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Page last updated on 2015 January 28

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

Entries in each section appear in reverse chronological order.

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

Blog Entries for 2015

2015/01/28 (Wed.): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) Breaking weather alert: "The National Weather Service is warning these areas to brace for what could be a crippling amount of Instagrammed snow photos." ~ From a cartoon caption
(2) Topaz solar farm: Covering an area 1/3 of Manhattan in California's San Luis Obispo County, the solar farm produces 500 MW of electricity.
(3) Babies in car seats react as the cars go through tunnels. (3-minute video)
(4) Je Suis Avazi: This is a slogan adopted by many individuals of Iranian origins in response to Ayatollah Jannati calling "avazi" (the closest English term that comes to my mind is "jerk") all those who criticized the house arrest, without trials or other due process, of several regime opponents.
(5) A simple Enigma machine: If you were intrigued by Alan Turing's code-breaking activities, featured in the movie "The Imitation Game," and you are into building stuff, a simple working version of the German coding machine Enigma is available as the kit "Enigma Mark 4" from S&T Geotronics that sells for about $200. More complete versions of the kit are also available from the same source for around $300 and $425.
(6) Panoramic photos of Iran: A 5-minute slide show of panoramic photos of Iran's nature and tourist sites by Abbas Arabzadeh, set to Iranian folk music.
(7) A tongue-in-cheek opinion piece against binge-watching TV shows: Kristin van Ogtrop, writing in Time magazine (issue of January 26, 2015), enumerates 4 personal reasons why she does not binge-watch anything. Her mother's advice, taking care of her family, and the way her binge-watching friends have started to look are the first 3 reasons. The last reason is James Taylor, who propounded in a song that the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time. "Still, there is this nagging sense of inadequacy when I don't binge-watch seven episodes in a row like the rest of the world. Maybe I just don't fit in. And so I ask myself—as one must whenever one is feeling like a misfit—is there some way in which my inadequacy actually makes me ... superior?" She believes that anticipation is good for us, citing the results of the well-known marshmallow experiment of many decades ago at Stanford University, in which kids who chose the immediate gratification of eating one marshmallow now, over waiting a bit and then getting 2 marshmallows, did worse in life.

2015/01/27 (Tue.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
(1) International Holocaust Remembrance Day: January 27 has been designated by the 2005 UN General Assembly Resolution 60/7 as a day to commemorate the genocide that led to the death of 6 million Jews, 1 million Gypsies, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. January 27, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
(2) The blizzard of 2015: This is serious folks! Record snowfall is expected in northeastern US. Thousands of flights out of the region's main airports have been cancelled, most schools have been closed, public transit has been shut down, and people have been asked to stay indoors for their own safety and for the sake of emergency crews being able to get to where help is needed unimpeded. Hope family and friends in the region stay safe.
(3) Nordlingen (in Bavaria, southern Germany) is built in a 14M-year-old meteor impact crater. [Image]
(4) The Oscars love biopics: Over the past few years, biopics have done well as best-picture Oscar winners ("The King's Speech," "Argo," "12 Years a Slave") and have also collected a bunch of best-actor/actress statues (Sean Penn, Colin Firth, Daniel Day-Lewis, Matthew McConaughey, Helen Mirren, Marion Cotillard, Sandra Bullock, Meryl Streep). So, it's no surprise that this year's crop is also loaded with biopics: 5 of the 8 best-picture nominees are biopics ("American Sniper," "Boyhood," "The Imitation Game," "Selma," "The Theory of Everything"). Two other biopics ("Unbroken," "Wild") may garner some awards, although they are not best-picture nominees.
(5) Greek singer Demis Roussos dead at 68: Even though I attended a concert of his in Tehran in the late 1970s, I wasn't particularly fond of his style of music. He was immensely popular in Iran at the time, alongside a number of Italian and French singers. I did not realize that he was almost exactly my age; a sobering thought!
(6) Kudos to Michelle Obama: She foregoes wearing a headscarf in Saudi Arabia, where the President and First Lady stopped on the way back from India to pay respects to the deceased King Abdullah.
(7) The largest land transport in the world: Bagger 288, built by Krupp, is a bucket-wheel excavator (a kind of mining machine) that replaced NASA's transporter for the Space Shuttle and Apollo Saturn V launch vehicle as the world's largest land vehicle in 1978.
(8) Monica Lewinsky speaks up: In a public lecture, delivered after many years of silence, Lewinsky makes some valid points about the coarsening of our culture and a deficit in compassion that turned a 22-year-old's indiscretion into a nightmarish experience that literally took her to the brink of death. This 26-minute video is well worth watching.

2015/01/25 (Sun.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Vantage point matters in perception (1) The same situation may seem different from various vantage points: Take extreme care when judging or, better yet, don't judge.
(2) The significance of maps: In my review of the book Geopolitics, posted on January 20, I noted a world map centered at the North Pole that the US promoted during the cold war to emphasize the fact that the Soviet Union was closer to the US than most people thought. Note also the larger sizes of Africa and South America in this map compared with those in commonly used maps. Yes, maps play a big role in how we perceive the world.
(3) Eradicating diseases: In the course of the entire human history, a single disease has been eradicated (smallpox, in 1980). Over the next 15 years, we expect to eradicate 4 other diseases, including polio.
(4) Efforts to preserve a historic gas station: Elwood, a neighborhood in Goleta, just to the north of Santa Barbara, is home to the remains of a historic gas station, completed in 1929, that's slowly falling into disrepair. Efforts to save the landmark are underway.
(5) Jokes about Asian Cup soccer: In Iran, making up jokes is one of the key mechanisms for coping with the difficult sociopolitical situation. Here are a couple of new jokes.
Joke 1: We may have lost in soccer to an Arab country but we prevailed in the thrilling battle between Ayatollah Jannati and King Abdullah. [Jannati's longevity has fueled much humor over the past few years.]
Joke 2: Asian Soccer Federation's voting results [about Iran's allegations that Iraq had fielded an ineleigible player]: Overturning Iraq's win, 54%; banning the Iraqi player for life, 39%; Mohsen Rezaee, 7% [Rezaee is the perpetual last-place finisher in presidential elections in Iran.]
(6) Ten scientists who were killed by their own experiments.
(7) The hypocrisy of Saudi kings: Newsweek on-line reports that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who passed away at age 90 a few days ago, was buried in an unmarked grave in accordance with the conservative Wahabbi belief that there should be nothing left of a king that might become a site for veneration. If only the Saudi royals exhibited such modesty during their living years in billion-dollar palaces and in their use of private or chartered 747s to bring their luxury cars and other shopping-spree collections from Europe and USA to their homeland.
(8) Final thought for the day: "Ironically, terrorism is an act against the very religion the perpetrators claim to believe in. It's an acknowledgment that the religion and its teachings aren't enough to persuade people to follow it. Any religion that requires coercion is not about community but leaders who want power." ~ Six-time NBA champ and MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, writing in Time magazine, issue of January 26, 2015

The Double Helix, cover image 2015/01/24 (Sat.): Watson, James D., The Double Helix, Signet, 1968.
The author is one of the three researchers honored, in equal shares, with the 1962 Nobel Prize in medicine for discoving the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material (the double-helix structure of the book's title). The other two co-winners were the author's fellow researcher Francis Crick and a pioneer in the field, Maurice Wilkins. Other key personalities appearing often in the narrative are Lawrence Bragg (who wrote the book's foreword, warning the readers that the frank observations offered by the author should not be taken as offensive), Linus Pauling (a competing Caltech scientist who was also pursuing the problem of DNA structure and was feared by the author as someone who might beat him to the solution), Rosalind (Rosy) Franklin (an X-ray specialist whose work provided clues to the author and others in their scientific pursuits), and Pauling's son, Peter.
This book has been hailed as "lively, wholly brash, full of sharp and sudden opinion, often at the edge of scandal" (Life magazine) and "vividly observant, full of suspense and mounting tension, and so directly candid about the brilliant and abrasive personalities ... of scientists. ... Seldom, if ever, has a scientist written so frankly about his colleagues or about the trade secrets, or silences of, his profession" (The New York Times). In his foreword, Bragg urges the reader not to judge the book as a definitive history of how the double-helix structure was discovered, but as a scientific autobiography which will eventually be used as a key source for writing such a definitive history.
Watson's book was recommended to me by my daughter, and I approached it with enthusiasm, given the monumental importance of the subject matter and reviews such as those cited above. Having lived as a researcher for some 2/3 of my life, I am no stranger to the backroom politics of science, but what goes on in my domains of expertise (mathematics, computer sience, engineering) appears tame compared with what I leanred about the fields of biology and chemistry from this book. It is dismaying to see scientists feel threatened by, and lose sleep over, an imminent discovery by another scientist, rather than be overjoyed by the anticipated advance. One message of the book is that scientific discovery is anything but a clean process and that it is often motivated more by rivalries among scientists than by noble truth-seeking motives.
First, let me devote a part of my review to the book's style, which is highly unusual among autobiographies written by scientists. In justifying his approach of writing about his first impressions of people and events, rather than use the benefits of hindsight to offer a more objective assessment, the author informs us in the book's preface: "[S]cience seldom proceeds in the straightforward logical manner imagined by outsiders. Instead, its steps forward (and sometimes backward) are often very human events in which personalities and cultural traditions play major roles."
The author's description of women borders on misogyny. It is disheartening to read the author ruminate about his luck that a scientist he dreamed of working with became interested in his pretty sister [p. 29]. He seems to devote more attention to people's looks, hair, and glasses, than to the technical aspects of their contributions. In one passage [p. 20], we read this about Rosalind Franklin: "Though her features were strong, she was not unattractive and might have been quite stunning had she taken even a mild interest in clothes. ... There was never lipstick to contrast with her straight black hair, while at the age of thirty-one her dresses showed all the imagination of English blue-stocking adolescents." In another passage [p. 51], he describes Ms. Franklin thus: "There was not a trace of warmth or frivolity in her words. And yet I could not regard her as totally uninteresting. Momentarily I wondered how she would look if she took off her glasses and did something with her hair." And here is what the author has to say about his own sister: "Though my sister was upset when she saw me, I knew that months, if not years, might be required to replace her superficial values with those of the English intellectual" [p. 72].
On the subject of scientists envying a colleague who is cheery and animated, and thus well-liked by audiences attending his technical talks, we read (p. 30): "Several fellow professors ... watched this performance with mixed feelings. Seeing Linus [Pauling] jumping up and down on the demonstration table and moving his arms like a magician about to pull a rabbit out of his shoe made them feel inadequate." The author himself apparently had similar misgivings, because he characterizes the methods used by Linus Pauling as "tricks" (p. 32) rather than innovations or insightful attacks on the problems. Other scientists do not escape the barbs either: "[A] goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid" [pp. 18-19].
The study of genetics goes back to the work of Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), who pretty much mapped out how traits are carried from parents to offspring. Mendel's mid-1860s laws, ignored for decades and rediscovered in 1900, became the core of modern genetics upon integration with the chromosome theory of inheritance in 1915. Much was discovered about functional and chemical properties of genes between 1915 and the beginning of the author's interest in them as a postdoctoral researcher at Cambridge some 35 years later. For example, Erwin Schrodinger's What Is Life? (1946) "very elegantly propounded the belief that genes were the key components of living cells and that, to understand what life is, we must know how genes act" [p. 18].
The first half of the book is devoted to the author's introduction to Europe and European ways, and to his attempts to fit in as a researcher and as a member of Cambridge's high-society party scene. The chapters in the second half of the book are devoted mostly to a blow-by-blow account of how the author's team closed in on the double-helix structure of DNA, using information gleaned from X-rays and insight provided by mechanical models of the structures under study, using metal parts built by a campus workshop. When the discovery came, and confirmation was obtained from various co-workers that the findings made sense, they finally wrote and submitted a paper to Nature that began: "We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxy nucleic acid (DNA). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest" [p. 140].
The detailed exposition of the discovery of DNA's double-helix structure is quite exciting and eye-opening. However, the book's uniqueness is in its portrayal of the research scene in biological sciences and the interpersonal relationships, and rivalries, among scientists. For example, it is interesting to learn that in the 1950s, scholarships and fellowships were awarded mostly via referrals by respected scientists and those who knew someone in the funding agency, rather than through open competition. This fascinating book provides a window into how science and scientists operated in the 1950s.

2015/01/23 (Fri.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Example of preferred form for a bar graph (1) How to draw a bar graph: Here's a great way to present a bar graph. The heavy dots draw attention to data points and the dashed lines are simpler than boxes, leading to a less cluttered chart. The particular bar graph depicted makes the point that people tend to use tables, instead of the more readily understood graphic forms, way too often. [From an article in American Scientist, entitled "A Window on Data Can Be a Window on Discovery"]
(2) Quote of the day: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'." ~ Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)
(3) Design concepts for pre-fab homes: These homes can be propped up into place by unfolding parts from a standard-size shipping container.
(4) This will change the way you look at selfies: Hillarious compilation of selfie photos, and what went on immediately before the final pose.
(5) For frequent Amazon.com shoppers, some of these 20 tips are quite useful.
(6) Who wants a computer to be a millionaire? After the success of IBM's Watson in Jeopardy! it was inevitable that people would program a computer to participate in other game shows. The April 2015 issue of Information Processing Letters contains an article, by S. Momtazi and F. Naumann, that reports on average winnings of $250K and becoming a millionaire in 6 out of 50 runs (better than normal winnings among human contestants) achieved by a computer program using a combination of search engine and knowledge base accesses.
(7) Iran outsted from the Asian Cup soccer tournament: After a 1-1 tie at the end of 90 minutes and a 3-3 score through an explosive overtime in this quarterfinals match, Iran lost to Iraq in penalty shootout 6-7. The Australian referee's controversial decision to issue a second yellow card to an Iranian player for diving led to Iran playing with 10 men for much of the match. [Match highlights]
(8) Final thought for the day: It would be great if we could deflate some over-inflated sports figures, from wife-beating football players to coaches who think they should win at any cost, even if it means turning a blind eye on a pedophile among their staff or deflating footballs against league rules.

2015/01/22 (Thu.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
(1) Quote of the day: "Destiny: A tyrant's authority for crime and a fool's excuse for failure." ~ Ambrose Bierce
(2) Small is beautiful: This tiny prefab house looks quite comfortable when you peek inside it (that is, if you don't own a large collection of books, many tools, decades worth of records/notes, etc.).
(3) Palestinian media and cartoonists cheerfully praise the stabbing of 13 Israelis on a bus in Tel Aviv.
(4) Losing weight by controlling when you eat: Although these reported results are restricted to mice at this time, there is reason to believe that the strategy might work for humans just as well. Mice whose diets were restricted to include fasting periods between 9 and 15 hours lost weight and showed improved cholesterol and blood glucose levels, even when they consumed identical foods with the same number of calories.
(5) Cancer is on the verge of overtaking heart disease as the leading killer: Given that cancer is engrained in human evolution, simply throwing money at it may not lead to solutions. Thus, even though cancer mortality has been on the decline when accounting for the rising and graying population, death from heart disease has shrunk at a greater rate.
(6) Put your money where your mouth is: This sage advice is for us mere mortals and does not apply to billionaires. Case in point is Jeff Greene, who made a fortune by betting against subprime mortgage securities, and is now going long on the US, while at the same time opining, "Our economy is in deep trouble. We need to be honest with ourselves. We've had a realistic level of job destruction, and those jobs aren't coming back."
(7) Learn Persian (humor): "Antar khanoom," literally "monkey lady," is an expression used by some women to describe any attractive, well-dressed, and friendly woman as she enters a party.
(8) Today's final thought: "The high destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule." ~ Albert Einstein

2015/01/21 (Wed.): Here are Eight items of potential interest.
(1) Fun on MLK Day: Comedian Jimmy Kimmel asked 14 randomly chosen people on the street whether they had heard Dr. Martin Luther King's speech on Monday morning. Alarmingly, half of them had heard the speech and were able to elaborate on its contents.
(2) President Obama's State of the Union Address: Full text of last night's SOTU address, for those who may have missed it. The President appeared comfortable and confident. If only House Speaker John Boehner didn't look like he was undergoing a colonoscopy (to borrow a phrase from Bill Mahr) throughout the speech.
(3) Honor Diaries: Nine courageous women speak out against societies that practice "honor violence" against women, questioning how a man's honor can manifest itself in a woman's body. [Extended 11-minute preview of the 61-minute documentary film]
(4) New York City at night, from 7500 feet above. [Photo gallery]
(5) Nearly 100M views and counting: Europe performs "The Final Countdown" on stage.
(6) United Breaks Guitars: Dave Carroll, whose Taylor guitar was broken through mishandling by United Airline's baggage personnel, and then got the runaround when seeking damages, posted this retaliatory video on YouTube, garnering more than 14M views so far. After the posting, United offered to reimburse him in exchange for pulling the video, which he declined. Taylor Guitars gave Carroll two new guitars to thank him for the publicity.
(7) Four causes of phantom hunger: Eating the wrong foods (simple carbs, instead of whole grains and protein); emotions (boredom, anxiety, loneliness, or stress); lack of sleep (lowers leptin and raises gherlin levels); being surrounded by food ("out of sight, out of stomach")
(8) Consumer reviewers for hire: A couple of nights ago, PBS Newshour ran a story about a burgeoning business run by people who would post a 5-star review of your restaurant, say, and a 1-star review of a competitor for an agreed sum of money. Yelp and other companies are bent on filtering/flagging dishonest reviews and taking action against perpetrators.

2015/01/20 (Tue.): Dodds, Klaus, Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford Univ. Press, 2014.
Cover image for OUP's Geopolitics This 157-page, pocket-size book is another one in the OUP series that aims to provide stimulating and accessible ways of exploring new subjects (I have previously reviewed the Microeconomics volume in the series). The still-expanding list of titles, written by authorities in the respective fields, includes over 400 topics, from Accounting to Writing and Script.
Nearly everyone has heard the term "geopolitics," but few (myself included) know its exact meaning. I had not given the word much thought, thinking that it is a straightforward compound word meant to represent the impact of geography on politics and vice versa. It is certainly that, but also much more. I usually provide a list of chapter titles as a way of summarizing such a book, but here, the chapter titles are as enigmatic as the subject matter itself. For example, the title of chapter 3, "Geopolitical Architectures," provides no clue as to what the chapter covers.
One learns early in the book that the term "geopolitics" has gained a highly negative connotation, so much so that many people avoid its use. The roots of the word go back 115 years, but it was the Nazis who latched onto it and used it to advance their goals, and this is certainly one reason why the word is detested. Of course, the study of how geography influences trade and economics goes even further back. In the latter part of the 20th century, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger revived the use of the term to denote his interest in a realistic and hardheaded approach to foreign policy and to the world in general. Kissinger perhaps added to the hatred for the term with famous proclamations such as: "The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves."
Sovereignty is often raised in discussing the geopolitics of international relations. In truth, however, sovereignty is exercised rather flexibly by different countries. Some do not mind, or even encourage, foreign investments, ignoring the threats they pose. Others express outrage at sovereignty violations, such as drone strikes in Pakistan, not based on principles but to quell domestic opposition, while tacitly approving of the actions. The communist threat to Latin American dictatorial regimes was often couched in geopolitical terms.
Al Qaeda and other extremist groups now rampant and spreading in the Middle East and elsewhere were geopolitical creations. The southward expansion of the Soviet Union into Afghanistan was motivated by gaining geographical advantages in trade and military (perhaps eying further expansion to the shores of the Indian Ocean), and the US's use of Islamic proxy fighters to prevent this expansion was also a geopolitical decision. Such groups might have emerged anyway, but they probably would not have been as battle-hardened in the absence of US support and training.
The emphasis of geopolitics and its very definition changed once again when the role of the sovereign state was weekened by the spread of globalization. One school of thought maintains that while states are still relevant and do interact directly among themselves and via the United Nations, domestic economic and political decisions are increasingly influenced by their trade implications and thus by the transnational corporations managing the trade. The increase in the number of states flies in the face of the claim of globalization making them irrelevant, as do anti-WTO protests and Occupy movements.
Whereas identities are often firmly tied to nation-states, they sometimes leak or fuse across territorial boundaries, the prime example being the notion of a unified Europe. Connectivity via social media is thought to dilute national and tribal identities, but may ironically have the opposite effect. For example, when Facebook recognized Kosovo as a country, the action did not sit well with Serbia. Kosovars were, of course, delighted about being recognized by an American business, given that recognition by real countries around the world was not forthcoming.
Group identities are enforced primarily through political clout and military power. However, other tools are in play as well. In a striking example, soccer has been used in Spain to express regional identity and pride, along with any frustrations and ambitions, when rival teams such as Athletic Bilbao (Basque) and Barcelona (Catalan) meet.
Maps have always been tools for expressing regional identities and they are often fuzzy or conflicting when it comes to defining inclusions and exclusions. During the Cold War, a map of the world with the North Pole at its center gained prominence. It was simply a tool for the US government to provide a better view of the world for Americans and to emphasize the relative geographical proximity of the Soviet Union to the US via the Arctic.
Flags constitute another important symbolism, with trumpling on flags, burning them, or distorting their imagery forming common means of expressing outrage at perceived misdeeds. Maps and flags aren't the only objects that inform geopolitical discussions and disputes. The AK-47 machine gun has also presented a powerful symbolism over the years. The ultimate object in this arena is the human body, which is smuggled, sold, and otherwise treated as if it were inanimate.
The importance of films, TV programs, and other media cannot be overemphasized in this regard. We learn from this book that the Bush-43 administration held meetings with Hollywood executives after the 9/11 attacks to explore ways in which the entertainment industry, and popular culture more generally, could play a role in promoting homeland security and the notion of War on Terror.
Like everything else, geopolitics is being reshaped by the new media. "When former [US] Vice President Dick Chenney called for 'total information awareness,' it was perhaps not apparent at the time how this quest would lead to what some have described as a surveillance-internet-industrial complex." Satire, and, in particular, the comic news genre, such as those popularized by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, is another important facet of popular culture that impacts geopolitics. The recent terrorist attack on cartoonists in France serves as a testament to the power of media, old and new.
This book piqued my interest to pursue the topic further, so I examined its list of references and futher readings. It appears that numerous English-language books and periodicals with geopolitical content are available. There are also specialized scholarly publications, such as Geopolitics and Political Geography, dealing with the topic.
All in all, while I learned new facts and concepts from this book, I did not find it as useful as the Microeconomics volume I had read and reviewed previously. Perhaps some fuzziness in discussing a domain within social sciences is unavoidable. Unfortunately, such fuzziness makes it difficult for a reader like me to integrate the notions learned into his understanding (model) of human affairs and societal interations on the world stage.

2015/01/19 (Mon.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
(1) Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King's words on his birthday: "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. ... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."
(2) Traditional Persian music: Vesal Alavi sings "Tanhaa Maandam" ("I Stayed Lonely"), a composition by Homayoun Khorram, with lyrics by Abdollah Olfat; arranged and conducted by Mohammad Ali Fallahi.
(3) This singing male nurse at Valencia hospital soothes the suffering of his patients.
(4) The decline of network TV: "There were no [Golden Globes] given for shows on CBS, NBC, ABC, or Fox, and HBO took home only one statue. Signaling a pronounced shift in power, Amazon—which wasn't even part of the awards conversation a year ago—triumphed with two of the night's biggest prizes: A best-comedy trophy for 'Transparent,' and another for its star, Tambor." [From Entertainment Weekly, issue of January 23, 2015.]
(5) Spinning book data into art: A recently published book, Infographic Guide to Literature, presents analytic and comparative data via 100 graphs, Venn diagrams, and charts. Entertainment Weekly has included three of these infographics in its issue of January 23, 2015: Austen vs. Bronte (comparing their obsession with bonnets, balls, dresses, marriage, and matters of the heart; Death by Shakespeare (from stabbings to death by grief); and Wood for Books (fate of trees).
(6) Iran to play the runner-up of Group D (Iraq, most likely) in the Asian Cup quarterfinals: The Iranian national soccer team won its third preliminary-round match against UAE 1-0 on a 90th-minute goal to advance as the top team in its group [6-minute video highlights]. UAE also advances to the quarterfinals as the runner-up team of Group C. Iran's quarterfinals match will be on Thursday 1/22, and, assuming advancement, the next two will be on Monday 1/26 (against winner of South Korea vs. Uzbekistan) and Saturday 1/31 (possible championship opponent: China, Australia, UAE, or Japan).
(7) Spring/Vernal equinox in California: The beginning of the Persian New Year 1394 and the festival of Norooz will be on Friday, March 20, 2015, at 3:45 PM PDT (10:45 PM UTC). Let the countdown begin: 60 days left.
(8) Final thought for the day: "There is no remedy for love but to love more." ~ Henry David Thoreau

2015/01/18 (Sun.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
(1) This is how Photoshop is done: Actor Ellar Coltrane, who portrayed a boy as he (and the actor himself) went from 1st to 12th grade in the movie "Boyhood," at his current age of 20 and at 11 and 12.
(2) The world's most beautiful theaters: Pictorial
(3) Lover, loving, and loved are one: "The meaning of love" is a Rumi poem, whose words (in English) are set to a beautiful video of satellite images of the Earth and traditional Persian music.
(4) Distant planets X and Y may actually exist in the solar system: These planets, thought to be larger than Earth, lurk undiscovered far beyond Pluto, according to two astronomers, who, in early 2014, noticed perturbations in some extreme trans-Neptunian objects that are consistant with the existence of such planets. Other explanations for these perturbations may be found in future, but for now, the existence of planets X and Y can't be ruled out.
(5) A digital mirror that remembers you, and all the outfits you have tried on, for side-by-side comparisons.
(6) John Boehner uses 12 Taylor Swift GIFs to express his opposition to President Obama's plan for free community college education: If someone didn't hack the House Speaker's Web site, then one of his staffers must be pulling a prank on him.
(7) The movie "Selma" corrects a major omission: There have been no full-length films devoted to Martin Luther King, only short cameos in other films. And the new film is coming out at an excellent time, when a renewed conversation about race is much needed. One wonders how it is possible to have had biopics about all sorts of Americans, but not about a significant national figure who merits a federal holiday. The film's director explains: "We were not doing a sainted version of him or an overcorrected, antihero version ... [We set out to portray] a dynamic leader who was at times depressed and let his ego get in control. ... Most Americans don't know Dr. King's conversational voice [having heard only his speeches]. They haven't seen interviews or heard him laugh. They know the 'I Have a Dream' speech and then that he was killed, There's a lot in between." [From: Time magazine, issue of January 19, 2015.]
(8) Final thought for the day: "Some people are like photographs: the more you blow them up the fuzzier they get." ~ Anonymous

2015/01/17 (Sat.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Image showing motion along a hallway, with doors on both sides (1) Cover a middle strip of this GIF image, and you appear to go faster; cover the right and left, and your speed seems to decrease.
(2) Quote of the day: "We still believe in this nation's future ... It's a story ... I didn't read in a book, or learned in a classroom. I saw it and lived it." ~ Former New York governor Mario Cuomo (1932-2015), in his kenote address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention
(3) Here is a list of 21 well-known actors/actresses who have never won an Oscar: It seems that the list may shrink by up to 3 names after this year's awards (Julianne Moore, Michael Keaton, and Edward Norton).
(4) These 10 charts tell the story of the US economy over the past few decades: They show, among other things, how income inequality, regressive taxation, soaring CEO-to-worker income ratio, and absurdly low minimum wage are flatlining the middle class and expanding poverty.
(5) Most cancer is beyond our control: About 65% of cancer cases result from random genetic mutations and are thus beyond our control. The faster a cell type divides (notably skin cells), the more likely it is to suffer copying errors. This does not mean, however, that you should stop wearing sunscreen or take up smoking.
(6) Breathtaking aerial photos: A collection of 17 beautiful photos from around the world.
(7) Israel and Arab states are showing a greater willingness to form alliances: This is in large part due to chaos and heightened instability in the Middle East. Is it possible that something positive will come out of the carnage and barbarity of ISIS/Daesh? "[A] conversation that is occurring across the Arab states ... is to bank on the regional forces of stability to create a security alliance against the extremist threat of both Shi'ite and Sunni militias, even if it means partnering with Israel." [From: Time magazine, issue of January 19, 2015.]
(8) The threat of terrorism is overblown: This threat is being pushed on us by the same military-industrial complex that has sold us multiple wars. Here's a good article entitled "We Worry Too Much about Terrorism." And here's a chart of lifetime odds of death for selected causes, United States, 2010 (terrorism isn't on the list at all). So, are those advocating a broader war on terror concerned about the odds of dying from terrorism in the US or other Western countries? If so, then pay attention to statistics on the various causes of death, in which terrorism does not even show up. Yes, terrorism is on the rise in the West, but any changes will make it a tiny dot at the bottom of the chart appearing in the chart cited above, alongside dog bites and lightning strikes. If we are concerned about Africa, odds of dying from hunger, curable diseases, or government-sanctioned violence is much greater there. If, on the other hand, our concern is for the Middle East, war between countries (including the two US occupations) have killed many more civilians there than terrorism.

2015/01/16 (Fri.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
(1) Quote of the day: "America's total health care bill for 2014 was $3 trillion. That's more than the next 10 biggest spenders combined: Japan, Germany, France, China, the U.K., Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Australia. All that extra money produces no better, and in many cases worse, results. ... And all those high tech advances—pacemakers, MRIs, 3-D mammograms—have produced an ironically upside-down health care marketplace. It is the only industry in which technological advances have increased costs instead of lowering them." ~ Steven Brill, writing in Time magazine, issue of January 19, 2015
(2) Cybercrime is on the rise: Some 40M Americans have had their personal information stolen by cybercriminals, with financial losses in 2013 estimated to be $100B. [Source: Time magazine, issue of January 19, 2015.]
(3) Iran's national soccer team beats Qatar 1-0 in the Asian cup, to earn its second victory in two games on a beautifully executed attack and an even prettier goal by Sardar Azmoun, ensuring its advancement to the quarterfinals round.
(4) Iranian extremist group cheers the Paris terror attacks: Iran's Ansar-e Hezbollah, the same group thought to be behind incidents of acid-spraying on women with inadequate hijab, has condoned and celebrated the French terror attacks, calling them just punishment. In a different news story, I was disappointed to hear that Pope Francis has opined that "You cannot make fun of the faith of others." Please note his choice of words: "cannot," instead of "better not."
(5) Marine artist: Fish creates an amazingly beautiful pattern on the sea floor to impress a female.
(6) Time magazine's feature on the high cost of healthcare: Steven Brill, who has written a great deal about problems afflicting the US healthcare system, provides insights on how to reduce costs and improve outcomes. The feature's cover headline is: "What I Learned from my $190,000 Open-Heart Surgery." [Subscriber content]
(7) Time magazine's digital archives: Through time.com/vault, you can gain access to a valuable information resource that allows you to browse by year or subject or to seach by keywords within defined time intervals.
(8) Oscar nominations announced: "Birdman" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel," with 10 nominations each, and "The Imitation Game" with 9, lead the way. There are 8 best-picture nominees, including the 3 above, plus "American Sniper," "Boyhood," "Selma" (its director and actor were snubbed), "The Theory of Everything," and "Whiplash." Best-actor nominees are Steve Carell, Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton, and Eddie Redmayne. Best-actress nominees are Marion Cotillard, Felicity Jones, Julianne Moore, Rosamund Pike, and Reese Witherspoon. The directing honorees are Alejandro G. Inarritu, Richard Linklater, Bennett Miller, Wes Anderson, and Morten Tyldum. [Complete list of nominees]

2015/01/15 (Thu.): Here are six items of potential interest.
Free-climbing of Yosemite's El Capitan rock (1) The hardest climb in the world: Two free-climbers reached the summit of Yosemite's El Capitan after 19 days of climbing. [Image credit: BBC News]
(2) Quote of the day: "Since Obama has achieved all the Republican goals, does he get any credit?" ~ Bill Mahr, referencing Mitt Romney's campaign promise to raise the GDP growth to 5% by 2016, Paul Ryan's plan to reduce unemployment to under 6% by 2016, and New Gingrich's program to get gas prices below $2.50
(3) The deliberate grounding of car-carrier ship Hoegh Osaka: Occasionally, we read news stories about ships sinking and airplanes crashing due to the inexperience or ineptitude of the captain/pilot. This story and photos are about smart action by the captain that saved a fully loaded cargo ship from capsizing near the Isle of Wight on January 3, 2015.
(4) What is going on with Viagra ads? Previously, the messages were delivered by handsome, graying men. But the latest ads have a sultry woman sing the praises of the medication, while grooming herself, as if getting ready for a date. There is no man in sight.
(5) Google's modular phone, code named "Project Ara": Spiral 2 phone is the improved version or Google's initial idea of building a phone in which modules can be swapped in and out with ease. Some of the existing kinks should be ironed out by the time Spiral 3 rolls around.
(6) Broadband access and ISIS: A video of President Obama talking about his plans for improving Internet access speeds in the US has elicited much negative commentary, the gist of it being that he is wasting his time on trivial things instead of attending to ISIS and other life-threatening problems. I don't see how the two issues are mutually exclusive, so that only one or the other can be handled. First, many of these commentators (the same bunch that criticize President Obama, no matter what he does) equate Internet with entertainment. Yes, we get some entertainment from the Internet, but we also get our news and info about scientific discoveries, self-improvement, travel planning, and healthcare. As I am writing my next graduate-level textbook, I find myself consulting on-line books and technical journals on a regular basis, instead of making daily trips to the campus library, as I did for my first book years ago, only to discover that the library does not hold the book or the particular journal issue that I need. Just as the languishing of our school system in the US has led to erosion of our economic competitiveness, being surpassed by several countries in terms of Internet access ease and speed will dictate our future standing in science and technology. All of these aside, entertainment itself isn't something to ridicule. If someone is struggling financially and taking care of sick relatives, what is wrong with s/he picking a couple of roses and putting them in a vase to enjoy? We won't tell that person that s/he is wasting his or her time on something trivial, would we? Also remember that an open-information society, which is facilitated by better Internet access, is the best long-term antidote to religious extremism that thrives on the ignorance of the masses to recruit its foot soldiers.

2015/01/14 (Wed.): Here are seven items of potential interest.
17th-century warship at Stockholm's Vasa Museum (1) A remarkable 17th-century warship: The Swedish warship Vasa set off on its maiden voyage from Stockholm toward Poland in 1628. It sank, killing some 30 people, after sailing for a bit over 1 km. The ship's 64 valuable bronze cannons were salvaged, but the rest of the ship remained pretty much intact at the bottom of the sea and forgotten, until its recovery in 1961. The ship now sits magestically in Stockholm's Vasa Museum, where it is one of Sweden's most popular tourist attractions.
(2) Iran beats Bahrain 2-0 in a preliminary-round soccer match played in the Asian Cup tournament: The first of the two goals is particularly beautiful.
(3) Subzero temperatures turn Michigan's St. Joseph Lighthouse into a giant icicle.
(4) UCSB deemed one of the greenest campuses in the US: Based on data from Sierra Club, EPA, and other groups, UCSB has been ranked 3rd in the US (1st among public universities) with regard to environmental sustainability efforts.
(5) Persian poetry: The poem "Khoda Nashenas" ("Godless"), composed by Ali-Akbar Saidi Sirjani (1931-1994) at age 28, was recited by Hassan Khayatbashi during ceremonies honoring the poet's 80th birthday in 2011. An old poem that has assumed new relevance in today;s religious wars.
(6) The 28 missing pages of the 9/11 report: Former US Senator Bob Graham, the lead author of the report, has called for the release of the redacted pages, said to contain material that are embarrassing to the Saudis.
(7) Political power transitions in Iran resemble coup d'etats more than elections: In most Western countries, former presidents are considered elder statesmen, whose opinions are sought on important matters of national interest and who tend to speak regularly to enthusiastic audiences. Not one former president of Iran enjoys such a stature, as if they were all removed from power forcefully and sent into exile.

2015/01/13 (Tue.): Here are six items of potential interest.
(1) Quote of the day: "The movie 'The Theory of Everything' was successful because it combined two things that audiences love: a crippling disease and complicated math." ~ From the introduction to Sunday's Golden Globe Awards ceremony by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler
(2) On blasphemy laws and religious reforms: Farid Zakaria has made a valid point that blasphemy isn't punishable by death according to Quran, but is cause for death in the Old Testament. So, according to Zakaria, killing people (lawfully, as in Saudi Arabia and Iran, or by lawless terrorism) constitutes a misunderstanding of Islam. I beg to differ. A religion is defined more by how its followers act than by what the holy book says. Unless religious and political leaders of the Islamic world denounce such (mis)interpretations, what the scriptures say will remain irrelevant, especially in a country such as Iran, where a vast majority of people have no direct understanding of the Arabic Quran. Reforms implemented in Christianity, and still continuing under the leadership of Pope Francis, are overdue in both Islam and Judaism.
(3) Memories may be transmitted genetically: A study on mice suggests that experiences (particularly traumatic or stressful ones) can be transferred from the brain into the genome, thus affecting both the structure and function of the nervous system in the offspring. If confirmed by other independent researchers, this may end up as one of the more significant discoveries of the decade in neuroscience.
(4) If airline food tastes bland, it is likely not their fault: "Get on board a plane and cruise to a level of thousands of feet, and the flavour of everything from a pasta dish to a mouthful of wine becomes manipulated in a whole host of ways that we are only beginning to understand."
(5) Why President Obama's free community college education program makes sense: The plan, dubbed "America's College Promise" pursues the goal of expanding free education from high school to the first two years of college, so as to enhance social mobility by allowing a less expensive path into the middle class. Chicago and Tennessee have similar programs in place, which can serve as models. The Republican-controlled congress has already indicated its distaste for the proposal, citing that the federal government should not meddle in such matters and should leave them to the states. All 50 US states have mandatory school attendance laws and offer free education up to 12th grade. So, stretching the free education by two years makes sense for keeping up with the times (mandatory attendance and free education weren't always the law of the land in the US). A byproduct of such a program is a reduction of the burden of student debt, which is currently stifling our economy.
(6) Body language is more important than facial expression: According to this article in Newsweek magazine, many people focus on eye contact and facial expression, forgetting that positioning of other body parts, such as arms and legs, can also sabotage one's message and ruin the chances for collaboration.

2015/01/12 (Mon.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
apple is not equal to orange (1) Why are we told that we can't compare or add apples to oranges? We can surely compare an apple to an orange with regard to weight, price, size, calories, vitamin-C content, color, and many other attributes. I can also look at my fridge's fruit compartment and decide that with a total of 11 pieces of fruit (3 apples, 1 pear, 5 oranges, 2 peaches), I do not need to buy fruit on my next shopping trip.
(2) Quote of the day: "Demanding that women should cover themselves to keep men from sinning is like saying that the sun should stop shining to prevent our ice creams from melting." ~ Simin Daneshvar
(3) Elizabeth Gilbert on women's body image problems: The best-selling author writes a beautiful and heartfelt essay on why women should stop judging other women on decisions they make about their bodies and appearance. She asks how liberal woman can stand up for other women's reproductive rights but then criticize them for decisions pertaining to other body parts or clothing. The essay is long, but definitely worth reading.
(4) Crazy people with guns: The news headline reads, "Indiana couple arrested after video shows handgun in toddler's mouth." In recent days, we have witnessed other headlines about "accidental" shooting of parents by toddlers and mass killings by terrorists. The gun lobby keeps insisting that guns are not at fault and that crazy people intent on killing will kill by other means, citing baseball bats, knives, and the like. There are two responses to this argument. First, what's wrong with removing or regulating one of the methods of killing? Isn't it better to have 80% as many deaths, say, through violence? They surely can't claim that the same number of people would die if obtaining guns weren't this easy! Studies have shown that even without restricting gun ownership, just reducing the maximum size of magazines will lead to a significant reduction in deaths from violence.
(5) Charice, a young girl with a powerful voice, performs on stage alongside Celine Dion.
(6) Name that toon: This is the title of a word puzzle from the January-February 2015 issue of AARP Bulletin, in which you are asked to return stolen consonants to the names of eight cartoon characters.
_ E _ _ Y   _ O O _ ;   _ U _ _   _ U _ _ Y ;   _ O _ A _ _   _ U _ _ ;  _ _ E _   _ _ I _ _ _ _ O _ E
_ I _ _ _ Y   _ O U _ E ;   _ O _ _ Y   _ I _ ;   _ O _ E _   _ A _ _ I _ ;   _ O O _ Y   _ O O _ _ E _ _ E _
(7) Mirrors of the Mind: "Monkey see, monkey do. When we observe an action, imitating it almost feels like a no-brainer. Though this proverb is well-rooted in the English language, only in the past two decades have researchers been able to show that there may be a neural basis to this 'monkey business.' In other words, imitation is not quite the no-brainer we thought it was—it actually relies on specific components of the brain called mirror neurons.' ~ Opening paragraph of a cover feature in the latest issue of UCLA's Total Wellness magazine, written by my daughter Sepideh. [The article appears on pages 32-37 of the fall 2014 issue.]
(8) Final thought for the day: "Prejudice can't survive proximity." ~ Anonymous (I heard this quote on an NPR program, but didn't catch the source)

2015/01/11 (Sun.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
(1) Quote of the day: "The imbalance of far more women than men at colleges has been a factor in the various sex scandals that have made news in the last couple of years." ~ Anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly (apparently confusing sexual assaults with scandals and taking the "blame the victim" mentality to the extreme)
(2) Crazy news of the past week: After years of trying to block each and every initiative of the Obama administration, US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell brazenly takes credit for the improving economy based on the coincidence of the improvements with the Republican takeover of the US Senate.
(3) UC Regents' threat of tuition hikes was a strategic mistake: The University of California Regents had decided several weeks ago to provisionally increase tuition by up to 5% per year for 5 years as a way of signaling to the state that underfunding the University might lead to loss of accessibility and added pressure on families, particularly the middle class. Governor Jerry Brown has apparently countered by indicating that any increase in tuition might lead to cuts in state funding, putting the UC Regents in a lose-lose situation: they either have to back away from their plan or else answer to angry parents on the loss of state funding.
(4) A Muslim employee saved lives in the Paris kosher market attack: Lassana Bathily let customers into the store's basement freezer, while he kept lookout.
(5) Indian sitar music, with flamenco vocals: Anoushka Shankar and Raga Flamenco perform fusion music.
(6) Boko Haram kills 2000 in 5 days: That's an average of 400 a day, or 33 times the number of deaths in Paris in one day. Except that few in the West care about the plight of African and other Third-World nations. And there are still people who claim that these killings are the acts of those who have deviated from "true" Islam. I don't always agree with Bill Mahr, but he was dead right when he said, "If there are so many bad apples, then there must be something wrong with the orchard."
(7) Eight books that every intelligent person should read, and why, according to physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The Bible: Learn that it's easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.
The System of the World (Isaac Newton): Learn that the universe is a knowable place.
On the Origin of Species (Charles Darwin): Learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.
Gulliver's Travels (Jonathan Swift): Learn, among other satirical lessons, that humans are mostly Yahoos.
The Age of Reason (Thomas Paine): Learn how rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.
The Wealth of Nations (Adam Smith): Learn that capitalism, or economy of greed, is a force of nature unto itself.
The Art of War (Sun Tzu): Learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.
The Prince (Machiavelli): Learn that people (not) in power will do all they can to acquire/keep it.
(8) World leaders express solidarity with the cause of freedom in Paris: Notable among the 1.5M marchers was the absence of a high-level representative from the US. Also notable was the presence of representatives from governments that routinely harass and imprison journalists.

2015/01/10 (Sat.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Vehicle on a grass lawn on UCSB campus (1) Traffic violations on the UCSB campus: Several years ago, I started a Web page in which I documented the abuse of UCSB walkways by vehicles of all kinds. Eventually, I gave up, because while campus officials acknowledged the gravity of the problem and its direct effects on the safety of students and staff, they failed to act to stop the abuse. This vehicle on a UCSB lawn, seemingly affiliated with an exercise group, must have gotten there by driving a long distance on walkways (Wed. 1/7, shortly before noon). And this is just one example of many that I encounter daily.
(2) This lively music and dance number sounds/looks like Kurdish, but I'm unsure about its country of origin.
(3) Stanley Steamer ad jingle, performed in different musical styles. Quite well done!
(4) The toughest nontechnical interview question: Getting the salary you deserve that also fairly reflects the scope and responsibilities of the position isn't easy. Go in too low, and you'll lose years of potential earnings (the low salary may also affect you in your next job). Demand too much, and you may be passed over quickly. Here are some hints on how to avoid giving a direct answer, without seeming obnoxious.
(5) The biggest statues in the world. [Slide show]
(6) Songs by the Eagles: A collection of 13 MP3 files, playable on-line.
(7) How language affects the way we think: Studies have shown that our language and its rules and structures affect our thinking in many different areas. Examples include our ability to save money, keeping our orientation in space, assigning blame, and recognizing gender.
(8) Final thought for the day: "Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties." ~ Erich Fromm

2015/01/09 (Fri.): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Altered international flight paths to avoid the airspaces of Iraq and Syria (1) How the unsafe skies over Iraq and Syria have altered the paths of international flights.
(2) Je Suis Ahmed: The cop executed by a point-blank shot from one of the terrorists after the massacre in Paris was Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim who was assigned to protect the offices of Charlie Hebdo. He died protecting the free-speech rights of those who poked fun at his religion.
(3) New honors for UCSB: Shuji Nakamura, who (along with two Japanese researchers) won the 2014 Nobel Prize in physics, has added US National Academy of Engineering's Draper Prize to his list of honors. In other news, USA Today has ranked UCSB's Department of Sociology #1 in the country. UC Berkeley and UCLA are also in the top 10 (#2 and #4).
(4) An excellent visualization of how the desktop paradigm has taken over and organized our lives. [34 years of change in 1 minute]
(5) Ground broken on the first US bullet train project: Governor Jerry Brown and other state officials were present for the ceremony held in Fresno, dubbed "the nation's high-speed rail capital."
(6) A possible game-changer in medicine: After nearly 3 decades, during which no new usable antibiotics were discovered, scientists are on the verge of introducing 25 new varieties, one of which may be highly effective, because bacteria are unlikely to develop resistance to it.
(7) A selection of songs about freedom, in memory of the slain journalists in Paris.
(8) This video message raises some interesting points about why boys underachieve in school.
(9) Final thought for the day: "If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities." ~ Voltaire

2015/01/08 (Thu.): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Iranian cartoonist's homage to the victims of the Paris massacre (1) Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani's take on the massacre of cartoonists by Islamic terrorists is depicted in the opposite image.
The attack killed 12 at the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. News of the incident have been widely circulated over the past two days, so I won't add more details here. What I do want to add is that often such attacks are attributed to rogue Islamic elements who have deviated from "true" Islam. This explanation is, in my view, inadequate in this case. As long as it is legitimate in Islam to kill someone for insulting the religion or its prophet and imams, or even for leaving the religion, incidents like this will happen.
We will take a step toward eliminating these kinds of killings only if imams and countries that consider Islam their official religion announce, unequivocally, that Islam does not sanction killing anyone for an insult, no matter the subject of the insult. In the case of Iran, I know that such an announcement will not be forthcoming, because insulting sacred figures (including the Supreme Leader) is one of the charges used to execute members of the opposition; the other commonly used fictitious charge being drug trafficking.
(2) Quote of the day: "[The Paris] attack also demonstrates again that violent Islam isn't a reaction to poverty or Western policies in the Middle East. It is an ideological challenge to Western civilization and principles, including a free press and religious pluralism." ~ From the Wall Street Journal editorial, January 8, 2015
(3) Our shared sense of responsibility: A short video message from former US congresswoman Gabby Gifford and her husband Mark Kelly, advocating responsible solutions to confront gun violence.
(4) It seems that the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival becomes more impressive each year: Here are photos from the 2015 edition.
(5) Chicken at the billiards table: Nice job of editing and CGI in this 12-second video!
(6) Stunning 1.5B-pixel image of the Andromeda Galaxy: On this photo, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, you can zoom in to explore the various parts.
(7) Persons of Iranian origins: I keep reading on Facebook and other on-line sources stories about some "Iranian" having accomplished an important feat or earned a prestigious award. In most cases, these are second-generation Iranian immigrants who were born in the West or were reared and educated here. These are people of Iranian origins, not Iranians. The same goes for those who were driven from Iran by restrictive or intolerant laws and are now successful people in their adopted countries, having to rebuild their careers from scratch in some cases. There is a hidden racism in remarks to the effect that these people are successful because they are Iranian. In fact, the truth is that they are successful, despite having Iranian roots. There is a big difference. A related point is that when we boast that Iranian graduate students do well in prestigious schools such as Stanford and Berkeley (true), we must bear in mind that these are the top students from top Iranian universities who have passed rigorous admissions filters multiple times (in Iran and eventually in a Western university), not typical Iranian students.

2015/01/07 (Wed.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Typical school lunches in five different countries (1) School lunches in various countries: If you want to understand causes of the obesity epidemic in the US, look no further than school lunch menus.
(2) Scenes and music from Kurdish villagers in Turkey. [1-minute video]
(3) Songs by the Beach Boys: A collection of 23 MP3 files, playable on-line.
(4) One hundred and one obscure but useful Web sites: Presented in no particular order, the list includes consolidation tools, entertainment guides, collections of templates/icons, productivity tools, security aids, and more.
(5) On dealing with Facebook friends with no photos or other identifying info: In a recent Facebook post, Parvaneh Aref warns her Facebook friends against accepting add requests from people with fake names and generic or stolen profile photos. She suggests that people with legitimate reasons to remain anonymous should, at the very least, disclose their identities to friends via private messages. The warning is particularly important to people of Iranian origins who may inadvertently let in Iranian regime's cyberspies.
(6) The challenges of being a good-looking, female, blonde engineer at MIT: This essay, by Alice Zelinski, is quite touching and well-argued.
(7) Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Persian Food: Orly Minazad's delightful essay on her Persian cooking adventures, in an attempt to declare independence from her mother's food, brought home in tupperware.
(8) Final thought for the day: "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact." ~ Arthur Conan Doyle

2015/01/06 (Tue.): Here are eight items of potential interest.
The Mah Banoo musical group (1) Artist denied permission to leave Iran: Majid Derakhshani, who leads and performs with the "Mah Banoo" women's musical group in Iran found out at the airport, when trying to board a flight to Dubai, that his passport has been revoked.
(2) Quote of the day: "That's an interesting point. If they are both on the same team, is it a penalty?" ~ One referee to another, in the caption of a Los Angeles Times cartoon showing two ice-hockey players throwing punches
(3) One of the oldest time capsules, discovered last December, was opened today: The cigar-box size capsule was buried 220 years ago by the American Revolution hero Paul Revere and the then-governor of Massachusetts, Samuel Adams.
(4) There is no point to this video: Just having some fun with rubber balls on an escalator.
(5) The Known Universe: This video, made by the American Museum of Natural History using visualization software, takes the viewer from the Himalayas, through the atmosphere, and far beyond, all the way to the afterglow of the Big Bang, and then back to Earth.
(6) Family planning in Iran: A comprehensive and insightful article about family planning in Iran and its uphill battle with conservatives who prefer a population boom, interwoven with the story of Hourieh Shamshiri, a gynecologist involved in the fight for many years.
(7) Enchanting Christmas music: Daniela Andrade sings to a puppy.
(8) Final thought for the day: "Everything you can imagine is real." ~ Pablo Picasso

2015/01/05 (Mon.): Here are six items of potential interest.
Aerial view of Stonehenge, with a nearby road (1) Stonehenge road tunnel: Because vibrations and emissions from vehicles traveling on nearby roads and parking area have been causing damage to Stonehenge, construction of a tunnel under the site was finally given the green light in 2014, after being considered for nearly two decades. One of the roads near the site will be closed and the other one will be put underground for about 1.5 km on each side of the historic site.
(2) Israel's "Photoshop Law" goes into effect: According to the new law, as of Januray 1, 2015, any digitally altered image must be clearly labeled as such. This provision is part of a broader law that also requires medical certificates for a minimum body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 from those who model in print ads or runway shows.
(3) Crowdfunding for Rain on Request: A US start-up has begun raising funds for developing the use of an ionization technology to bring rain to drought-stricken areas.
(4) Don't mind the silly image; this is serious news: A bus that runs on gas generated from human waste and food leftovers will start running for the first time in Bristol, UK.
(5) The highest unclimbed mountain in the world: At 7570 m, Gangkhar Puensum, located on disputed land between Bhutan and Tibet, is still unconquered, whereas most Himalayan peaks were scaled decades ago.
(6) Persian parody song: Featuring conservative and reformist politicians of Iran, the song is titled "Hassan Ey Bi-Vafa" ("Hassan, You Disloyal You").

2015/01/03 (Sat.): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) Manifesto for a simple life: "Eat less, move more. Buy less, make more. Stress less, laugh more. Feel blessed, love more. Find a quiet spot every day and ... breathe." ~ Anonymous
(2) Solo piano music: This performance of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (op 27 #2 mov 3) by Valentina Lisitsa has garnered 8.5M views on YouTube. Enjoy!
(3) This mullah offers advice to women on how to dress to sexually excite their husbands.
[Note added on 1/04: When I posted this video clip on Facebook, a friend commented that what the mullah says is actually sane and perhaps helpful to illiterate women with limited knowledge of marital relationships, forcing me to add the following clarification. What is funny about this clip isn't the content but the context. It is one thing for a marriage counselor to give this kind of advice to a woman in private. It is another thing for a cleric affiliated with a regime that demeans women and considers them their husbands' properties (they have to submit to their husbands whenever the husbands feel the urge, according to Islamic law, and it is permissible for husbands to lie to them to keep them in check; see this 2-minute video for the second claim) to make public pronouncements on how women should sexually arouse their husbands.]
(4) Iran's Ebrat Museum: The Islamic Republic has built a memorial wall on which names of victims of Shah's torture cells are engraved. Do the Islamic torturers and rapists of prisoners have no shame? Yes, the intelligence service of Shah did torture prisoners, but his crimes are dwarfed by what has been happening in Iran over the past 35 years.
(5) A Christian and a Muslim debate on whether ISIS is Islamic: Unfortunately for Muslims, the person arguing their side was incompetent, resorting to prophecies and conspiracy theories (including claims that both Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi are Jews), rather than base his arguments on facts. [94-minute video]
(6) A very important JFK speech: If you can spare 20 minutes, watch JFK's "Secret Societies" speech, delivered on April 27, 1961. The video also provides the full text of the speech. Here are five quotes I have selected from this speech.
"We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it."
"[T]here is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it."
"No president should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary."
"Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed—and no republic can survive."
"[Informing and educating the public by the press] means greater coverage and analysis of international news—for it is no longer far away and foreign but close at hand and local."
(7) Final thought for the day: "Be as you wish to seem." ~ Socrates

2015/01/01 (Thu.): Old blog entries for 2005-2014 have been archived and a new Blog & Books page begins today with seven items of potential interest.
Happy New Year 2015! (1) Happy New Year to all readers of this blog! As we wish for a more peaceful and gentler world in 2015, let us remember that the source of our happiness is inside us and that we can make our world brighter by giving more and expecting less. Instead of going for big resolutions that are difficult to keep, I resolve to take small steps to improve myself and my surroundings. May you be empowered to take steps to reach your dreams in 2015!
(2) Quote of the day: "An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it." ~ Orlando Aloysius Battista [This quote is sometimes incorrectly attributed to JFK, who used it in his "Secret Societies" speech.]
(3) Cheek to Cheek: Full album of duets by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. The track list is provided under the YouTube album post. [60-minute audio file]
(4) The world remembers: Holocaust memorials around the globe. [60 slides]
(5) Made in Britain: A beautifully assembled collection of time-lapse videos (mostly of nature) by the British artist Chad Gordon Higgins.
(6) Kurdish music: "Shirin Jan" ("Shirin, My Love"), performed by Shahab Jazayeri. The audio is presented over images of Bisotun, an important archeological site near Kermanshah, and comes with the Kurdish lyrics and their Persian translation.
(7) Piano variations on Carmen: Performed by Shirin (aka ahang1001).