after Big Bang, radiation density dominated, but then matter became dominant. At around 10 billion years, dark energy surpassed matter in density. The second (oval) diagram shows temperature fluctuations in the universe from the cosmic microwave background. The variation is actually tiny and amounts to about 0.0002 K.

2017/07/18 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Verses by Bidel Dehlavi and Mowlavi/Rumi (1) Persian poetry: The image shows a verse by Bidel Dehlavi on top, followed by three verses from a poem by Mowlavi (Rumi). In the latter verses, the master plays on the fact that milk and lion share the same word ("sheer") in Persian and counsels that one should not view similar-sounding/looking things as identical. Then, he employs his linguistic genius to describe the differences between milk and lion in a way that actually makes them appear more similar! Looking up the latter poem on-line, I noticed that it is written in several different forms. The second and third verses shown here don't even appear in some versions. I chose the version that sounded best to me. Now that I am on the subject of poetry, let me share here a couple of love quatrains (left and center in this image), inspired by a Rumi love quatrain (right in the same image).
(2) A dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- US teen birth rate at all-time low, dropping 9% from 2015 to 2016 (Time)
- Pet obesity: About one-third of all cats and dogs in America are too heavy (Time)
- Qatar imports cows from Germany to circumvent blockade by neighbors (Time)
- China to block VPNs used to bypass Internet censorship, starting in 2018 (Time)
- Afghan girls' robotics team allowed into US for competition after reversal (PBS)
- Winnie the Pooh banned in China, after cartoons use the bear to depict Li (Time)
- A California teenager won the scratch-off lottery prize twice in one week (Time)
- Russia talks revenge against the US, after talks end without deal (Reuters)
- Woman calling police to report noise killed by responding officer (Newsweek)
- Trump very upset over the US Senate's failure to pass Trumpcare bill (PBS)
- Support for impeaching Trump higher now than it was for Nixon (Newsweek)
- Turkey has agreed to buy missile defense system from Russia (Business Insider)
(3) US Congresswomen stand for the right to bare arms: Their sleeveless Friday movement is meant to ridicule an archaic dress code resurrected by Paul Ryan. [Photo credit: BBC]
(4) Saudi Arabia is indignant about a woman's photo on Snapchat: She was photographed walking around a fort in the village of Ushaiger. [Photo]
(5) Taking a cue from Sean Spicer, Bill Clinton hides behind the Bushes. [Photo]
(6) The secret life of USC's former med school dean: Carmen A. Puliafito, a Harvard-educated eye surgeon, resigned mid-semester to pursue "outside opportunities." However, weeks earlier a young woman had overdosed in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room. The LA Times investigative team has found photos and videos from his drug-laden parties with young addicts.
(7) [Final thought for the day] What a callous stance: The President of the United States, unhappy that he failed to fulfill his campaign promise on ACA repeal, threatens to let the country's healthcare system (under the existing ACA law) collapse to take revenge on Democrats and the few Republicans who disagreed with him. He is playing with the well-being of millions of Americans as if they were a few worthless poker chips! This morally bankrupt president will no doubt destroy our country if allowed.

2017/07/17 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Reports of Maryam Mirzakhani's passing in Iranian newspapers (1) Reactions to Maryam Mirzakhani's passing in Iran: The Fields Medalist's photo graced the front pages of many newspapers, in some case without the legally-mandated hijab. An official memorial gathering will take place in Tehran tomorrow. [Image: The Guardian]
(2) Seeing and hearing Maryam Mirzakhani teach: Never having seen or heard her lecture, this video, containing a bit of a lecture in normal speed and the rest played at high speed, piqued my interest.
(3) Honoring Maryam: Mahtab Haghighi, an opera singer and a cousin of the late mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, sang "Jaan-e Maryam" ("Beloved Maryam") for her a day before she passed away.
(4) The Iranian regime's predictable abuse of the memory of mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani: By stating that she chose to pursue mathematics rather than feminism, regime apologists are attacking women activists, despite the fact that many such women have other accomplishments besides being feminists and activists.
Mirzakhani was the practical embodiment of feminism, having climbed to the top of her field, despite, not because of, her upbringing and education in Iran. Sharif University of Technology attracts the very top students in the country, whose raw intelligence and talent, more than the education they receive, are causes of their success. In a number of official photos taken after Mirzakhani's victories in international math competitions, she looked unhappy, while male officials in the photos were all smiles in the glow of her accomplishments.
Some reader comments on official government media Web sites in Iran blame "the Zionist regime" for her death and suggest that her daughter Anahita should be returned to Iran to be raised by her grandparents, rather than grow up with a step-mom. (These are actual comments, seriously!)
Iranian news sources (with a handful of exceptions) either did not include a photo of Mirzakhani in stories covering her passing or else used very old photos of her wearing a hijab, employed drawings, cropped a photo to show only her face and no hair, or PhotoShopped a hijab on her.
Here is an account of how Mirzakhani has been portrayed in Iranian media over the years.
(5) The secret life of USC's former med school dean: Carmen A. Puliafito, a Harvard-educated eye surgeon, resigned mid-semester to pursue "outside opportunities." However, weeks earlier a young woman had overdosed in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room. The LA Times investigative team has found photos and videos from his drug-laden parties with young addicts.
(6) US Congress votes to recognize climate change as a national security threat: The Republican House considers military bases from Virginia to Guam to be threatened by rising sea levels.
(7) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Rod Garratt of our Department of Economics presented an interesting talk entitled "From Bitcoin to Central Bank Digital Currencies" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. Bitcoin is built based on past experience with DigiCash, an early system allowing anonymous deposits to bank accounts, and several other innovations, including PayPal and Venmo. Bitcoin is a trustless system, in the sense that no one controls it. Bitcoin's autonomy and anonymity appeal to libertarians, who would like to get rid of central bank authority. In countries such as the US, where the public trusts the banks, Bitcoin does not offer much utility. However, in certain countries, particularly those in Africa, digital currencies are all the rage and the one used most (mPesa) dwarfs Bitcoin in terms of growth (see diagram). Given the significant rise in the value of Bitcoin, which now stands at more than $2000, countries around the world are exploring the benefits of issuring crypto-based central bank digital currencies. There exist many alternative crypto-currencies and it is not clear whether Bitcoin will survive or one of the so-called "alt-coins" will prevail in future. [Good 24-minute tutorial on Bitcoin]
[P.S.: On the way to Hatlin Theater, I snapped these beautiful photos of the campus lagoon, with fog over the ocean in the background.]

2017/07/16 (Sunday): Book review: Rosenthal, Elisabeth, An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Nancy Linari, Penguin, 2017.
Cover image of the audiobook 'An American Sickness' [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book consists of two parts. In Part 1, the symptoms of the American healthcare's sickness are enumerated. Part 2 deals with diagnosis and treatment. To review the symptoms, Dr. Rosenthal formulates economic rules of our dysfunctional medical market:
- More treatment is always better
- A lifetime of treatment is preferable to a cure
- Amenities and marketing matter more than good care
- As technologies age, prices can rise rather than fall
- There is no free choice; patients are stuck
- More competitors does not mean lower prices
- Economies of scale do not translate to lower prices
- There is no fixed price for a procedure or test
- There are no standards for what can/should be billed
- Prices will rise to whatever the market will bear
Rosenthal then systematically presents examples of each rule in action and shows how, as active patients, we can tame or abolish these unreasonable rules. In the interim, just being engaged in and informed about your treatment goes a long way toward avoiding some of the most egregious abuses on the part of healthcare providers and big pharma. For example, you can challenge referrals to out-of-network specialists, which typically lead to much greater out-of-pocket payments.
Our hospitals have begun to look like luxury hotels, with displayed art and "free" amenities that are anything but free. Having built excess capacity over the past few years, such luxury hospitals have developed a variety of despicable practices to keep the occupancy rate high. Many of our largest hospitals are not-for-profit, which means they cannot show profit on their books. So, they have resorted to adding facilities and increasing executive compensation and bonuses to consume the leftover cash.
While there are many hardworking doctors and nurses in our healthcare system, there are many more who have learned to game the system in order to maximize income for their institutions and for themselves. Kickbacks on prescribing expensive medications and procedures on the part of doctors and bonuses for cost-savings through not prescribing, or denying insurance payment for, other critically needed services are among worrisome traits in our system.
Healthcare systems of European countries, Canada, and Australia are often disparaged by our politicians and those who benefit from the current disarray. Yet, objective data indicate that those countries have succeeded in keeping a lid on healthcare costs, while providing services and achieving end results that are at least as good as ours.
Analyses of cost-effectiveness of procedures and drugs are totally lacking within our healthcare system, whereas other countries have successfully implemented such comparisons. For a new drug to be approved in the US, for example, all its manufacturer has to demonstrate is an advantage over placebo treatment. There is no requirement to show benefits over already-established, and thus much cheaper, drugs, with their generic varieties already available.
Then there is the abhorrent practice of marketing drugs directly to patients, rather than to medical professionals. For example, the drug HETLIOZ (tasimelteon), purportedly targeting blind people with a kind of circadian rhythm disorder known as "non-24," is widely advertised on TV and other media. The number of patients in the target category is so small, that these ads make no economic sense on the surface. However, the manufacturer is implicity pushing for the drug to be prescribed for other patients with sleep problems, even though it costs tens of times more than widely available, and quite effective, sleep medications.
The book's appendices contain a wealth of useful information, including various calculators for learning about fair prices of common medical procedures and drugs and for comparing healthcare providers. Making such comparison-shopping very difficult is the fact that, because of increasing consolidation of hospitals and other healthcare providers, many regions do not have effective competition for exploitation by patients.
There is a lot of very useful information in this book, which makes it difficult for me to try to provide a reasonable summary of all the key points. In this review, I have tried to present a few of the more interesting/important observations. I highly recommend that you read or listen to this book for yourself, perhaps more than once.

2017/07/15 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani has passed away (1) Professor Maryam Mirzakhani [1977-2017]: News of her hospitalization had been all over the social media. Unfortuantely, it seems that she has lost her battle with cancer at age 40. A talented mathematician affiliated with Stanford University, Mirzakhani was the first woman and the first person of Iranian origins to have won mathematics' most prestigious award, the Fields Medal. It is quite sad for mathematics, and science in general, to have lost such a brilliant member of the community, who could have contributed many more important results in the course of a full career. Her mind-boggling success, in the face of difficult conditions for women in Iran, which eventually led to her immigration to the US, is a testament to her smarts, determination, and resilience. May she rest in peace!
[Mother, wife, and daughter: When brilliant scientific minds pass, we mourn the loss to science and to society. Let's not forget Professor Maryam Mirzakhani's loved ones, who are experiencing an even greater loss from her untimely death at age 40. Our hearts go out to them.]
(2) The true story of a family's slave, as told by a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist. [From The Atlantic]
(3) Russian hackers don't just target politicians: Ordinary citizens like us are in their cross-hairs as well. They are trying to cause discord by spreading disinformation on anything, from medical treatments to cheesecake recipes. Like everything else blamed on Russia, Trump supporters are crying "fake news" and "witch hunt," but the article's contents make sense, when viewed in the light of Russia's embarrassing economy, further wrecked by Western sanctions. [WSJ article]
(4) Joke of the day: [Or, is it really a joke?] A man went to a sage to ask how he can discover his faults for the sake of self-improvement. "It's easy, my son," the sage began. "Tell your wife one of her faults, and she will voice not just a complete list of your faults but also those of your family, friends, and acquaintances."
(5) Cartoon of the day: Messing with the teacher. [Image]
(6) This week's Time magazine cover image: The hunt for Russia ties is bearing fruit.
(7) Promoting common humanity, peace, and love: Message on a T-shirt. [Photo]
(8) Data science may unlock the secrets of mental illness: According to a cover feature in IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of July 2017, digital psychology will revolutionize the treatment of depression, schizophrenia, and many other disorders. Computers are excellent in connecting the dots, when armed with a wealth of data from your smartphone's wi-fi/GPS (tracking social rhythms), accelerometer/gyroscope (physical activity), light sensor (sleep environment), camera (facial expressions), heart-rate sensor (increased anxiety), touchscreen (response time), and microphone (tone of voice and ambient social environment). [Cover image]
(9) Beware of bullshit: Years ago, I read an article by Harry Frankfurt (Princeton) entitled "On Bullshit," which though in part humorous, expounded on the perils of a society filled with false information. Now, a serious academic department at University of Washington is offering a 1-credit seminar, entitled "Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data" which will allow scientists to spot misguided or dishonest scientific claims. The on-line course syllabus contains links to a wealth of sources on the topic. I can't wait to pursue some of the sources!

2017/07/14 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
A math equation to solve for x (1) Math puzzle: A problem, really. And responding that x is an unknown in the equation doesn't count as an answer! Once you solve the problem, consider the more general case when the two instances of 15 in the equation are replaced by an arbitrary known value n.
(2) Fake news augmented with imaginary news: This "Christian" "prophet" claims that Trump has secretly imprisoned 3000 elite pedophiles and that Hillary Clinton is next on that list. It is frightening that such trash has readers/listeners in our country.
(3) Iran's newest robot is a dancing humanoid: Dubbed "Surena-mini," the 50-cm-tall robot was built by a team of researchers at University of Tehran, led by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Aghil Yousefi-Koma, to serve as a convenient platform for robotics research.
(4) Kellyanne Conway should update her signs: Cross out "illusion" and "delusion" and uncross "collusion"!
(5) Cartoon of the day: Pig Latin. [Image]
(6) A page from the history of computing: In 1973, Loving Grace Cybernetics, a group of computer enthusiasts in Berkeley, CA, set up terminals connected to a computer via a modem. The public was invited to read a bulletin board, carrying info on apartment rentals, music lessons, and so on, for free or post a listing for $0.25.
(7) Chinese scientists claim to have teleported an object from earth to a satellite 300 miles above. The object was a single photon, which was teleported based on the quantum entanglement principle.
(8) California central-coast fires are still raging: We had more ash-fall today in our area. The Whittier fire near Santa Barbara has spread to 13,000 acres, with only 52% containment, and it has injured 5 firefighters. At 29,000 acres, the Alamo fire further to the north is larger but is reportedly 92% contained.
(9) Whittier fire late-afternoon update: Shopping at Trader Joe's today, I snapped a photo of this fire map outside the store and listened to a detailed briefing by a fire ranger. The fire started behind the mountains to the north of us, but it quickly went over the ridge and started descending on the south side, toward the ocean. The Xs on the map mark locations (mostly ridges) were bulldozers have removed or are removing vegetation, to stop the fire from moving into densely populated areas. Once vegetation has been removed, firefighters may decide to start backfires that would move toward the fire boundary (shown in dark orange on the map), so as to deprive the spreading fire of new fuel. Unfortunately, sundowner winds predicted for tonight make any backfire quite hazardous, as wind-carried sparks can move a mile or more to start new fires. New evacuation areas were announced as we stood listening to these explanations. I also took this photo from the intersection of Calle Real and Fairview, showing the thick smoke/ash cloud over Goleta that has made air quality quite poor.

2017/07/13 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about DT Jr. getting some dirt on Hillary Clinton (1) Cartoon of the day: He got some dirt all right!
(2) Iranian diva Googoosh talks about her childhood. [Interview]
(3) US mass killings over four decades: This chart covers the 40-year period 1976-2015, with partial data for 2016. Contrary to conventional wisdom that mass killings are getting much worse, the data shows fairly stable averages, when adjusted for population growth. The federal assault weapons ban led to a slight reduction in averages, and its lifting produced an uptick, as expected.
(4) The Russian connection: Trump, Putin, and other shady characters in the newly revealed secret meeting between DT Jr. and a Russian attorney with ties to Putin. [Image from CNN]
(5) Political humor: The White House denies any ties to the United States. "In a fiercely defiant statement on Tuesday, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, denied that any member of the White House staff has ever worked 'in any way, shape, or form' for the benefit of the United States. Angrily addressing the press corps, Spicer said that any allegations that members of the Trump Administration have ever acted in concert or collusion with the United States are 'unequivocally false.'" [Full story]
(6) Trump's personal lawyer assumes his client's persona: He sends a number of expletive-ridden e-mails to a woman correspondent.
(7) Trump in France: A French reporter challenges Trump by quoting his earlier claim that a friend told him Paris is no longer Paris and that no one goes there any more. Trump responds that under their great new President, France will be okay and that people will go there. Insincere flattery saves the day for him; sort of!
(8) Concert in the park: The Hollywood Stones, a Rolling Stones tribute band, performed at Chase Palm Park this evening. ["Paint It Black"] ["Honky Tonk Woman"] ["You Can't Always Get What You Want"] ["Jumping Jack Flash"] ["It's Only Rock and Roll"] The large crowd of Stones' fans in the park included teenagers, octogenarians, and all ages in between. During the intermission, I walked to Santa Barbara's Rainbow Gate on Cabrillo Blvd. and photographed it from various angles. On the way back from the highly enjoyable concert, I photographed a restaurant along Cabrillo Blvd., on a stretch where huge tourist buses line up to let the passengers take a stroll or dine.
(9) Final thought for the day: Those who tried to teach us for decades to hate Russia are now hating us for being critical of Russia.

2017/07/12 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
The amazing nature: A tree within a tree (1) The amazing nature: A tree within a tree.
(2) A "Fig & Quince" Persian podcast: The story of a foodie Kermanshahi girl, who is good-natured, intelligent, street-smart, a software engineer, and a twin. She is full of energy and can eat several meals at once, without losing her slim figure.
(3) Quote of the day: "It will soon come to this: Either Trump goes down forever in disgrace, or America does. You pick, GOP." ~ George Takei
(4) The power of a free press: Donald Trump vastly misjudged the power of our country's free press when he decided to pick a fight with this established pillar of our democracy. Backstabbing and crossing people has consequences and those wronged will inevitably try to get even (hence, leaks coming out of the White House). A real-estate developer can survive such behavior working with small contractors and business partners, because the power of the said parties is limited when they air their grievances. They can go to the press (and many did), but interest in their stories is limited. The same behavior from a president is quite different, especially when the said president constantly hammers the press with fake-news and other allegations. This is why dictators target the press before dealing with any other adversary. And in today's world of instant connectivity, taking on the press is doomed to failure.
(5) What the world would look like if all the ice melted: A rise of 216 ft (~ 30 m) in sea level would submerge vast coastal areas, as shown in this series of maps.
(6) Art in the spotlight: Indigenous Australian art, projected on the Sydney Opera House. [Photo]
(7) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez of our Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology and Marine Science Institute presented an interesting talk entitled "Ocean Acidification and Other Stories—Overcoming Climate Anxiety at a Time of Global Crisis" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. According to Dr. Iglesias-Rodriguez, oceans are highly stressed by the world's 7.5 billion humans. As ocean acidification, pollution, and deoxygenation continue at a rapid pace, marine animals and plants must quickly adapt to warmer and more corrosive environments. One reason for ocean acidification is increased CO2 levels, which automatically balances with the level in the air in a relatively short time period (months). So, when atmospheric CO2 level rises, so does the ocean's. We are understandably anxious about sustainability of our oceans for recreation and as a source of food. It is therefore incumbent upon us to ameliorate current ocean problems and eventually return them to a sustainable state.
(8) The second installment of the James Bond film series: For this week, I decided to forego the outdoors Friday night screening at the Courthouse Sunken Garden in favor of the indoors Wednesday night version at Campbell Hall. The film this week was the very topical "From Russia With Love," with all of its intriguing collusion stories! It was interesting to hear the audience laugh in scenes that were not meant to be funny! These scenes typically contained cheesy or sexist dialog.
(9) Final thought for the day: G-20 is not G-19.5 (19 adults and one child).

2017/07/11 (Tuesday): Here are four interesting images and nine other items of potential interest.
PhotoShopped image made from combining two famous paintings Calligraphic rendering of a Persian poem Looking back in time, in a single photo Girl and photobombing horse in Disneyland? (1) [Cartoon of the day, on Trump and Putin meeting] Trump: "He 'gets' me!" Putin: "I've GOT him." [Image]
(2) Joke of the day: A little boy was told to study the geography of Iran's neighboring countries for an exam. He didn't spend much time on his assignment and managed to learn only the details about Pakistan. On exam day, he was asked about Turkey, which he had not studied and knew nothing about. So, he answered thus: Turkey is a neighbor of Iran and Iran is a neighbor of Pakistan. And now about Pakistan, ... [My sister reminded me about this old joke in connection with certain people who have a few talking points that they repeat on every Facebook post, regardless of the topic.]
(3) The US President takes on Chelsea Clinton on Twitter and lives to regret his rant! [Image of tweets]
Trump @realDonaldTrump: "If Chelsea Clinton were asked to hold the seat for her mother, as her mother gave our country away, the Fake News would say CHELSEA FOR PRES!"
Shauna @goldengateblond: "Chelsea Clinton has a PhD in international relations from Oxford. She's more qualified to be in that seat than your entire family. Combined."
(4) The witch hunt is closing in on the witches: Someone said that DT Jr.'s explanation that the Putin-linked Russian attorney, whom he, Kushner, and Manafort met, had no valuable info is like a thief setting out to rob a bank but abandoning the effort when he realizes that it's Sunday and banks are closed! Let's see if even one Republican denounces the statement "There was absolutely no collusion!" [NYT story]
(5) Trump has found his soulmate in the press-hating Putin! [The Independent story]
(6) Riddle of the day: What do physicians and computer engineers have in common? Both groups blame a virus when they have no clue about what's going on!
(7) A majority of Republicans consider colleges bad for the US, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
(8) Revenge porn: Charlotte Alter, writing in Time magazine, issue of July 10-17, 2017, wants to warn women to be careful about photos they allow their mates to take. Lured into a sense of security in a loving relationship, they may allow their mates to take take intimate photos of them, not thinking that such photos have a way of finding their way to the Internet. The photos may be obtained via hacking of computers, and some unhinged ex-lovers post such photos to various sites as a way of taking revenge for being dumped. Unfortunately, the situation for women and men is highly asymmetric: women typically do not take revenge in this way and, even if they do, the consequences (career or otherwise) for men is not as severe.
(9) Final humorous thought for the day: After talk of a joint US-Russia cyber-security unit, Al Qaeda has proposed to Trump work on a joint anti-terrorism unit!

2017/07/10 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing the right and left holding Uncle Sam in a precarious position (1) Cartoon of the day: The Divided States of America!
(2) Quote of the day: "Nothing is so necessary for a man as the company of an intelligent woman." ~ Leo Tolstoy
(3) Joke of the day: Grandpa: "Young man, let me tell you a joke about Social Security." Grandson: "Go ahead!" Grandpa: "You probably won't get it."
(4) The media are being warned to vet documents and associated stories very carefully: Trumpians are taking their fake-news strategy to new lows. They are purposefully feeding fake news to the media, with the goal of taking them down if they fall for one of these fake stories and run with it.
(5) The fox guarding the hen house: Trump and Putin want their countries to set up a cooperative arrangement to deal with cyber-security threats. Russia has been a terrible actor in attacking other countries' cyber-infrastructures. Their actions included, as everyone but Trump admits, meddling in the 2016 US election. A recent US intelligence report points a finger at Russia for infiltrating our energy infrastructure, including the computer systems of a nuclear power operating company. On the other hand, we do have a lot in common with Russia, including the colors of our flags and the oversize egos of our leaders!
(6) Trump and Putin exchange pleasantries, as they finally meet face to face: What was discussed in the longer-than-expected meeting isn't very clear. According to Tillerson, Trump raised the issue of Russian hacking right at the outset, but he was vague on Putin's reaction or whether he made any promises not to do it again. Russia, on the other hand, had a different take. It said in formal statements that Trump had accepted Putin's assurances that Russia was not involved and that it had been agreed that the two countries should move on and focus on future relations.
(7) Bill Mahr criticized for racist tweet: I like Bill Mahr and think that many of his monologues make valid points in a hilarious way. However, he has to do something about his racist streak. This isn't the first time he has gotten in trouble for making racist remarks, and someone with the celebrity status of Mahr should know better, especially when he frequently accuses others of racism. Here is the offensive tweet; judge for yourselves: "This N Korean thing is getting tense! I mean, I think it is, I'm on vaca. The ladies at my nail salon are freaking out, that's what I know!"
(8) The witch hunt is closing in on the witches: Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer, after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, according to Reuters. Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner were also present at the meeting.
(9) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Greg Ashby of our Psychology Department presented an interesting talk entitled "I have no idea how I did that: The remarkable learning abilities of the human brain" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. Dr. Ashby has authored 3 books and more than 150 papers, and he has received many honors, including serving as President of the Society for Mathematical Psychology. According to Dr. Ashby, humans have multiple functionally- and anatomically-distinct learning systems that evolved at different times for different purposes. Progress on understanding these systems, which learn in qualitatively different ways, is slowed by the fact that the most challenging learning tasks draw upon the capabilities of several systems, making it difficult to know which system contributed to any specific performance improvement. For example, in learning to play the piano, both declarative/explicit learning, of the kind that results from reading books or listening to lectures, and procedural learning, that is, learning by gradual/incremental improvement, are involved. The two kinds of learning are distinct. Explicit learning is a function of working memory, so that people who do well in memory tasks have an edge in this kind of learning, whereas procedural learning exhibits little dependence on working memory.
[On the way to the lecture venue, I took a detour and snapped these photos on a beautiful afternoon.]

2017/07/09 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing a library patron asking a librarian about a US history book (1) Cartoon of the day: On different versions of US history.
(2) Quote of the day: "[Trump supporters] don't dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier [that] elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman." ~ David Rothkopf, Visiting Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Columbia University, and CEO of The Rothkopf Group
(3) Ivanka Trump represented USA at the G-20 summit for a brief period, as her dad stepped out of the room. Why weren't Tillerson and other high-ranking US officials available for this task?
(4) SoCal Edison announces rate changes: They are introducing a time-of-use (TOU) rate plan, whereby electricity will cost less during off-peak hours and more during high usage periods. My SoCal friends will receive a notification that allows them to opt in for the TOU plan, along with an analysis (based on current usage pattern) of the projected savings, if any. In my case, the projected savings are too little to be worth switching plans, unless the switching is accompanied by a modification of my usage pattern.
(5) Understanding Donald Trump voters: This Forbes article, identifies five types of voters.
31% Staunch conservatives   |   25% Free-marketeers   |   20% American preservationists
19% Anti-elites   |   5% The disengaged
The third group is what propelled Trump to victory. The contradictions inherent in the first two groups forming a coalition with the last three groups in voting for Trump should not be lost on us. Trump is hardly a conservative, given his background and lifestyle, and he is definitely not a free-marketeer, based on his statements and positions on trade.
(6) Tehran now boasts the largest bookstore in the world: And this in a country where there is a dismal record of book-reading and strict pre- and post-publication censorship of everything that goes to print, not to mention self-censorship by publishers. At 700,000 square feet, the center has several movie theaters, science halls, classrooms, a restaurant, a prayer room, and a green roof-top park.
(7) Men engineered the Titanic: But a woman (Stephanie Kwolek) was behind the invention of lightweight material for bullet-proof vests and another woman engineer (Maria Beasly) came up with the idea of life rafts. [Observations from E&T magazine, special issue on how to attract more women to engineering, July 2017]
(8) A few miscellaneous items of note:
- "Leader of the free world" ignores, or is ignored by, other leaders enjoying one another's company. [Photo]
- Yesterday we saw the onset of two major fires (Whittier and Alamo) in the Santa Barbara area.
- Imaginative peaceful protest at the G-20 summit in Hamburg. [Video]
- Has anyone seen the new movie "Now Hiring"? [Photo]
(9) Final thought for the day: The fight against global terrorism isn't a clash of civilizations, but a clash of civilization, Western and Eastern, with barbarism.

2017/07/08 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cover image for Ambrose Bierce's 'Write it Right' (1) Book review: Bierce, Ambrose, Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults, 1909 [Free e-book from Project Gutenberg]
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Writing is often pursued as a vehicle of creative expression for the author, whereas it is more a way of making your thoughts understandable to the reader. We read in the introduction to this gem of a book that good writing is "clear thinking made visible." In this sense, we should prefer words that have precise meanings and avoid words that can have different interpretations. Acording to Roman rhetorician Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, usually referred to simply as Quintilian, "The writer should so write that his[/her] reader not only may, but must, understand."
Like a dictionary or glossary, Bierce's book is organized alphabetically, with almost all entries starting with "x for y," which means that linguistic offenders use x to mean y, followed by a terse justification, and whether the usage is awkward/misguided or a serious linguistic faux pas. This book has been very helpful to me in improving my writing.
I went through the entire book from A to W, but will keep a copy (actually, Gutenberg Project's link to the full text) handy for future perusal, as there is just too much info to remember from a single reading. I end my review by presenting a few examples that I found most enlightening. I have included very little of the explanatory narratives for the entries.
Allow for Permit | Appropriated for Took | Because for For | Build for Make | Bogus for Counterfeit | Can for May
Commence for Begin| Critically for Seriously | Dirt for Earth, Soil, or Gravel (dirt means filth)
Distinctly for Distinctively | Each other for One another (when there are more than two persons)
Empty for Vacant (empty bottle, but vacant house) | Essential for Necessary | Experience for Suffer, or Undergo
Gratuitous for Unwarranted | Hereafter for Henceforth | I'm afraid for I fear (it will rain)
Insoluble for Unsolvable (problem) | Integrity for Honesty | Involve for Entail | Jeopardize for Imperil
Less for Fewer | Lunch for Luncheon | Minus for Lacking, or Without | Numerous for Many | Over for More than
Partially for Partly | Preventative for Preventive | Quit for Cease, or Stop (smoking) | Real for Really, or Very
Residence for Dwelling, or House | Roomer for Lodger (see Bedder and Mealer, if you can find them!)
Score for Win, Obtain, etc. | Squirt for Spurt | State for Say | Talented for Gifted
The (a little word that is terribly overworked) | Transpire for Occur | Unkempt for Disordered, Untidy, etc.
Verbal for Oral | Witness for See
(2) A wonderful Persian verse from Sa'eb Tabrizi: Asking dastards for help with your problems is like trying to remove a thorn from your foot, using a scorpion's fang. [Persian text]
(3) Sleeveless dresses/blouses banned for women in the Capitol: Sneakers or open-toed shoes are similarly out. These are actually archaic congressional rules, which Paul Ryan has decided to enforce. Iranian mullahs hail the decision! Paging Ms. Masih Alinejad to fight for women's freedom of clothing choice at the US Capitol!
(4) Trump claims G20 leaders talked about the DNC leaks and Podesta's refusal to give the DNC server to FBI and CIA: Here is DNC spokesperson Adrienne Watson's response tweet: "1) Podesta never ran the DNC. 2) DNC worked with FBI to kick out Russians. Worked with DHS. 3) Putin make you tweet this before mtg?"
(5) A few engineering/technology news items of note:
- World's first spokeless ferris wheel revealed in China: The frame, with its 125-meter diameter, does not rotate, but 10-passenger cars move around it with a built-in running gear.
- Noise isn't always bad: Advocates for the blind demand regulations to force electric-car makers to increase their noisiness for safety reasons (knowing that a car is approaching). [Source: E&T magazine, July 2017]
- Russian hackers penetrate US energy networks: A joint DHS/FBI report names the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation among companies targeted by the effort to hack into US energy and industrial plants.
(6) Final thought for the day: Remember the hell raised over the Dixie Chicks criticizing the US on foreign soil? Well, let's see what happens after President Trump's attack on Obama, CNN, and intel agencies in Poland.

2017/07/07 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Super-cool Snapchat glasses are now being sold in Europe (1) Goodbye geeky tech glasses: Super-cool Snapchat glasses have arrived in Europe. At this point, they just have a camera and none of the advanced capabilities of the discontinued, geeky Google glasses, but more functionality will no doubt come in time. [Image credit: E&T magazine, issue of July 2017]
(2) Marking 20 years of non-stop robotic exploration of Mars, thanks to indefatigable NASA scientists and engineers. [Video]
(3) Trump and US intelligence agencies: Isn't it interesting that when trump is provided intelligence on Syria, Iran, or North Korea, he uses the info and brags about how good it is, but when he is told by the same agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, he attacks the sources and compares the accuracy of the info to that about Iraq's possession of WMDs!
(4) The "hoax" that's no longer a hoax: Trump has finally come to admit that Russia meddled in our 2016 election, but every time he mentions that it was Russia, he adds something like "and probably others too" to soften his statement. He also blames Obama for doing nothing about it. But Obama did a lot about it (including imposing sanctions that, according to Russia's own admission, are crushing their economy and expelling a large number of Russian spies), as opposed to Trump who has done nil. And Trump hasn't said a word about why he previously thought that the assertion of Russian meddling was a hoax!
(5) NPR tweeted the entire American Declaration of Independence: Many Trump supporters, not recognizing the historic document, took issue with NPR's spreading of "propaganda" and "trying to sound patriotic, while condoning violence." Many of these comments have since been deleted, but not before others captured and preserved them.
(6) Five brief items in the news about Iranians inside and outside Iran.
- Satirist Mr. Haloo takes on the mullah who had said inflation and high prices are the will of God. [Video]
- Three Iranian-born actresses invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. [Image]
- Iranian-Canadians of Vancouver participated in Canada's 150th birthday celebrations. [7-minute video]
- The schoolgirl whose singing video went viral a few years ago has developed into a seasoned singer!
- Nice artwork by Nasim Bahari, showing Tajrish Square and its vicinity, in Shemiran, north of Tehran.
(7) Journalist threatened by Neo-Nazis and other Trump supporters: Jared Yates Sexton, the journalist who revealed the racist and anti-Semitic background of the Reddit user whose video of Trump beating up a CNN meme was tweeted by Trump himself, is getting a lot of hate messages, up to and including death threats.
(8) Cinema under the stars is back: This summer's films, screened Wednesdays at UCSB's Campbell Hall, beginning at 7:30 PM, and Fridays at the SB Courthouse Sunken Garden, beginning at 8:30 PM, are selections from the James Bond franchise. Tonight, I watched, in a relaxing evening under the stars, "Dr. No" from 1962, the first film in the 55-year-old franchise, now containing 26 films.
(9) Final thought for the day: On July 4th, 2017, North Korea fired a missile into the ocean, and so declared independence from American nuclear threat!

2017/07/06 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Persian calligraphy, shaped in the form of a cylinder to honor Cyrus the Great (1) Calligraphic art by Morteza Shabai, shaped to honor the Cyrus Cylinder.
(2) GOPers who voted to impeach Bill Clinton are eerily quiet on Donald Trump!
(3) New poll: Independents trust CNN more than Trump, 55% to 40% [Newsweek].
(4) German patriotism vs. US regular and alternative patriotisms. [Image]
(5) A feat of engineering: Chinese fountain, featuring projected 3D imagery.
(6) Not a SCOTUS opinion, but important to note nonetheless: Chief Justice John G. Roberts speaks at the 9th-grade graduation ceremony of Cardigan Mountain School, a NH boarding school for boys.
(7) Algerian student denied doctoral degree after successfully defending dissertation: Her work was critical of the country's military, so even though her doctoral committee was satisfied with the dissertation after their recommended changes had been made, the university's administration withheld her degree and removed copies of the dissertation from the library. Let's hope the student's body isn't found in a ditch somewhere! This story reminds me of the case of a master's student at UCSB who was denied a degree because he added a disacknowledgments section, criticizing the unhelpfulness of his committee, after the thesis was approved but before filing copies at the library. The UCSB case was eventually resolved in the student's favor, but the critical comments were removed.
(8) The great American solar eclipse of 2017: The last total solar eclipse to traverse the US was in 1918 and the next one will be in 2045. So, understandably, many people want to see this once-in-a-lifetime event. Some 12 million Americans live on the path of the total eclipse, shown in this Time magazine map (which also contains a wealth of other info), and 47 million are within a 2-hour drive. The map also shows the eclipse percentage in other parts of the US; around 60% in my neck of the woods. I may decide to go experience the total eclipse in Oregon or Wyoming on Monday, 8/21.
(9) Summer concerts in the park are back: This evening at Santa Barbara's Chase Palm Park, I enjoyed great music by The PettyBreakers (tribute band to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers). On the way to the concert site, I photographed several sights in and around Chase Palm Park. The crowd was sizable and jolly, dancing and singing along with the band throughout the concert. On the way back, I was impressed by the moon's glory, as I walked to my car along Cabrillo Blvd; these iPhone photos do not do it justice, though. As for the songs performed, there were a lot of good ones. I recorded six samples, arranged from the shortest (1-minute) to the longest (5-minute). [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4] [Video 5] [Video 6]

2017/07/05 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
NYC protest march against the Republican healthcare plans (1) June 4th NYC protest march against the Republican healthcare plans. [Photo credit: Time magazine, issue of July 10 & 17, 2017]
(2) Quote of the day: "To persevere in one's duty, and be silent, is the best answer to calumny." ~ George Washington
[This quote was tweeted by author J. K. Rowling as a reaction to Trump's tweet, which included a video of his beating up a man having CNN's logo as his face; "calumny" is essentially the equivalent of fake news in Washington's day.]
(3) Relaxing piano music by Mohsen Karbassi: I love these 80 (mostly) Persian tracks as background music when I work or play.
[Karbassi's Facebook page (with videos and more)]
[Karbassi's Web site (with sheet music and more)]
(4) Persian music: Homayoun Shajarian sings in this wonderful 24-minute video and in this concert with Simorgh orchestra, conducted by Hooman Khalatbari and performing "Simorgh," a composition by Hamid Motabassem, featuring poems of Ferdowsi.
(5) Hilarious response to Trump's tweet of a video showing him beating up a CNN character.
(6) Chris Christie looks, thinks, and talks like Donald Trump: He tells the media criticizing him for his family members enjoying a beach, which had been closed to the public due to government shutdown in New Jersey, to come to grips with the fact that he is the governor. Trump had boasted in a speech that he is the President and his media critics are not.
(7) Freedom sculpture unveiled: Designed in the shape of the Cyrus Cylinder, the sculpture (installed on Santa Monica Blvd., at the entrance to Century City) is a gift from the Iranian-American community to the City of Los Angeles. It was unveiled in special ceremonies yesterday, as part of the city's July-4th celebrations. Here is the LA Times report. And here is a personal video report, posted by Bita Milanian.
(8) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Tim Sherwood of our Computer Science Department presented an interesting talk entitled "The Rock We Tricked into Thinking" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. The "rock" of the title is, of course, the ubiquitous silicon, which we often see in the form of sand on the beach. As usual for these Monday-Wednesday talks, there was significant attendance by summer-session students. Starting with the observation that each of us likely has 5 billion tiny electrical switches in his/her pocket, Professor Sherwood discussed the state of the art in computer technology, which despite mind-boggling advances over the past few decades, still presents us with many unanswered, yet rather basic, questions. Inspired by the human brain, and motivated by the need for energy-efficient and intelligent systems, computer scientists and engineers are hard at work to bring us even more intricate and powerful systems. The latest developments in computer technology are based on the use of nontraditional methods, such as quantum computing and taking advantage of hybrid analog/digital systems to offer super-high performance at low energy cost.
(9) Final thought for the day: All future US presidents should be thankful to Trump for establishing new lows against which they will look super-competent and immeasurably presidential.

2017/07/04 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Lompoc flower field, with red, white, and blue flowers forming the American flag (1) Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans! A few years ago, the city of Lompoc, about 50 miles north of Santa Barbara and known as "the flower seed capital of the world," had a field covered with red, white, and blue flowers forming the American flag. We once hiked on a nearby hill to get a view of the flag from above. Alas, the flag is now gone.
Also, a belated happy Canada Day (July 1) to my readers north of the border, as their country celebrates its 150th birthday! I almost became a Canadian in the late 1980s, when during visiting appointments at Waterloo and Carleton Universities, I received permanent job offers from Canadian institutions. In the final analysis, however, I chose Santa Barbara as my new city and the US as my new home country.
(2) Confirmation of sugar's link to Alzheimer's: "[A] 'tipping point' molecular link between the blood sugar glucose and Alzheimer's disease has been established by scientists, who have shown that excess glucose damages a vital enzyme involved with inflammation response to the early stages of Alzheimer's."
(3) Astronaut Buzz Aldrin's reactions, as he listens to Trump announcing the re-establishment of the National Space Council (disbanded in 1993), speak volumes.
(4) Comparison of premiums between Obamacare (blue) and Senate's Trumpcare (red) in this chart, an average increase of 74%. [Source: Kaiser Family Foundation]
(5) "Waterfall" by M. C. Escher: One of several Escher drawings creating the illusion of perpetual motion.
(6) The amazing nature: Fantastic fungi, indispensable to nature, shown through time-lapse photography.
(7) Two quotes about freedom, in celebration of the American Independence Day:
"Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better." ~ Albert Camus
"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves." ~ Abraham Lincoln
(8) Feasts for the eyes in exotic places: The magnificent nature of Heaven's Gate, China, and the colorful lanterns at Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, Turkey.
(9) Final thought for the day: "As President of our contry and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so." ~ President Barack Obama, speaking at the 2012 UN General Assembly

2017/07/03 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
An Iranian dish that looks more like a piece of art (1) Iranian cuisine or art?
(2) Burger joints in my city: Cover feature of this week's Santa Barbara Independent. [Cover image]
(3) Same-sex marriage now legal in Germany: Angela Merkel's surprise statement, that she wanted German lawmakers to be free to vote their conscience, allowed members of her coalition to break from the party's position and led to the 393-226 passage of a same-sex marriage law.
(4) Advice from a Facebook friend: "Enjoy and remember every line you read and every smile you see." This FB friend has been losing his eyesight gradually, owing to neural degeneration (as I understand it). He can still see and read from a limited part of one eye's visual field, but is uncertain whether the degeneration will continue. His positive attitude and decision to make the best of what he has are inspiring.
(5) A Persian poem by Abolghassem Haalat: In a semi-serious poem, Haalat laments his soft heart that puts him at a disadvantage in a cold-hearted world.
(6) Trump's treatment of women explained in terms of hostile and benevolent sexism.
(7) What artists circa 1900 thought life would be like in the year 2000. [Pictorial]
(8) Persian music: A talented group of female musicians, the Mah Banoo Band, performs "Jaan-e Aashegh" ("Lover's Soul"), accompanied by their director Majid Derakhshani, who composed the piece. This second piece is Nazli and Roshan Rahmanian's wonderful rendition of "Porsoon Porsoon," an old popular song.
(9) Final thought for the day: "Thank God I am an atheist!" ~ George Bernard Shaw (paraphrased)

2017/07/02 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
B. Parhami's fake magazine cover (1) My magazine cover: Inspired by Trump (and other egotistic rulers around the world)! You can visit to design your own cover. You'll have to register after creating the cover.
(2) New architectural wonders: China is building the world's first forest city and the world's largest airport. Beijing's mega-airport, set to open in 2019, was designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid.
(3) Lecture on Forough Farrokhzad: Professor Farzaneh Milani, of University of Virginia, reviews Farrokhzad's life and poetry in this informative 50-minute talk.
(4) Putin paid Trump? A year ago, a Republican Congressman said in a private meeting that candidate Trump and a pro-Russia Congressman were on Putin's payroll. After initial denial that he had said this, he now claims the statement was a joke. So, why did Speaker Ryan, who was also present at the meeting, swore everyone to secrecy?
(5) Mr. Bean at the emergency room. [Comedy skit]
(6) How to e-mail like a professional: Google exec Eric Schmidt gives us 9 essential rules to follow.
(7) States resist WH request: Under the guise of voter-fraud investigation, WH commission tries to collect a vast array of private voter data, but nearly half the US states refuse to hand over the data.
(8) Former Trump friends: Before they became Trump foes and subjects of his ire, "Morning Joe" hosts supported and empowered him, all the way to a couple of months ago, when his incompetence and character flaws had become obvious to the rest of the press. They are just new examples of friends thrown under the bus by Trump in order to create a few more days of distraction from his serious problems.
(9) Trump's latest juvenile tweet: I would have thought that he might want to hide an old video clip of him engaging in a fake fight with someone at a Wrestlemania event. Yesterday, he tweeted an edited version that replaces the head of the person he is supposedly beating with the CNN logo. I am sure the administration will try to whitewash this token of Trump's anger issues and lack of respect for the First Amendment by characterizing it as humor. While the clip is somewhat funny, "scary" and "disgusting" are the words that come to mind first. Welcome to the United States of Reality TV, as we approach our nation's birthday celebration!

Cover image for 'Astrophysics for People in a Hurry' 2017/07/01 (Saturday): Book review: deGrasse Tyson, Neil, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, e-book, W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is the first e-book that I perused on the OverDrive app that connects my smartphone to the local public library (I had listened to several MP3 audiobooks earlier). The experience, while not as pleasant as that of listening to an audiobook or reading a printed volume, was more than acceptable, particularly given the convenience of having the book I was reading with me at all times to fill waiting times or dead periods between consecutive scheduled commitments.
Astrophysics has always been a mystery to me, and it remains so after reading this book. Perhaps, I have not delved deeply enough into the subject, but I find it extremely unsatisfying when new concepts are created just to fill voids left by our incomplete knowledge of the world.
The universe does not quite follow laws of gravity? Let's say there is invisible "dark matter" that interacts with gravitational forces but not with anything else. Tyson explains these made-up notions as placeholders that are useful until we discover the true causes of current discrepancies (much like ether was used to explain light propagation in a vacuum).
We are told that at the beginning of time, all matter and energy was contained in a volume less than one trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence. Forgetting that the said period is 2-dimensional and not a volume, and assuming that the author meant a sphere with the same diameter as the period, that volume can be estimated to be about 10^(–10) cubic meters, so the statement tells us that everything was contained in a volume of 10^(–22) cubic meters. A few paragraphs later, we read about the Planck era, the first 10^(–43) second of the life of the universe, when its size grew to 10^(–35) meters. How can something grow to occupy a smaller volume than it had originally? Just because we are in a hurry to learn does not mean that we don't cross-check and analyze the numbers presented to us!
In that early tiny-fraction-of-a-second time interval, all forces were unified and the unification challenge we now face, viz. the desire to formulate a theory of everything, did not exist. Gravity, the force that binds bulk matter, was the first of the four forces to pull apart and distinguish itself from the other three: electroweak force (controlling radioactive decay), strong nuclear force (binding the atomic nucleus), and electromagnetic force (binding molecules).
Contrary to what most people think, the space between galaxies, which are typically many many light years apart, is far from empty. There is, of course, the unsatisfying dark matter noted above, but there are also isolated stars and a very large number of dwarf galaxies, which have millions of stars as opposed to many billions in "normal" galaxies. In fact, given that there are far more dwarf galaxies than the ones we consider normal, perhaps we should revise the designation "normal" to apply to these much smaller galaxies.
The scale of our universe is astounding. To understand it, we need to know something about the tiniest particles that make it up, as well as astronomical distances that separate its parts. Once we have an understanding of the scale, we quickly realize that there is very little that is special about our Earth. Conditions similar to Earth likely exist on many millions, if not billions, of planets, just in our own galaxy, making the existence of extraterrestrial life forms all but certain.
I am an admirer of the author for his role in bringing science to the public and for his gift of explaining difficult scientific notions using simple language and humor. We need more people like him in this age of vilification of scientists and of science denial. But let us agree that certain scientific concepts cannot be explained in laymen's terms, no matter how much we wave our hands and how many jokes we mix in with the presentation.
The book does expose the reader to certain scientific terms, such as black holes, the Big Bang, subatomic particles, and the like, thus creating an illusion of understanding when you hear these terms in the latest science headline. For true understanding of these notions, however, there is no substitute for rolling up our sleeves and studying science in a systematic way, with no shortcuts.

2017/06/30 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing Trump in prison (1) Cartoon of the day: The wall that will make America safe again.
(2) Painter extraordinaire: A well-made 24-minute documentary about Iranian-American painter Ali Banisadr, who took up painting to depict the frightening sounds of the Iran-Iraq war. His more recent paintings also exude unique soundtracks, but contain elements of his new surroundings in Brooklyn. Enjoy this wonderful feast for the eyes!
(3) Volkswagen uses Nvidia GPUs for traffic flow optimization via deep learning: The German auto-maker has initiated research into quantum computing and deep learning to improve traffic flows in dense urban centers. Volkswagen previously purchased Nvidia graphics processing units to perfect its algorithms. [Source: WSJ]
(4) Information systems at US healthcare providers 'in critical condition': This week's ransomware Petya, that affected major shipping, food, and pharmaceutical companies, was particularly devastating to a Pennsylvania healthcare provider. Hospitals and other health organizations are quite vulnerable to such attacks because of poor security practices. The source of the attack has been traced to Ukraine, where officials indicate they have the situation under control. [From various print and Internet sources]
(5) Logical reasoning puzzle: You are shown three boxes and told that they contain 25 identical Burmese rubies collectively, but the distribution of the rubies in boxes is unknown to you. You are allowed to ask for any number of rubies from each box (the number you specify can be different for each box). If the box does not contain enough rubies to satisfy your request, you get nothing; otherwise, you get as many rubies as you asked for. How many would you request from each box in order to guarantee getting the maximum number of rubies in the worst case? Advanced variation: You are allowed to ask for rubies from the boxes one at a time. In other words, you ask for a certain number of rubies from box 1 and based on the outcome, you can decide how many you will ask for from box 2, and so on. What strategy would maximize your guaranteed haul in this case?
(6) Small plane crash-lands on northbound 405 Freeway, near John Wayne Airport in Irvine.
(7) Kansas cut taxes on the rich, while California raised them: Five years later, the economy in Kansas is on life support, with a $1.1 billion budget deficit, while California's economy is one of the strongest in the US, having erased a $27 billion deficit. One more piece of evidence that trickle-down economics does not work.
(8) Trump is clueless on healthcare, as on other issues: Several GOP senators have said openly that, after months of discussion on the topic, Trump knows nil about healthcare. You can't broker a deal, when you don't know anything about what's at stake. They have said that Trump, talking to them trying to gain their votes, just says "vote for the bill, it will be great," rather than engage in an informed discussion, promising something in return for their compromise on other parts.
(9) Presidential embarrassments mount: The feud between the POTUS and two MSNBC morning talk show hosts escalated today, with the hosts claiming that a senior member of the WH tried to have them tone down their critical commentaries by offering to kill an unfavorable National Enquirer story about the hosts.

2017/06/29 (Thursday): Here are four items of potential interest.
(1) Book review: Haas, Richard, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order, unabridged audiobook on 7 CDs, read by Dan Worren, Penguin/Random-House Audio, 2017.
Cover image for 'A World in Disarray' Richard Haas is a foreign policy expert who is often compared with Henry Kissinger in terms of knowledge and influence. He was the senior Middle East adviser to President George H. W. Bush and has presided over the Council on Foreign Relations for a decade and a half. His thesis in this book is that the world is becoming increasingly more difficult to manage, as it declines in order and deviates from four centuries of recent history, what we commonly refer to as the modern era.
The end of the Cold War, far from bringing tranquility and peace to the world, has led to greater fragmentation and conflict. The relative stability and restraint of a bipolar world no longer exists in the current unipolar order, with numerous hostilities and hot spots. Haas believes that the US will likely remain the world's greatest power for the foreseeable future and warns that we cannot afford to create sudden or sharp depatures in what we do in the world. In his words, "If America comes to be doubted, it will inevitably give rise to a very different and much less orderly world."
Haas systematically reviews the world's trouble spots and offers insights into how the problems developed and how they got out of control. He believes that a system based on non-interference in the internal affairs of a state is inadequate for the 21st century. Instead, he thinks that states have a "sovereign obligation": to combat terrorism, deal with drug trafficking, prevent nuclear proliferation, and pay serious attention to climate change.
Near the end of the book, Haas offers recommendations on how to deal with the disarray. Some of his suggestions make more sense and are better argued than others, but any person interested in foreign policy challenges, particularly members of the current US administration, would benefit from seriously considering these suggestions. In particular, Haas suggests that success in executing an orderly foreign policy requires that there be order at home.
[My 4-star review of this title on GoodReads]
(2) Does this man ever learn? "Nobody respects women more than I do." Yeah, right! Only women who submit and smile, while being assaulted/insulted. Every tweet confirms, right at the very top, that this is the real Donald Trump, not the picture his supporters paint of him. Trump's latest IQ/looks insults were aimed at Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Cardinal close to the Pope will face sexual abuse charges in court (PBS)
- Seven couples, including rabbi, charged with welfare fraud (ABC7 LA)
- Trump continues on-line bullying, as his wife pretends to fight it (CNN)
- Trump's revised travel ban, as restricted by SCOTUS, takes effect (AP)
- Trump's longtime bodyguard new focus of the Russia probe (ABC)
- Tillerson accuses WH staffers of 'unprofessional' meddling (Newsweek)
(4) Final thought for the day: A true leader leads quietly and selflessly. S/He absorbs pressures and shocks, communicating his/her thoughts and strategies to people in order to reassure and comfort them. S/He does not issue endless statements about how everything is messed up, how wonderful s/he is, and how despicable his/her opponents and critics are.

2017/06/28 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
GIF image of a beautiful geometric pattern (1) A hypnotic, moving geometric pattern.
(2) Trump lawyer's firm steered millions in charitable donations to family members: Trump correctly identified the swamp, but deflected attention from its real denizens, which include his own family and those of his cronies.
(3) The #whitewednesdays campaign (women wearing white scarves to protest mandatory hijab laws) has become a thorn in the Iranian regime's eye, so much so that it is spreading lies about the campaign's originator, reporter Masih Alinejad, and has even sent her death threats.
(4) The beginner's creed: When you begin a new type of activity or enter a new field, celebrate your beginner status. Without becoming a beginner over and over again, you will not make any progress. [Sidebar in an article by Peter Denning, Communications of the ACM, Issue of July 2017] [Image]
(5) The mess created by two separate foreign policy tracks: One is run by Tillerson/Mattis and favors Qatar for its history of cooperation with the US, including bombings it carried out in Libya at our request. The other is run by Trump/Kushner, who are in bed with the Saudis. Tillerson is said to be frustrated by his constant running around, trying to fix the mess created by the latter, which leaves him no time to focus on the much-needed appointments in the State Department.
(6) Guru of the new age of computing: Geoffrey Hinton of University of Toronto is a great-great-grandson of the 19th-century logician George Boole, the inventor of Boolean algebra, which forms a pillar of modern computing. Hinton's work on neural networks, a key tool in the recent resurgence of the field of artificial intelligence, may prove to be equally path-breaking.
(7) Wonderful magic routine by an enchanting young girl. [4-minute video]
(8) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Jason Marden of our ECE Department presented an interesting talk entitled "The Challenges that Society Brings to Engineering Design" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. These talks are aimed primarily at students, so it was encouraging to see good attendance by summer-session students. One of the challenges of designing socio-technical systems, whether it is for power grids, transportation networks, or data centers, is the weird and unpredictable ways in which the society will use them, often creating risks and inefficiencies. Professor Marden shed some light on the challenges in designing and controlling such systems. His research entails the application of the mathematical theory of games to system design. Game theory was once confined to studying problems in economics, but increasingly, boundaries between economics, psychology, and engineering are fading. The benefits of a road system, for example, depend on how people use it and the way in which they make trade-offs in travel distance, travel time, and cost (in the case of toll roads). Having an accurate predictive model for the choices people will make is invaluable for successful design.

2017/06/27 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of observation tower in Denmark (1) An impressive new observation tower in Denmark's Camp Adventure.
(2) Persian music: "Ashegham Man" ("I'm in Love"), performed by Delkash (with lyrics).
(3) Hooman Tabrizi's Persian piano on YouTube: Fifty tracks from the Iranian-American pianist's music.
(4) California's extremes: Did you know that California claims the highest and lowest points in the continental US? Mount Whitney, in the Sierra Nevada, rises to 14,508 ft (4422 m) above sea level. Badwater, so named for its super-salty water, sinks to 282 ft (86 m) below sea level and is located in the Death Valley National Park, close to the point where the Earth's hottest temperature ever has been recorded (134 in 1913). [Source: Westways, SoCal AAA magazine]
(5) Nicholas Kristof offers some practical suggestions on standing up to Trump: In his view, broad-based opposition, such as what Stephen Colbert provides, will be more successful than a handful of angry Democratic Senators. "Trump can survive denunciations, but I'm less sure that in the long run he can withstand mockery." Stated another way, "Nothing deflates an authoritarian more than ridicule."
(6) The game-changing potential of AI examined by CBS's "60 Minutes": Among other things, Watson (the program that became a "Jeopardy!" champion several years ago) is shown to learn medicine and start contributing to cancer diagnosis at a level that matches or exceeds the capabilities of highly trained oncologists.
(7) A useful gadget for cyclists: Portable side-view mirror.
(8) Cartoon of the day: The fight between Pythagoras and Einstein. [Image]
(9) Final thought for the day: Having solved all urgent problems in healthcare, education, jobs, energy, manufacturing, infrastructure, and foreign policy, Trump resumes his feud with Rosie O'Donnell on Twitter.

2017/06/26 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of two armed Kurdish women circa 120 years ago (1) Armed Kursidh women thought to be from Kermanshah, ~ 120 years ago.
(2) Trump appears cornered and scared: And he exhibits increased agitation over the Russia investigation. Time magazine, issue of July 3, 2017, features former FBI director and current special counsel Robert Mueller on its cover, referring to him as "The Lie Detector." Mueller has assembled a dream-team of lawyers, but their work, like any legal proceeding, will be methodical and slow.
(2) Oil tanker explosion kills 150 in Pakistan: The tanker had overturned and was leaking fuel. The dead were collecting fuel, when the tanker exploded. It is heartbreaking that when poor, uneducated people in countries like Pakistan are not killed by terrorists among them, they are victimized by their own ignorance. Any schoolchild in a Western country would know to stay far away from an oil-leaking car or truck.
(3) Islamic eid celebration, Bollywood style! [6-minute video]
(4) The latest Trump tweets acknowledge Russian meddling in the 2016 US election: But only to blame Obama for doing nothing about it!
(5) An appeal of the $25M Trump University fraud lawsuit settlement may be allowed to proceed: Both NYT and LAT indicate that Trump may end up back in court due to a Florida woman's dissatisfaction with the 2016 settlement of a class-action lawsuit against him.
(6) [This is political humor, but it rings truer than much of what passes as news these days!] Borowitz Report: Jared Kushner calls Kim Jong-on "totally unqualified person" who only got job throuth nepotism.
(7) True to form, Trump declares victory, even though the bulk of his travel ban was struck down by SCOTUS: Only 3 justices voted to hold up the entire executive order, but all 9 were unanimous in letting stand a limited version of it. Any citizen from the banned countries, who can show some connection in the US (having relatives, admission to a university program, or job offer) will be allowed to enter. This is the overwhelming majority of people from those countries who want to enter the US. In fact, I don't know a single person from those countries who has visited the US as a tourist, without any connections here. They simply cannot afford a US pleasure trip.
(8) Forty top economists oppose the Senate version of Trumpcare: The group, which includes 6 Nobel Laureates, has written a letter to the Senate majority leader, expressing strong opposition to the bill. Meanwhile, 3 GOP Senators have indicated that they won't vote for the bill, dooming it to failure.
(9) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Katy Craig of our Math Department presented an interesting talk entitled "The Math of Swarming Robots, Superconductors, and Slime Mold" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. The bulk of attendees were summer-session students. While working at Apple, Craig thought she wanted to do math all day, thus deciding to pursue a PhD at Rutgers University. At UCSB, Craig is working on the mathematical modeling of systems of interacting agents, a field with connections to engineering, physics, and biology. Among other fascinating results, the mathematical models are capable of describing how a swarm of birds, school of fish, band of robots, or pile of slime mold exhibit complex group behaviors, using only very simple local rules. In other words, each individual agent only interacts with a few other nearby agents. These leaderless groups exhibit coordinated behavior, where birds, fish, or robots do not crash into one another, despite the totally distributed control.

2017/06/25 (Sunday): Four interesting memes/signs, along with nine other items of potential interest.
Glue stick, insteas of chapstick Wheel-of-Fortune puzzle being solved Super callous fragile racist sexist not my POTUS Meme reading, 'Drives a Mercedes, owns his own home (1) Let's see who is more crooked/corrupt, the Republicans or the Democrats? Someone researched this, and the answer isn't even close. Over the researcher's lifetime (53 years), Democrats have held the presidency for 25 years (during which they had 3 executive branch officials indicted, with 1 conviction and 1 prison sentence) and Republicans held it for 28 years (when they had 120 criminal indictments of executive branch officials, 89 criminal convictions, and 34 prison sentences).
(2) A bunch of "good guys" (and a "good gal") with guns enter a diner: Yes, it's a joke, but hardly a stretch in this age of road rage and such! [3-minute video]
(3) With cameras banned, CNN sends sketch artist to White House briefing.
(4) Reversible computing needs near-zero energy: According to laws of physics, any loss in information dissipates energy. When you add 5 and 7 to obtain 12, you lose some information, because the computation isn't reversible (you can't deduce the original inputs 5 and 7 from the output 12). Let's consider the scale of power lost in electronic circuits. A vacuum tube of early computers consumed about 5 watts and operated at 1 kHz, which represents about 10^18 kT per gate operation (k is Boltzmann's constant and T is the temperature in Kelvins). A modern transistor is much more energy-efficient, but it still consumes about 30,000 kT per operation. Specially-designed low-power circuits using existing transistors take advantage of energy recycling methods to cut power dissipation. Such circuits are more complex and cost more, but over time, they can pay for themselves through lower energy cost, particularly when energy is expensive or scarce (such as in satellites). The ultimate in energy efficiency is to approach the theoretical limit of 1 kT per operation. The futuristic vision of reversible computing can achieve this limit, at least in theory. A circuit that receives 5 and 7 at input and produces 5, the first number, and the sum 12 at output is reversible, because the two output values contain enough information to reconstruct the inputs. Reversible logic circuits are even more expensive than today's low-power circuits and will likely make sense only for applications where energy should be obtained via scavenging or is super-expensive. [Summarized from: IEEE Computer magazine, issue of June 2017, "Opportunities and Controversies of Reversible Computing," by E. P. DeBenedictis, J. K. Mee, and M. P. Frank, pp. 76-80]
(5) Wonderful high-tech magic routine: Two pairs of identical twins leave the audience and judges amazed.
(6) Tax cuts don't lead to growth: Trickle-down economics debunked once more by a new 65-year study.
(7) Bach on the banjo: Classical music and country instruments do mix! [2-minute video]
(8) Turkey drops evolution from school curricula: Claims it's too complex to teach to high-schoolers.
(9) Final thought for the day: "The love that you withhold is the pain that you carry." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Cover image of David Cay Johnston's 'The Making of Donald Trump' 2017/06/24 (Saturday): Book review: Johnston, David Cay, The Making of Donald Trump, unabridged audiobook, read by Joe Barrett, Blackstone Audio, 2016.
Johnston is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning investigative reporter who clearly has a beef with Trump, so I tried to listen to this book with an open mind, looking for evidence in lieu of opinions.
Johnston lays out a compelling case against Trump, his fraudulent deals, and his association with questionable characters to advance his goals. The book begins with the story of Trump's father, Fred, who constantly operated at the boundaries of what was legal and amassed a fortune through shady deals. Fred Trump was involved in many scandals and was investigated by a US Senate committee for profiteering from public contracts.
The book contains a lot of material about failed real-estate deals that carried Trump's name and were peddled by him and members of his family. In many cases, he had merely licensed the use of the Trump brand to the developers, while misleading buyers and investors by pretending that he was personally involved and had his own money invested in the developments. When lawsuits were filed, Trump distanced himself from the problematic projects and blamed the developers.
The author discusses Trump's Atlantic City casino business in some detail. Trump bullied his way into getting a sweet deal from New Jersey by playing coy and threatening to take his business elsewhere. We learn from this book that financial institutions, big and small, were complicit in Trump's shady deals, as they bypassed many of their own rules and regulations to accommodate him. Even when he drove his casinos into bankruptcy, he managed to get out on terms highly favorable to him.
Then there is the case of Trump University, which engaged in illegal activities on many levels. The "University" wasn't approved by authorities in states where it operated (as the law requires), its instructors weren't qualified (some were in fact convicted felons), and learners were pressured into buying more expensive packages once they enrolled in the basic package (they were coached into applying for higher limits on their credit cards, so that they could pay for the expensive packages). Trump eventually settled the Trump University lawsuit without admitting guilt.
And this is a recurring pattern. Trump threatens his adversaries with lawsuits, and files counter-suits when challenged. Then, when legal cases aren't going his way, he settles quickly. Trump has been a party in thousands of lawsuits. He takes special pride in ruining his opponents via mounting legal fees, which either make them give up or prone to settling on Trump's terms.
The author apparently has a lot of dirt on Trump, but his presentation of the case against Trump isn't systematic. Another book on my to-read list, Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power (by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher), is said to be more extensive, even-handed, and journalistically sound in its treatment. I am looking forward to reading and reviewing that book.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]

2017/06/23 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Days when Trump spoke or tweeted public lies and falshoods, January-June 2017 (1) The "failing @nytimes" has catalogued Trump's public lies and falsehoods during the first five months of his presidency, January 21 to June 21, 2017.
(2) Candidate Trump vs. President Trump on Saudi Arabia: Hypocricy in the extreme! A good example of why the Saudis want Qatar to shut down Aljazeera, which produced this video.
(3) The committee to protect Iranian men's rights has decided that the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, should be named "Yadollah," to protest the first night of winter being named "Yalda."
(4) Biking from Munich to Venice: If I were younger, I would definitely consider taking this 600-km bike path through the Alps. This travel ad showed up on my Facebook newsfeed this morning.
(5) PhD described graphically: I had seen this picture, or one similar to it, years ago, but coming across it again today, I decided to share. It is eye-opening. A PhD is the result of making a small dent on the boundary of human knowledge, pushing it outward by a tiny bit. After getting the degree, that tiny bump becomes the focus of your life and work. But looking at the big picture, you see that there is a lot more to learn and that broadening your worldview is perhaps more important than the deepening that resulted from your doctoral work.
(6) Facts vs. alternative facts. [Credit: Time magazine, issue of June 26, 2017] [Image]
(7) Why brick-and-mortar stores are closing: Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods triggered much discussion about what might happen to conventional grocery businesses, both big chains and small mom-and-pop stores. Upon each visit to a major department store or bookstore (before the latter went mostly out of business), I wonder how they make any money, given that, at times, there are more salespeople in the football-field-size store than customers. US retailers are highly inefficient. It has been observed that we have 5-6 times as much retail space per capita as other advanced countries. So, it is not surprising that the introduction of streamlined business models would lead to closure of these inefficient businesses.
(8) My $0.02 on the Philando Castile case: Facebook is abuzz with posts about how a killer cop got away with murder. So, let me present another view of this heartbreaking story. I too am upset by what seems to be a case of overzealous, or at least incompetent, police action that took a life and scarred the witnesses for life. But, guess what? We have incompetent surgeons, firefighters, paramedics, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and so on. We can't litigate every legal case on social media. We have a legal system that works pretty well, despite its shortcomings. Every single jury member is approved by both the prosecution and the defense. Jurors see a mountain of evidence and listen to back-and-forth questioning in the courtroom. They weigh various pieces of evidence and assess a multitude of testimonies with respect to relevance and reliability. Yes, there are also "incompetent" jurors who may be challenged in their reasoning and deduction abilities, but we have to work with our imperfect systems (legal, health, education, etc.), while trying to improve them. The assumption that based on a limited (perhaps biased) sample of evidence and without looking the accused in the eyes we can come to a more appropriate conclusion than a properly-constituted jury is quite dangerous.

2017/06/22 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
View of the Pacific Ocean from the top of West Camput bluffs at UCSB (1) Nature-photography challenge: I've just completed a week-long nature-photography challenge, which I had accepted from a Facebook friend. Each day, I was to post a photo of nature, animals, plants, sky, or monuments and to nominate a different friend to take up the challenge. It was a fun exercise! Shown is a bonus photo, along with links to the seven daily photos posted.
- Day 1: Vista point with a bench on the UCSB bluffs.
- Day 2: Drought-tolerant landscaping near my home.
- Day 3: Today, on the Montecito Hot Springs Trail.
- Day 4: Small nature preserve patch near my home.
- Day 5: Goleta's Devereux Slough is now almost dry.
- Day 6: Beach at UCSB's Coal Oil Point nature reserve.
- Day 7: Goleta Slough, shot looking toward SB Airport.
(2) A riddle for you: I was a French lady, but beheaded | Then a female knight, until my tail dropped | I was the first man, who lost his head | Holding back water, my crown fell instead | When to be is all of me | Who am I?
(3) Where 1746 adults think North Korea is located: A NYT scatterplot shows dots nearly everywhere in Asia! Knowledge of the country's location is correlated with preference for diplomacy over military action.
(4) NYT's practical guide on how to raise a reader: Not surprisingly, leading by example is the most important recommendation. A second important point is not to limit your children's reading material to stories.
(5) Wave: Photograph by Ray Collins, known for his masterful depiction of waves. Incredibly, he is colorblind, which has forced him to concentrate more on shapes, lines, and, most importantly, lighting. [Web site]
(6) Uber on the brink of self-destruction: This Time magazine cover feature (issue of June 26, 2017) examines the roots of Uber's troubles. Despite several missteps that could have killed many a start-up, Uber's valuation has grown 17-fold, from about $4 billion in 2013 to $68 billion in 2016. Can the company survive the latest internal problems and the associated bad publicity?
(7) Feeling down? There's an app for that. A couple of days ago, I was listening to an NPR program in which the multitude of apps claiming to provide mood uplifts were discussed. The app-makers are careful not to claim directly that their software provides mental-health counseling, as such assertions would put them in trouble with FDA. However, they do present a lot of misleading claims. The proliferation of medical and mental-health apps is putting health oversight authorities in a precarious position. FDA does not have the resources to follow up on all the apps and their associated claims, so it prioritizes its investigations, focusing first and foremost on those areas that might put lives at risk. The upside is that many people who use and benefit from these apps would not necessarily go to a qualified counselor in their absence.
(8) Deployable flight recorders: In the aftermath of several planes sinking at sea with no trace, Airbus is introducing flight data recorders that are ejectable and stay afloat. This is a step forward, although many experts prefer live-streaming of black-box flight data, which leaves nothing to chance. [Source: Reuters]
(9) Final thought for the day: "Trumpcare is not a healthcare bill. It's a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting healthcare for everybody else." ~ Former President Barack Obama

2017/06/21 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about common food described with fancy culinary language (1) Cartoon of the day: Everyday foodie menu. [By John Atkinson]
(2) Pepsico CEO's honest and funny take on the challenges of combining motherhood with a career.
(3) Half-dozen brief science/technology news headlines of the day:
- Rick Perry defends Trump's DoE budget cuts (Houston Chronicle)
- Tesla ramps up production of Model-3 battery cells (TechRadar)
- Astrophysicist issues warning as Asteroid Day nears (Daily Mail)
- China close to overtaking the US in research spending (WP)
- White House may help US solar-panel manufacturers (The Hill)
- ISS crew to experiment with baking bread in space (Time)
(4) Rep. Joe Kennedy's highly emotional appeal about rising to the challenges posed by the Trump agenda.
(5) Power causes brain damage: "If power were a prescription drug, it would come with a long list of known side effects. It can intoxicate. It can corrupt. It can even make Henry Kissinger believe that he's sexually magnetic. But can it cause brain damage?" This intriguing article answers the question in the affirmative.
(6) Women engineers needed: UK's Institution of Engineering and Technology has launched the "Engineer a Better World" campaign to promote engineering careers for women. Currently, only 9% of UK engineers are women (up from 6% a couple of years ago).
(7) Saudi-Qatari conflict escalates: The Saudis deport 15,000 Qatari camels!
(8) Jackpot $358,297,406.81: Most people would be surprised to see a lottery jackpot or a major national budget item specified with this level of precision. In the case of a lottery jackpot, it is enough to know, for the purposes of whether or not to participate, that the jackpot is around $358 million. Scientists and engineers are explicitly trained not to use too many significant digits in numerical estimates, which are approximate anyway, either due to limited-accuracy measurement of the pertinent parameters or imprecise models used to derive them. So, I was surprised as I was reading the prestigious IEEE Computer magazine in the jury waiting room today to see an article presenting the parameters of 32-bit adders and multipliers thus: Adder power 3,818,821.94 nW; Multiplier power 34,033,690.30 nW. There are two fundamental problems with the presentation here. First, these numbers, derived from a power estimation software tool, are definitely not accurate to within 0.01 nW. Second, and equally important, nW isn't the appropriate unit to use here. One million nW is a mW, so the numbers should have been 3.8 mW and 34.0 mW, which are much easier to understand, both in absolute and in relative terms.
(9) X-ray eyes in the sky: UCSB researchers, led by Professor Yasamin Mostofi, have demonstrated 3D imaging of objects through walls using Wi-Fi signals. The method uses two autonomous drones in tandem and can help with emergency search-and-rescue missions, archaeological discovery, and structural monitoring. In a demo, two autonomous octocopters take off and fly outside a house whose interior is unknown to the drones. One drone continuously transmits a Wi-Fi signal, the received power of which is measured by the other drone. The drones employ the imaging methodology to reveal the area behind the walls and generate high-resolution 3D images of the objects inside. [Adapted from ACM Tech News report, based on The UC Santa Barbara Current]

2017/06/20 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Arrows poiting to a water fountain, seen at Santa Barbara's Courthouse (1) If you don't see the water fountain, the sign will help you! [Seen at the jury assembly hall of Santa Barbara's Courthouse, where I reported today but was dismissed due to a delayed trial.]
(2) Trump's Panama Canal comments produce an Internet storm. Here are some examples:
- "I only got a 3 in AP history, because I missed the question about Trump building the Panama Canal."
- "l was surprised that he knew the Panama Canal is in Panama!"
- "The Panama Canal is being recognized more and more."
(3) Humorous/fake news headlines of the day:
- Trump orders execution of five turkeys pardoned by Obama
- Putin: We would welcome former FBI director Comey as asylee
- Trump: Panama should pay us, or we'll take the canal elsewhere
(4) The root of much evil: Drawing congressional district boundaries in a way that ensures the election of certain kinds of people is arguably one of the main sources of dysfunction in Washington. Representatives whose seats are viewed as safe have little incentive to be responsive and/or flexible. The US Supreme Court has just agreed to hear a case about whether there are constitutional limits to how far politicians can go in drawing electoral districts to maximize partisan political advantage. This is perhaps one of the most important cases to come up this year before the Court.
(5) Enjoying a perfect 70-degree day here in Santa Barbara: Feeling the pain of Californians further inland and those living in other regions of western US, where temperatures are in the 90s, 100s, and a few 110s. Phoenix is at a record-high 120 degrees. Many flights have been cancelled due to the extreme heat and power outages abound due to the high air-conditioning load.
(6) lying bots: Facebook taught bots how to negotiate; they learned to lie instead. The bots had been trained to respond based on the likelihood of the direction a human dialogue would take. However, the bots were also taught about maximizing reward, and this skill led to the bots lying, or feigning interest in a valueless item so that they can later 'compromise' by conceding it. [Source: ACM Tech News]
(7) Top 500 supercomputers: For the first time in the list's history, the US does not appear in the top 3 spots of world's most powerful supercomputers. The Chinese Tianhe-2 occupies the first two spots, while Switzerland's Piz Daint is listed as third.
(8) The Freedom Sculpture to be unveiled in special ceremonies on July 4, 2017: Farhang Foundation's crowd-funded public monument to freedom, cultural diversity, and inclusiveness, reflecting the design of the Cyrus Cylinder, weighs 20,400 lbs and is made out of powder-coated high-polish stainless steel. It is located on Santa Monica Blvd. at Century City.
(9) [Final thought for the day] A bullfighter and a boxer have died in recent days: A Spanish bullfighter was gored during a show in France, when he stumbled on his cape. A UFC fighter turned boxer died after he suffered serious injury in a bout in Canada. Cruelty to humans and animals should not even be called "sports." Other sports aren't violence-free either, but at least violence isn't the main goal of those sports.

2017/06/19 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Persian calligraphy: A Rumi poem (1) Master Esrafil Shirchi's calligraphic rendering of a Mowlavi (Rumi) poem from "The Book of Shams."
(2) English translation of the first 18 verses of Rumi's "Masnavi," perhaps the world's most beloved and influential work of poetry.
(3) Ten brief news headlines of the day:
- Trump grows more defiant as Russia probe pressures mount (CNN)
- Russia warns the US on downing of Syrian fighter jet (ABC News)
- Secret health care bill roils Senate Republicans (MSNBC)
- Choice between resignation and impeachment looming (Huff Post)
- Presidency was good for Trump,s businesses (Business Insider)
- Tehran says Saudi Coast Guard killed Iranian fisherman (AFP)
- Car rams police van, explodes in suspected Paris terror act (AP)
- London high-rise fire death toll revised to at least 79 (ABC News)
- US student recently freed in a coma by North Korea dies at 22 (AP)
- Trump reportedly close to hiring new Press Secretary (Bloomberg)
(4) My father, in four visits over thirty years: This is the title of a wonderful Fathers' Day essay by Dina Nayeri, published in The New Yorker. [A day late, but still worth reading.]
(5) Presidential posts on Fathers' Day: Obama writes about how proud he is to be Sasha's and Malia's and Trump cites his 50% approval rating according to the Rasmussen poll and boasts that it's better than Obama's.
(6) A worthy lesson in organization, social behavior, and leadership: What packs of wolves can teach us.
(7) Are 11- and 12-year-old singers taking over the world? A wonderful performance of "'O Sole Mio."
(8) Wonderful musical jam session (jazzy French, reminiscent of Jason Marz's style).
(9) [Final thought for the day] Reaction to congressional shooting: Firstly, US lawmakers are taking this event way more seriously than any school mass-shooting. Secondly, instead of discussing possible reform of gun laws, our representatives are considering improved security measures on Capitol Hill. That will prevent lawmakers from becoming future targets, but does nothing for school children's safety, which is apparently not as important!

2017/06/18 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) Happy Fathers' Day to all!
(2) The race to develop the flying car is on. [Image credit: E&T magazine, issue of June 2017]
(3) For selfie enthusiasts: This selfie-taking drone, from, is the size of a cell phone. It flies for 3 minutes on a full charge and has a range of 20 meters. [Image credit: E&T magazine, issue of June 2017]
(4) A whole bunch of musically talented kids cover Michael Jackson's "Heal the World" in this 7-minute video.
(5) Young boy amazes shoppers in a department store by playing the piano.
(6) Why net neutrality is important: Big corporations and rich people already control the broadcast and print media in the US. They want to gain control of the last frontier where common people, the lowly bloggers, small groups of activists, and the like, can have a say and compete with them in reaching the public. Let's help the politicians and tech leaders who are trying to stop them.
(7) A shortsighted decision: Cuban people are disappointed that the opening with the US, created by Obama, has been rolled back. Look at that smug expression on the photo accompaning the news story, as if signing a piece of paper is a great accomplishment!
(8) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- One dead, 10 injured in London terror attack outside a mosque (ABC News)
- US shoots down Syrian fighter plane (ABC News)
- Iran retaliates against ISIS by launching missiles into Syria (CNN)
- Trump lawyers and surrogates are building a case for firing Mueller (Newsweek)
- Trump and his lawyer give conflicting statements about Russia (ABC News)
- Leo DiCaprio surrenders art, Oscar statue in money-laundering probe (The Wrap)
(9) Fathers' Day hike with my daughter: We went for a 5-mile hike on the Montecito Hot Springs Trail. On Facebook, I joked that the hike was perhaps the most straneous Fathers' Day gift ever! I also took the opportunity to post my day-3 photo for the week-long nature challenge I have accepted from a Facebook friend. [Day-1 photo] [Day-2 photo] And here are a few more photos from today's hike.

Cover image for Carrie Fisher's 'The Princess Diarist' 2017/06/17 (Saturday): Book review: Fisher, Carrie, The Princess Diarist, unabridged audiobook, read by the author and Billie Lourd, Penguin/Random-House Audio, 2016.
Using the term "one-hit wonder" (a rock band which fizzles after producing a single hit song) as a model, Carrie Fisher may be described as a one-film wonder. Her role as Princes Leia in the original "Star Wars" trilogy (later designated Episodes 4-7, when three prequels were made) was forever etched into her acting persona. More people remember the Princess Leia character than the actress who played her. Teenage boys were infatuated with the futuristic princess and Fisher humorously ponders what they may have done with her "Star Wars" publicity photos!
This eighth book of Fisher (whose clever title is what roused my interest) isn't her first autobiographical work. The late actress was only 19 when she was cast in "Star Wars." She came across as being much older, perhaps owing to her leadership role in the film. She apparently kept a detailed diary, with poems and all, during the filming of the original "Star Wars" movie, and she uses some of those writings in this book.
The book has enjoyed a warm reception and excellent reviews. I was less impressed, however. The early parts of the book are honest and revealing. Towards the end, the revelations become a bit too detailed and less interesting to all but her most ardent fans. Fisher's reading leaves much to be desired, as she tends to yell when she wants to emphasize something or show excitement. Her daughter Billie Lourd does a better job of reading the diary segments.
In this book, Fisher acknowledges for the first time her 3-month, on-location affair with Harrison Ford (35 at the time and married with two children), during the filming of "Star Wars" in London. Why so late and why now, one may ask? Here is the reason, in Fisher's own words: "I've spent so many years not telling the story of Harrison and me having an affair ... that it's difficult to know exactly how to tell it now. I suppose I'm writing this because it's 40 years later and whoever we were then—superficially at least—we no longer are now."
Fisher feels bad about throwing these revelations at the intensely private Ford, but apparently not bad enough to continue hiding the love affair, which we are told was rather one-sided. Fisher had become smitten with Ford, who showed little interest beyond the physical aspects of their relationship. Addressing her lover, Fisher writes: "You filled my nights and emptied my days," in apparent reference to the couple's lack of shared interests or meaningful conversations.
Fisher went from Hollywood royalty, as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, tabloid queen and king of their day, to intergalactic royalty. She became a celebrity herself, but, in her own assessment, never a "movie star." Yet, she was treated as a genuine movie star upon her December 2016 death at age 60. She was married to singer/songwriter Paul Simon for a short while and partnered with Bryan Lourd from 1991 to 1994, giving birth to one daughter, who narrates this book with her mom.

2017/06/16 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cover image for IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of June 2017 (1) Can we copy the brain? This question is discussed as a cover feature in IEEE Spectrum magazine's June 2017 issue. Here is a list of articles, videos, and infographics in the special report.
- From Macro to Micro: A Visual Guide to the Brain (Infographic)
- Why We Should Copy the Brain
- In the Future, Machines Will Borrow Our Brain's Best Tricks
- The Brain as Computer: Bad at Math, Good at Everything Else
- What Intelligent Machines Need to Learn from the Neocortex
- How to Digitize a Rat Brain (Video)
- AI Designers Find Inspiration in Rat Brains
- The Human Brain Project Reboots: A Search Engine for the Brain Is in Sight
- We Could Build an Artificial Brain Right Now
- Neuromorphic Chips Are Destined for Deep Learning—or Obscurity
- Watch This Robot Navigate Like a Rat (Video)
- Why Rat-Brained Robots Are So Good at Navigating Unfamiliar Terrain
- Can We Quantify Machine Consciousness?
(2) Incredible piano performance: How old is this little boy? If you just listen without looking at the video, you'd think an old maestro is performing! And, by the way, he probably needs a higher seat.
(3) Coffee drinks becoming more popular in Iran: Now even small towns have coffee bars and roadside restaurants serve coffee. Up to now, Iran has been tea country.
(4) Persian-style appetizers: Your place is empty! [Photo]
(5) Math's Ten Commandments: Violate at your own risk!
(6) UCSB Arts & Lectures free summer cinema program is back: This year, James Bond films will be featured from July 5 to August 25, Wednesdays at Campbell Hall (7:30) and Fridays at the Courthouse Sunken Garden (8:30).
July 05/07: Dr. No   |   July 12/14: From Russia with Love   |   July 19/21: Goldfinger
July 26/28: You Only Live Twice   |   August 02 only: On Her Majesty's Secret Service
August 09/11: The Spy Who Loved Me   |   August 16/18: GoldenEye   |   August 23/25: Skyfall
(7) Summer 2017 GRIT talks at UCSB: Faculty members from various campus departments showcase their research programs on Mondays and Wednesdays this summer, in an exciting and accessible format. All talks are in Hatlen Theater, beginning at 5:30 PM.
- 6/26 (M), Katy Craig (Mathematics): The Math of Swarming Robots, Superconductors, and Slime Mold
- 6/28 (W), Jason Marden (ECE): The Challenges that Society Brings to Engineering Design
- 7/05 (W), Tim Sherwood (Computer Science): The Rock We Tricked into Thinking
- 7/10 (M), Greg Ashby (Psychology): I Have No Idea How I Did That: The Remarkable Learning Abilities of the Human Brain
- 7/12 (W), Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez (Biology—EEMB): Ocean Acidification and Other Stories—Overcoming Climate Anxiety at a Time of Global Crisis
- 7/17 (M), Rod Garratt (Economics): From Bitcoin to Central Bank Digital Currencies
- 7/19 (W), Jean Carlson (Physics): Complexity and Robustness: How Biology, Ecology, and Technology Balance Tradeoffs in an Uncertain World
- 7/24 (M), Mike Mahan (Biology—MCDB): People Are Not Petri Plates: Why Antibiotics Fail
(8) Final thought for the day: Qatar supports terrorism (according to Trump and his Arab buddies), so let's sell them $12 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets (deal signed by Tillerson).

2017/06/15 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Geographic distribution of my relatives in the 23andMe database (1) My 23andMe genetic ancestry study: Apparently, I am 98.5% Middle Eastern, 0.6% North African, and 0.9% European. My Neanderthal ancestry may be part of the reason for my back being hair-free and for my tendency to sneeze after eating dark chocolate. I have been approached by seemingly unrelated people whose DNA compositions are similar to several members of my family, but so far, I have not explored or reached out to any relatives in the genetic database. Statistics show that I have 11 close family members (up to second cousin), 344 further family members (third and fourth cousins), and 922 even more distant relatives in the database.
(2) Poor Donald Trump: He can't decide whether he should play an unflinching strongman or a suffering martyr, so he alternates between the two! [Martyrdom tweets]
(3) The Trump administration has agreed to sell arms to Qatar: Sure, why not sell arms to both sides of a conflict? Qataris and Saudis will use up their arsenals much faster this way!
(4) What goes around, comes around: After recent stories about Apple poaching a leading Qualcomm engineer for its chip development project, we now learn that Google has snatched a top Apple engineer, Manu Gulati, who is said to have been heavily involved in custom chips used for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. [Source: CNBC]
(5) Throwback Thursday: A pencil drawing of mine, from the 1960s, hanging in my sister's home. [Photo]
(6) Find the next term in this series: GS, Cleveland, GS, _____
(7) Zero Days: This is the title of a documentary film about the Stuxnet Internet worm that infected and disabled thousands of Iran's centrifuges during Ahmadinejad's presidency.
The discussion of whether countries are entitled to carry out cyber-attacks against their adversaries is quite complicated, even more so than conventional warfare. This is why, in the US, the president must personally authorize any cyber-attack, whereas in the realm of conventional war, only a nuclear attack needs presidential authorization. Setting this question aside, I will discuss some details of the 2016 documentary film, written and directed by Alex Gibney.
The film's narration tells us that a lot of the information needed to design and execute the attack came from Iran's own propaganda films, showing Ahmadinejad as he toured the nuclear facilities, during which parts of computer screens displaying certain details of the facilities' control systems were visible. So, as Ahmadinejad was ranting about wiping out Israel from the face of the Earth, his simpleton propaganda machine was supplying Iran's adversaries with valuable information.
Apparently, the Stuxnet malware was relatively unsuccessful in that it only put a dent in Iran's nuclear program. On the other hand, the genie of Stuxnet eventually got out of its bottle and was turned into a weapon against the US and other countries. As they say, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. It turns out that the US digital infrastructure is among the most vulnerable in the world, making it a target of attack by state and non-state actors worldwide.
(8) Final thought for the day: Live coverage of international women's sports on Iranian TV. The censors give a new meaning to "coverage"! And why is it okay for the censors to see the women uncensored?

2017/06/14 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Time magazine cover story about Trump International Hotel in DC (1) The swamp hotel: Time magazine cover story, issue of June 19, 2017, about Trump International Hotel in DC.
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- US has six nuclear plants that are set to retire [Power Engineering]
- Markets favor renewables, natural gas, while Trump clings to coal [AP]
- Apple issues $1B Green Bond in wake of Paris withdrawal [Reuters]
- Disgruntled UPS employee kills 3 co-workers, self in San Francisco [PBS]
- Trump under investigation for possible obstruction of justice [AFP]
- Amid criminal court case, Bill Cosby fighting lawsuits by 10 women [AP]
(3) Iranian women's campaign of wearing white scarves on Wednesdays to protest mandatory hijab laws gets worldwide attention.
(4) Farcical cabinet meeting: In what seems like a "dear leader" exercise worthy of North Korea, senior members of Trump's team compete to flatter him and to thank him for his leadership. No wonder he thinks that in the first few months of his administration, he has accomplished more than any other President!
(5) London high-rise engulfed in fire: At least a dozen dead in the apartment building fire, with the death toll expected to rise.
(6) Shooter who opened fire on Republican members of US Congress identified: Bernie Sanders has confirmed (according to another news report) that the attacker had worked for his campaign. He condemned the attack in very strong terms.
(7) Man kills 9-year-old daughter while teaching gun safety to his sons: I know this sounds mean, but the lesson was quite effective! The shooting is likely just stupid, but it might be sinister. I hope the cops look into the possibility that the shooting was a deliberate act under the guise of an accident (e.g., to hide rape/incest). Don't fault my conspiratorial mind; I have watched too many crime mysteries!
(8) ISIS terrorism in Iran: This film, released by Iranian authorities, shows the carnage created by ISIS terrorists at the Parliament building. It is hard to watch and shows multiple killings as they occur, but it leaves no doubt that there was a real terror attack, as opposed to a fake/staged one.
(9) Final thought for the day [regarding Jared Kushner]: You can't be one of the most powerful government figures in a democracy and not speak a single word to the people. As the Persian saying goes, "A man's faults and virtues remain hidden, until he speaks."

2017/06/13 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Iranian women delight in being admitted to a sports arena for the first time in years (1) A middle-aged woman prays, while young women around her engage in supporting Iran's national volleyball team. Women were allowed to enter the arena for the first time in years.
(2) Hypocricy galore: The Republicans attacked President Obama's inexperience for 8 years. Now, Paul Ryan defends President Trump thus: "Well, he doesn't know how any of this works."
(3) Cartoon of the day: World's first successful operation to detach smartphone from hand. [Image]
(4) Israel takes a quantum leap: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Quantum Information Science Center has begun working on a national quantum communications system demonstrator. The project will position Israel on the leading edge of research toward super-secure communication systems. Started in 2013, HU's QISC features a score of physics, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, philosophy, and engineering specialists, tasked with advancing Israel's comprehension of quantum information science and the development of quantum technologies. [Source: ACM Tech News]
(5) Artificial intelligence ready for key role in suicide prevention: Vanderbilt University Medical Center's researchers have developed machine-learning algorithms that can accurately predict suicide attempts. Using data on 5,167 Vanderbilt patients to train their computer to identify people at risk of attempted suicide, the team developed a system to anticipate attempted suicide among 12,695 randomly chosen patients with no documented history of suicide attempts. Trial results found the algorithms to be 80-percent to 90-percent accurate in forecasting a person's attempted suicide within the next two years, and 92-percent accurate in predicting an attempt within the next week. [Source: ACM Tech News]
(6) Cloud capital of the world—Seattle: Microsoft and Amazon have their major operations in the Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond axis and other major cloud contenders, including Google and Oracle, have placed development and engineering offices in the area. [Source: Fortune]
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- DoE labs are bracing for major science-related job losses [Chicago Daily Herald]
- Coal industry rebound likely to be short-lived [Washington Times]
- Search on for 2 Georgia inmates, who killed 2 prison guards before escaping [AP]
- Ohio mom and 2 adult daghters killed; Suspect charged with 2 other slayings [AP]
- North Carolina math teacher accused of sexual contact with 3 students [CBS News]
- LGBTQs react negatively to Trump's tweet on FL nightclub mass murder anniversary
(8) Mideast regional research center set to open in Jordan: Bringing together unlikely collaborators from Iran, Isreal, and other MidEast countries, the center, located in Allan, will boost scientific discoveries in the war-ravaged region with the help of a powerful microscope and other state-of-the-art facilities. The center's opening has been marked by political rows and the 2010 assassination of an Iranian scientist linked to the project. [Source: AP]
(9) Weirdest dream: I dreamt last night that I had walked from San Diego to Los Angeles and was contemplating whether I should walk the rest of the way to Santa Barbara. This morning, I felt pretty tired!

2017/06/12 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
E-mail that asks you to apologize for receiving multiple copies of an announcement! (1) The English language and me: As I was driving to Los Angeles yesterday, I chanced upon an NPR program containing a comedy skit. A young English graduate, just hired by the US Coast Guard, was answering an emergency call. The caller began, "My friends and me are on a boat that is taking in water and ... ," which led to an immediate correction from the dispatcher: "My friends and I, sir." The hilarious conversation continued, with the frantic man pleading for help and the female dispatcher correcting his English at every turn, until the boat sank!
Even though English isn't my first language, I have grown quite fond of it and, just like many native speakers of the language, get irritated when I see "your" where there should be "you're," "it's" pretending to be a possessive pronoun, and "Im" used just out of sheer laziness. In the course of a single day, I receive multiple e-mail messages with silly English errors. For example, it has become commonplace, when posting an announcement on several mailing lists with possibly overlapping memberships, to offer apologies to those who receive multiple copies. The e-mail shown here, on the other hand, asks that you apologize for receiving multiple copies!
(2) Women to former FBI Director Comey: Being told why you did not resign or confront your boss when put in uncomfortable situations is exactly the same criticism women face in sexual harassment cases.
(3) Mathematicians think they can dance!
(4) Quote of the day: "[Kushner] has to tell us one thing: How does a 36-year-old, who never worked in a job his daddy didn't buy, becomes the second most-powerful man in America—right behind Putin?" ~ Bill Mahr
(5) Cartoon of the day: Destructive tweets! [Image]
(6) Feeling accomplished: My new Honda Accord did fit in the newly cleared garage. As in many Californian residences, my garage had become a storage room and workshop. Buying a new car motivated me to clear the garage to help protect it from vandalism. All that's left is the nontrivial task of getting rid of, or finding places for, all the stuff taken out of the garage!
(7) Fake news of the Islamic variety: In Iran, fake news is the norm, yet the rebroadcasting of old, debunked allegations that reporter Masih Alinajad had been raped is a sign of the regime's extreme fear of the highly successful anti-mandatory-hijab activities of Ms. Alinejad. They spread fake news from broadcast and print media under the regime's control, with no opportunity for the accused to say anything in defense. But the Iranian people know better whom to trust.
(8) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Pressure in Britain builds for Theresa May to step aside
- North Korea trolls Trump, threatens to nuke NYC
- Nearly 2.5 million pounds of Tyson chicken products recalled
- Blasphemous Facebook post leads to death sentence in Pakistan
- Trump's approval rating hits a new low
- France offers 4-year research grants to scientists who move there
- Iran beats Uzbekistan 2-0, qualifies for soccer World Cup 2018
- Golden State beats Cleveland in 5th game to become NBA champ
(9) Final thought for the day: "That which the fountain sends forth returns again to the fountain." ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The speakers and moderator of UCLA's Kiarostami symposium 2017/06/11 (Sunday): Symposium honoring Abbas Kiarostami: Held in a conference room on the third floor of UCLA's Royce Hall beginning at 3:00 PM today, the program for "Abbas Kiarostami: The Man and His Arts" consisted of four speakers elaborating on various aspects of the late Iranian filmmaker's life and works, ending with a Q&A segment moderated by Dr. Nayereh Tohidi.
Seated from left to right in the photo are Ahmad Kiarostami (Abbas' son), Dr. Nayereh Tohidi (Cal State Northridge), Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak (University of Maryland and UCLA), Dr. Shiva Balaghi (Brown University), and Dr. Hamid Naficy (Northwestern University).
Abbas Kiarostami [1940-2016] was known primarily as a filmmaker, who was perhaps better recognized and more appreciated outside Iran than within his own country. For this reason, he was occasionally accused of catering to the tastes of international film festivals in his filmmaking. He was also an accomplished poet, photographer, and graphic designer. As is rather common in Iranian cinema, Kiarostami wrote his own filmscripts.
Dr. Balaghi, a cultural historian, spoke under the title "On Kiarostami's Poetic Landscapes." She noted that Kiarostami was enrolled in Honarkadeh (art school of Tehran University) in the 1960s, where he began designing movie posters to support himself. He was part of a talented group of students, many of whom became giants of Iran's arts scene. Even after he became an established artist, he continued to work on movie posters, including some for his own films. He aspired to bring the two milieus of photography and cinema closer to each other, in the sense of making photographs tell stories in the same way that films do. Nature (trees in particular) forms an important theme in Kiarostami's photographs and films.
Dr. Karimi-Hakkak, whose extensive publications include a volume containing English translations of Kiarostami's Persian poems, spoke under the title "Abbas Kiarostami: The Belated Poet." He was a belated poet in two different senses. First, he followed an 1100-year tradition of Persian poetry. Second, he emerged as a poet in the late 1990s, when he was approaching 60. Dr. Karimi-Hakkak presented several examples of Kiarostami's poems, along with English translations. The poems were all rather simple, yet one can attribute deep meaning to them. Here are a couple of examples:
A white foal / emerges through the fog / and disappears / in the fog
How merciful / that the turtle doesn't see / the little bird's / effortless flight
Dr. Naficy began his talk entitled "The Artful Cinema of Abbas Kiarostami" with the observation that the filmmaker was already well-known in Europe in 1995, when the magazine Cahiers du Cinema put his photo on its cover, referring to him as "Kiarostami le Magnifique" and devoting 50 pages to his life and works. He then proceeded to outline key characteristics of Kiarostami's films, which include frequent use of roads and automobiles, long stretches of time when his films had no significant female characters, temporal precision and economy (from his advertising background), institutional or government-supported filmmaking, frequent use of children as film subjects, apparent realism, sly civility, lone-male characters on a quest, use of non-professional actors and improvisation, and synchronous sound recording (unusual in the cinema of Iran). Dr. Naficy then elaborated at length on the notion of sly civility, which manifests itself as everything being veiled in the Iranian culture. In addition to veiling of women, there are high-walled residences, inner rooms, the khodi-gharibeh dichotomy, ritual courtesy (taarof), dissimulation (taqqiyeh), and inner sincerity (safa-ye baaten).
Mr. Kiarostami Jr. spoke briefly and showed a short film entitled "Take Me Home," assembled from photographs Kiarostami took in Italy over a period of two decades. The photographs show architecturally interesting neighborhoods, in which inclined passageways consist of numerous stairs. A soccer ball is shown bouncing down the stairs, with a little boy eventually coming to retrieve it and take it home. The speaker announced that a film about Kiarostami, "76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami" will be screened on Wednesday, July 5, 2017, at Santa Monica Public Library. Check out the Facebook page "Docunight" for details.
During the Q&A segment, a number of interesting observations were offered. For example, it is often stated that Kiarostami's films are apolitical, whereas it is possible to interpret his work as containing subtle political messages. His films are a unique genre, sitting between fiction and documentary. They teach us to respect nature, including animals. His films often lack a clear storyline, a style that he pursued even more devoutly later in life. He thought that he should pose questions, not provide answers. He wanted the audience to be active participants in his films, rather than be told a story from beginning to end.
[Note: As I was exiting UCLA's Royce Hall, I caught a minute of music coming from inside the main auditorium, as a performance of "Les Miserables" was concluding. When outside, I snapped these photos of Royce Hall and Powell Library, where this year's graduates were having early photo-shoots.]

Cover image of the book 'Fifty Shades of Grey' 2017/06/10 (Saturday): Book review: James, E. L., Fifty Shades of Grey, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Becca Battoe, Random House Audio, 2012.
I remember the hoopla surrounding the release of "50 Shades" more than five years ago and how it was immediately dissed by critics as mediocre soft-porn, aimed at sexually frustrated housewives; I do realize the sexism in the latter statement, but want to set the stage for my review by emphasizing the bizarre success of this book.
Anyway, curiosity got the better of me and I checked out the audiobook version, when it appeared on the list of immediately available titles at my local library, via the OverDrive smartphone app. I could stomach listening to a tad less than 1/3 of the book, before quitting. I will explain why, shortly.
I also noticed the availability of the 2015 book Grey, with the intriguing idea of telling the exact same story from the vantage point of the male protagonist; "50 Shades" is told by the young woman, who succumbs to the charms of a complicated rich man with a sex play/torture-room in his house.
"Grey" also proved uninteresting to me, an avowed feminist, so I listened to less than 1/5 of it. I did fast-forward to the final chapter of "Gray" in hopes of finding a plot twist of some sort that would absolve the boring initial chapters, but found none. This was the first time I was perusing a story told from two different vantage points. In the hands of an abler writer, this device presents interesting possibilities, as each story reinforces the other and supplies the parts between the lines, that is, what one character thinks or what s/he does when alone or not with the other main character.
The female protagonist of "50 Shades" and "Grey" is a university student about to graduate. She goes to interview a successful, but emotionally damaged, business magnate, who is scheduled to deliver the commencement address at her school. She does the interview as a substitute for her close friend, editor of the school paper, who comes down with an illness and fears that the schedule of the busy executive would not allow a rescheduling before her graduation. The rest of the story is a highly predictable Cinderella tale, adorned with the explicit description of sexual acts of all kinds between the domineering, control-freak executive and the role-playing submissive young woman.
There are quite a few interesting tidbits about this book, which is the first volume in a trilogy that also includes Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, all three volumes having been turned into movies starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. The author is a British woman, who wrote under the gender-hiding pen name "E. L. James" (a la J. K. Rowling), presumably to increase her chances of becoming a successful writer. Sure enough, the book climbed the NYT best-sellers list rather quickly, and it has been selling briskly since (worldwide sales stand at more than 100 million copies, according to
[My two-star review on GoodReads]

2017/06/08 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest. (1) Putting a face on one of Tehran's terror victims: Mahdieh Harati, university instructor, was visiting the Parliament as an advocate for the homeless.
(2) A whole lotta negotiating going on: The UK will have to renegotiate 759 different treaties when it exits the EU. [Source: Time magazine, issue of June 12, 2017]
(3) When musicians channel Radiohead on a Tehran street!
(4) A serio-comedy Persian poem for readers who speak the language.
(5) Eric Trump complains about lack of morals and civility in society: I hope he sees this compilation, which juxtaposes his comments with very civil remarks by his dad!
(6) Deep learning improves machine translation: What a difference a few years make! The quality of Google's machine translation is steadily rising, owing to the use of deep-learning neural-network technology. An encoder network and a decoder network are trained as a pair for each choice of source and target languages. So, the larger the volume of translations between a pair of languages, the greater the quality improvement. These techniques, along with pre-processing of the text, when dealing with languages from different linguistic families, have led to amazing results. [Source: Communications of the ACM, issue of June 2017] [Image]
(7) Paying attention: While we were absorbed by the Comey testimony, the House was considering gutting the financial regulations known as "Dodd-Frank" and giving banks, that we once bailed out, a free hand to cause havoc again. They are also weakening the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to boot.
(8) Computer engineering capstone project presentation day: The spring 2017 quarter is coming to an end and CE graduating seniors are proud to showcase projects they have been pursuing for the past nine months. One of these projects, FLIR Helios, consists of a wireless motion-detecting camera, with infra-red capabilities, powered by solar cells. [Photos]
(9) [Final thought for the day] Cherry-picking by the Republicans: NYT is a fake news outlet, but when it publishes something nasty about a Trump critic, it is dead on. Comey cannot be trusted. But the President feels exonerated, because Comey confirmed that he had told the President he was not personally under investigation for ties to Russia. Yes, but Comey also said, multiple times in his testimony today, that he believed Trump lied about important issues.

2017/06/07 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image of a robot reading a hypothetical book 'Neocortex for Neophytes' (1) What intelligent machines need to learn from the neocortex: This is the title of an article in IEEE Spectrum, issue of June 2017, opining that with new discoveries, made possible by reverse engineering the human brain and the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence, a new epoch of intelligent machines is finally within reach.
(2) Cartoon of the day: The two Donalds. [Image]
(3) Terror attacks in Tehran: Multiple gunmen and a suicide bomber attack Iran's parliament building in central Tehran and Khomeini's shrine in south Tehran. ISIS has claimed responsibility. Initial reports indicate a dozen deaths and many more injuries. Some sources claim that the gunmen were dressed as women (with chadors). One report indicates that one or more attackers were women.
(4) Persian music: Chorale de Bahar and Darya Dadvar perform a wonderful piece by Mehrdad Baran, who set Fereydoon Moshiri's famous "Koocheh" poem to music.
(5) Incredible athleticism in jump-rope competition! [Video]
(6) Quote of the day: "A man's age can be measured by the degree of pain he feels as he comes in contact with a new idea." ~ Anonymous
(7) Santa Barbara's summer concerts in the parks: This year's series is set to begin on Thursday, July 6, with a performance by the PettyBreakers, a tribute band to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Other scheduled concerts include The Hollywood Stones (Rolling Stones tribute, July 13), Crooked Eye Tommy (SoCal blues, July 20), and Captain Cardiac and the Coronaries (50s and 60s rock-n-roll, July 27).
(8) For-profit college stocks up sharply since Trump's election: Many such colleges have been caught scamming both their students and the federal government and several were forced to shut down as a result of their shady practices over the past few years. Now, emboldened by a President, whose own for-profit "university" was sued and chose to settle by agreeing to $25 million in refunds to students (a virtual admission of guilt, given how Trump operates), these colleges think that the feds are more likely to look the other way, when they make misleading claims about their students' job prospects.
(9) Attending design fair at UCSB: Students of our College of Engineering's ECE and ME Departments presented their very impressive capstone projects and TED-like talks based on a few of them at Corwin Pavilion this afternoon. Computer engineering students will follow suit tomorrow. [Photos]

2017/06/06 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Iranian woman holding a protest sign at an election rally for President Rouhani (1) A question posed to President Rouhani: At a political rally held at the largest sports stadium in Tehran, where men and women co-mingled, this woman's sign asks whether she will be allowed into the stadium even after the election. This is a pointed reference to women being barred from attending most sporting events, on the grounds that the mixing of men and women would be un-Islamic.
(2) Doctors charged in huge insurance fraud scheme: A total of 26 people were indicted for crimes that victimized 13,000 patients and defrauded at least 27 insurance companies. Medical billing/management company owners Tanya Moreland King, 37, and her husband, Christopher King, 38, both of Beverly Hills, are accused of recruiting doctors and pharmacists to prescribe unnecessary treatments and medications.
(3) Obamacare isn't failing: It is being methodically sabotaged to create a healthcare crisis, which will then be "remedied" with Trumpcare. This is like giving to a sick person medications that worsen the condition, so that subsequent placebo treatment would seem like relief!
(4) The British PM defends London's Mayor against ignorant remarks by Trump: How many world leaders with diverse political leanings should diss Trump before his supporters come to their senses? Even in the US, polls show that more people support impeachment efforts than Trump policies.
(5) Child marriages: Hearing about child brides, we immediately think of a backward country in Asia or Africa. In the highly advanced USA, more than 167,000 people under age 17 married in 38 states during the 2000-2010 decade, and 27 states set no true minimum age for marriage. [Source: Time magazine, issue of June 12, 2017]
(6) Cartoon of the day: Table set up for climate talks in Paris. [Image]
(7) NASA's first mission to the sun will launch in the summer of 2018: The sun is actually closer to us, and easier to get to, than Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto (which are 4-39 times further). What has prevented NASA from flying to the sun so far has been its inability to make vehicles that can withstand the sun's immense heat as they get close to it. This problem has apparently been solved and NASA is preparing for a close-up examination of our star.
(8) Every moment, a new fruit arrives from this orchard: The heading for this item is the English translation of a Persian saying used to denote a continuing pattern of bad behavior or delivery of bad news. Today, it was revealed that fake news stories planted by Russia may have been responsible for the rift between several Arab countries and Qatar, which has been accused of aiding and abetting terrorist groups.
(9) Final thought for the day: "Memory is a snare, pure and simple; it alters, it subtly rearranges the past to fit the present." ~ Mario Vargas Llosa

2017/06/05 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Jared Kushner on the cover of Time magazine (1) Jared Kushner makes the cover of Time magazine (issue of June 12, 2017), but I bet not in the way he would have preferred!
(2) Alternative diets: The cover story of Time magazine, issue of June 5, 2017, is about the diversity of diet plans, both legit and questionable, that are available. The short version of the lengthy story is that if one plan does not work for you, don't give up. Try other plans, because a match for your specific conditions and needs likely exists.
(3) Nonsensical word of the week: Covfefe. [T-shirt photo]
(4) Jean Sammet dies at 89: She was a pioneer of computing, one of the first software engineers, co-inventor of a major programming language (COBOL), and author of an influential book on programming languages (which I studied as a graduate student). RIP!
(5) Supreme Court manterruptions: Based on analysis of SCOTUS data from 2011 to 2015, female justices were 3 times as likely to be interrupted as male justices. [Source: Time magazine, issue of June 12, 2017]
(6) On the importance of accurate targeting in advertising campaigns: Though I am not a Muslim, I regularly receive donation requests and advertising from various sources that use Islamic notions in their appeals. This donation request from Zaytuna College is the latest example. It uses the start of the month of Ramadan as the pretext. While I might be persuaded to help a worthy cause that happens to benefit an Islamic society, I certainly will not do it because of the month of Ramadan or any other event on the Islamic calendar.
(7) Putin's Sunday night interview with Megyn Kelly: Far from revealing anything about himself or Russia, Putin used the NBC program's platform masterfully to spread propaganda and to demean the US. He claimed at one point that hacking is quite easy, so the US election hacks could have been done by Americans in a way to frame Russia. Previously, he had said that his government was not involved, but the hacks could have been the work of "patriotic Russians," operating independently. While Kelly pressed Putin on a number of issues, she was no match for his dodging and conniving ways.
(8) Tensions rise in the Persian Gulf region: The complex situation created by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and UAE cutting ties with Qatar, over what those countries consider Qatar's support for terrorist organizations (Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas) has raised worries about possible instability in the region. The US is nominally against Qatar, given Trump's very recent reaffirmation of support for the Saudis. However, the US has a large military base in Qatar, which will have to be moved if it is determined that the charges of Qatar sponsoring terrorist organizations are valid. Meanwhile, Iran is all smiles over the prospects of a major rift in the alliance of Sunni-majority countries. Qatar's stance has thus thrown a monkey wrench in what appeared to be a strong display of solidarity of Sunni Arabs in their opposition to Iran's regional aspirations.
(9) Final thought for the day: "[I]n the civilization of the spectacle, intellectuals are of interest only if they play the fashion game and become clowns." ~ Mario Vargas Llosa

2017/06/04 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image of American flag, made of 0s and 1s, being unraveled (1) Hacking democracy. [Image credit: Time magazine]
(2) An amazing piano performance: Saman Ehteshami masterfully mixes classical and Persian music at Tehran's Vahdat Auditorium.
(3) Indian comedian tells hilarious ethnic jokes: Russell Peters is an equal-opportunity offender. I know, with this name, he shouldn't make fun of a Chinese guy named "Anthony"! In one of his funniest routines, he explains why he doesn't do any Arab jokes.
(4) Operatic news: "Impeachera" is inspired by the "Opera Man" skits Adam Sandler used to do on SNL.
(5) The President has been very clear: Yeah, if we don't understand Trump's incoherent and flip-flopping statements, we are the problem!
(6) Quote of the day: "A person who does not read, or reads little, or reads only trash, is a person with an impediment: he can speak much but he will say little, because his vocabulary is deficient in the means for self-expression. This is not only a verbal limitation. It represents also a limitation in intellect and imagination. It is a poverty of thought, for the simple reason that ideas, the concepts through which we grasp the secrets of our condition, do not exist apart from words." ~ Mario Vargas Llosa
(7) This should settle the question of whether the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. [Image]
(8) Sundays and the new 7:00 PM dilemma: I have been a regular watcher of the CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes" on Sunday evenings, because I enjoy its in-depth stories and high journalistic standards. Beginning tonight, the new NBC show "Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly" will air opposite "60 Minutes." Given her notoriety, Kelly will likely attract interesting guests, such as Vladimir Putin, who is on tonight. Decisions, decisions!
(9) Final thought for the day: "Reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life." ~ Mario Vargas Llosa

2017/06/03 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Diagram illustrating the puzzle/paradox due to Torricelli (1) Mathematical puzzle/paradox: Known as "Torricelli's Trumpet," the paradox goes like this. Consider the area on the x-y plane between the curve y = 1/x, the x-axis, and the vertical line x = 1. The area is infinite (why?), so you cannot paint it with any finite amount of paint, no matter how thin the coating. Now, rotate the area around the x axis, to generate a trumpet-shaped volume. This volume is finite (why, and how much is it?), and thus can be filled with a finite amount of paint.
That finite amount of paint now covers not only the surface in the first part of the statement above, but infinitely many other surfaces. How is this possible?
(2) In the year I was born, the most popular book was The Miracle of the Bell, by Russell Janney, which I have not read yet. Have you read yours? [List of books]
(3) Quote of the day: "Concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." ~ Hubert Humphrey
(4) Nations are not like businesses: Deal-making is a hallmark of businesses, which seek the most favorable terms possible in each deal, regardless of past dealings and track records. Countries, and societies more generally, do have interests, which they often try to safeguard against abuse by other countries, but the similarity with businesses ends here. In the case of an international climate accord, advanced industrial countries, which got a head start in advancing their economies via indiscriminate use of polluting technologies (when they were not yet understood to harm the environment irrevocably) must give less developed countries a break, so that they can do some catching up. Fairness of a deal in this context can be defined as a balance in per-capita total pollution, including damage already done. So, if an advanced country has polluted way more in the past than an underdeveloped or developing country, it must be prepared to face deeper cuts in future.
(5) US CEOs show foresight: Major business leaders continue to denounce the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. At least a couple of tech advisers to the President have quit their positions in protest. This is the second mobilization of business leaders against misguided Trump administration policies. The first one came after Trump's travel ban order, which, by the way, appears to be headed to the US Supreme Court for resolution.
(6) Time-lapse video provides an awe-inspiring view of the Milky Way Galaxy.
(7) My little fountain: The pump I had for several years died a couple of days ago. Today, I installed a replacement pump that, to my delight, comes with LED lights. And here is my little fountain at night!
(8) Awards night at my son's Aikido school: Following Aikido demos, Judo demos, and a potluck dinner, students received their certificates and belts.
(9) An evening with UCSB Middle East Ensemble: The thick program booklet for tonight's program at Lotte Lehman Concert Hall offers signs that this is an academic unit. Every piece is meticulously documented with genre, history, lyrics, and translation! A selection from the highly enjoyable 3-hour program follows. [Armenian war dance] [Solo dance to the long instrumental introduction of an Arabic tune] [Greek song and dance] [Music and dance from Luxor in southern Egypt] [Persian santoor composition by Bahram Osqueezadeh] [Persian love song, "Emshab Shab-e Mahtabeh" ("Tonight is a Moonlit Night")] [Iranian folk song "Majnoon Naboudom" ("I Wasn't Crazy—Before You")] [Closing song and dance]

Photos of Shirin Ebadi, Sarah Leah Whitson, and Asli Bali 2017/06/02 (Friday): [Report on a gathering at UCLA] Behind the Veil: Women's Rights in Iran:
A conversation, held this evening at the newly-opened UCLA Luskin Conference Center, included Dr. Shirin Ebadi (Nobel Peace Laureate, and former Iranian judge and attorney, now living in exile) and Sarah Leah Whitson (Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, Middle East and North Africa Division), with Professor Asli Bali (UCLA School of Law) moderating the discussion. Ms. Shirin Ershadi acted ably as translator for Dr. Ebadi, who spoke in Persian. The questions had been supplied to the discussants in advance so as to facilitate the translation task.
This event was sponsored by the Los Angeles Committee of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) Alliance. Photography and video recording were disallowed, in part to safeguard the identities of participants, who may encounter difficulties during possible future trips to Iran. In fact, for that same reason, four of the seven members of the host committee were listed as "anonymous" in the program leaflet. The organizers video-recorded the event (showing only the panelists) on Facebook Live.
Dr. Ebadi was asked about her views on the re-election of President Rouhani and the impressive 70% voter turnout. She indicated that, given the concentration of power in the hands of the Supreme Leader, Rouhani is unlikely to accomplish more in his second term than he did over the past four years, which is pretty much nothing, particularly in the area of human rights. The situation of political prisoners shows no improvement under Rouhani, who often dismisses questions about political prisoners by saying that the judiciary isn't under his control. This is disingenuous at best. Charges against these political prisoners are brought by the Ministry of Intelligence, which is definitely under Rouhani's control. She deems the voter turnout unimportant, quipping that even if the turnout were 90%, Rouhani would still lack the power and will to introduce change.
Ms. Whitson was less harsh in this regard. She considers the verdict of Iranian people, within the very narrow choice they were given, as being significant, because it signaled their preference for rapprochement with the West as well as the limited opening in the area of citizen's rights that Rouhani promised. Ms. Whitson also questioned the sincerity of some who show support for women's rights in the Middle East, as they appear to be primarily motivated by a desire to ridicule those countries, rather than offer constructive suggestions. This is why HRW recognizes different shades of oppression (Iranian women, e.g., are much more engaged in the country's economy than those in other Islamic countries of the region).
According to Ms. Whitson, HRW uses the governments' own declarations about economic advances and opening up of the society to argue for greater opportunities for women. Even though it is nominally against Iran's own laws, there are still plenty of employment ads that are explicitly directed at men. An HRW brochure, entitled "It's a Men's Club: Discrimination Against Women in Iran's Job Market," was distributed at the event. HRW is working diligently on applying pressure in areas of salary equity, sexual harassment policies, maternity leave, and the like, as practical means for improving women's lives.
Dr. Ebadi related a memory from the early days of the Islamic Republic, even before there was a president or a constitution. The very first law passed was one that allowed men to take four wives. She indicated that Iran's Islamic Revolution, more than representing a political movement, was an uprising of men against women! The feminist movement in Iran is perhaps the strongest movement in the country. Women have scored some victories in correcting certain discriminatory laws, but there is still a long way to total equality. These small victories had a high cost in terms of lives lost and long prison terms served. Nearly all ~30 feminists in Iranian prisons have been artificially charged with national security crimes in order to inflate their jail terms, despite the fact that their activities pertain only to civil rights. Iranian women will no doubt prevail in their fight to attain equality, and their efforts will bring democracy to Iran.
On the subject of Islamist terrorism, Dr. Ebadi complained that the Western media do not give due coverage to terrorism against Muslims in various parts of the world, such as East Asia and Chechnya. She observed that Islamist terrorism in the West is often not carried out by new arrivals (such as refugees), but rather by second- and third-generation immigrants. We must ask ourselves why these immigrants turn violent. Embracing new immigrants and giving them support and skills, instead of isolating and demeaning them, will go a long way toward preventing future acts of terrorism. When, decades ago, immigrants were accepted with open arms and given opportunities, they became key contributors to the progress of America.
On the question of whether Islam can ever be reconciled with women's rights, Dr. Ebadi stated that, just like there are multiple brands of Christianity, Islam has many interpretations. The problem is that clerics with more liberal views, who condemn the subjugation of women under the guise of Islam, have been sidelined by the ruling authorities and most do not dare to speak up. Also, activists must remember that they can effect change only if they speak the language of the people, rather than engage in academic discourse with limited readership.
Dr. Ebadi indicated that she is all for secularism, but that change cannot occur overnight. The cause of women's oppression, in any society, is primarily cultural. We should remember that people of Iran voted to approve a religion-based constitution, so a transition to secular government will take time. Reforming laws can help hasten this transition. The purpose of laws isn't just establishment of order but also elevation of the prevailing culture. Unfortunately, the situation in Iran has been reversed in that citizens are much more enlightened that the laws. We should all strive to work on cultural elevation.
On the question of "blood money" discrimination (fines for crimes being dependent on the victim's religion), Dr. Ebadi indicated that whereas some progress has been made, in that followers of the three "recognized" religions are now treated like Muslims, the problem persists for other minorities, such as Baha'is and Izadis. A Muslim can still kill a Baha'i, without facing any mandatory punishment (doling punishment is at the discretion of the court/judge).
A coffee/tea-and-desserts reception preceded the main event. The Luskin Conference Center Ballroom was jam-packed. The organizers had indicated that there were a limited number of 250 seats, thus requiring pre-registration of attendees. It seemed to me that there were perhaps close to 400 seats in the venue; some of the seats may have been occupied by invited attendees, who were not counted in the 250-person limit.

2017/06/01 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
US map, showing the most frequently misspelled word during 2017 by state (1) The most misspelled words in the US, by state: "Beautiful" and "Vacuum" make multiple showings, which is understandable, but why are "Tomorrow," "Gray," and "Ninety" there at all? In a previous edition of this list, Hawaiians were apparently unsure about how to spell their state's name!
(2) Quote of the day: "We had decided to send medicine to Africa; however, the instructions on all said 'take on full stomach'." ~ Charles Bukowski
(3) Engineering ethics and learning from failures: Many failures of structures and other engineered systems are characterized as "accidents," while they are really due to foreseeable failure mechanisms that were missed or purposefully ignored during the design process. A good example is the collapse of an elevated section of Atlanta's Interstate 85 during a fire in late March. The elevated road passed over a highway department storage area, containing flammable material that contributed to the overly hot fire, which compromised the concrete-and-steel beams under the roadway. So, a natural question is why the possibility of such a fire was not foreseen and the structure not designed to withstand it. Shouldn't ensuring that a super-hot fire cannot start beneath an elevated roadway be part of its design? What about fires on the roadway itself, resulting, e.g., from overturned tanker-trucks? [Based on a column by Henry Petroski in the summer 2017 issue of ASEE Prism magazine]
(4) Governors launching US Climate Alliance: So far, governors of California, Washington State, and New York have joined in the movement to counteract Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Interestingly, Russia, China, and many other countries have reaffirmed their support for the Accord, while France has sharply criticized the US decision.
(5) UCSB Wind Ensemble concert: Tonight, I attended an enjoyable performance featuring the music of Frank Ticheli, currently an artist-in-residence at UCSB. Here is the program, with a brief description of some pieces.
- "Dancing on Water" (2015).
- "Rest" (2011): Inspired by a Sara Teasdale poem and dedicated to a friend who lost his son at age 1.5.
- "Angels in the Architecture" (2011): Depicts a conflict between light and darkness and floats into and out of a popular Hebrew song; comissioned by the Sydney Opera House and first performed there.
- "San Antonio Dances" (2011): Two-movement tribute to the Texas town, the Alamo, and Tex-Mex music.
- "Song for Aaron" (2011; mvt II of a clarinet concerto): Tribute to Aaron Copeland, one of three American composers honored in the three movements.
- "Blue Shades" (1997).
Recording was disallowed, so I am posting a sample of Ticheli's music from YouTube. [16-minute video]
(6) [Final thought for the day] US in dubious company: The only other two countries not signing the Paris Climate Accord are Syria and Nicaragua, with the latter actually indicating that the Accord isn't tough enough!

2017/05/31 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
A muslim woman meets the mother of the hero who died defending two Muslim women (1) This is where heroes come from: A Muslim young woman thanks the mother of the heroic young man who gave his life defending two Muslim women against a bigot. The facial expressions say it all.
(2) Apple snatches top Qualcomm engineer for its chip development project: According to Fortune, Esin Terzioglu, who oversaw the engineering aspects of Qualcomm's core communications chip business, will be joining the team building Apple's A-series processing chips. News of the hire has fueled fresh speculation that Apple, now in the midst of a messy legal dispute with Qualcomm, wants to develop a system-on-chip that pairs a baseband modem (currently obtained from Qualcomm and Intel) with an A-series app processor.
(3) Artificial leaf technology may help combat climate change: University of Central Florida chemist Fernando Uribe-Romo developed artificial leaf technology that can remove carbon dioxide from the air and convert sunlight energy into organic compounds usable as fuels. Harvard University energy professor Daniel Nocera developed a bionic leaf device that uses sunlight to convert water and engineered microbes into energy-dense liquid fuels. University of Illinois at Chicago research scientist Amin Salehi-Khojin developed another artificial leaf that converts sunlight and carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons, including liquid fuels. While these developments are likely many years away from commercialization, artificial leaf technology is seen as a potentially vital tool in the urgent fight against climate change, particularly in developing countries. [Source: ASEE First Bell newsletter]
(4) Water desalination with graphene sieves: University of Manchester scientists have developed a graphene oxide membrane that can filter even nanoparticles out of water, making the water suitable for human consumption. University of Manchester professor of materials physics Rahul Raveendran Nair says, "The problem was that when you put the membrane in water the sieve became larger. Now we've solved that problem, so now we can take this salty water, put it back in our new filtration unit, where we can filter out even the smallest sodium chloride." According to UN forecasts, some 1.8 billion people will face water scarcity by 2025, so producing affordable clean water would be a major help. [Source: Reuters]
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Kabul explosion kills 90, injures 100s, including 11 Americans (ABC News)
- Trump asks world leaders to call him on his cell phone (Huff Post)
- White House Communications Director resigns, other changes expected (AP)
- Kathy Griffin fired by CNN for her beheaded-Trump photo (Variety)
- Hiker plunges to his death, while taking selfie at waterfall (Huff Post)
- White House not inclined to meet Paris accord's emissions goals (Newsweek)
(6) [Final thought for the day] A frightening US brain drain may be on the horizon: France's President Macron repeats his invitation to US climate-change scientists to join European researchers in France, because they will be welcome there. Given pending US budget cuts in all areas of science, mass exodus of researchers in many scientific fields is a distinct possibility.

Cover image for Jared Diamond's 'Collapse' 2017/05/30 (Tuesday): Book review: Diamond, Jared, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, abridged audiobook on 8 CDs, read by Christopher Murney, Penguin Audio, 2004.
In the course of human history, many societies have collapsed. Examples include the Mayans, Easter Islanders, and Greenland's Norse settlers. The underlying causes of almost all of these collapses seem to have been environmental problems. A collapse is defined as drastic decrease in human population and/or sociopolitical complexity, a much direr fate than a decline. Societal collapse is far from inevitable, as demonstrated by many civilizations that have existed continuously for long periods of time. Examples of long-lived, prospering societies are found in Japan and Java.
Diamond advances a five-point framework for understanding collapses. 1. Human impact on the environment and inadvertent resource exhaustion or deforestation. 2. Climate change. 3. Relations with friendly neighboring societies. 4. Relations with hostile societies. 5. Political, economic, social, and cultural factors. A common characteristic of societal collapses is that they tend to occur a short time, perhaps as little as a decade, after the society reaches its peak in terms of wealth and power (Mayans, the Soviet Union).
In the environmental arena, Diamond takes a middle-of-the-road stance, in the sense of acknowledging the conflict between short-term corporate profits and environmental stewardship, while also providing examples of businesses that prospered beyond all expectations by taking the long-term view and aiming for sustainability.
Considering himself a cautious optimist, Diamond believes that societies can avoid collapse if they take their problems seriously and realize that they won't go away on their own. So, we can solve our problems if we decide to do so, and this is why the word 'Choose' appears in the book's title. We just need political will, a rare commodity these days, to apply a variety of remedies that are already available to us.
An 18-minute TED talk by Diamond based on key ideas in this book is available on-line. There is also "Collapse," a 96-minute documentary film released by National Geographic in 2010 and available via YouTube. To be fair, I should mention that Diamond's ideas have been challenged by ethnographers and anthropologists, including in a collection of articles, published as the 2010 Cambridge University Press book, Questioning Collapse.

2017/05/29 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Tree of hearts, in honor of the 2017 US Memorial Day observation (1) Politicians and generals start wars, soldiers fight them: Selfless service is possible, even when the war itself is misguided or unjust. Today we honor the ultimate sacrifice made by the US Armed Forces, so that our country and much of the world can live in peace. A few bad apples aside, they have fought with courage and honor, giving us the opportunity to contribute to our societies in much less perilous settings. We salute our heroes!
(2) Fake recommendation: The Art of the Deal is the only book a graduate will ever need. Loser Bill! [Bill Gates recommends to graduates Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature.]
(3) Quote of the day: "It became like a god." ~ Ke Jie, world's top player of Go, upon being defeated in his 5/23 match by a Google algorithm
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Angela Merkel: Germany can't depend on Trump's America (Newsweek)
- White House omits Luxembourg's gay First Spouse in photo caption (Newsweek)
- US Defense Secretary Mattis warns of catastrophic North Korea war (Newsweek)
- Waltzing robot teaches beginners how to dance like a pro (ACM Tech News)
- Trump is looking to reverse Obama's Cuba policies (USA Today)
- Suspect in custody after killing spree leaves 8 dead in Mississippi (Huff Post)
Cover image for Dr. Mike Dow's 'Brain Fog Fix' (5) Book review: Dow, Dr. Mike, The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory and Joy in Just 3 Weeks, unabridged MP3 audiobook read by the author, Blackstone audio, 2015.
Dr. Dow, a psychologist, claims to have the cure for improving your energy, mood and mental clarity. His plan consists of simple changes you can make in your diet, activities, and thinking; nothing revolutionary. There have been so many self-help books of this kind that we have become weary of the claims, but Dr. Dow's book has the endorsement of quite a few medical professionals. The "brain fog" of the title refers to feelings of confusion, memory loss, fading of mental acuity, and lack of focus. Brain health requires the restoration of balance among three crucial chemicals: serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol.
As you listen to Dr. Dow, you will tell yourself that you already knew these facts: cut out the carbs, avoid junk food (including diet sodas), eat high-quality proteins, enjoy a glass of wine, exercise, be social, and, most importantly, reduce your screen time. However, the rigorous presentation in this book, supported by many research studies, makes you understand the reasons for the recommendations and see the connections between various components of a healthy lifestyle. I must admit that I tended to tune out when long lists of ingredients, such as those rich in omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids, were recited, but getting the main message is more important than remembering all the details, which are available on-line.
Some of the suggestions are rather difficult to follow, such as avoiding electronic gadgets after 7:00 PM and charging your phone outside your bedroom at night, in order to avoid the temptation of checking social media and e-mail. However, even making smaller, incremental changes in your diet and work/play habits is bound to be helpful. Perhaps, over time, you can follow more and more of the suggestions, as you start seeing the benefits. In other words, don't be intimidated by the 3-week plan; taking 3 months or even 3 years would still be okay.

2017/05/28 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Poster designed for the 7th annual Parhami Family Reunion (1) The 7th Parhami Family Reunion: The annual reunion gets together descendents of Dr. Mikaeel Parhami, the family's founder, as he took on the last name "Parhami" (Persianized version of "Ebrahimi"), when the Iranian government under Reza Shah decided to issue identity documents nationwide. Until then, Iranians did not have uniformly-used family names or officially-recorded dates of birth. Renewal of family bonds, be it via large gatherings such as our Memorial-weekend reunions or smaller, more practical ones throughout the year, is quite important and a tradition that my family cherishes. Needless to say, like every aspect of our lives in the era of hate-mongering and political divisiveness, families face new challenges in remaining close and civil in discourse.
(2) What France's President Emmanuel Macron told Trump by his super-firm handshake: "Donald Trump, the Turkish president or the Russian president see things in terms of power relationships, which doesn't bother me ... I don't believe in diplomacy through public criticism but in my bilateral dialogues I don't let anything pass. That is how you get respect."
(3) The tweeter-in-chief is back in the US: And he wastes no time in attacking the "fake news media"! Someone should remind him that he can't simultaneously say that the leaks are manufactured and demand that the leakers be punished.
(4) How much longer will H. R. McMaster last as National Security Adviser? He is already on the way out, according to this Newsweek article.
(5) "One soul in two bodies," practically demonstrated on a guitar.
(6) Unknown older man offers a beautiful rendition of "You Raise Me Up" on the street.
(7) Final thought for the day: You know priorities are misplaced when Iranian authorities dispatch special enforcers to catch and punish those who break their fast in public during the month of Ramadan, but there is no corresponding patrol to find and feed the hungry. [Adapted from various Internet sources]

2017/05/26 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Behrooz Parhami, with his designed poster and family tree (1) Family events: This weekend is family time for me (at least more so than usual). Tomorrow, my mother, all 4 of her children along with two spouses, all 7 of her grandchildren with one spouse, and one great grandchild will get together in Ventura. On Sunday, we will attend the 7th annual Parhami Family Reunion in Mission Viejo with some 100 other family members. Behind me in the photo are a poster I designed for the family reunion and a family tree I drew in 2003, which needs updating.
(2) As usual, NPR comes to our rescue and answers the burning questions we have about the retro Middle-Ages look of the Trump women at Vatican. I hope they can still do this without government funds! Horrific example of the remnants of patriarchy from many centuries ago!
(3) Deep learning comes to the kitchen: French, American, and Japanese researchers have developed a new machine-learning algorithm that can take a given recipe and transform it into an alternative dietary style. The system initially analyzes a large number of recipes and uses them to train a neural network as to what recipe features represent the culinary style of a given region. The model can then be used in a wide variety of settings, including prediction of recipe origins, given lists of ingredients, and recipe transformation to take dietary restrictions into account. [Abridged from: ACM Tech News]
(4) My body (by Masih Alinejad): It's okay to feel sad, but never feel hopeless. Do not fear hateful comments, but be afraid of a lack of strength to endure them. We can't be defeated, except by our own weaknesses. If as a woman, you are offended by an onslaught of negative comments about your appearance, weight, or facial features, look no further for the reason than your dislike of yourself as you are. If you don't love yourself, you can't love others. [Rough, partial translation of original Instagram post in Persian. Go Masih!]
(5) Kurdish dancing, with colorful regional dresses. [2-minute video]
(6) Why smart people sometimes act stupid: Lack of common sense can make anyone, including the smartest people, make dumb mistakes. As Voltaire noted, "Common sense is not so common." The "absent-minded prof" cliche notwithstanding, the mistakes are due to several factors, the most important of which are listed below.
- Overconfidence (leads to not seeking help from others)
- Unreasonably high expectations (pushing people too hard)
- Misplaced pride (the need to always be right)
- Insufficient emotional intelligence (EQ), despite high IQ
- Lack of persistence (giving up after initial failure)
- Lack of grit (not valuing or engaging in hard work)
- Too much multi-tasking (a direct result of impatience)
- Not accepting feedback (undervaluing others' opinions)
Regarding multi-tasking, which our society views in a positive light as a sign of high intelligence and ability, I learned, from a book I am listening to and will review soon (The Brain Fog Fix, by Mike Dow), that new research indicates the superiority of sequential handling of multiple tasks over the parallel or multi-tasking approach. When we multi-task, we are essentially switching between the tasks at a very high rate, and that switching imposes some overhead that reduces our overall productivity.

2017/05/25 (Thursday): Here are three items of potential interest.
Professor Cicilia Heyes lecturing, and a key slide in her presentation (1) An exquisite lecture about cognition: Today, I attended a lecture entitled "Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking," by Cecilia Heyes, Professor of Psychology, University of Oxford.
Besides the talk's rich scientific content, the delivery was quite impressive. The speaker's perfect enunciation, which one member of the audience characterized as her very appealing "Oxford accent," along with the absence of even a single malformed sentence or an awkward pause throughout the one-hour unscripted talk, created a delightful listening and learning experience.
Professor Heyes' work on the evolution of human cognition explores the ways in which natural selection, learning, and developmental and cultural processes combine to produce the mature cognitive abilities found in adult humans. The following two links lead to her bio and a 47-minute keynote lecture on a different topic, "The Cultural Evolution of Mindreading."
Cultural learning in humans is quite similar to the development of better kayaks over time, that is, by good designs (that float well and move fast) being more likely to be copied by others. This copying of ideas and designs is the analog of copying of genes through reproduction in genetic evolution. Professor Heyes pursues the theory that both the computationalism of evolutionary psychology (which, by the way, is a field created at UCSB) and the selection mechanisms of cultural evolutionary theory play roles in the development of human cognitive abilities, something that can be called "cultural evolutionary psychology."
A key observation of Professor Heyes is that human and chimp attributes differ only in degrees and not in substance. Small improvements in three key attributes create major differences in abilities. These are:
a. Temperament: Humans are much more tolerant of having others around, are less aggressive, and enjoy response-contingent stimulation (we like it when what we do affects something in the world around us).
b. Attention: Beginning with infancy, we like looking at faces and tend to track people's gazes.
c. Cognition: Our memory capacity is larger, we can resist temptation, and are better at associative learning.
The three attributes just listed can be viewed as a "genetic starter kit" that is augmented by "gadget construction" to give us our unique human abilities. The slide displayed in the photo shows some of the cognitive mechanisms that are often viewed as uniquely human. In the rest of the talk, Professor Heyes focused on one of these: the imitation gadget.
Our ability to imitate is fundamental in making and using tools, but it is even more important in social behavior, such as posture and ritualistic dance movements. Recent studies indicate that a human newborn's ability to imitate is extremely limited, thus suggesting that imitation is primarily a learned attribute. In order to imitate someone, our minds develop "matching vertical associations," constructs that link an observed behavior, such as a hand moving in a certain way, to motor responses needed to mimic that behavior. We tend to think of imitation as the correspondence between two images, whereas when we imitate someone, our view of our own motions is quite different from what we see in the other person.
During the Q&A period, it became clear that studies of human behavior are based mostly on how normal individuals act or react. People with disabilities of various kinds or those with abnormally better abilities tend to create problems in such studies.
(2) Harvard drop-out finally gets his degree: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg makes his mom proud at this year's Harvard commencement.
(3) Talk about rude: Trump shoves his way to the front for photo opportunity. What's mind-boggling is that he knows dozens of cameras are photographing and recording the event, and he still doesn't care!

2017/05/24 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about historical figures updating their Facebook statuses (1) Historical status updates: By John Atkinson.
(2) A 140-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree: Planted in 1876, this majestic tree is located in downtown Santa Barbara, at the entrance of the Amtrak/Greyhound station. I took these photos of the tree, and the plaque describing its history, last Sunday, while I strolled in the area, awaiting the arrival of my mom from the SF Bay Area. An Amtrak train and a historic train car are visible in one of the photos.
(3) "Star Wars" turns 40: The cinematic and cultural phenom that began in 1977 with the first of the three original installments (later renamed "Episode IV—A New Hope," when three prequels were released) is going strong at 40. The musical score by John Williams still amazes after four decades. I am listening to Carrie Fisher's memoir, The Princess Diarist, which I will review when done. The clever title attracted me to this audiobook, and I was not disappointed. [Image]
(4) Donald Trump news: He told the Israelis in Jerusalem that he arrived there from the Middle East. His meeting with the Pope was less than pleasant, as seen in this Vatican photo and this juxtaposition of the Pope's meeting with 44 and 45. Meanwhile, it's becoming more and more difficult to keep track of Trump's flips and flops: The villainous Saudi Royal family is now apparently hunky-dory.
(5) Al Franken: The comedian, who tried to avoid humor in order to be taken seriously as a senator, has returned to his SNL roots in a memoir to be published on May 30.
(6) Modern Persian music: A beautiful song performed by Parva (based on a poem by Hossein Pezhman Bakhtiari), accompanied by wonderful imagery.
(7) around campus on this breezy but otherwise wonderful afternoon, before my 3:30 class.
(8) Science takes a back seat to war machinery in Trump's proposed budget for 2018.
(9) Searching for a soulmate is misguided: This Time magazine article (issue of May 29, 2017) suggests that the ideal partner is the one you create. Here "create" doesn't mean through changing a less-than-ideal mate. Instead, it means focusing on the person's positive attributes and what the two of you can share, rather than dwelling on the attributes that person is missing from your desirable list. There may be a soulmate for you somewhere, but the 10,000 or so people you meet over a lifetime constitute a tiny fraction of all potential mates and will likely not include the handful of people who could be considered your soulmates. Author J. R. R. Tolkien had a lot to say about this subject: "[The romantic chivalric tradition takes] the young man's eye off women as they are—Companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. ... The 'real soul-mate' is the one you are actually married to." I guess the same can be said of women.

2017/05/23 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
WannaCry ransomeware world map (1) Why the WannaCry attack fizzled: The ransomeware was both a smashing success (in terms of its impact) and an abject failure (in terms of what the perpetrators earned). The attackers were simply not prepared for the amount of work needed to collect the loot and thus quietly undid themselves. [Source: Time magazine, issue of May 29, 2017]
(2) Less than a year ago (on June 13, 2016), Donald Trump tweeted: "Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays. Hillary must return all money from such countries."
(3) Ready ... Set ... Go! Google DeepMind's AI Go-playing program, AlphaGo, will soon compete against the 19-year-old Chinese world champ, Ke Jie, in a 3-game match. Having been previously defeated by an anonymous on-line player, which turned out to be AlphaGo, Jie and others hope to win in future face-offs, because they have been training specifically to play against the machine.
[P.S.: Since this article appeared a couple of days ago, AlphaGo has played and defeated Ke Jie. Next opponent!]
(4) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Deaths in London's Manchester Arena terror attack rises to 22 (multiple sources)
- Terrorist in ISIS London attack identified as Salman Abedi (Yahoo News)
- Former Trump adviser Woolsey blasts Obama on London attack (Huff Post)
- Roger Moore, long-time actor and James Bond portrayer, dead at 89 (NYT)
- Trump refuses to disclose number of lobby waivers he has granted (AP)
- Gorsuch and Thomas dissent on upholding soft-money limits (Huff Post)
- First human ancestor may have come from Europe, not Africa (Newsweek)
- Median household income is now highest since 2002 (Yahoo Finance)
(5) UCSB is migrating to Google G-Suite for Education: Parts of the campus already use the Google e-mail and collaboration service, branded as "Connect." College of engineering will migrate to the new service in waves over the summer. My e-mail address will not change as a result of the migration, but integrated e-mail, calendaring, collaboration, and video-conferencing tools will become available to me.
(6) US and Israeli officials met in a room covered with two Persian rugs from Naein (a town near Isfahan).
(7) Anyone who stands up to Trump is fired: So, will he fire Melania for refusing his hand? [Video]
(8) Sand Pizza slice, photographed on Sunday, May 21, 2017, next to Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf. [Photo]
(9) The Isla Vista tragedy remembered three years later: The mass shooting of May 23, 2014, by a misogynist who killed 6 and injured 14, is being memorialized this week on the UCSB campus. Last night, I attended a program entitled "Responses to the 5/23/2014 IV Tragedy" at UCSB's Multicultural Center Theater. Six panelists outlined the campus and community efforts in the aftermath of the tragedy to comfort students and to honor the victims, including an award-winning exhibit and archive of items collected from the make-shift memorial sites in Isla Vista and from the victims' families. I am partially visible in one of the photos, taken by Vicky Nguyen of KEYT News. The remaining photos are mine. This UCSB Library page contains a virtual tour of the exhibit.

2017/05/22 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cover image for Margaret Atwood's 'The Heart Goes Last' (1) Book review: Atwood, Margaret, The Heart Goes Last: A Novel, unabridged audiobook read by Cassandra Campbell and Mark Deakins, Random House Audio, 2015.
[My 3-star review of the book on GoodReads]
This is one of the few novels that I have read/heard in recent years. I found the story's premise quite interesting: a down-on-their-luck husband and wife, who have lost their home and are living meagerly in their car on the wife's tips, decide to participate in a social experiment, which provides them with jobs and a house. There is a twist, however: the couple would have to switch back and forth between living in their comfortable house and being confined to a prison, with another couple, their alternates, occupying the house when they are gone.
The couple is manipulated as part of the experiment. Each spouse, unknown to the other, becomes obsessed with his/her mate's alternate, enjoying the extramarital affair and feeling very guilty about it at the same time. However, nothing is as it appears and the couple seems not to understand what is going on, despite valiant efforts. They are put through a harsh, very cruel test, which separates them in a surprising way, thus providing the author with ample opportunities to explore personal challenges resulting from forced conformity, loyalty, guilt, sexual desires, and trust.
The female and male readers alternate, as the focus of the story shifts from one partner to the other. I listened to this audiobook on my iPhone, using the OverDrive app that allows me to borrow audiobooks and e-books from my local library. As I mentioned in a previous review, much about the app's user interface needs improvement, but I liked the fact that I could listen to the audiobook during my walks between home and work, when I shaved, or any other available time slot.
(2) UCLA to honor the late Iranian filmmaker: Entitled "Abbas Kiarostami: The Man and His Arts," the Sunday, June 11, 2017, bilingual program (314 Royce Hall, 3:00-6:00 PM) will consist of presentations in English (by Shiva Balaghi, Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Hamid Naficy), screening of his 2016 film "Take Me Home," with remarks by Ahmad Kiarostami, and a round-table discussion in Persian, moderated by Nayereh Tohidi.
(3) Trump's awkward participation in a war dance: Or was it an oil dance? Later, he called it beautiful. This war dance was performed after the signing of the $110 billion US-Saudi arms deal. Just imagine the reaction to Obama participating in a war dance with the Saudis!
(4) Typos vs. thinkos: Using "I misspoke" as an excuse is acceptable only when the speaker knows a fact but accidentally says something different (like a typo in a text). These days, however, "I misspoke" is abused to cover up mistakes and lies arising from ignorance, bias, or partisanship. This article cites some good examples.
(5) Hassan Rouhani's campaign speech in Mashhad: In a bold and direct criticism of the religious leader in charge of the shrine of Imam Reza and its associated business empire, Rouhani said: "You told the people of Mashhad that they should leave the city if they want music concerts. Now you want to take over the country. Will you then tell the people of Iran to leave the country if they have the same demands?"
(6) Complete 79-minute video of the May 2017 meeting between Trump and Saudi leaders in Riyadh.
(7) Six ways in which Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia was bizarre, unethical, and un-American: He seems to be establishing connections for his post-presidency business deals. Soon, all Hajj pilgrims may be staying at Trump properties in Riyadh!
(8) Analysis of Trump speech patterns over decades reveals possible cognitive decline: Here is a recent example of his utterances: "... there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself—and the Russians, zero." And this from a man who was considered articulate years ago.
(9) Final thought for the day: Azeri music, by a talented and good-looking couple. [1-minute video]

2017/05/21 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cover image of Oliver Sacks's 'Gratitude' (1) Book review: Sacks, Oliver, Gratitude, MP3 audiobook, read by Dan Woren, Random House Audio, 2015. [My 5-star review on GoodReads]
This short, brilliant book by the well-known and prolific neurologist, who died of terminal cancer at 82, consists of four essays written in the last two years of his life. It is very typical of Sacks to want to give gratitude upon learning that he is about to die.
The first essay, "Mercury," is about Sacks's looming 80th birthday and is filled with musings on the negative effects of aging. Sacks had an obsession with the periodic table of elements and, since childhood, identified his birthdays with the element having the same atomic number; he was sodium at 11, gold at 79, and mercury at 80. He rightly suspected that he would not live to see his 84th birthday (the murderously radioactive polonium).
Sacks wrote the second essay, "My Own Life," when he believed he had a couple of months to live, but later wasn't sure whether he should disclose his fatal disease and thus delayed its publication. Staring at the wall ahead that represented the end of his life, Sacks gained a sudden clear focus and perspective that pushed him to consider only the essentials: himself, his work, and his friends; no watching "The News Hour," no worrying about politics or global warming.
In the third essay, "My Periodic Table," Sacks elaborates on his fascination with physical sciences, "a world where there is no life, but also no death," a refuge in times of stress. In this essay, Sacks continues his musings of the "Mercury" essay. After repeating the observation that he will not see his polonium birthday, he continues thus: "But then, at the other end of my table—my periodic table—I have a beautifully machined piece of beryllium (element 4) to remind me of my childhood, and of how long ago my soon-to-end life began."
In the fourth essay, "Sabbath," Sacks recalls his upbringing in an orthodox Jewish family and the aftermath of admitting to his father that he had sexual feelings for other boys. His mother's shrieking and condemnation made him averse to religion for the rest of his life and strained his family ties. This last essay of Sacks was published in the New York Times on August 14, 2015, a mere two weeks before his death on August 30.
(2) Design seen on a T-shirt: Schrodinger's cat is ... [Image]
(3) Music is joy: For the players, for the listeners, and, in this case, for the little ballerina. [4-minute video]
(4) Question of the day: Should a person who has recently traveled to a radical Muslim country, which awarded him a medal, be allowed to enter the United States?
(5) Here is a principled response to an invitation from Saudi Arabia.
(6) On the rift generated by Iran's just-completed elections: Facebook and other social media are abuzz with news of the just-completed Iranian elections, in which President Rouhani won a second term, much to the delight of young Iranians, who danced on the streets or in victory rallies. Elections in Iran are anything but open and fair. Only half-dozen of the hundreds of candidates who wanted to enter the race were 'approved' and were on the ballot; women are not allowed to run; the domineering government-run media had clear favorites among the candidates; there was speculation that the regime is playing a game of 'good cop, bad cop' by presenting Rouhani as a moderate against more conservative candidates. Yet, to the extent that people were allowed to influence the outcome from among the hand-picked candidates, they participated enthusiastically and wholeheartedly, with a 70% turnout, giving Rouhani a 57% to 38% edge over Ebrahim Raisi, his closest rival.
And now to the main point of my post. A large number of Iranians, both inside Iran and abroad, worked toward boycotting the elections on the grounds that the Islamic regime is illegitimate and must not be aided in its survival in any shape or form. The other side argued that despite lack of diversity in the slate of candidates, there are real differences between them and lack of participation may mean the election of the least desirable candidate, whose supporters are lured into participation. Unfortunately, the boycotters were quite uncivil in their encounters, accusing those who voted of being idiotic, naive, unpatriotic, sold-out, and showered them with a host of other insults. As a non-voter, who has friends in both groups, I think that the voting group remained more civil in their exchanges and more convincing in the arguments they presented. Regardless, the decision to vote or boycott is a personal one and must be respected, no matter what our own views. [Persian summary]

2017/05/20 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Four interesting designs (1) Miscellaneous designs and ideas, in four images.
(2) The Mechanical Universe: This is the title of a 1980s TV series, which was essentially a college-level introductory physics class produced by Caltech and taught by physicist David Goodstein. It features cool demos, animations, and reenactments.
(3) Live in the moment: We are given this advice ceaselessly; stop worrying about the future, be present. The problem is that scientists are increasingly pointing to foresight as the distinguishing feature of us human beings. [NY Times story]
(4) Coexistence of multiple human evolutionary lines: The theory that modern humans (homo sapiens) emerged from one ancestral line has encountered one more challenge by the discovery that homo naledi, a protohuman species with modern skeletal features but with brains the size of a gorilla's, coexisted with homo sapiens and neanderthals. [Source: Time magazine, issue of May 22, 2017]
(5) Previously infertile mice able to reproduce with 3D-printed ovaries: In what appears to be a revolutionary advance in biological 3D printing, scientists created synthetic ovaries by printing porous scaffolds from a gelatin ink and filling them with follicles, the tiny, fluid-holding sacs that contain immature egg cells. The implants hooked up to the blood supply within a week and went on to release eggs naturally through the pores built into the gelatin structures.
Math puzzle involving a square divided into four triangular parts (6) An interesting math puzzle: If the outside shape is a square and numbers denote the areas of three of the triangles, what is the area of the fourth triangle?
(7) Iran's presidential election: President Rouhani has been re-elected after the first round, earning 57% of the vote. This isn't just good news for the current cycle but will likely spoil Raisi's chances of being chosen the next Supreme Leader (as promoted by some hardliners), given his lack of popular support.
(8) Final thought for the day: Remember the good old days, when the nation's gravest concern was the Vice President misspelling "potato"?
(9) Candidate Trump: "Saudi Arabia was behind 9/11." President Trump: "Saudi Arabia is an important ally." And why the change of heart? Aljazeera: "US and Saudi Arabia sign arms deals worth almost $110 billion"

2017/05/19 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cover image of the new book 'The Evolution of Beauty' (1) Beauty alongside fitness drives evolution: "Survival of the fittest," as Darwin's theory of evolution is sometimes called, must be augmented by "survival of the prettiest," according to a new book entitled The Evolution of Beauty, by ornithologist Richard O. Prum. The male club-winged manakin, for example, has ornate feathers that produce music as it flies, a feature that has evolved to attract females. The feature not only does not make the bird fitter, but actually slows it down.
(2) Tehran's road to the sea: Iran changes its path to the Mediterranean to avoid areas where US forces are fighting ISIS.
(3) Young woman emulates the voices of 15 different singers in 12 minutes.
(4) Trump has been reading fake news about exercise: He apparently believes that, like a battery, each person comes with a finite amount of lifetime energy and that wasting that energy on exercise will shorten the person's life.
(5) New TV series for 2017: Some observers believe (hope?) that "Three Men and a ManBaby" will be cancelled after one season. [Image]
(6) Massive cuts to DoE's research budget expected: Amounting to more than 2/3 of its existing $2.1 billion budget, the proposed cuts will essentially wipe out research programs on renewable energy and 'clean coal.'
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Former FBI Director Mueller appointed to lead the Russia probe (WP)
- Roger Ailes, Fox News architect and former head, dead at 77 (NYT)
- Erdogan's security detail attacks, beats peaceful DC protesters (NYT)
- Two Chinese military jets intercept US aircraft (AFP)
- Trump leaves on his first foreign trip amid problems at home (CNN)
- Drunk driver mows down dozens in NYC's Times Square (NYT)
(8) Debunked: The theory that we need businessmen to run the government efficiently. [Image]
(9) Microsoft to offer cloud-computing services from data centers in Africa: Seeking an edge over rivals in targeting local customers, the software giant will open two data centers in Johannesburg and Cape Town as part of an expansion that stretches across 40 regions globally. Previously, companies in Africa relied on Microsoft's European data-center hubs such as those in Ireland and the Netherlands. [Source: Bloomberg News]

2017/05/18 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
The White House partly remodeled to look like the Kremlin (1) Cover of Time magazine, issue of May 29, 2017.
(2) Life may have originated on Mars: A NASA Curiosity engineer has advanced the theory that life got its foothold on Mars and took its journey to Earth aboard a meteor. The theory, triggered by the fact that Mars may have become habitable before Earth, is tantalizing, because it would make us all Martians, but it is not yet supported by firm evidence.
(3) Cartoon of the day: Scarier than Hitchcock's "The Birds"! [Image]
(4) Maz Jobrani's commencement speech at UC Berkeley.
(5) Death by caffeine: A teenager has died after consuming coffee, followed by caffeine-laden energy drinks, according to ABC News.
(6) Defying mandatory hijab: This brave woman challenges Iran's hijab laws by putting herself in danger, not just of being arrested by the morality police, but also of being ridiculed or, worse, attacked by sick men who have no respect for personal freedoms.
(7) And now, something less serious, amid dire Trumpian news: Do women like men with or without beards? Short answer: Don't bother shaving!
(8) If you have no health insurance, stay away from rattlesnakes: Or else, be prepared to receive a bill like this shocking one from 2015 (of course, adjusted for higher costs in 2017).
(9) Is ISIS an Existential Threat to the United States? This was the title of a debate at UCSB's Campbell Hall, presented within the framework of UCSB Arts & Lectures Program, beginning at 7:30 PM. UCSB's sociology and global studies professor Mark Jurgensmeyer, who has authored several books, including Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, moderated the debate.
Monica Duffy Toft (Professor of International Politics and Director of the Center for Strategic Studies at Tuft University) argued the "no" answer, despite admitting that 83% of Americans view ISIS as a serious threat to our country. Even though it is not currently an existential threat to the US, ISIS can become an existential threat, depending on how we respond to its ideas. Its power comes in part from the knowledge that we Westerners are risk-averse and prone to over-reaction. Even though ISIS has vast support among the alienated Sunnis in both Iraq and Syria, its central organization is on the ropes as a result of territory losses. Furthermore, history tells us that terrorist organizations generally do not last long. The ideology will be hard to eliminate, so focusing on physical elimination of ISIS's leadership and organization appears to be the only viable option.
Marc Gopin (Professor of Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution and Director of the Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University) presented arguments for the "yes" side. He views ISIS not as a religious group, but as a secular, land-grab entity that uses religion as a tool and has been able to fill its coffers by selling oil to Turkey. Historically, many wars have been fought where foot soldiers fight for religion, whereas commanders and leaders are secular, with political ambitions. There is support for extremist groups such as ISIS among wealthy Saudis, including some high-level members of the royal family. ISIS may not be a military threat to the US homeland, but it is an existential threat in the way it has upset the international balance (including deep threats to the Islamic world) and how it has distracted us from addressing more serious problems. Within 50-100 years, many of our coastal cities will be submerged and we still have way too many deaths from smoking. Players such as Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are supporting multiple proxy wars in the Middle East region. Gopin views bringing Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table as the only way of stopping the proxy wars, which strengthen and nurture ISIS. We must note that the Shi'a-Sunni conflict is nothing new. Various Christian sects fought in Europe for ages, before they came to their senses and decided to abandon religion as a tool for governance and political power.
I was one of the questioners at the end of the discussion. I asked what gave Professor Gopin hope that the Shi'a-Sunni conflict will be brought to an end, noting that conflict between the two sects goes back centuries and even though for several decades Iran and Saudi Arabia kept their hatred for each other in check and followed international norms (they had political relations and embassies), it has been nearly 40 years since the relationship has deteriorated. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia aspire to be considered as leading the Islamic world and are unlikely to compromise on what each side views as an existential threat from the other side. The short answer was that just as the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland was brought to an end by exerting international pressure and using the carrot-and-stick approach, Iranians and Saudis can be persuaded to negotiate.

2017/05/17 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Photo of Naomi Klein (1) Naomi Klein's lecture at Granada Theater: Journalist and activist Naomi Klein spoke about "Our Environmental Future: Connection, Collaboration, and Creation," within the framework of UCSB Arts & Lectures Program. The talk served as the keynote address in the Women and the Environment Conference, being held in Santa Barbara. As part of the speaker's introduction, it was noted that "well-behaved women seldom make history."
Klein is the author of the acclaimed, best-selling book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, now also a documentary film. An earlier best-selling book of hers (on my to-read list) is titled The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Her just-finished book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, will be released on June 17.
Klein observed that we have been desensitized to shocking events. What would have caused severe reactions and radical change (e.g., the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969) barely causes a ripple now (e.g., Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010). The fossil fuel industry has enormous leverage, to the extent that it influences energy policies and even drives the country toward war, because wars tend to increase the price of oil, which in turn raises profits and makes additional exploration and drilling cost-effective.
She observed that the current resistance movement is unprecedented and it spans many issues, from women's rights and science to the environment and equality. She suggested that all these problems must be addressed in parallel, in order to build a broad enough coalition against misguided policies. We can't afford to say that we will deal with environmental problems first, say, and then tackle poverty and war-mongering. All of these problems are inter-related.
And we can't address all such problems by pursuing existing strategies. We need to look deeper and question prevailing assumptions. For example, one reason for the growing anti-science bias is that scientists are discovering truths that go against the primacy of individualism and competition.
Klein referred to the Canadian "The Leap Manifesto" (so named, because it was conceived in 2016, a leap year; see its Web site) as a good example of coordinated action to care for the Earth and one another. Part of the manifesto is the pursuit of "energy democracy" and "energy justice," in order to allow energy to be produced and dispensed in a distributed manner, rather than being under the control of a few big corporations.
Klein stressed the importance of collective action, as opposed to individual activism. She suggested that everyone get away from the computer screen, and the illusion of contributing to solutions via posting/tweeting, and join action groups and other collectives, where they can advance their causes via human-to-human contacts.
(2) Will Ferrell returns as George W. Bush to mock Trump.
(3) NASA's space fabric: The meteorite-resistant fabric can be 3D-printed, even in space, to satisfy various needs. The fabric has a light-reflecting side and a light-absorbing side, making it suitable for use in regulating thermal energy.
(4) Artist projects a message on Trump's DC hotel: The message reads "Pay Trump Bribes Here."
(5) There was a big shake in the Santa Barbara area at 9:42 PM last night. It was very short in duration, but quite strong. KEYT reports that it was a 4.1-magnitude earthquake, followed one minute later by a 3.1-magnitude shaker, both about 8 miles from Isla Vista (a community near the city of Goleta). Three more smaller aftershocks came a few minutes later. There are no reports of damage or any tsunami warnings at this time.
(6) Brisk walking on campus: The "UC Walks" program sponsors campus walking events, preceded by stretch and cardio warm-up exercises, during lunch hour. Today, we went around the campus lagoon and earned a free T-shirt! After the walk, and before returning to my office, I caught the tail end of a musical performance at UCSB's Music Bowl, as part of the World Music Series.

2017/05/16 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cover of 'Der Spiegel,' bearing a cartoon of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un on a bomb (1) Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un continue their playground taunting exchanges: In the latest episode, which so far has not drawn a direct response, Un has asserted that his missiles can reach the Continental US.
(2) A beautiful Kurdish song: Vocals only. Enjoy!
(3) Cartoon of the day: Lady Gaga generously donates her old clothes to the homeless. [Image]
(4) Belva Ann Lockwood: First woman to run for US presidency (in 1884).
(5) Trump's mob connections: An explosive Dutch documentary film alleges that Trump has deep ties to Russia's mafia underworld and other shady figures.
(6) Largest distributed file system ever built: The Andrew File System, winner of the 2016 ACM Software System Award, has emerged as foundational technology for cloud-computing techniques. The most notable contributions of AFS are its cloud-storage model and on-demand caching at the edge. [Source: ACM Tech News, May 15, 2017]
(7) An algorithm that summarizes lengthy texts: Researchers at Salesforce have developed a learning algorithm to accurately and coherently condense lengthy textual documents by blending various machine-learning strategies and by being fed summary examples. While lauding the Salesforce algorithm, experts point out the limits of solely relying on statistical machine learning, as producing good summaries seems to require some syntactic and semantic knowledge, in order for the results to be truly fluid and fluent. [Source: ACM Tech News, May 15, 2017]
(8) The Pacific Crest Trail: This first map shows the California portion of the Mexico-to-Canada trail that spans California (~1700 miles), Oregon (~500 miles), and Washington (~500 miles). This second map shows the Oregon-Washington portion of the 2700-mile trail.
(9) We give ourselves too much credit when we succeed: Researchers at UC Berkeley asked randomly selected subjects to play a rigged game of Monopoly, in which some players got extra starting cash and higher bonuses for passing "Go." Not surprisingly, the advantaged players won. As these players prospered, however, their behavior changed, becoming more obnoxious and boasting about how their strategy helped them succeed. Even though they were aware of their head start and extra boosts, they began to think that they earned their success by virtue of being smarter than the other players.

2017/05/15 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Amazing sculpture in Portland, Oregon (1) I hope to be able to see this wonderful piece of art, when I visit Portland, OR, for a mid-September technical conference.
(2) Quote of the day: "What does Trump see when he looks back in history? Mostly he sees ... Trump." ~ Presidential historian John Meacham's "Viewpoint" column in Time magazine, issue of May 15, 2017
(3) Birds' eye views of some major cities. [Photos]
(4) Cartoon of the day: One way flights to Mars are in high demand! [Image]
(5) Gift from Iran: I received this elegantly-bound and lushly-illustrated coffee-table book as a gift from a colleague in Iran, kindly brought to me by another colleague who recently visited there. [Cover image]
(6) Ransomware: By now you have likely heard about the WannaCry ransomware that is making its way around the internet encrypting people's Windows computers and demanding payment to restore files. The infection rate has slowed but there may well be an uptick as the attack software evolves. Vulnerable computers are running the Windows OS with missing patches. The patch addressing the issue has been available since March but if you haven't updated your computer for some reason, do it as soon as possible. This is also a good time to review security practices, outlined in this page.
(7) Gender-neutral award: MTV has taken an important step by presenting a single acting award to Emma Watson for her role as Belle in "Beauty and the Beast." As noted by Watson in her acceptance speech, "Acting is about putting yourself in someone else's shoes. And that doesn't need to be separated into two categories."
(8) Syrian pop singer: Omar Souleyman was performing in a free concert this evening at UCSB's Storke Plaza, accompanied by UCSB Middle East Ensemble (a diverse group of musicians from our area). I could not attend, so I am posting a song of his, "Bahdeni Nami" [8-minute video] as a substitute. He has many more songs on YouTube, including "Salamat Galbi Bidek" [6-minute video], performed at the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize Concert.
(9) Final thought for the day: "[W]e all need to remind ourselves of our advantages: whether it's straight priviledge, or financial privileges, or able-bodied privilege, or whatever extra boost we've gotten." ~ Susanna Shrobsdorff, writing in Time magazine, issue of May 15, 2017

2017/05/14 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
A one-toman or 10-rial bill from Reza Shah's period and a coin in the same denomination from the early days of the Islamic Republic (1) On "toman" or "toomaan," Iran's currency unit: Iran's currency was originally built on the unit of "dinar," a variant of "denarius" used by Eastern Romans, whose territories were captured by Muslims. Some Arab countires still use dinar as their currency unit. Soltan Mahmoud Ghaznavi minted a 100-dinar or "san'nar" coin, which came to be known as "mahmoudi."
The Samanis minted a 50-dinar coin, which was dubbed "shahi." Units such as "gheran" (1000 dinars) and "toman" (10,000 dinars) were used in financial calculations, but there were no actual coins in these denominations at the time. The word "toman" has Mongol roots, and it means 10,000. King Abbas Safavi minted a 200-dinar coin, which came to be known as "abbasi." Close ties between Iran and Portugal brought the Portuguese "re'al" coin to Iran, which at the time was worth 1175 dinars.
During the Qajar dynasty, the coins in circulation included shahi, san'nar, abbasi, and dah-shahi (500 dinars). Early in the Pahlavi dynasty, it was decided to reduce the worth of a "rial" (the Portuguese re'al) to 1000 dinars in order to make the currency units uniform and consistent. Eventually, toman (10 rials) prevailed as the monetary unit used by the public, although rial remained the official unit of Iranian currency.
(2) A very happy Mothers' Day to all! I celebrated today with two of my sisters to recognize their contributions as mothers. My own mother and my youngest sister are away, so we will honor them remotely. As important as motherhood is, today's women are multi-dimensional, serving their societies in many different ways. All three of my sisters are shining examples of professional women, who are indispensable in their work functions as well.
(3) The whole world is either laughing at us or running scared: Cover image of the May 2017 issue of E&T magazine, a British technology publication.
(4) Last night's Billy Joel concert at Dodger Stadium: I had been waiting to see Billy Joel in concert for several years now, but his tour schedule did not include anything in my area, until, finally, he chose Dodger Stadium for a West-Coast concert! We arrived early at the venue, which looked quite empty. However, but the time he went on stage 45 minutes after the scheduled 8:00 PM start time, the seats had almost filled with an estimated 45,000 fans. The high-energy concert included Billy Joel standards, some with new arrangements or mixed with music by other composers. Joel commanded the stage and interjected personal anecdotes that added color to an already well-designed concert. As a kid, he was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers (later, he became a Yankees fan and then a Mets fan), so he was awed by the prospects of performing at the venue of the now LA-resident team. As a young artist, he performed at very small venues, so he marveled at how far he has come. He had two surprise guests. Pink sang a song with Joel and another song of her own. Axl Rose collaborated on a song in the main set and another one in the encore set. Here are video clips from the concert, with the last one showing people waving their lit cell phones from the stands. ["My Life"] ["The Longest Time"] ["The Piano Man"]
(5) Cartoon of the day: "People need to stop obsessing sover my Russian ties." [Image]
(6) Tehran Book Fair, without censorship: In parallel with the Tehran event, where only books that gain the approval of the Islamic regime are on display, events in cities around the world allow Iranian authors and publishers to mingle with readers, while displaying books that either would not see the light of day in their home country, or else would appear with so many mandated changes as to become entirely different books. Government censorship in Iran has recently been augmented with publisher censorship (to avoid confrontation with the authorities and financial losses resulting from post-press confiscations) and author self-censorship (avoiding taboo or controversial topics to be able to publish at all). [Voice of America Persian report]

Cover image of 'Never Broken,' Jewel's memoir 2017/05/13 (Saturday): Book review: Jewel, Never Broken: Songs are Only Half the Story, Blackstone Audio, 2015.
This is the first audiobook I borrowed through OverDrive, the mobile app that links to my local library and allows me to check out books virtually. I recommend the app, which links to many local libraries. The user interface, however, needs improvement, as it is quite confusing and requires many functionally redundant steps. Perhaps it will improve in time. I was given 20 days to listen to the audiobook, and I did so on my cell phone, usually while walking to or from work.
I can put holds on books that are not available to check out and I am notified when the book becomes available (libraries can loan out only the number of copies for which they have purchased licenses, similar to buying a certain number of hard copies).
The following sentiment from the book (not an exact quote) explains the title: You can't break someone's spirit any more than you can break water. If our spirit seems broken, it's because we consider it broken, not because it actually is. This is the sense in which Jewel considers herself not broken.
To say that singer/songwriter Jewel Kilcher, a native of Alaska, had a difficult childhood would be an understatement. Her father was a musician with an explosive temper, who had a large repertoire of classic pop tunes he covered in style. He also wrote original songs on occasion. Her mother sang with the band. When Jewel's parents divorced, her mom moved out and the kids were left with her father, who did his best to raise them, his emotional volatility (a result of his own very difficult childhood, which led him to routinely hit the kids) notwithstanding.
At 8, Jewel found herself filling in for her absent mother, singing with the band. She sang tunes from Elvis, The Beatles, and other artists, never having heard them perform the original versions. Her point of reference was her father's version of the tunes. She identified with the songs and found them interesting, without being concerned with the artists who wrote or performed them. Jewel never had a normal childhood. She began working and writing songs at a young age and by 21, she was a well-known singer with her first album going multi-platinum.
The hardships she endured to attend a prestigious art-academy high school put her through some tough tests, but also increased her resolve to develop her talent and improve her skills. She was homeless for much of her youth, improvising to get by, even as she began to perform on stage. She loved her parents, but was not very close to her mother, who abandoned her as a child, but later returned to her life as a manager. Jewel used songwriting, poetry, and prose as refuges that would help her survive.
Jewel drew inspiration for her songs from famous writers more than from songwriters. This might explain the poetic and inspirational tone of her book. It has the potential of helping many people who suffer from self-doubt, and is a good read/listen for all others as well. Several reviewers, who previously saw Jewel as a light-weight, admit to having been won over by this book.
[My 5-star review on GoodReads]

2017/05/12 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Wedding photo, taken at Mt. Everest's base camp (1) Epic wedding photos taken at Mt. Everest's base camp: Ashley Schmeider and James Sisson spent a whole year planning and training for the expedition and took almost 3 weeks to get to the base camp, where they said their vows.
(2) Radio Israel's Persian service has been discontinued after 60 years of broadcasting.
(3) Trump's proposed budget, in one chart: Cuts, and, in 3 cases, increases, in billions of dollars and in percentage.
(4) Part of Barney Brantingham's humorous column in Santa Barbara Independent, May 11-18, 2017.
(5) Comey was kicked out, a la United, as he was about to fly from Los Angeles back to DC. (New Yorker cover)
(6) Our story, in 6 minutes: Science tells our story, from the formation of the universe 14 billion years ago to 5 billion years into the future.
(7) Multiple BMWs burst into flames spontaneously: The cars had been stationary, with their engines turned off, for hours or even days. One car burned in a garage, destroying much of the house. BMW denies responsibility, but otherwise has not commented.
(8) Forthcoming Iran-related events at UCLA:
- May 19: Dr. Azadeh Tabazadeh talks about her memoir, The Sky Detective (Humanities 365, 12:00-2:00 PM)
- June 2: Nobel Laureate Dr. Shirin Ebadi in conversation with Prof. Asli Bali (Luskin Conf. Center, 6:00 PM)
- June 11: Symposium in honor of Abbas Kiarostami: The Man and His Art (Royce Hall 314, 3:00-6:00 PM)
(9) Final thought for the day: Even Fox News has concluded that Trump is unfit to lead the country! In another story, a Breitbart News reporter got into a verbal altercation with Sean Spicer, when he refused to provide a straight answer to a question about Trump's wall.

2017/05/11 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Composite image of Donald Trump and Richard Nixon Cartoon of Donald Trump saying 'I'm not a crook, either' (1) Richard Trump or Donald Nixon? Quite a few Trump-Nixon comparisons have appeared since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Here are two examples, a cartoon and a composite image.
(2) Arrest for child pornography: The Iranian-American co-owner of an Italian Restaurant in Sherman Oaks (northwestern LA) is accused of installing cameras in the restaurant's women's restroom and possession of child pornography.
(3) Trump watch: One day after he fired Comey, Trump attacks his critics in an unhinged tweet-storm. Like a guilty middle-schooler (no offense intended to teenagers), Trump uses the letter sent to Comey to tell the FBI Director he's fired to claim that DJT has been exonerated in the Russia probe. In an interview to defend Trump's firing of Comey, Kellyanne Conway meets her match, someone who calls her on her deceptive alt-facts answers.
(4) The two sides of the upcoming presidential election story in Iran:
One side: A heartfelt essay (in Persian) by a Facebook friend, explaining why she will vote. She argues that, imperfect as the choices are, the act of voting strengthens the second word in the "Islamic Republic" oxymoron and has real implications for avoiding or facilitating armed conflict with the West.
The other side: This essay is by another Facebook friend who believes that in these sham elections, Iran's dictatorial regime is playing the game of "good cop, bad cop" with its reform-minded and hard-line candidates.
(5) Joke of the day: Q: Why did the physics teacher break up with the biology teacher? A: No chemistry.
(6) A step in the right direction: I have criticized Trump's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for her lack of educational experience and archaic views. Let me also give her credit where credit is due. She has banned rejection of grant applications over formatting errors. Grant-giving organizations, in science or other areas, have grown too bureaucratic and, rather than focus on improving their principal missions, they issue tomes of guidelines on how to format grant applications. Many would reject a grant application without review if restrictions on page-margin or abstract word-count, just to name a couple, are only slightly violated. It's absurd to pay attention to appearance before substance.
(7) UCSB is 8th among public universities in the new ranking by US News and World Report.
(8) Why healthcare premiums are rising: Part of the answer is that they have been rising at a much higher rate than inflation for many years now. Another part of the answer, which few have pointed out, is that the uncertain climate created by Trump and his supporters has made insurers antsy. Almost any business needs stable markets and policies to chart its course and to operate efficiently. When a business faces an uncertain future, it raises prices to protect itself against possible future losses. The same factor is at work at places where insurers are pulling out of the market. If Trump and the GOP wanted affordable insurance premiums, they should have reassured insurers by laying down a stable policy, rather than constantly talk of repeal, while changing the new replacement program on a daily basis, as they tried to bargain for more votes.
(9) The 2016 ACM Maurice Wilkes Award: Named after one of the pioneers of computer design and architecture, the award is given annually to an early-career researcher who has made an outstanding contribution to computer architecture. Timothy Sherwood, my colleague from UCSB's Computer Science Department, is the 2016 receipient of the award. [From: IEEE Micro magazine, issue of March-April 2017]

2017/05/10 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing Khamenei stuffing a man into the ballot box (1) Cartoon of the day: "Like everyone else, I have only one vote."
(2) Quote of the day: "You have the right to go to a doctor in privacy where it's just between you and the doctor. And similarly, you have to be able to go to the Web." ~ Tim Berners-Lee, Worldwide Web inventor and 2016 ACM Turing Award honoree
(3) Trump in discord with McMaster: White House insiders have talked of verbal clashes between Trump and his National Security Adviser, particularly over Trump's statement that South Korea must pay for the installation of a missile defense system to protect it against North Korea. [Source: Business Insider]
(4) The Panama Papers and dirty money: I am unsure about the reliability of the source of this article, but I, too, am surprised that the scandal wasn't given broader coverage in the US media.
(5) An insider's revelations about Khamenei: Hamid-Reza Forouzanfar talks (in Persian) about his uncle, Iran's Supreme Leader, and his transformation from a minor player before the Islamic Revolution to an absolute dictator, who runs the country via a parallel government consisting of his family members and other confidants.
(6) Eggs and tomatoes to the rescue: From when you buy a new tire to the time you replace it, 10-15 mm of thread has disappeared into thin air. The worn thread is a significant source of air pollution. Drum brakes allow particles resulting from the wear to be relatively safely stored, but disk brakes throw harmful emissions into the atmosphere. A complementary approach for reducing harmful emissions is to replace some of the toxic material in tires with certain food waste, such as eggshells and tomato skins. [Source: E&T magazine, issue of May 2017]
(7) Chip Kidd at the Santa Barbara Public Library: Appearing under the announced title "Judge Your Book by Its Cover," Kidd switched gears from his presentation mode of last night (see my post about his lecture at UCSB) to listening and discussion mode. The small audience of about 50 had brought along hardcover books with interesting dust-jacket designs, which they took turns to display on a screen via an overhead projector, explain why they chose the book and what it meant to them, and let Kidd chip in with his comments on the cover design. The intimate setting was wonderful. The essence of Kidd's comments was that if you like/enjoy a book, then its cover design will grow on you, regardless of its artistic merits. Of course, the book's cover is instrumental in attracting you to the book in the first place. The cover design is ingrained in your memory along with your recollections and opinion of the book. I was sitting next to a bookshelf of new non-fiction books and chanced upon the book, Rumi's Secret: The Life of a Sufi Poet of Love (Harper, 2017). The cover design, with its Islamic motifs of Rumi's time, is quite interesting and very appropriate for the book's content, which traces Rumi's life, stretching over 2500 miles, with many dots that may never be completely connected. The book contains translated verses attributed to Rumi. Here are three examples, from different parts of the book.
"Love stole my prayer beads and gave me poetry and song."
"Don't speak so you can hear those voices | Not yet turned into words or sounds."
"Explanations make many things clear | But love is only clear in silence."
(8) Half-dozen brief science/tech news headlines of the day:
- Chinese researchers win $1M prize for highly accurate CT-based lung cancer diagnosis (Technology Review)
- The $5M IBM Watson human-AI-collaboration XPRIZE attracts 147 participants from 22 countries (Huff Post)
- Carnegie-Mellon researchers create touchscreens by spraying paint-like material on any surface (CMU News)
- IBM sponsors research on algorithms for human odor perception from molecular properties (The Scientist)
- Oxford Univ. develops synthetic, bio-compatible, soft-tissue retina for the visually impaired (Digital Trends)
- Canada's plans to build its AI industry gets major boost from Trump's immigration moves (New York Times)
(9) Final thought for the day: "[T]he paradox is the source of the thinker's passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling: a paltry mediocrity." ~ Soren Kierkergaard

2017/05/09 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Artist's rendition of the Big Bend, the planned world's longest building (1) A plan for world's longest building: To be located next to NYC's Central Park, the inverted-U-shaped building will not be the tallest, but longest, in the world. When the lengths of both sides and the curved top are added up, the total length will be 4000 feet, compared with Burj Khalifa's 2723 feet, the current record. The Big Bend, as the proposed building is called will have special elevators, with bent paths to get around the curved peak.
(2) [I jumped the gun on May 5 due to an error. Teacher Appreciation Day is today] Happy National Teacher Appreciation Day! In the US, the day is observed on Tuesday of the first full week of May. In Iran, the day was observed last week and I received several kind messages from my former students.
(3) Iran's natural beauty: A 3-minute review.
(4) Democracy distorted: Thirteen white males to draft US Senate's healthcare bill, with disproportionate impact on women and disadvantaged minorities. This is the Republicans' idea of representative democracy.
(5) Why would anyone expect an anti-vaccination guy and his cronies to fix our healthcare system? [Trump's 2014 tweet against vaccination]
(6) Yesterday in Goleta, CA: High tide on a windy afternoon, just before sundown, on UCSB's West Campus bluffs. [2-minute video]
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- FBI Dierctor James Comey abruptly fired by Trump (multiple sources)
- Trump's campaign statements have disappeared from his Web site (WP)
- White House climate change meeting postponed again (AP)
- North Korean and US delegations meet quietly in Norway (IBT)
- New left-leaning South Korean president could be less friendly to US (CNBC)
- Iran's President Rouhani pelted with eggs during campaign visit in Golestan
(8) Half-dozen brief science/tech news headlines of the day:
- Unknown USAF spy plane returns from fourth classified mission (NBC)
- NV Energy to shut down last coal-fired plant in Nevada (Omaha World-Herald)
- Utilities surveyed say Trump's EO unlikely to save coal industry (ClimateWire)
- Hundreds of privacy-invading apps use ultrasonic sounds to track you (ZDNet)
- Ford plans to double its workforce in Silicon Valley (Detroit News)
- SpaceX test-fires its new giant rocket Falcon Heavy (Ars Technica)
(9) An evening with Chip Kidd: The extraordinary designer and art director talked at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight. He has designed images that appear on dust jackets of numerous hard-cover books and has worked on many best-selling book projects. He described the process of going from ideas and images that appear in a book to a catchy, yet legible cover design that often plays a key role in the book's success. Tomorrow night, he will speak at Santa Barbara's Public Library under the title "Judge Your Book by Its Cover," where attendees are encouraged to bring their favorite book cover designs for group discussion. I am looking forward to that event. Kidd works for Knopf, a commercial publisher, so the process of getting to a final cover design often involves multiple iterations until several players (the boss, sales people, sometimes the author, and occasionally the estate of a dead author) sign off on it. These iterations can be frustrating, but more often than not, they lead to more appropriate designs that do the intended job better. In the course of tonight's talk, Kidd presented several projects, from their inceptions and initial doodles to the final product. His talk was very instructive and also filled with humor. He has a Web site and several TED talks, including this 19-minute gem.

2017/05/08 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Photo of colorful flowers in an unspecified field, with mountains in the background (1) Field of dreams (photo by Aaron Reed). [Location unknown]
(2) Quote of the day: "When you shoot a zebra in the black stripe, the white stripe dies too." ~ African proverb
(3) Universal healthcare can't be a bad idea, if it is embraced by every advanced country in the world. [Chart]
(4) Easy-listening music: For those who like light jazz, here is nearly two hours of Michael Buble's greatest hits.
(5) Retired UC Berkeley professor joins Google: David Patterson will help Google develop a chip for its Tensor Processing Unit. The new chip will run at least 10 times as fast as current processor chips and will be able to handle computations required for AI applications. Patterson, 69, whose UCLA grad-student days overlapped with mine, was a faculty member at Berkeley for 40 years. Patterson is known as inventor/promoter of the RISC and RAID concepts and author of best-selling computer architecture textbooks.
(6) How the just-elected French President defeated the hackers: The same hackers that helped Trump become US President failed in helping Marine Le Pen, because the Macron camp, having learned from the US experience, played along and planted a confusing mix of true and false information on their phishing Web sites.
(7) Obama receives "Profile in Courage" award: In his acceptance speech at the J. F. Kennedy Presidential Library, he addresses the US Congress and asks them to show courage in enacting healthcare legislation.
(8) An interesting tech blog post: Meera Collier of Cadence makes some interesting observations about an AI-related conference she attended and wonders about the dearth of women at such conferences. Here are some of my thoughts about her blog post.
Collier makes three important points. First, she notes the impact of new deep-learning techniques on visual understanding. Second, she notes the dearth of specialists in the subfield of AI known as deep learning. Third, she points to the under-representation of women in AI (and tech, more generally).
Regarding the first point, AI has oscillated between trying to mimic human behavior through understanding its underlying mechanisms and just mimicking the input-output behavior, without caring about how humans do it. The latter approach has prevailed in recent years. At one time, there was an extensive debate about whether computers can ever be considered as thinking. Edsger Dijkstra famously noted that, "The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim." His point was that computers can exhibit behavior that is human-like and useful, without truly thinking. Now, deep-learning programs can even exceed human capabilities in some tasks, even though an understanding of the pertinent human mechanisms still eludes us.
Regarding the second point, AI and the overlapping field of data science are enjoying a newfound popularity (in the same way that computer security did, beginning a few years ago) and the dearth of specialists in these fields will be short-lived, especially if additional tech visa restrictions are not imposed.
Regarding the third point, I could write books! In computer science and engineering, we were making good progress in attracting women, but in the past decade or so, we have been going backwards. There is general agreement (though by no means a consensus) that women have lost interest in CSE, not because universities turn them off, but because of the workplace culture, especially in start-ups that more or less demand 12-hour workdays and, even after they hire a token number of women, they do not take them seriously and do not promote them. This Fortune article about problems at Facebook is more broadly relevant. Interestingly, when women have become involved they have shown great insights and made significant contributions. A good example is provided by the black women of Hidden Figures, a book that I reviewed on May 6. The only reason those women were given a chance in the early 1940s, in an age when there was systematic discrimination against both women and blacks, was a shortage of male specialists as WW II raged. Those women turned what they thought to be six-month "war jobs" into long, distinguished careers at NASA.

2017/05/07 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image of a woman, shown trying to pick up her shadow (1) Good advice for when you suffer a setback: Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again! Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sing in the movie "Swing Time" (1936).
(2) Fred Astaire sings "The Way You Look Tonight" in the 1936 movie "Swing Time." And here is Frank Sinatra's marvelous version, with lyrics under the video. This more modern interpretation by Michael Buble isn't bad either.
(3) Introducing the next great blues singer! [3-minute video]
(4) The 11 most-beautiful mathematical equations: My favorite is Euler's formula, a surprising identity that relates the number of vertices, edges, and faces in a planar graph.
(5) Let the Senate fight begin: Kamala Harris, a fresh Democratic face in the US Senate from California, plans to fight Trumpcare tooth and nail. Contact her office and give her the needed ammunition!
(6) AI aims at predicting Supreme Court rulings: A new study suggests artificial intelligence can outperform legal scholars (77% accuracy, vs. 66%) in the prediction of US Supreme Court rulings. Using the Supreme Court database for 1816-2015 and drawing on 16 elements of each justice's vote, researchers built a model that uncovered associations between case elements and decision outcomes. The model then examined the features of each case for a given year to anticipate rulings, and was fed data about the rulings so it could update its approach and move on to the next year. [Source: Science]
(7) Quote of the day: "[Trump's presidency] is worse than any horror story I've written." ~ Author Stephen King
(8) A long-time conservative talks about Trump: I liked George Will at one time, many years ago (when I read his columns), but he turned too conservative for my taste. So, it is striking that he is writing and talking about Trump having a dangerous disability.
(9) Trump is being sued: Atheists to challenge Trump in court over his executive order allowing religious non-profit organizations to meddle in politics. This case may lead to the first true test of the Supreme Court with its new composition.

2017/05/06 (Saturday): Book review: Shetterly, Margot Lee, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, William Morrow, 2016.
Cover image of the book 'Hidden Figures' If asked to name women who were influential in the development of computing technology and applications, most people would only be able to identify a couple: Perhaps Ada Byron Lovelace and Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. Many other female mathematicians and computer scientists, who helped advance computer science and engineering, remain nameless and faceless. This book, and the successful 2016 movie based on it, have brought some of these faces, who served as human computers to the forefront. What makes the group of women in this book even more remarkable is that they were black, at a time when segregation was still in effect and even white women weren't taken seriously in technical fields.
Margot Lee Shetterly, a non-fiction writer, grew up in Hampton, VA, where she came to know many of the women whose lives are described in this book. She has also worked in investment banking and media start-ups, according to Wikipedia. She has won a Sloan Fellowship and several other honors. The 346-page book is well-researched. It ends with a 5-page acknowledgment section, 56 pages of notes, and an 18-page index.
The hidden figures of this book gained a foothold in the early 1940s, when, as a result of the war effort, there was a severe shortage of male technical talent to draw upon, while, simultaneously, there was a greater need for designing and testing airplanes. Later, the space race triggered by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik made aeronautical and space research even more urgent. Two executive orders (EO 8802, on the desegregation of the defense industry, and EO 9346, creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee) were also instrumental in opening doors to women and blacks.
The book's protagonists even had a hard time attending college, let alone emerge as leading scientists and technologist. There were black colleges for undergraduate work, but when it came to more advanced training, they had to fight their way into colleges where they were not very welcome and were expected to fail. At work, they were kept in positions below their level of talent and abilities and were often excluded from meetings where they could contribute immensely. The women began by doing routine calculations, but quickly rose in expertise and stature, and were thus assigned more demanding tasks.
A lot was going on at NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), later to become NASA, and other research units at the time. In addition to building, testing, and improving planes for the war effort, the US was at the verge of breaking the Mach barrier, an effort that produced trans-sonic, super-sonic, and hyper-sonic flight ideas in rapid succession.
Much of the book is devoted to the women's personal stories, including the neighborhoods where they lived, how they commuted to work, challenges of going to the bathroom and eating at the cafeteria in a segregated work environment, their family dynamics, and so on. The social impact of their careers was wide-ranging. The diversity of the workforce at Langley turned it into a kind of race-relations lab. An interesting social consequence of the war years was husbands (soldiers and other military personnel) returning home to grown, independent women they barely recognized.
Discrimination was severest against black women, but was by no means limited to them. Irish and Jewish women were also discriminated against, as were married women. In time, the Langley management relaxed the enforcement of separate bathroom and lunchroom rules, a la the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of many years later regarding gay military personnel. The sensitive nature of the work at Langley caused extra scrutiny of those who worked there, especially in the wake of the Rosenberg Trials, which put all left-leaning individuals working for the US government under growing suspicion.
Langley eventually endeavored into space research, at first a bit reluctantly, but rushing to put together a space program, once the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite, kicking off the space race. Americans were told that Sputnik was mapping the US in order to select the best targets for H-bombs. In a similar way, the initial resistance to electronic digital computers as replacements for human computers gave way to enthusiastic pursuit, and "the girls," as the human computers were known, began learning the needed skills. They observed, rightly, that the days of computing with calculators were coming to an end.
Shetterly writes that Katherine Coleman signed her first research report as "Katherine G. Johnson," shortly after getting married in 1959. It's a shame that her own family did not get to enjoy any of the credit and name recognition. Similarly, KGJ's greatest accomplishment, that of calculating the precise requirements for the Lunar Landing Module to be able to take off and meet the Lunar Orbiter, so that Apollo 11 astronauts could return safely, is recorded under her married name. KGJ has received numerous honors, including 3 honorary doctorates and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
As I read Shetterly's book, I was mostly interested in finding out about the technical contributions of the women and how they fit into the grand scheme of scientific research and technical innovation at NASA. I found some of the detours into childhood stories and other details a tad boring. But, one cannot gain a proper appreciation of the enormity of what these women accomplished without learning about the additional obstacles, be they economic disadvantage, racial inequality, gender discrimination, and confidence-shattering professional treatment, which they had to face.
The human computers had gone to Langley for what they thought would be 6-month war jobs, but they ended up establishing careers and growing old there. The fact that, at the time of Sputnik, 1/3 of all Soviet engineering graduates were women, whereas in the US, women were struggling to find a way in, may have played a key role in the US falling behind in the space race.
This book and the movie based on it have done much to raise awareness about the challenges faced by colored people in breaking the barriers of work in predominantly white work environments and industries and the enormous national gain that would result from removing all such barriers. Alas, something that does not seem to be in the cards over the next few years.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]

2017/05/05 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Washington's Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier in one photo frame (1) Three volcanoes in one frame: This amazing Washington photo captures Mt. Hood (foreground), Mt. Adams (right), and Mt. Rainier.
(2) In the school of life, everyone's a teacher. If you are willing to learn, everyone has something to teach you. Happy Teachers' Day!
(3) Wonderful guitar music: Theme from "The Dear Hunter" ("Cavatina") played by two guitarists and a symphony orchestra. Enjoy!
(4) Behind the lies of Holocaust denial: Holocaust denial has gained some momentum in recent years. In this new 16-minute TEDx talk, Deborah Lipstadt wonders about how the best-documented genocide in history came to be denied and what the denials mean. [P.S.: The excellent movie "Denial," which I watched last week, is the story of a lawsuit brought against Lipstadt in the UK by a Holocaust denier; she won!]
(5) A young Paul Anka sings a medley of his most recognizable songs.
(6) A fascinating film: Opening in theaters on June 16, "Score: A Film Music Documentary" celebrates the contribution of music in telling more compelling stories. Just try to imagine "ET" or any James Bond film without its iconic score.
(7) A group of Iranian miners who perished in a mine collapse a few days ago. [Photo]
(8) Trump's wealthy cabinet will collectively gain an estimated $1.5 billion from his plan to abolish the estate tax, cleverly labeled "death tax" to garner support (a la fictitious "death panels," invented for Obamacare).
(9) Truly sickening: This cleric uses his young daughter to illustrate the wrong and right ways for women to cover themselves according to Islamic edicts. [10-minute video]

2017/05/04 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Victims of 'hono' killings whose photos appear on the memorial page of Karma Nirvana (1) 'Honor' killings: Victims from around the world on the memorial page of Karma Nirvana, a UK charity helping victims of honor-based violence and their families. The UN estimates that 5,000 women and girls die in honor killings worldwide per year. A new despicable trend is the killers taking the victims to other countries where laws against honor killings are laxer. [Source: Newsweek on-line]
(2) Cartoon caption of the day: Husband to wife, as he works in his home-office: "I don't remember—do I work at home or do I live at work?"
(3) Three prominent Civil-War historians take on Trump's ignorant comments about it.
(4) Trump's ad campaign: The guy who said during his presidential run that he didn't need to spend any money on ads unleashed a $1.5 million ad campaign to tout the "successes" of his first 100 days as President!
(5) Half-dozen science and technology news headlines of the day:
- British and other European techies vie to fight fake news in election season (NYT)
- China hits milestone in developing quantum computers (South China Morning Post)
- British researchers develop most accurate 3D model of the human face (Science)
- Twitter data could have predicted outcome of Brexit vote (University of Surrey)
- Cassini encountered less dust than expected in gap between Saturn, rings (LA Times)
- First humans arrived in North America 116,000 years earlier than thought (Sci News)
(6) Twenty House Republicans and 193 Democrats vote "no" on the Obamacare repeal/replace legislation, but it passes narrowly 217-213-1. Trumpcare (aka Obamacare Light) now goes to the Senate! All 14 Republican House members from California voted "yes" on the bill.
(7) Science communication is important: Ira Flatow, host of NPR's "Science Friday," spoke at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight under the title "Are You Sure? Science, Communication, and Uncertainty." He began with some self-deprecating humor, quipping "I have a face for the radio" and observing that, as a non-scientist, he is usually the dumbest person in the room when he talks with scientist.
Flatow began his role as an explainer of science on the first Earth Day in 1970. His career has been devoted to improving the public's understanding of science and the important role played by scientists in how we live our lives. According to Flatow, half of all Americans don't know how long it takes for the Earth to go once around the sun and a quarter still think that the Earth is the center of our Solar System. On the other hand, people's hatred of science is a myth, because 80% of the public loves science.
Whereas science denial has afflicted our leaders, the public's love for science is evident in the wave of commercially successful and critically acclaimed movies ("The Imitation Game," "The Theory of Everything," "The Martian") and vastly popular TV shows ("The Big Bang Theory," "Scorpion," "Limitless," and the return of "MacGyver"). To spread awareness about science, we need to follow the 95% solution, a reference to the fact that only 5% of the average American's time is spent in the classroom.
Education of politicians is more of a challenge these days. Flatow related the experience of a former NOAA chief who had gone to Congress to ask for funding to replace aging weather satellites. One member of Congress told her that he did not need her freaking weather satellites, because he got all the weather info he needed from the Weather Channel. Contrary to popular belief, scientists do not shy away form engaging in public policy debates; 87% say that they favor greater engagement.
In the course of his lecture, Flatow played sound recordings and showed short video clips to stress his points. One such video was a song by Barber Lab Quartet, which aims to get girls interested in science, while presenting a realistic picture of what lab work entails.
Viewing the problem from the other side, scientists must also be trained to be effective communicators and be able to convey their messages through modern media. On TV, for example, the average soundbite has shrunk from 8 seconds a few years ago, and 15 seconds before that, to just 4 seconds. TV news, which used to be in the business of providing information, has deteriorated to just trying to fill the space between commercials. Scientists must adjust to the new landscape by practicing and refining their messages so that they can make their main points within the shorter time-slices they have.
An interesting occurrence during the Q&A period was a female questioner offering Flatow a pink hat that she had knit during the lecture. Flatow accepted the gift, but quipped that he was sorry the lecture was so boring!

2017/05/03 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
A tree, painted in four panels corresponding to the four seasons (1) A tree representing the four seasons (the artist is unknown to me). And here is a second tree.
(2) Wonderful Iranian music, with some Verdi thrown in: This 50-minute video contains Chorale de Bahar's "Silk Road 2" concert, featuring Darya Dadvar. Enjoy!
(3) Aerial view of Santa Barbara's breakwater and harbor. [1-minute video]
(4) Einstein's theory survives a new quantum test: But unification of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics is still elusive.
(5) The corporate campus: Nicoletti's, the coffee shop operating at UCSB's University Center, has been closed and a small temporary operation is set up in front of it, while the premises are prepared for a Starbucks franchise. The new facility will provide broader choices, as well as some familiarity and comfort to campus visitors. Nevertheless, it is sad to see the trend toward elimination of smaller outlets in favor of giant chain businesses.
(6) Trump blames the US Constitution for not getting much done during his first 100 days: Although he had previously claimed that no President had done as much in his first 100 days!
(7) Flip-flopper-in-chief: Trump has not only reneged on countless campaign promises, he has completely reversed a number of them. It seems that he didn't know what he was talking about; and still doesn't.
(8) Joke of the day: Weighing scale to its user: "$50 or I'll tweet this out!" [Credit: Margaret Martonosi's May 1 IoT lecture at UCSB]
(9) Phishing e-mail attack via Google Docs: My department's IT team has notified the staff not to click on links within e-mails that pretend to be sharing something via Google Docs. Google has confirmed that it has now fixed the attack and disabled the offending accounts, but you should remain alert.

2017/05/02 (Tuesday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Hands holding letters that spell 'Teaching' (1) Still learning after 44 years of teaching: Today, I attended a workshop entitled "Teaching in the Present," which was conducted by Ailish Riggs Darmody (Lecturer, UCSB Department of Theater and Dance) and Celia Alario (Lecturer, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management). Effective teaching entails performance and story-telling, hence the relevance of the theater perspective.
The lecturers stressed the importance of one-on-one interaction with students, getting rid of our "invisible gag" (a past event that may have contributed to our fear of public speaking or reduced our effectiveness), using exercises to loosen up before teaching, motion in the classroom (as opposed to stationary lecturing), revealing yourself by relating personal experiences and vulnerabilities, voice variation in terms of pitch, speed, volume, and emphasis, and, of course, body language.
Make sure students perceive you as talking to them, by establishing eye contact and engaging in personal interactions (to the extent that the size of the class allows). Make direct statements without sugar-coating your words. Use group activities in class when the subject matter allows. It is okay to use intervals of silence to allow your statements to "land," and then repeat if necessary. Reciting tongue-twisters is a good way of warming up your articulators.
(2) Academic social media: Janneke Adema, a research fellow at Center for Disruptive Media, Coventry University (UK), spoke this morning at the UCSB Library under the title " & Self-Branding: The Metricisation of Scolars and Scholarly Networks." Having grown uncomfortable with the daily e-mails I receive from ResearchGate and LinkedIn, both of which treat the academic enterprise like a sport match (hey, you received another endorsement/citation, your publications got 5 more reads, so and so published a paper which cites your work), I welcomed the chance of attending this talk., ResearchGate, and a number of other Web sites are for-profit businesses that ask researchers to provide them with free content (researchers' profiles and publications) and make money by selling the information they collect, in the form of premium services, sponsored content, and information packages. Researchers fear that their research may receive less visibility than their competitors' if they do not participate. Once you upload your information, however, there seems to be no way to withdraw, and PDF copies of your publications become the property of the service provider.
While entities such as ResearchGate lure researchers by touting the advantages of free access to their publications and thus higher visibility and impact, their service model isn't "open access," because other researchers must register and provide personal information before they can access the posted research.
A dilemma faced by academic researchers is whether they should try to become active participants in such sites (e.g., by serving as volunteer editors) with the hope of improving the service, or to refrain from participation to protest the abuse of free information they provide. Interestingly, such sites do have some benefits, such as getting immediate feedback on one's work and discovering works by other researchers with similar profiles. However, author scores and other quantitative measures of research "success," which are derived based on obscure algorithms, are viewed as damaging.
There are non-profit alternatives to these for-profit services and more are being developed. The Humanities Commons is one such service that is run by academics for academics, as is Domains of One's Own. I have developed and manage my own Web site for posting my detailed profile and publications, but doing so deprives one of the benefits of collaboration and networking.
(3) Imperial presidency: DoJ claims in lawsuit that the President has the authority to fire the head of CFPB, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This may be a precursor of abolishing the agency altogether.
(4) Tech joke of the day: In the near future, after the Internet of Things has become established, salespeople, who now ask you if you care to purchase an extended warranty for your applicance, will ask: "Can I interest you in a firewall for your toaster?" [Credit: Margaret Martonosi's IoT lecture at UCSB, yesterday]

2017/05/01 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Photo of today's speaker, Dr. Margaret Martonosi (1) Lecture on the Internet of Things (IoT): Dr. Margaret Martonosi of Princeton University spoke this afternoon under the title "Internet of Things: History and Hype, Technology and Policy" at UCSB's Corwin Pavilion. Dr. Martonosi recently ended an engagement with the US State Department as a Jefferson Fellow, a program that has been suspended under the Trump administration. In her role as a resident scientist at the State Department, Dr. Martonosi served as the go-to person on information technology questions and helped formulate US contributions or positions on various technical exchanges and agreements. An example international program that required expert advice is the November 2015 Israeli-Palestinian 3G communication agreement.
Some believe that IoT is more hype than substance. All new technological innovations begin with unrealistic expectations, which peak with increased hype but eventually settle on a more realistic development course, after a post-hype drop. IoT has just passed the said peak and is dropping to the stage of developing practical solutions and applications. Current proposed applications are vast, ranging from very useful farming (irrigation control), health-monitoring, and traffic solutions to weird ideas such as an internet-enabled fork that tells you if you are eating too fast! The 2025 projected IoT market is $4-11 trillion.
In studying IoT, issues to be considered pertain to users, policymakers, technologists, and system architects. Dr. Martonosi's research spans the four layers named above, but in today's lecture, she emphasized energy and security issues.
Concerning energy efficiency, IoT devices must be built to use energy frugally, both to improve battery life and to limit possible problems from heat generation (e.g., in implanted devices, whose overheating can harm human tissues). One key idea is balancing compute energy vs. communication energy. The ensuing trade-off may dictate a deviation from current cloud-based computing strategy that delegates all significant processing functions to the cloud, leading to bare-bones local or "edge" devices. Doing more computation locally (using the "edge-computing" or "near-data-computing" paradigms) may allow the use of energy-efficient computation to save on energy-intensive communication.
Concerning security, compromised IoT isn't a problem only for your devices or your home network, but possibly for the entire Internet. It has been demonstrated that data anonymously aggregated in databases can be manipulated to compromise privacy by using side information available from public sources. A celebrated example from the mid 1990s is an MIT graduate student's extraction of medical information for Governor Weld from a large, anonymized medical records database, using publicly available voter records that allowed her to zoom in on the data of interest via a process of elimination (only 6 of the people in the data set shared the governor's birth date, only 3 were men, only 1 had his zip code).
(2) Help for wildlife: Bald eagle, that lost part of its beak due to being shot in the face, gets a 3D-printed beak.
(3) Automatic translation: On-line language translators are still imperfect, but they fill an important need in allowing people not reading a given language gain access to news stories and other material in that language.
(4) Renewable energy: China is now first in the world in producing energy from solar cells.
(5) Tourists enjoying Iranian cuisine at Parhami Traditional House in Shiraz.
(6) Cartoon of the day: About the recent March for Climate in Washington, DC. "Three percent of scientists say this protest isn't happening." [Image]

Photo of Dr. Pedram Khosronejad lecturing and Dr. Nayereh Tohidi standing to the side 2017/04/30 (Sunday): Today's UCLA lecture on Iran: Dr. Pedram Khosronejad, Farzaneh Family Scholar and Associate Director for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies at Oklahoma State University, spoke in Persian under the title "Iran-Iraq War and the Creation of the Sacred Defense Art." He will deliver a different talk in English tomorrow at UCLA ("Lost Souls: Photography of African Eunuchs & Female Servants in Qajar Iran," Monday, May 1, 4:00 PM, 365 Humanities Building, UCLA campus).
The 8-year Iran-Iraq War, lasting from September 1980 to August 1988 (Shahrivar 1359 to Mordad 1367 in the Iranian calendar) was perhaps the most defining event in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. Most accounts of the war are one-sided, either told from the viewpoint of Iranian authorities or described by Western observers who have very little in terms of first-hand knowledge and less of a motivation to be impartial. The Iraqi side of the story has never been told, due to that country's instability ever since the war ended. Many of the required documents needed to reconstruct the Iraqi view of the war are unavailable to scholars and other observers.
The speaker lived in Iran as a school-boy during the entire duration of the war and was distressed by bombings and other hostilities, as well as by the loss of his classmates, teachers, and other people he knew, either directly taken by the war or forced to relocate in its wake. There is a lot more to do in terms of documenting the war and its aftermath. New discoveries are still being made, including bodies of fighters lost and never recovered.
The terms used in Iran for the 8-year war with Iraq are "The Imposed War" (because it was Iraq that attacked Iran) and "The Sacred Defense" (referring to sacrifices made by a large number of fighters and their families to defend Iran and the role faith played in such sacrifices). Horror stories abound about what the Iraqi army did to military personnel and civilians once they captured certain areas of Iran, to the extent that some men are known to have killed their female family members so as to prevent their capture by Iraqi forces.
With the context above, Dr. Khosronejad proceeded to enumerate and briefly demonstrate in his slides a number of influential artists, the styles and philosophies they pursued, and their creations. Much of the art went away after the war, leaving little impact, the possible exception being a number of feature-length movies. Efforts are underway to recover and study the art of the Iran-Iraq war and influences that led to their creation, but progress is rather slow. The talk's focus was on art that was created in direct connection with the war, not art that was indirectly influenced by the war and its immense casualties, in deaths and serious injuries, including suffering from chemical attacks on the battlefields and afterwards.
Some of the domains Dr. Khosonejad touched upon are graphics, painting, murals, photography, literature (historical accounts, novels, memoirs, and poetry), and film (both documentaries and history-based and fictional stories). Because of the focus on the work being done and preservation efforts of a particular organization in Iran, music was not discussed, but the speaker acknowledged that there is much to study in the area of music, which unfortunately has not been not documented in print.
Dr. Khosronejad is the editor of two books directly related to his talk today: Unburied Memories: The Politics of Bodies of Sacred Defense Martyrs in Iran, and Iranian Sacred Defense Cinema: Religion, Martyrdom and National Identity. I end this summary with my English translation of a Persian poem by Qeysar Aminpour [1959-2007], which appeared on the speakers final slide.
A martyr, who lay dying on the ground | Dipped his finger in his own blood and wrote | Hoping for real victory | Not in war | But against war

2017/04/29 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) Trading data suggests that UK official stats are being provided to some investors prior to their publication.
(2) Pope Francis gives a surprise TED talk: Speaking from Vatican via a big screen, rather than on stage, the Pope aimed his message at tech leaders and other powerful people. "How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us. How wonderful would it be if solidarity—this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word—were not simply reduced to social work and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries."
(3) A math teacher's road to success: This article features Reyhaneh Khaze, a highly effective math teacher at Flint Hill Upper School in Washington, DC. She is described as a Baha'i refugee from Iran.
(4) Political exchange of the week: President Donald Trump, to Reuters: "[The presidency] is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier."
David Frum, GWB's speechwriter, in a series of tweets: Yes, "Nobody could have known the presidency was hard."
"All this information was cunningly concealed by being put in books and other forms of writing."
"Also, nobody could have known that 2 year old tweets are retrievable."
(5) Two pages from an old Iranian school text: The lesson on these pages is about the letter "heh" and its four variations (initial, middle, terminal, and solo). The text sings the praises of the Shah and Empress Farah, but let me refrain from political commentary here!
(6) Cartoon of the day: Germans seem to be having a lot of fun! ["Todesspiel" means "death match."] [Image]
(7) Final thought for the day: I leave you with this image, which reflects what's spinning in my head, after a full day of working on revisions of technical papers.

2017/04/28 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Donald Knuth marched for science last Saturday (1) "The Donald" of computer science lets The Donald know about his YUGE support for science: Donald Knuth of Stanford University, a highly-respected researcher and a prolific author, is best known for his multi-volume opus, The Art of Computer Programming.
(2) Comedian Seth Meyers on Trump presidency's first 100 days.
(3) Wonderful combinations of math and art: Sculptures that move and transform into endless designs.
(4) Joke of the day: A public-school teacher was arrested today at JFK Airport, as he tried to board a flight while in possession of weapons of math instruction (a ruler, a protractor, a compass, a calculator). An unnamed security official said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al Gebra movement, whose members use secret names such as 'X' and 'Y' and refer to themselves as 'unknowns.'
(5) The first microprocessor built entirely of flexible material: Vienna University of Technology researchers have constructed a 1-bit microprocessor out of a flexible 2D material by using a transition-metal dichalcogenide (TMD), which is composed of crystals only one layer of atoms or molecules thick. TMDs form into layers similar to graphene, but unlike graphene, are semiconductors. The Vienna team deposited two-molecule-thick layers of molybdenum disulfide on a silicon substrate etched with their circuit design and separated by a layer of aluminum oxide. The microprocessor uses a set of only four instructions, but the team believes the device can be shrunk while boosting its complexity, thus allowing extension to multi-bit data. [Source: ACM Tech News]
(6) Misogyny continues in Iran: Iranian athlete permanently banned from her sport for appearing sans hijab in a photo. Shiva Amini was a member of the national women's futsal team for 4 years. Recently, she has been involved in coaching and playing for clubs.
(7) 'Frozen' isn't your typical 'princess' story, and therein lies its success: "To understand the psychology behind 'Frozen' Mania, in 2015, CNN reached out to psychologists who are sisters themselves: Yalda Uhls is regional director for Common Sense Media. Maryam Kia-Keating is an associate professor of clinical psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara. Here is our edited conversation."
(8) UCSB Engineering's 50th anniversary alumni reception: Many engineering alumni, campus administrators, and college faculty and staff were on hand to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of our College of Engineering. Before the college got its own corner of the campus, it was housed in the Arts Building. There aren't many engineering programs in the world that have come this far to become a world leader in only five decades. I am proud to have been part of this success story for three decades (I was hired in 1987, but couldn't join physically until 1988, due to visa delays). The shiny metal container seen next to the speakersin these photos is a time capsule being filled with college memorabilia, to be opened in 25 years. Unlike most time capsules, it won't be buried but will be showcased in a special display in the main engineering building. This 2-minute video captures the mood of the reception.
(9) Final Image for the day: Life is full of surprises, good and bad. Enjoy the good and ignore the bad.

2017/04/27 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Smiling Iranian children, looking out a window (1) Happiness is a state of mind: It does not depend on worldly possessions.
(2) Quote of the day: "If Google were created from scratch today, much of it would be learned, not coded." ~ Jeff Dean, Google Senior Fellow, Systems and Infrastructures Group
(3) Judges are all bad, except the ones who rule in Trump's favor or dismiss lawsuits brought against him. [WSJ article]
(4) Patriarchy in action: The potential next president of France is 24 years younger than his wife and is constantly ridiculed for the age difference. But the US President being 24 years older than his wife seems to be no problem. [Read in Persian, with images]
(5) Science aficionados making their points with humor during last Saturday's protest marches in 600+ cities. [Sign held by a protester]
(6) Challenging English assignment: Decode this sentence and transform it into a grammatically correct one.
(7) Facebook friend request: Today, I received a Facebook friend request from a gorgeous blond woman, who is single and lives in North Carolina. Her FB profile contains a single photo and nothing else. There are hundreds of individuals on the friends list of this gorgeous blond woman, if indeed she is good-looking, a blond, or even a woman! This request is easy to dismiss as fraudulent, but I receive friend requests from other impostors and scammers, who are way more sophisticated in their approach. Be vigilant!
(8) Talk on graph databases: Today's 18th edition of the Benjamin Lecture, a vehicle which allows UCSB's Department of Geography to bring outstanding researchers in geographic information science (GIS) to campus, was delivered by Dr. Claudia Bauzer-Medeiras, Professor of Databases at Brazil's University of Campinas. The full title of her talk was "Discovering and Clearing Paths through the World—The Pros and Cons of Graph Databases."
Relational databases (essentially, tables of facts) are currently the most common tools for organizing data. Their main advantages are their more or less standardized structures and query interfaces. Graph databases, which provide a more natural semantics for queries involving paths and movements, are gaining in popularity, but they are not standardized in structure of query interface.
The speaker has used a graph database, and its query language Cypher, to study an outbreak of yellow fever in parts of Brazil with low incidence of vaccination. It was discovered that the spread of the disease had been facilitated by a river flowing through the affected areas, and this spatial relationship made the problem ideal for tackling via a graph database. Other promising applications of graph databases are in archaeology and in compiling organism profiles that allow scientists to study various species from different perspectives.
(9) Muslims in America: Author and essayist Laila Lalami (Professor of Creative Writing at UC Riverside) spoke at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight under the title "Muslims in America: A Secret History." Born in Morocco and educated in England and the US, Lalami has authored a collection of short stories, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, the novel Secret Son, and the historical novel The Moor's Account, in addition to numerous short, non-fiction pieces.
Lalami began by making two key points. First, Muslims constitute about 1% of Americans, yet, judging by the number of media stories about this tiny minority, most people would guess the fraction to be much higher. The same misconception is seen in many European countries, where, as in America, Muslims are viewed as an undifferentiated mass, rather than as a collection of individuals. Second, Muslims are often viewed as new immigrants, whereas their history in America goes back to the 1700s and even earlier. About 20% of African slaves brought to America were Muslims who were forcibly converted.
The "secret history" in the title refers to a history erased owing to the fact that Muslims were, for the most part, powerless and uneducated, so they did not leave much of a trace in history. For example, very few people know that a Spanish contingent landing in Florida in the 1500s included a black Moraccan, who, somewhat surprisingly outsurvived, many other members of the group, even though he did not enjoy the same privileges or even food ration. Despite the long history, the first mosque in America was not built until 1902 (in North Carolina).

2017/04/26 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cover image of Time magazine for its issue featuring 'The 100 Most-Infulential People' (1) The Time-100 issue is out: Normally, I would offer several posts about the annual list, but, with a few exceptions noted below, I am not very excited about this year's selections. There are the predictable Pope Francis, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Theresa May, Kim Jung Un, and several famous entertainers, atheletes, and business titans, alongside questionable choices such as Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Major General Qasem Soleimani of Iran's Quds Force, James Comey, Julian Asange, Stephen Bannon, Rebekah Mercer, and RuPaul. In many cases, who wrote the testimonial is more telling than the selected person. Examples include Paul Ryan writing about Trump, Mikail Gorbachev about Putin, and John McCain about Comey. I was delighted to see the following five choices (Elizabeth Warren is also a great choice, but I am excluding her and a number of others whose appeal isn't universal).
- The four organizers of the Women's March on Washington
- Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
- Civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis
- Journalist and women's rights advocate Gretchen Carlson
- Actress extraordinaire and Oscar-winner Emma Stone
(2) US Senators, all 100 of them, to go to the White House for North Korea briefing: Perhaps there is a fear that the Senate Chamber might be bugged, or Trump wants to show the Senators who the boss is.
(3) Horrendous day: The next time you think you had a bad day, remember this video.
(4) Quote of the day: "So, uh, what's been going on while I've been gone?" ~ Former US President Barack Obama, beginning a panel discussion at University of Chicago
(5) Made-up news headline of the day: "Obama's barrage of complete sentences seen as a brutal attack on Trump." ~ The Borowitz Report
(6) Trump's AP interview transcripts: Full of blatant examples of unintelligible, mangled sentences.
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Judge blocks Trump's effort to withhold money from sanctuary cities (NYT)
- Trump wants review of national monuments for rescinding/resizing (Reuters)
- Michael Flynn's troubles mount; jail time is likely (Sacramento Bee)
- Thai man hangs his daughter on Facebook Live before killing himself (WP)
- Turkish air strikes target Kurdish allies of US in Iraq and Syria (NYT)
- Lumber tariff complicates NAFTA negotiations with Canada (NYT)
(8) What goes around comes around: It seems that the Taliban, created and supported by the US to fight Afghanistan's Soviet occupiers, are now allegedly being supplied with arms by Russia to fight the US!
(9) Retired Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has started a free on-line service that contains a fully searchable database of government revenues, expenditures, and other data, at the federal, state, and local levels.

2017/04/25 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of Iran's Damavand Peak at night (1) Iran's Damavand Peak (a dormant volcano) under starry skies. [Photographer unknown]
(2) The 9 types of intelligence. [Image]
(3) A cleric's open attack on Khamenei: I found this cleric's fiery speech, calling Khamenei an absolute dictator and questioning the legitimacy of IRI's most important founding principle, refreshing. He shames the Supreme Leader for sanctioning crimes against humanity and pulling the strings of all three branches of government, including the judiciary, whose indictments read like opinion pieces in conservative newspapers rather than legal documents.
(4) Jobs and careers to give way to skill-sets for addressing challenges and problems: As boundaries between traditional academic disciplines disappear and multidisciplinary areas such as bioengineering gain prominence, future workers will combine knowledge and skills from several domains, on an as-needed basis, to tackle long-term projects.
(5) Crowd estimate at Santa Barbara's Science March: The March's FB page reports that according to an SBPD report, we had 5000 marchers and that the local TV station KEYT had under-reported the crowd size. Here is what I wrote as a comment on the page. "KEYT at first said 'hundreds,' but later modified it to 'more than 1000,' both technically correct, but not accurate. My own 'scientific' estimate was 4000+. Here is how I did it. The march was at least 1/4 mile long; that's about 400 m. And it was 10 m wide on average. That's 4000 square meters of people. At a conservative estimated average of one person per square meter, we have 4000+ people. QED. :)"
(6) Another Hollywood liberal points out that the emperor has no clothes: "100 days: no wall, no Muslim ban, no health care, no tax reform, no infrastructure, one stolen Supreme Court seat, one stolen election. 1000 lies." ~ Rob Reiner tweet
(7) The US State Department is advertising for Trump businesses: Its London Embassy Web site touts the historical significance of the Mar-a-Lago resort.
(8) Iranian-American State Department official demoted and reassigned: Sahar Nowrouzzadeh had been working since July 2016 on the Secretary of State's policy team as an advisor and strategist in matters pertaining to Iran and other Persian Gulf nations. She was removed from office and reassigned after her loyalty to President Donald Trump was questioned by right-wing media outlets.
(9) Final thought for the day: Many thanks to Facebook friends, and readers of my Blog & Books Web page, who have encouraged me, publicly or privately, to continue with the types of material that I have been posting. Due to memory recall problems, for several years now, I have been taking notes and archiving nearly everything that I read or hear. Sharing some of these notes is my way of spreading the joys of learning. Blog posts also provide an archive in a form that is readily accessible to me on the go.

2017/04/24 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Image: Persian calligraphic art (1) This beautifully rendered Persian verse means "love turns thorns into flowers." The artist is Javad Yousefi (seen on the lower left).
(2) Two genocide remembrance days in one: Today, Israelis observed Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). The US and many other countries memorialize the Holocaust on the UN-designated January 27, but the Israeli date for the event is the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (April 24 in 2017; the Hebrew calendar is lunar, so the date fluctuates in our calendar). This year's Holocaust observance also coincides with the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian genocide of 1915 by the Ottoman Turks.
(3) Historical footage from the 1930s: Hungarian Jews dance the Hora and sing in Hebrew, oblivious to what awaits them in the not-so-distant future.
(4) Diversionary tactics: Trump resumes tweeting about Clinton and absurd phone-tapping claims to deflect attention from the tightening noose around his team's ties to Russia.
(5) Helping to outlaw gerrymandering with big data: University of Illinois researcher Wendy Tam Cho has developed an algorithm that can determine whether state legislative districts have been unfairly drawn. The application, when run on the university's Blue Waters supercomputer, produces 1 billion possible district maps using only the criteria required by state law and traditional districting principles. Because no political demographics are used to create the maps, they are inherently nonpartisan. The vast volume of produced maps would provide the court with a statistically relevant dataset from which to infer partisan intent. If a billion different maps are very different from the map being evaluated, then there is some evidence that partisanship was part of the motivation behind the alleged partisan gerrymandering. [Source: ACM Tech News]
(6) "UCSB Reads 2017" book lecture: Author Luis Alberto Urrea, whose 2010 book, Into the Beautiful North, was chosen as a common book to be read and discussed by the UCSB and SBCC communities, spoke at 8:00 o'clock in Campbell Hall tonight.
Urrea grew up in a Tijuana dump with a variety of sheds and lean-tos as accommodations. As he spoke tonight, he confided that he still isn't over how he has gone from destitute to his current acclaim, speaking to audiences in large auditoriums, becoming a successful author, and selling the TV rights of Into the Beautiful North to TNT, which plans to turn it into a series next year. He sometimes imagines how his father (a macho man, who was horrified that he wrote poetry and, as a boy scout, ran around in shorts) would feel and react if he were watching him deliver such lectures.
Urrea was the first in his family to go to college, but struggled to earn a living after graduation. He once wrote to a former professor he had at UCSD, who had gone on to Harvard, asking him for a custodial job (his dad was a custodian). The professor wrote back that he could give him a job, but he needed to submit three published pieces. Urrea then confided in some acquaintances that at Harvard, even custodians must be published! He got the job, which jump-started his career as a writer/poet. Urrea believes that writing truly saved his life.
Urrea grew up in a colorful family. His dad once gave him a Spanish translation of Homer's works and told him he should study those works in the original Spanish language. He had an assortment of weird cousins and an eccentric aunt, who gave rise to the characters in his book, a comedic fictional adventure. The protagonist is Nayeli, a girl whose father went to work in the US when she was young. She sets out to find her father and six other men from her now nearly man-less village to bring them back to protect the village from bandits, a la "The Magnificent Seven" of movie fame. Urrea knew a young girl by this name and promised her to base the heroine of his book on her, at a time when the girl suffered a trauma.
Urrea is working on his next book, The House of Broken Angels, and has another project also in the works, besides his collaboration with TNT on the upcoming series. Urrea made sure in his negotiations that the real Nayeli would get a share of the TNT series' revenue.
Urrea's lecture was a mixture of funny and touching stories. He is a gifted story-teller who can hold the attention of a large audience for an extended period of time. If someone were outside Campbell Hall, the roar of laughter coming from inside would have convinced him/her that the program was a stand-up comedy routine!
(7) Final thought for the day: You can't break someone's spirit any more than you can break water. If our spirit seems broken, it's because we think it's broken, not because it actually is. [Thought (not an exact quote) from Jewel's autobiography, Never Broken: Songs are Only Half the Story, to which I am listening now]

Cover image of Megyn Kelly's memoir, 'Settle for More' 2017/04/23 (Sunday): Book review: Kelly, Megyn, Settle for More, unabridged audiobook on 9 CDs, read by the author, Harper Audio, 2016.
The forty-something Kelly is one of the world's most influential women, according to Time magazine. She has risen to the top of her field of journalism through reporting for Fox News and eventually getting her own show on the network. I have not watched Kelly's Fox News programs but have seen her interviewed on various talk shows and during her moderating and reporting of the 2016 US presidential debates. Like many Fox News personalities, Kelly is viewed with a mix of admiration and disdain.
Kelly grew up in a tough-love family, with parents who detested the trophies-for-everyone mentality. She lost her relatively young father when she was still in high school. Kelly holds her mother in high regard, but is pretty much a self-made woman. She graduated from law school in her hometown of Albany, NY, but later abandoned a lucrative legal career (in which she was on the verge of becoming a partner, and thus enjoying even greater financial rewards) to pursue her interest in the news business, which initially entailed a huge pay cut.
Kelly names Brit Hume, Bill O'Reilly, and Roger Ailes as mentors, who helped her rise through the ranks, after she was hired by Fox News. Kelly's fame skyrocketed when she was chosen as a moderator for the first Republican presidential debate in 2016. Many view Kelly as cold and calculating, and this book reinforces that image. I cite this characterization hesitantly, because she has also been a victim of the misogynistic culture at Fox News.
She got dragged into a confrontation with Donald Trump, before, during, and after the presidential debates. Trump apparently thought that Kelly owed him, because he was a key reason for her fame. What doesn't pass the smell test is that during a period of time, Trump kept sending Kelly gifts in an attempt to woo her. The fact that these gifts and some of Kelly's other dealings with Trump are being disclosed in this book for the first time, is troubling, given that she continued to report on Trump after receiving the said gifts. She claims that she was not swayed by the gifts, but what else can she say?
On her being hired by Roger Ailes, Kelly claims that Ailes was looking for an open-minded reporter, not necessarily a Republican one. This statement is at odds with what Ailes is known for and Kelly's own experiences with him (expectation of sexual favors and all). She wants us to believe that Ailes relented when she shunned his advances, in part because her legal training taught her how to handle powerful men, but the record of serial predatory conduct on Ailes' part betrays these claims. She is similarly rather kind to Bill O'Reilly, who, like Ailes, was recently dismissed by Fox News for sexual harassment allegations.
I listened to this book in parallel with the memoir of singer/songwriter Jewel, Never Broken: Songs are Only Half the Story. The contrast couldn't be greater. The warmth, modesty, and openness of Jewel leaves you with respect for a deeply damaged individual who takes responsibility for her shortcomings and vulnerabilities. Kelly, on the other hand, comes across as someone who believes she can do no wrong; despite her lecturing tone, Kelly does own up to some insecurities, but ultimately blames others for many of her problems.
It is difficult not to feel empathy for her when she describes her feud (to put it mildly) with Donald Trump, who was bent on destroying Kelly and her career. Yet, after Trump called her a bimbo on multiple occasions and hurled many other insults at her, she made amends with him and went to his office to invite him for an appearance on her show, "The Kelly File." If this isn't opportunism and exploiting the feud for money and power, then I don't know what is. Similarly, even after relating Fox News chief Roger Ailes' inappropriate behavior and of her coming forward to accuse him of sexual harassment, she is complimentary about some other aspects of her relationship with him.
Apparently, Kelly's first debate question about Trump's history of demeaning remarks about women had been leaked to him (Kelly doesn't say how or by whom), and Trump, in his typical rage, had called Fox News brass to fume the day before the debate. On the day of the debate, a self-proclaimed admirer of Kelly tried to hand her, and later sent her, a cup of Starbucks coffee (to help her on a very busy day), which she drank and immediately felt sick. She does not say directly that the person had tried to poison her, but that's an inevitable conclusion on the part of the reader. Kelly received death threats and was stalked by deranged Trump followers, which forced her to live with security personnel for a while.
Kelly goes out of her way to appear fair and unbiased, but her comments on and off the air betray her leanings and agenda. She has opined on air that both Santa and Jesus were white men, and kids deserve to know these facts. She has also opined about systematic discrimination in the US being illusory and likening America to a "cupcake nation."
I recommend the perusal of this book, if only because Kelly's stature in the news business warrants a study of her life and psyche. Her commanding voice makes her reading of the audiobook compelling. In fact, one piece of advice she gives to newswomen with soft, feminine voices is to undergo voice training, if they want to get ahead in the business.
I have given Settle for More 3 stars on GoodReads. Of the book's 1848 Amazon reviews, more than 3/4 come with 4-star (15%) or 5-star (61%) ratings. But there is a sizable minority of reviewers (1 in 6 or 16%) who rate the book 1 or 2 stars. The average Amazon rating is a respectable 4.3 stars. The average rating on GoodReads is 3.9, so Kelly's best-selling memoir has struck a chord among its readers.
[My 3-star review of Settle for More on GoodReads]

2017/04/22 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Getting ready for the March for Science, wearing my special T-shirt (1) Today's March for Science in Santa Barbara: Thousands of supporters of science and evidence-based policy-making gathered in De la Guerra Plaza and later marched on State Street, first moving east to the waterfront and then marching north towards Alameda Park, where Earth Day Festival was held. The protesters marched mostly in silence, holding signs about the importance of science, STEM education, and respect for truth and evidence. In these photos from the march, I have tried to capture the front, middle, and back of the crowd, some of the signs, and a number of SB landmarks, as the marchers passed by them. State Senator Hanna Beth Jackson's fiery speech was the first in a series of short talks at the rally preceding the march.
(2) Bill Mahr: Let's put Earth first; Let's make Earth great again!
(3) Today we are celebrating the Earth: But let's not forget the amazing universe in which our Earth lives. Watch this Hubble Space Telescope compilation on a big screen, if you can.
(4) For science aficionados: The Science News Aggregator site Scikon, established in 2012, lists top-10 abbreviated headlines from important publications/sites. They include Science Daily, "BBC News Science," "ABC Science," Scientific American, New Scientist, Nature, and "Science News." Scikon also includes "Top Stories" and "Most Popular News" sections.
(5) Google's AI now gives answers, not just search results: The world's most popular search engine has evolved from a mere string matcher to a powerful deduction machine that uses deep neural networks to extract information from wherever it can find it, including Web sites, databases, and even YouTube videos.
(6) The first major attempt to circumvent economic sanctions on Russia: Exxon applies for a waiver of Russia sanctions to allow it to do oil drilling in that country.
(7) Recognizing speech from EEG signals: Toyohashi University of Technology researchers in Japan have developed technology that can recognize the digits 0-9 with 90% accuracy using electroencephalogram (EEG) readings while a human subject recites the numbers. The technology can also recognize 18 types of Japanese monosyllables from EEG signals with 60% accuracy. The goal is to develop a brain-computer interface that recognizes unvoiced speech, or speech imagery. The technology could enable people who have lost their vocal ability to speak once again. [Source: ACM Tech News]
(8) A personal history in Hebrew: This book was sent to me by a friend from Israel, who tells me that it contains the autobiography of someone who immigrated from Iran's Kurdistan to Jerusalem. His story overlaps with those of my father's and mother's families, who lived in the small town of Saghez at the same time. My father's family eventually moved to Tehran, while most of my mother's relatives immigrated to Israel. I don't read Hebrew, but I am anxious to find some way (maybe OCR with auto-translate?) to read sections of this book to learn more about my family's history in Kurdistan. I typed the text on the book's front cover via an on-line Hebrew keyboard and got a partial translation.
| ??? | ??? | Childhood, Growing up, Mission, Backwoods, Settlement | Personal Story | Benyamin Cohen
(9) Final thought for the day: "Climate change will not go away by removing its mention from a Web site." ~ My wording, based on sentiments expressed during today's March for Science in Santa Barbara

2017/04/21 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
(1) Partisan science policy: With deep cuts for science agencies in Trump's proposed budget, some wonder why NASA has escaped relatively unscathed, its budget being cut by less than 1%. One key reason is that NASA enjoys broad support among Republicans in the US Congress. This, in turn, is because "a lot of the NASA facilities are in Republican states and districts," according to Chris Edwards, Cato Institute's Director of Tax Policy Studies.
(2) Happy to be marching for science with fellow Santa Barbarans tomorrow, starting at 11:00 in De la Guerra Plaza: Already, 2000 people have indicated that they are going and 3000+ have shown interest on the event's Facebook page.
(3) California drought, then and now, in pictures: Good to see our beautiful state returning to its old self.
(4) Is Trump grooming his son-in-law to follow him as President? Or perhaps he is dreaming about the first husband-and-wife team on the ticket as candidates for President and Vice President.
(5) Early human society in New Mexico was run by maternal elite: Chacoan People of 1000 years ago lived in Great Houses with hundreds of rooms, dug from stone. Genetic analysis of Chacoan bodies has revealed that they were run by women, whose elite status was passed down through the maternal line from 800 to 1130 CE.
(6) It's a scorching 90 degrees here in Santa Barbara: This new small backpack of mine, which arrived yesterday and has two mesh pockets for water bottles, came in handy today, as I went for my 3-mile afternoon walk. I just returned home, soaking wet from the heat!
(7) More take-aways from a mindfulness workshop: Yesterday, during the lunch hour, I attended the fourth and final session of a mindfulness workshop offered to faculty and staff by UCSB's Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential, a research center established with the aim of putting mindfulness programs on an evidence-based (scientific) path. Mindfulness allows you to focus on the present and to let go of the need for constantly analyzing the past and fretting about the future and to quit the habit of classifying everything into good or bad and right or wrong. If you catch yourself over-analyzing a situation, try to return to the present and your natural state of mind. One of today's exercises was to describe ourselves with verbs (the normal tendency is to use nouns, such as father, teacher, and so on). We were instructed to come up with one verb or perhaps two. My choice was 'wonder,' and I had to explain the reason for my choice to a partner sitting next to me. I considered other candidate verbs (learn, teach, support, guide, doubt), before choosing wonder. When you describe yourself as a verb, you move from a fixed mindset to motion and flow. Another exercise was to think about the past, the future, and their relationships to the present. We learned that the past is nothing but memories and thoughts of your experiences, both arising in the present. Similarly, the future is simply anticipations that live in the present. So, the present, which starts now and ends now (that is, it has no dimension) actually is expansive and holds everything. After the end of the class, I thanked the instructor and asked if one can say that the present is actually nothing but a vehicle for thinking about the past and anticipating the future. He answered that there is nothing wrong with thinking about the present in this way, provided it does not cause problems and anxieties. If it does, then one should use the mindfulness method to return to one's natural state of mind.
(8) A final thought: Early in life, one strives to become an adult. Late in life, one aspires to be like a child.

2017/04/20 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of Walter Guido Vincenti (1) Walter Guido Vincenti, engineer extraordinaire: Today marks the centennial of the birth of a highly influential, yet most unassuming engineer. Vincenti was an innovative aeronautical engineer and also a deep thinker, whose 1990 book, What Engineers Know and How They Know It: Analytical Studies from Aeronautical History, is a significant contribution to both engineering and history. Vincenti's book advances the argument that engineering is a distinct intellectual endeavor and not merely an applied version of science. The book's examples are drawn from aeronautics, but the lessons and conclusions apply much more broadly. This NASA Oral History Interview was conducted on July 15, 2014, at Vincenti's Palo Alto home.
(2) Fox fires Bill O'Reilly and strips his name from the show he hosted: This is tantamount to admission of guilt over the accusations that Fox and O'Reilly paid a total of $13 million to women who alleged sexual harassment. O'Reilly's contract had just been renewed, so he will likely walk out with millions of dollars.
(3) Keith Urban's wonderful rendition of "To Love Somebody" at the recent Grammy Salute to the Music of the Bee Gees.
(4) The puzzle of Ahmadinejad: The former Iranian president has tossed his hat into the ring of presidential election, coming up on May 19, despite direct orders from Supreme Leader Khamenei that he should stay out. Why is he doing this, and why is the regime tolerating his disobedience, whereas it imprisons many Iranians for the slightest criticism of the top mullah? A prevailing theory is that during his 8-year presidential term, which gave him access to secret intelligence files of the Islamic Republic as well as documents left over from Shah's secret police, he gained access to information that, if released, can bring down many of those currently in power.
(5) UCSB has been selected as the host of 2018 and 2020 College Cups: Lots of NCAA soccer will be coming our way in Santa Barbara! College Cup entails matches between the top four soccer teams to determine the national champion (sort of like NCCA basketball's Final Four). I just bought a soccer season ticket for 2017 and look forward to the August season start.
(6) Watch Melania nudge Donald subtly to place his hand on his heart during the playing of the US National Anthem. He was too busy admiring himself to remember.
(7) My comment on a friends Facebook post, stating "Not once in 8 years of the Obama administration, did I go to bed wondering if WW III would start tomorrow": But it will be the greatest World War, an unprecedented World War, with the most beautiful weapons and largest casualties. It will be led from the command center at Mar-a-Lago, and the commanders will be served the most amazing dishes and chocolate desserts. The first two WWs will look puny by comparison!
(8) The ungrateful refugee: This heartfelt essay by Dina Nayeri, published in The Guardian, touches on many important points on how refugees are treated in the West and how they cope as they try to integrate into a new society. Nayeri's mother was imprisoned and threatened with execution in Iran, after she converted to Christianity. Nayeri went through the refugee/immigrant experience, first in the US and then in France, after she got married. And here is Kayhan London's Persian translation of Dina Nayeri's essay.
(9) Final thought for the day: Every time you pick up a book to read, a tree smiles in afterlife.

2017/04/19 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) Mini-concerts at UCSB's Music Bowl: The World Music Series noon performances on Wednesdays, co-sponsored by our Music Department and Multicultural Center, continue this quarter, but because I teach 12-2 on Mondays and Wednesdays, I am unable to attend. Looking forward to resuming participation next fall.
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- SCE and GE launch world's first hybrid battery, gas turbine systems (AP)
- Boeing to lay off 100s of engineers due to slow aircraft sales (USA Today)
- March for Science to be held in 500+ cities on Saturday, April 22 (NYT)
- Killer in Facebook Live murder broadcast commits suicide (Inside Edition)
- Bannon's sidelining complicates Breitbart relationship with Trump (CNN)
- China OKs trademarks for Ivanka's company on day she met with Xi (CNN)
(3) Bannon's next move anxiously anticipated: There is no question that he is out as a trusted adviser to Trump. What remains a mystery is whether he will stick around, clinging to his limited power, or will depart to become an adversary to 45.
(4) Here's a question for you: When Amazon tells you that only one (or 2 or 3) of an item remains in stock, should we believe it, or is it just a sales gimmick?
(5) Jet Blue Airbus lands safely at LAX after nose-gear failure: This 4-minute video is from 5 years ago, but I found it quite interesting.
(6) This young woman is 19: She is allowed to vote but not to choose her clothes. She is defying two of the backward, misogynistic rules of the Islamic Republic of Iran by riding a bike without a headscarf (and doing so in front of a soccer stadium into which she is not allowed).
(7) Bill Nye joins the March for Science as an honorary co-chair: In this live video, he talks about why the March is important and urges everyone to show up to send a message to lawmakers that our life on Earth wouldn't be possible without science. In his words, you can't take parts off an aircraft and still expect it to fly.
(8) Quote of the day: "The hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax." ~ Albert Einstein [This isn't a fake quote, as I first thought: It's really from Einstein; I have checked it against several sources!]
(9) CSUN Professor Ponders What It Means to be Muslim in America: This is the heading of an April 17, 2017, news release by California State University Northridge, where Dr. Nayereh Tohidi is Gender and Women's Studies Professor and Director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program. I found it an informative read.

2017/04/18 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Santa Barbar Earth Day 2017 logo (1) Santa Barbara Earth Day 2017: Celebrating Earth Day has its origins in the Santa Barbara area, where the massive 1969 oil spill inspired activists to strive for protecting our planet from similar calamities. Twenty million Americans took to the streets and gathered in auditoriums nationwide on April 22, 1970, to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. The initiative led to bipartisan action in Congress, producing the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the passage of Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
(2) Precision marching: The only accomplishment of totalitarianism.
(3) If 100 people lived on earth: Visualizing various subpopulations for better understanding of our world.
(4) Woman runs in Boston Marathon again after 50 years: In 1967, Katherine Switzer registered as "K. V. Switzer" to hide her gender and was almost kicked out of the race a few miles after she began, when an official learned about her trick to enter the all-male race. Today, she ran the race at age 70, surrounded by a large group of supportive women.
(5) This is huuuuuuge: Bill Nye (The Science Guy) to take over the Facebook page for Science March tomorrow.
(6) Half-dozen brief technology news headlines of the day:
- Apple awarded California permit for testing driverless cars (Bloomberg)
- University of Idaho students hospitalized after rocket-fuel explosion (WP)
- SpaceX begins second round of Hyperloop Pod Competition (Fortune)
- Lucid Motors emerges as a serious competitor to Tesla (USA Today)
- SoE Perry orders study of electric grid to boost coal, nuclear (Bloomberg)
- NASA captures images of mysterious crack in a Greenland glacier (IBT)
(7) Foggy/misty morning at UC Santa Barbara, captured in 2 panoramic photos of the campus lagoon today.
(8) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Killer of Google exec jogger in MA identified after 8 months (ABC News)
- South Korea's ousted president indicted and could get life in prison (PBS)
- Erdogan gains extended powers by a slim referendum victory (NY Times)
- Trump indicates that he will not release his 2016 tax return either (CNN)
- Trump calls for probe into last weekend's tax-day protesters (NBC)
- Man who posted video of killing an old man on Facebook sought (CNN)
(9) Facebook and other social media at a crossroad: Posting of gruesome videos of rape and murder, live as they happen or after the fact, has become a serious problem that current countermeasures don't adequately address. Facebook users have no taste for being exposed to gruesome material with no warning whatsoever and worry that their children and other loved ones can be traumatized by such videos, which remain available hours after they have been posted. Facebook says that it is addressing the problem diligently, but this may be just a statement for public consumption, given FB's fear of losing millions of users over the incidents.

Cover image for 'Taxation: A Very Short Introduction'

2017/04/17 (Monday): Book review: Smith, Stephen, Taxation: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2015.
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 pp., Taxation is shorter than most other volumes in the series, yet it packs a lot of information on the design and implementation of tax policies.
In very rough terms, taxes are about 1/4 of income in the US, 2/5 in the EU, and 1/3 in the UK. As late as the 19th century, taxes constituted less than 10% of the national income (7% in the US). Progressive taxes are generally preferred to regressive ones. However, even when the income tax is progressive, the overall tax burden can be regressive because of the many indirect taxes.
Between 1965 and 2011, income tax, as a fraction of total taxes collected, has remained fairly constant at about 1/4, whereas social-security and sales taxes have increased, while excise taxes have decreased, by more than 50% in each case. In absolute terms, taxes collected nearly quadrupled in constant dollars between 1965 to 2011. Share of tariffs in tax revenues has seen steady decline in most countries, as they participate in freer trade.
Chart showing the tax burden as a fraction of GDP in various countries This chart, from the book's p. 9, depicts the level of taxation as a percentage of GDP in 1965 (white bars) and 2012 (black bars). Taxation costs are of two types. One is the direct costs of tax collection infrastructure ($40 per head in the US; BP75 per head in the UK). Another is compliance costs for individuals and organizations. Just for income tax, each US citizen spends $250 on compliance (about BP60 in the UK).
Efficiency in tax collection is often at odds with the fairness of the tax burden. Income tax is easier to manage due to the relatively small number of origination points where withholding can take place and monitored. Consumption taxes are more difficult to manage due to the large number of transactions that are distributed throughout the economy. Consumption tax comes in the form of value-added tax (VAT) or sales tax. VAT can be 20% or more, whereas sales tax is generally less than 10%.
Chart showing hoew the tax burden is divided between producers and consumers The next diagram, from p. 34 of the book, helps us understand how the burden of a new tax is shared between producers and consumers, using the economic notions of supply and demand. A new tax will raise the prices, leading to a new equilibrium point in the market. The darkly shaded area is the buyers burden and the lightly shaded area is the sellers share.
Raising income taxes has a complex effect on the supply side of the labor market. Some may choose to work less (or not at all), because the (added) income isn't worth it. Others may choose to work more to maintain the same level of after-tax income. Extensive research has shown that raising taxes tends to reduce the labor supply, with the effect being more pronounced for young people with children.
One way of assessing whether a new tax is advisable is to determine whose standard of living will fall when the tax is imposed; this isn't always easy to do. Because of complex interactions in the market, the burden of corporate profit taxes does not fall solely on the share-holders; new research shows that employees end up paying a big share.
Taxes, once imposed, tend to survive, even if the original needs for them disappear. This is because tax reform entail trade-offs and thus have political costs. No one likes taxes, but they are considered necessary evils. Try to imagine a situation where mandatory taxes were abolished and, instead, citizens made donations to their government. Before the establishment of money, taxes consisted of in-kind (crops) and labor (service in the army) contributions. There are tax records dating back to 3300 BCE in the cuneiform clay tablets from Mesopotamia (today's Iraq).
Cheating on taxes is a sensitive topic. Most people would not admit that they do cheat. Cheating is prevalent in many Asian countries, and much less so in Europe. A 2001 US study found the level of evasion for individuals to be around 9% and for corporations around 17% of the total revenue due.
There is an ongoing discussion about optimal taxation: a scheme that would raise the needed revenues but minimizes the excess burden on tax-payers. This is mostly a theoretical discussion, as the mechanisms to implement optimal taxation would be too complex and thus expensive. It is also unclear what should be taxed: wealth, income, or a combination thereof. There have been proposals for taxing earnings potential, rather than actual earnings, the latter being viewed as providing a disincentive for work by some. On the other hand, taxing earning potential might force a person to earn at a level equal or exceeding the taxed level, preventing people from living simpler lives.
Taxation is ultimately a political issue. The optimal tax scheme derived from equations and theorems may be unrealizable, given short-term political goals. Flat tax is more common in Eastern Europe, with the rate being around 25%. Russia has a flat tax rate of 13%. Politically, a flat tax rate is difficult to sell, because most swing voters are in the middle of income scale, whereas flat tax provides the highest benefits to the poor and to the very rich.
I highly recommend this valuable book to everyone who wants to learn about tax policies and their effects on businesses and individuals. I have summarized some of the key concepts presented in the book, but the book contains many more ideas and much more detail about what appears in this review.

2017/04/16 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Smiley pills! Street sign for an alley in Tehran named 'Behrooz' The Cat in the Hat has a message for Mr. Trump! Pork ribs on sale for Passover! (1) After starting today with a dose of happiness, I came across the street sign for a Tehran alley named after me (the "Behrooz" alley), a Dr. Suess coffee mug bearing a message for 45 from the Cat in the Hat, and a store sign advertising pork spare ribs on sale, apparently as a Passover special!
(2) Wishing everyone a happy Easter Sunday!
(3) Stealing your PIN and other info from your phone's various sensors: "Researchers at Newcastle University in the UK have demonstrated that malicious websites and installed applications can spy on people by exploiting movement data from smartphone sensors. The researchers say the movement data can be used to compromise people's four-digit PINs with 70-percent accuracy on the first guess. 'Because mobile apps and websites don't need to ask permission to access most of them, malicious programs can covertly listen in on your sensor data and use it to discover a wide range of sensitive information about you,' says Newcastle's Maryam Mehrnezhad. The researchers found 25 distinct sensors that are standard elements on most smart devices, providing information about devices and users. 'Because there is no uniform way of managing sensors across the industry, they pose a real threat to our personal security,' Mehrnezhad notes." [From: ACM Tech News]
(4) The three MOABs, according to Mark Cuban: "Mother of all bafoons dropped mother of all bombs to create DISTRACTION from mother of all betrayals. Don't get distracted."
(5) Part of Malala Yousafzai's speech at the Canadian parliament on the occasion of being granted honorary Canadian citizenship. Did you know that Justin Trudeau does yoga and has tattoos?
(6) Rare image of England, as it leaves the European Union. [Photo]
(7) Tehran municipality's misogynistic posters: Displayed on the occasion of the Iranian version of Fathers'/Men's Day, they all urge women to attend to their husbands' needs. This one counsels that men should be left alone occasionally, to feel free from marriage bonds and to engage in recreation and other fun activities, because they get tired from the daily grind!
(8) Very bad news from around the world: The top five countries in number of executions are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan. The US shows some improvement by no longer being among the top 5. [Chart]
(9) Wholesale energy prices went negative in California for a short while: Solar energy represented 13% of California's power last year, but for three hours on March 11, 2017, some 40% of the net grid power came from solar farms. This abundance of energy caused wholesale market prices to dip and go below zero. Of course, consumers did not see any benefit, because retail pricing is based on averages, not transient conditions. But this highly unusual event will cause energy companies to pay more attention to renewable sources. The solar industry now employs more than a quarter of a million people. [Source: USA Today]

2017/04/15 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Vertical poles which cast no shadow when the sun is directly overhead (1) Lahaina Noon: The shadowless poles in this photo look unreal, as if they come from the screen of a cheap video game. Lahaina Noon is the name given by Hawaiians to the phenomenon of straight vertical poles casting no shadow when the sun is directly overhead. Hawaii is the only state in the US where this can happen.
(2) A wonderful couplet from Abu-Saeed Abolkheir. My English translation follows.
The dew of love turned dirt into essence | Generating much discord and excitement
The needle of love poked the soul's vein | Letting out a drop, later named the heart
(3) Tesla's affordable long-range electric vehicle to be unveiled in July: With prices starting at $35,000 and a 215-mile electric range, Tesla Model 3 will compete with Chevy Bolt. Tesla already has hundreds of thousands of pre-orders for the car and plans to dramatically ramp up production in 2018 to 500,000 annually.
(4) Carpinteria's Salt Marsh Reserve: Just off the 101 Freeway, some 10 miles south of Santa Barbara, sits a pristine coastal ecosystem in the middle of a city.
(5) Santa Barbara's March for Science (April 22, 2017; Earth Day) has announced its list of speakers for the pre-march rally at De la Guerra Plaza (11:00 AM).
(6) Science/Tech news story of the day: Smartphone fingerprint security feature is less secure than you think. Michigan State University researchers have published a paper in IEEE Trans. Information Forensics and Security, claiming that with a set of artificial 'masterprints,' they can trick phones into allowing them access 65% of the time. One reason is that the fingerprint sample taken by the phone is fairly small. A second reason is that a match is indicated if any one of internally stored images is matched. These findings are being disputed, because the tests were not conducted on real phones under real operating conditions. Apple, for example, claims that improper authorization occurs only once in 50,000 instances. Google has declined to comment.
(7) Bicycles for those who can't afford them: Teacher Katie Blomquist raised $80,000 and used it to buy every single student in South Carolina's Pepperhill Elementary a bicycle. [Source: Time magazine, April 17, 2017]
(8) UCSD researchers make themselves look like empty car seats: Their aim is to observe driver and pedestrian responses to driverless cars by wearing costumes resembling empty car seats.
(9) Final thought for the day: In Iran, there are many minority groups. Besides those based on religion and ethnicity, there is a minority of women with their original noses! [From multiple Internet sources]

Cover image of Oxford book 'The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction' 2017/04/14 (Friday): Book review: Ritchie, Donald A., The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2nd ed., 2016.
After reading American Political Parties and Elections: A Very Short Introduction (see my review), I decided to peruse this book to expand my knowledge of the American political system in the wake of what happened in 2016. Like other books in Oxford's "A Very Short Introduction" series, this volume packs a lot of information in its 146 pocket-size pages, and it has an informal and highly accessible writing style. In the book's preface, the author indicates that even though he has spent his entire professional career on Capitol Hill, he has refrained from being defensive or apologetic, aiming instead to provide a description of how the US Congress works, how it has changed, and how it relates to the states, the voters, and other government branches.
Let me begin by listing the titles of the six chapters, that are followed by 6 pages of further readings and viewings (films).
Chapter 1. The Great Compromise    Chapter 2. Campaigns and Constituents    Chapter 3. In Committee
Chapter 4. On the Floor    Chapter 5. Checks and Balances    Chapter 6. The Capitol Complex
Although "compromise" has become a dirty word in our country's current political climate, the structure of the Congress itself arose from the "Great Compromise," being set halfway between proportional representation (the House) and state parity (the Senate). Though organized differently and having different internal procedures, the two parts of the Congress have equal power, in that "no bill can become law until both houses pass it with exactly the same wording, down to the last semicolon."
The size difference between the House of Representative and the Senate has led to different internal structures and rules for efficient operation. The House is much more hierarchical, having a speaker, for example, whereas the Senate structure is flatter, with Senators acting more or less independently. Both Congressmen and Senators strive to introduce (sponsor) important legislation to build up their reputations and cement their legacies, but as Harry Truman once said, a legislator's greatest accomplishment is often preventing bad laws from passing.
The rules of both houses are archaic and, at times, nonsensical. For example, it is possible to request the reading aloud of a bill of more than 100 pages as a delaying tactic against its passing. Some functions of the Congress are largely ceremonial. For example, in the important area of confirming cabinet nominees, some 95% of all candidates presented are approved. The approval rate is lower for Supreme Court nominees (2/3), largely because their term is indefinite and may span the terms of multiple Presidents.
In the Senate, opponents of a bill may hold the floor through filibuster (from the Dutch word meaning freebooter or pirate). However, the debate may be cut off and a vote forced if 60 Senators vote to do so (the number 60 was arrived at over time, after periods in which 75 or 67 votes were needed). For nearly 50 years, filibuster was a tool of Southern Senators who were intent on blocking Civil Rights legislation. Since parties rarely enjoy majorities greater than 60, the filibuster rule prevents passing of controversial legislation on straight party-lines.
One interesting observation is that a Representative's 2-year term allows no room for political maneuvering, whereas it is said that a Senator's 6-year term permits him/her to spend 2 years as a statesman, 2 years as a politician, and 2 years as a demagogue! An important power of Congress is its investigating authority, which is broad and not necessarily tied to specific legislation under consideration. Younger members of Congress have embraced new technologies and regularly use electronic newsletters, Web-based polling, and social-media communication. By the early 2000s, e-mail accounted for 80% of all correspondence.
As the people's house, the Capitol Building is open to visitors year-round. The typical American visits the Capitol twice in his/her lifetime, once as a kid (with family or on a school trip) and once as an adult, perhaps taking the kids to visit. The history of how the Capitol and its surrounding office buildings developed into their current sizes and complexities is an interesting one.

2017/04/13 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon: Phonetically defined (1) Cartoon of the day: Phonetically defined (by John Atkinson)
(2) Nine brief news headlines of the day:
- Malala Yusafzai granted honorary Canadian citizenship (CNN)
- Assad claims chemical attack in Syria 100 percent fabrication (AFP)
- Dragged United passenger's troubled past a case of mistaken identity
- Trump backtracks on 5 major campaign promises in 12-hour period
- First female Muslim US judge found dead in Hudson River (Reuters)
- Heartbroken Ivanka urged Donald Trump to bomb Syria (Newsweek)
- NASA discovers 'alien habitat' on Saturn's moon Enceladus (Yahoo)
- Trump says strained US-Russia relations may be at all-time low (AP)
- US targets ISIS in Afghanistan with largest-ever non-nuclear bomb
(3) A math puzzle: Take a 3-digit number x with its first and last digits different (say, 542). Reverse the number and subtract the smaller of the two from the larger one, calling the difference y (e.g., 542 – 245 = 297). If the difference is not a 3-digit number, precede it with zeros to make it a 3-digit number (e.g., 99 becomes 099). Add the reverse of y to y (e.g., 297 + 792 = 1089). Why is the final answer always 1089, regardless of the starting number? This puzzle can be the basis of a magic trick, where you direct someone to pick a number and go through the steps above, with you guessing the final result. Of course, you can do the trick only once!
(4) Former Soviet republics are turning into serious threats: They are the only places where a terrorist might hope to obtain nuclear material for dirty bombs. Terrorist organizations lack the sophistication to build an actual nuclear bomb, but including some radioactive material in a conventional bomb can cause a lot of direct damage from radiation and much economic damage from lost business and tourism revenues, as the wide area affected by the bomb is cleaned up. There are reasons to believe that ISIS already possesses about 40 kg of uranium compounds that were stored at a university in Mosul, when it fell to the Islamic State fighters. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 17, 2017]
(5) Immigration history displayed: I'm so glad that these immigrants and others like them came to the US through Ellis Island, making this country a better place for later arrivals like me, through their dedication and hard work. I resolve to do the same for those who come next!
(6) Michael Towbes, prominent Santa-Barbara-area businessman and philanthropist, dead at 87.
(7) Interesting take-aways from a mindfulness workshop I attended during lunch hour today: We can operate with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset makes us hide our limitations/shortcomings in personal or professional domains, becoming very private in those areas. With a growth mindset, believing that our capacity can be expanded, we tend to be more open/sharing, and handle criticism better. Mindfulness also makes us more aware of our emotions: fears, anxieties, dislikes. Interestingly, emotions rarely last more than 90 seconds, unless we expend time and effort to extend them. We often expand/prolong the life cycle of emotions, which may do us good or be harmful to us.
(8) The Spy Who Loved Me: New Republic article about how Russian intelligence played Trump and his team.

2017/04/12 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing United Airlines security personnel dragging Bashar Assad away (1) Cartoon of the day: A possible solution for Syria's Assad problem.
(2) Brutal reaction on social media to United Airlines:
- Old slogan: 'Come Fly with Me' | New: 'Comply with Me'
- United now offers both red-eye and black-eye flights
- United Airlines: We put the 'hospital' in 'hospitality'
- UA app v. 2.1.18 supports new drag and drop feature
(3) Quote of the day: "With President Forrest Trump, every day is like a rancid box of chocolates. You never know what kind of shit you're going to get next." ~ Author Stephen King
(4) A math puzzle: Consider forming a 10 x 10 x 10 cube from 1000 sugar cubes, each of size 1 x 1 x 1. Counting all six sides, including the bottom, how many of the 1000 sugar cubes will be visible from outside?
(5) On the sorry state of our infrastructure: Much has been written about the state of disrepair of our dams, bridges, and other major structures. However, the infrastructural problems faced by the US go even deeper and hit much closer to home. Walking to work through the community of Isla Vista today, I snapped these photos showing how electricity is supplied to homes in this community of mostly student residences. Overhead power lines, with ad hoc connections along the wire may be suitable for rural areas, where miles of wire are needed to reach a few businesses or residences. In a dense community such as Isla Vista, this approach is not just ugly, but outright dangerous, especially during foul weather or overload-caused fires in the pole-mounted transformers.
(6) The Hour of Land: This was the title of a talk by Terry Tempest Williams, based on her new book by the same title and with the subtitle "A Personal Topography of America's National Parks." The talk, delivered in UCSB's Campbell Hall, was the sixth and final installment of UCSB Arts and Lectures Program's series of events honoring the centennial of the establishment of our national parks. Williams has been honored for her passionate and lyrical writings and has received Sierra Club's John Muir Award.
With the exception of an introductory acknowledgment/gratitude segment that ran a little too long, the talk was enjoyable. Another drawback, shared by nearly all talks in the humanities, was the total absence of visual aids. One would think that a talk on the US national parks presents ample opportunities for showcasing their breathtaking natural beauty, as the speaker makes her various points. In one segment, Williams imagined organizing a gathering to which she could invite only 12 guests, and wondered which 12 national parks she would invite, citing her reasons for choosing each guest (an ideal place for the use of images).
The speaker got emotional and teared up in a couple of segments. One was during her recollection of a visit to a remote region of a national park, where she was overtaken by her experiences in the pristine nature. Another time was when she related the story of her mother telling her the location of her journals, a week before passing, asking Williams not to retrieve them until she was gone. The dozens of journals from her mother all turned out to be blank, making Williams wonder whether her mother had made a statement through her blank journals. In those days, women were expected to do two things: bear children and write journals. Perhaps by leaving the journals blank, she had defied the norms.
Williams maintained that Americans love their national parks, as the parks host 300 million visitors annually. They are now in great danger as a result of policies of the new US administration. But Williams is optimistic that the American people will not let these national treasures deteriorate or sink into oblivion, and, in the end, the administration will not dare destroy them against a strong national force. In answer to a question about what we can do to help save the parks, Williams said: "Just love them."

2017/04/11 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Yemen's Shibam, the oldest vertically constructed metropolis (1) Yemen's walled city of Shibam is thought to be the oldest metropolis in the world to use vertical construction.
(2) Car tries to beat train by going around crossing gates: It doesn't quite make it but, luckily, everyone survives.
(3) Actress Doris Day now knows her age: She thought she was 93, but thanks to AP, which found a copy of her birth certificate, she now knows for sure that she is 95. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 17, 2017]
(4) Bicyles for those who can't affor them: Teacher Katie Blomquist raised $80,000 and used it to buy every single student in South Carolina's Pepperhill Elementary a bicyle. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 17, 2017]
(5) China and US on collision course: Xi Jinping wants to make China great again. His exact words are "the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation." This puts him on a collision course with Trump, if we are to believe Steve Bannon's words, who said in an interview, "We're going to war in the South China Sea in 5 to 10 years." According to Time magazine, issue of April 17, 2017, in the 16 cases over the past 5 centuries when a rising nation threatened to replace an established world power, war occurred 12 times. So, the probability of war with China is 75%, if history is any indication.
[Note added on 4/14: Trump seems to have changed his mind about the evil of China and Bannon no longer has much influence on him. So, perhaps, the threat of war with China isn't as great any more. But then again, another flip-flop can change the situation.]
(6) Half-dozen brief headlines of the day:
- New York becomes the first US state to approve free tuition at state colleges
- Trump considering executive order to reverse offshore oil drilling ban (WP)
- Putin: Fake/planted chemical attacks will be used to discredit Assad (Reuters)
- Sean Spicer takes flack for asserting that Hitler did not use chemical weapons
- North Korea appears to be looking for confrontation with the US (Yahoo News)
- British military restorers find Saddam's stashed gold in T-54 Iraqi tank (IBT)
(7) Trusted products: The "Made in Germany" label tops the list of trusted products. "Made in USA" is 8th; Denmark 15th; Greece 25th; Brazil 30th; Iran 50th. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 17, 2017]
(8) Canada jubilant over its tech future: Vancouver and Toronto are absorbing many foreign-born techies who reside there temporarily, until their US visas are issued, or just give up trying to get into the US and settle there permanently. Amazon alone has a staff of 700 in Vancouver. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 17, 2017]

2017/04/10 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Passover egg-flowers (1) A very happy Passover to all those who observe it!
(2) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Russian accused of hacking US election arrested in Spain (Daily Mail Online)
- Three dead, one critically injured in San Bernardino school shooting (Newsweek)
- Researchers identify core brain region that manufactures dreams (Newsweek)
- Colson Whitehead wins Pulitzer for The Underground Railroad (PBS)
- David Fahrenthold wins Pulitzer for reporting on Trump's philanthropy (PBS)
- Alabama governor Robert Bentley resigns, pleads guilty to misdemeanors (AP)
- North Korea issues warning over deployment of US warships to the region (AFP)
- Former Equinox employee guns down 2 coworkers in Florida gym (People)
(3) Today's fortune-cookie message: I might have been more excited about this fortune ("Good things are coming your way") if I had ever seen one that declared bad things are coming my way!
(4) No cats, dogs, or women allowed: Reporter Masih Alinejad interviews several Iranian officials about a sign at the entrance to a stadium that listed items banned inside. The list includes guns, knives, anything that can be thrown to hurt others, cats, dogs, ... and women! Even though she received assurances that the sign will be fixed, this is likely an attempt at saving face. The way of thinking that produced the sign in the first place is much harder to fix.
(5) Tonight's pink full moon, as seen from my courtyard at 11:08 PM. [Photo]
(6) How to learn any subject using physicist Richard Feynman's technique. [6-minute video]
(7) Apt T-shirt inscription, as we approach Earth Day and Science March on April 22, 2017: "The is no Planet B"
(8) Kansas City's World War I Museum was a focus of attention on April 6, as we marked the 100th anniversary of America's entry into "The Great War."
(9) Final thought for the day: "If in workplace after workplace you can't get along with your colleagues, something is wrong ... Go get the mirror. Hurry." ~ Psychiatrists Jody J. Foster and Michelle Joy, in their advice book, The Schmuck in My Office, about how to deal with problem colleagues

Photo of the speaker, Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak 2017/04/09 (Sunday): UCLA lecture on Iran (Today, 161 Dodd Hall, 4:00-6:00).
The speaker, Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, a Professor of Persian Language, Literature, and Culture at University of Maryland, who is on a visiting appointment at UCLA, spoke under the title "Literature: Its Existence and Its Appearance." This was a book talk for the speaker's latest volume (in Persian) by the same title, which is an edited collection of his prior writings on Persian literature (ISBN 978-1595845382). Dr. Karimi-Hakkak has written/edited 23 books and published 100+ articles. One of his books, The Dawn of Modernism in Persian Poetry, is a highly-regarded textbook used in doctoral programs on Persian literature.
Dr. Karimi-Hakkak indicated that his retirement project will be a multi-volume work on the history of Persian poetry, which will be in Persian, because in Dr. Karimi-Hakkak's opinion, English works on the Persian literature tend to be much less influential, as they are read only by a small number of academics. The book will focus on the Islamic period. Much less information is available from the pre-Islamic period; besides, the speaker is unfamiliar with Middle Persian, the language of the time.
Iran's history is intertwined with poetry, to the extent that poetry is perhaps the most important art form in Iran, and it constitutes one of the main components of the Iranian identity. Poetry thrived in Iran after the Arab invasion for several reasons. First, it is an inexpensive art form that anyone can pursue; all that is needed is a piece of paper and a pencil. Second, it is perhaps the only art form that is sanctioned by Islam.
The central role of poetry in the Iranian culture persuaded nearly all kings to personally engage in the art form, the only recent exceptions being the two Pahlavi kings. Even after the Islamic Revolution, both Leaders (Khomeini and Khamenei) wrote poems. Khomeini's mystical poems lent credence to the school of thought that considers references by Hafiz to wine, beloved, and other potentially worldly desires as being metaphors for God and the pursuit of the scriptures. An interesting question to ponder is the prevalence of advice-giving ("andarz") in Persian literature and the role they play in the Iranian society.
The central role of poetry also brings it to the pages of elementary school textbooks. This love for, and central place of, poetry may be viewed as a plus, but it can also be viewed as diverting the students' attention from social studies and civic engagement. Even the least literate among Iranians can recite poems and parables/proverbs that are derived from poetry. It appears, however, that this is a superficial familiarity with poetry and that the versions recited are often incorrect or butchered (we see this on Facebook, where a large fraction of poetry postings are either improperly attributed or contain gross errors).
Persian poetry, and literature more generally, is not confined to Iran. There are centers of activity on Persian literature outside Iran, the most notable being Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and, nowadays, major world cities such as Los Angeles and London. Tajiks' contributions have become less accessible to us in view of their changing their script. At one point in the past, India was also a major center of Persian literature, but the Persian language slowly died there, given that it was a sort of royal language and not the language of the masses.
Dr. Karimi-Hakkak is of the opinion that there are two distinct kinds of mysticism ("erfan") in Persian poetry. One kind, represented by its founder Sana'ee and later by Attar and Mowlavi (Rumi), he termed "other-worldly" ("asemani"). The other kind, which he called "worldly" ("zamini" or "ejtama'ee") is represented by the works of Nezami and Sa'adi, who emphasized the centrality of love.
Poetry cannot be divorced from its social context or from traditions. Unfortunately, much of the social context and history of Persian poetry has been lost by the practice of organizing poets' collections of work ("divan") in alphabetical order of the poems' endings. In this way, we have lost the insights that could come from knowing the order of the poems' composition and the poet's evolutionary path. Reconstructing this history will take some work, which Dr. Karimi-Hakkak hopes to do in his history project.
During the Q&A period, several interesting observations were offered. Some of them are already weaved into the narrative above. One person asked whether one should bring down the classical poets from their pedestals and point to their imperfections (up to and including having sick minds and deviant behaviors). Dr. Karimi-Hakkak opined that worshiping anyone, even skillful and famous poets, is wrong and that these poets should be viewed as the imperfect human beings that they were. He cited as an example, Hafiz's nihilistic declaration that "The world and its affairs are nothing within nothing," which is at odds with modernity and sociopolitical engagement.
[See the Persian version of this summary, which follows the English text, on Facebook]

2017/04/08 (Saturday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cartoon, showing Putin talking with Bashar Assad while on the phone with Trump (1) Cartoon of the day: Putin to Bashar Assad: "It's Trump. He's gonna bomb one of your airfields. What time's convenient?"
(2) Shampoo ad on Iranian TV: The beautiful woman in this image expects the viewer to take her words about the positive effects of the advertised shampoo at face value, without even showing a single strand of hair, let alone the kind of shiny, flowing hair one sees on American shampoo commercials!
(3) Watch out for fake (self-anointed) data scientists! [Read: "Why So Many 'Fake' Data Scientists?"]
(4) Ventura Harbor Village is one of my favorite places to visit for a stroll and/or dining on great seafood!
(5) A scientific study of why you should always order the bigger pizza: My daughter posted this study published by NPR, which uses 74,476 price points from 3678 pizza joints to argue that bigger pizzas are always more cost-effective. In one example, the amount of pizza in a 20-inch pie (costing $20.77) is equated with two 14-inch pies ($29.59) and six-and-a-quarter 8-inch pies ($51.56) [See the article's interactive chart]. Here is a comment I made on her post.
When you post something like this for scientist friends, you have to be prepared for their peer review of the claims. Having just finished the peer review of a computer engineering journal paper, I might as well use the momentum gained to review this scientific study as well.
Comparing only the areas of pizzas is somewhat misleading. I think bigger pizzas tend to be thicker. Also, the toppings do not cover the entire pizza's surface, and the width of the toppings-less edges must be considered in the comparison, because it affects the amount of nutrition you get from the pizza (assuming pizza toppings have nutritional value).
Additionally, when you buy a pizza that is twice as large and take half of it home, the enjoyment you get from the pizza is not a factor of 2 greater but only a factor of 1 + r greater, where r < 1 is the enjoyment coefficient of cold or reheated pizza.

2017/04/07 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of a village with houses built of upturned boat hulls (1) Boat houses, but not in the way you are used to seeing: A seaside village in France has many houses that are built from upturned boats. The local fishermen of Equihen-Plage have lived under scavenged boat hulls for over a century. Today, their houses are used as unique holiday accommodations for curious tourists.
(2) Amazing street-drummer performance.
(3) A sample of mosque wall art designs.
(4) Three-sixty-degree view of Pink Mosque in Shiraz, Iran: Navigate by swiping.
(5) Trump's own words betray his motive for ordering air strikes on Syria: He wrote in an October 9, 2012, tweet, "Now that Obama's poll numbers are in tailspin—watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate." Yesterday, he said that chemical bombing had a big effect on him. Since when is a president's personal feeling a legit cause for a military attack, and why is gassing 100 or so people less tolerable than hundreds of thousands killed by other means and millions turned into refugees?
(6) Woman engineer campaigns for Congress: Identifying herself as a "rocket scientist" and "data fiend," Tracy Van Houten of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be the first female engineer in Congress, if elected. She will campaign on fighting against climate change and advocating for data-driven approaches to infrastructure and public policy. [Source: The Christian Science Monitor]
(7) Discussion of The Underground Railroad with its author: Colson Whitehead appeared at a gathering at Santa Barbara's Public Library (Central Branch) last night to offer insights about his National-Book-Award-winning historical fiction book. This event was a complement to his formal lecture of Wednesday night as part of UCSB's Arts and Lectures Program. I have not yet read the book (I am on the waiting list for the e-book version at our local library), but could not pass up this opportunity to hear from the author first-hand about questions such as how he chose the topic for his book, his research methodology, how writing the heart-wrenching book affected him, and how the book has impacted the difficult topic of race relations in the US. Several audience members related that reading the book, which includes graphic descriptions of violence against the slaves, wasn't easy for them. Whitehead quipped that his book isn't "the Gone with the Wind version of slavery." Armed with the insights I gained tonight, I look forward to reading the book in the near future.
(8) Political discussions on Facebook lead nowhere: Duh, you might say, based on your experiences, but I keep relearning this lesson! A couple of days ago, I made the ill-advised decision to offer a few comments on the post of a dear friend (the subject of the political post is immaterial). My first comment was called an "Empty slogan" (no elaboration, just these two words). My last comment that began thus "Why does the discussion on every post have to cover the entire globe and world order? Can't we stick to the limited subject of the post ..." elicited this response: "At the best, I consider your views to be naiive and at the worst I consider them with unhealthy and untrustable intentions!" (again, a proclamation, with no reasoning or elaboration). I saw no point in continuing to interact on that post, although there were also a few reasonable comments.
(9) On getting by with what you have: Don't let a broken violin string, or a missing piece inside you, stop you from doing your best. Play your heart out with what you've got left. [Itzhac Perlman's story]

2017/04/06 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photos of two women data scientists (1) No, these are not models: They are data scientists, a professor (left) and a doctoral student. [Interview]
(2) Decades-old problem solved by non-career mathematician: In a little-noticed short paper, published in 2014 and entitled "A Simple Proof of the Gaussian Correlation Conjecture," Thomas Royen solved a conjecture dating back to the 1950s, the inspiration having occurred to him while brushing his teeth.
(3) On misusing statistics: Do Nicolas Cage films cause people to fall into pools and drown? Does US spending on science, space, and technology affect the number of suicides by hanging, strangulation, and suffocation? Does an increase in per capita cheese consumption lead to a corresponding rise in the number of people who die by becoming entangled in their bedsheets? Certainly not! But in all three cases, there is an eerily large positive correlation between the two trends, which may suggest causation to the uninitiated. In these examples, relating the two trends seems preposterous. Imagine how much more likely we are to go astray when a cause-effect relationship is plausible (e.g., eating a certain kind of food and obesity). [Full story, with charts]
(4) Interesting illusion: A man's head appears to detach from his neck and get reattached. See if you can figure out how it's done.
(5) Joke of the day: Stan: "My wife treats me like I am a god." Steve: "You mean she worships, honors, and obeys you?" Stan: "No, she ignores me until she wants something." [Source: AARP Bulletin, April 2017]
(6) Presidential fade-away, off-balance jump shot! [Photo of former President Obama]
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- US bombs Bashar Assad's air bases in Syria; Russia stays out of the way
- Tillerson accuses Russia of failing to deliver on its promises on Syria (AP)
- Comedian Don Rickles, known for his insulting style of comedy, dead at 90
- Bannon, ousted from the NSC, at war with Jared Kushner (Business Insider)
- Devin Nunes steps down from his role in Trump-Russia House probe (AP)
- Trump defends Fox News' serial sexual harasser Bill O'Reily (People)
(8) Quote of the day: "It's a pattern with him—he sometimes counterpunches so hard he hits himself." ~ Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary, on Donald Trump
(9) Final thought for the day: It was inevitable that war would come. Just as inevitable was the Trump men falling one after the other, the latest casualties being Steve Bannon (ousted from the NSC) and Devin Nunes (stepping down from his role in the Trump-Russia probe). The unfortunate part is that the war may save Trump himself from falling.

2017/04/05 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image from 'Mad Magazine,' teasing Sean Spicer (1) The Sean Spicer rack: The perfect ingredients in a recipe for disaster. Includes seven unpleasant, bitter flavors. [Image credit: Mad Magazine]
(2) Every person we previously thought to be crazy now sounds sane by comparison: Ah-nold, the Governator, slams the US Congress.
(3) Gibraltar's dilemma: The tiny British Overseas Territory, with a strategic location in south Spain, is dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar and has a thriving tourist economy. It is interdependent with Spain, because many of its workers commute from Spain. Thus, free movement of people and goods from/to EU are important for its survival. With Britain's exit from EU, Gibraltar must also cut its ties, which presents a huge problem. England is unwilling to cede sovereignty to Spain and people of Gibraltar are also against such a move (shades of Hong-Kong). [Source: PBS Newshour]
(4) A popular Iranian wedding song: Rastak Ensemble's wonderful arrangement and rendition of "Vasoonak," a regional wedding song from the Fars Province, which is a staple at nearly all Persian wedding receptions.
(5) Bill O'Reilly and Fox News have paid out $13 million to five women since 2002: The hush money was paid to the women for complaints of sexual harassment and verbal abuse against the Fox News host.
(6) A chess problem that is easy for humans but super-hard for computers: The problem is said to hold the key to understanding human cognition and the limits of artificial intelligence. [White to play and draw]
(7) The woman who ran 1144 miles across Iran to prove a point to her fellow Swedes and other Europeans.
(8) Tim Berners-Lee, the just announced winner of the prestigious ACM Turing Award, known as the Nobel Prize of computing, opined in an interview yesterday that selling private citizens' browsing data is disgusting.
(9) Our Dishonest President: In this first installment of a four-part article by the Los Angeles Times editorial board, we read about how, despite knowing that Trump was a narcissist and an utterly unprepared and unqualified candidate, we were unprepared for the magnitude of the train wreck that is his presidency. It seems that no matter how many newspapers and other news outlets publish pieces like this, they are brushed aside with a few words, "dishonest media" or "fake news." The inevitable downfall may take much longer that we thought. But this is like a needed vaccine. If we survive it, we may become immune to the disease of Trump-like leaders in future. [The article contains links to the other three parts]

2017/04/04 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Front page of 'Towfigh' weekly paper from the 1970s Front page of 'Towfigh' weekly paper from the 1950s (1) Political satire in Iran: As a young man, I was a regular reader of Towfigh, a weekly satirical paper that pushed the boundaries of humor in a politically oppressed society. Not everything in the paper was to my liking, but the daring aspects of the enterprise intrigued me. Jokes and cartoons could go only to the level of prime minister, as kidding the Shah was out of bounds. The paper paid dearly on the few occasions when it ridiculed the Shah, even indirectly. [Images are the paper's front page, circa 1950s (left) and 1970s]
(2) A very good overview of the AI subfield of natural-language processing and the start-ups to watch in this area.
(3) To the bookworms among my friends: Which kind are you? [Short video]
(4) Two Iranian women, shown defying mandatory hijab laws during their visit to a historic site in Yazd.
(5) Half-dozen fake/humorous Confucius quotes:
- A man who wants pretty nurse must be patient
- A man who leaps off cliff jumps to conclusion
- A man who drives like hell is bound to get there
- A man who runs in front of car gets tired
- A man who runs behind car gets exhausted
- War determines who is left, not who is right
(6) Former CIA analyst Nada Bakos presents her take on Donald Trump in this 2-minute video.
(7) Tim Berners-Lee wins the 2016 ACM Turing Award: The Association for Computing Machinery award, now in its 50th year, is known as the Nobel Prize of Computing and comes with a $1 million cash prize, courtesy of Google. Lee is the inventor of the Worldwide Web and the protocols that allow it to work on a massive scale.
(8) An inspiring story: How a printing-house owner transitioned into food business, offering Persian dishes to New Yorkers.
(9) Nerve gas attack in Syria: Observers indicate that Russian bombers were also involved. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned Assad for using chemical weapons but did not mention Russia. President Trump blamed the Obama administration for making the attack possible, without blaming either Assad or Russia.

2017/04/03 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cover image for 'Time' magazine, issue of April 10, 2017 (1) The problem with US infrastructure: A common-sense idea about real assets, such as bridges, roads, locks, and sea-walls, is that when you build them, you are not done. These assets need maintenance and, eventually, at the end of their useful lives, replacement. Even a lowly condominium association knows this fact and has a reserves fund into which money is placed for such repairs and replacements. Every year, a portion of the condo fees are added to the reserves fund and every few years, a professional reviews the fund to ensure that it is adequate for the scheduled repairs and replacements. A pool, for example, needs minor repairs every few years and an overhaul after 2-3 decades. If the reserves don't hold enough money for replacement, the homeowners must go without a pool at the end of the existing pool's useful life. The way our government handles our infrastructure is to come up with just enough money to build the structure or road and then toss it to some city, transport authority, and the like. These entities are often overburdened and short of funds already, which means that resources for maintenance and replacement do not exist. This is like buying a car and not thinking about the costs of gas, repairs, and depreciation.
(2) How to deal with the US infrastructure: Time magazine, issue of April 10, 2017 (cover image shown above), contains a cover story about rebuilding our infrastructure. There are detailed discussions and proposals about modernizing the skies, developing better batteries, designing a safer/smarter grid, fixing outmoded locks and dams, wiping out the digital divide, upgrading aging water and wastewater plants, dealing with critical train arteries, making trains run on time, beating back the sea, and eliminating bridge hazards.
(3) An Azeri song from Iran: Rastak Ensemble's wonderful arrangement and rendition of "Sanin Yadegarin" ("Your Remembrances").
(4) Defiance of mandatory hijab laws continues in Iran: Photo taken at the Constitutional Revolution Museum, featuring statues of a couple of clerics.
(5) Quote of the day: "One difference between Nixon and Trump: When the Republicans nominated Nixon, they didn't actually know he was a crook." ~ Author Stephen King
(6) Iranian-Americans' Contributions Project: IACP is a new non-profit organization that collects data and catalogs the accomplishments and contributions of the Iranian-American community. [Facebook page]
(7) Lightning strikes moving car.
(8) Trump hurls insulting tweets whenever cornered: "When will Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd and @NBCNews start talking about the Obama SURVEILLANCE SCANDAL and stop with the Fake Trump/Russia story?"
(9) Refugee home in Oregon vandalized with threatening graffiti.

2017/04/02 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Winning entry in the 'Doodle for Google' contest (1) This image by Sarah Harrison (Stratford, CT), entitled "A Peaceful Future," is the winner of the 2016/2017 "Doodle for Google" contest.
(2) Cartoon of the day: White House pets. [Image]
(3) Iraqi girl, a face of war from Mosul: We should look at photos like this one every day, lest we forget the immense human losses that even the most limited wars can bring. War is never "just"!
(4) The next full pink moon: In about a week, Monday, April 10, 2017, 11:08 PM PDT (4/11, 2:08 AM EDT).
(5) A couple of days ago, I received my Albert Einstein doll (the most important scientist of the 20th century), to go along with my Nikola Tesla doll (the most important contributor to electrical engineering). [Photo]
(6) Today is Sizdeh-Beh-Dar: People of Tehran celebrate the 13th day of Norooz, a day of communion with the Earth and nature (and, for the superstitious, getting rid of evil spirits by tossing them in the outdoors). Similar outings are in progress throughout the United States. [Negin TV Pictorial]
(7) An interesting congressional testimony: Espionage expert ponders why so many Russians have been dropping dead around the world, urging investigators to follow their trails.
(8) Quote of the day [on Trump vs. Reagan]: "You mused that a good role model would be Ronald Reagan. As you saw it, Reagan was a big, good-looking guy with a famous pompadour; he had also been a Democrat and an entertainer. But Reagan had one key quality that you don't have: He knew what he didn't know. ... You both resembled Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloons, floating above the nitty-gritty and focusing on a few big thoughts. But President Reagan was confident enough to accept that he needed experts below, deftly maneuvering the strings. ... You're just careering around on your own, crashing into buildings and losing altitude, growling at the cameras and spewing nasty conspiracy theories, instead of offering a sunny smile, bipartisanship, optimism and professionalism." ~ NYT Columnist Maureen Dowd, in a blunt letter addressed to "Dear Donald"
(9) Final thought for the day: "Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore." ~ Cesar E. Chavez

2017/04/01 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
John Wooden and Karim Abdul-Jabbar together, as UCLA coach and player and 40 years later (1) Legnedary coach and legendary player: UCLA's John Wooden and Karim Abdul-Jabbar, together in late 1960s and late 2000s.
(2) Seven April Fool's news headlines of the day:
- April 1 renamed Donald Trump Day to honor our 45th President
- The Mexican government reveals $10.5B border-wall project
- For first time in 4 decades, Iranians can visit US without visa
- Google to change logo to the new Persian "Googel" version
- Trump resigns presidency, citing inadequate time to play golf
- EU collapses, its leaders start reading The Art of the Deal
- New VW shows 10 time less emissions at push of a button
(3) On automatic translation: A friend posted a link to some German Web page which contained a few German words in its URL. Facebook provided a "see translation" link, which I dutifully clicked on, hoping to learn what the link was about. The translation turned out to be an exact copy of the link!
(4) UCSB braces for Trump's budget cuts: Arts and humanities will likely suffer the most in relative terms, but in dollar amounts, science and engineering programs will have the largest setbacks.
(5) Cartoons of the day: Four of them at once, because I couldn't share just one!
(6) Interesting take-aways from a mindfulness workshop I attended during lunch hour on 3/30: According to a recent Gallup poll, only 32% of US employees are engaged, that is, they are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. The worldwide figure is a dismal 13%. To improve this situation, 13% of the US workforce is offered mindfulness programs. The average person is absent-minded 30-50% of the time.
(7) What if browsing histories of all Republicans who voted to strip Internet privacy rights were made public? Without the said privacy rights, Internet providers and service firms can sell their customers' data. So, why not start raising funds to purchase all those lawmakers' browsing histories, once Trump signs the bill?
(8) Travel ban 2: Twenty-five of America's biggest research universities have sent 500+ acceptance letters to students from the six countries affected by President Trump's second proposed travel ban. Schools say the potential ban would have significant negative effects on graduate schools, where Iranian students are accepted in particularly high numbers for engineering programs. Once put in place, the policy would end after 90 days, but it likely would be too late for students to complete the lengthy visa process. For universities relying on international students as research and teaching assistants, the potential loss of these international students is a particularly severe hardship. [Source: Associated Press]
(9) Final thought for the day: The EU just turned 60 and, like any 60-year-old, is having self-doubts.

2017/03/31 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image showing an interesting optical illusion (1) For your visual pleasure and amazement: Four perfectly round circles!
(2) Bumper sticker of the day: "Elect a Clown | Expect a Circus"
(3) Surfing made easy: Inflatable suit, made for body-surfing, extends surfing fun to almost anyone.
(2) Quote of the day: "There are 3 million American Muslims. They teach our children, treat our sick, fight our wars and, despite your attacks, continue to stand proudly on the front lines of keeping all Americans safe. My faith calls on me to help the less fortunate and speak out against injustice. President Trump—look at the math: we do not have a refugee terrorist problem. It simply doesn't exist. But I do feel a not-so-subtle campaign of terror now being waged on our American ideals of justice and equality." ~ Ibtihaj Muhammad, US national-team fencer, in an open letter to President Trump
(4) All the inane jabs and absurd criticisms that the Obamas endured for eight years: I'd take an arugula-loving, fist-bumping, bookish President, who does not take himself too seriously, over an arrogant, emotionless, ignorant one, who considers himself God-sent savior of the masses, any day!
(6) This freely available e-book contains a translation of two very important memoirs of mathematician extraordinaire Georg Cantor on transfinite numbers. [Click on the image to turn pages] Citation: Cantor, Georg, Contributions to the Founding of the Theory of Transfinite Numbers, Translated and Provided with an Introduction and Notes by Philip E. B. Jourdain, New York, Dover Publications, originally published in 1915.
(7) IEEE Central Coast Section Spring Social: We met on 3/29 at a meeting room of the new Goleta Rusty's Pizza location on Calle Real. After pizza, soft drinks, and beer (gratis for IEEE members), Section Vice Chair Brian Williams presented an overview of RF receivers and their applications in a variety of domains, from personal electronics to self-driving cars and beyond.
(8) Isla Vista Beach, yesterday: Given the high tide and super-windy conditions, I knew I couldn't walk home on the beach. Yet, I decided to take a detour to see the waves and clear skies on a gorgeous afternoon. Many surfers were enjoying their ideal day, some with sails attached to their boards and a couple using kite-like sails that allowed them to move up and down the surf with ease, staying afloat for long stretches of time. These photos don't do the roaring waves justice, so here are a couple of videos, the first video taken from the stairs at the end of Camino Pescadero and this second video from the stairs at the end of Camino Del Sur, in Isla Vista. You can see why the bluffs are constantly eroded and why the stairs need continual maintenance and repair.
(9) Final thought for the day: "Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women." ~ Joss Whedon (American director, writer, and humorist)

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 ar