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Page last updated on 2024 July 11

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 2024
Blog entries for 2023
Blog entries for 2022
Blog entries for 2021
Blog entries for 2020
Blog entries for 2019
Blog entries for 2018
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 2024

2024/07/11 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Ma'soomeh Khakyar went to Iran from Baku and became notorious for the first cinematic kiss in the 1953 Iranian movie 'Golnesa': Movie poster Ma'soomeh Khakyar went to Iran from Baku and became notorious for the first cinematic kiss in the 1953 Iranian movie 'Golnesa': Portrait Throwback Thursday (2): Television sets of the mid-20th-century
Indian math prodigy Ramanujan dreamed up mind-boggling roots-of-roots identities such as these Math challenge: Do we have enough information to derive the perimeter of this shape? Tonight's Talangor Group talk on historical awareness (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Throwback Thursday (1): Ma'soomeh Khakyar went to Iran from Baku and became notorious for the first cinematic kiss in the 1953 Iranian movie "Golnesa." IMDB describes the film thus: "Golnesa is the popular girl of their village and all want to marry her, but she is deceived by a man from the city." After the "illicit" kiss, she was under unbearable pressure from her husband and his family, until she poured gasoline on her beautiful body and set it on fire. She is buried at Tehran's Mesgarabad Cemetery. [Top right] Throwback Thursday (2): Television sets of the mid-20th-century. [Bottom left] Indian math prodigy Ramanujan dreamed up mind-boggling roots-of-roots identities such as these. His identities involving the number pi are equally amazing. [Bottom center] Math challenge: Do we have enough information to derive the perimeter of this shape? [Bottom right] Tonight's Talangor Group meeting (see the last item below).
(2) Cypress Hill made a "Simpsons" joke from 1996 come true last night: The hip-hop group performed with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall.
(3) Power-hungry data centers: Driven by the use of AI, data centers constitute the fastest-growing segment of the energy market. Data-center operators are working on multiple fronts to reduce their energy needs and to gain access to reliable energy supplies, up to and including building nuclear power plants nearby.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Sharifeh Mohamadi has been sentenced to death in Iran under the bogus charge of "rebellion/revolt."
- Post-hurricane power outage and historic heat a deadly combination in Texas.
- In 75th-anniversary meeting, NATO accuses China of supplying Russia with technology to attack Ukraine.
- A diverse group of older women gymnasts, led by Simone Biles, will represent the US at the Paris Olympics.
- Calendar math puzzle: What is the sum of the roots of (1/2 - x)^45 + x^45 = 0?
(5) Tonight's Talangor Group meeting: Dr. Heidar (Hamid) Azodanloo (lecturer of comparative literature at U. Minnesota) spoke on "History and Historical Awareness." Before the main talk, yours truly gave a brief presentation under the title "The Third Industrial Revolution: The Internet of Energy," which entails the worldwide harnessing, storage, and distribution of energy obtained from renewable sources.
History isn't a static set of facts or data points. Who tells the story affects the content (hence, for example, the large number of books on Iran's Constitutional Revolution) and the reader's interpretation also plays a part. The story-teller imposes his/her own views or interpretations on the story s/he tells and the reader sees the story in the context of today's traditions and knowledge. All of these change over time. The same historical event, as told 100 years ago, is different from its telling today. And language plays a big part in all these processes. Nothing we think or say emerges without going through the filter of language.

2024/07/10 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Selfie with Dr. Hamed Ghoddusi of Cal Poly SLO My first two cars: An Oldsmobile Delta-88 and a Ford Mustang convertible The house where I might have lived 54 years ago (1) Images of the day: [Left] Selfie with Dr. Hamed Ghoddusi (see the next item below). [Center] My first cars (see the last item below). [Right] The house where I lived 54 years ago (see the next to the last item below).
(2) Meeting a colleague and fellow-Iranian: Professor Hamed Ghoddusi of Cal Poly SLO College of Business paid a visit to UCSB on Tuesday 7/09, during which we had a productive chat. Our conversation introduced me to the Shapley–Shubik power index in weighted voting systems of the kind used, for example, in corporate decision-making (where stock holdings determine the weights) and in the UN Security Council (where weights are based on a country's status as permanent or non-permanent member). Fascinating stuff that help my research and teaching on voting algorithms.
(3) Emergence of self-replicating digital life: "A self-replicating form of artificial life has arisen from a digital 'primordial soup' of random data, despite a lack of explicit rules or goals to encourage such behaviour. Researchers believe it is possible that more sophisticated versions of the experiment could yield more advanced digital organisms, and if they did, the findings could shed light on the mechanisms behind the emergence of biological life on Earth."
(4) Iran's shadow government: Operating under the Supreme Leader, the shadow government has a shadow president and shadow ministers that must approve every decision.
(5) Free Iranian cultural program in Beverly Hills: Sunday, July 21, 2024, Beverly Gardens Park, 9439 Santa Monica Blvd. Includes Persian food truck. Sponsored by Farhang Foundation.
(6) My first two cars (early 1970s): A couple of months after arriving at UCLA in 1970, I decided to buy a car, because it was impossible to get around without one. I bought a brown Oldsmobile Delta-88 V8 gas guzzler for $200 (quite a sum for my budget)! It ran well and had a lot of power, but luxury Detroit cars had very low resale value. When I had a bit more money due to my income as a research assistant a couple of years later, I upgraded to a metallic blue Ford Mustang convertible, which I bought for about $700. It looked good on the outside, but nothing in it worked: The top could not be retracted, except manually with a lot of effort; power windows wouldn't roll up or down. I suspected the person who sold it to me to be a gang member or drug dealer. The photos aren't of the actual cars but Internet photos that I have picked to be similar to my cars.
(7) Memories of my arrival at UCLA in 1970: For a few months 54 years ago, I lived at a boarding house near the UCLA campus. In exchange for a discounted rate, which was all I could afford at the time, we helped with cleaning, meal service, and dishwashing. when I visited UCLA in mid-June to attend a graduation ceremony, I took this photo in front of the house which I believe was the location of the boarding house.

2024/07/08 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pezeshkian declares his commitment to Hezbollah and other factions of 'the Resistance Front' The fate of Iran's past presidents: They are all dead or sidelined, unable to speak their minds Project 2025 is a blueprint for the second Trump administration, prepared by the Heritage Foundation (1) Images of the day: [Left] Reality check for those who thought Iran's various presidential candidates were different: Pezeshkian declares his commitment to Hezbollah and other factions of "the Resistance Front." [Center] The fate of Iran's past presidents: They are all dead or sidelined, unable to speak their minds, the only exception being Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader. Presidents in Iran are discarded like soiled bathroom tissue. [Right] Project 2025 is a blueprint for the second Trump administration: Prepared by the Heritage Foundation, it guts multiple government programs and rolls back many social advances of the past few decades.
(2) What we all suspected is officially confirmed: Anti-Israeli protests in the US were informationally, logistically, and financially supported by Iran's Islamist government.
(3) "Only the Lord Almighty could convince [me] to step aside." ~ Joe Biden
Wrong answer! It's not about you, Joe! You should have said something to the effect that you are bent on the Democrats winning the White House in 2024 and that if you perceive that your candidacy jeopardizes this goal, you'd happily step aside.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- New York Times calls for Biden to drop out. But so far, no call for the felon to drop out!
- Columbia U. removes tree deans because their text-message exchanges contained anti-Semitic tropes.
- Lehigh U. student who won a full scholarship with fake documents and a ChatGPT-written essay is expelled.
- Iran's so-called "Reformist" President reassures Russia and Hezbollah of Iran's continued support.
- Erdos-Straus conjecture: For any integer n > 1 there are positive integers x,y,z such that: 4/n=1/x+1/y+1/z
- Facebook memory from July 8, 2019: Kissing the ruler's hand is in conflict with democracy.
(5) Oops, they did it again: StorageReview engineers set a new world record by calculating pi to more than 202 trillion digits using dual Intel Xeon 8592+ CPUs and 28 Solidigm P5336 61.44TB NVMe SSDs. Their previous record of 105 trillion digits was set earlier this year using a dual processor 128-core AMD EPYC 9754 Bergamo system with 1.5TB of DRAM and almost a petabyte of Solidigm QLC SSDs.
(6) Emergence of self-replicating digital life: "A self-replicating form of artificial life has arisen from a digital 'primordial soup' of random data, despite a lack of explicit rules or goals to encourage such behaviour. Researchers believe it is possible that more sophisticated versions of the experiment could yield more advanced digital organisms, and if they did, the findings could shed light on the mechanisms behind the emergence of biological life on Earth."
(7) Princeton University should fire Hossein Mousavian: He was linked by the German government to an assassination squad that killed four Iranian dissidents in Berlin's Mykonos Restaurant, Mafia-style, when he was Iran's Ambassador in Bonn.

2024/07/07 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: Determine the areas A, B, and C of the three triangles NYC has turned into the world headquarters of observation decks and summer dresses (NYT photos) (1) Images of the day: [Left] Our Fourth of July Weekend BBQ at my sister's, combined with belated birthday celebration for her daughter. [Center] Math puzzle: Determine the areas A, B, and C of the three triangles. [Right] NYC has turned into the world headquarters of observation decks and summer dresses (NYT photos).
(2) Iran's election result: Masoud Pezeshkian becomes Iran's new president with 16.3 million votes to Saeed Jalili's 13.5 million votes. Voter participation was announced as 49.6%. These numbers are highly suspicious, as they come from the government, with no internationally recognized election monitors.
(3) Not one photo or video has been published by Iran's Islamic regime to show crowds of voters at the precincts consistent with the 30 million (49.6%) turnout. The turnout for the first round of voting is widely believed to have been 13.3%. The second round's turnout is estimated to be ~10%. Iran allows no international observers for its elections. Government officials run the polls and report the results.
(4) Talk about apartheid! In Islamic Iran, multiple classes of people are defined, each class with a different set of rights. In addition to gender apartheid, there is religious apartheid (Muslim vs. non-Muslim; Shi'i vs. Sunni; people of the book vs. those with no book), and clergy vs. laymen. The clergy even have their separate courts and system of justice.
(5) Another analysis of Iran's election data: Dividing the total number of votes cast by the claimed participation ratio should give you the number of eligible voters. This latter number rose substantially in the week between the election and the run-off. Another clear indication of fraud. [Tweet, withy video]
(6) Iran's new president faces reality: His announced news conference with domestic & foreign reporters was cancelled on orders from the Supreme Leader. One of his strongest advocates, a professor & lawyer, was arrested. And he claims he never promised to remove the filtering of the Internet. Who's the boss?
(7) Iran's Islamic regime survives because even though most Iranians live in poverty and face economic hardships, those who prop up the brutal dictatorship live in 10,000-square-foot luxury penthouses. [Video]
(8) Final thought for the day: If one person says it's raining, and the other says the sun is shining, it's not the media's job to quote them both. It's their job to look out the window and report the truth.

2024/07/05 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Ditch the Ten Commandments: Post these Ten Commitments instead Cartoon: The conservative majority of the new US Supreme Court Not-so-subtle message to the White House occupant (1) Images of the day: [Left] Ditch the Ten Commandments: Post these Ten Commitments in schools instead. [Center] Cartoon of the day: The conservative majority of the new US Supreme Court. [Right] Not-so-subtle message to the White House occupant.
(2) America celebrated its independence from the British Empire yesterday: Algeria does it today. Dozens of other countries that have seceded from the British Empire celebrate the event on various dates.
(3) Islamic Iran's extreme apartheid recognizes seven classes of people, each with a different set of rights: From lowly voters at the bottom to male Shi'i Muslim clerics owning the highest positions of power. Vote if you want but know that your vote is a tool of power for the top class.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- At Germany's request, EU begins the process of designating Iran's IRGC as a terrorist group.
- German scientists have seen ants bite off others' legs to prevent the spread of infections from open wounds.
- Science humor: Is Iron-man the same as Fe-male?
- I had forgotten how wonderful Jose Feliciano sounded on the acoustic guitar. Enjoy! [5-minute video]
(5) Iran's former FM Javad Zarif sounds different these days: Gone are his unapologetic desire for meddling in the affairs of Iraq, Syria, & Lebanon and his pride in being under pressure for supporting Palestine.
(6) Greece has chosen to go against the trend: Many countries are considering shortening the work week to 4 days, which research shows benefits productivity and improves employee well-being. Greece is lengthening the work week to 6 days to boost national productivity and give workers additional overtime pay.
(7) Academic freedom can quickly disappear just like any other freedom: "Academics researching online misinformation in the US are learning a hard lesson: Academic freedom cannot be taken for granted. They face a concerted effort—including by members of Congress—to undermine or silence their work documenting false and misleading internet content. The claim is that online misinformation researchers are trying to silence conservative voices. The evidence suggests just the opposite."
(8) Final thought for the day: I hope Joe Biden does not commit the same mistake as Ruth Ginsberg. She refused to retire until it was too late and we lost one Supreme Court seat. A 5-4 conservative majority would have been a lot better than the current 6-3 supermajority.

2024/07/04 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy birthday to America! Dark clouds cover our country this July 4th Throwback Thursday: Georgia 'Tiny' Broadwick was the first woman to parachute from an airplane: Attached to a plane Throwback Thursday: Georgia 'Tiny' Broadwick was the first woman to parachute from an airplane: Shown in a field
Book introduction: This book presents a diverse group of mathematicians Range of accurate weather forecasts in the US: Map A curious engineer's musings on the tail-lights of modern cars (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy birthday to America! Dark clouds cover our country this July 4th. But we will replace these dark clouds with bright, sunny skies soon. We have done it before and we will do it again! [Top center & right] Throwback Thursday: Georgia "Tiny" Broadwick was the first woman to parachute from an airplane. To perform this feat, she hung from a trapeze-like swing suspended beneath the airplane just behind the wing. [Bottom left] Book introduction: This book presents a diverse group of mathematicians, including Donald G. Saari, whom I got to know through his research on social choice, but he has very broad interests. [Bottom center] Range of accurate weather forecasts in the US: Seven days out in southern Florida, 4-5 days out in the Southwest region, 3-4 days out in coastal areas, and no more than 2 days out in the central plains. [Bottom right] A curious engineer's musings on the tail-lights of modern cars (see the next item below).
(2) Musings of a curious engineer: Lately, I have been paying attention to tail-lights on cars and noticed that you can divide them into two categories. One category is when the tail-light extends onto the trunk lid; another when the tail-light ends before the trunk lid begins. Based on my small sample, the former category is more common. Why is this important? When the tail-light extends onto the trunk lid, a separate set of wires must be included to direct power to that section of the tail-light. So, car design engineers should be motivated to avoid this situation in order to minimize the production cost. There is also the issue of reliability due to cables connecting to a moving trunk lid. Of course, aesthetics and ease of access to the trunk are quite important as well. Pay attention to different car models and decide which kind of tail-light looks better.
(3) Facebook memory from July 4, 2023: Happy 4th to everyone not pleading the 5th about the 6th!
(4) Facebook memory from July 4, 2022: Observing America's birthday is an excellent occasion for reflecting on our relationship with the original owners of this land.
(5) Facebook memory from July 4, 2010: My Persian poem advocating unity & equality (inspired by Jack Johnson's story and what the phrase "the great white hope" signified).
(6) Greece has chosen to go against the trend: Many countries are considering shortening the work week to 4 days, which research shows benefits productivity and improves employee well-being. Greece is lengthening the work week to 6 days to boost national productivity and give workers additional overtime pay.
(7)Trump's lies and racist/xenophobic comments during the first presidential debate were overshadowed by Biden's miserable performance: During the debate, Trump referred to Biden as a Palestinian (evidently, he considers "Palestinian" a pejorative term). He then said on the very next day, "Look at a guy like Senator Schumer. I've always known him, known him a long time. I come from New York; I knew Schumer. He's become a Palestinian. He's a Palestinian now. Congratulations. He was very loyal to Israel and to Jewish people. He's Jewish. But he's become a Palestinian because they have a couple of more votes or something; nobody's quite figured it out." Again we see the use of "Palestinian" as a pejorative, along with the anti-Semitic trope: If Schumer criticizes the Israeli government, he is a scheming Jew or he must have been bought off.

2024/07/03 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
New robe design for the US Supreme Court Math puzzle: Find the radius r of the semicircle inside the square Socrates Think Tank talk: From Alchemy to Modern Chemistry (1) Images of the day: [Left] New robe design for the US Supreme Court. [Center] Math puzzle: Find the radius r of the semicircle inside the square. [Right] Socrates Think Tank talk (see the last item below).
(2) Wonders of number theory: For m no less than 25, there exists at least one prime number between m and 6m/5 (Theorem due to Nagura). Then, because the 26th prime is 101 and (1.2)^26 ~ 114.48, we can show by induction on n that the nth prime is less than (1.2)^n.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Peaceful transfer of power in the Netherlands: Outgoing PM delivers the reigns of power and bikes home.
- California's $300 billion 2024-2025 budget includes significant cuts for UC and Cal State.
- Californians are warned about a dangerous heat wave in the week ahead.
- A heat wave is coming our way this weekend: Stay in the shade and hydrated. [Tweet, with chart]
(4) Tonight's Socrates Think Tank talk: Dr. Mahmoud Sabahi spoke under the title "From Jaber ibn Hayyan's Alchemy to Today's Chemistry and Super-Challenges Ahead." There were ~105 attendees.
Alchemy, from the Greek root "khemia" ("kimia" in Persian), was a cult "science" with the goal of converting base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir. Works attributed to the Father of Chemistry Jabir ibn Hayyan, which are tentatively dated to 850-950 CE, contain the oldest known systematic classification of chemical substances, and the oldest known instructions for deriving an inorganic compound, ammonium chloride, from organic substances, such as plants, blood, and hair, by chemical means.
Chemistry entered a new phase when chemists succeeded in producing hydrogen (which appears in nature only as compounds). This was followed by the production of ammonia, which has many applications (e.g., in agriculture). By the mid-20th-century, the US chemical industry created R&D labs in large numbers to exploit the practical benefits of new scientific discoveries. By 2013, the total value of the chemical industry reached $3.5 trillion, and continued to grow exponentially in the decade since.
Waste generation and pollution are the main challenges facing the chemical industry. In her 1962 book 'Silent Spring,' Rachel Carson brought attention to these problems. By 1990, a paradigm shift to "green chemistry" occurred, which advocated prevention rather than treatment of harmful waste. More recently, certain long-lasting chemicals, which do not deteriorate and thus find their way into our food supply and bodies, creating many health problems, have found widespread applications, from non-stick cookware to water-repellent & stain-resistant clothing.
In conclusion, Dr. Sabahi recommended a number of references to follow up on the topics discussed. The article "The Lawyer who became DuPont's Worst Nightmare," profiles Rob Bilott, who exposed a brazen, decades-long history of chemical pollution. The 2019 movie "Dark Waters" covers the same story. California is leading the way in regulating harmful chemicals (see, e.g., California PFAS Drinking Water Advisories). Finally, the 2006 NRC Report "Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs" charts the industry's path ahead.

2024/07/02 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The 54 steps of the Norman staircase are carved into the rock of one of the mountain towers that overlook the ancient village of Castelmezzano, in the Lucanian Dolomites Witch's stairs: So-named, because they were thought to confuse witches and thus protect occupants from them Hyperion, a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in California's Redwood National Park, is the world's tallest known living tree at 380.3 ft (115.92 m) tall (1) Images of the day: [Left] Would you dare climb these stairs? The 54 steps of the Norman staircase are carved into the rock of one of the mountain towers that overlook the ancient village of Castelmezzano, in the Lucanian Dolomites. The dizzying lookout point tells the story of conquests and battles that occurred more than 1000 years ago. [Center] Witch's stairs: So-named, because they were thought to confuse witches and thus protect occupants from them. Their design allows steeper inclines in houses with too little space for ordinary staircases. You can see them in very old New England homes. [Right] World's tallest tree: Hyperion, a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in California's Redwood National Park, is the world's tallest known living tree at 380.3 ft (115.92 m) tall. It's even taller than the Statue of Liberty.
(2) An amazing math trick: Ask an opponent to choose a polynomial p(x) of any degree with nonnegative integer coefficients. Tell them you can determine what it is with just two values: You choose a and ask for p(a), then choose b and ask for p(b). What is a winning strategy?
(3) Serious cybersecurity warning: The United States, Canada, and Australia warn that 52% of 172 open-source projects studies contained code written in a memory-unsafe language.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- At least 27 people were killed in a stampede during a religious event in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
- The US Men's National Soccer Team eliminated from COPA America after 0-1 group-stage loss to Uruguay.
- The sick world of teenage influencers: Who is she influencing when 92% of her followers are adult men?
- The Rubik's Cube turns 50: It is still as tough as ever to solve.
- Bringing Back Our Wetland: 68-minute documentary film produced by UCSB Cheadle Center.
(5) Million-dollar prize for AI to solve puzzles that humans find easy: Deducing the correct pattern that links pairs of colored grids relies on skills that AI models lack at present. Google's new $1 million prize will encourage the development of an AI that can solve such puzzles.
(6) Short list of five books for "UCSB Reads 2025" Program announcedby by UCSB Library:
- The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet (2021) by John Green
- The Book of Delights: Essays (2019) by Ross Gay
- The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of US History (2023) by Ned Blackhawk
- Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (2022) by Gabrielle Zevin
- Why We Die: The New Science of Aging and the Quest for Immortality (2024) by Venki Ramakrishnan
(7) Letters from the former Shah of Iran to his father: Dr. Abbas Milani has gained access to 104 letters that the late Shah wrote to his father, who had instructed him to report on his condition and his academic progress weekly, while studying in Switzerland. Milani discusses these letters in this 13-minute video.

2024/07/01 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Expressive fonts Possible fraud in Iran's presidential election: Number of votes, as reported by the government Cover image of Hugh Prather's 'Notes to Myself' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Expressive fonts. [Center] Possible fraud in Iran's presidential election (see the next item below). [Right] Hugh Prather's Notes to Myself (see the last item below).
(2) Data detectives:There are methods for detecting fakery in data sets, the best-known of which is based on Benford's Law about distribution of digit values in large data sets. Today, the X (Twitter) platform is abuzz with an anomaly in Iran's reported election data. The numbers of votes for all four candidates, as well as the total number of votes and the number of invalid ballots are all multiples of 3. Given that the total number of votes isn't independent of the other five figures, the chance of this happening at random is (1/3)^5 or 0.4%, so there is speculation that election officials, under orders from higher-ups, have inflated the numbers by a factor of 3, to portray a 13.3% turnout as a 39.9% turnout. Even the inflated figure is an all-time low (it was 49% in the 2021 election, itself lowest up to that point). Users are also posting video clips of Supreme Leader Khamenei stating in 2001 that the 40% voter turnout in certain Western countries is a disgrace. [This post, in Persian]
(3) Remember that your vote isn't just for Biden vs. Trump: It is for Biden administration of competent progressives, vs. Trump administration of backward religious zealots who will roll back decades of gains in women's and minority rights.
(4) My disgust with some Iranian opposition groups: The X (Twitter) platform is filled with videos of Iranians verbally assaulting those who went to cast their ballots at IRI embassies, using the vilest language (sample). We are free to express our views or to boycott the show election, but should not verbally abuse or force others to act against their will, regardless of their beliefs or motivation. (I apologize for the language in this posted video, but wanted to give a representative example). [This post, in Persian]
(5) Book review: Prather, Hugh, Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person, unabridged 2-hour audiobook, read by Sean Patrick Hopkins, Random House Audio, 2021.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In exploring his own life in this book, first published in 1970, writer/editor Hugh Prather [1938-2010] helps the reader examine his/her own. Prather's aphorisms include "perfectionism is slow death" and "this anxiety running through my life is the tension between what I should be and what I am." Being grateful for who we are and what we have is a common theme in Prather's musings: "Another day to listen and love and walk and glory. I am here for another day. I think of those who aren't."
New York Times once opined: "Some of Mr. Prather's experiences come from having had seven 'parents,' including a drug addict, two alcoholics, an institutionalized mentally ill patient, a convicted murderer [one of his father's wives] and a convicted embezzler [one of his mother's husbands]." Prather confesses that adhering to the advice he dispenses is difficult, even for him. There are always exceptions!
Notes to Myself was not intended as a commercial book. It began as Prather's private musings on the nature of life, death, love, sex, and much else. After the immense success of his first book, Prather wrote several other self-help books, including two books for couples (co-authored by his wife, Gayle Halligan Prather): Notes to Each Other and Spiritual Parenting.
Comedy writer Jack Handy spoofed Notes to Myself in his public musings known as "Deep Thoughts," which became a recurring feature on the comedy show "Saturday Night Live" in the 1990s and was also released as a series of books.

2024/06/30 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Hearty Iranian breakfast for three A mechanical analog computer for predicting ocean tides Cover image of Sohrab Ahmari's 'Tyranny, Inc.' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Hearty Iranian breakfast for three. [Center] A mechanical analog computer (see the next item below). [Right] Sohrab Ahmari's Tyranny, Inc. (see the last item below).
(2) Mechanical analog computer from 1872 that predicted ocean tides: William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) became rich from a patent for laying undersea telegraph cables, so he decided to buy a yacht as a summer home, where he hosted scientific parties. Based on his extensive observations and by applying harmonic analysis to tidal phenomena, he designed a device which traced the tidal curve for a given location. Mechanical tide-predicting machines remained in use until the 1950s, when they were replaced by digital computers.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The choice is yours: The man who speaks the truth with some difficulty or the man who lies with ease.
- Good summation of the first US presidential debate and the Biden-vs.-Trump choice: It isn't even close!
- An introductory course on programming should be called "Programming 1100101," not "Programming 101"!
- My KIRN Radio Iran program on "Women in Science and Engineering" will be rebroadcast today at 6:00 PM.
(4) Iranian presidential election: Eligible voters ~61.5 million; Votes ~24 million (if you believe the regime); Turnout ~39% (This is a marked drop from the 49% turnout in 2021, which itself was a low up to that point). There will be a run-off between Masoud Pezeshkian (42.5% of the vote) and Saeed Jalili (38.6%).
(5) Book review: Ahmari, Sohrab, Tyranny, Inc.: How Private Power Crushed American Liberty—and What to Do About It, unabridged 8-hour audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Unchecked corporate power is being criticized both from the left and from the right, with members on one side of the spectrum occasionally even endorsing or praising ideas from the other side. Ahmari, a conservative, dedicates his book to "Adrian, Chad, Gladden, and Patrick"; first names of a group that were co-founders of the Substack newsletter Postliberal Order. Shoshana Zuboff, a decidedly liberal author and professor, had previously written The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (my review) on the horrors of illicit corporate power gained through amassing users' private information.
According to Ahmari, unchecked corporate power hurts both employees (e.g., through so-called flexible contracts and mandatory arbitration agreements) and consumers (privatization of vital emergency services, local newspapers going under, the rich-friendly bankruptcy law that allowed Purdue Pharma to escape liability for the opioid crisis). These are important concerns for our society, whether you consider them populist or conservative musings.
Ahmari's ideas are more FDR than Ronald Reagan, more Ruth Bader Ginsburg than SCOTUS's conservative opinion approving of arbitration clauses, more Elizabeth Warren than Paul Ryan, more an Amazon whistle-blower than corporate lawyers defending Amazon's miserable COVID response. For the ills he enumerates, Ahmari places the blame on the economic liberalism of the right and the social liberalism of the left. One remedy is to restore workers' rights, that are gradually disappearing, through the establish

2024/06/29 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
To make sense of this image, hold it nearly horizontally and look at it from the bottom edge Biden must show his decency by stepping aside & letting someone else confront Trump's lies & vitriol with words that Americans understand Cover image of 'Reclaiming Our Democracy' (1) Images of the day: [Left] To make sense of this image, hold it nearly horizontally and look at it from the bottom edge. [Center] Yes, Biden's 3.5-year record as President is more important than his performance in a 90-minute debate. But we live in the age of soundbites. Biden must show his decency by stepping aside & letting someone else confront Trump's lies & vitriol with words that Americans understand. P.S.: Trump's many debate lies were fact-checked live on CNN. [Right] Reclaiming Our Democracy (see the last item below).
(2) What kind of debate prep team does Biden have? Why don't they prep him to answer with short, clear statements, rather than long-winded sentences, in the middle of which he gets lost?
(3) First, Louisiana makes posting of the Ten Commandments mandatory in classrooms. Now, Oklahoma requires public schools to teach the Bible. And these are 40th- and 43rd-ranked states in terms of K-12 education, according to US News & World Report!
(4) California Public Utilities Commission rejects a petition by AT&T to cut off millions of Californians from their landline phone service: AARP on behalf of its senior-citizen members, who depend on landlines, successfully lobbied for the rejection. AT&T will go to the CA State Legislature next, in an effort to overturn the rejection.
(5) Book review: Daley-Harris, Sam, Reclaiming Our Democracy: Every Citizen's Guide to Transformational Advocacy, unabridged 11-hour audiobook, read by author, Rivertowns Books, revised & updated edition, 2024.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is a detailed account of citizen activism by Sam Daley-Harris, who founded RESULTS (originally an acronym for Responsibility for Ending Starvation Using Legislation, Trimtabbing, and Support) in 1980 to facilitate citizen advocacy by training the participants in methods of influencing politicians and journalists, editorial writers, in particular. Trimtabbing is a reference to trim tabs, the small surfaces that allow boat or aircraft pilots to control larger control surfaces like rudders or elevators and which were popularized as a metaphor for individual empowerment by Buckminster Fuller in a 1972 interview.
This 20th-anniversary edition has a new chapter on Citizens Climate Lobby, a powerful new advocacy group following the RESULTS model, and another new chapter on Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation, which is focused on spreading the original concepts developed by RESULTS to help reduce malnutrition and preventable disease with what Daley-Harris calls "transformational advocacy" based on three pillars: An organizational structure supporting volunteers with a clarity of purpose and high expectations; A disciplined outreach plan that produces letters to elected officials & editorials to newspapers, while also cultivating close personal relationships with politicians & journalists; The empowering value of idealism.
The account is a bit too drawn out and, at times, repetitive, but the message is something that every American should hear. The ideas described are universal and useful to world citizens, but much of the specific suggestions and action strategies may not apply outside the US.
A conversation with Sam Daley-Harris in this 26-minute video provides a good overview of the key ideas.

2024/06/28 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Ellwood Marine Terminal demolition and restoration: Batch 5 of photos Talangor Group program on elections and history of Islamic seminaries Ellwood Marine Terminal demolition and restoration: Batch 10 of photos (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Ellwood Marine Terminal Restoration Project (see the next item below). [Center] Talangor Group program on elections and history of Islamic seminaries (see the last item below).
(2) Ellwood Marine Terminal Restoration Project: Yesterday, I went on an informative 2.5-hour tour, organized by UCSB's Cheadle Center for Biodiversity & Ecological Restoration. The two oil storage reservoirs, seen at a distance from UCSB North Campus Open Space Visitor Center in one of the photos, will be demolished beginning in October 2024, and the large parcel of land connecting the Open Space to the Pacific Ocean will be reconfigured, restored, and landscaped to its original state before oil exploration in the area began. The reservoirs were used for many years to store oil coming from Platform Holly, with tanker trucks transporting it to various destinations. Representatives from Chumash People have been given front-row seats in the planning and restoration processes. [Project Web site]
The two oil storage reservoirs and a smaller water reservoir, used for firefighting, will be demolished, all electric wires & poles will be removed, and trails & visitor amenities will be built for the local community to enjoy the area's breathtaking views. Trails will become open to the public shortly after the demolition work this fall, as the multi-year restoration work proceeds in parallel. The vicinity of the Marine Terminal is one of my favorite areas for walking, so, I'm excited about the restoration work. [2-minute video]
(3) Today is 2*pi Day (2 * 3.14 = 6.28), aka tau day: According to some, tau is a more-important constant than pi. Mathematician Michael Hartl liked tau so much better than pi that he wrote the Tau Manifesto.
(4) Last night's Talangor Group program: Dr. Mostafa Daneshgar Rahbar (Assistant Professor of Intelligent Systems, Lawrence Technological U.) spoke under the title "History of Islamic Seminaries." Dr. Daneshgar Rahbar has a PhD in engineering, but he was also concurrently educated at a seminary, although the latter background is not reflected on his LinkedIn profile. There were ~65 attendees.
Prior to the main talk, there was open discussion on the concurrently-unfolding first US presidential debate and on Iran's presidential election, scheduled for the following day.
Dr. Daneshgar Rahbar began by clarifying that his talk's focus will be on Shiite Islamic seminaries, geographically distributed, for the most part, in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. The history of Islamic seminaries spans a timeline that began with Shi'i Imams and continued with a few key personalities, once the 12th Imam purportedly went into hiding. The appearance of Islamic seminaries was part of the institutionalization of Shiite Islam, which took hold at the time of the 6th Shi'i Imam, Ja'far Sadeq. Subjects taught at these seminaries include faith & reason, God & the universe, interpretation of Quran, teachings/traditions of the Prophet & Imams, prophecy, ethics, and religious/theological language. The seminaries are intimately tied to the notion of marja'-e taqlid (religious authority who should be imitated or followed) and operate within an extremely opaque financial system.
Some seminaries are local, whereas others are large institutions that train and "export" clerics to locations worldwide. Najaf seminary is a good example of such large, prestigious institutions. Iran's Qom Seminary is influential politically, but not necessarily from a religious standpoint.
Islamic seminaries that thrive are typically located next to important religious shrines. For example, Najaf is where Imam Ali is buried, Mashhad houses the tomb of Imam Reza, and Qom is the burial place of Hazrat-e Ma'soumeh.
The Najaf Seminary was for a long time the center of gravity for Shi'i Islam and housed & produced the most-respected Shiite leaders. There are many other centers of learning for Shi'i clerics, but Najaf can be likened to the MIT of Islamic seminaries. Iran's rulers tried to reduce Najaf's influence, but they did not succeed.
Searching the Internet for possible additional sources of information, I came across a 22-page article from 2021, entitled "Islamic Seminaries: A Brief Historical Survey."

2024/06/27 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: This family-run bookshop in Tehran has been operating for 150 years, since the Qajar era Throwback Thursday: Ghahveh-khaneh (literally, 'coffee house') was a fixture of Iran's society, before it was replaced in many instances by modern cafes and restaurants Socrates Think Tank talk on the tree of life (1) Images of the day: [Left] Throwback Thursday (1): This family-run bookshop in Tehran has been operating for 150 years, since the Qajar era. [Center] Throwback Thursday(2): Ghahveh-khaneh (literally, "coffee house") was a fixture of Iran's society, before it was replaced in many instances by modern cafes and restaurants. They actually didn't serve coffee, but tea, plus a limited number of snacks and meals, the most-prominent among them being abgoosht ("meat stew"). [Right] Socrates Think Tank talk (see the last item below).
(2) SpaceX earns $843 million NASA contract to build a vehicle to remove the International Space Station from its orbit when its useful life ends in a few years.
(3) The sad state of open-access publishing: Publishers being paid for every article they publish is a recipe for disaster, as they have no incentive to reject fraudulent or marginal papers. Yet, we can't really go back to the undemocratic, closed-access model. Reforming the system is our only option.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The presidential debate was pure torture. Biden had trouble enunciating words. Trump spoke too many lies.
- Israel's Supreme Court rules that Orthodox Jews, now exempt from military service, can be drafted to serve.
- Marching backwards: Infant mortality rate has ticked up in Texas following the state's abortion ban.
- With 500,000 unresolved fraud cases, identity theft overwhelms the US Internal Revenue Service.
- Two French teenagers, a forward and a center, are NBA's top draft picks.
- This woman in Shiraz, Iran, operates a mobile bookstore which she moves around on a bike.
- Patience is a superpower: 17-minute TEDx talk by Oliver Burkeman.
- Copa America: Panama defeats USA 2-1, making it tough for the US to advance from the group stage.
(5) Sickening: "If you want to be free to go out without your hijab, then aroused young men should be free to rape you." ~ Representative of Iran's presidential candidate who's closest to the Supreme Leader
(6) Last night's Socrates Think Tank talk: Saleheh Ebadirad (Sally Rad), a PhD candidate in biochemistry and astrobiology at UC Riverside, spoke under the title "Tree of Life."
Dr. Ebadirad began by presenting quite a few tree diagrams drawn by scientists at various junctures, each one showing the branching of the species on Earth, with the trees getting more sophisticated over time. She then discussed the various theories about the origins of life on Earth, including proteins hitching rides on asteroids. She showed a diagram that represented the proliferation and extinction of life forms, including the Cambrian explosion which happened around 530 million years ago and six extinction events, the last one of which is now in progress. She concluded her talk by speculating on the future development of the tree of life.

2024/06/26 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzler: Find the area of the triangle ABC Math puzzler: Find the ratio of the two radii Math puzzler: Find the area of the yellow triangle (1) Math puzzlers: Find areas of the yellow triangles on the left & right and ratio of the radii in the middle.
(2) The presidential election circus in Iran: Only 3 days left to polling on June 28. All candidates have distanced themselves from harsh treatment of women on the streets for ignoring hijab laws. But this is par for the course. For decades, enforcement of hijab laws would wane as polling neared, only to pick up with greater intensity after the election. Iranian women are smarter than to fall for promises from someone, who, like all other Iranian presidents, will be a powerless figurehead who must defer to edicts of the Supreme Leader and his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
(3) Students way ahead of their professors in embracing AI: Half of the students surveyed indicated that AI has helped them attain better grades. Two out of five faculty members are familiar with AI, but only 14 percent said they are confident in their ability to use AI in their teaching.
(4) To people of Iranian heritage who support Trump: He says clearly that he will make a deal with Iran's Islamic regime (no change of leadership), because of the country's huge economic potential.
(5) World initiative on curbing hate speech and mis/disinformation: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres releases global principles that call on tech companies, advertisers, media, and other organizations to avoid using, supporting, or amplifying hate speech and mis/disinformation.
We can dismiss this effort as just another grandiose UN report that will sit on shelves, gathering dust. But, even though the UN lacks enforcement power to implement these recommendations, defining the problem and its dimensions is a useful start.
(6) Digital price-labels and dynamic pricing: Leading retailers are switching from printed price-labels on store shelves to digital displays. With digital labels, they will save money and also be able to adjust prices dynamically, perhaps several times per hour.
Dynamic pricing is totally consistent with the principle of supply-and-demand in a free-market economy. Yet, I find its use for basic commodities quite jarring. When you see a price on the store shelf, will you end up paying a different amount at check-out? Whereas with on-line shopping you can wait for an unreasonably high price to drop before you buy, you don't have the same option when shopping at a store.
We humans crave stability. Micro-level dynamic pricing feels like someone pulling the rug from under our feet. Already, prices fluctuate wildly at supermarkets: A 12-pack of soda can cost $7.99 one day, $5.99 the next day with a digital coupon, and $9.99 another day, with a buy-one-get-one-free deal. Dynamic pricing will only add to the existing chaos.

2024/06/24 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Sensible advice from your librarian Home decor idea: Tree of knowledge Cover image of Michio Kaku's 'Hyperspace' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Sensible advice from your librarian. [Center] Home decor idea: Tree of knowledge. [Right] Michio Kaku's Hyperspace (see the last item below).
(2) Coordinated terrorist attacks in Russia: Gunmen attacked a synagogue, a church, and a police station, killing at least two dozen people (15 of them policemen). [Washington Post]
(3) Human rights are universal, not relative: Flogging, cutting of hands, and stoning, even if they were part of the Iranian culture, which they are not, are inhumane. Charlatan Javad Zarif tries to justify Iran's compulsory hijab laws by claiming that every country has a dress code. When was the last time you saw US or European security forces drag a woman into a police van for violating the dress code? [Tweet, in Persian, with video]
(4) A part of Iran's influence campaign in the West: Javad Zarif led a campaign, aided by lobbyists of Iran's Islamist regime and paid "journalists," to portray General Qassem Soleimani a national hero and a terrorism fighter, instead of the criminal mass-murderer that he was. [Tweet, in Persian, with video]
(5) Book review: Kaku, Michio, Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension, unabridged 14-hour audiobook, read by Tim Lounibos, Highbridge Audio, 2023.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku is a prolific writer. I have read several of his books, but Hyperspace impressed me the most in terms of content and presentation. Ever since Einstein, physicists have been obsessed with building a bridge between relativity and quantum theory, in order to synthesize a unifying theory, the so-called "theory of everything," that is applicable both at the scale of planets & galaxies and at the microcosmic world of subatomic particles.
Speculations about more dimensions, beyond the familiar three for space and one for time, have existed for decades, both in the scientific community and among sci-fi writers. Kaku reviews these dimensions up to 10 (that an 11th dimension would make the model most-stable, became known after this book had been written) and asserts that superstring theory dealing with these extra dimensions is the best approximation yet to the sought-after unified theory.
According to superstring theory, dimensions beyond the fourth are curled up at a microscopic level, thus making them imperceptible to us humans. We only perceive the four "big" dimensions. The imperceptibility of other dimensions can be likened to a 2-dimentional being, as postulated in Edwin A. Abbott's classic novella Flatland (my review), being totally unaware of the third space dimension.
Superstring theory posits that there are no elementary particles (like electrons or quarks). We have nothing but pieces of vibrating strings. Each vibration mode corresponds to a different particle and determines its charge and its mass. In the current understanding of the theory, those strings are not "made of" anything: they are the fundamental constituent of matter.
Superstring theory is so difficult that many of its key equations remain unsolved. But to gain insight about how the universe works does not require solving the equations in full. Kaku offers many examples from everyday life that help the reader understand what all the fuss is about and what scientists are actually working on or quarrelling about. In the process, he offers intelligent speculations on the possibility of time travel and faster-than-light movement via wormholes.

2024/06/23 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Santa Barbara Summper Solstice Parade: Waiting for the parade to arrive Santa Barbara Summper Solstice Parade: Scenes from the Parade Santa Barbara Summper Solstice Parade: Barbecuing afterwards (1) (1) Yesterday's Summer Solstice Parade in Santa Barbara: Waiting along Santa Barbara Street, at Canon Perdido, for the Parade to arrive, scenes from the parade (2-minute video), and barbequing afterwards.
(2) Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi's death sentence overturned on appeal: This is good news, but for every well-known person spared because of intense social-media campaigns and international pressure, dozens of lesser-known dissidents are executed quietly.
(3) The media is hyping the upcoming presidential debate: They use superlatives to reel us in. Oh, it's the earliest debate ever! It can shape the campaigns for months! And so on, and so forth. Take it from me, the debate will do nothing, just as criminal convictions accomplished nothing. The criminal charlatan will die if he isn't in the spotlight. He is gasping for air. Don't give him air!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Undisputed leader: Iran accounts for 74% of global executions during 2023. [Amnesty International]
- EU Soccer: Switzerland was getting ready to celebrate when Germany tied the match 1-1 in stoppage time.
- Copa America soccer: USA defeated Bolivia in the group stage, 2-0. [9-minute highlights]
- A little puzzler: How many times do the two hands of a standard 12-hour clock meet each other during a day?
(5) KIRN Radio Iran (Los Angeles) program, on "The Status of Women in Science and Engineering," Sunday, June 23, 2024, at 6:00 PM PT. [Podcast]
(6) UCSB warns student protesters that their sprawling encampment was illegal and must be removed: After no action was taken by the protesters, UCSB has begun to remove the tents and other artifacts set up across a lawn in central campus. The protesters had also defaced parts of adjacent buildings. [From a letter sent to the campus community by Chancellor Yang]

2024/06/20 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Group photos of physicists: 1927 and 2017 The heightened risk of nuclear war Hey Louisiana: How about posting the Ten Commandments on the front door of Mar-a-Lago? (1) Images of the day: [Left] Throwback Thursday: The top photo, taken at a 1927 conference, is a virtual who's-who of the giants of physics. Marie Curie was the only woman among them. Ninety years later, a group of women physicists playfully recreated the photo with only one man among them. [Center] The heightened risk of nuclear war (see the last item below). [Right] A final thought for the day!
(2) Happy summer! We are having beautiful weather in Santa Barbara, but nearly half of the US is experiencing a scorching heat wave already!
(3) Virginia Hislop just graduated from Stanford University's Graduate School of Education at the age of 105: She got her bachelor's of education in 1940, four years after enrolling at Stanford, but earning her master's of education got delayed by 84 years.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hundreds of Hajj pilgrims are reported dead from extreme heat in Saudi Arabia reaching 125 F. [WaPo]
- AI-assisted drones can decide which fruit to pick based on size, color, ripeness, & estimated sweetness.
- Time-lapse view of world airline traffic during 24 hours. [1-minute video]
- Dire Straits all-time greatest hits: Topped by their fantastic "Sultans of Swing." [113-minute audio file]
(5) Biden's lead among women voters has shrunk from 13% to 8%: How can a campaign be so out of touch to lose the support of women to a misogynist and rapist? Trump's lead among men remains in double-digits.
(6) Arvind Mithal (known simply as Arvind) dead at 77: The Charles W. & Jennifer C. Johnson Prof. of Computer Sci. & Eng. at MIT was known for his work on dataflow architectures and parallel computing. As a graduate student and later as a computer architecture researcher, I read many of Arvind's papers. RIP!
(7) Risk of nuclear war has become quite high: "Dark clouds loom on the nuclear horizon, with threats from all directions: Russia's nuclear bombast in its war on Ukraine, China's construction of hundreds of nuclear missile silos, North Korea's missile testing, India and Pakistan's ongoing nuclear competition, and Iran's push toward nuclear weapons capability. In response, US policy-makers are discussing whether a further American nuclear arms buildup is needed. At the same time, evolving technologies, from hypersonic missiles to artificial intelligence, are straining military balances and may be making them more unstable. The risk of nuclear war has not been so high since the Cuban Missile Crisis." ~ From Science magazine editorial, June 21, 2024

2024/06/19 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Celebrating Freedom Day: Juneteenth, the 19th day of June, commemorates the end of slavery in America's confederate states Tonight's IEEE CCS tech talk on the Large Hadron Collider Tonight's Socrates Think Tank talk on digital twins in medicine
Math puzzle: Find the area of the yellow triangle Math puzzle: Find the measure of the angle marked X Find the radius R of the blue quarter-circle (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Celebrating Freedom Day: Juneteenth, the 19th day of June, commemorates the end of slavery in America's confederate states. On this day in 1865, that is, 159 years ago, the Union Army established authority over Texas, setting free the slaves who still didn't know about the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. [Top center] Tonight's IEEE CCS tech talk (see the next item below). [Top right] Tonight's Socrates Think Tank talk (see the last item below). [Bottom row] Math puzzles: Find the area of the yellow triangle, the measure of the angle marked X, and the radius R of the blue quarter-circle.
(2) Tonight's IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk: Dr. Benjamin Carlson (Westmont College) spoke under the title "Large Hadron Collider." The talk's more-detailed title was "Beyond the Higgs Boson: Using the Higgs Boson to Look for New Particles and the Future of LHC." Of particular interest is the pursuit of particles that may constitute dark matter.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN revolutionized modern physics when it helped discover the Higgs boson over a decade ago. The LHC will continue taking data for another 20 years, so long-term plans are being made for tackling a number of big questions, with understanding of dark matter being at the forefront.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Canada designates Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group. [Tweet, in Persian]
- Nvidia overtakes Microsoft and Apple Computer to become the world's most-valuable company. [WaPo chart]
(4) Louisiana passes a bill that requires the Ten Commandments to be displayed in every public classroom. At this rate, the Christian Republic of America isn't far away!
(5) Tonight's Socrates Think Tank talk: Dr. Mohsen Attaran and Dr. Kamran Malek made a joint presentation entitled "Physical Patient ~ Digital Twins."
First, Dr. Attaran discussed the notion of digital twins in general and in the special case of medical applications. A patient's digital twin is an electronic model that holds all pertinent medical information for him/her, including health history, surgeries, allergies, medications, implants, and so on.
Next, Dr. Malek discussed how a patient's digital twin facilitates and speeds up the diagnosis and helps identify appropriate treatments. The entire medical history of the patient, prior diagnoses, imaging results, are consulted and cross-checked within a fraction of a second; what used to take days with manual information requests and evaluations.

2024/06/18 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Composition of the universe: Version 2 Composition of the universe: Version 1 A beautiful calligraphic rendering of a Mowlavi (Rumi) verse
You can read this sign going across or down: The choice is yours! Washington: SCOTUS Square (cartoon) Help-wanted sign at a Goleta bakery ('Help kneaded') (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Composition of the universe: Two slightly different accounts, both indicating that about 95% of the cosmos is dark energy & dark matter. [Top right] A beautiful calligraphic rendering of a Mowlavi (Rumi) verse. [Bottom left] You can read this sign going across or down: The choice is yours! [Bottom center] Washington: SCOTUS Square. [Bottom right] Help-wanted sign at a Goleta bakery.
(2) The rise of non-traditional schooling: As more US states introduce financial support for home-schooling and private micro-schools, parents are pulling their kids out from low-performing public schools.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- I can assure you this isn't my class: Try to guess the subject being taught! [Tweet, with photo]
- Facebook memory from June 17, 2021: Extended-family photo, recreated from a 2018 photo.
(4) "Women in Science and Engineering": This is the title of my presentation for the Persian-language "Marzhayeh Danesh" ("Frontiers of Science") radio program, which will be broadcast on Sunday 6/23, beginning at 6:00 PM, on KIRN Los Angeles, AM 670 or FM 95.5 (livestream). My talk consists of four 8-minute segments that will run between news & ads in the 1-hour program. Many of the previous programs are available as podcasts. They also livestream their programs.
(5) Final thought for the day: #EndGenderApartheid

2024/06/17 (Monday): Today, I present reviews of three books on the Persian poetry of Nezami Ganjavi.
Cover image of Dick Davis's 'Khosrow & Shirin' Cover image of Nizami's 'Layla and Majnun' Cover image of Mehdi Abedinejad's 'Summaries and Interpretations of Three Love Poems by Nezami Ganjavi' (1) Book review: Ganjavi, Nezami (Dick Davis, translator), Khosrow & Shirin, Mage Publishers, 2024.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Before "Romeo & Juliet" (1597), there was Nezami Ganjavi's "Khosrow & Shirin" (ca. 1180 CE). There are in fact quite a few other Persian love-stories/tragedies that precede Shakespeare by centuries. Nezami also wrote "Layla & Majnun," one of the greatest epic love poems in Persian. Nezami has a third love story, "Haft Paykar." All three of these love stories are summarized and interpreted in Summaries and Interpretations of Three Love Stories by Nezami Ganjavi (in Persian, Mirasban, 2022; my review).
Here is the gist of the story: After the death of his wife and a new failed marriage, Sassanid King Khosrow II finally marries Shirin while in exile in Armenia. They live happily together for several years until Khosrow's son, Shiroyeh, also in love with Shirin, orders his father's death. Shirin decides to take her own life, fearing humiliation through forced marriage to Shiroyeh. Khosrow and Shirin were buried in the same grave. The story also features Farhad, a sculptor who fell in love with Shirin and was willing to do anything to win her, but their love remained platonic.
Nezami does not portray Shirin as a damsel in distress to be saved by a knight in shining armor, but as a proto-feminist. Once, when Khosrow comes to her in a drunken state, she does not let him into the castle and reproaches him for his fling with another woman, Shekar. Khosrow was madly in love with Shirin, but Shirin kept rebuffing his advances, because she feared she would become a plaything for him to use as he pleased while he was intoxicated, not the queen she aspired to be. Eventually, Shirin received the marriage proposal she wanted.
By depicting Shirin's influence on Khosrow, which made him undergo transformation from a pointless life of pleasure to a spiritually meaningful one, Nezami dispenses advice on how one should live his/her life and on the importance of selflessness.
(2) Book review: Nizami (Translated from Persian and edited by Dr. Rudolf Gelpke, in collaboration with E. Mattin & G. Hill), The Story of Layla and Majnun, Bruno Cassirer, 1966.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Presented in 53 short, untitled chapters, plus a postscript, this translation of Nizami's epic love poem begins thus: "Once there lived among the Bedouin in Arabia a great lord, a Sayyid, who ruled over the Banu Amir. No other country flourished like his and Zephyr carried the sweet scent of his glory to the farthest horizons. Success and merit made him Sultan of the Arabs and his wealth equaled that of Korah." What ate at this otherwise fortunate man was the fact that he had no son to inherit his wealth. When his wish was granted and he was given a son, celebrations ensued.
"The child was committed to the care of a nurse, so that under her watchful eye he should grow big and strong. So he did, and every drop of milk he drank was turned in his body into a token of faithfulness. Each line of indigo, drawn on his face to protect him against the Evil Eye, worked magic in his soul. ... Two weeks after his birth the child already looked like the moon after fourteen days and his parents gave him the name of Qays. ... [When he grew up,] people told the story of his beauty like a fairy tale. Whoever saw him—if only from afar—called upon heaven to bless him."
The sample quoted passages above and below should convince you that the translation of the work is engaging and of high quality.
Qays was educated under the care of a distinguished learned man. One day he meets Layla, a beautiful girl, a "miracle of creation" whose "face was a lamp, or rather a torch, with ravens weaving their wings around it."
"While all their friends were toiling at their books"
"These two were trying other ways of learning."
"Reading love's grammar in each other's looks,"
"Glances to them were marks which they were earning."
"Their minds were freed from spelling by love's spell,"
"They practiced, writing notes full of caress;"
"The others learned to count—while they could tell,"
"That nothing ever counts but tenderness."
When Qays realized that he can't get Layla's hand in marriage, his aimless and erratic behavior earned him the nickname Majnun (Madman). Scores of pages later, we read about Layla's death. "A cold fever shook her limbs and spread dark blotches and stains over her sweet face. … Sensing that death stood close, she allowed no one near but her mother, revealing in this hour for the first and last time, the secret of her love. … When I am dead, dress me like a bride. Make me beautiful. As a salve for my eyes, take dust from Majnun's path. Prepare indigo from his sorrow, sprinkle the rose-water of his tears on my head and veil me in the scent of his grief. … He will come, my restless wanderer—I know. He will sit at my grave searching for the moon, yet seeing nothing but the veil—the earth—and he will weep and lament."
It happened just as Layla had predicted. When Majnun learned about the death of his beloved, he rushed to her and fell on her grave as if struck by lightning. He exclaimed: "Oh my flower, you withered before you blossomed, your spring was your fall, your eyes hardly saw this world. … Your musk-mole, your gazelle eye—where are they [now]? The splendor of your agate lips, the amber-scented coils of your tresses—what has happened to them?" Majnun goes on and on with his lament, before returning to the wilderness. When he could not find solace anywhere, his longing drove him back to the grave of his beloved. In short order, Majnun started to feel weak, moving quickly toward death; though not quickly enough from his viewpoint. He transitioned, while reciting a prayer on
Layla's grave: "Maker of all things created! I implore thee in the name of everything which thou hast chosen: relieve me of this burden. Let me go where my love dwells. Free me from this cruel existence and, in the other world, cure me of my torment here."
The exquisite story of the love between Layla and Majnun is Nizami's way of portraying the ideal lover, while dispensing life advice and explaining soul's search for God.
(3) Book review: Abedinejad, Mehdi, Summaries and Interpretations of Three Love Poems by Nezami Ganjavi (in Persian), Mirasban, 2022. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Abedinejad intermixes verses from epic poems by Nezami Ganjavi [ca. 1141-1209 CE] with brief textual narratives to summarize and interpret three of the five stories forming parts of Nezami's "Khamsa" ("Five Treasures"). Besides the three love stories covered in this book ("Khosrow & Shirin," "Leyla & Majnun," and "Haft Peykar" aka "Bahram Nameh"), "Khmasa" also includes "Makhzan ol-Asrar" and "Eskandar Nameh."
The book under review begins with a 15-page preface, written by Mehdi Farahani Monfared, who offers a brief biography of Nezami and also introduces the author. About a quarter of the book is devoted to "Khosrow & Shirin" (pp. 29-76), one-sixth is taken up by "Leyla & Majnun" (pp. 77-109), and more than half (pp. 111-227) covers "Haft Peykar."
There are quite a few books and articles on Nezami's "Khosrow & Shirin," including a wonderful new English translation by Dick Davis (my review). "Leyla & Majnun" has similarly received much attention; see, for example, the translation by Dr. Rudolf Gelpke (my review). Both of these love-stories/tragedies predate Shakespear's "Romeo & Juliette" by several centuries. "Haft Peykar" has a somewhat different nature, for even though it does contain elements of a love story, it is mostly the life story of King Bahram Gur, known for his hunting skills and seven wives: The seven "peykars" or "beauties" of the story's title.
The book could have benefited from an index to help link the similar notions discussed in the three stories.

2024/06/16 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A very happy Fathers' Day to all dads and father-like nurturers & mentors, past, present, and future! Women's status on the corporate ladder deteriorates The Earth will face a severe food challenge when its population reaches 10 billion by 2050
My niece Kimia's graduation from UCLS: Batch 5 of photos My niece Kimia's graduation from UCLS: Batch 14 of photos My niece Kimia's graduation from UCLS: Batch 10 of photos (1) Images of the day: [Top left] A happy Fathers' Day to all dads and father-like nurturers & mentors, past, present, and future! Today, we particularly remember our fathers who are no longer with us. They are missed! [Top center] Two steps forward, one step back (see the next item below). [Top right] Food equation: World population reaching 10 billion by 2050 + 40% of the Earth's agricultural land already degraded = Disaster. [Bottom row] Combined graduation and Fathers' Day celebration at a park near UCLA, with yummy take-out food from Shamshiri Restaurant. The proud graduate had the company of our entire extended family, some of them coming from far-away places.
(2) For women, there is good news and bad news: The good news a few days ago was the rising level of contribution by women to scientific/technical papers over the past two decades: In the US, contributions of women rose from 30% to 42% (26% to 39% worldwide). Here is the bad news: The status of women on the corporate ladder is declining. While half of entry-level positions are held by women, the fraction declines to one-third at the VP level and to about one-fourth at the C-suite level.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- An option for pensioners: Retirement on a college campus with a pass to attend any class they wish.
- The oldest unsolved problem in mathematics: Does there exist an odd perfect number? [12-minute video]
- Human athletic abilities are improving so fast that we may soon turn into a different species.
- Starting with 5, every second Fibonacci number is the hypotenuse of a right triangle with integer sides.
(4) Another watchdog loses its battle with MAGA: Stanford has shut down its Internet Observatory, which aimed to identify viral disinformation about election procedures and outcomes in real time. Ongoing lawsuits and congressional inquiries into the Observatory have cost Stanford millions of dollars in legal fees.
(5) Wells Fargo fires 12+ employees who pretended to work: With the prevalence of remote work, some companies have deployed tools that monitor keystrokes and eye movements, take screenshots, and record Website visits. Technologies like "mouse jigglers," which make it appear as though workers are using their computers when they are not, allow workers to evade surveillance.
(6) Final thought for the day: This hand-made card and gift of audiobooks for Fathers' Day put a smile on my face. Thank you, my precious daughter!

2024/06/15 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
China has been steadily rising in contributions to published scientific/technical papers: It overtook EU in 2019 and USA in 2023 That's a real cat on the bookshelf, not a figurine! In a 'policy' meeting with top congressional Republicans, Trump made a bizarre claim about Nancy Pelosi's daughter, and one of her four daughters responded (1) Images of the day: [Left] China has been steadily rising in contributions to published scientific/technical papers: It overtook EU in 2019 and USA in 2023. India is also on the rise. It's worth noting, however, that a significant share of retracted papers are also from India & China. [Center] That's a real cat on the bookshelf, not a figurine! [Right] This madman has no place in government: In a "policy" meeting with top congressional Republicans, Trump made a bizarre claim about Pelosi's daughter, and one of her four daughters responded.
(2) United Auto Workers union is reportedly coping with tensions between its student members focused on the war in Gaza and its blue-collar workers focused on pocketbook issues. [NYT]
(3) UCLA has a new chancellor: University of Miami President, the Mexico-born global public health researcher Julio Frenk, will become the next chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles. He will inherit from the retiring Chancellor Gene Block a campus roiled by protests over the Israel-Hamas war.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Abortion bans are good for the travel business. [NYT infographic]
- Arizona man planned a mass shooting of Blacks & other minorities at a rap concert to incite a race war.
- Facebook memory from June 14, 2021: On repunit primes (prime numbers of the form 111...11).
- Facebook memory from June 14, 2021: Worry about crony capitalism, not socialism.
- Facebook memory from June 14, 2020: Religion has become a tool of politics (Persian poem).
- Facebook memory from June 15, 2014: Fathers' Day celebration, 10 years ago.
(5) The habit of comparing ourselves to others can lead to poor mental health: "The comparison starts at an early age. Perhaps we wish we had the same toys as one of our friends or the backpack they have. As we grow older, ... you may find yourself comparing how much money you make to others or where you are in terms of relationships, education, or careers. ... If it is not addressed, comparison can lead to poor mental health and issues like anxiety and depression."
(6) Start-ups go to war: The war with Russia has supercharged the Ukrainian tech sector to form a drone development superhub. [E&T magazine]
(7) Fire Seyed Hossein Mousavian: Princeton U. professor and former Iranian diplomat with blood on his hands, threatens that Iran can quickly cause $1 trillion damage to UAE in the event of a war with the US.
(8) The hostage-taking Iranian mullahs are rewarded: In a prisoner swap deal, #HamidNouri who was serving a life sentence in Sweden for his role in the mass-execution of political prisoners was returned to Iran.

2024/06/14 (Friday): Today, I offer reviews of 3 books on understanding and dealing with mental illness.
Cover image of Donna Jackson Nakazawa's 'Girls on the Brink' Cover image of Xavier Amador's 'I'm Not Sick, I Don't Need Help' Cover image of Ken Duckworth's 'You Are Not Alone' (1) Book review: Nakazawa, Donna Jackson, Girls on the Brink: Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media, Harmony, 2022.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Science journalist Donna Nakazawa maintains that "our daughters, students, and the girl next door are more anxious and more prone to depression and self-harming than ever before." In 2019, 1 in 3 girls reported symptoms of major depression, vs. 1 in 10 boys. A typical young girl feels that her life is one endless performance, during which she is examined and judged. When combined with unchecked immersion in social media, the mental state above can derail a young girl's emotional development.
Fortunately, there is also good news. Puberty, which is considered a particularly vulnerable period for girls, is also a time when the female brain is responsive to various kinds of support and scaffolding. This responsiveness can potentially turn a young girl's innate sensitivity into a superpower.
In her book, Nakazawa offers 15 simple strategies for raising emotionally healthy girls, based on cutting-edge science that explains the modern pressures that make it so difficult for adolescent girls to thrive. I was fortunate to attend Nakazawa's book talk, sponsored by UCLA's Semel Institute, on March 5, 2024, when she reiterated the need for urgent action to save our girls.
(2) Book review: Amador, Xavier, I'm Not Sick, I Don't Need Help: How to Help Someone Accept Treatment, Publisher, 20th Anniversary Edition, 2022. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Anosognosia (lack of insight) is a neurological condition in which the patient is unaware of their neurological deficit or psychiatric condition. One of the most-challenging tasks in caring for a loved one with mental illness is to get them to accept that they are sick and then to open them up to advice and help from professionals. Based on decades of experience with mentally-ill patients and their families, Amador advanced a four-part strategy dubbed LEAP (listen, empathize, agree, partner) for developing partnership and trust with those experiencing anosognosia.
Amador's I'm Not Sick has become a classic, providing information and insights, not only to mental-health and criminal-justice professionals, but also to family members who care for a mentally-ill loved one. In this 20th Anniversary Edition, all chapters have been updated with new research on anosognosia and much more detail on LEAP.
You can read an excerpt of I'm Not Sick on this Web page. And here is a 75-minute talk by Amador on his book. For those with less patience, this 18-minute TEDx talk contains all the essentials.
(3) Duckworth, Ken, You Are Not Alone: The NAMI Guide to Navigating Mental Health, unabridged 14-hour audiobook, read by the author & Tim Fannon, Zando, 2022.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Many families who care for loved ones suffering from mental illness are in the dark about diagnoses, treatments, and recovery processes, which leads to frustration and inability to help. When it comes to mental health, the US healthcare industry remains chaotic, underfunded, and inaccessible. To make matters worse, there are no tests, such as bloodwork and X-ray used for physical ailments, to help with definite diagnoses of mental illness, leading to conflicting and confusing advice.
This NAMI-supported book, which oozes with expertise and compassion, contains:
- First-person accounts illustrating the diversity of mental health journeys
- Guidance on dealing with mental health conditions and seeking care
- Research-based evidence on what treatments and approaches work best
- Insight and advice from renowned clinical experts and practitioners
NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness, is a valuable resource that the sufferers of mental illness and their families/caretakers can turn to for advice and help. Among other activities, NAMI supports peer-to-peer and family-to-family classes and discussion groups. [Web site]

2024/06/13 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: Shams Beer was a popular and fairly inexpensive brand in Iran before the Islamic Revolution Cartoon: 'The captain has informed us that our arrival will be somewhat delayed because of Europe's ongoing shift to the right' Meet Iran's 6 presidential candidates
Socrates Think Tank talk on Spinoza'a God Math puzzle: In the isosceles triangle ACD, find the length X of AB Talangor Group talk on climate change and water crisis in Iran (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday: Shams Beer was a popular and fairly inexpensive brand in Iran before the Islamic Revolution. The Armenian-owned Shams Beer Factory in Eastern Tehran was set on fire by Islamists on January 30, 1979, with its contents looted. [Top center] New Yorker cartoon: "The captain has informed us that our arrival will be somewhat delayed because of Europe's continuing shift to the right." [Top right] Meet Iran's 6 presidential candidates: Three are fairly well-known (Pourmohammadi is a hanging judge, who, like Raisi, has blood on his hands; Ghalibaf is corrupt to the core; Jalili was Raisi's ideologue). The other three are highly unlikely to win (Pezeshkian is a reformist who may have been allowed to run as a show candidate; Zakani and Ghazizadeh are nobodies). As usual, several big names, including a former president and a former speaker of the Parliament, were disqualified, which should make for an interesting campaign season. [Bottom left] Socrates Think Tank talk (see the next item below). [Bottom center] Math puzzle: In the isosceles triangle ACD, find the length X of AB. [Bottom right] Talangor Group talk (see the last item below).
(2) Last night's Socrates Think Tank Talk: Dr. Mohammad B. Bagheri talked about "The God of Spinoza." There were 165 attendees.
Baruch Spinoza [1632-1677], a philosopher of Portuguese-Jewish origin, opined that though everything ultimately derives from God, s/he cannot be the cause of sadness since s/he is perfect. As understood by Spinoza, the real cause of sadness is ignorance or people's lack of understanding the causes that have led them to feel sorrow.
In Spinoza's view, it is absurd to think of God as a being who listens to our prayers and gets angry at us when we misbehave. To follow God is to work hard to understand the nature around us and to be resigned to living according to nature's laws. When we see something as a miracle, it is simply because we have not yet discovered the laws of nature that govern or cause it.
The Enlightenment thinker was branded a heretic, but his philosophy is loaded with subtle religious insights. He recognized the existence of God but was an enemy of religion. Albert Einstein once said that he believed in "Spinoza's God," which was seen as proof that great scientific minds have no time for superstitious fairy tales.
Spinoza is a key figure in rationalism. He was excommunicated by religious authorities, who instructed everyone to avoid him and to cease all communication with him. Spinoza's most-significant work was on ethics, which, by his own request, was published after his death.
(3) I have fond memories of Jerry West, the basketball and Lakers legend who just died at 86: In my graduate-student days at UCLA, I watched a lot of basketball, and watching Jerry West play was a treat. His silhouette has been immortalized on the NBA logo. RIP.
(5) Women have made gains in STEM research: A large-scale study by academic publisher Elsevier has found a ~50% increase in contributions of women researchers to STEM fields (26% of total production in 2000 to 39% in 2022; 30% to 42% in the US). At the current rate of progress, parity is still ~30 years away.
(6) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Khalil Rashidian spoke under the title "Climate Change and the Heightened Water Crisis in Iran." There were ~70 attendees.
There has been much talk about the dwindling water resources in Iran for the dual reasons of climate change and inept water-management officials. Businesses run by top clerics and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps abuse water resources to maximize their short-term profits, showing no concern for long-term consequences of their action. A few officials who criticized this state of affairs were sidelined or forced into exile. Environmental activists are routinely arrested and imprisoned for opposing the government's shortsighted policies.
Against this background, Dr. Rashidian's talk consisted of two parts. First, he presented a general overview of climate change (global warming and the attendant sea-level rise), along with current and future consequences of expected changes. In the second part, he focused on the case of Iran, with an extensive review of the depletion of water resources and the resulting damage to the environment and the livelihood of local farmers. A particularly challenging problem is the sinking of ground which damages farmlands and gobbles up buildings and other infrastructure in sinkholes.
While pursuing appropriate policies might mitigate some of the problem, much of the damage inflicted by past inaction and abuse appears to be irreversible. Border disputes over water resources complicates future planning and raises the severity of the problems.

2024/06/12 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Is there an example in human history when the book-burners were the good guys? Cover image of Amanda Montell's 'The Age of Magical Overthinking' Imaginative artwork with a message: Seen on Sunday at the arts & craft show along Santa Barbara's Cabrillo Blvd (1) Images of the day: [Left] Is there an example in human history when book-burners were the good guys? [Center] Amanda Montell's The Age of Magical Overthinking (see the last item below). [Right] Imaginative artwork with a message: Seen on Sunday at the arts & craft show along Santa Barbara's Cabrillo Blvd.
(2) Trump supporters say that Hunter Biden was convicted to project a fake image of a fair legal system: Imagine what they would say if Hunter had been exonerated!
(3) Saudi Arabia invests in chip design: The kingdom's National Semiconductor Hub, which will develop fabless chip companies, as part of a strategy to position itself as a leader in semiconductor design, hopes to attract 50 firms by 2030 to develop simple chips, with manufacturing done internationally for now. [Bloomberg]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- As people around the world gain in English fluency, the translated book market has shrunk. [NYT]
- What an excellent 5-minute workout! Nice music too!
- Engineering design: I had no idea that bowling pinsetter machines are so complex! [12-minute video]
- Math puzzle: Consider y = 2^x. Is there a non-integer value for x that yields an integer value for y?
- Super-funny stand-up comedy routine by Jim McDonald. [23-minute video]
- Facebook memory from June 11, 2016: My daughter's graduation from UCLA.
(5) Book review: Montell, Amanda, The Age of Magical Overthinking: Notes on Modern Irrationality, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2024.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I became familiar with linguist Amanda Montell's work through Wordslut (my review on GoodReads), a wonderful mix of pop culture and academic linguistics that addresses the ways in which patriarchy has invaded and overtaken the English language.
In The Age of Magical Overthinking, Montell maintains that in the 21st century, our focus has shifted from external threats to internal ones. Glued to our phones and alienated from our loved ones, we are increasingly lonely. She points to cognitive biases that rule our brains, from the "Halo effect," cultivating worship/hatred of larger-than-life celebrities, to how the "Sunk Cost Fallacy" can keep us in harmful relationships long after we have realized their toxicity.
Our society faces a crisis of the mind, which is intensified by misinformation and disinformation from social media and other sources. Our reliance on specialists has been replaced with taking advice from untrained influencers. Montell exposes our cultural obsession with irrational beliefs and debunked ideas, and gives us tools to escape it.

2024/06/11 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Virtual talk on Persian-language computer output Cover image of 'Rethinking Intelligence' Cover image of Patrick House's 'Nineteen Ways of Looking at Consciousness' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Virtual talk on Persian-language computer output (see the next item below). [Center] Rethinking Intelligence, a book by Rina Bliss (see item 3 below). [Center] Patrick House's Nineteen Ways of Looking at Consciousness (see the last item below).
(2) How We Taught the Computer to Write in Persian: This was a title of a talk I gave on Monday morning to a group of graduates from Arya-Mehr/Sharif University of Technology. The attendees included 4 of my former students, a couple of whom shared stories from our interactions some 5 decades ago. The talk was very similar to the ones I have been giving to various audiences since 2017, updating the slides by adding figures and other material each time. Here is a link to the PDF slides of my talk.
(3) Book review: Bliss, Rina, Rethinking Intelligence: A Radical New Understanding of Our Human Potential, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by Samantha Tan, Harper Audio, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The nature of intelligence has been debated for centuries, with the debate intensity picking up in recent decades, as we began struggling to define artificial intelligence. For a long time, the test-based intelligence quotient (IQ) was accepted and used to "measure" intelligence, with the results used to predict a child's future and to plan his/her course of studies and career options. Bliss, a genetics expert and member of the faculty at Rutgers University, adds fuel to the fire that debunked the primacy of IQ tests and the innate nature of intelligence.
She presents her ideas in 9 numbered chapters, sandwiched between introductory and concluding chapters. Chapters 1-4 constitute Part I, Understanding Intelligence (Thinking intelligence; Understanding IQ; The nature of Intelligence; Nurturing intelligence). Chapters 5-7 comprise Part II, Nurturing Intelligence (The growth mindset; From mind to mindful; Learning to connect). Chapters 8-9 of Part III are about Valuing Intelligence (Getting smarter as a society; Seeing value in us all).
Relating her challenging family life, with a chronically overworked mom and a perpetually overdosed dad, Bliss tells us that, as a part-Asian student, being perceived as a superior intellect was her ticket out of trouble. "Even for a 'smart kid' like me, the pressure to perform was overwhelming. I was tormented by the fear that I wouldn't measure up."
Sharing insights from the burgeoning science of epigenetics, Bliss helps us harness our environments to empower our minds. One key is eliminating toxic stress. Other factors include embracing a growth mindset, prioritizing connection, becoming more mindful, and reforming systemic issues such as poverty, racism, the lack of quality early childhood education. Bliss reframes human behavior and intellect, offering a new perspective for understanding ourselves and our children.
(4) Book review: House, Patrick, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Consciousness, unabridged 5-hour audiobook, read by Taylor Clarke-Hill, Macmillan Audio, 2022. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
A poem can be translated in many different ways. There is no such thing as the "correct" translation. In fact, none of the many translations may trigger the same emotions in the reader as the original poem. House's book title mimics commentaries by Eliot Weinberger and Octavio Paz, who looked at 19 translations of a 1200-year-old Chinese quatrain.
Consciousness is a very difficult topic to discuss and understand. Most descriptions of it entail either hand-waving or circular arguments. I am afraid that all 19 ways discussed by House suffer from the same shortcomings. However, one does learn a great deal about related topics in psychology and neuroscience in the course of pursuing an understanding of consciousness.

2024/06/10 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
How the extreme right creates non-existent issues to anger the MAGA base into voting and contributing money G7 taps women's-rights activist Masih Alinejad for its Gender Equality Advisory Council These two women are separated by less than one meter in space and more than 1400 years in time! (1) Images of the day: [Left] How the extreme right creates non-existent issues to anger the MAGA base into voting and contributing money: This poll is based on the totally false assumption that undocumented immigrants can vote if they want to. In reality, they can't register to vote. [Center] G7 taps women's-rights activist @AlinejadMasih for its Gender Equality Advisory Council. [Right] These two women are separated by less than one meter in space and more than 1400 years in time!
(2) Your driving score: We all know about credit scores, but did you know that there is also a driving score? The score is based on how often you speed, slam on the brakes, look at your phone, or drive late at night. The data can be collected by your car or smartphone apps and sold to brokers, who work with auto insurers. [NYT]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- UC given a temporary restraining order against UAW strikers, while its claim of strike illegality is assessed.
- Apple announces built-in intelligence for iPhone, iPad, & Mac, while setting a new standard for privacy in AI.
- Iran's assassins & kidnappers target dissidents and former US government officials. [13-minute video]
- PBS "Firing Line" program examines the Electoral College: Reasons for abolishing or keeping it.
(4) An Ohio high-school graduate hands a copy of Handmaid's Tale to a school official to protest the book's banning by her school district.
(5) The Brain and Hate: The multi-part online series "The State of Hate" is co-sponsored by the Friends of Semel Institute, the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital Board of Advisors, and the UCLA Initiative to Study Hate. The UCLA Initiative to Study Hate is a three-year pilot project intended to foster cutting-edge research and high-level teaching to understand better and mitigate group-based hate.
In today's first installment, after opening remarks by Dr. David Myers, Distinguished Professor, Director of the Luskin Center for History and Policy and Director of the UCLA Initiative to Study Hate, UCLA Professors Adriana Galvan and Mario F. Mendez discussed the opportunities and challenges of studying the neuroscience of hate. They also covered some of the cognitive processes that advance hateful behavior & how we can counter them.
Evolutionarily, hate has served the role of ensuring our survival. In this role, it is closely related to fear. However, hate has outlived its usefulness in today's law-abiding societies. It is now threatening, rather than ensuring, our survival.
Part 2, Hate and the election, and Part 3, Hate and the social media, will come in fall 2024. Recordings of these discussions will be made available on the Semel Institute Web site.

2024/06/09 (Sunday): Today, I offer reviews of books on words, languages, and communication skills.
Cover image and sample pages from Nahid Pirnazar's 'Judeo-Persian Writings' Cover image for Amanda Montell's 'Wordslut' Cover image for Charles Duhigg's 'Supercommunicators' (1) Book review: Pirnazar, Nahid (editor & compiler), Judeo-Persian Writings: A Manifestation of Intellectual and Literary Life, Routledge, 2022. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Judeo-Persian documents, that is, Persian-language texts written in the Hebrew alphabet, date back to the 8th century CE. They include Biblical epics, Biblical commentaries, historical texts, liturgical poems, and court & trade documents.
Judeo-Persian religious poetry is closely modeled on classical Persian poetry, with the best-known poet being Mowlana Shahin Shirazi, who composed epic versifications of parts of the Bible. The poet, a contemporary of Hafez, is known to have worked during the 1316-1335 CE reign of Ilkhan Abu Sa'id Bahadur Khan.
Once adequately researched and properly catalogued, the rich literary tradition of works written in Judeo-Persian can contribute to a better understanding of linguistics, history, and sociocultural issues of nearly three millennia of Jewish presence in Southwest Asia.
Dr. Pirnazar takes a valuable step in this direction by reviewing the history of Judeo-Persian (Part 1; pp. 1-41) and providing representative samples of Judeo-Persian writings (Part II; pp. 43-121). Each sample includes the original text, its Perso-Arabic version, and an English translation. Three pages of references and a 3-page index conclude the book.
(2) Book review: Montell, Amanda, Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language, unabridged 7-hour audiobook, read by the author, Harper Audio, 2019.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
A misguided English proverb goes, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words [or names] can never hurt me." In fact, words, and language more generally, are tools of oppression and deception and are thus potentially hurtful.
For many centuries, coining words and devising linguistic rules have been under the control of powerful white men. The English language is full of words that are used to put down women and other marginalized groups. In the case of women, the use of "bitch," "slut," and "pig" are quite familiar. Some of the above started as normal (occasionally even positive) words that were appropriated for use as put-downs. Others were created as insults.
Montell makes us aware of the uneven way in which male and female gender are treated and offers suggestions on how to handle this imbalance. She puts her linguistics degree to good use in tracing sociolinguistics' historical roots and its impact on the contemporary feminist stance broadly practiced today. Given that we view the world, and even think, through the lens of language, Montell's observations on how to take back the language and make it more precise in dealing with gender are quite important for anyone who wants to use language effectively and fairly.
According to Library Journal, "[Wordslut] blends academic study with pop-culture attitude ... At its heart, this work reflects a tenet of sociolinguistic study: language is not divorced from culture; it both reflects and creates beliefs about identity and power."
(3) Book review: Duhigg, Charles, Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection, unabridged 7-hour audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2024.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Duhigg confides that he wrote this book when he realized that his own communication skills needed improvement, which is somewhat of a surprise, given that he is a journalist.
All you need to know about the subject matter of the book is included in the first 15% or so. The elaborations in the rest of the book aren't particularly helpful. Good communicators, the kind of people who are routinely used in hostage-negotiation situations or find themselves leading and influencing jury deliberations, are characterized by empathetic listening skills and the ability to help a conversation move along by injecting interesting questions, the kinds that trigger emotions and require deep thinking.
For example, rather than ask a shallow question about your line of work, they may inquire about the aspect of your job that you like best. Although a good communicator should avoid making a conversation about him/herself, injecting emotional, personal comments that project vulnerability is usually helpful.
Good communication skills, which are acquired through practice, don't only impact our professional stature. We can lead healthier, happier, and more fulfilling lives when we connect with others. Conversations positively affect our brains, bodies, and how we experience the world.

2024/06/08 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Some of the 24+ victims of Islamic Republic of Iran's terrorist attacks under Seyed Hossein Mousavian's watch Calligraphic writing produced with ball-point pens, instead of special calligraphic pens Cover image for Kaveh Akbar's 'Martyr! A Novel' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Some of the 24+ victims of Islamic Republic of Iran's terrorist attacks under Seyed Hossein Mousavian's watch: Princeton University should fire him from his faculty position. [Center] Calligraphic writings are usually produced with special calligraphic pens: A number of Persian masters also produce calligraphic art with ordinary ball-point pens. This wonderful sample is from Akbar Mojaradi. [Right] Kaveh Akbar's Martyr! A Novel (see the last item below).
(2) Virtual Town Hall Meeting facilitated by the Santa Cruz Faculty Association: UCSB faculty and union organizers were present in a Zoom gathering on Friday afternoon to update us on the latest developments on the academic workers' strike and its impact. My own classes are not affected by the ongoing strike (one is a graduate course with no TA and the other is a freshman seminar graded based on attendance), but my colleagues are experiencing much anxiety over how to handle the end-of-academic-year tasks without violating various laws. Students, particularly those about to graduate, are even more anxious.
(3) Book review: Akbar, Kaveh, Martyr! A Novel, unabridged 11-hour audiobook, read by Arian Moayed, Random House Audio, 2024. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Kaveh Akbar's poetry has been published in The New Yorker and The New York Times, among other venues, and his work has received a lot of critical acclaim as well as multiple prestigious awards.
Martyr! is Akbar's debut novel. It features the profoundly-sad protagonist Cyrus Shams, an Iranian-American who was brought to the US as a baby by his father Ali. A major theme in the story is the gruesome death of Cyrus's mother, Roya, whose Tehran-to-Dubai Iran Air flight was mistakenly shot down over the Persian Gulf by the US Navy. There were 66 children aboard the flight. Cyrus was supposed to be the 67th, but Roya decided to leave her months-old baby at home. However, bear in mind that nothing in the story is what is seems; there are quite a few plot twists!
Other major themes in the story are the struggles of Cyrus's father, Ali, a hard-working & proud laborer, relatives and acquaintances who were physically or psychologically injured during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, and the plight of Orkideh, a very special artist who is dying from cancer. We also learn about Cyrus' imaginary brother, Beethoven, who once had a conversation with basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
As a poet, Cyrus is in a constant struggle with life as well as death. He wants to die in a way that serves a bigger purpose, hence the novel's title, which, in Cyrus' view, does not mean strapping explosives to himself and carrying out a suicide-bombing mission. Much of the fascinating story is about Cyrus (his struggles, depression, addiction, and sense of powerlessness), but there are a few chapters that are told from the perspective of his parents, one of his friends, and his uncle.
This is a difficult, but rewarding, novel to read. It draws you in, but wears you out at the same time. There are a couple of fillers, which in my view should have been left out. For example, the life story of the great Persian poet Ferdowsi does not belong in this otherwise absorbing story. Ditto for discussion of another great poet, Mowlavi (Rumi).

2024/06/07 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest: What do you think of my entry? Qasr al-Farid, an unfinished tomb in Saudi Arabia: The Saudis have spent nearly $1 trillion in recent years on expanding tourism
Election circus in Iran: Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signs up to become a presidential candidate Home, sweet home: Multilingual sign seen over the Ocean Road bike underpass on the UCSB campus Cover image of Kip Thorne's 'The Science of Interstellar' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Bora Bora is an island in French Polynesia: The extinct volcano, Mount Otemanu, sits at the center of this atoll. The Teavanui Passage, the only opening to the ocean, allows large ships to enter the serene lagoon. [Top center] New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest: What do you think of my entry? "Time travelers from the future bring us the cutest things!" [Top right] Qasr al-Farid, an unfinished tomb in Saudi Arabia: The Saudis have spent nearly $1 trillion in recent years on expanding tourism. But what does tourism mean in a country that enforces strict Islamic laws? [Bottom left] Election circus in Iran: Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signs up to become a presidential candidate. His chances of passing the filter of the Guardian Council are slim to none. More importantly, he is mistaken in believing that his criticism of high-level mullahs will erase the effect of his calling Iranian street protesters "dust & dirt," while security forces under his command shot them! [Bottom center] Home: Multilingual sign seen over the Ocean Road underpass on the UCSB campus. [Bottom right] Kip Thorne's The Science of Interstellar (see the last item below).
(2) Imagine our country's history, its pursuit of a more-perfect union, and its ideals of equality being delegated to a bigoted felon for safeguarding!
(3) Did the COVID-19 pandemic leave us a legacy of other diseases? Whooping cough cases have doubled and unusual forms of cancer have begun to appear. [NYT]
(4) Book review: Thorne, Kip, The Science of Interstellar, unabridged 7-hour audiobook, read by Eric Michael Summerer, Tantor Audio, 2014. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I recently watched Christopher Nolan's 2014 sci-fi film "Interstellar." I particularly enjoyed the powerful film score, composed by Hans Zimmer. In order to augment my understanding of the film's story, I searched for and found the following explanation of the film's script and its plot summary. https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/interstellar-explained-meaning-plot-summary/
Further investigation led to the book under review here. Cal Tech theoretical physicist and Nobel Laureate Kip S. Thorne [1940-], who was intimately involved in the making of "Interstellar," explains that the notions behind the film's story, mainly black holes and wormholes, are grounded in real science. When scientific facts had to be stretched, care was taken to keep events and scenes within the realm of possibility.
"Interstellar" was directed by Christopher Nolan, after Steven Spielberg dropped out due to disagreements with Paramount. Nolan went on to achieve even greater fame with his recent film, "Oppenheimer," which was honored with 7 Academy Awards.
Thorne starts his book with the film's history and his interactions with the actors, special-effects artists, and other collaborators, before proceeding to describe the actual physics in the remaining 30 chapters, organized into 7 parts, as follows:
- Foundations (the universe & its laws, warped time/space, black holes)
- Gargantua (anatomy & imaging, gravitational slingshots, disks & jets)
- Disaster on Earth (blight, gasping for oxygen, interstellar travel)
- The wormhole (visualization & discovery, gravitational waves)
- Exploring Gargantua's environs (Miller's & Mann's planets, vibrations)
- Extreme physics (5th dimension, gravitational anomalies, singularities)
- Climax (the tesseract, messaging the past, lifting colonies off Earth)

2024/06/06 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
D-Day celebrated after 80 years: On June 6, 1944, troops from the US, Canada, and Britain landed in northern France under heavy fire Throwback Thursday: Photos with my three sisters, over the years CE Capstone Projects were presented today in ESB 1001
Yesterday, I taught my last class for the spring quarter: Celebrating with colorful flowers Maestro Shardad Rohani, with Roudaki Orchestra, featuring violin soloist Cyrus Forough, Sunday, July 14, 2024, at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall UCSB encampment sign reading 'Queers for Free Palestine' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] D-Day celebrated after 80 years: On June 6, 1944, troops from the US, Canada, and Britain landed in northern France under heavy fire. The invasion helped lay the groundwork for victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. World leaders (minus Putin, who was not invited) and WW II veterans, some of them 100+ years old, have gathered in France to mark the occasion. [Top center] Throwback Thursday: Photos with my three sisters, over the years. [Top right] CE Capstone Project Presentations (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Yesterday, I taught my last class for the spring quarter and will go into summer mode upon grading a last homework assignment and a few research reports. [Bottom center] Of possible interest to my SoCal readers: Maestro Shardad Rohani, in concert with Roudaki Orchestra, featuring violin soloist Cyrus Forough, Sunday, July 14, 2024, at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall. [Bottom right] I hate to criticize queers during this Pride Month: But someone please tell those who placed the bottom sign at the UCSB encampment about what they do to LGBTQ people in Gaza and other Middle Eastern Arab/Islamic countries.
(2) President Biden speaks on the 80th anniversary of D-Day: To surrender to bullies or to bow down to dictators is simply unthinkable. To do that means forgetting what happened here on these hallowed beaches in Normandy. Make no mistake, we will not bow down. And we will not forget.
(3) Stanford U. will suspend 13 students who were arrested after occupying the president's office: The pro-Palestinian protesters illegally entered a building, injured a law enforcement officer, and caused extensive damage to buildings in Stanford's historic quad.
(4) Computer engineering senior capstone project presentations at UCSB today: It's rewarding to watch seniors turn into competent engineers! [CE capstone Web site with detailed descriptions and team members]
Project name – Description (Sponsor)
Locus – A low-cost, stand-alone sensor used to measure turbulent dissipation in the ocean ... (Coast Lab)
EyeMatic – Camera system that utilizes machine learning for eye anatomy recognition (Alcon)
United Sensors – Support for integrating multiple redundant sensors on quadcopter drones ... (AeroVironment)
P.E.T.E. – Proof of concept to monitor astronauts' progress as they complete procedures ... (NASA)
PenGUI – Touch screen GUI written in Python to control a VCSEL laser (Praevium)
Lumirail – Dynamic LEGO art installation map in downtown Boston, featuring LEDs that show ... (Jeong Group)
Chirality – Smart glove that acts as a hand-motion to computer interface (IFT)
Homeflow – Intuitive health wearable that collects meaningful data (IFT)
Concordia – All-in-one assistant to help control any bluetooth or wifi connected devices in ... (Laritech)
FSAE – Sensor suite for Gaucho Racing’s GR24 Formula car ... (SingleStore and UCSB Urca)
Empro – Electric modification that transforms traditional mechanical bikes into e-bikes (CNSI)
Unmanned Surface Vehicle – Small unmanned watercraft drone surveying coastlines ... (AeroVironment)

2024/06/05 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The intensity of destruction in Ukrainian cities as a result of the Russian invasion (NYT infographic) Meme: 'Whoever lives for the sake of combating an enemy has an interest in the enemy's staying alive' Taylor Swift is really a big deal: Her concerts have notable impact on local economies (1) Images of the day: [Left] The intensity of destruction in Ukrainian cities as a result of the Russian invasion (NYT infographic). [Center] Meme of the day: "Whoever lives for the sake of combating an enemy has an interest in the enemy's staying alive." ~ Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche [Right] Taylor Swift is really a big deal: Her concerts have notable impact on local economies.
(2) For those interested in the history of floating-point arithmetic and the impact of IEEE 754 Standard: UC Berkeley Professor William Kahan presented 27 lectures during May-July 1988 on challenges of floating-point arithmetic and how IEEE Standard 754, first issued in 1985, made the situation much better, though by no means perfect. Professor Kahan, a Turing Award winner, turns 91 today.
(3) Serial degree seeker: Benjamin B. Bolger, 48, has 14 advanced degrees, plus an associate's and a bachelor's from Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, to name a few, in subjects such as international development, creative nonfiction, and education.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Pro-Palestinian protesters occupying the office of Stanford University President have been arrested.
- Boeing's Starliner capsule takes astronauts to orbit: The project had suffered years of costly delays.
- US clears the way for antitrust inquiries of Nvidia, Microsoft, and OpenAI. [NYT]
- Computer Science 2023 Curricula released by IEEE Computer Society, superseding Curricula 2013. [PDF]
- There is overwhelming evidence that Israel runs a US influence campaign on the Gaza War. [NYT]
(5) National Air & Space Museum's lectures on samples-return missions: Following three previous lectures on samples-return missions from the Moon, an asteroid, and a comet, the fourth and last lecture in the series, delivered by Dr. Meenakshi Wadhwa (Arizona State U.), was about returning samples from Mars, both in already completed missions as well as missions planned for the near future.
The planet Mars has fascinated humans for centuries. But it is only in the last few decades that robotic orbiters, landers, and rovers have allowed us to explore the Red Planet in ever increasing detail. Some of our biggest questions relating to the formation and planetary-scale evolution of Mars, including its geologic and climate evolution, the history of water and volatiles, as well as the potential for the development of life in its ancient past can only be addressed by detailed analyses of carefully selected Martian samples in state-of-the-art Earth-based laboratories. The campaign to return Mars samples to Earth is underway with the on-going collection of well-documented samples by the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. Dr. Meenakshi discussed the samples that have been collected so far, those expected to be collected in the near future, and the scientific motivations for bringing these samples back to Earth.

2024/06/03 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Blue Arch, Sicily, Italy (natural rock formation) Cartoon: Is the world we humans experience a simulation? Russia's human trafficking: Forty-six children taken from Ukraine are up for adoption in Russia (1) Images of the day: [Left] Blue Arch, Sicily, Italy: Symbol for entire generations of lovers, better known as the arc of kisses, this natural wonder, was purchased by the municipality after it was confiscated from the mafia, and was later restored using methods with very low environmental impact. [Center] Cartoon of the day: Is the world we humans experience a simulation? [Right] Russia's human trafficking: Forty-six children taken from Ukraine are up for adoption in Russia (source: NYT).
(2) American Association for the Advancement of Science CEO expresses worries about flat or reduced research budgets and a trend at the US Supreme Court to overturn or limit federal agency policies that are informed by science.
(3) Trump's conviction hurt him in the pocketbook: The value of his shares in Trump Media & Technology Group fell by $400 million in one day.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Mexico's bloodiest election (37 assassinated candidates) will likely produce its first female president.
- Rupert Murdoch, 93, marries Elena Zhukov, a retired molecular biologist, in Los Angeles.
- UCSB, UCSD, and UC Irvine added to the list of University of California's striking campuses.
- Brace yourself for a heat wave that will bring triple-digit temperatures to much of the western US.
- Persian fusion music: A beautiful Arabic song, performed with Persian lyrics. [Audio file]
- Mexico elects its first woman and first Jewish president, Claudia Sheinbaum, a respected climate scientist.
(5) Written in the 1950s and published in 1961: "It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character." ~ Joseph Heller, Catch 22
(6) A Chinese spacecraft lands on the far side of the moon: The uncrewed Chang'e-6 probe, named for the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology, will collect rare samples from a region that no other country has landed on.
(7) Princeton must fire Mousavian: The Wikipedia page for Seyed Hossein Mousavian, now at Princeton University, has been updated to include sheltering assassination squads during his ambassadorship term in Germany, which led to his forced return to Iran.
(8) The summer Olympics will cause business owners in Paris to forego their August vacations, when, traditionally, you find the sign "ferme" ("closed") on many shops and boutiques. Amid tightened security, 15 million visitors are expected to visit the City of Light.

2024/06/02 (Sunday): Reviews of three books covering our universe, diet, and fantastic numbers.
Cover image for Neil DeGrasse Tyson's 'The Inexplicable Universe' Cover image for Nicole M. Avena's 'Sugarless' Cover image of Antonio Padilla's 'Fantastic Numbers and Where to Find Them' (1) Course review: DeGrasse Tyson, Neil, The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries, six half-hour lectures in the "Great Courses" series, undated. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a wonderful explainer of difficult scientific topics. The six lectures in this course are entitled:
- History's Mysteries
- The Spooky Universe
- Inexplicable Life
- Inexplicable Physics
- Inexplicable Space
- Inexplicable Cosmology
Summaries of the six lectures are available on the Great Courses Web site.
This course was the basis of a 2012 documentary miniseries.
(2) Book review: Avena, Nicole M., Sugarless: A 7-Step Plan to Uncover Hidden Sugars, Curb Your Cravings, and Conquer Your Addiction, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by Kim Ramirez, Tantor Audio, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
That too much sugar is bad for you is something we all know. But the fact that sugar is addictive isn't as well-known. Sugar addiction begins in childhood. Kids' foods are loaded with sugar, and some parents make the problem worse by rewarding good behavior with sugary snacks. You may have heard the statement "Eat your broccoli and I'll give you a lollipop" from a parent. It is unfortunate that eating good food is portrayed as undesirable, an act that should be rewarded with harmful food.
Avena's 7-step plan, which I have already started to follow in my own life, is as follows:
- Admit you're addicted
- Take stock of your sugar intake
- Identify your triggers
- Begin with your beverages
- Break down your breakfast
- De-sugar your dinner
- Keep lunch & snacks super-simple
In this 68-minute video, Dr. Nicole Avena is interviewed about her book.
(3) Book review: Padilla, Antonio, Fantastic Numbers and Where to Find Them: A Cosmic Quest from Zero to Infinity, unabridged 14-hour audiobook, read by the author, Macmillan Audio, 2022.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Antonio Padilla, a leading theoretical physicist and YouTube star, asserts that numbers are awesome, but they are even more awesome if they represent physical realities. Physics gives numbers personalities. He then takes us on a cosmic tour of nine of the most-extraordinary numbers in physics, including:
- 1.000,000,000,000,000,858, the factor by which Usain Bolt slowed time during a record-breaking dash
- Graham's number, which is so large that it might cause your head to collapse into a singularity
- TREE(3), whose finite value could never be reached before the universe reset itself
- 10^(-120), which measures the highly-unlikely balance of energy the universe needs to exist
- 0.000,000,000,000,000,1 or 2^(-16), the unexpected mass of the Higgs boson particle
And, of course, there are zero & infinity (actually, infinities), not to mention the infamous googol & googolplex.
This YouTube presentation by Padilla, entitled "Mysterious Numbers: Unlocking the Secrets of the Universe" touches upon many of the Fantastic Numbers concepts.

2024/06/01 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Late lunch at Shalhoob's Funk Zone Patio, followed by coffee & desserts at Goat Tree on State Street IranWire cartoon: The Butcher of Tehran is being depicted as a saint. Some of the memorial plaques displayed on Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf, including one that explains how the historic wharf was named (1) Images of the day: [Left] Late lunch at Shalhoob's Funk Zone Patio, followed by desserts at Goat Tree. [Center] IranWire cartoon: The Butcher of Tehran is being depicted as a saint. [Right] Some of the memorial plaques displayed on Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf, including one that explains how the wharf was named.
(2) Is Salman Rushdie really wrong on Palestine? A self-described "Muslim" accuses Rushdie of Islamophobia. "Salman Rushdie is the embodiment of modern-day Islamophobia, a literary figure who masquerades as a 'progressive free thinker' and a by-product of a liberal atheist elite obsessed with Islam."
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Come on, US voters! Having a hard time deciding between a convicted felon & an old guy who walks funny?
- Bill Mahr advises pro-Palestinian protesters to take up the cause of gender apartheid.
- The US women's soccer team looked sharp today in prevailing over South Korea 4-0. [4-minute highlights]
- Math challenge: Find the greatest common divisor of 2^25 + 1 and 2^26 + 1.
- Facebook memory from June 1, 2020: We need politicians who read books!
- Facebook memory from June 1, 2011: Human beings are wired for optimism.
(4) Prepare the popcorn for Iran's presidential election soap opera: Already, infighting has started among factions close to the Supreme Leader, the only ones that will be allowed to run in the upcoming election to replace President Raisi.
Iranian elections are tightly controlled by the Guardian Council, which simply and without any explanation disqualifies anyone not to Khamenei's liking during the "vetting" process. But, at this early stage, candidates are allowed to sign up and to run their mouths against their potential rivals.
Former President Ahmadinejad seems to have much info about who went into which hotel room with whom, and is threatening to expose supposedly pious men with very loose zippers. Exposing financial fraud is another feature of Iranian elections, but somehow the embezzlers tend to prevail and everyone forgets about their misdeeds shortly after the election.
The mullahs' opposition groups will collect a lot of ammunition against them in the coming weeks, as exposures and threats of exposure cause one candidate after another to withdraw. Two high-level prospects have already announced that they won't run. Next will come a wave of disqualifications of candidates previously thought to be regime insiders.
You may need more than one tub of popcorn! [Persian version on Facebook]

2024/05/31 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Carpet bazaar in Tabriz, Iran Nikola Tesla's statue in Niagara Falls, New York Traditional Iranian breakfast (1) Images of the day: [Left] Carpet bazaar in Tabriz, Iran. [Center] Nikola Tesla's statue in Niagara Falls, New York. [Right] Traditional Iranian breakfast.
(2) According to Donald Trump, the trial leading to his conviction on 34 felony charges was rigged: "The real verdict is going to be November 5 by the people," he maintains. But then, he has said repeatedly that he won't accept the election outcome if he loses!
(3) Voyager 1 resumes its scientific mission after an interstellar crisis that required its antiquated 1970s computer to be fixed remotely over a distance of 24 billion km. [Source: Science magazine]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hossein Amanat, architect of Tehran's Azadi Tower, awarded honorary doctorate by U. British Columbia.
- Australia cautions its citizens against traveling to Iran. [Source: Kayhan London]
- Evaluation of the impact of Facebook misinformation on the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine in the US.
- The ancient art of calligraphy is experiencing a revival. [NYT story]
- Persian music: "Jaan-e Maryam," a composition by Kambiz Mojdehi, played by international artists.
- After 45 years of being banned from public performance, Iranian women singers still sound wonderful!
(5) The following is a list of Republican officials calling for Trump to drop out of the presidential race, now that he has been convicted of 34 felonies.
The list is currently empty. It will be updated as Republican officials dare to stand up for their party.
(6) Verdict on the great Persian poet Sa'adi: I chanced upon a May 27, 2017, Facebook post by Yalda Sadeghi (reposted by a friend) in which she faults Sa'adi for his misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic verses. Yes, he did write the wonderful verse,
"Human beings are members of a whole; In creation of one essence and soul,"
which is admired worldwide, but he also wrote,
"If the Christian well's water is unclean; It shouldn't bother you when washing a Jew's corpse,"
insulting Christians and Jews in one verse.
The original post and its repost garnered numerous comments, both in approval and in disapproval. Some commenters cited additional Sa'adi verses that are in poor taste. Many commenters pointed out that Sa'adi, like anyone living in those days, was the product of a society and a historical period. Judging him by today's standards is inappropriate.
The bottom line: Be proud of your talented and brilliant ancestors, but also be aware that they had many failings as humans, so don't raise them to the status of gods.
[My Facebook post, with Sa'adi's original Persian verses.]

2024/05/30 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A first in US history: Trump found guilty on all 34 felony counts in the Manhattan hush-money case Trump is viewed by his Republican supporters as a political prisoner (even before he is imprisoned) Today's special session of the UN General Assembly to honor Iran's President Raisi was very sparsely attended (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] A first in US history: Trump found guilty on all 34 felony counts in the Manhattan hush-money case (see also the next item below). [Right] Today's special session of the United Nations General Assembly to honor Iran's President Raisi was very sparsely attended.
(2) Many high-ranking Republicans continue to stand with Trump after his conviction: Calling the trial a political circus and Trump a political prisoner (even before he is imprisoned) is an insult to hard-working Americans who assisted with Trump’s indictment and conviction. Members of the jury which convicted him are in danger, as are the prosecution team. Even if the DA had political motives, he still had to convince the jury that crimes had been committed and the defense had the opportunity to contradict the arguments and evidence. No person with such disregard for the law and the legal process should be entrusted with a public office.
(3) FBI dismantles world's largest botnet: Comprised of 19 million infected computers in 190+ countries, the botnet facilitated financial fraud, identity theft, child exploitation, bomb threats, and cyberattacks.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Omarosa was telling the truth: There is indeed evidence of Trump referring to her using the n-word.
- Now in Stanford U.'s archives: Correspondence between Ebrahim Golestan and writer Sadeq Chubak.
- Mitsubishi robot solves Rubik's Cube in record 0.305 s: The best human solution time is 3.13 s.
- Bullet-proof bike tires, invented by NASA for use on rovers exploring other planets. [4-minute video]
- Facebook memory from May 30, 2018: Free speech vs. inclusivity on campus (even more relevant today).
- Facebook memory from May 30, 2018: The eighth Parhami Family reunion (the very last one).
(5) MIT Press leads in open-access book publishing: Libraries will pay an advance fee for each book. If enough funding is generated, digital copies will be made available to readers free of charge.
(6) Scorching temperatures predicted for summer months: Workers need additional protections, but some states are taking away existing protections.
(7) Extreme weather events and inflation caused US home insurance rates to increase by 11+ percent last year: These higher insurance costs are not reflected in the official inflation data, which explains part of the disconnect between how people feel about the economy and how it looks on paper.
(8) Super-sharers of fake news on Twitter: Only 2107 registered US voters were found to account for 80% of the fake news appearing on Twitter. Super-sharers consist mostly of women, older adults, and registered Republicans. Their posts are generated through manual and persistent retweeting, not automatically.

2024/05/28 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Book lovers' wall clock Cover image of Emily Smith's 'The Science of the Good Samaritan' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Book lovers' wall clock. [Center] The colors of irrational numbers: Write the number pi in hexadecimal (3.243F6A8...), drop the integer part and keep the first six fractional digits (243F6A). The resulting 6-digit hex code represents a color. Any other irrational number can be similarly linked to a color (credit: Vadim Ponomarenko). [Right] The Science of the Good Samaritan (see the last item below).
(2) Some US baseball records and record holders will change: Major League Baseball officially incorporates into its record book stats from the Negro Leagues, in operation from 1920 to 1948 when baseball was segregated.
(3) Non-permanence of on-line content: According to Pew Research Center, 38% of Web pages in existence in 2013 are no longer available, along with 8% of Web pages that existed last year. The analysis also found that 23% of news Web pages and 21% of government Web pages contain at least one broken link, and 54% of Wikipedia pages include at least one "References" link that is broken.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- University of California academic workers strike expands to UCLA and UC Davis.
- Being built at Liberty Canyon over the US 101 Freeway, SoCal's wildlife bridge will open in 2026.
- Food-mood connection: The food you eat affects all aspects of your health. Mental health is no exception.
- Our inner sense of time and why time appears to go by faster as we age. [3-minute video]
- The story of how blue LEDs were made, unlocking a revolution in efficient lighting. [12-minute video]
- If gays shouldn't get married b/c you are a Christian, then you can't order a steak b/c I am a vegetarian!
(5) Book review: Smith, Emily, The Science of the Good Samaritan: Thinking Bigger About Loving Our Neighbors, unabridged 7-hour audiobook, read by the author, Zondervan, 2023.
[My 2-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I am really ticked off by this book and its author. The word "Science" in the title along with the author's "Dr." honorific (she is a Duke U. faculty member with a PhD in epidemiology) strongly suggest a popular science book about what makes us humans an altruistic species, a la Matthieu Ricard's Altruism: The Science and Psychology of Kindness. So, I was shocked by the fact that the book contains no science, other than occasional references to the author's scientific background.
There are, however, many references to Jesus and Bible verses. I'm not saying that the book is worthless but that it is offered in a misleading package. A perfectly-fine box of cookies may similarly be dismissed if the package bears the label "Chocolates."
I liked some of the author's musings, such as her criticizing Texas Governor Greg Abbott over blaming the very high COVID rates in his state on a relatively small number of undocumented immigrants who tested positive, while Texas already had one of the highest COVID infection rates in the nation. Such logical statements do not overcome my primary objection to the book.

2024/05/27 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
On this US Memorial Day, we honor the memory of those who fell to protect our freedom Photos forthcoming Cover image of Salman Rushdie's latest book 'Knife' (1) Images of the day: [Left] On this US Memorial Day, we honor the memory of those who fell to protect our freedom: Kissing and hugging the flag and wrapping our misguided policies in it are cheap. Doing something for our veterans, including protecting them from predatory private colleges that mislead them and milk their educational benefits would be priceless. I love quoting Mark Twain on this occasion: "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." [Center] The 2024 Italian Street-Painting Festival (I-Madonnari) in Santa Barbara: Held over the Memorial Day weekend at the Old Mission, the Festival brings together experienced and aspiring artists to create wonderful chalk paintings. There is also a music stage (sample music) and food & merchandise booths. [Right] Salman Rushdie's Knife (see the last item below).
(2) Hamas fires rockets at Tel Aviv for the first time in months: Israel retaliates by bombing a camp where it claims Hamas has significant presence.
(3) Math challenge: If a, b, c, d are nonzero positive integers such that a/b + b/c + c/d + d/a is an integer, then (4abcd)^(1/4) is also an integer.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Landslide in a Papua New Guinea village buries 2000 people alive.
- Taiwan is capable of disabling advanced chip-making machines in the event of a Chinese invasion.
- Check-in computers at several US hotels run a remote-access app that leaks guest info to the Internet.
- IRI thugs attack protesters in London: One of them kicks a woman who was pushed to the ground.
(5) Book review: Rushdie, Salman, Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2024. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Satanic Verses, which elicited a fatwa death-sentence for the author from Ayatollah Khomeini, was Rushdie's 5th book. He has written more than a dozen books since. He states, somewhat jokingly: You don't have to start with that particular book; there are plenty of other books to go around.
In Knife, Rushdie does not name his assailant, referring to the 24-year-old knife-wielding man as "A." On a fateful day in August 2022, more than 33 years after Khomeini's fatwa, Rushdie suffered 15 stab wounds, one of them blinding him in the right eye and another one nearly paralyzing him. His recovery was long and arduous, and he dedicates this book to those who saved his life.
Rushdie tells his story in 8 chapters, bearing short titles: "Knife" (description of the attack); "Eliza" (the love of his life); "Hamot" (site of a hospital in Erie County, Pennsylvania); "Rehab" (nearly a month, somewhere in NYC); "Homecoming" (transferring to a second home in NYC); "The A." (a masterfully-written imaginary conversation with his assailant); "Second Chance" (reflections on what he might do with his newfound life); "Closure?" (is he now a different person or writer?).
Through Rushdie's powerful words, the reader experiences the pain of 15 knife stabs that almost killed him and the challenges of numerous procedures that brought him back from the dead. Of course, no one expects Rushdie to write about his medical ordeal and the subsequent rehab (both physical and psychological), without throwing in philosophical observations such as the irony of an atheist seeing his survival and return to a near-normal life as a miracle. Rushdie's writings are full of miracles and other supernatural events, but he himself is a follower of science and logic.
Rushdie describes his assailant as a simpleton who had no clear understanding of Rushdie's work or even of his own motives for planning to kill him. Rushdie cites a doctor as saying that he was lucky that the assailant had no idea of how to kill a man with a knife! Interspersed with factual reporting about his near-death experience and meditations, Rushdie also offers plenty of commentary on the poisonous political climate around the world.
Rushdie is grateful for all the messages of love and support coming from around the world. To him, the fact that Iran showed no reaction was fully expected, given that the country's leader had issued the death fatwa. However, he was stung by the total lack of support from India or Pakistan. Incredibly, someone once told him that if you make yourself a subject of hate then some hateful person will come for you.

2024/05/26 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: In this diagram featuring a regular pentagon, find the measure of the angle marked in orange Our family's gathering for a memorable Memorial Weekend BBQ Math puzzle: Find the radius of the circle in this diagram featuring a rectangle and four equal angles theta (1) Images of the day: [Left] Math puzzle: In this diagram featuring a regular pentagon, find the measure of the angle marked in orange. [Center] Our family's gathering for a memorable Memorial Weekend BBQ, hosted by my sister. The flowers and plant are samples of my photography during an afternoon walk in East Ventura. [Right] Math puzzle: Find the radius of the circle in this diagram featuring a rectangle and four equal angles.
(2) "The Seed of the Sacred Fig": Mohammad Rasoulof made the film in Iran, cleverly skirting the censors. He recently fled the country on foot, after the mullahs issued an arrest warrant for him. He and his film are now at the Cannes Film Festival. Inspired by the #WomanLifeFreedom Revolution, the film's storyline represents gender and generational conflicts within a family.
(3) Tropical algebra: Consider the set of real numbers and operations of "tropical addition" x ta y = min(x, y) and "tropical multiplication" x tm y = x + y. An alternative form of tropical algebra uses max(x, y) for addition.
Computations of tropical algebra are easier/faster to implement in hardware, because multiplication is simplified to addition and exponentiation to multiplication. When real-valued input data is encoded as the transition instant of a signal from 0 to 1, a single OR gate can perform tropical addition.
The descriptor "tropical" was attached to this algebra by French mathematicians in honor of the Hungarian-born Brazilian computer scientist Imre Simon, who published several papers on these ideas in the late 1970s. Apparently, to Frenchmen, Brazil is quite tropical! Some on-line sources credit Bernard Carre's 1971 paper, "An Algebra for Network Routing Problems," as the birthplace of these ideas.
Many of the properties of ordinary algebra are valid in tropical algebra. For example, distributivity holds:
x tm (y ta z) = (x tm y) ta (x tm z)
Translation: x + min(y, z) = min(x + y, x + z)
A polynomial in tropical algebra takes the form:
f(x) = (a(0)) ta (a(1) tm x) ta (a(2) tm 2x) ta . . . ta (a(n) tm nx)
   = min(a(0), a(1) + x, a(2) + 2x, . . . , a(n) + nx)
Explanation for tropical exponentiation: x te j = jx
Tropical algebra began garnering serious attention when it was realized that the Floyd-Warshall shortest-path algorithm using min-plus operations can be formulated in tropical algebra.
There is more to tropical math than the short introduction above. For example, there is tropical geometry, tropical analysis, and tropical cryptography, to name a few related areas.
The following book describes Tropical geometry as "a combinatorial shadow of algebraic geometry, offering new polyhedral tools to compute invariants of algebraic varieties. It is based on tropical algebra, where the sum of two numbers is their minimum and the product is their sum. This turns polynomials into piecewise-linear functions, and their zero sets into polyhedral complexes. These tropical varieties retain a surprising amount of information about their classical counterparts."
Maclagan, Diane and Bernd Sturmfels, Introduction to Tropical Geometry, American Math. Soc., 2015.
Here is a nice introduction to tropical mathematics.

2024/05/25 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
An old private residence in Yazd, Iran, renovated and converted to a hotel A top-level mullah wishes martyrdom for all Islamic Republic of Iran officials Just a beautiful, soothing image to prepare us for the long weekend ahead!
Death & destruction in Gaza is subject of daily condemnation Death & destruction in Ukraine barely gets a mention Musings of a curious engineer: Today, during my long walk along Santa Barbara's waterfront, I noticed that hubcaps or wheel interiors for most cars use 5-spoke designs (1) Images of the day: [Top left] An old private residence in Yazd, Iran, renovated and converted to a hotel. [Top center] A top-level mullah wishes martyrdom for all Islamic Republic of Iran officials: Finally, we are on the same page! [Top right] Just a beautiful, soothing image to prepare us for the long Memorial weekend ahead! [Bottom left & center] Double standards: Why is it that the UN and other sources condemn the death and destruction in Gaza Strip on a daily basis, whereas the same calamities in Ukraine barely get a mention? [Bottom right] Musings of a curious engineer: Today, during my long walk along Santa Barbara's waterfront, I noticed that hubcaps or wheel interiors for most cars (around 90%, perhaps) use 5-spoke designs. There are rare 6- and 7-spoke designs, but nothing else. Pursuing the reasons on-line, I found the following explanations. The Wheels have had 5 lugs for decades, so having 5 spokes allows the lugs to sit inside or between spokes. A prime number of spokes prevents vibrational harmonics from building up and creating undue stress. Of course, 3 and 7 are also prime numbers. Five spokes look nicer than 3 and are easier to manufacture than 7.
(2) Yesterday's ECE Distinguished Lecture at UCSB: Dr. Matthew W. Daniels (NIST) spoke under the title "Computing Beyond Boolean Logic Using Time, Stochasticity, and Geometry."
We are so used to standard logic elements such as AND and OR gates that we find it difficult to imagine another platform for computation. Yet alternate computing technologies are being pursued with vigor. Among these, optical computing, biological computing, and quantum computing are best known. What Dr. Daniels focused on today is the use of the same CMOS logic elements to compute differently, because the data is viewed differently. He presented several examples.
a. Temporal computing: Inputs are logic signals that transition from 0 to 1, with the instant of transition being the data value of interest. With this interpretation, an AND gate outputs the larger of the two real input values and an OR gate the smaller of the two. One way of storing values is to convert time to resistance by building a variable resistor whose resistance increases with the time elapsed since a control signal was asserted and it stops changing when a data single arrives.
b. Stochastic computing: The probability of a signal value being 1 is the value of interest. An AND gate then becomes a multiplier of real numbers. This computation scheme imposes serious time penalties in most cases, as the inputs must vary over long-enough time periods for probabilities to make sense, but there are application areas that can benefit significantly from this scheme.
c. Ising models: These are mathematical models that use discrete variables to represent magnetic dipole moments of atomic "spins" that can be in one of two states (+1 or –1). The spins are arranged in a graph, usually an infinite lattice, allowing each spin to interact with its neighbors. Neighboring spins that agree have a lower energy than those that disagree.
d. Binarized neural networks: Data is encoded in the following way. Device conductance (inverse of resistance) represents synaptic weights and voltage/current stand for neuron I/O. This scheme, which multiplies weights by values and sums the resulting products, can be implemented in a purely analog form.

2024/05/24 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Rock-n-roll band from the Stone Age UCSB West Campus Point faculty housing Palm Plaza: More than three decades ago, and today Notice of memorial service for Iran's President Raisi and others who perished in a chopper crash
Cartoon from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo: Woman Life Freedom Helicopter Yet one more talk about consciousness (UCSB SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind) Talangor Group talk on self-love vs. narcissism (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Rock-n-roll band from the Stone Age. [Top center] UCSB West Campus Point faculty housing Palm Plaza: More than three decades ago, and today. [Top right] Islamic hierarchy: Nine people died in a chopper crash atop the mountains of northwestern Iran. Yet we seldom read about the victims besides Ebrahim Raisi or Hossein Amirabdollahian. This memorial service announcement names five of the victims. The other four simply don't count. [Bottom left] Cartoon from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo: Woman Life Freedom Helicopter. [Bottom center] Yet one more talk about consciousness (see the next item below). [Bottom right] Talk on self-love vs. narcissism (see the last item below).
(2) Today's SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind talk at UCSB: Dr. Hakwan Lau, RIKEN Center for Brain Science, Japan, and author of In Consciousness We Trust: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Subjective Experience, talked under the title "The End of Consciousness." Consciousness is a very difficult topic to discuss and understand. Most descriptions of it entail either hand-waving or circular arguments. My latest read on the topic, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Consciousness, failed to clarify the problem for me. My review on GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/6518323954 According to Lau, 'consciousness' is an archaic term that served a useful purpose at one time. Biologists who are interested in the nature of life no longer try to look for 'vital forces.' Instead, they identify specific functions that are essential for living — e.g. reproduction, metabolism, genetics, digestion — and they develop mechanistic explanations for these functions, through careful experimentation and empirically-informed theorizing. Lau suggests that subjective perception, attention, metacognition, wakefulness, rational control of behavior, and even metaphysical speculations about the mind are all intertwined. Just like 'vital forces,' the utility of consciousness for rigorous theorizing has expired, and the term has accordingly become a liability. As the end begins, a more mature science will emerge.
(3) Tonight's Talangor Group program: Dr. Arash Taghavi spoke under the title "Self-Worth: From Self-Love/Respect/Confidence to Narcissism." Before the main talk, Dr. Fereydoun Majlessi briefly discussed "Iran's Ownership of Three Islands in the Persian Gulf." There were ~100 attendees. Self-love, like all love, arises from caring. The object of love isn't assumed to be perfect; in fact, s/he may have many shortcomings, that give rise to the need for help or protection. Self-absorption, or narcissism, is based on the idea of self-perfection, which, counterintuitively, arises from a high level of insecurity. A narcissist is incapable of listening or taking advice. You cannot argue with a narcissist, because s/he is insecure and views any criticism as a personal attack. A narcissist demands compliance from those around him/her and resorts to gaslighting, threatening, or guilt-tripping, for example, to control others. The difference between self-love/respect/confidence and narcissism is the difference between a personality trait and a personality disorder. There is no known treatment for narcissism, so we should learn to recognize its symptoms in order to protect ourselves. Self-love can lead to the establishment of personal boundaries, which are sometimes mistaken for narcissism. A self-loving person lives as s/he pleases and does not constantly seek other people's approval. S/he also does not try to impose a way of life on others. It is difficult to sum up discussions on psychology and human behavior. Boundaries between various conditions are often blurred and open to interpretation. In the preceding paragraphs, I have tried to touch upon key terms and concept. I found the following article helpful: https://www.psychologs.com/narcissism-v-s-self-love-who-wins/

2024/05/23 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday (1): When I was a child, we'd buy sugar in cone form and break it down into small pieces to serve with tea Throwback Thursday (2): Undated newspaper ad for sea trip from Khorramshahr, Iran, to New York, taking 30-32 days Throwback Thursday (3): Iranians used to smile in the pre-Islamic-Revolution days
Talk on the evolution of Persian script: Slides Talk on the evolution of Persian script: Flyer Cartoon from the French satirical magazine 'Charlie Hebdo': Woman Life Freedom Helicopter (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday (1): When I was a child, we'd buy sugar in cone form and would use tools ("ghand-shekan" or sugar-cube breaker) to break it down into small, irregular chunks to serve with tea. Packaged sugar-cubes had just entered the market, but they were still luxury items and, besides, would melt too quickly in your mouth. [Top center] Throwback Thursday (2): Undated newspaper ad for sea trip from Khorramshahr, Iran, to New York, taking 30-32 days. [Top right] Throwback Thursday (3): Iranians on the street in the pre-Islamic era. Notice the smiles, which have been wiped off their faces by the joyless mullahs. [Bottom left & center] Talk on the evolution of the Persian script (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Cartoon from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo: Woman Life Freedom Helicopter.
(2) C. Gordon Bell, a visionary who helped design some of the first minicomputers in the 1960s, dead at 89: Bell [1934-2024] went to work in 1960 for Digital Equipment Corporation, where he started designing computers like the PDP-8, the first commercially successful minicomputer. Bell spent 23 years at DEC as vice president of research and development before leaving and co-founding his own companies, Encore Computer and Ardent Computer. In 1986, Bell joined the National Science Foundation and advised Microsoft in the early 1990s before joining the company as a senior researcher in 1995. The computer pioneer was always looking ten steps ahead and building that version of the world.
(3) Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Isla Vista mass-murder tragedy that claimed the lives of six UCSB students and injured 14 others on May 23, 2014: Remembrance and memorial events are planned by a number of campus and student organizations.
(4) UN sends condolences for President Raisi's death, seemingly forgetting its own condemnations of Islamic Iran's vast human rights abuses under "the butcher of Tehran" and other regime criminals.
(5) Will we finally afford to go to a live concert? The Ticketmaster parent company is being accused of having an illegal monopoly. Consumers have been screaming for years about obnoxiously high fees charged on top of already expensive concert ticket prices. The US Justice Department finally listened.
(6) Tonight's Socrates Think Tank talk: Dr. Hossein Samei spoke under the title "Script in Iran." He presented a comprehensive review of how the Persian script has evolved over the centuries and outlined the many efforts that have come about to change or reform the script. The challenges that have motivated the aforementioned change/reform proposals include mismatch between the written and spoken forms, elimination of short vowels, inconsistencies brought about by mixing Persian & Arabic scripts, chaos in connecting or not connecting parts of the same word, locations & multiplicities of dots, different shapes for the same letter, and disorder in spelling.

2024/05/22 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Bertolt Brecht said it all: 'Who does not know the truth, is simply a fool ... yet who knows the truth and calls it a lie, is a criminal' My daughter's kashk-e bademjoon (Persian eggplant dish, with curd) IEEE Central Coast Section talk on vibration effects in electronic circuits (1) Images of the day: [Left] Bertolt Brecht said it all: "Who does not know the truth, is simply a fool ... yet who knows the truth and calls it a lie, is a criminal." [Center] My daughter's kashk-e bademjoon (Persian eggplant dish, with curd). [Right] Talk on vibration effects in electronic circuits (see the next item below).
(2) Tonight's IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk: Dan Bezzant (Raytheon) spoke under the title "Vibration Effects on Electronic Circuitry."
The phrase 'solid state' has brought many in the profession to think that digital electronic circuits are immune to mechanical events around them. Bezzant's discussion showed from a practical viewpoint how shock and vibration can affect the function of electronic circuits, how this effect gets propagated from mechanical shock or vibration to the operation of a solid-state circuit, and what design techniques can be used to mitigate or eliminate disruptions to functionality.
(3) This Certificate of Appreciation was awarded by conference organizers for the opening keynote lecture I delivered to DCHPC 2024 on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, under the title "Fixed-Degree and Constant-Diameter Interconnection Networks for Parallel Supercomputing."
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A UNC-CH business school professor learns that some of his classes were recorded without his knowledge.
- Facebook memory from May 22, 2015: Manhood, manliness, and patriarchy.
- Facebook memory from May 22, 2011: The day I entered historical records.
- Facebook memory from May 22. 2010: On reason overcoming flaming passion.
(5) Did US sanctions kill Iran's President Raisi? According to former FM Javad Zarif, the difficulty in obtaining spare parts for Iran's aging choppers and planes directly contributed to the crash that killed Raisi. Yet, for years, Iran's Supreme Leader and other top officials have claimed that not only sanctions do not affect Iran's economy, but they are blessings in disguise, because they help the country become self-sufficient. As the Persian saying goes: Should we believe the fox's denial or the rooster's tail that's sticking out?
(6) "OSIRIS-Rex: Revealing Secrets from the Dawn of our Solar System": In continuation of the National Air and Space Museum's lecture series on samples-return NASA missions, Dr. Dante Lauretta (Head of OSIRIS-REx research team at the University of Arizona) discussed the findings from the first set of data from analysis of the samples returned from near-Earth asteroid Bennu. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launched in September 2016 and began its journey to Bennu, a carbon-rich, near-Earth asteroid. The spacecraft rendezvoused with Bennu in 2018 and successfully obtained a sample in October 2020. The spacecraft embarked on its return voyage to Earth on May 10, 2021. On Sept. 24, 2023, the spacecraft jettisoned the sample capsule and sent it onto a trajectory to touch down in the Utah desert. Analysis of the sample promises to provide insights into the formation of the Earth as a habitable world and the origin of life.

2024/05/20 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today, on the UCSB campus: Students protesting in support of Palestine are preparing to strike Displays of nature's colorful beauty (flowers) Lecture on Iran-America relations by Dr. Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet
Here are how two artists have interpreted the demise or Iran's President Raisi: Image 1 Here are how two artists have interpreted the demise or Iran's President Raisi: Image 2 Fifteen Baha'i women sentenced to jail terms, fines, and civic probations in Isfahan, Iran (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Today, on the UCSB campus: Students protesting in support of Palestine are preparing to strike. [Top center] Displays of nature's colorful beauty. [Top right] Lecture on Iran-America relations (see the last item below). [Bottom left & center] The deceased Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had vowed to escalate the fight against hijablessness: Here are how two artists have interpreted his demise. [Bottom right] Fifteen Baha'i women sentenced to jail terms, fines, and civic probations in Isfahan, Iran.
(2) Get Ready for More 'Hard Landings' in the Middle East (Michael Rubin, in the Washington Examiner): "Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi perished in what Iranian media initially labeled a 'hard landing.' That Iranians celebrated with fireworks in Raisi's hometown Mashhad reflects the hatred with which Iranians view the regime that oppresses them. This should be a warning to the regime: Raisi is one thing, but when 85-year-old Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has his hard landing, it will kick-start Iranians' active quest for regime change."
"For the European Union to send condolences upon the Butcher of Tehran's death shows the moral blindness at the heart of European policy; it is equivalent to sending condolences upon the 1942 death of Reinhard Heydrich, the German Reich's acting governor of Bohemia and Moravia."
(3) The Cuban spies who infiltrated the US government and operated with impunity for many years: Cuba apparently can't use the gathered intelligence, so it's likely in the business of selling it to other US adversaries.
(4) UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran: Dr. Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet (U. Penn) spoke today in English under the title "Heroes to Hostages: US-Iran Diplomacy through Race Relations and Human Rights." The Persian version of the lecture was delivered yesterday.
Iranian intellectuals of the post-Mosaddeq era advanced an anti-colonial rhetoric that burst wide open during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Many writers, some with socialist leanings, watched with interest political happenings in formerly colonized states. These conflicts were often rooted in experiences of racial discrimination and social inequality. At the same time, the Iranian state also engaged with some of these themes and expanded its diplomatic relations with a range of countries in the Global South.
Although formal ties between Iran and the US were strengthened during the two decades preceding the 1979 revolution, social dissent also grew markedly. The debate on human rights gave voice to these concerns, as Iran's politicians and writers reflected on the legacy of human rights and reassessed the country's ties to the West. Race relations provided an unanticipated and often missed opportunity for collaboration.
Note: In the context of this talk and the book on which it is based, "race" also embraces ethnicity (viz., the Arab or the Iranian race).

2024/05/19 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Discussion on AI: SoCal Chapter of Sharif U. ov Technology Association Copter crash in northwestern Iran: Occupants included President Raisi and Iran's Foreign Minister Cover image of 'A Briefer History of Time' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Discussion on AI (see the next item below). [Center] Copter crash in northwestern Iran (see item 3 below). [Right] A Briefer History of Time (see the last item below).
(2) Lecture and panel discussion on AI's past, present, and future: In a Zoom session, hosted by the SoCal Chapter of SUTA (Sharif U. Technology Association), Dr. Babak Hojjat, CTO at Cognizant, reviewed AI's accomplishments and potentials. Panelists Mohammad Ramazanali (Salesforce), Dr. Yahya Tabesh (Professor Emeritus, SUT), and Mitra Zaimi (Unisys) then discussed the topic.
(3) Helicopter carrying Iran's President and Foreign Minister crashes upon landing: Rescue teams have not yet reached the crash site.
Mid-morning update: Early reports from Iran indicated that President Raisi's copter had a hard landing. It now seems that it crashed in a mountainous area with very low visibility, likely by hitting a mountain. While hard landings may be survivable, crashes rarely leave survivors.
Late-night update: Iran's President, Foreign Minister, and seven others are confirmed dead at the crash site.
(4) IEEE honors the 50th anniversary of the Internet: In the second of a three-part program, IEEE virtually celebrated 50 Years of the Internet, honoring the 1974 IEEE Computer Society paper on TCP by Vint Cerf & Bob Kahn. Tomorrow's third part, held in a hybrid format at the Computer History Museum, will officially dedicate the historic paper above, as well as the work of the IEEE 802 Standards Committee and the birth of Google & its PageRank Algorithm. [Streaming on IEEE TV]
(5) Book review: Hawking, Stephen (with Leonard Mlodinow), A Briefer History of Time, unabridged 4-hour audiobook, read by Erik Davies, Random House Audio, 2005. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
A Brief History of Time (1988) was a hugely successful science book that sold a copy for every 750 Earth inhabitants and was translated into dozens of languages, turning Hawking into a global cultural icon. This new version of the book focuses on the most-important topics of the original, adding depth as well as new material and explanations.
When we talk about the greatest scientist of all time, Einstein invariably comes to mind. Hawking isn't at the same level, given the theories for which he is responsible defy experimental verification and are thus viewed with skepticism by some other scientists. But when it comes to explaining science to the public, Hawking beats Einstein and maybe even the "explainer-in-chief" Richard Feynman. Given how many difficult topics were addressed in A Brief History of Time, it is a testament to Hawking's communication skills that so many people read it (or attempted to read it).
In this update & rewrite of A Brief History of Time, Hawking and Mlodinow focus on quantum mechanics, string theory, the Big-Bang theory, & other topics in a more accessible fashion to the general public. Newly discovered concepts are included and previously-known topics are explained in greater detail throughout the book.

2024/05/17 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Geometric beauty of plants and vegetables: Photo 1 You can tell the chemical composition of a meteor from its color Geometric beauty of plants and vegetables: Photo 2 (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Geometric beauty of plants and vegetables. [Center] You can tell the chemical composition of a meteor from its color. [Right]
(2) Climate change threatens Big Sur's scenic access road: Between 2016 and 2023, Caltrans spent $315 million dollars in unplanned emergency work in the area after fires, mudslides, and bridge collapses.
(3) Math challenge: You run a lap around the track at an average speed of V. How fast should you run a second lap so that your overall average speed for both laps is 2V?
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Humanitarian aid is flowing into Gaza by way of a floating pier built by the US military.
- Leading cause of death for pregnant & postpartum women in the US: Murder by an intimate partner.
- Actress Reese Witherspoon leads a book club that reliably sends its monthly picks onto the best-seller list.
- Demonstration that a bull set free, without being made angry, runs happily and does not touch anyone.
- Math challenge: Which is larger, the number 10! (10 factorial) or the number of seconds in 6 weeks?
- California Strawberry Festival returns to Ventura County Fairgrounds this weekend, 5/18-19.
- Madrid-based Grupo Talia (orchestra & choir) performs many memorable international pop songs.
- "I Feel Good," performed by Grupo Talia in a way that really makes you feel good!
(5) Our justice system at work: Indiana judge rules that tacos are sandwiches, allowing a taco vendor to operate in a mall that accommodates sandwich shops but bans fast-food joints.
(6) Risky pathogen research: The Biden administration is tightening federal oversight of the so-called "gain-of-function" studies that could enhance risky viruses to increase their ability to cause a pandemic.
(7) Another pay-to-publish program unmasked: "Last year, physician Rupak Desai coauthored more than three dozen conference abstracts in Circulation, the American Heart Association's (AHA's) flagship journal. The works marked a modest fraction of his publications in 2023, which totaled 162. But Desai, scholarly productivity notwithstanding, is not employed by a hospital, university, or any other type of scientific institution."
"Based in Atlanta, Desai runs a business that offers junior doctors from around the world a chance to beef up their CVs before applying for coveted residency or fellowship positions at hospitals or physician offices in the United States. For about $1000 and a commitment to work 10 to 15 hours remotely over a few weeks, last year's participants in Desai's Express Research Workshop could get a byline on three abstracts submitted to AHA's biggest annual conference, the Scientific Sessions meeting, according to an online ad that was removed after Science contacted Desai for this story." [From Science magazine, May 10, 2024]

2024/05/16 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
This UCSB service vehicle nonchalantly drove on walkway near the Engineering II Building around 2:00 PM on Wednesday 2024/05/15 Iran's cyber-army runs a smear campaign against women's-rights activist Masih Alinejad Campaign to have ex-IRI official Seyed Hossein Mousavian fired by Princeton U. kicks into high gear (1) Images of the day: [Left] This UCSB service vehicle nonchalantly drove on walkway near the Engineering II Building around 2:00 PM on Wednesday 2024/05/15 and parked in front of Courtyard Cafe. I hope the driver had legitimate business there, rather than going in to get a cup of coffee. [Center] Opposition figure and anti-compulsory-hijab campaigner Masih Alinejad is being portrayed by Iran's cyber-army as a stooge of the mullahs: They know they are hated and want to transfer some of that hatred to someone whose effective women's-rights campaign has put fear in their hearts. Most Iranians know better than to fall for these childish accusations. Alinejad is human and has committed a number of strategic errors over the years, but she is no stooge of the misogynistic Islamic regime. [Right] Campaign to have ex-IRI official Seyed Hossein Mousavian fired by Princeton U. kicks into high gear.
(2) The Frontier supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Lab again ranked first in the Top 500 list of the world's most powerful supercomputers: The US has 171 systems on the list, including the Aurora supercomputer at Argonne National Lab. As for networking technologies, Infiniband is used by nearly half the systems on the Top 500 list (48%), while Ethernet is used by 39%.
(3) According to US FDA, 200+ diabetes patients were injured when their insulin pumps shut down unexpectedly: Version 2.7 of the t:connect Apple iOS app, used with the t:slim X2 insulin pump with Control-IQ, had a software issue that caused it to repeatedly crash and relaunch, draining the pump's battery and causing it to shut down and suspend insulin delivery. The app has been recalled.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- I am always impressed by how artists draw a portrait: Here is a wonderful sample.
- The design of the Titanic ocean liner and why it was doomed to sink. [19-minute video]
- Paul McCartney praises Beyonce's magnificent cover of his civil-rights-inspired song "Blackbird."
- Persian music: "Dokhtar-e Hamsayeh" ("The Girl Next Door"). [2-minute video]
(5) A so-called think tank in Tehran, with direct ties to IRGC terrorists and the Islamic regime's intelligence apparatus runs Iran's influence campaign in America and Europe, while not being targeted by sanctions.
(6) University of California union of academic employees, which includes graduate-student researchers, TAs, and post-docs, authorizes a strike which may begin as early as today. UAW alleges unfair employment practices over the handling of pro-Palestinian protests.
(7) Florida, the state in greatest danger from sea-level rise and other consequences of global warming, decides to stick its head in the sand and remove references to climate change from its energy policies.
(8) Bidirectional charging: Student transportation provider Zum is initiating a project with the Oakland Unified School District to send power from EV bus batteries back to the California utility grid. Oakland, the first school district to fully electrify its bus fleet, can potentially return 2.1 GWh of energy to the grid annually through this program. Larger districts like San Francisco Unified and Los Angeles Unified are expected to follow suit. [CNBC]

2024/05/14 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of IEEE Computer magazine, issue of May 2024 Meme about Iran: Terrorist president greets terrorist 'diplomat' Cover image of Yutaka Nishiyama's 'The Mysterious Number 6174' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Venture scientists and technology entrepreneurship: This is the cover theme of IEEE Computer magazine's May 2024 issue which begins with the column "Dissertation, Inc." and continues with several articles on how elite science & engineering programs around the world encourage their graduates to shift their focus from being job consumers to becoming innovators and job creators. [Center] Terrorist president greets terrorist "diplomat": The so-called diplomat, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was later returned to Iran, complains that in prison, he was fed stale bread and high-fat cheese, with no soda! [Right] Yutaka Nishiyama's The Mysterious Number 6174 (see the last item below).
(2) Violence against women: According to Etemad newspaper, at least 23 Iranian women and girls have been killed by men in their families in the first 1.5 months of the Persian new year 1403.
(3) Book review: Nishiyama, Yutaka, The Mysterious Number 6174: One of 30 Amazing Mathematical Topics in Daily Life, Gendai Sugakusha Co., 2013. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is a fascinating book from start to finish. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in mathematical puzzles, oddities, and mysteries.
Let me describe the number in the book's title, which is the subject of Chapter 15. Take an arbitrary 4-digit number whose digits are not all the same. Perform the Kaprekar operation on the number as follows: Obtain the largest 4-digit number that uses the same 4 digits and subtract from it the smallest 4-digit number with the same digits. Repeat the process by applying the Kaprekar operation on the new number and on every number subsequently obtained. Regardless of the starting number, you always end up with 6174, and the process takes 0 to 7 steps. This amazing property is believed to be incidental, but there may be some deep mathematics behind it. By the way, the same process applied to a 3-digit starting number yields 495. This article by Nishiyama provides more details and quite few other amazing facts.
Here are titles of a few of the book's other 29 chapters, all of them containing interesting and surprising facts. Each chapter is written as a separate article, with an abstract, AMS subject classification, key words, and list of references.
04. Stairway light switches
06. The mathematics of egg shape
12. Miura folding: Applying origami to space exploration
16. Numerical Palindromes and the 196 problem
21. Opening the black box of random numbers
24. Machin's formula and pi
28. Odd and even number cultures

2024/05/12 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Mothers' Day: Mothers make the world go around In 2018, May 12, birthdate of the late Maryam Mirzakhani, was designated as Women in Mathematics Day This afternoon at Ventura Harbor
These are shadows cast by nine zebras photographed from overhead: Zoom in and you'll understand Math puzzle: Find the length x. The diagram isn't to scale UCSB pro-Palestine encampment in its second week (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Mothers' Day: Mothers make the world go around. Their contributions to our well-being are so broad and deep that, in fact, every day should be Mothers' Day. [Top center] In 2018, May 12, birthdate of the late Maryam Mirzakhani, was designated as Women in Mathematics Day. Mirzakhani was awarded the Fields Medal, mathematic's highest honor, in 2014. [Top right] This afternoon at Ventura Harbor, before celebrating my daughter's birthday with the family at Andria's Seafood. [Bottom left] These are shadows cast by nine zebras photographed from overhead. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Find the length x. The diagram isn't to scale. [Bottom right] Pro-Palestine protests at UCSB (see the last item below).
(2) The truth behind pro-Palestinian protests at America's elite colleges: These protests aren't about Palestine, Israel, or the war in Gaza, although many participants are sincere in their beliefs that they are. The protests are about Russia, China, and Iran taking advantage of weaknesses in our society to create chaos. American universities, once the Crown Jewels of our socioeconomic system, have been hurting from the effects of COVID and a steady stream of academic and other scandals. The current disruptions may deal a fatal blow to their well-being and the public trust in them.
(3) Sun, Surf and Cinema in Santa Barbara: Free summer films, Friday nights under the stars, Courthouse Sunken Garden, 8:30 PM.
7/05: "Jaws"
7/12: "Point Break"
7/19: "50 First Dates"
7/26: "Blue Crush"
8/02: *** No screening during Fiesta
8/09: "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou"
8/16: "Mamma Mia!"
8/23: "Crazy Rich Asians"
(4) UCSB pro-Palestine encampment in its second week: While the university administration has called for a dialogue and non-disruptive protest, the demands of the protesters, which include the establishment of a Palestinian Studies Department and scholarships for Palestinians students, in addition to divestment from and academic boycott of Israel as well as abolishment of UC Police Department, are unlikely to be met. The campus has responded to the protests with a collective "meh"; there is no police presence and no counter-protests.

2024/05/10 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Commencement 2024 (New Yorker cover) See how many of these Persian sayings/expressions you can identify: Batch 1 See how many of these Persian sayings/expressions you can identify: Batch 2
Our volcanic Moon (Science magazine cover feature) The Sun is playing nasty-and-nice with its communications-disrupting geomagnetic storms and the awe-inspiring Northern Lights: Storms The Sun is playing nasty-and-nice with its communications-disrupting geomagnetic storms and the awe-inspiring Northern Lights: Northern Lights (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Commencement 2024 (New Yorker cover). [Top center & right] See how many of these eight Persian sayings/expressions you can identify. [Bottom left] Our volcanic Moon (Science magazine cover feature). [Bottom center & right] A month after treating us to a spectacular total eclipse, the Sun is playing nasty-and-nice with its communications-disrupting geomagnetic storms and the awe-inspiring Northern Lights.
(2) Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof sentenced to 8 years in prison, plus flogging & fines, for making films and documentaries that are "harmful to national security."
(3) Looming strike of UAW academic workers at UCSB: The potential strike is allegedly based on "unfair labor practices" connected to ongoing campus protests on the Gaza war.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Canada's Parliament voted to list Iran's IRGC as a terrorist organization and to shut down their operations.
- Coldplay & Sting join 100+ musicians and other icons urging release of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi.
- All sorts of weird standard samples are maintained by US National Institute for Standards and Technology.
- Persian music: Reza Malekzadeh performs "Aram Aram." [4-minute video]
(5) "The West is a woman to be mounted": This is a rather polite translation of what the predominant Arab culture thinks of the West and Westerners. Positive traits of Westerners (compassion, kindness, empathy) are all viewed as weaknesses by the Arabs. Until the West understands this mindset, no amount of negotiation will help bridge the culture gap. It's not just anti-Semitism we are facing but also extreme misogyny.

2024/05/09 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: This toy gun working with gunpowder was a thing when I was growing up in Iran Webinar by Dr. Marc Milstein under the title 'The Age-Proof Brain' My daughter at an arts-and-crafts market, a 3-day event in Goleta, continuing to Saturday (1) Images of the day: [Left] Throwback Thursday: This toy gun was a thing when I was growing up in Iran. You'd load into it a paper strip bearing tiny amounts of gunpowder at regular intervals. Each time you pulled the trigger, the paper strip would move forward, allowing a hammer to hit the next explosive charge. [Center] "The Age-Proof Brain" webinar (see the last item below). [Right] My daughter at an arts-and-crafts market, a 3-day event in Goleta, continuing to Saturday.
(2) When an English town removed apostrophes from street names, such as "St. Mary's Walk," many unhappy residents started a petition drive and used marker-pens to reinsert the apostrophes.
(3) According to Association of American Medical Colleges, for the second year in a row, students graduating from US med schools were less likely to apply for residency positions in states that enforce bans or significant restrictions on abortion.
(4) "The Age-Proof Brain": This was the title of today's webinar by Dr. Marc Milstein, based on his book with the same title. When it comes to keeping your brain in tip-top shape, you aren't limited to crossword puzzles, brain games, and Sudoku. Debunking common misinformation, Milstein shared new, breakthrough science-supported strategies to:
- Improve memory and productivity
- Increase energy and boost your mood
- Reduce the risk of anxiety and depression
- Form healthy habits to supercharge your brain
Whereas our brain shrinks by 5% per decade beginning at age 40, there are things we can do to slow this shrinkage and to minimize its effects. Also, our brain is like a factory, producing useful stuff but also leaving behind junk which should be properly discarded to keep our brain clean. Only 30 minutes of brisk walking per day does wonders for the health of our brain and the rest of our body.

2024/05/08 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
War in Gaza has now expanded to its southernmost region, where many Gazans have taken refuge
Birthday wish for my beloved daughter (1) Images of the day: [Top left] War in Gaza has now expanded to its southernmost region, where many Gazans have taken refuge. [Top center & right] UCSB Reads 2024 authors' talk (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Birthday wish for my daughter (see the next item below). [Bottom right] My freshman seminar class, ECE 1B ("Ten Puzzling Problems in Computer Engineering"), meeting this quarter in Psych 1924.
(2) To my beloved daughter: As you celebrate another milestone birthday, I want you to know how proud I am of what you have accomplished and of the young woman you have become. You were born on Mothers' Day and we will celebrate with the family this coming Mothers' Day. Until then, enjoy your special day today and your arts & crafts endeavors over the next three days. I love you! [P.S.: Photos are from FB memories on May 8.]
(3) My heart goes out to the Class of 2024: These kids began their studies under COVID, struggled with on-line education, and are now trying to graduate, with commencement ceremonies disrupted by war protesters and, even worse, the prospects of classes and final exams being shut down by strikes.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Microsoft to invest $3.3 billion in an AI data center in Wisconsin.
- Rutgers researchers unveil 3D human-body modeling approach with realistic body poses & movements.
- I have a hunch that RFK Jr. isn't the only politician with parasitic brain worm and memory loss!
- The Beatles' "Let It Be," after 50 years: John Legend and Alicia Keys perform. [4-minute video]
(5) UCSB Reads 2024 Program wraps up: Tonight, I attened an informative and entertaining lecture by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross, authors of Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us. This was my fourth and final year on the UCSB Reads Advisory Committee that was charged with selecting the book. I learned a great deal from my participation and found the experience to be immensely rewarding.
My 4-star review of Your Brain on Art on GoodReads.
A previous conversation with the authors about their book (Video).

2024/05/06 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Impact of AI on the fast-food industry: Cover image of 'IT Now' magazine SAGE Center talk at UCSB: Drunk (1) Images of the day: [Left] Impact of AI on the fast-food industry: Much has been written about AI in manufacturing, healthcare, education and many other domains. The cover feature of the spring 2024 issue of IT Now focuses on AI's impact on fast food, and food tech more generally. For food preparation, AI improves uniformity and efficiency, as well as hygiene. [Right] SAGE Center talk at UCSB (see the last item below).
(2) Israel marks Holocaust Remembrance Day: Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime and its allies in the Holocaust from 1933-1945.
(3) It seems that most groups opposing Iran's Islamic regime are under double-sided attacks.
From one side, the mullahs' cyber army, using fake names and profiles, spread false stories about their backgrounds and personal lives.
From the other side, foul-mouthed, misogynistic followers of Reza Pahlavi do the same, while the "Prince" (nowadays promoted to "King") tacitly endorses their words & deeds by not commenting.
Needless to say, both camps "discuss" everything but democracy.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Graduation ceremonies at many US universities cancelled or disrupted by pro-Palestine protesters.
- Teens devise a geometric proof for Pythagorean Theorem, a problem that had stumped us for centuries.
- The secret of creativity: "If you want a new idea, read an old book." ~ Ivan Pavlov
- Rousseau on money: "The money you have gives you freedom; the money you pursue enslaves you."
(5) The mathematics of knot theory and some of its applications in material science: Interestingly, the many knots that are known can be arranged into something like the Periodic Table of elements. [11-minute video]
(6) Yesterday's SAGE Center talk at UCSB: Under the title "Drunk: Intoxication, Ecstasy, and the Origins of Civilization," Edward Slingerland (UBC; author of the 2021 book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization) talked about his book and the research that led to it.
Drawing on evidence from archaeology, history, cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, social psychology, literature, and genetics, Slingerland argued that our taste for chemical intoxicants is not an evolutionary mistake, as we are so often told. In fact, intoxication helps solve a number of distinctively human challenges and played a crucial role in sparking the rise of the first large-scale societies.

2024/05/05 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Printing money is the cause of Iran's rampant inflation Cover image of 'The Myth of Left and Right' Of the 36 members of IOC's 2024 Refugee Olympic Team, 14 (~40%) hail from Iran (1) Images of the day: [Left] Cause of Iran's ~50% inflation rate: The mullahs have printed more money in the past 2.5 years than the country had done in the previous 2.5 millennia. [Center] The Myth of Left and Right: How the Political Spectrum Misleads and Harms America (see the last item below). [Right] Paris Olympics: Of the 36 members of IOC's 2024 Refugee Olympic Team, 14 (~40%) hail from Iran.
(2) Jerry Seinfeld, a Jewish comedian who built his brand of comedy on an apolitical show "about nothing," is being forced to choose sides, given the Israel-Hamas conflict and protests on US college campuses.
(3) Iran offers scholarships to expelled pro-Palestine students: That's the recipe! One semester at an Iranian university will bring them back to their senses.
(4) Book review: Lewis, Hyrum and Verlan Lewis, The Myth of Left and Right: How the Political Spectrum Misleads and Harms America, unabridged 4-hour audiobook, read by the first author, Kalorama, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads] We humans are tribal and there is no way around this evolutionary trait. Tribes do not necessarily embrace a consistent, logically-constructed set of beliefs. However, when you belong to a tribe, you tend to assume the validity of the entire belief set. Here's a useful analogy. When you go grocery-shopping, you pick items that you like; there is no rhyme or reason. Suppose the store did not allow you to pick what you want but offered you two filled carts to choose from. You would pick the cart that contains more of your favorite items. But then to turn around and claim that everything in your chosen cart is better than everything in the other cart would not be appropriate. This is unfortunately what we do when we belong to a party: We think that all policies of our tribe are better than everything of the competing tribe.
tend to think that philosophy comes first, followed by policy, and finally party. Evidence shows that it is exactly the opposite: We attach ourselves to a tribe, then discuss policies, and finally we make up a philosophical story to tie all of those incoherent policies together.
At one point in American politics, The New Deal was the single political issue, so designating its opponents as conservative/right and its proponents as liberal/left made some sense. Now, politics is multi-dimensional: There are a multitude of issues such as free trade, immigration, abortion, and so on. We should start using more precise terminology to characterize people's views on individual issues, rather than lumping all of them together. Right/Conservative and left/liberal are highly imprecise. If you want to talk about someone's views on abortion, then characterize his/her views on that one issue, rather than labeling him/her a conservative or a liberal. Unfortunately, we have come to use liberal/conservative and left/right labels as tools of slander.

2024/05/04 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: In this diagram, show that the angle alpha is twice the angle theta Math puzzle: In this diagram featuring a right triangle, find the length x Math puzzle: In this diagram, show that x and theta add to 45 degrees (1) Math: Prove that alpha is twice theta, find the length x, and prove that x & theta add to 45 degrees.
(2) Happy Star Wars Day: May the fourth (be with you)! To mark the nearly 50 years that have passed since the making of the original Star Wars film, US National Air and Space Museum has set up a special exhibit that includes an actual operable X-wing flyer.
(3) Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman [1934-2024] dead at 90: Kahneman, an Israeli-born psychologist, earned a 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for his integration of psychological research into economic science.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Counter-protesters initiate violence at UCLA: Police intervenes after a few hours of unchecked clashes. [NYT]
- Disruptive protest encampment at UCSB: University administration calls for constructive dialogue.
- On kindness: "The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention." ~ Khalil Gibran
- On love: "What we've enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love becomes a part of us." ~ Helen Keller
(5) BASIC turned 60 on May 1: Intended to make computing accessible to a broader audience, Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code was popular among novice programmers. BASIC continued to evolve over the years and is still popular among retrocomputing enthusiasts. Its descendants include Microsoft's Visual Basic, Visual Basic for Applications, and Small Basic.
(6) UNC-CH students take down the American flag and raise the flag of Palestine in its place: Elsewhere, in NYC, protesters burn an American flag. Please use your reasoning ability and ask who benefits from desecrating the American flag? Donald Trump, that's who! Ditto for the perception that extremist Muslims are taking over America under the Biden administration. Fingerprints of Putin are all over these coordinated protests. His plans for Ukraine will be crushed under another Democratic administration.
(7) Three geeky events on May 17, 19 & 20, 2024: IEEE honors the 50th Anniversary of Internet TCP/IP.
- Friday, May 17, 3:00-5:00 PM PDT: Online event broadcast from SRI's PARC Campus, featuring talks by Internet pioneers Vint Cerf & Bob Metcalfe and unveiling of IEEE Milestone plaques for the Alto Personal Computer, Ethernet, and Laser Printer. The in-person event is sold out, but you can watch via livestream.
- Sunday, May 19, 12:00-2:30 PM PDT: IEEE i50—Virtual Celebration of 50 Years of the Internet, honoring the 1974 IEEE Computer Society paper on TCP by Vint Cerf & Bob Kahn. [Livestream registeration]
- Monday, May 20, 1:00-4:00 PM PDT: Dedicating three IEEE Milestones: IEEE Computer Society 1974 paper on TCP; IEEE 802 Standards Committee; Birth of Google & PageRank. [Livestream registeration]

2024/05/02 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Florida's 2020 butterfly ballot Effect of 2020 butterfly ballots on election outcome in Florids Talangor Group's talk by Dr. Elaheh Ahmadi on Gallium-Nitride (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Florida's infamous 2000 butterfly ballots (see the next item below). [Right] Talk on Gallium-Nitride (see the last item below).
(2) Revisiting Florida's 2000 butterfly ballots: Key requirements of democratic elections include facilitating participation and making it easy to vote for one's preferred candidate on a clear, transparent ballot.
Butterfly ballots used in Palm Beach County, Florida, may have cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000. Many voters (enough to swing the election in a very close race) voted for Pat Buchanan, listed on the right-hand side of the ballot across from the second punch-hole in the middle, thinking that they were voting for Al Gore, the second name on the left-hand side.
Data shows that where butterfly ballots were used, Buchanan got a much higher share of the votes than in other Florida counties. While this isn't a proof that the confusing ballots handed Florida, and thus the national election, to George W. Bush, evidence that they did is overwhelming.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Four Iranian men are identified as having sexually assaulted and killed #NikaShakarami.
- Latinos move to the right: 39% say they'll vote Republican in 2024, compared with 29% in 2012. [NYT]
- Queer Techne: Book explores gay, queer, & feminine communities in early advances in computer science.
- Facebook memory from May 2, 2022: When my daughter relocated to San Diego with a U-Haul truck.
(4) "Interstellar" explained: I recently watched Christopher Nolan's 2014 sci-fi film "Interstellar." I particularly enjoyed the powerful film score, composed by Hans Zimmer. To augment my understanding of the film's story, I searched for and found this explanation of the film's script and its plot summary. Further investigation led me to theoretical physicist Kip Thorne's 2014 book, The Science of Interstellar, which I have started reading.
(5) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Elaheh Ahmadi (UCLA ECE Dept.) spoke under the title "Thank God for GaN (Gallium Nitride)." Before the main talk, Mitra Zaimi made a brief presentation on the occasion of Persian Gulf Day, which included screening of a video.
Dr. Ahmadi began with a review of the importance of semiconductors in our daily lives and how abundance and ease of manufacturing have led to silicon becoming the dominant choice. She then outlined certain desirable properties of GaN, which gained notoriety through enabling the production of blue LEDs and the ensuing revolution in energy-efficient lighting, support higher performance as well as reduced size & weight for electronic circuits. While GaN has the drawbacks of much higher cost and more-difficult manufacturing compared with silicon, Dr. Ahmadi cited a growing number of applications, notably in power conversion and RF domains, that use it to advantage.
This EPC Web page presents a summary of GaN benefits and has several videos linked at the end, including applications to motor drive, industrial drones, and DC-DC conversion in data centers.

2024/04/30 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Four members of Iran's security forces are identified as having sexually assaulted and killed #NikaShakarami How adding a 1 to the denominator significantly complicates the integration process Voting is way more likely to solve our problems than thoughts and prayers! (1) Images of the day: [Left] Four members of Iran's security forces are identified as having sexually assaulted and killed the young protester #NikaShakarami. [Center] How adding a 1 to the denominator significantly complicates the integration process and changes the answer. [Right] Voting is way more effective for solving our problems than thoughts and prayers!
(2) We have the first AI commencement speaker: D'Youville University in upstate New York thought its selection would be fun and relevant in an age of AI. Not everyone agreed.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- UCLA student is blocked from entering a campus area by pro-HAMAS demonstrators. [Tweet, with video]
- Mohammad Fazeli's 17-minute TEDx talk (in Persian): Policymaking requires inter-agency cooperation.
- Kurdish music: Sung in the dialect spoken in Kermanshah and Ilam. [Tweet, with video]
- Quotable: "What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other." ~ George Eliot
(4) Facebook memory from Apr. 30, 2014: "We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people." ~ John F. Kennedy [Of equal significance to Islamic Iran and Evangelical America]
(5) Facebook memory from Apr. 30, 2018: Republicans study and pass bills like the rest of us read and accept updated terms and conditions on iTunes. ~ Comedian Seth Myers, speaking at an Obama-era White House Correspondents Dinner
(6) Facebook memory from Apr. 30, 2018: Let me share my reply to a comment on a Facebook post of mine, which many of you will not see otherwise. The commenter essentially claims that all accusers of Bill Cosby were asking for what happened to them, because, like Playboy Bunnies, they use powerful men to get ahead.
"You have really revealed your misogyny in your last comment. Equating half the population of the world with (at most) a few hundred women you encountered while working at the Playboy Mansion shows that you are the one-dimensional person in this discussion. #MeToo isn't just about Playboy Bunnies or even those in the entertainment business. Looking one layer deeper, which is impossible in your one-dimensional universe in which laws are devised based only on personal experiences, one notes that many women are placed in a position to beg for privileges by powerful men who have decided they own and can dole out those privileges. It's ironic that you expect discretion, good judgment, and morality from young women, but not from powerful older men who take advantage of them."

2024/04/28 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My forthcoming keynote talk at the Third International Conference on Distributed Computing and High-Performance Computing All of the world's humans mushed together into a 1-km-diameter ball and placed on NYC's Central Park Street art in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood, depicting the brutality of security forces against women
Iranian Garden in Vanak Villge, Tehran: Map Iranian Garden in Vanak Villge, Tehran: Photos Over the years, many of the hardliners of Iran's Islamic regime have fled to the West, overtly or covertly (1) Images of the day: [Top left] My keynote talk (see the next item below). [Top center] Gross, but interesting, fact: All of the world's humans mushed together into a 1-km-diameter ball and placed on NYC's Central Park. [Top right] Street art in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood, depicting the brutality of security forces against women. [Bottom left & center] Iranian Garden in Vanak Villge, Tehran (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Over the years, many of the hardliners of Iran's Islamic regime have fled to the West, overtly or covertly: Campaigns are underway to identify and expel these undesirable elements, some of whom have attained positions of influence in academia and elsewhere. The flight of hardliners from Iran will accelerate as the mullahs' regime continues to crumble.
(2) My forthcoming keynote talk: Entitled "Fixed-Degree and Constant-Diameter Interconnection Networks for Parallel Supercomputing," the English-language keynote will be delivered virtually at the Third International Conference on Distributed Computing and High-Performance Computing, to be held in Tehran on May 14-15, 2024. My talk will be on Tuesday, May 14, 9:45 AM Tehran time (Monday, May 13, 11:15 PM PDT). Attendance is free for those who pre-register.
(3) The 3x + 1 problem, aka Collatz's Conjecture, revisited: An easily-understood and innocent-looking problem that has defied solution after many decades. [13-minute video]
(4) The Chinese government is outraged over Netflix adapting Cixin Liu's novel, Three-Body Problem.
(5) "A Brief History of the Future": Six-part PBS docuseries, hosted by futurist Ari Wallach. I watched the first two episodes last night. It is full of interesting facts, but rather underwhelming in presentation and editing.
(6) Acclaimed soprano Renee Fleming talks about her new edited collection, Music and Mind, containing essays from leading scientists, artists, and health care providers on the powerful impact that music and the arts can have on our health.
(7) Tao Te Ching: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
This quote is often used to imply that the teacher is sent by God or other supernatural forces. I believe in it from a different perspective: Unless you are ready to learn, you won't be teachable.
(8) Vanak Village Iranian Gardens: My family used to live in Vanak, Tehran, adjacent to what later became Al-Zahra U., for many years. So, I was excited to learn about a relatively new large public park in the area that is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Carved out from properties formerly owned by the Mostowfi ol-Mamalek family, the park is famous for its flowers (tulips in particular), fountains, and super-tall trees.

2024/04/27 (Saturday): Here is my report on the 2024 Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival.
Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival at Alameda Park: Batch 1 of photos Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival at Alameda Park: Batch 2 of photos Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival at Alameda Park: Batch 3 of photos
Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival at Alameda Park: Batch 4 of photos Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival at Alameda Park: Batch 5 of photos Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival at Alameda Park: Batch 6 of photos (1) Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival: Held today & tomorrow at Alameda Park, the festival focuses on various ways of taking care of the environment, including green energy, clean transportation, and more. Many of the attendees came on bikes.
(2) Alameda Park, home of the SB Earth Day Festival, has an elaborate children's playground. And the festival includes many activities for children.
(3) Bikes and e-bikes were big at today’s SB Earth Day Festival: I was particularly impressed with an e-bike that had a big basket to seat two small children and also hold some cargo.
(4) Many models of electric, hybrid, and pluggable-hybrid cars were on display at today's SB Earth Day Festival: I was particularly impressed with the American-made Lucid, which boasts a range of 500+ miles.
(5) As usual, the food court was a popular feature of SB Earth Day Festival: The food was as always over-priced, so I decided to skip eating there.
(6) Other sights at today's SB Earth Day Festival included an inviting coffee cart, a music stage with continuous programming, a demo of induction cooking, and a gadget that protects cars from rodent infestation.
(7) Not included in the six photo collections above, described from top-left to bottom-right, are a large number of displays & booths representing city departments, our elected representatives, businesses catering to Earth Day themes (including organic growers), and artists displaying their work.

2024/04/26 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
On dependable computing: Cover image of IEEE Computer magazine Talangor Group talk on converting sewage to potable water On software bloat: Cover of IEEE Specturm magazine (1) Images of the day: [Left] On dependable computing (see the next item below). [Center] Talk on converting sewage to potable water (see the last item below). [Right] On software bloat (see item 3 below).
(2) IEEE Computer magazine, issue of April 2024: "With the increased complexity of software systems, dependable, reliable, and trustworthy computing is of paramount importance. Of these qualities, dependability is of particular interest in mission critical systems, where failure can lead to loss of human life. The technology used to build such systems must meet the expectations of its stakeholders' and regulatory requirements." [From Guest Editors' introduction to the special issue]
(3) Bloat is software's greatest vulnerability: Nicholas Wirth's1995 Oberon operating system, which included an editor and a compiler, had a total size of 200 KB. Many of today's operating systems use 200+ KB for their configuration files alone. Bloated software isn't only less efficient, but also significantly more vulnerable to interaction failures and malicious hacks.
(4) Last night's Talangor Group talk: Hamid Shirazi (sociopolitical activist) spoke under the title "Transforming Wastewater into Drinking Water." Before the main talk, the life & work of the great Persian poet Sa'adi was celebrated and Mohsen Mahimani made a short presentation on "The Latest Developments of the Gemini Chatbot." There were ~70 attendees.
Two of the most-important requirements of public health are the availability of safe drinking water and proper disposal of sewage (human waste). Nearly 1/3 of the world's population does not have access to modern, hygienic toilets. Proper sewage disposal is available to an even smaller group.
Wastewater is 99.9% water. The remaining tiny amount is composed of a wide variety of chemicals and organisms. Beyond being an important resource, especially in drier regions, the monitoring of wastewater is a valuable public-health tool (e.g., in COVID detection). With shortage of drinking water intensifying worldwide, various conversion schemes have been proposed or are being used to generate new sources. The best-known among them is saltwater conversion, which works well for communities with an adjoining sea/ocean. The desalination technology is fairly mature, but it is energy-intensive and has thus seen limited use.
Wastewater conversion is one of the newer methods, which is more efficient. In my community of Santa Barbara, this is done, but the output is intended only for irrigation, as it does not meet the standards of drinking water. Our city has two systems for water distribution, one for potable and another one for reclaimed water. A more elaborate, and thus more expensive, process, involving additional steps, is needed to derive drinking water from wastewater.
Mr. Shirazi outlined the cleanliness standards and provided examples of various approaches being used for producing clean water from sewage. He also showed multiple short videos on the conversion process and the design of industrial plants doing the conversion. Singapore was mentioned as a country that is quite advanced in this regard.
A related discussion is the future of water resources in the world (given that they are not distributed uniformly) and possible armed conflicts over these resources, the way world countries have fought over oil for decades.

2024/04/24 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Timer in Iran, counting down to the demise of Israel Israeli billboard predicting the demise of the mullahs' regime in Iran Math puzzle: Two congruent rectangles are shown inside a square. What is the leaning angle?
A #SaveToomaj campaign is spreading worldwide Popular rapper #ToomajSalehi has been sentenced to death for his anti-regime stance and critical song lyrics My daughter displayed her artistic chops at this afternoon's Isla Vista Farmers Market (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Doomsday predictions (see the last item below). [Top center] My daughter displayed her artistic chops at this afternoon's Isla Vista Farmers Market: I visited her stand briefly between a class and other commitments. [Top right] Math puzzle: Two congruent rectangles are shown inside a square. What is the leaning angle? [Bottom left & center] Iranian mullahs are frustrated in the war against Israel, so they take revenge against Iranians by unleashing hijab enforcement goons on the streets and arresting artists/celebrities who dare to speak up. Popular rapper #ToomajSalehi has just been sentenced to death for his anti-regime stance and critical song lyrics. A #SaveToomaj campaign is spreading worldwide. [Bottom right]
(2) National Air & Space Museum's lectures on samples-return missions: Today's talk on the Stardust Discovery Mission (samples return from Comet Wild-2) was the second of four lectures, the previous one having been about samples return from the Moon and forthcoming ones discussing OSIRIS-Rex (samples from asteroid Bennu) and bringing back Mars samples. Fascinating talks!
(3) Women's rights take another step back: First it was the overturning of Roe-v-Wade by the US Supreme Court, severely curtailing women's reproductive rights. Now comes the overturning of the foundational sex-crimes conviction of the #MeToo era, that of Harvey Weinstein, by NY Court of Appeals.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Evidence that the Chinese government controls TikTok content (Tweet, with NYT chart).
- Ukrainian resilience: Kharkiv schools have been moved underground, inside subway tunnels.
- The mullah's security forces rape & torture detainees, specifically targeting ethnic & other minorities.
- Michigan Publishing Services offers an expanding collection of free textbooks in electrical engineering.
- Persian music: An oldie song played on the tar.
- Barbra Streisand sings "Love Will Survive," a song from "The Tattooist of Auschwitz."
(5) British soccer teams are playing a few pre-season games on the US West Coast: One on the chosen venues for their "Wrex Coast Tour" is UCSB's Harder Stadium on July 20. [Poster]
(6) "Ey Zan" ("Oh Woman"): An awe-inspiring tribute to the strength and grace of women around the globe. This breathtaking collaboration features the captivating voices of Maliheh Moradi and Mina Deris, who lend their remarkable talent to this powerful ode to womanhood. [5-minute video]
(7) Doomsday countdowns in Iran and Israel: Several years ago, Iran installed timers in many major cities to count down to the destruction of Israel. I believe that these timers will expire in ~16 years. Israel is more aggressive, installing billboards that declare the demise of the Islamic Republic of Iran on Cyrus the Great Day, October 28, 2028 (about 4.5 years from today).

2024/04/23 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Talk on the Periodic Table Iranian mullahs are using the fog of war to step up their assault on women Cover image of Michio Kaku's 'Quantum Supremacy' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Talk on the Periodic Table (see the next item below). [Center] Iranian mullahs are using the fog of war to step up their assault on women: Morality police and "hijab enforcers" are back on the streets in full force, acting more violently than ever before. [Right] Michio Kaku's Quantum Supremacy (see the last item below).
(2) Birth of the Universe and the Periodic Table: This was the title of today's Zoom talk by Mitra Zaimi (chemical engineer, computer scientist), under the auspices of Persian Cultural Center of Atlanta. There were ~50 attendees.
In the beginning, after the Big Bang, there was only hydrogen, the lightest element, with one proton and one electron. A bit later, helium was formed from two hydrogen atoms through a process that is responsible for most of a star's energy. Heavier elements, up to iron, gradually emerged with help from heat and gravity. Elements heavier than iron can be formed only by a process called neutron capture, where neutrons penetrate an atomic nucleus.
The Periodic Table of elements, usually credited to Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev who in 1869 formulated the periodic law relating chemical properties to atomic mass, is a marvel that includes all elements that appear in the universe or that can be created in the lab. No element not appearing in the table can exist. Not all elements in the table were known at Mendeleev's time, but he correctly predicted many of them based on the periodic rules that he discovered.
This interactive version of the Periodic Table allows you to explore the elements & their properties.
(3) Book review: Kaku, Michio, Quantum Supremacy: How the Quantum Computer Revolution Will Change Everything, unabridged 11-hour audiobook, read by Feodor Chin, Random House Audio, 2023.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku presents a history of quantum computing and discusses its potential applications in terms understandable to non-physicists. The computing discipline's love affair with digital integrated circuits may have come to an end, as their underlying technology can no longer keep pace with the rising demand for computational power, so we have been looking to other technologies to bridge the gap between available and desired capabilities. Quantum computing, with its unfulfilled promises, is one such technology, which continues to produce hype but little in way of concrete results in practically-relevant application domains.
Quantum supremacy refers to experimental demonstration of a quantum computer performing calculations that are beyond the capabilities of classical computers. It may happen one day, but neither Google's nor IBM's claims of having accomplished this feat have passed muster. Kaku repeats much of the hype.
One area in which Kaku paints a particularly rosy picture is that of finding cures for diseases through computational methods. Nearly everyone is aware of the role of viruses and bacteria in human diseases. Another important cause of diseases, that is, misfolded proteins or prions, is not as widely known. Prions cause damage to healthy proteins, thereby propagating the disease within the body. Studying of the various ways in which proteins fold and misfold requires a great deal of computational power that is beyond what classical computers can offer. Prion-caused dementia and other terminal neurodegenerative diseases can benefit potentially benefit from computational attacks enabled by quantum computing.
Kaku's discussion of quantum supremacy isn't for the layperson. It is potentially useful to computing professionals, but many such professionals may resent the lack of details, much redundancy, and excessive hand-waving.

2024/04/22 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Passover to all my Jewish readers! With sincere hope for peace and understanding throughout our fragile world Happy Earth Day! Santa Barbarans will be celebrating Mother Earth this coming weekend at Alameda Park Cover image of Pam Baker's 'ChatGPT for Dummies' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Happy Passover to all my Jewish readers! With sincere hope for peace and understanding throughout our fragile world. [Center] Happy Earth Day! Santa Barbarans will be celebrating Mother Earth this coming weekend at Alameda Park. [Right] ChatGPT for Dummies (see the last item below).
(2) A scorching summer: NOAA projects that 2024 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record and gives it a 55% chance of topping 2023 as the warmest year ever.
(3) Book review: Baker, Pam, ChatGPT for Dummies, unabridged 5-hour audiobook, read by Angela Juarez, Tantor Audio, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is the first "for dummies" title that I have pursued for my own benefit, rather than to assess and introduce such a book to novices. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with the depth and breadth of the book. As a Distinguished Professor, I thought I wouldn't be caught dead learning something from a "for dummies" book, but I did learn a lot from Pam Baker's systematic and comprehensive treatment. The book allowed me to sort out and systematize what I had previously learned about ChatGPT from a multitude of articles/videos/talks.
This clear, engaging, and approachable book demystifies the world of conversational AI and introduces readers to the power of ChatGPT, using clear explanations, practical examples, and step-by-step instructions. This book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in exploring the possibilities of conversational AI.
Following is a list of chapters and their very brief summaries in terms of basics, the ethics of using AI-generated content, the potential for bias & misinformation in AI-generated content, and guidelines for using AI responsibly. The book concludes with a chapter on the future of AI. We learn that some disruption is inevitable, but the rewards under proper care and responsible use are monumental.
- Introducing ChatGPT: It's not just another conversational AI tool but the field's gold standard
- Understanding Conversational AI: Insights into NLP, ML, and components of a chatbot system
- Getting Started: From setting up the development environment to accessing the necessary tools & resources
- Designing Conversations: Principles and best practices for creating engaging and effective conversations
- Training Your Chatbot: Data collection & preprocessing steps, and techniques for fine-tuning and optimizing
- Evaluating and Improving Chatbot Performance: Metrics for assessing conversational quality and strategies for enhancing the chatbot’s responses & user experience.
- Deploying Your Chatbot: Hosting options, integration with messaging platforms, and considerations for scaling and maintaining the chatbot's availability.
- Advanced Techniques and Applications: Multilingual support, persona-based conversations, and integrating external APIs to enhance the chatbot’s capabilities.
- Conclusion: A summary of key learnings and the potential of ChatGPT in revolutionizing conversational AI.
I highly recommend this book to novices and experts alike.

2024/04/21 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
World Central Kitchen: Documentary film screening at Arlington Theater History repeats itself: The Nazis preventing Jews from entering Vienna University in 1939 History repeats itself: Palestine supporters at Columbia University denying access to Jewish students in 2024 (1) Images of the day: [Left] World Central Kitchen (see the next item below). [Center & Right] History repeats itself: The Nazis preventing Jews from entering Vienna University in 1939 and Palestine supporters at Columbia University denying access to Jewish students in 2024.
(2) Documentary film screening at Arlington Theater: Oscar-winning director Ron Howard's 2022 "We Feed People" spotlights renowned chef Jose Andres and his nonprofit World Central Kitchen's incredible mission and evolution over a dozen years, from being a scrappy group of grassroots volunteers to becoming one of the most highly regarded humanitarian aid organizations in the disaster relief sector. The film screening was sponsored by UCSB's Arts and Lectures Program.
(3) Know HAMAS, the entity being praised by many student protesters in the US: [It puzzles me that quite a few Iranians, having witnessed the destruction of Iran and its culture by an Islamic regime, want the same for Palestinians.]
The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS), a comprehensive manifesto comprised of 36 separate articles, all of which promote the goal of destroying the State of Israel through Jihad, was issued on August 18, 1988. Excerpts follow. ​
Goals of HAMAS: "The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine." (Article 6)
The exclusive Muslim nature of the area: "The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [Holy Possession] consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day. No one can renounce it or any part, or abandon it or any part of it." (Article 11) "Palestine is an Islamic land, ... the Liberation of Palestine is an individual duty for every Muslim wherever he may be." (Article 13)
The call to jihad: "The day the enemies usurp part of Muslim land, Jihad becomes the individual duty of every Muslim. In the face of the Jews' usurpation, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised." (Article 15)
Rejection of a negotiated peace settlement: "[Peace] initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement ... Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the infidels as arbitrators in the lands of Islam ... There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility." (Article 13)
Anti-Semitic incitement: "The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him." (Article 7)

2024/04/19 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Family cars, over the years: Sation wagons vs. SUVs The lying mullahs: Bold lies in newspaper headlines Conflicting claims by Iran and Israel re military operations (1) Images of the day: [Left] Family cars, over the years (see the next item below). [Center] The lying mullahs: In the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, Iranian women were promised repeatedly that hijab will not become mandatory and that anyone bothering hijabless women on the streets will be punished. [Right] Iran claims that Israel hit it with micro-drones "of the kind we give to our children as toys": They seem to be preparing the public for no response to the Israeli attack. Semi-official reports indicate the use of three large, radar-evading, guided missiles.
(2) Station-wagons vs. SUVs: Some seven decades ago, car manufacturers began catering to the needs of multi-kid families by introducing station-wagons with humongous trunks. With the safety culture of those days, several kids would fit in the trunk. These beautiful and graceful cars were later replaced with minivans, which were safer and could carry extra passengers instead of lots of cargo. Nowadays. Families gravitate toward SUVs, which are much safer (say, in rollovers) but not as roomy. In fact, some SUVs have less interior space than standard sedans.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Colorado enacts a first-of-its-kind privacy law that bans the sale of human brain waves.
- Paris Olympics organizers are preparing for what they deem near-certain cyberattacks this summer.
- The solution to homelessness isn't more court cases: It is more affordable housing.
- Anne Lamott reflects on turning 70.
- Kurdish music: Russian star Zara performs with a dance troupe. [4-minute video]
- My family's early-birthday celebration. [Video of persian piano music, played by my niece]
(4) France's love-hate relationship with science: Last December, France's president made an impassioned plea for supporting research and a major reorganization of the nation's research structure. But only 2 months later, worrisome deficits led to a 10-billion-euro cut in the French budget, including a disproportionate 0.9-billion-euro reduction in allocations to research & higher education. [From a Science magazine editorial, April 19, 2024]
(5) Murderous mullahs: Federal Criminal Court of Argentina has confirmed that both the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy and the 1994 AMIA bombing were carried out by Iran-backed groups.

2024/04/18 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB Summit on AI and Human Creativity, April 18-19, 2024 Shalhoob's opens on Hollister Ave., between Goleta and Santa Barbara, in the location of the former Woody's BBQ, which closed 3 years ago Math puzzle: Find the length x in the following diagram (1) Images of the day: [Left] UCSB Summit on AI and Human Creativity (see the last item below). [Center] Shalhoob's opens on Hollister Ave., between Goleta and Santa Barbara, in the location of the former Woody's BBQ, which closed 3 years ago. [Right] Math puzzle: Find the length x in the following diagram.
(2) CNN is reporting a major explosion in Esfahan, believed to have been caused by a ballistic missile. All flights in and out of Tehran, Esfahan, and Shiraz have been cancelled.
(3) Mellichamp Initiative in Mind & Machine Intelligence Summit: AI and Human Creativity (April 18-19, 2024, UCSB Henley Hall): As AI's capabilities to create visual art, music, stories, and videos improve exponentially, we are filled with questions about how AI-generated creativity differs from the human creative process. Where does generative AI fall below humans and where does it exceed human abilities? How can AI be used to potentiate human creativity? Will the massification of generative AI stiffen human creativity? What is the future role of the artist with the proliferation of generative AI? What are the legal framework and challenges in protecting artists' copyrights? This summit tackles the questions above to promote understanding and chart a future course of action. [Full Summit Program]
What I learned early on: The word "technology" comes from two Greek words, transliterated "techne" and "logos." Techne means art, skill, craft, or the way, manner, or means by which a thing is gained. Logos means word, the utterance by which inward thought is expressed. So, in a way, art is already part of technology.
Second talk: Jennifer Walshe (U. Oxford) made a virtual presentation on her book, 13 Ways of Looking at AI, Art, and Music. "AI is not a singular phenomenon. It is many different things to many different people, a planetary-scale project which manifests for each of us locally in the same way that the climate makes a part of itself known to us through the weather on our street. If we are going to try and think seriously about AI, we need to think on the scale of AI. We need to think like the networks do – in higher dimensions, from multiple positions." [Full text]
Fourth talk: Daphne Ippolito (Carnegie Mellon U.) spoke under the title "Creative Writing with an AI-Powered Writing Assistant: Perspectives from Professional Writers." She described the AI-powered Wordcraft writing assistant and how professional writers reacted to it in the course of a months-long study.
Keynote talk: Ahmad Elgammal spoke under the title "Art in the Age of AI." He traced brief histories of computer-generated and computer-assisted art, outlined ongoing work at Rutgers University's Art & AI Lab, and touched upon unresolved legal issues pertaining to AI-generated art. At the end, a short video about how Beethoven's unfinished 10th Symphony was completed with help from AI was screened.
Final talk (Friday): Pamela Samuelson (UC Berkeley) spoke on "How Copyright Law Conceptualizes Creatuve Expression." Many attempts at copyrighting AI-generated art have been unsuccessful, because the norm for copyright is substantial involvement of a human (simply issuing a prompt does not constitute substantial involvement). The current policy has precedents that go back to the 1980s, when copyrightability of computer-generated work was hotly debated. For example, machine-generated colorized versions of black-and-white films have been deemed uncopyrightable. On the other hand, current copyright law allows an employer to copyright the work of an employee, which leads some to question why AI isn't viewed as an underling.

2024/04/17 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Haji Baba Club: Talk about Persian rugs Language humor: Where is this place where elephants drive? IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk by Dr. Ben Mazin
Cartoon: Stories from the Trump Bible Cartoon: Disney's production of the 'Lyin King' Cartoon: Surprise, surprise! We have a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Talk about Persian rugs (see the next item below). [Top center] Where is this place where elephants drive? [Top right] IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk (see the last item below). [Bottom left & center] Trump's Bible and Disney's production of "The Lyin King." [Bottom right] Surprise, surprise! We have a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
(2) Today's Haji Baba Club talk: Sophia Sacal (freelancer at Christie's) spoke under the title "The (Epistemological) Warp and Weft of Persian Rugs: How Knowledge is Produced in Western Art History." How do we know what we know about Persian rugs? Knowledge is often produced through and from a Western perspective, leading to what decolonial theorist Ambar Quijano calls "the coloniality of power and knowledge." A revision of art historical sources, such as travelers' journals and connoisseurs' catalogs, will reveal how the Persian rugs' epistemological warp and weft (or the way in which we know what we know) has not been articulated from within, but rather from the outside. We often see photos of Persian rugs with unnamed and unacknowledged women/girls in the frame, as if all Iranian women & girls are interchangeable, whereas other art forms are identified with the artists' names. This calls for decolonialization of knowledge about Persian rugs.
(3) PEN America: In the first half of the 2023-2024 school year, there were more than 4300 book bans across the country — a number that surpassed the entire previous academic year.
(4) Israel's options against Iran: Many analysts advise Israel to "take the win" (its defenses held and there was no loss of life) and remain calm. Others point to significant economic harm due to disruption of activities, flight cancellations, and even GPS malfunctions. Ignoring the attack will embolden Iran and other adversaries, who may think hitting sparsely-populated areas will bring them symbolic victories with no down side.
(5) A piece of the International Space Station crashed through the roof of a house in Florida: This is highly unusual, because such pieces usually burn and vaporize as they re-enter Earth's atmosphere.
(6) Today's IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk: Dr. Ben Mazin (UCSB Physics Dept.) spoke under the title "Microwave Kinetic Inductance Detectors for Exoplanet Detection and Biophysics."
MKIDs, a fairly mature 20-year-old technology, are superconducting detectors useful across the electromagnetic spectrum and have even been used in particle and other sensing modalities. Their primary advantage over other low-temperature detectors is their inherent frequency-domain multiplexability at GHz frequencies. Room-temperature readouts leveraging commercial software-defined radio components allow researchers to build reasonably affordable and compact systems with tens of thousands of pixels. The talk contained operational principles of MKIDs, a review of their development focusing on the exciting work of the past decade, and a preview of what we can expect in the coming years.

2024/04/15 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Floating settlements are being tried as a potential solution to sea-level rise in vulnerable countries With two college buddies, Faramarz and Farid, celebrating 60 years of friendship Falling oil prices seem to have delayed the completion of the Persian Gulf coast railway project connecting all six Gulf Cooperation Council member states
Math challenge: In this infinite tiling pattern, what fraction of the tiles are black? Visual challenge: Do you see anything and if so, what? Completed in 1624 in the wake of a newfound Anglo-Scottish unity, the Berwick Old Stone Bridge turns 400 this year (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Floating settlements are being tried as a potential solution to sea-level rise in vulnerable countries (source: E&T magazine, March-April 2024). [Top center] With college buddies, Faramarz and Farid, celebrating 60 years of friendship (Westwood Village, Los Angeles). [Top right] Falling oil prices seem to have delayed the completion of the Persian Gulf coast railway project (green line on the map) connecting all six Gulf Cooperation Council member states (source: E&T magazine, March-April 2024). [Bottom left] Math challenge: In this infinite tiling pattern, what fraction of the tiles are black? [Bottom center] Visual challenge: Do you see anything and if so, what? [Bottom right] Completed in 1624 in the wake of a newfound Anglo-Scottish unity, the Berwick Old Stone Bridge turns 400 this year (source: E&T magazine, March-April 2024).
(2) Misinformation and disinformation are major problems in this year of global elections, when half of the world's population have a chance to vote. [Source: E&T magazine, March-April 2024]
(3) The Iranian people are abandoned: The mullahs know full well that a retaliatory attack by Israel is likely. Yet they have not informed the public about the risks, nor have they issued directives on how to act in the event of an attack.
(4) In his new memoir, Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder, Salman Rushdie writes about the 2022 attack that blinded him in one eye and his wife's support through his recovery.
(5) Climate change in action: Northern Kenya is cattle country, but herders in that region are switching from cows to camels to deal with rising temperatures and erratic rainfall.
(6) The standard Rubik's Cube is 3 x 3 x 3: I had seen larger cubes, such as 4 x 4 x 4 and 8 x 8 x 8, but this 22 x 22 x 22 puzzle is the largest ever built. Its movement mechanism is mind-boggling! [Video]

2024/04/13 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Flyer for today's UCSB ECE Summit 2024 at the Loma Pelona Center on campus Sample output from a Web site that generates Nastaliq script for Persian texts The skies between Iran and Israel are virtually devoid of air traffic
Snacks I prepared this morning in anticipation of a rainy day indoors Santa Barbara's majestic Granada Theater turns 100 Facebook memories from Apr. 13 of years past: Quotes and memes (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Yesterday's UCSB ECE Summit 2024 at the Loma Pelona Center on campus: In addition to faculty talks and student presentations, there was a guest faculty keynote (Rama Chellappa, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, Johns Hopkins U.) and an industry keynote (Marco Zuliani, Apple Computer's System Intelligence and Machine Learning Sr. Director). [Top center] Here is a Web site that generates Nastaliq script for Persian texts supplied by the user: Other scripts offered by the site, which I mentioned during my Talangor talk on Thursday 4/11, include Shekasteh, Moal'la, and Kufi. [Top right] Iran launches a massive air attack on Israel: The skies between the two countries are virtually devoid of air traffic. My heart goes out to Iranians and Israelis, who are caught between two war-mongering madmen. [Bottom left] Snacks I prepared this morning in anticipation of a rainy day indoors: Now, I am glued to the TV, following breaking news. [Bottom center] Santa Barbara's majestic Granada Theater turns 100. [Bottom right] Facebook memories from Apr. 13 of years past: Quotes and memes.
(2) Avi Wigderson, Herbert H. Maass Professor in the School of Mathematics at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, has been named ACM's Turing Award winner for 2023: He has been a leading figure in computational complexity, algorithms & optimization, randomness & cryptography, parallel & distributed computation, combinatorics, and graph theory.
(3) Canadian-American journalist Robert McNeil [1931-2024] dead at 93: He was a beloved and trusted newsman, who co-anchored the PBS NewsHour for many years. RIP.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Physicist Peter Higgs [1929-2024], of the Higgs boson fame, dead at 94. RIP.
- Nobel Laureate women, 1903-2023. [Slide show]
- Iran's state media use images of Texas fires to claim that missiles hit and destroyed Israeli targets.
- Persian music: Paying tribute to the late singer Viguen with a 7-minute medley of his most-famous songs.
(5) A sample of salaries and prices in Iran, one year before the 1979 Revolution: Teacher's monthly salary, 3500 tomans (~$500); Chelow-kabob, 7 tomans (~$1); Barbari bread 1 toman (~$0.14). [Detailed list]
(6) Only 60% of US students who enrolled in college earned a degree or credential within 8 years of high-school graduation: Of the ~23.000 ninth-graders tracked since 2009, ~74% had enrolled in college at some point, by the time the study concluded in 2021, a drop of ~10% compared with the study's previous iteration.

2024/04/11 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A beautiful spring day, captured in flowers along my walking path in a neighborhood adjoining Foothill Road Cover image of 'The Economist': As Facebook turns 20, social apps are losing their appeal Lucy's world: Fifty years after her discovery, the 3.2-million-year-old fossil still reigns as mother of us all. But she now has rivals
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge: Extending from the Arctic to the tropics, the spectacular underwater mountain range reaches above sea level in Iceland Tonight's Talangor Group tech talk by Behrooz Parhami Funeral procession in Tehran for the seven Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps generals killed in Syria. (1) Images of the day: [Top left] A beautiful spring day, captured in flowers along my walking path in a neighborhood adjoining Foothill Road. [Top center] As Facebook turns 20, social apps are losing their appeal: Can we do anything to prevent their demise? [Top right] Lucy's world: Fifty years after her discovery, the 3.2M-year-old fossil still reigns as mother of us all. But she now has rivals. [Bottom left] The Mid-Atlantic Ridge: Extending from the Arctic to the tropics, the spectacular underwater mountain range, stretching over 10,000 miles, reaches above sea level in Iceland, creating an impressive landscape of volcanoes, geothermal springs, and geysers. [Bottom center] Tonight's Talangor Group tech talk (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Funeral procession in Tehran for the seven Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps generals killed in Syria.
(2) Women's soccer: In the championship match of SheBelieves Cup, USA prevailed over Canada (just barely). Canada took a first-half lead. In the second half, the US came from behind to take a 2-1 lead, before conceding a penalty kick that tied the score after 90 minutes. The US won the penalty shootout 5-4. [Highlights]
(3) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Yours truly gave a talk entitled "A Historical Review of Computer-Generated Persian Script." I also gave a brief presentation about the Feb. 16, 2024, opening of Iran Computer Museum, which included the screening of this 13-minute video. A large team of young Iranians were involved in launching the small-scale museum, taking advantage of the extensive collection of systems & gadgets donated by Nasser Ali Saadat and financial help from Hessam Armandehi. The museum has both physical and virtual exhibits, as well as an oral-history collection.
A few years ago, I decided to sit down and document the development of the Persian script in connection with modern technology. The Persian script underwent significant changes with the advent of printing press, typewriters, and computers. I was involved at Tehran's Arya-Mehr/Sharif University of Technology in several early projects on computer-generated Persian script, an effort that went through multiple generations of printing technology, from drum and chain printers through the eventual dominance of dot-matrix technology. My historical reflection resulted in two journal papers, one in Persian and another in English, whose citations and PDF links appear below.
B. Parhami, "Computers and Writing in Persian: A Review of Challenges and Solutions" (in Persian), Iran Namag, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 3-32, Summer 2019 (1398). [PDF]
B. Parhami, "Computers and Challenges of Writing in Persian: Explorations at the Intersection of Culture and Technology," Visible Language, Vol. 54, Nos. 1-2, pp. 186-223, April 2020. [PDF]
In the talk, I outlined certain characteristics of the Persian script that made it difficult for early computer printers to produce high-quality Persian output. A number of band-aid solutions were proposed to adapt printers designed and optimized for the Latin script to the needs of Persian script. Later, dot-matrix printers and displays made the adaptation simpler, although several challenges still remained.
Today, we have Persian print and display outputs of reasonable quality, but text-processing algorithms, particularly if we mix Latin and Persian scripts, still leave us scratching our heads when we encounter silly line-break and formatting errors. [Recording of the talk]

2024/04/08 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today's solar eclipse: Band of totality Today's solar eclipse: Shot of the sky from the partial solar eclipse of 2024 in California Today's solar eclipse: Future solar eclipses in the US until 2071 (1) Today's solar eclipse across the US: I was walking from home to my class on campus, 11:00-11:50 AM, which included the peak eclipse time of 11:11. I stopped from time to time and put my viewing glasses on to look at the Sun. Only nerds get excited about a partial solar eclipse! Everyone around me went about their business, as if nothing was happening. We Californians will have to wait until 2045 to get a better deal.
(2) Is every number special? Some believe so. Consider the seemingly drab number 1729. Indian mathematician Ramanujan is credited with noticing that it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two perfect cubes in two different ways: 1729 = 9^3 + 10^3 = 1^3 + 12^3
(3) US insurance companies take drone images of homes, which can result in policyholders being dropped for signs of roof damage, yard debris, overhanging tree branches, and undeclared swimming pools or trampolines.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Putin's mines have been maiming and killing Ukrainian civilians since Russia's invasion began.
- The constant 6174 is named after Indian mathematician D. R. Kaperkar.
- Rail transportation in Bangladesh: Efficiency, yes; Safety, no. [Video]
- When your foreign-born child makes fun of and corrects your immigrant English!
(5) An essay on understanding others' feelings: It examines empathy, including what it is, whether our doctors need more of it, and when too much may not be a good thing.
(6) Open-access journals aren't working as we hoped they would: In retrospect, it should have been obvious that a pay-in-advance publication strategy would motivate publishers to accept much junk science and to underinvest in systems to ensure the long-term availability of the published works. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will require grantees to post as preprints all manuscripts that result from research it funds. It will also stop paying for researchers to publish their papers in journals that charge a fee to make papers free. According to the Foundation, the mandate is needed to accelerate the dissemination of research findings and because too many authors cannot afford publishing fees.

2024/04/07 (Sunday): Today, I offer a course review on human prehistory and two science book reviews.
Cover image of Brian M. Fagan's audio course on 'Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations' Cover image of Sally Adee's 'We Are Electric' Cover image of Sidney Perkowitz's 'Physics: A Very Short Introduction' (1) Course review: Fagan, Brian M., Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations, 36 half-hour lectures in the "Great Courses" series, 2013. [My 4-star review of this course on GoodReads]
Brian M. Fagan [1936-], Professor of Anthropology at UCSB, has authored two widely-used textbooks: People of the Earth and In the Beginning. His other works include The Rape of the Nile, The Adventure of Archaeology, Time Detectives, and The Little Ice Age. He also edited The Oxford Companion to Archaeology.
At first impression, "human prehistory," defined as the story of human development before the advent of writing, might seem an oxymoron. While it is very difficult to deduce what went on before humans began recording events in writing, there is ample evidence that archaeologists can draw upon to make informed guesses. The fossil record is of course a big help.
In this course, we hear about the footprints of a pair of hominins who walked across a dry riverbed covered with volcanic ash, which preserved the footprints for modern scientists to examine. The footprints tell us not only about the foot size of the species, but also the gait and speed of movement of our ancestors some 4 million years ago, as they strived to adapt to life outside thick forests (change of diet, need for faster movement to hunt or to evade predators). It takes a lot of detective work to extract detailed info from a small collection of evidential material and it takes the skills of a persistent detective to put the puzzle pieces together, but it definitely qualifies as legitimate science.
The first ten lectures of this fascinating course deal with the origins and development of modern humans. The remaining 26 lectures introduce the development of agriculture & states, interaction of societies, and many of the most-significant early civilizations on all continents.
On this Web page, you can find a detailed description of the course, including the titles of the 36 lectures. A short abstract of each lecture is available by clicking on its title.
(2) Book review: Adee, Sally, We Are Electric: Inside the 200-Year Hunt for Our Body's Bioelectric Code, and What the Future Holds, unabridged 10-hour audiobook, read by the author, Hachette Audio, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Biological terms ending with "-ome" imply a totality: genome, biome, proteome. The subject of this book is electome, that is, the head-to-toe bioelectric signaling system of your body and its 40 trillion cells. The shocking story (pun intended) of bioelectricity, from the 18th century lab of Luigi Galvani, an Italian scientist hunting for what gives animals the spark of life, to DARPA's secretive use of brain zapping to speed up soldiers' sniper training.
Science writer Adee opens the book with a gripping story of her transformation into a stone-cold sharpshooter who eliminated a large number of simulated enemy actors in a desert battle simulation. All it took was a 9-volt battery and a little brain-zapping.
She then takes us on a grand tour of the various ways in which our bodies use electricity to orchestrate our lives. She describes how cells use ion channels to usher charged molecules in and out. And she touches upon new applications that include military training, as described above, and medicine, including cancer treatment, implants, and bio­electric bandages that speed wound-healing.
(3) Book review: Perkowitz, Sidney, Physics: A Very Short Introduction, unabridged 5-hour audiobook, read by Jason Martin, Tantor Audio, 2023. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Physics is one of broadest areas of science, so an overview provided in a 140-page pocket-size book is by necessity quite limited. Perkowitz organizes his material into 6 chapters of 20 or so pages each, followed by references and further reading/viewing.
- It all began with the Greeks
- What physics covers and what it doesn't
- How physics works
- Physics applied and extended
- A force in society
- Future Physics: Unanswered questions
It is very helpful to look at a discipline from a big-picture perspective. Questions such as what physicists do, is experimental confirmation really necessary or optional (as today's string-theorists assert), how are small & big physics projects funded, why is physics so popular with government and research-funding agencies, why there aren't more women physicists, why the shift from single-author papers of decades ago to today's norm of dozens or even hundreds of authors, and international collaboration & competition.

2024/04/06 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today's family outing in Santa Barbara (Reunion Kitchen Restaurant at the East Beach and the famous Chromatic Gate on Cabrillo Blvd.) Iranian women's-rights activist Sepideh Qolyian, 32, wrote her second book in prison Dozens of US bridges lack protections against being hit by wayward ships. (1) Images of the day: [Left] Today's family outing in Santa Barbara (Reunion Kitchen at the East Beach and the famous Chromatic Gate on Cabrillo Blvd.). [Center] Iranian women's-rights activist Sepideh Qolyian, 32, wrote her second book in prison: The book, a strange combination of prison memoir and baking recipes, is a masterpiece that takes you to the darkest corners of Iranian jails and, at the same time, elevates your spirit by introducing you to incredible women who dance, sing, bake, and act inside prison to defy their tormenters (reported by IranWire). [Right] Dozens of US bridges lack protections against being hit by wayward ships.
(2) A 4.8 earthquake shook New York City and surrounding areas Friday morning: Earthquakes are rare in NYC, with the largest one recorded being a magnitude-5.2 shaker in 1884.
(3) Note ending an e-mail message from a UCSB student: "I really enjoyed ECE 1B with you my freshman year during COVID. I met people working on those puzzles that I've worked with for the rest of school. Thank you."
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The 39th straight month of job growth in the US raises hope that inflation is coming under control. [Chart]
- Dream discovery: A highly concentrated deposit of helium is discovered in northern Minnesota.
- Tuition at some private US colleges is approaching ~$100K per year.
- A Brief History of the Future: Six-part PBS documentary, created by futurist Ari Wallach.
- Islamic Republic's authorities executed 853+ people in 2023, the highest number in eight years.
- Facebook memory from Apr. 6, 2023: On the use of scaffolding for hardware and software systems.
(5) A California man who discovered a back-door planted in a piece of open-source software may have stopped a nasty worldwide cyberattack. [NYT story]
(6) There's so much hype about Monday's solar eclipse: Everyone insists that you shouldn't miss it, but then they tell you not to look at the Sun. How am I supposed to see it if I don't look at the Sun?
(7) US Women prevail 2-1 over Japan in a semifinal match of SheBelieves Soccer Cup: Japan took the lead in minute 1, but the US tied the match before halftime and scored the winning goal on a penalty kick late in the second half. In the final match on Tuesday 4/09, 4:00 PM PDT, USA will play Canada, which prevailed over Brazil in penalty shootout, after a 1-1 draw. [4-minute USA-Japan highlights]
(8) The flow of talent from academia to industry has accelerated: Academic salaries have never been competitive with those of the industry, but the gap has been growing and working conditions at universities have been deteriorating of late.
(9) Final thought for the day: Ayatollah Khamenei says that the Islamic Republic will negotiate with the Devil if it perpetuates the regime's survival. Everyone should get behind and support the regime. Interestingly, every time he mentions the Islamic Republic, he points to himself!

2024/04/04 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: The upcoming April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse in the US was predicted in March 1970 Warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures foretell a daunting hurricane season (map) Cover image of Zoe Schiffer's 'Extremely Hardcore' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Throwback Thursday: The upcoming April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse in the US was predicted in March 1970. [Center] Warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures foretell a daunting hurricane season. [Right] Zoe Schiffer's Extremely Hardcore (see the last item below).
(2) Join NSF during the April 8 solar eclipse to learn about the science of the Sun: Scientists will describe the unique experiments happening during the eclipse. It will all be on YouTube, starting around 11:00 AM PDT.
(3) In defense of shared governance at universities: University of California Academic Senate Chair Jim Steintrager addressed the Board of Regents at the March 20 Joint Meeting of the Regents' Academic and Student Affairs & Compliance and Audit Committees. His remarks begin at the 17:26 mark of this video.
(4) Book review: Schiffer, Zoe, Extremely Hardcore: Inside Elon Musk's Twitter, Portfolio, 2024.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
For many years, Twitter had been defined by the hands-off leadership style of co-founder Jack Dorsey. Twitter's staff spent years trying to protect the platform against impulsive billionaires. Then, trouble arrived when one such billionaire made himself the company's CEO, ending the era of Twitter giving everyone a voice, from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring. Overnight, Twitter went from a company that was short on profits but long on influence to being all about profits and one person's ego.
Santa-Barbara-based journalist Schiffer draws on interviews with 60+ employees, internal documents, court filings, and congressional testimony to produce an account of Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter and the ensuing chaos. She examines the effects of the volatile entrepreneur's takeover on the social media company and its thousands of employees (resignations, firings, etc.).
Beginning in January 2022, Musk began accumulating Twitter shares. A few months later, he joined the board and made an offer to purchase the business. Suits and countersuits slowed the process, which finally ended in the fall of that year, when Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion. Intent on cutting costs, Musk instituted massive layoffs, including engineers, content managers, and root password holders (critical to the company's operations), actions that weakened morale and caused advertising revenue to nose-dive.
Schiffer concedes that Musk's product ideas were reasonable, "but they were all over the map. In addition to relaunching Twitter Blue, he was exploring a payments platform, long-form video, long-form tweets, and encrypted direct messages." Since his childhood, "Musk had harbored a belief that he was destined to have a great impact on the world." His track record confirms that he is capable of having impact, but not necessarily that the impact will be positive in all cases.
There is general agreement in many different reviews of the book that Schiffer has done a remarkable job of researching her subject, but she leaves several important questions unanswered. Here are some examples. Is Twitter doomed to failure under Musk's leadership? Technical failures are well-described, but what about Musk's free-speech hypocrisy? She certainly has opinions on these questions, given her long-term reporting on Twitter, but she does not share her views with the book's readers.
For those who don't care for a book-size report with lots of details, this New York Magazine article by the author, Casey Newton, and Alex Heath might be considered a good substitute.

2024/04/03 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Images from Taiwan's 7.4-magnitude shaker About 100,000 live salmon spilled off a truck in Oregon Socrates Think Tank talk on medical technologies
Massive mosques to be erected at all city parks in Tehran: Architectural drawing 1 Massive mosques to be erected at all city parks in Tehran: Architectural drawing 2 Cartoon: 'Spring cleaning is just replacing the winter clothes on this chair with lighter, more colorful ones' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Images from Taiwan's 7.4-magnitude shaker: Reportedly, 9 people have died in this strongest earthquake in 25 years. The relatively low fatality figure is a testament to the country's building technology and rescue efforts. [Top center] About 100,000 live salmon spilled off a truck in Oregon, but most survived by flopping into a nearby creek. They are heading toward the ocean. [Top right] Socrates Think Talk talk (see the last item below). [Bottom left & center] Massive mosques to be erected at all city parks in Tehran: This is the Iranian mullahs' plan to keep an eye on people who use parks for jogging, group-exercise, and social gatherings. These architectural drawings show the mosque planned for Gheitarieh Park in northern Tehran. [Bottom right] New Yorker cartoon of the day: "Spring cleaning is just replacing the winter clothes on this chair with lighter, more colorful ones."
(2) UCSB Plous Lecture Honor: Dr. Charmaine Chua, Assistant Professor in the Department of Global Studies, will give the 2023-2024 Harold J. Plous Award Lecture on Thursday, April 11, 4:00 PM, at the Mosher Alumni House. Her lecture is entitled "Breaking Our (Supply) Chains: Anti-colonial Resistance in a Just-In-Time World."
(3) Tonight's Socrates Think Tank talk: Dr. Kamran Malek (obstetrics & gynecology) spoke under the title "Stem Cell, Gene Therapy: What Is on the Horizon?" There were ~110 attendees.
Dr. Malek indicated that today's three hottest topics in healthcare are stem cells, gene therapy, and the use of AI. So, he structured his talk into three sections, with Q&A at the end of each section.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can turn into any specialized cells, but as they divide, they gradually become more limited in their adaptation capabilities. Damaged or improperly functioning cells can be removed and stem cells sent to replace them. Medical ethics dictates that stem cells be used to replace other cells, not to create an embryo, for example.
The human genome map, developed a few years ago, catalogs all of our genes. The goal of gene therapy is to replace a defective gene with a healthy one that is mounted on a viral vector. The defective gene is first silenced by targeted use of special enzymes. Once silenced, a healthy gene takes over and replaces it. This is the idea behind the CRISPR technology, which earned its co-inventors, Biochemist Jennifer Doudna and microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, a Nobel Prize in 2020.
I could not stay for the third part of the talk due to prior commitments.

2024/04/01 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mitigating the potential misuse of LLMs through automatic detection: CACM cover feature Natural intelligence: Ants break down the grains & seeds they collect for winter into halves to keep them from germinating Beautiful symmetry. Is this a photograph or a painting? (1) Images of the day: [Left] CACM cover feature, April 2024: In an article entitled "The Science of Detecting LLM-Generated Text," Ruixiang Tang, Yu-Neng Chuang, and Xia Hu discuss the many approaches to mitigating the potential misuse of LLMs through automatic detection. [Center] Natural intelligence: Ants break down the grains & seeds they collect for winter into halves to keep them from germinating even through rain and the most-perfect germinating conditions. Amazingly, ants break down coriander seeds into four pieces, because a coriander seed will still germinate after being divided into two. [Right] Heavenly symmetry: Photo or painting?
(2) Happy first day of April: April Fool's Day is named after Englishman Charles April. He was easily fooled, so he lost the fortune his father left him. His wife divorced him after getting tired of his foolishness. He believed every fake story he read, as you are doing now ...
(3) Vanishing structures of rural America: Vermont-based photographer Jim Westphalen honors the long histories of decaying structures that are in danger of vanishing without a trace, along with generations of families that lived and worked in them.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A temporary shipping route for barges and tugboats to be opened around the Baltimore bridge wreckage.
- Havana Syndrome: How Russia targets high-level American officials worldwide with a secret weapon.
- With Daniel Craig, the fifth Bond, out, who should play the title role in the highly-profitable franchise?
- Show that the area of a quadrangle with side lengths a, b, c, d does not exceed (1/16)(a + b + c + d)^2.
(5) Harvard removes human skin from the binding of a 19th-century book in its collection: The book, Des Destinees de L'ame, meaning Destinies of the Soul, was written by Arsene Houssaye, a French novelist and poet, in the early 1880s. The printed text was given to a physician, Ludovic Bouland, who bound the book with skin he took without consent from the body of a deceased female patient in a hospital where he worked.
(6) How to comment on social media (satire): "Do not read the whole original post or what it links to, which will dilute the purity of your response … Listening/reading delays your reaction time, and as with other sports, speed is of the essence." ~ Rebecca Solnit
(7) Shahram Nazeri to be awarded the 14th Bita Prize for Persian Arts: Nazeri is an award-winning musician and acclaimed composer. As a young artist, he was well-versed in traditional vocal styles but eager to discover new melodies and spaces, drawing inspiration from Kurdish and other Iranian ethnic musical traditions. In his mastery of Iran's grand epic Shahnameh, and deep immersion in the poetry of Rumi, he has had the unique role of bridging the heights of Iranian epic and mystical traditions. He has been no less a creative pioneer in using masterpieces of modernist Persian poetry from poets like Nima and Akhavan to create pieces that brilliantly fuse tradition and modernity in Iran. [Sample musical performance]

2024/03/30 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Rolling some Persian-style dolmas (dolmehs) with my daughter: In progress Collection of colorful peace symbols Rolling some Persian-style dolmas (dolmehs) with my daughter: End product (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Rolling some Persian-style dolmas (dolmehs) to help my daughter. [Center] Where have all the peace symbols gone? (see the last item below).
(2) Iranian Kurds take Nowruz celebration seriously, with dancing and other festivities: The joyless Islamic Republic officials prefer religious mourning to any display of life and joy, so they have summoned many of the organizers to court. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]
(3) Quote of the day: "People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things." ~ Steve Jobs
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Israeli forces create a "Google Maps" of threats in Gaza by using data from sensors and intelligence feeds.
- Electric power use by data centers to increase six-fold over the next decade.
- World's largest inflatable theme park is coming to Santa Barbara, April 26-28, 2024. [Tweet, with photo]
- How Henry E. Warren's 1916 clock enabled the power grid by regulating the generated power's frequency.
- Linda Doyle shatters Ireland's academic glass ceiling by becoming Trinity College's first female provost.
(5) Research universities and hospitals push back on a proposal by Office of Research Integrity (ORI) to increase oversight of investigations into fraud and plagiarism.
(6) The war at Stanford (and other college campuses): A Stanford sophomore had to change his discussion section for a CS course when the TA leading it asserted that he wanted Joe Biden killed.
(7) The end of Boston Market: Founded in 1985 and expanding to 1200 stores in the 1990s, the casual-healthy food joint is on its way out, with only 27 stores remaining nationwide.
(8) Colleges/schools of AI are sprouting nationwide: In some cases, combined AI/data-science academic units are being formed. In a way, this is inevitable. Successful programs with a lot of student interest and funding tend to go their own way. My worries stem from the fact that once AI is cut off from its CS & CE roots, fundamental scientific progress may be overshadowed by sexy devices & apps that bring in funding from the government and industry. What do you think?
(9) Final thought for the day: Have we given up on peace? When was the last time you noticed the peace symbol on a banner or saw someone flash the two-finger version of it? Bringing back the peace symbol requires that we start wishing health & prosperity on our foes, instead of death & misfortune.

2024/03/28 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My new UCSB course, EcE 594BB, on the technical aspects of democracy has just been approved What if we built a really big planet-scale computer? A mosque in every city park: This is Tehran Mayor's renewed pledge, after seemingly retreating in the face of broad opposition
Today's food creations: Chicken & vegetables soup Today's food creations: Shirazi salad You have likely seen this method of protecting highway bridge columns from collisions (1) Images of the day: [Top left] My new graduate seminar, ECE 594BB, at UCSB (see the next item below). [Top center] What if we built a really big computer? I'm not referring to a warehouse-size supercomputer, which we already have, but a planet-scale machine. What are the challenges of building a planet-scale computer of the kind imagined by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and what uses can we envision for such a machine? [Top right] A mosque in every city park: This is Tehran Mayor's renewed pledge, after seemingly retreating in the face of broad opposition to cutting down of trees and reduction of public spaces. [Bottom left & center] Today's food creations: A hearty chicken & vegetables soup (put together from everything we had in the fridge) and a Shirazi salad. [Bottom right] You have likely seen this method of protecting highway bridge columns from collisions: Why aren't there similar mechanisms for bridges over waterways? Granted, the Highway method is in part to protect drivers, but still, it would make sense along waterways. See also the last item below.
(2) My new UCSB course on the technical aspects of democracy: I will be designing and teaching a new ECE 594 graduate seminar entitled "Mathematical, Algorithmic, and Engineering Aspects of Democratic Elections," to be offered during fall 2024. Preparing for the course and possibly recording its lectures will be done over the summer. I will update you on my work's progress with occasional social-media posts.
(3) IEEE ethics rules lead to the suspension of Chinese Professor Peng Zhang for harassment: The case is fairly old, but the conclusions and action of IEEE's Ethics and Member Conduct Committee were announced in the March 2024 issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine.
(4) Unfortunately, the danger of Joe Biden losing to Donald Trump exists and cannot be wished away: All the Democrats can do is to bring all hands on deck and ensure broad participation.
()5 Final thought for the day: Ships should not collide with bridges and bridges should not collapse if there is a collision. Simple, huh? Not so fast! We are told that investigating the collapse of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge and the cargo-ship failure that caused it could take years. By then, the incident will be forgotten and the urgency of action will be gone. Remember January 6?

2024/03/26 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The collapse of a major bridge in Baltimore, MD, USA: The cargo ship path The collapse of a major bridge in Baltimore, MD, USA: The bridge and impact point Nyangai: The island that is disappearing right before our eyes (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] The collapse of a bridge in Baltimore, MD (see the next item below). [Right] The disappearing island: In the span of a human lifetime, the majority of Nyangai's land has been washed away, and most of its population has fled. Within a few years, the island may disappear altogether.
(2) Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge collapses after a large cargo ship collides with it: Search and rescue operations are complicated by high winds and ice-cold waters. Engineers are scratching their heads in the aftermath. Huge cargo & cruise ships threaten many bridges that have not been built to withstand their impact. The collapse of the entire Francis Scott Key Bridge rather than one of its spans indicates an urgent need to revisit bridge design. Also, new ship designs, so that vessels are not totally incapacitated by loss of power, should be extensively discussed. [Maps & photos]
(3) Total Solar eclipse happens roughly once every 366 years in the same spot on Earth: Teachers in areas of totality or near-totality on April 8, 2024, plan to use the spectacle as a learning tool, hoping to get children and their parents excited about science.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Qatari royal invested about $50 million in pro-Trump network Newsmax.
- Hamas terrorists meet with Terrorist-in-Chief Ali Khamenei in Tehran. [Tweet, with photo]
- Communications of the ACM, a premier computing journal, becomes an open-access, Web-first publication.
- Snippets from a major musical concert in Tehran, sponsored by Iran's National TV, 1977. [Video]
(5) Is artificial intelligence (AI) the new data science? A few years ago, claims that "big data" will solve all of our problems were front-page headlines. Many opportunists became data scientists overnight and were hired by new and established companies who wanted to erect a stand for themselves in the data-science marketplace. Now, suddenly, the number of AI experts has multiplied, with many overnight conversions from other specialties. Everyone is giving lectures on AI, painting rosy pictures that ensure their continued employment and re-invitation to speak. Brace for major downsizing in the industry to get rid of all the pretend AI experts!

2024/03/25 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The entire universe in a log-log chart A new word game from New York Times Cover image of 'The Greatest Capitalist Who Ever Lived' (1) Images of the day: [Left] The entire universe in a log-log chart (see the next item below). [Center] A new word game from New York Times: A theme word starts at one of the letters and traces a path by downward, upward, leftward, rightward, or any diagonal movement (e.g., TIME at the upper-left corner). (The solution) [Right] The Greatest Capitalist Who Ever Lived (see the last item below).
(2) There is a long pedagogical tradition in physics of putting everything into one log-log plot. In their October 1, 2023, American J. Physics paper, Charles H. Lineweaver and Vihan M. Patel provide an overview of the history of the universe and the sequence of composite objects (e.g., protons, planets, galaxies) that condensed out of the background as the universe expanded and cooled.
(3) Book review: McElvenny, Ralph Watson and Marc Wortman, The Greatest Capitalist Who Ever Lived, unabridged 17-hour audiobook, read by Donald Corren, PublicAffairs, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Before Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk, there was IBM's Thomas Watson Jr. [1914-1993]. This book is a biography of the man who oversaw the transformation of IBM, originally specializing in electromechanical business-machines, into a digital-computing behemoth, creating a company whose name was synonymous with computers for several decades. Tom Watson Jr.'s success at IBM may have been at least in part due to the rivalry with and rebellion against his father. When Watson Jr. appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1955, a marketing triumph for the company, the old man was resentful.
Tom Watson Jr. began life as an angry and often depressed young boy. Alternately indulged (he wore a jacket & tie at age 9 and as a teen, was supplied with his own car, a sailboat, and a monthly allowance worth $7000 in today's money) and disciplined by his domineering and emotionally-distant father, Watson Jr. predictably rebelled, yet he managed to create the bluest of the blue-chip companies. He was a mediocre student, who barely earned his high-school diploma and couldn't get into colleges of his choice. His father eventually got him into Brown University.
Tom Watson Sr. saw IBM's business as that of tabulating machines, which were quite profitable, resisting the suggestion that the company should invest on and move into the computer business. In 1964, under Watson Jr.'s leadership, IBM unveiled a series of computers known as System/360, revolutionizing the field of computer architecture and establishing IBM as a dominating and hip computer company. Until then, computers, even those built by the same manufacturer, were incompatible, causing a user who wanted to upgrade to a larger system to start from scratch and do a significant amount of re-programming and application adaptation.
System/360 computers, which ranged from small business machines to the largest supercomputer of the day, were upward-compatible, allowing programs developed for smaller systems to run on the larger ones with only slight changes. This was a major technical achievement and also a smart business strategy. It motivated customers who needed larger computers because of expansion of their data-processing needs to stay with IBM; a clever way of locking the customers in without facing anti-trust scrutiny. It also provided software developers a larger market and spurred innovations in the software industry.
Following Watson Sr.'s passing in 1956, Watson Jr. assumed the dual roles of President and CEO at IBM, leading the company to new heights by focusing on its computer business, rather than the electromechanical punched-card systems that were his father's favorites. Watson Jr. stepped down from his positions at IBM in 1971 due to health reasons, but he continued to be active in public service and diplomacy.
One aim of the authors is to exonerate IBM from allegations of cooperating with the Nazi regime in Germany. They claim that Watson Sr. cut all ties with Hitler before the US entered World War II and his company subsequently aided the US war effort. The authors also bust the myth that Bill Gates skunked IBM by developing MS-DOS as the industry-standard operating system, noting that IBM would have faced antitrust trouble had it required a proprietary system.
Both Watson Sr. and Watson Jr. treated IBM, a public company, as family property, even though they never owned more than 5% of its stock. This attitude led to Watson Jr.'s rare mistake of appointing his totally-unqualified, alcoholic brother, Dick, as CEO, an act that led to the System/360 project going into a tailspin and forcing Dick's removal.
One should read this book with the awareness that one of the authors is Watson Jr.'s grandson. This family connection does allow closer scrutiny of the family dynamics, but it seems to have shaped the identification of heroes (Watson Jr. and his supporters & soothsayers) and villains (Watson Jr.'s foes, particularly T. Vincent Learson, who eventually replaced Dick and saved the System/360 endeavor).

2024/03/24 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian singer/songwriter Faramarz Aslani (1954-2024) dead at 69 US population growth and thus GDP improvement over the rest of this century depends on immigration policies (NYT chart) Digital dissection of museum animals: openVertebrate project
Image of Web page for ECE 1B, a spring 2024 course at UCSB Image of Web page for ECE 252B, a spring 2024 course at UCSB A genetic cause of male mate preference: Cover feature of Science magazine
(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Iranian singer/songwriter Faramarz Aslani (1954-2024) dead at 69: He was a beloved musician, best-known for composing and performing "Ageh Yeh Rooz." RIP. [Top center] US population growth and thus GDP improvement over the rest of this century depends on immigration policies (NYT chart). [Top right] Digital dissection of museum animals: That's the goal of openVertebrate, a project involving 18 institutions that has spent the past five years creating 3D reconstructions of museum specimens, which are now available freely online (from Nature Journal, March 22, 2024). [Middle left & center] I have updated the Web pages for my spring 2024 courses, a 1-unit freshman seminar, ECE 1B, and a graduate course on computer arithmetic, ECE 252B. Recorded lectures for both courses are available through the Web pages for anyone interested to follow along. [Middle right] A genetic cause of male mate preference: A gene for mate preference has been shared between hybridizing butterfly species, according to the cover feature of Science magazine, issue of March 22, 2024. [Bottom row] Family outing at Balboa Park in Los Angeles on Sunday, preceded by a house-warming party for my niece on Saturday (photos), and followed by an enjoyable luch at Denj Restaurant (images) in Woodland Hills.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- ISIS responsible for attack on Moscow music hall: 60+ [update: 130+] dead, scores more injured.
- Apple sued by the US government for its iPhone monopoly, which hurts consumers and competitors.
- US-led UN Security Council resolution for ceasefire in Gaza is vetoed by China and Russia.
- Men's soccer: USA prevailed over Mexico 2-0 in the championship match of the CONCACAF Nations Cup.
- Intel to spend ~$20 billion to revamp chips manufacturing capabilities with support from the CHIPS Act.
- Breakdown of spending in America's $1.2 trillion infrastructure investment. [Tweet, with chart]
- UCSB Interactive Learning Pavilion honored with "US Building of the Year" Award. [Tweet with photo]
- Is the entire observable universe inside a black hole? Black-hole cosmology advances this theory.
- How are extremely heavy weights and massive forces measured? This video tells you all about it.
- Tesla's most-profitable business isn't selling electric cars: It is installing energy-storage packs.
- Fishing skills on display. [3-minute video]
- Facebook memories from Mar. 22 of years past: An Amy Leach quote and a defense of video games.

2024/03/22 (Friday): Today, I present three book reviews on the progress and philosophy of science.
Cover image of Roger Penrose's 'The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind' Cover image of Carlo Rovelli's 'Reality Is Not What It Seems' Cover image of W. W. Rouse Ball's 'A Short Account of the History of Mathematics' (1) Book review: Penrose, Roger (with Abner Shimony, Nancy Cartwright, & Stephen Hawking; ed. by Malcolm Longair), The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind, Cambridge U. Press, Canto Edition, 2000.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Following a foreword by Malcolm Longair and a preface to the Canto Edition, The book unfolds in seven chapters and two appendices, with Chapters 1-3 written by Roger Penrose, Chapters 4-6 contributed by the three co-authors who criticize Penrose's ideas, and Chapter 7 containing a response by Penrose.
Chapter 1. Space-time and cosmology (the big)
Chapter 2. The mysteries of quantum physics (the small)
Chapter 3. Physics and the mind (the human mind)
Chapter 4. On mentality, quantum mechanics, and actualization of potentialities
Chapter 5. Why physics?
Chapter 6. The objections of an unashamed Reductionist
Chapter 7. Response by Roger Penrose
Appendix 1. Goodstein's theorem and mathematical thinking
Appendix 2. Experiments to test gravitationally induced state reductions
This is an enlightening book that can benefit anyone in search of the truth about science and its relationship with philosophy.
(2) Book review: Rovelli, Carlo, Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by Roy McMillan, Penguin Audio, 2017. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In this volume, Carlo Rovelli, the author of million-selling Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, has produced an accessible book on quantum gravity, a leading-edge area of research in which he works. The book was published in Italy in 2014 and was translated later, so it is coming to English-language readers after his later book, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.
Rovelli begins by reviewing what humans knew about science in ancient Rome, particularly through important musings of Democritus, whose works unfortunately did not survive owing to the Church's objection. Democritus postulated the existence of tiny building blocks, or atoms, rejecting the notion that matter is infinitely divisible. Other ideas were contributed by Plato and Aristotle, who perceived mathematics as a tool for understanding the universe.
Hundreds of years later, Ptolemy presented formulas to calculate the movements of planets and, thus, predicting their future positions. It then took 1000+ years for Galileo to bring experimentation to science, thus starting the modern scientific tradition. Copernicus revolutionized astronomy by showing that celestial calculations become more accurate if we consider the Sun as the center of our Solar System. Newton laid out the foundations of classical mechanics and formulated the law of universal gravity. Faraday and Maxwell contributed further revolutionary advances.
Then came Albert Einstein, who in his mid-20s published four groundbreaking papers on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special theory of relativity, and the equivalence of mass & energy. Ten years later, he proposed a general theory of relativity, which incorporated gravitation. Einstein's contemporaries, Max Born, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, and Erwin Schrodinger, developed quantum mechanics, thus creating a quest among physicists to devise a theory that unifies them, what is sometimes referred to as the theory of everything. Rovelli pays homage to string theory, but he belongs to a rival school known as loop quantum gravity, which predicts that space is not a continuum but is formed of "atoms of space."
Rovelli tries to bridge the divide between science and art, opining that, "Our culture is foolish to keep science and poetry separated." Lucretius's long philosophical poem "On the Nature of Things" celebrates the mysteries of the natural world, while foreseeing much of contemporary physics. Praising poetic approaches to science and dissing our lust for certainty, which is never offered by science, Rovelli takes a swipe at atheists like Richard Dawkins, labeling them just as prejudiced and intolerant as those they criticize. He opines that such people have no better idea of how the world really works than those they put down.
In her review of Reality Is Not What It Seems, Lisa Randall, Professor of Theoretical Particle Physics at Harvard University, faults Rovelli for occasionally trivializing or oversimplifying, worrying that the approach of turning equations into poetry is akin to feeding the readers enticing junk food, which "though tasty, isn't always as nourishing and sustaining as one might have hoped."
(3) Book review: Rouse Ball, W. W., A Short Account of the History of Mathematics, abridged 31-minute audiobook, read by Tony Shalhoub, Audible, 2020. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This short audiobook belongs to the Audible Sleep Collection, audio programs "created to invite relaxation and sleep." It tells the story of how Ionian Greeks formalized the study of mathematics more than five centuries BCE based on the teachings of ancient Egyptians and Phoenicians, outstripping their former teachers. Much of ancient math was practically oriented, with little abstraction. The development of arithmetic and geometry are discussed, but astronomy is deemed to be outside the scope of this brief history.

2024/03/21 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My mom would have been 95 today: Her favorite photo My mom would have been 95 today: A page from her diary IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk by Dr. Philip Lubin (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] My mom would have been 95 today: Her favorite photo and a page from her diary. Happy birthday! And happy new year! [Right] IEEE CCS tech talk (see the last item below).
(2) European Union legislators approved the AI Act on March 13, 2024: It will be enacted into law in phases later this year. Non-EU countries including the UK cannot ignore it. As with GDPR rules, the Act includes proposed regulations that organizations will need to comply with, in order to do business with the EU.
(3) Netflix adapts Liu Cixin's beloved sci-fi trilogy 3 Body Problem: Hailed as an audacious feat of engineering, the series begins in the 1960s China during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. Having read one of Liu Cixin's books, I recommend the books and the Netflix series to all science buffs.
(4) Last night's IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk: Dr. Philip Lubin (UCSB Physics Dept.) spoke under the title "Planetary Defense Using Hypervelocity Penetrators."
Planetary defense refers to protecting Earth from near-Earth space objects, mostly asteroids but occasionally comets, which can create major loss of life, up to and including widespread extinction. Each year, we can expect impact from an asteroid several meters in diameter, harboring impact energy on the order of 0.01 megatons of TNT. Over a lifetime, asteroid size of 10s of meters and impact energy of 1 megaton can be expected. As the accompanying chart shows, once every million years, asteroid diameter on the order of 1000 meters and explosive energy of ~1000 gigatons might be expected. This energy is millions of times greater than the destructive power of the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
So, even though cataclysmic events are rare, their severity warrants preparing appropriate defenses. Assuming an object on a collision course with Earth has been identified, defense startegies include deflection (usable when there is sufficiently advance warning) and pulverization (usable in both long- and short-warning situations). Dr. Lubin described his academia/NASA/national-labs/private-space team's work on the use of hypervelocity kinetic penetrators that pulverize or disassamble an asteroid or small comet. Studies have shown the method's effectiveness against asteroids in the 20-1000m diameter class. This was demonstrated during the talk by screening simulation videos. Once an asteroid has been broken up, the numerous tiny pieces created either miss the Earth or burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

2024/03/19 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Two-day trip to Santa Catalina Island: General intro Two-day trip to Santa Catalina Island: Semi-submarine ride Two-day trip to Santa Catalina Island: Kayaking
Two-day trip to Santa Catalina Island: Upon arrival, batch 1 Two-day trip to Santa Catalina Island: Misc. photos Two-day trip to Santa Catalina Island: Upon arrival, batch 2 (1) Reflections on my two-day trip to Santa Catalina Island: Located off the California coast, southwest of Long Beach, the tourist destination Avalon, near the Island's southeastern tip, is easily accessible by a 70-minute ferry ride. Having lived in Southern California for 40 years, 4 years as a grad student at UCLA and 36 years as a professor at UCSB, visiting Catalina was on my bucket list, which is now checked off! For would-be visitors: If you live close to Long Beach, I recommend a day-trip to Catalina. If you aren't into shopping, activities are rather limited. There is a casino (which I didn't visit), swimming (for those who enjoy freezing water), kayaking (1-minute video), snorkeling, and a semi-submarine ride during which you get to see lots of fish & kelp.
(2) The government-shutdown game: US lawmakers create the drama of a looming shutdown so that when an agreement is reached and there is no shutdown, the public feels like they have accomplished something!
(3) Leaders of some other countries during Vladimir Putin's extended reign in Russia. More will be added over the next six years! [List]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Top-earning majors within 5 years of graduation: Computer eng. tops the list, with CS in third position.
- From "The Angry Grammarian": "The Comma with Too Many Names" & "Lie with Me and Lay Me."
- How a stupid dare after drinking alcohol paralyzed and later killed a young man. [Video]
- Math challenge: What is the limit as x tends to infinity of the xth root of x?
- Dawn Baillie makes museum-worthy movie posters that capture the film's essence in one frame.
(5) NSF hosts an educational livestream on YouTube during the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse: During the program, scientists explore some of the high-tech facilities they use, including the NSF Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, the largest solar telescope in the world.
(6) According to The Atlantic, the number of Stanford U. seniors in computer science has more than doubled to 18% over the last decade. In the same time period, the rate went up from 23% to 42% at MIT.
(7) The latest video message from the Iranian Nobel Laureate Narges Mohammadi: The brutality of Iran's Islamic regime isn't a sign of its strength but springs from extreme weakness.
(8) Science & math can make you rich in the market of stocks and options: Be aware, though, that the brilliant physicist & mathematician Isaac Newton was a lousy investor!
(9) This Persian verse is attributed to Mojgan Eftekhari, the mother of Mahsa Amini, the young women whose death while in the custody of Iran's morality police triggered the #WomanLifeFreedom Revolution

2024/03/18 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Our outdoors haft-seen for Nowruz 1403: Awaiting the spring equinox (saal-tahveel) on Tuesday, March 19 Cover image of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 'Fooled by Randomness' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Our outdoors haft-seen for Nowruz 1403: Awaiting the spring equinox (saal-tahveel) on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, 8:06:26 PM PT (Wednesday, March 20, 6:36:26 AM Tehran time). [Center] My latest Nowruz poem and its recitatin (see the next item below). [Right] Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Fooled by Randomness (see the last item below).
(2) My latest Nowruz poem: Every year since 2002, I have composed a cheerful Persian poem to welcome the bliss of Nowruz and the beauty of spring. Here is my poem for 2024 (Persian New Year 1403). Iranian people have suffered for many decades under the brutal Islamic regime, yet they remain as hopeful as ever that the spell will be broken one day soon, allowing them to discard the mullahs' imposed culture of mourning, sorrow, and martyrdom in favor of Iranian cultural elements of music, poetry, arts, and year-round joyous festivals.
A rough English translation follows:
Clean out your home for a momentous celebration
Wear the freshest clothes, a new season is upon us
Unroll the Nowruz spread in homes near and far
Renew your loyalties, hope and promise are here
The spring breeze is blowing from the mountainside
Streams are flowing, the fields have turned green
The hills and plains teem with fragrance and color
Enmity has disappeared, love and hope now rule
It is time for joy, passion, laughter, and open arms
Pale faces have turned red from the joy of Nowruz
P.S.: Many of my previous Nowruz poems are available on my personal poetry page.
(3) Book review: Taleb, Nassim Nicholas, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, unabridged 10-hour audiobook, read by Joe Ochman, revised & expanded 2nd ed., Random House Audio, 2019. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
We tend to credit skill or talent for enormous success. While skill or talent can put you on the path to moderate success, much luck is needed for outsize wealth and lasting fame. The latter result from luck, a combination of a fortunate rare event and a lack of negative rare events. The path to fortune and fame is by and large a random walk.
Former options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb examines the outsized role luck plays in success. While cited examples are mostly from what Taleb has experienced in the world of investing, he makes it clear that his principles are applicable to any field ruled by unpredictability. Economics and politics are prime alternate examples, with publishing and filmmaking not too far behind.
Taleb also addresses the problem of why people do not understand luck and how we can develop awareness of randomness and accommodate it in our lives. The ignorance of randomness has an asymmetric manifestation. Most people attribute their successes to talent and skill, whereas they view their failures as influenced by random events. In other words, I picked a highly profitable stock because I am good at recognizing value, but my stocks that tanked did so due to chance events beyond my control.
There are professions and fields where chance has little or no influence. Dentistry is Taleb's favorite example, where success is built on perseverance and skill, with a pinch of luck. While some dentists are wealthier than others, the difference is nowhere close to that of wealthy and barely-surviving stock traders.
A factor that leads to our being fooled by randomness is survivorship bias. We see examples of people who have thrived in a particular industry (a writer who land a movie contract or an investor who strikes it rich), and then inappropriately extrapolate to the expectation of wild success for anyone. We don't see, and thus forget about, the writer who didn't produce a best-seller or the investor who lost it all in an ill-advised trade. Looking at "invisible" alternatives allows us to better assess the influence of luck.
We are actually quite good at evaluating probabilities in situations with well-defined parameters, like playing Russian roulette for $50 million by shooting a gun loaded with one real bullet and five empty chambers at our head. but when chance events are beyond our logical assessment, because they are ill-defined or involve too many parameters, we do less well.
As they say in the field of investing, past performance is no guarantee for future gains. There are rare events that nobody has experienced and thus do not show up in the past record. A rare negative event in the stock market can wipe out the gains from years of moderate success. These rare events or "black swans," are, by definition, unpredictable because they don't follow any rules. Risk assessment is impossible for unpredictable events.

2024/03/16 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Rare bird: An orange-tufted spiderhunter This evening's sunset walk to Coal Oil Point Beach in Goleta Don't tread on my gun & heart-attack burger: RNC, under Trumpian management, unveils its new Statue of Liberty (1) Images of the day: [Left] A retired American diplomat is the first person to document 10,000 different bird sightings. His record-setting find: An orange-tufted spiderhunter. [Center] This evening's sunset walk to Coal Oil Point Beach in Goleta. [Right] Don't tread on my gun & heart-attack burger: RNC, under Trumpian management, unveils its new Statue of Liberty.
(2) Noteworthy elements of a metro-car video in Tehran: Widespread musical talent among Iranians, despite various prohibitions, passengers daring to cheer on & sing along, and dismissal of mandatory hijab laws.
(3) Over the past four decades, spring has arrived earlier and earlier in the Continental US: Up to four weeks earlier in much of the country and a bit later in small areas, mostly in the Midwest. [Tweet, with infographic]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- UN report implicates Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in crimes against humanity.
- Iranian women continue to defy hardline clerics, despite heightened threats of fines and imprisonment.
- Misogynistic posts and comments are not okay, even against women supporters of Iran's Islamic regime.
- Math challenge: If for nonzero x, we have f(1/(1 + x)) + f((x + 1)/x) = x, what is f(1/2)?
(5) Quote of the day: "Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less." ~ Marie Curie
(6) We tend to think of the Worldwide Web as the most-important fruit of the age of digital connectivity: But Wikipedia, an invaluable free resource, may be just as important.
(7) Iran's former "moderate" FM Javad Zarif criticizes the "hardliners": I feel no sympathy for his being sidelined, because during his tenure as foreign minister, he defended Iran's horrible human rights record, dismissed people's legitimate demands, and generally deferred to the Supreme Leader on matters big & small.
(8) On police officers sexually assaulting children: The stories keep coming!
"Former Lewisville police officer sentenced for sexually assaulting a child"
"Ex-Chicago cop sentenced to 25 years in sex trafficking of young girls"
"Sex abuse victim of former LVMPD officer: 'I was turned into a human pet'"
It is sickening that some of our supposed protectors abuse their positions of power & public trust! There is a Persian saying: "We use salt to prevent food from becoming rotten. God help us when the salt goes rotten!"
(9) Viruses, bacteria, and prions: Nearly everyone is aware of the role of viruses and bacteria in human diseases. From a book I am reading (Michio Kaku's Quantum Supremacy), I learned about another important cause of diseases, that is, misfolded proteins or prions. Misfolded proteins cause damage to healthy proteins, thereby propagating the disease within the body. Research on protein folding and quantum computing, that can provide the computational power to advance this area of research, raises hopes of dealing with prion-caused dementia and other terminal neurodegenerative diseases.

2024/03/15 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
AI-visualized technical rooms for each decade, from 1980 to 2050 Flyer for tonight's Talangor Group talk Image of Iranian polymath Qutb al-Din Shirazi (1) Images of the day: [Left] AI visualizations (see the next item below). [Center] Last night's Talangor Group talk (see the last item below). [Right] Talk on Iranian polymath Qutb al-Din Shirazi (see item 3 below).
(2) AI-visualized technical rooms for each decade, from 1980 to 2050: Here are some of the images.
On my Facebook post of these images, a perceptive friend noted the total absence of women in all cases.
I responded thus: Excellent observation! This is why we worry about human biases (in this case, those of the designers of AI systems) finding their way into programs and algorithms. We have a long way to go to remove such biases from people and, indirectly, from the algorithms they develop.
(3) Today's Stanford University webinar: Dr. Kaveh Niazi (Stanford Online High School) talked under the title "Qutb al-Din Shirazi and His Observations on Ptolemy's Lunar Model."
Qutb al-Din Shirazi [1235-1311 CE], a renowned student of Khwaja Nasir al-Din Tusi, completed in 1282 CE his astronomical text Ikhtiyarat-i Muzaffari, a richly-detailed work composed in Persian, which covers much of the material appearing in his 1281 Arabic text Nihayat al-Idrak fi Dirayat al-Aflak. Intriguingly, the Persian book includes material that is missing from its companion. One such passage treats the concept of the prosneusis point as defined for the Ptolemaic lunar model in the Almagest. An examination of Shirazi's discussion of the prosneusis point offers a window to his approach to theoretical astronomy, while also highlighting his approach to the authoring of technical texts for astronomy students.
(4) Last night's Talangor Group Talk: Hooshyar Afsar(zadeh), journalist & social-justice activist, spoke under the title "Haji Firooz and Today's World." Before the main talk, Dr. Reza Toossi made a short presentation in celebration of pi Day. Among interesting observations offered by Dr. Toossi was the fact that perhaps 7/22 should be designated as pi Day, given that the approximation 22/7 is closer to the real value of pi than 3.14. Note that in some date notations, the day number is written before the month number (such as 22/7/2024). There were ~80 attendees.
Haji Firooz is a subject dear to my heart, so let me begin my report with a long introduction about my own views. I have written many times about Haji Firooz being a racist symbol, although most Iranians vehemently deny that they, or Iranians as a whole, harbor racist sentiments. On March 20, 2014, I criticized a post about President Obama's Nowruz message by an Iranian-American, who referred to him in the post as Haji Firooz. On March 4, 2019, I repeated my plea to fellow-Iranians to abandon the racist tradition of Haji Firooz. On March 24, 2021, I posted a short essay entitled "Haji Firooz rears his ugly head again," in which I characterized the Haji Firooz tradition as racist and dismissed the various long-winded explanations that have been offered about why it is not racist.
Please bear in mind that for an act or statement to be deemed offensive, it's not necessary for the perpetrator to intend to offend someone. It is sufficient for the target or an observer to take offense. So, blackface is deemed offensive in America, regardless of whether the wearer of the face meant to ridicule/offend someone. Similarly, we teach men that an act they commit in good humor against a woman is deemed offensive if the woman takes it as a sexual transgression, whether or not it was meant as such. This is why I strongly recommend the removal or modification of the Haji Firooz tradition, to eliminate all of its offensive elements.
Last night, I became aware of academic research on the roots of the Haji Firooz tradition. Research has found no trace of the tradition in classical sources. Claims by defenders of the tradition, who go to great lengths to justify it in one form or another, usually have no valid reference citations. Complicating the issue is the fact that Iran's Islamic regime is against Haji Firooz and all other joyful traditions rooted in Iran's pre-Islamic history. This makes opposition groups more adamant in defending such traditions.
Afsarzadeh briefly reviewed the history of slavery in Iran, which included not just colored people from Africa but also white women from Armenia, Georgia, and elsewhere who were used as sexual slaves in harems of the rich and powerful. In 1929, slavery was officially banned in Iran by an act of parliament, a ban that was later enshrined in the Constitution. This would have been unnecessary were slavery not practiced in the country.
Afsarzadeh drew parallels between Haji Firooz and the American Jim Crow Laws (named after a black minstrel show routine), which were meant to marginalize African-Americans the same way the Black Codes did.
Rather than outline the rest of Afsarzadeh's presentation, I post the following link to his Persian-language article "Haji Firooz and Today's World" (the first item on this search page, which also leads you to some of Afsarzadeh's other works).
Among sources cited by Afsarzadeh are Behnaz A. Mirzai's 2017 U. Texas Press book A History or Slavery and Emancipation in Iran, 1800-1929 and Beeta Baghoolizadeh's upcoming 2024 Duke U. Press book The Color Black: Enslavement and Erasure in Iran.

2024/03/14 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: Tehran, Hafez Ave., ca. 1960 Happy pi day! March 14 is known as pi day, because 3/14 matches the first three of the infinite sequence of digits in pi Flyer for last night's Socrates Think Tank Talk (1) Images of the day: [Left] Throwback Thursday: Tehran, Hafez Ave., ca. 1960. [Center] Happy pi day! March 14 is known as pi day, because 3/14 matches the first three of the infinite sequence of digits in pi = 3.141 592 653 589 793 ... [Right] Last night's Socrates Think Tank Talk (see the last item below).
(2) Software engineering basics ignored: US Education Department officials have blamed various elements for the FAFSA (federal financial aid system) problems that delayed the college admission process and caused enormous anxiety for the applicants. They blame an attempt to implement many changes in the face of insufficient funding from Congress.
Yet, anyone with minimal expertise in software engineering knows not to introduce too many changes all at once, regardless of the available budget. In a production system with many thousands of users, changed components must be provided with back-ups in the event of unexpected problems. Did they actually perform substantial testing on the new system or were they spewing code up to the last minute?
In my graduate course on dependable computing, I present a long list of software project failures when one or more tenets of software engineering were ignored. Examples include an operating system that was to be built of all-new components and an airline ticketing system that incorporated hotel & rental-car reservations.
(3) Programming distributed systems: This was the title of an ACM webinar, which I watched as I walked to my 10:00 AM class yesterday. The talk by Mae Milano (Princeton University) and Ethan Cecchetti (University of Wisconsin) contained several interesting and useful ideas on efficiency, reliability, and consistency of distributed systems. Here is a 60-minute recording of the talk.
(4) Last night's Socrates Think Tank Talk: Dr. Mohsen Attaran (Cal State U. Bakersfield) spoke under the title "Cold War 2.0: The Microchip War with China." There were ~125 attendees.
The speaker's thesis was that Cold War 2.0 is unfolding between the US and China; Russia is no longer a major player on the world stage, as its GDP continues to decline and its major assets (oil & gas) are increasingly overshadowed by new technology. For example, Russia is forced to buy its microchips from China, settling for inferior quality.
Taiwan's prominent position in the microchips industry creates multiple problems. First, its position makes it a valuable target for China, who would acquire much of the technology if it were to occupy Taiwan. Second, the fall of Taiwan would disrupt US's access to microchips, an eventuality that may have motivated the US CHIPS Act, which allocated significant funds to rebuild the microchips manufacturing capability on US soil.
Besides microchips and electronics, Taiwan enjoys a strategic position on the Far-East shipping lanes, a fact that China dislikes. Another major player in the area is Vietnam, which is enjoying close ties with the US and other developed countries and stands to benefit significantly if tensions between the US and China escalate.
Generally, talks entailing political analyses do not produce answers on which everyone agrees. This is one reason I tend to skip political talks. I made an exception tonight, because the microchips and electronics industries are dear to my heart. Furthermore, I have both professional colleagues and former students who work in Taiwan, which makes me curious about the tiny island nation's future.

2024/03/13 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The eve of the last Wednesday of the Persian calendar year (last night) is known as Chaharshanbeh Suri Cover image of Randall Munroe's 'What If?' Total solar eclipse of Monday, April 8, 2024: Map
Math puzzle: Compute the length x Math puzzle: Given that the three areas in the circle are equal, find the angle alpha Math puzzle: In this diagram with two circles and six semicirlces, what is the ratio of the areas of the two circles? (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The eve of the last Wednesday of the Persian calendar year (last night) is known as Chaharshanbeh Suri, with traditions of jumping over bonfires, a spread of fruits and nuts, and ghaashogh-zani (similar to trick-or-treating). [Top center] Randall Munroe's What If? (see the last item below). [Top right] Total solar eclipse of Monday, April 8, 2024, in the US: It appears that in Southern California, we will see a partial eclipse of around 40%. In Santa Barbara, the partial eclipse will begin at 10:06 AM, peaks at 11:11 AM, and ends at 12:19 PM. [Bottom left] Math puzzle: Compute the length x. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Given that the three areas in the circle are equal, find the angle alpha. [Bottom right] In this diagram with two circles and six semicirlces, what is the ratio of the areas of the two circles?
(2) Tributes are pouring in for our departed colleage, Nobel Laureate in Physics Herb Kroemer: "In India, there is the concept of a guru, someone who is a teacher in the broadest sense, someone who teaches not only curriculum, facts, skills, and information, but creativity, morals, ethics, leadership, discipline, graciousness, and generosity. We have been fortunate to share time with Herb Kroemer, who embodies the broad ethos of the guru. He taught physics, materials science and electrical engineering at the highest level, but also behavior and life." ~ UCSB Dean of Engineering Umesh Mishra
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Mixed-political-party marriages are much rarer today than mixed-race marriages. [PBS report]
- Persian food: Sepand's ghormeh-sabzi stew, with my rice and potatoes tah-dig. [Photos]
- Biography of the guy behind Veritasium, the source of many enlightening science videos.
- Science videos are effective only if they address misconceptions head-on. [8-minute video]
(4) Book review: Munroe, Randall, What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, unabridged 7-hour audiobook, read by Wil Wheaton, Blackstone Audio, 2014.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Randall Patrick Munroe is an American cartoonist, engineer, and author, best known as the creator of the webcomic xkcd. In this book, which consists of 57 short chapters, and its 2022 sequel, What If? 2, Munroe answers hypothetical science questions he receives from readers of his webcomic xkcd. The answers are scientifically rigorous, but also contain a good dose of humor.
Here is an example of such questions that appear absurd at first, but not absurd enough not to merit a genuine science-based answer. If you started rising steadily at 1 ft/s, how exactly will you die? Will you freeze or suffocate, or something else?
Here is another example question. Is launching the entire human race into space possible? Do we have enough energy on Earth to do it? This latter question piqued my interest. We need about 4 gigajoules (roughly a megawatt-hour) per person to escape Earth's gravity. The total energy needed is about 5% of global consumption per year; a large amount, but not impossible. However we need energy to carry the energy we need after leaving Earth. When all is added up, the required energy becomes impractical, though still not quite impossible.

2024/03/12 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: What is the difference between the green and yellow areas? Two math challenges: Extract the given root without using a calculator and find the area of the middle square in terms of the areas a and b of the other two squares Cover image of Stephanie Land's 'Class'
The mathematical symmetry of architectural tiles and carpet designs: Sample 1 The mathematical symmetry of architectural tiles and carpet designs: Sample 2 The mathematical symmetry of architectural tiles and carpet designs: Sample 3 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Math puzzle: What is the difference between the green and yellow areas? [Top center] Two math challenges: Extract the given root without using a calculator and find the area of the middle square in terms of the areas a and b of the other two squares. [Top right] Stephanie Land's Class (see the last item below). [Bottom row] The mathematical symmetry of architectural tiles and carpet designs.
(2) Book review: Land, Stephanie, Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education, unabridged 9-hour audiobook, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is the story of a single mother, going to school and cleaning houses, offices, and gyms for income, struggling to raise her daughter in the face of high child-care costs, while dealing with an unreliable and emotionally-abusive ex, who shuns his responsibilities, often sneaking off with very short notice.
This is the second memoir by Land, whose first one, Maid, told the story of a single mother who tried to stay away from an abusive boyfriend and out of homeless shelters by cleaning houses in the Pacific Northwest, while harboring the dream of one day returning to college to become a writer.
The main theme of Class is the difficulty of getting educated in America, while living below the poverty line. Here, we see the 35-year-old single mother moving with her daughter to Missoula, Montana, where she returns to college but still struggles to survive, despite getting tuition, childcare, food-bank, and other assistance. Her long-divorced parents provide no emotional or financial support.
Everything in her life is unstable and unreliable (her car, her house-cleaning gigs, childcare, her ex, housemates, friends, and lovers), giving her a sense of isolation and loneliness. She has amassed tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, which, realistically, she may never be able to repay. The day-to-day struggles to survive leaves no time or energy for long-term financial planning.
The book leaves Stephanie's status unresolved, ending with her returning home from the hospital with a newborn second daughter, perhaps as an opening for a third memoir, but we know from events outside the book that she became a celebrity writer, as she had dreamed, seeing her first memoir turn into a highly-successful Netflix series.
The fact that Stephanie dug herself out of poverty has no doubt something to do with her hard work, determination, and "resilience" (a term she resents), but given how many other hard-working and talented single mothers do not make it tells us that some level of luck was also involved.
If only the pandemic-era child tax-credit were extended to become a permanent benefit for struggling parents! As I write this review, the US Congress is considering a temporary extension, but the level and duration of the extension are unknown. Nevertheless, just discussing the need for child tax-credit is a good start and raises some hope for children's-rights activists and struggling parents, single moms in particular.

2024/03/11 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Nobel Laureate in Physics Herb Kroemer dead at 95 Math puzzle: In this diagram with two circles, find the length AB Believe it or not: Eighty-percent of the continental US population lives in the east half of the country
The US economy is in a much better shape than those of other advanced countries (NYT chart) Math puzzle: You need to supply both the puzzle statement and its solution Trump's gift to his voters: Cumulative COVID death rates in US counties according to how they voted in 2020 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Dr. Herbert (Herb) Kroemer (1928-2024), my ECE UCSB colleague, passes away at 95: He joined UCSB in 1976 and held the Donald W. Whittier Chair in Electrical Engineering. He was honored with the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics. [Top center] Math puzzle: In this diagram with two circles, find the length AB. [Top right] Believe it or not: Eighty-percent of the continental US population lives in the east half of the country. Of the remaining 20%, a tad more than half (11%) lives fairly close to the Pacific coast. [Bottom left] The US economy is in a much better shape than those of other advanced countries (New York Times chart). [Bottom center] Math puzzle: I usually supply the puzzle statement and ask you to come up with a solution. In this case, you need to supply both the statement and the solution! [Bottom right] Trump's gift to his voters: Cumulative COVID death rates in US counties according to the level of support for Trump in 2020.
(2) UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series: In yesterday's event, held over Zoom, four panelists reflected on "Various Aspects and Impacts of #WomanLifeFreedom Movement in Iran and Internationally." Dr. Nayereh Tohidi (sociologist; Cal State U. Northridge Emerita) introduced the panelists and moderated the discussion.
- Farzaneh Bazrpour (journalist) spoke on "Iranian Newspapers' Diversion from the Official State Cliches Because of Mahsa's Movement." Both the state-controlled media and the country's officials are devising new propaganda and oppression strategies in response to people's legitimate demands.
- Dr. Azadeh Momeni (political scientist; U. Toronto) spoke on "Intersection of Arts and Politics: From the American Women's Suffrage Movement to Arab Spring to Iranian #WomanLifeFreedom Movement."
- Dr. Homa Hoodfar (sociocultural anthropologist; Concordia U. Emerita) spoke on "#WomanLifeFreedom: A Political Watershed in the Iranian Protest Culture." She stressed the role of men's support, or lack thereof, in the success or failure of women's protest movements in Iran.
- Dr. Saeed Paivandi (sociologist; U. Lorraine, Nancy) presented "A Critical Analysis of the #WomanLifeFreedom Movement." This latest protest movement, which led to strong push-backs from security forces and government officials, also brought about political, personal/identity, and social changes.
(3) RIP, astrology: Most people already know that astrology is a scam. Nevertheless, a team led by MIT's Jackson Lu decided to bury this scam. They took a massive sample of 173,709 people and correlated their zodiac signs with their scores on the Big Five personality traits. There was zero correspondence.
(4) Major loss for India: Of the 1.5 million Indian students studying abroad, most will use their foreign degrees as stepping stones to lucrative careers outside India. [AP report]
(5) A final thought: Everyone laughed when a naked man appeared on the Oscars stage last night, pretending to be a streaker who changed his mind. Is it just me or are we treating male and female nudity differently?

2024/03/10 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranians of my generation have fond memories of this resilient French car from five decades ago Cartoon based on the content of first-grade textbooks in Iran (poisoning of school girls) Meme: We need to save the Earth!
Women's Day honors for four remarkable Iranian women A common kerosene-burning cooking implement at Iranian homes before gas and electric ranges arrived on the scene New Yorker cartoon about the Oscar figurine realizing he is naked (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Iranians of my generation have fond memories of this resilient French car wasn't much to look at, but it got the work done reliably and efficiently. [Top center] Cartoon based on the content of first-grade textbooks in Iran: Dad supplied bread. Mom supplied water. ???? supplied poison (referring to the poisoning of school girls in Iran). [Top right] Meme of the day: We need to save the Earth! [Bottom left] Voices of Women for Change honors four remarkable Iranian women (see the last item below). [Bottom center] A common kerosene-burning cooking implement at Iranian homes before gas and electric ranges arrived on the scene. [Bottom right] New Yorker cartoon of the day: "In my dream I'm in a large auditorium surrounded by people. They're all looking at me—and that's when I realize I'm completely naked."
(2) The Oscars: The movie "Oppenheimer" ended up winning 7 Academy Awards, including both male-actor honors, best original score, best director, and best motion picture. [List of nominees & winners]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Republicans' goals for the US? Kicking and punching an effigy of Joe Biden. Classy! [Tweet, with video]
- Goleta, over the next 10 days: Springlike weather in the lead-up to Nowruz. [Tweet, with image]
- Meme of the day: Ban liars & crooks, not history & books. [Tweet, with photo]
- Facebook memory from Mar. 10, 2018: Tehran University's graduation awards ceremony, 1968.
(4) "Girls on the Brink: Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media": This was the title of Tuesday's Semel Institute book talk by Donna Jackson Nakazawa, who maintains that "our daughters, students, and the girl next door are more anxious and more prone to depression and self-harming than ever before." In 2019, 1 in 3 girls reported symptoms of major depression, vs. 1 in 10 boys. A typical young girl feels that her life is one endless performance, during which she is examined and judged. In her book, Nakazawa offers 15 simple strategies for raising emotionally healthy girls, based on cutting-edge science that explains the modern pressures that make it so difficult for adolescent girls to thrive.
(5) Voices of Women for Change belatedly celebrated International Women's Day on Saturday morning by featuring and honoring four remarkable Iranian women:
- Azar Fakhr (Actress): Champion of women's theater
- Dr. Nayereh Tohidi (Professor Emerita, Cal Statue U. Northridge): Champion of women's rights
- Azar Nafisi (Critically-acclaimed Iranian-American writer): Champion of women's literature
- Roshi Roozbehani (London-based Iranian illustrator): Champion of women's arts
The four honorees offered remarks of varying lengths, as they accepted the Dance of Freedom Figurine bearing a plaque with the award's citation, recited by Ms. Taraneh Roosta.

2024/03/08 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy International Women's Day: This is the 113th edition of #WomensDay IranWire cartoon: International Women's Day in Iran The greening of transportation: IEEE Spectrum magazine cover feature (1) Images of the day: [Left] Happy International Women's Day: This 113th edition of #WomensDay must be observed more vigorously than before, given forces in the East & West that are pushing to reverse much of the gains on gender equality and in view of women assuming an outsize role in social movements worldwide, particularly in Iran (#WomanLifeFreedom). [Center] IranWire cartoon of the day: International Women's Day in Iran. [Right] The greening of transportation: "We are in the early stages of a key transition: Electrification could be the first fundamental change in airplane propulsion systems since the advent of the jet engine."
(2) Power to Iranian women & girls: A group of Iran's University of Isfahan students celebrated their graduation in this way and were reprimanded for it.
(3) Days after Iran's election period during which hijab enforcement was put on the back burner to encourage participation, new punishments for hijablessness, including direct withdrawal of the fine from a woman's bank account, are unveiled. [Video, narrated in Persian]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Get ready for self-security-screening at US airports: TSA is giving the system a try at Las Vegas airport.
- America's aging grid infrastructure is ill-equipped to deal with the rising demand in electricity.
- UCSB's Multicultural Center suspended for allowing anti-Semitic posts and signage on its premises.
- A refreshing explanation of the speed of light and why it is finite.
- Am I a robot? I hope not, but I do fail many "I am not a robot" tests!
- "Eggplane": A most-efficient flying machine with a 5000-mile range. [5-minute video]
- Buddha: "Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, and faithfulness the best relationship."
(5) Viewing statistics as second-class math is misguided: An influential committee of the University of California Academic Senate has ruled that, starting in the fall of 2025, "high school students taking an introductory data science course or AP Statistics cannot substitute it for Algebra II for admission to the University of California and California State University." Data science advocates are worried that the recommendation "may disqualify data science and possibly statistics under the category of math courses meeting the criteria for admissions." Dozens of high school math teachers and administrators have signed a letter that reiterates support for data science and statistics courses.
(6) Several Islamist sympathizers have been elected in the UK: One winner, Scotsman George Galloway, who doesn't mind wearing designer clothes while leading his followers like an Islamic cleric, roared "From the river to the sea." Labour's candidate, Azhar Ali, told a party meeting that Israel had allowed the October 7 Hamas massacre to take place to give it the green light to invade Gaza.

2024/03/07 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Herb-rice and fish is a staple of Norooz family gatherings among Iranians, at home and in diaspora Persian-style rice with crispy tah-dig Persian zucchini stew
While Iranian mullahs spend billions on their terrorist stooges abroad, the plight of flooded communities in the country's southeastern region goes unanswered Facebook memory from Mar. 7, 2017 (Women who changed the world) Bahar Choir Mowlavi/Rumi concerts in Paris and London (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Herb-rice and fish is a staple of Norooz family gatherings among Iranians, at home and in diaspora. [Top center & right] Dinner, a few nights ago: I did the easy part (rice with tah-dig); My younger son was in charge of the hard part (Persian zucchini stew). [Bottom left] While Iranian mullahs spend billions on their terrorist stooges abroad, the plight of flooded communities in the country's southeastern region goes unanswered. [Bottom center] Facebook memory from Mar. 7, 2017: Women who changed the world. [Bottom right] Eternal Melodies: Arash Fouladvand and his magnificent Bahar Choir celebrate 8 centuries of Mowlavi/Rumi in a highly-anticipated musical production: Paris, June 7; London, June 16, 2024.
(2) Shukoufan, an NGO for educating children in Iran, operates two schools in the poorest neighborhoods of South Tehran. Its volunteers provide nutrition to students and train local teachers for an enriched curriculum.
(3) Censoring the word "rape": Book-banning makes it harder to discuss sexual violence and nullifies some of the progress brought about by the #MeToo movement. [Book covers]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Food warning: Six ground-cinnamon brands found to contain unacceptable amounts of lead.
- Mitch McConnell endorses Donald Trump, citing voter support: What happened to principles and convictions?
- Praying was Mike Pence's strategy for controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. [Tweet, with photo]
- Buying the horseshoe before the horse: Google launches $5M prize to find real apps for quantum computing.
- A hair-raising escape from a life-threatening flood.
- Facebook memory from Mar. 7, 2011: My essay, on the eve of International Women's Day.
(5) War injuries lead to violence: Scientists found profound damage, of the kind suffered by veterans due to blast exposure, in the brain of the man who killed 18 people in Lewiston, Maine, in October.
(6) On the perils of digital-only publication scheme: I have voiced concern in the past over the fate of digital publications, particularly those appearing in open-access journals. Maintaining reliable, readily-accessible archives is expensive and open-access publishers, who have already collected their fees up-front, have little incentive for preserving the papers in perpetuity. A new study has found that more than a quarter of all publications with active DOIs cannot be found in reliable archives on the Internet.
(7) National Air & Space Museum's lectures on samples-return space missions: Wednesday's first talk in the series was entitled "To the Moon and Back", by Dr. Barbara Cohen (NASA Goddard). The lunar rocks brought home by Apollo astronauts reshaped our understanding of our Moon, the Earth, and the entire solar system. Gathering more of them is one of the most-important reasons to go back to the Moon. The Artemis program is enabling lunar sample return both by humans and robots. Dr. Cohen discussed key science derived from lunar samples and how we are planning for more.

2024/03/05 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A new book about Elon Musk by Santa-Barbara-based journalist Zoe Schiffer: 'Extremely Hardcore' The Roman Amphitheater of Catania in Sicily, 2nd century CE Jonathan Toplin's 'The End of Reality'
Satellite images show the devastation of Texas wildfires Nature photography along my 5 km walking path on Sunday: Flowers & plants Nature photography along my 5 km walking path on Sunday: Near sunset (1) Images of the day: [Top left] A new book about Elon Musk by Santa-Barbara-based journalist Zoe Schiffer: Extremely Hardcore: Inside Elon Musk's Twitter. [Top center] The Roman Amphitheater of Catania in Sicily, 2nd century CE. [Top right] Jonathan Toplin's The End of Reality (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Satellite images show the devastation of Texas wildfires. [Bottom center & right] Nature photography along my 5 km Sunday walking path in Goleta.
(2) US Supreme Court rules that states cannot remove candidates from the ballot based on the 14th Amendment: As much as I want Trump barred from the 2024 election, I think the SCOTUS decision was the right one. Given the closeness of US presidential elections, I don't want the possibility of a handful of states banding together to exclude a candidate from their ballots, effectively ensuring his/her defeat.
(3) If you aren't self-employed, don't earn over $200,000, and don't itemize deductions, you may be able to use IRS's free tax-filing program for the 2023 tax year.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Fascinating physics: The turntable paradox.
- France amends its constitution to include abortion as a fundamental right.
- Credit card late fees to be capped in the US: Banks are expected to fight the initiative.
- Tumbleweeds invade Utah, covering neighborhoods and blocking houses, much like a heavy snowfall.
(5) Toplin, Jonathan, The End of Reality: How Four Billionaires Are Selling Out Our Future, unabridged 11-hour audiobook, read by Jason Culp, PublicAffairs, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
American writer, film producer and scholar Jonathan Trumbull Taplin [1947-] graduated from Princeton University in 1969 and is the Director Emeritus of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. His previous books include Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy (2017) and The Magic Years: Scenes from a Rock-and-Roll Life (2021). The End of Reality is a sequel to the former book.
In 1909, Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published "Manifesto del Futurismo" ("The Manifesto of Futurism"), in which he expressed an artistic philosophy entailing a rejection of the past and a celebration of speed, machinery, violence, youth, and industry. The manifesto predates many 20th-century events commonly suggested as its potential meaning, but the political movements that led to Fascism were already in place in the early 1900s. These movements motivated the manifesto, which in turn influenced Mussolini and his ilk. Taplin likens the agendas of US tech titans to Marinetti's.
Taplin accuses Marc Andreesen, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Mark Zuckerberg of exploiting the low quality of life among the poor in America by selling them fantasies. The promises of a more-fulfilling life in the metaverse and access to a more equitable economy based on cryptocurrency are indeed appealing. According to Taplin, crypto and social-media only preserve the status quo, that is, the free-market liberalism under which the rich have gotten much richer and the tech giants' wealth & power have grown. Dominance of the rich technocrats is further entrenched by the rampant distrust and political polarization amplified through the social-media they control.
I believe everyone should read Taplin's The End of Reality and take its warnings to heart.

2024/03/04 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The day Moon pretended to be Saturn Role reversals: Largish Moon, smallish Earth Cover image of Carl Sagan's 'Pale Blue Dot'
Pea soup by my younger son Tacos by yours truly In AARP magazine's cover feature (Feb./Mar. 2024), Robert De Niro talks about life, fatherhood, family, and the secrets to his legendary career (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The day Moon pretended to be Saturn (Francisco Sojuel). [Top center] Role reversals: Usually, in photographs, we see a large Earth and a much smaller Moon. China's Chang spacecraft shot this photo from the the Moon's far side. [Top right] Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot (see the last item below). [Bottom left & center] Pea soup by my younger son and tacos by yours truly. [Bottom right] In AARP magazine's cover feature (Feb./Mar. 2024), Robert De Niro talks about life, fatherhood, family, and the secrets to his legendary career.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Why is it that we can see some parts of the universe that are moving away faster than the speed of light?
- Cool engineering: The workings of a household fan. [6-minute video]
- Carl Sagan demonstrates cosmic distances in our universe.
- Facebook memory from Mar. 4, 2015: "We rarely hear the inward music, but we're all dancing to it." ~ Rumi
(3) Book review: Sagan, Carl, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, Random House, 1994. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This sequel to astronomer Carl Sagan's highly successful Cosmos was inspired by the famous "Pale Blue Dot" photograph (video link), which shows our Earth on February 14, 1990, as a tiny dot from a distance of 6 billion kilometers, where Voyager 1 was exploring the furthest parts of our Solar System. Sagan uses a description of the photograph as a springboard to discuss our state of knowledge about the Solar System, the place of our species in the universe, and a human vision for the future in a mesmerizing and philosophical narrative.
Sagan begins with an account of how we were led astray for millennia by claims of our species being unique and the pride that produced the Earth-centered world view. Lack of knowledge and tools to falsify the geocentric model, along with significant threats to deniers of geocentricity during the Roman inquisition, delayed our realization that we aren't at the center of the universe.
Sagan then provides a review of the Solar System, beginning with the aims and findings of NASA's Voyager Program. As a participating scientist in the Program, he paints a detailed picture of the difficulties in exploring low-light distant planets, particularly when we consider mechanical and electronic malfunctions in deep space.
Sagan emphasizes the importance of studying other planets and our own Moon in order to gain the requisite knowledge to protect Earth, characterizing NASA's abandonment of its Moon missions as shortsighted. We risk major, and possibly total, loss if we don't track large extraterrestrial objects doggedly and with great precision.
It's exciting to realize that our generation finally realized the dream of breaking into space, probing the far reaches of our Solar System and learning much about the cosmos. Such discoveries led to additional humility and realization of our insignificant place in the universe. Our future as a species may well depend on our ability to colonize other planets and to learn even more about the history and current state of the universe.
According to Wikipedia, "In 2023, the audiobook of Pale Blue Dot, read by Sagan, was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Recording Registry as being 'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant'."

2024/03/02 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
When there is a will, there is a way: Nature always finds a way The best-known packing of 11 unit-squares into the smallest possible square area Yet another example of nature finding a way around adversity
A few nerdy T-shirt messages: Batch 1 A few nerdy T-shirt messages: Batch 2 Cover image of Michio Kaku's 'The God Equation' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] When there is a will, there is a way: Nature always finds a way around adversity. [Top center] Math oddity: The best-known packing of 11 unit-squares into the smallest possible square area. The packing is due to mathematician Walter Trump. [Top right] Yet another example of nature finding a way around adversity. [Bottom left & center] A few nerdy T-shirt messages: The first message refers to the upcoming total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. I traveled to Oregon to see the one in 2017. [Bottom right] Michio Kaku's The God Equation (see the last item below).
(2) Forces at work to turn the Taliban's Afghanistan into a global Caliphate under strict sharia law: Chicago-based charity Islamic Oasis is working with a German-British organization named the Qamar Charity Foundation to build both the ideological and welfare infrastructure for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
(3) Abusive behavior on Facebook: The following is a Messenger exchange I had over the past two days with a Facebook "friend" I don't know personally. [Image]
(4) Book review: Kaku, Michio, The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by Feodor Chin, Random House Audio, 2021. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Much unification has taken place in the domain of natural laws (physics). When Newton formulated the laws of gravity, he unified all the celestial and earthly laws of motion before him. But physicists have a habit of not leaving well enough alone, and they keep on discovering new theories! The ultimate challenge now facing physicists is to unify relativity and quantum theory with previous results, in order to create a grand theory or a unifying equation that could unlock the remaining mysteries of nature, from what happened before the Big Bang to the possibility of time travel; what Kaku calls "The God Equation."
After a chapter entitled "Introduction to the Final Theory," Kaku structures his presentation in 7 chapters:
- Unification—The Ancient Dream
- Einstein's Quest for Unification
- Rise of the Quantum
- Theory of Almost Everything
- The Dark Universe
- Rise of String Theory: Promise and Problems
- Finding Meaning in the Universe
Kaku's own research field, that is, string theory, offers one of the possibilities for such a unified theory, but there are still wrinkles to be ironed out. Kaku offers the analogy of 2D beings having assembled two huge sections of the jigsaw puzzle representing a unified theory, but being unable to fit the two sections together, no matter how hard they try. Kaku suggests that the two assembled sections might fit together along a third dimension, which is invisible/incomprehensible to the 2D beings. Despite his expertise being in string theory, Kaku is open to criticisms of string theory and discusses them alongside the strengths.
It is fair to say that, when a unified theory does emerge in future, it will catch everyone by surprise, just as all previous major breakthroughs in physics came as surprises to experts and non-experts alike.

2024/03/01 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A salute to women at the beginning of Women's History Month Iran's top female runner and Asian-record holder was not allowed to participate in world championships So far, I have read/reviewed 20 books in 2024. I have a 100-books target for the year
Meme: Antarctica's Dry Valley has not seen rain for 2 million years! Pre-paid meals at a restaurant allow cashless hungry people to eat Cover image of Tim Schwab's 'The Bill Gates Problem' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] A salute to women at the beginning of Women's History Month: Next Friday (March 8, 2024), we will celebrate International Women's Day. [Top center] Iran's top female runner and Asian-record holder was not allowed to participate in world championships. [Top right] So far, I have read 20 books in 2024, which puts me four books ahead of the pace for my 100-books target. [Bottom left] Don't complain about the multi-year drought in your area: Antarctica's Dry Valley has not seen rain for about 2 million years! [Bottom center] Pre-paid meals at a restaurant allow cashless hungry people to choose a meal to eat: Splendid idea! [Bottom right] Tim Schwab's The Bill Gates Problem (see the last item below).
(2) US Department of Justice gets its first AI officer & sci/tech adviser: Princeton U. CS professor Jonathan Mayer (CS PhD & law doctor) will serve in the position.
(3) Book review: Schwab, Tim, The Bill Gates Problem: Reckoning with the Myth of the Good Billionaire, Penguin Business, 2023. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is the first book by Tim Schwab, an investigative journalist based in Washington, DC. Schwab tells us that Bill Gates runs his foundation, as he did Microsoft, with an iron fist, bestowing all the power, and shining the spotlight, on himself.
We read in the book's introduction that Gates bullied and mistreated Paul Allen, Microsoft's co-founder, giving him a much smaller share and eventually forcing him out in the mid-1980s. Allen later became a multi-billionaire, because he resisted the pressure to sell his Microsoft shares upon departure. Gates himself was driven out after the government's 1990s anti-trust case against Microsoft, during which he provided a disastrous defense that painted the company as an evil force.
Schwab has done a significant amount of research on Bill Gates and his foundation. Sandwiched between introductory and concluding chapters, are 15 numbered chapters with brief titles, dealing with various aspects of Gates' life and activities: Lives saved; Women; Taxes; Fail fast; Transparency; Lobbying; Family planning; Journalism; Education; White man's burden; Bloat; Science; Agriculture; India; Covid-19.
While Schwab makes a good case about Gates' personal flaws and bullying personality, I believe that people doing charitable work must be cut some slack. Gates has certainly followed in the footsteps of earlier billionaires, who amassed their fortunes through exploitation and then tried to cover their misdeeds by turning to charity. Gates' focus on leveraging technology to reduce suffering worldwide is commendable. Second-guessing a philanthropist on alternate priorities that could have produced better results is counter-productive, in my view.
Schwab maintains that the Gates Foundation is more a tool for exerting power and buying influence than a genuine charitable organization. It helped transform Gates overnight from a greedy billionaire to a world-saving philanthropist. Yet, I would argue that having a well-endowed charity that spends money on causes I don't personally endorse is better than having no charity at all. I'm sure that if someone scrutinized my own meager charitable contributions, a great deal of problems and inefficiencies would be discovered. Choice of where to give is highly personal, whether you donate $100 or $100 million.
Schwab admits that the world does need Bill Gates' money, but he isn't convinced that the world needs Bill Gates. In the end, Schwab proposes a reappraisal of philanthropy along the lines of what was done in the 1960s. The resulting regulations, now 50+ years old, are overdue for reassessment.

2024/02/29 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Leap Day! Enjoy this extra day in February Fragrance and beauty of different kinds: Jasmines Fragrance and beauty of different kinds: Roses
Math puzzle: in this diagram with one rectangle and four circles, prove that R = 3r Math puzzle: Find the radius R of the circle The US energy boom: Major energy sources (oil, natural gas, renewables) have doubled in the 24 years since January 2000 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Leap Day! Enjoy this extra day in February, as we end the celebration of Black History Month and look forward to observing Women's History Month. [Top center & right] Fragrance and beauty of different kinds. [Bottom left] Math puzzle: in this diagram with one rectangle and four circles, prove that R = 3r. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Find the radius R of the circle. [Bottom right] The US energy boom: Major energy sources (oil, natural gas, renewables) have doubled in the 24 years since January 2000.
(2) In an insightful CACM column, Moshe Vardi writes about how computing and economics influence each other. Productivity growth from computing and communications is a prime example of common interests.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Hindenburg and other giant airships that went extinct with the advent of modern aviation.
- Girls on the Brink: UCLA Semel Institute webinar, March 5, 2024, 5:00 PM PT. [Info]
- A tribute to Iran, the beautiful. [Instagram post, with music video]
- My attempt at making artsy tah-dig, which we had with store-bought gheimeh-bademjan Persian stew.
(4) For 18 years, the UCSB Reads Program has brought Santa Barbara communities together to read a common book that explores compelling interdisciplinary issues of our time. Gene Lucas, whose 36-year career at UCSB spanned various roles, most notably as Executive Vice Chancellor and Acting University Librarian, is credited with starting this program, whose latest selection is Your Brain on Art. [Image]
(5) Tonight's Talangor Group meeting: Dr. Arash Taqavi spoke under the title "The Empty-Nest Syndrome." Before the main talk, Mitra Zaimi screened a video in remembrance of prolific Iranian poet/author Hamid Mosadegh [1940-1998], who was a lawyer by training. There were ~95 attendees. [Event flyer]
According to Wikipedia, "Empty-nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children move out of the family home, such as to live on their own or to have a higher education." While not a clinical condition, empty-nest syndrome can lead to depression and a loss of purpose, especially for stay-at-home or full-time parents or those who are also dealing with other stressful life events. Keeping in contact with the children who have moved out is one of the most-effective coping mechanisms.
In the US, some parents are dealing with the opposite phenomenon (let's call it "the full-nest syndrome"), because adult members of the "Boomerang Generation" return to live with their parents, primarily due to joblessness or other economic hardships. About one-third of 18-34-year-olds live at home with their parents.

2024/02/28 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: Given the areas of three trignales, find the area of the pink one Artsy tah-dig: The bottom-of-the-pot crispy rice, potato, or bread Math puzzle: What fraction of the rectangle's area is shaded? (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Math puzzle: Given the areas of three trignales, find the area of the pink one. [Top center] Tah-dig art: The bottom-of-the-pot crispy rice, sometimes with potato or bread slices added, is a staple of Iranian cusine. This version uses parsley to create an artsy tah-dig. Please note that this isn't my creation. [Top right] Math puzzle: What fraction of the rectangle's area is shaded?
(2) The Odysseus lunar lander is on its side & will likely run out of energy soon: Possibly tangled up while landing, it is still sending images & data to Earth.
(3) Iranian economist Dr. Masoud Nili: Iran is dying. Mismanagement has turned our country, which is rich in natural and human resources, into a land of poverty and misfortune. [Tweet, with video]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Market valuation of Intel vs. NVIDIA over time. [Video]
- Journalist/activist Masih Alinejad's interview with DW Persian.
- For she has sinned: A young woman's father & brothers kick her and beat her, as she screams in pain.
- Pooran's cover of the jazzy Persian song "Shab Bood." [3-minute video]
- Pallette, a unique Iranian band, in concert in Los Angeles, Sat. April 27, 2024. [Flyer]
- UCSB Chancellor's message to the campus community regarding recent anti-Semitism incidents.
(5) Words vs. stones: According to Freud, civilization began when humans started hurling words at each other instead of stones. There is more variety in words than there is in stones. You can pick a word that inflicts just the right amount of pain. One can evade stones or deflect them with a shield, but not so for words.
(6) This is how foreign-language films are dubbed into Persian: This old example happens to involve only male voices, but women have been at the forefront of the dubbing industry in Iran.
(7) Caltech's Watson Lecture Series: "Einstein's General Relativity, From 1905 to 2005," by Kip Thorne (Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics). [74-minute video]
(8) Final thought for the day: Why is former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad allowed to run his mouth, while many other high-ranking officials have been silenced? I believe that he may not have been bluffing when he claimed that he has documents showing corruption at the top of Iran's religious and political hierarchy. The documents are supposedly kept in a safe place and will be released if something happens to Ahmadinejad.

2024/02/26 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCLA talk on Reza Shah's exile in Mauritius Chart: The exponential decline of the value of Iran's currency against US dollar Talk on Nezami's Khosrow and Shirin, based on a new translation by Dick Davis (1) Images of the day: [Left] Talk on Reza Shah in exile (see the next item below). [Center] The rise of US dollar and dollar coin against Iranian toman: The nearly straight-line rise indicates exponential growth of dollar's value and exponential decline of Iran's currency, given that the vertical axis is scaled logarithmically. [Right] Talk on Nezami's Khosrow and Shirin (see the last item below).
(2) Sunday's event in the UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran: "Reza Shah's Exile in Mauritius" by Houchang Chehabi (Boston University).
[Note: I was unable to attend this event, so this brief report is to inform my readers about the event, whose recording will become available through UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies.]
Upon Reza Shah's forced abdication in 1941, the British sent him to Mauritius Island, one of their colonies. Even though the authorities of the island tried to make Reza Shah feel comfortable and at home, he considered himself a prisoner and developed numerous physical and mental problems. He left the island with his wife and children after 7 months and went to South Africa, where he remained until his death in 1944. This talk reviewed the details of Reza Shah's years in exile and the interactions of his family with residents of the island.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Donation of $1 billion by a former professor to provide free tuition at a Bronx medical school.
- The wonderful world of Tesla coils, including using them to play music. [11-minute video]
- Simple blueberry-harvesting device. [Tweet, with video]
- Facebook memory from Feb. 26, 2016: Calligraphic rendering of a Persian verse by Hafez.
(4) Today's Georgetown U. event on Iran: Dick Davis (Iranologist, Poet, University Professor, and Translator) spoke under the title "Nezami's Khosrow and Shirin."
Before Romeo and Juliet, there was Khosrow and Shirin by Nezami Ganjavi. Dick Davis introduced Nezami's 12th-century masterpiece of Persian poetry and read from his new translation of the work (Mage Publishers, 2023, 520 pp.).
Khosrow and Shirin is a nuanced story. Yes, it follows the usual plots of love stories, with their twists and turns, but it also has elements you don't find in other love stories. For example, Shirin transforms Khosrow by educating him. At one point, overcome with passion, Khosrow tries to rape Shirin, but she stops him and takes the opportunity to teach him about gentlemanly behavior.
Nezami has a special place among the great Persian poets in that his interests revolved arount poetry (art, more generally) as an end in itself, which is different from Sa'adi's use of poetry to dispense advice on how to live or Hafez's goal of celebrating erotic love or mysticism.

2024/02/24 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Seasons of life: Youth, middle age, old age Math puzzle: Fill in the missing digits in this multiplication Talk on publishing and the state in Iran, by Dr. Laetitia Nanquette (1) Images of the day: [Left] Seasons of life: Youth, middle age, old age. [Center] Math puzzle: Fill in the missing digits in this multiplication. [Right] Talk on publishing and the state in Iran (see the last item below).
(2) IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk of Wed. 2024/02/21: Dr. Rich Wolski (UCSB, CS) spoke on "Building the Computational Infrastructure of Reality: Experiences with the Internet of Things." [Read more]
(3) From PBS News Hour: Teenage girl "influencers" post innocent photos of themselves on accounts managed by mom or dad. Followers are predominantly weird men who make inappropriate or explicit comments.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The majestic Sydney Opera House: History and design details, including a 3D virtual tour.
- A typical day in the life of Miami, Florida, featuring heavy cruise-ship traffic. [Time-lapse video]
- Visual comparison of tiger populations in different countries. [Animated presentation]
- According to Nobel Laureate Roger Penrose, string theory is wrong and dark matter does not exist.
(5) Today's event in the UCSB/Farhang-Foundation Lecture Series: "Publishing and the State in Iran: From the 1950s to the Present" by Dr. Laetitia Nanquette (U. New South Wales, Australia).
The medium of print is a powerful tool that has links throughout all echelons of society. Hence, the Iranian state, despite the various forms it has taken over this long period, has consistently shown a keen interest in utilizing and influencing the publishing sector. The state predominantly communicates its ideology and contributes to shaping its identity through the medium of print.
Both during the Pahlavi era and after the Islamic Revolution, government impeded the free flow of ideas in print media, but on occasion also helped by holding book exhibits, offering award programs. And subsidizing paper, which is expensive and under a government monopoly.
One of the bright spots in the Pahlavi era was the Franklin Book Program, managed by Homayoun Sanatizadeh. Franklin was a Cold War instrument to compete with communism and Soviet Union's cultural influence. It wasn't however a right-wing operation, as it was run by Iranians with center and left political leanings.
In addition to the official censorship program (that required books to obtain publication certificates before any publisher dared to touch them), various forms of self-censorship by the writer, editor, and publisher have been in place. Beginning in 1977, a law required book-sellers to keep a record of their customers.
Five categories of books have been frowned upon by the Iranian state: Communist, Christian, Foreign-language, anti-Islamic, and sexually-explicit. For a few short years after the Revolution, books were more or less free, but newspapers were tightly controlled. During 1979-1983, Enghelab Avenue was a vibrant center for book-sellers and publishers.
Article 24 of Iran's post-Revolution Constitution is explicit in banning any publication that is harmful to the principles of Islam. Just as film directors and producers have learned to convey their messages in a way that gets around the censors, so too authors and publishers strive to present ideas in a manner that does not rile the censors. Control over Web sites is less strict than print media.
This scholarly talk included many reference citations, one of which is the following: Abiz, Alireza, Censorship and Literature in Post-Revolutionary Iran: Politics and Culture Since 1979, Bloomsbury, 2020.

2024/02/22 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: Paul McCartney in Tehran's Shah Mosque (1968) Land along the US East Coast, from Boston to Miami, is slumping into the ocean Each dot in this image of a small portion of the universe is a galaxy and each galaxy contains about 100 billion stars
Cleaning crew finds two Q1 microcomputers, which were last used in the 1970s The largest tip ever: From Einstein to a bellboy in Japan A beautiful and surprising mathematical identity: See if you can prove it (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday: Paul McCartney and his then fiancee, actress Jane Asher, visited Iran for 2 days in 1968 on their way back from India, touring historic and cultural sites such as Tehran's Shah Mosque. [Top center] New satellite-based research reveals that land along the US East Coast, from Boston to Miami, is slumping into the ocean, compounding the danger from global sea level rise (NYT). [Top right] Each dot in this image of a small portion of the universe is a galaxy and each galaxy contains about 100 billion stars, with each star having at least one planet. This is how insignificant Earth's place and humans' place are in the universe! [Bottom left] Cleaning crew finds two Q1 microcomputers, which were last used in the 1970s: Only one other Q1 is known to exist. [Bottom center] The largest tip ever (see the last item below). [Bottom right] A beautiful and surprising mathematical identity: See if you can prove it.
(2) World Music Series: A subset of UCSB Middle East Ensemble performed on campus yesterday in a free noon concert. Here are two samples (a Turkish dance and a Persian love song).
(3) Scientific fraud: Retraction notices multiply. This set includes entire issues of the journal Microprocessors and Microsystems as well as several individual articles. [Tweet, with article images]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A black hole 17 B times larger than our Sun & eating the equivalent of one Sun every day discovered.
- Intuitive Machines touches down on Moon in nail-biting descent of its lander, a first for the US since 1972.
- Google suspends the capability of its Gemini chatbot to generate images of people.
- An interesting talk by Dr. Laetitia Nanquette on publishing and the state in Iran. [My report on Facebook]
(5) Operations of a major ransomware group disrupted: UK National Crime Agency, US FBI, Europol, and a coalition of international police agencies has taken control of an online site run by the LockBit ransomware group, whose software was the most-deployed ransomware variant across the world last year.
(6) Deans' lists, a long-time staple of American higher education, appear to be heading for extinction. Last fall, Cornell and Penn stopped releasing deans' lists in an effort to reduce students' academic stress. Meanwhile, Brown hasn't had a dean's list since it moved to its current open curriculum academic model in the late 1960s, and Harvard last published a dean's list in 2002.
(7) Final thought for the day (the largest tip ever): In 1922, when Einstein realized he didn't have cash to tip a bellboy in Japan, he wrote two notes for him, both in German.
The first note contained his theory of happiness: "A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness."
On a second note, he wrote: "Where there's a will there's a way."
The first note recently sold for $1.6 million. The second note fetched $0.24 million. Total tip = $1.84 million.

2024/02/19 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Presidents' Day Sepideh Rashnu, the fearless Iranian women's-rights activist, hijabless in front of Tehran's notorious Evin Prison Memes: The harassment and arbitrary detention of Iranian Baha'is continue
Gun violence: America's parade of corpses Math puzzle: Given the areas of three of the squares, find the area of the fourth one Lady Justice trying to hang on, as governments in Iran and elsewhere are bent on blowing her away (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Presidents' Day (see the next item below). [Top center] Sepideh Rashnu, the fearless Iranian women's-rights activist, hijabless in front of Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, to which she has been summoned for serving her prison term. [Top right] The harassment and arbitrary detention of Iranian Baha'is continue: The documentary "To Light a Candle" tells part of this 21st-century horror tale. [Bottom left] Gun violence: America's parade of corpses. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Given the areas of three of the squares, find the area of the fourth one. [Bottom right] Lady Justice trying to hang on, as governments in Iran and elsewhere are bent on blowing her away.
(2) In praise of Presidents' Day: In American history, few occasions stand as proud reminders of the nation's journey and the leaders who shaped its destiny quite like Presidents' Day. Yes, we have had terrible Commanders in Chiefs, but they have been few & far in between, and we should strive to keep it that way.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A report from the opening of Iran Computer Museum on February 16, 2024 (video, narrated in Persian).
- Middle East Quarterly: Brief reviews of eight books about the Middle East.
- Getting to know prominent computer scientist Kurt Mehlhorn: Part of the "People of ACM" series.
- Jon Stewart ridicules Tucker Carlson for his free propaganda piece in praise of Russia.
- Space fact of the day: Human-made objects orbiting the Earth have a total weight of 25 million pounds.
(4) In the upcoming Iranian elections, Tehran residents are offered a choice between two competing slates, both approved by the regime and neither one including a woman.
(5) Near-record winds in the US northeast pushed multiple passenger planes to speeds exceeding 800 mph, a tad over the speed of sound (767 mph), but for technical reasons, they did not break the sound barrier.

2024/02/17 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Screenshot of video generated by OpenAI's Sora, an AI video generator The spiral of square roots The unique and fantastic street lights at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1) Images of the day: [Left] Screenshot of video generated by OpenAI's Sora, an AI video generator aimed at facilitating filmmaking but which can also contribute to the proliferation of fake videos. [Center] The spiral of square roots. [Right] The unique and fantastic street lights at Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
(2) Nowruz and spring are one month away: The spring equinox (saal-tahveel) will be on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, 8:06:26 PM PT (Wednesday, March 20, 6:36:26 AM Tehran time).
(3) Succession conflicts will end Islamic Republic of Iran's claim to legitimacy: Saudi Arabia was in a similar bind, but it resolved the problem by putting MBS in charge and sidelining others with claims to the throne.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Aleksei Navalny, outspoken Putin has died in prison: He survived a nerve-agent attempt on his life in 2020.
- Be my Valentine: India's Narendra Modi loves those who sell oil to him. [Tweet, with photo]
- National unity is good, but one should not have to sacrifice one's principles to achieve it. [Tweet, with meme]
- Sharif U. Technology Association (SUTA) reunion: Aug. 30 to Sep. 1, 2024, Niagara Falls, Canada.
- China's super-advanced space station, "The Heavenly Palace," is taking shape. [17-minute video]
- A brief but spectacular take on the future of the Internet: Networking pioneer Vint Cerf on PBS News Hour.
- How language shapes the way we think: 14-minute TED talk by Lera Boroditsky.
- Thirty-six Super Bowl halftime shows ranked: Looking back at some of these shows is fun.
- Facebook memory from Feb. 17, 2013: A tribute to my father (with texts in Persian and English).
(5) Houthi bypass: Goods forge an overland path to Israel via Saudi Arabia & Jordan, avoiding attacks on ships in the Red Sea. Israel-based firms run trucking routes from the ports of Dubai and Bahrain to Haifa.
(6) Leap day is coming up: Couples who dislike anniversaries have a chance to get married on Feb. 29, which will lead to anniversaries once every four years.
(7) The defenseless people of Gaza: This is an expression we hear often. But we should stop and ask, "Why are they defenseless?" They have a government with a significant stash of arms which went into hiding instead of defending its people. Hamas likely knew that it could not stand up to Israel, yet it decided to trigger a war by its barbaric acts on October 7, 2023.

2024/02/15 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: Class of 1968, Electromechanical Division, College of Engineering, University of Tehran Spring's in the air: This morning on the UCSB campus Persian calligraphy in fashion
Meme: Eleanor Roosevelt on liberals and liberalism Math puzzle: Find the height of the red pole Italian newspaper's story about the Manifesto of Futurism (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday: Class of 1968, Electromechanical Division, College of Engineering, University of Tehran. [Top center] Spring's in the air: Early this morning on the UCSB campus. [Top right] Persian calligraphy in fashion: Even low-brow clothing, such as T-shirts sold on Amazon, feature calligraphic art & messaging. [Bottom left] Meme of the day: Eleanor Roosevelt on liberals and liberalism. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Find the height of the red pole. [Bottom right] Futurism and its connection to Fascism (see the last item below).
(2) Exam anxiety is a real problem for many students, so instructors should strive to reduce it by improving transparency and inclusivity in both written and oral exams.
(3) Imran Khan's election victory speech from prison in Pakistan: The AI-generated speech signals that we are entering uncharted territory in the use and abuse of AI.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Chief Middle East Advisor to Turkey's President Erdogan: "Israel must be destroyed."
- Hamas networks operate openly in Western Europe, often posing as human-rights advocates.
- College Board pays $750K to settle claims that it violated students' privacy by selling their personal data.
- Scientific integrity is going down the drain: A Columbia cancer surgeon kept publishing flawed studies.
(5) Microsoft's "AI Anthology" contains a diverse collection of essays on the future of AI, with the aim to answer two core questions:
- How might this technology and its successors contribute to human flourishing?
- How might we as society best guide the technology to achieve maximal benefits for humanity?
(6) Academics in US, UK, and Australia collaborated on drone research with Iran's Sharif University of Technology, which is under sanctions for its ties to the military.
(7) The Manifesto of Futurism: In 1909, Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published "Manifesto del Futurismo," in which he expressed an artistic philosophy entailing a rejection of the past and a celebration of speed, machinery, violence, youth, and industry. The manifesto predates many 20th-century events commonly suggested as its potential meaning, but the political movements that led to Fascism were already in place in the early 1900s. These movements motivated the manifesto, which in turn influenced Mussolini and his ilk. In Jonathan Taplin's The End of Reality, a book which I have started reading and will review in due course, agendas of US tech titans are likened to Marinetti's.

2024/02/14 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Young Iranian girls ice-skating at Ice Palace in the pre-Revolution Iran Cover image for Neil deGrasse Tyson's 'Starry Messenger'
Math puzzle: Find the measure of angle x if the blue part of the square is twice as large as the yellow part The opening of Iran Computer Museum: Flyer The opening of Iran Computer Museum: Map (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Valentine's Day! Sending you love and wishing you all the peace and joy that love can bring. [Top center] Young girls ice-skating at Ice Palace, a sports & entertainment complex just south of Vanak Sq. on Pahlavi Ave. in the pre-Revolution Iran. [Top right] Neil deGrasse Tyson's Starry Messenger (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Math puzzle: Find the measure of angle x if the blue part of the square is twice as large as the yellow part. [Bottom center & right] Opening of Iran Computer Museum: I am delighted to report that thanks to the efforts of visionary investors and a large group of young people managing & curating the collection, Iran Computer Museum will open its doors in Tehran on Fri., Feb. 16, 2024.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- UCSB World Music Series: Irish, Scotish, & Celtic music by The Decent Folk. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]
- Only 16% of community-college students transfer and graduate with a bachelor's degree within 6 years.
- Under intense pressure, Texas A&M closes its campus in Qatar because of that country's support of Hamas.
- In Indonesia, a player was struck by lightning on the soccer field and died.
- Fashion show in Tehran, Iran, 1958. [Tweet, with video]
- A very interesting and informative discussion on neuroscientific experiments regarding free will.
(3) Book review: Tyson, Neil deGrasse, Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization, unabridged 7-hour audiobook, read by the author, Macmillan Audio, 2022.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Our perspectives on Earth and human species changed significantly once astronauts saw our bluish planet from the space, a sight that lacked any borders or human-made structures. Our "pale blue dot" planet is but a tiny part of the immense universe that contains galaxies so far away that their distance to Earth is measured in light years (one light year, the distance light travels in one year, is about six trillion, or 6*10^12, miles).
As much as we take pride in our ability to predict the course of science and technology, most transformative sci/tech ideas surprised us when they emerged. By presenting facts about our universe and its unbounded beauty, Tyson challenges prevalent assumptions about our existence and abilities. Just like our cave-dwelling ancestors of 30,000 years ago, we remain shortsighted and averse to risk: "Let's solve the problems in our cave, before venturing to areas outside the domain of our daily existence," the elders may have advised enterprising youngsters, who wanted to explore further.
We encounter the same mindset today, when certain politicians and thought leaders demand that we solve Earth's problems (or worse, America's problems) before venturing into space or gazing at distant galaxies, to which we may never travel.
Tyson also points out that we are not as different as we think we are from our political or social adversaries. Fox News is abhorred by the left for its agenda-driven news coverage, a disdain that transfers to the entire Fox network. Yet some of the most-socially-progressive programs have been shown on Fox, including a version of the science series "Cosmos," black-led programs, and the irreverent "The Simpsons" that made fun of everyone and everything. Additionally, Fox Sports is a respected player in its field. Tyson levels similar criticisms at the right for distrusting all non-Fox media.
As we grapple with political and cultural stands that are more polarized than ever, Starry Messenger provides a much-needed antidote to our intolerant and divided demeanor, while making a passionate case for a cosmic perspective and scientific rationality, the twin driving forces of enlightenment.

2024/02/12 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
February 11 is UN's International Day of Women in Science The perfect symmetry and the signature blue tiles of Shah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran Avoiding toxic positivity is important when trying to help someone in distress
IEEE celebrates its 140th anniversary this year by offering the e-book 'Inspiring Technology: 34 Breakthroughs' Cover image of David Linden's 'The Accidental Mind' Cat owners and their hostage partners will appreciate this cartoon! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] February 11 is UN's International Day of Women in Science: Let's celebrate their many accomplishments, despite getting smaller research grants and less in other forms of support than their male colleagues. [Top center] The perfect symmetry & signature blue tiles of Shah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran. [Top right] Avoiding toxic positivity is important when trying to help someone in distress. [Bottom left] IEEE celebrates its 140th anniversary this year by offering the e-book Inspiring Technology: 34 Breakthroughs. [Bottom center] David Linden's The Accidental Mind (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Cat owners and their hostage partners will appreciate this cartoon!
(2) What an exciting Super Bowl! I had no favorite team going in, but by the end of the 25-22 overtime nail-biter, I was cheering for the champions, Kansas City Chiefs.
(3) Being thrown into the sea isn't just a Hamas threat against Israelis: The Greeks face a similar threat from Turkey, which has also threatened an invasion of Armenia.
(4) Book review: Linden, David J., The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God, Harvard, 2007. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I read this 276-page book on the heels of listening to a comprehensive 36-lecture course, Understanding the Brain, which I have reviewed on GoodReads. Linden's book takes a higher-level view, skipping many details of our brain's architecture and subsystems in favor of historical perspectives on its evolutionary development.
The book contains the following 9 chapters, between a 4-page prologue entitled "Brain, Explained" and an 8-page epilogue, "The Middle Things." There is also a 7-page list of "Further Readings and Resources."
- The Inelegant Design of the Brain
- Building a Brain with Yesterday's Parts
- Some Assembly Required
- Sensation and Emotion
- Learning, Memory, and Human Individuality
- Love and Sex
- Sleeping and Dreaming
- The Religious Impulse
- The Unintelligent Design of the Brain
As evident from several of the chapter titles, the author doesn't consider the brain an elegantly-designed, highly-efficient organ that is perfectly suited to its functions. Weighing around 3 pounds, our brain is a patchwork of old (outdated) structures and newer growth that together use some 20% of our body's energy. Far from being a miracle of intelligent design that should be worshiped, the miracle is the fact that this amalgam of ad-hoc parts works as well as it does!
Early on, Linden highlights three guiding principles of the brain's design that show the ways in which human brain is poorly organized:
- New brain structures appear on top of ancient structures, like added ice-cream scoops to previously deposited ones. Imagine trying to build a modern car while being restricted to adding parts and systems to a 1925 Model-T Ford.
- The component parts (the cells) of the brain have engineering flaws. That the brain made of such crummy parts works at all is in part due to its massively parallel and massively redundant architecture.
- The brain's assembly process (brain development) is suboptimal. Because the brain has never been redesigned from the ground up, it is filled with multiple systems and anachronistic junk.

2024/02/10 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Lunar (Chinese) New Year: Year of the Dragon Painting by architect/artist Talieh Keshavarz: 'A Fine Day at Laguna,' acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 Cover image of IEEE Computer magazine's February 2024 issue
Headquarters of an on-line marketplace in Iran was defaced after a product was interpreted as insulting Prophet Mohammad's daughter Find the area of the smaller of the two equilateral triangles, given the areas of three other triangles This afternoon's walk alongside Devereux Slough in Goleta (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Lunar (Chinese) New Year: May this new year of the dragon bring peace and prosperity to the world! [Top center] Cropped from original painting by architect/artist Talieh Keshavarz: "A Fine Day at Laguna," acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48. [Top right] IEEE Computer magazine's cover feature for February 2024 (see the next item below). [Bottom left] Headquarters of an on-line seller in Iran was defaced after a product was interpreted as insulting Prophet Mohammad's daughter. The message threatens that the extremists will next come for the company's employees. [Bottom center] Find the area of the smaller of the two equilateral triangles, given the areas of three other triangles. [Bottom right] This afternoon's walk alongside Devereux Slough in Goleta: One of the photos appears to be upside-down, but it isn't.
(2) Cover feature of IEEE Computer magazine: "Disruptive technologies, especially artificial intelligence, are affecting all of us. But are we using this technology in an ethical way?" The issue contains several interesting articles, including "International Federation for Information Processing Code of Ethics in Context."
(3) Prompted by a reply to my post on research fraud, I am posting about a 2020 paper of mine entitled "On Research Quality and Impact: What Five Decades in Academia Has Taught Me." [PDF: English; Persian]
(4) In the US, ~2 cyclists are killed and ~50 are injured in traffic accidents per day: None of these 52 daily accidents is widely reported, except possibly on local news. But a Waymo driverless car being involved in an accident in which a cyclist suffers minor scratches becomes front-page news. Why?
(5) As an associate editor of IEEE Transactions on Sustainable Computing, I was delighted to see the article "Toward Sustainable Computer Systems," by Lieven Eeckhout (Ghent U.), in the February 2024 issue of IEEE Computer magazine. It begins thus: "Sustainability is a pressing concern that encompasses much more than cutting carbon emissions to reach net zero. However, with the right techniques and tools, computer scientists and engineers can understand and navigate a variety of new design tradeoffs that will steer future solutions."

2024/02/08 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
All the stars you see at night are just part of this yellow circle Munker optical illusion: The balls behind the horizontal lines are all the same color Math puzzle: Find x as a function of m and n
Scientific fraud goes to the next level: Bribing journal editors to accept fraudulent papers Polar bear snoozing on an iceberg: Award-winning photo Talangor Group talk on holography: Flyer (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Stars you see at night are part of this yellow circle. [Top center] Munker optical illusion: The balls behind the horizontal lines are all the same color. [Top right] Math puzzle: Find x as a function of m and n. [Bottom left] Scientific fraud goes to the next level: We knew of the practice of offering author slots on low-quality or plagiarized research papers for a fee. Now, journal editors are being approached with offers of significant cash bribes for accepting fraudulent papers. [Bottom center] Polar bear snoozing on an iceberg: This photo, shot by amateur photographer Nima Sarikhani during an expedition in Norway, was chosen from among 50,000+ photos for the 2023 Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award. She hopes it will inspire people to fight climate change. [Bottom right] Talk on holography (see the last item below).
(2) The science of 6 degrees of separation: Or is it 5 or 4 degrees of separation now, owing to greater connectivity through social media? [8-minute video]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Tucker Carlson provides free propaganda platform for Putin on the Ukraine war.
- Qatar eliminates Iran at the Asian Cup semifinals 3-2. [13-minute extended highlights]
- UCSB World Music Series noon concert: Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan performed yesterday. [Video 1] [Video 2]
- Humor: If you have children looking for science project topics, here's a suggestion!
(4) Sportsmanship to the extreme: Danish team captain, whose team was trailing 0-1 against Iran, intentionally missed a PK when he realized that the player who touched the ball with his hands did it because he mistook a spectator's whistle for the end-of-game whistle by the referee. [Video]
(5) Wednesday night's book talk at UCSB's Campbell Hall: What can we do to remain hopeful in a world filled with hatred and divisive stories on social media? As head of TED, Chris Anderson has had a ringside view of the world's boldest thinkers sharing their most uplifting ideas. With his new book, Infectious Generosity: The Ultimate Idea Worth Spreading, Anderson looks at one of humankind's defining but overlooked impulses—generosity—and how we can super-charge its potential to build a hopeful future.
(6) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Mohammad Taghi Fatehi spoke under the title "Holography: What It Is and What It Is Not." Before the main talk, Dr. Payam Kiani made a brief presentation on stereo vision & 3D TV.
Holography is a technique to record and reconstruct a 3-dimensional scene on a 2D plane (i.e., a hologram) based on optical diffraction and interference. Holography was discovered in 1948 by Hungarian-born electrical engineer Denis Gabor who proposed to use this technique to improve the resolution in electron microscopy. Gabor received the Nobel Prize in Physics for this work in 1971.
This 13-minute YouTube video contains an introduction to how holograms are made.

2024/02/06 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Joe Biden and Taylor Swift, in a design to maximally irk the MAGA crowd! A nerdy birthday gift: This paper was sent to me by IEEE Computer Society a few days ago, along with a birthday message The great escape (mullahs fleeing): A recurring dream of Iranians (1) Images of the day: [Left] A design to maximally irk the MAGA crowd! [Center] A nerdy birthday gift: This paper was sent to me by IEEE Computer Society a few days ago, along with a birthday message. It refers to the "birthday paradox," the fact that you only need 23 people in a group for the probability of two or more individuals having the same birthday to exceed 50%. [Right] The great escape: A recurring dream of Iranians.
(2) Light at the end of the tunnel: Stayed home on Monday, having cancelled my UCSB class due to the possibility of life-threatening flooding in the entire SoCal region. Looking forward to Thursday and beyond.
(3) The Salton Sea: The story of the California lake that was created by an engineering mistake, brought with it prosperity and tourism, and then became a dead zone just as unexpectedly. [10-minute video]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California storm news, including a fallen tree partially blocking Storke Road near my home.
- Wildfires in Chile kill 112, with hundreds more missing. [Photos]
- Dartmouth College reinstates standardized testing for applicants. Other elite colleges will likely follow suit.
- Moonquakes could spell trouble for future Moon missions and bases to be built there.
- The roadmap to slowing and even reversing aging according to Nobel Laureates.
- Cheesy ad for the 1961 B-movie "Why Bother to Knock" in pre-Revolution Iran. [Tweet, with image]
(5) Like all of his predecessors, former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is being completely sidelined: He has been disqualified from seeking election to Iran's Assembly of Experts, a post that would have allowed him to remain in the spotlight.
(6) Hypocrisy: The mullahs host an American porn star visiting Iran, because she supports Palestinians. But they have a problem with soccer star Ali Daei's daughter appearing sans hijab!
(7) When the balance of nature is disturbed: Big-headed ants, brought to Africa recently by tourism and commerce, eat the native ants, which protect the trees from elephants. Now, elephants eat more trees, leading to inadequate cover for lions hunting zebras, so the lions get less food. [NPR sory]
(8) Fraudulent bank accounts created for University of California employees: Names, SSNs, and other personal information (believed to have been collected in an old data breach) are being used to open unauthorized bank accounts at Chime, Go2Bank, and Acorns.

2024/02/04 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mathematical art: Floor mosaic from Hisham's Palace, Jericho, 8th century CE Talk on the effect of learning on the brain structure: Dr. Mohammad Bagheri Believe it or not, such corrugated brick walls use fewer bricks than a straight wall
Joni Mitchell, 80, offered an emotional rendition of 'Both Sides Now, at her first-ever performance on the Grammys stage Withholding help from those who need it, because a few bad apples may take advantage of our generosity, is wrong We read that movie theaters are in trouble financially. Here is a popcorn replacement suggestion to bring audiences back! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Mathematical art: Floor mosaic from Hisham's Palace, Jericho, 8th century CE. [Top center] Talk on the effect of learning on the brain structure (see the last item below). [Top right] Believe it or not, such corrugated brick walls use fewer bricks than a straight wall: They're known as crinkle-crankle walls, and 100 fine examples survive in Suffolk, England. The savings in the number of bricks comes from the fact that a straight wall with a single layer of bricks won't be as stable. [Bottom left] History made at the 2024 Grammy Awards: Joni Mitchell, 80, offered an emotional rendition of "Both Sides Now" at her first-ever performance on the Grammys stage. [Bottom center] Withholding help from those who need it, because a few bad apples may take advantage of our generosity, is wrong. [Bottom right] We read that movie theaters are in trouble financially. Here is a popcorn replacement suggestion to bring audiences back!
(2) Home-bound today: Coffee brewed, news shows on, as we brace for a day of rain, serious flooding, and high winds in the Santa Barbara area. [Tweet, with images of news & cooking]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The storm approaching California has intensified: Historic rainfall and flooding expected.
- Storm damage: Two condos in a Goleta housing complex got seriously damaged by a falling tree.
- Santa Barbara Airport has closed down due to flooding on the runway.
- Iran scores an impressive 2-1 victory against Japan in the Asian Cup tournament. [9-minute highlights]
(4) Cancellation of my in-person class (message to students): Due to potential flooding and the ensuing challenges, I am cancelling our discussion session and office hour on Monday 2/05 per campus safety guidelines. Please watch Lecture 6 on shared memory implementations and Lecture 7 on sorting networks before our Wednesday 2/07 class. We will discuss three lectures in the next two discussion sessions.
(5) "How Learning Changes the Brain Structure": This was the title of the first talk in this morning's Persian Zoom meeting hosted by UCLA Medical Center. Dr. Mohammad Bagheri was the speaker.
The talk's main message was that brain decline isn't inevitable as we age. Neuroplasticity, brain's ability to change its structure and wiring, remains with us until we die. The link between brain changes and learning is a 2-way street, with brain rewiring creating new knowledge and learning triggering changes in the brain. As long as we don't stop learning, our brain will continue to improve. If we don't learn new things or stop practicing existing skills, brain decline will ensue.
When we master/practice a domain/skill, three processes are triggered in the brain. The first one is synaptic strengthening, which is a short-term chemical process. The second one involves restructuring of connections, a long-term physical process that is similar to committing something to long-term memory. The third one creates regional specialization in the brain, which brings about permanent functional changes.

2024/02/03 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Science magazine, issue of February 2, 2024: The focus of the cover feature is on how El Nino will change in a warmer world What a contrast! Taylor Swift and her boyfriend, KC Chiefs tight-end Travis Kelce A new ocean is forming in Africa along a 35-mile crack that opened up in Ethiopia in 2005
Math challenge: Compute the infinite sum on the third line, given the clue on the second line This praying Mantis preserved in amber is thought to be ~30 million years old Square roots of natural numbers occurring in a 3D cubic grid (1) Images of the day: [Top left] "In Hot Water": This is the title of the cover feature for Science magazine, issue of February 2, 2024. The focus is on how El Nino will change in a warmer world. [Top center] What a contrast! Taylor Swift and her boyfriend, KC Chiefs tight-end Travis Kelce. [Top right] Africa's emerging ocean (see the next item below). [Bottom left] Math challenge: Compute the infinite sum on the third line, given the clue on the second line. [Bottom center] Found in Dominican Republic: Praying Mantis preserved in amber is about 30 million years old. [Bottom right] Square roots of natural numbers occurring in a 3D cubic grid.
(2) A new ocean is forming in Africa along a 35-mile crack that opened up in Ethiopia in 2005: The crack, which has been expanding ever since, is a result of three tectonic plates pulling away from each other. Africa's new ocean will take million of years to form, but the Afar region's fortuitous location at the boundaries of the Nubian, Somali, and Arabian plates makes it a unique laboratory to study elaborate tectonic processes.
(3) Extensive research fraud exposed: Cliques of mathematicians at institutions in China, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere have been artificially boosting their colleagues' citation counts by churning out low-quality papers that repeatedly reference their work.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- SoCal weather: Potentially life-threatening flooding between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, Sun.-Mon.
- Video of severe flooding in San Diego, California (late January, 2024).
- Drug overdose deaths are rising, but San Francisco's rate is more than double the US average. [NYT chart]
- Some men resent women for simply taking up space, regardless of their accomplishments & good deeds.
- A la "Peanuts" (cartoon): "It's a basic competency test. I'll hold the ball, & you come running up & kick it!"
- No amount of Islamic oppression and economic hardship can dampen the spirit of fun-loving Iranians.
(5) The Salton Sea: The story of the California lake that was created accidentally by an engineering mistake, brought with it much economic & tourist activities, and became a dead zone just as unexpectedly.
(6) NASA's Space Shuttle Endeavour installed at California Space Center in Los Angeles: What's unique about this installation is that the 122-foot-tall flier with a 78-foot wingspan has its massive external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters attached, all displayed as if they are on the launch platform. [Tweet, with photos]
(7) Santa Barbara area rents are rising: Meanwhile, UCSB's plans to develop additional student housing have been delayed by the Munger Hall debacle, squeezing the students financially. Rents in Isla Vista & Goleta are even higher than the area averages shown. [UCSB Daily Nexus chart]
(8) A final thought: In Goleta, we have rain in the forecast for 7 of the next 10 days: The already-saturated ground may lead to life-threatening flooding and mudslides. The entire SoCal area is in the same boat.

2024/02/01 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: This photo, taken at an unspecified location some five decades ago, contains two very famous Iranian pop singers Celebrating my birthday with the family four years ago Woodcut by Adolf Vollmy: The work was inspired by an 1833 meteor shower that was so intense that many thought the end of the world had come
US policy toward Iran: Photos of Ali Khamenei and Joe Biden My reappointment as IEEE Computer Society Distinguished Visitor for the 3-year term, 2024-2026 Reflections at the end of another birthday: T-shirt, with message reading 'It's weird to be the same age as old people' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday: This photo, taken at an unspecified location some five decades ago, contains two very famous Iranian pop singers. [Top center] Celebrating my birthday with the family four years ago: You do the math! [Top right] Woodcut by Adolf Vollmy: The work was inspired by an 1833 meteor shower that was so intense (up to 100,000 meteors every hour) that many thought the end of the world had come. [Bottom left] US policy toward Iran (see the next item below). [Bottom center] A birthday present: Having completed a 3-year term as an IEEE Computer Society Distinguished Visitor/Lecturer during 2021-2023, I have just learned that I have been reappointed to the position for another 3-year term, 2024-2026. [Bottom right] Reflections at the end of another birthday (see the last item below).
(2) Biden's miscalculations about Iran: After the hard-line stance of the Trump administaration, Biden returned to Obama's appeasement policy, which has led to tensions and instability in the region. Prohibitions against supporting proxy terror groups should be included in any new deal with Iran.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Meta's Mark Zuckerberg apologizes to child abuse victims and their families at a US Senate hearing.
- Unprecedented ~60 MPH winds expected on Sunday along CA Coast, from Channel Islands to Fort Bragg.
- Why 4 of 5 sufferers from autoimmune diseases are women: The female-only Xist molecule is implicated.
- MAGA World vs. Taylor Swift: I am taking the side of the talented star against the bullies!
(4) At the end of my 77th birthday: I am thankful for all the birthday wishes from family & friends and for having been given a chance to complete another revolution around the Sun. The kids and I celebrated by having dinner at Nikka Fish Market & Grill in Goleta, where I ordered a char-broiled trout dish (my mom's favorite) and a cup of clam chowder. Your place was empty.
I will spare you my usual long essay on properties of my birthday number, 77, except to note that it's a semi-prime (7*11), the sum of the first eight prime numbers (2 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 11 + 13 + 17 + 19), and the sum of three consecutive perfect squares (4^2 + 5^2 + 6^2).

2024/01/31 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Third-to-eighth-grade math scores have recovered somewhat, but they are still 0.4 year under the average in 2019 and earlier One of Norway's 200,000+ islands. Only Sweden has more islands than Norway Interesting CACM article on AI fairness (1) Images of the day: [Left] Third-to-eighth-grade math scores have recovered somewhat after the COVID years but they are still 0.4 year under the average in 2019 and earlier (NYT chart). [Center] One of Norway's 200,000+ islands. Only Sweden has more islands than Norway. [Right] Interesting article on AI fairness (see the last item below).
(2) First human receives a Neuralink brain implant: The company claims rapid recovery of the patient (whose identity is unknown) and successful detection of neuron spikes by the implant.
(3) How the Celsius temperature scale in use today came about: Anders Celsius originally had it upside-down, with 0 being at water's boiling point and 100 at its freezing point.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Atmospheric river coming to SoCal this week: Extreme rainfall & heavy snow forecast across the West.
- Gen-Z gender divide: The women are liberal, whereas men tend to support demagogues and strongmen.
- Chita Rivera, the classically-trained and Tony-winning Broadway star dancer, dead at 91.
- ABBA songs & their wonderful harmonies never get old: Covers of "Super Trooper" & "Dancing Queen."
- State Parks are among the most-valuable treasures of our Golden State, California. [FB post, with photo]
- Dundunba Drum Lab performed at UCSB’s World Music Series noon concert today. [Video 1] [Video 2]
(5) National Air & Space Museum's 2024 lectures on samples-return missions, on YouTube (5:00-6:00 PM PT).
March 6: "To the Moon and Back" (Dr. Barbara Cohen)
April 24: "The Stardust Discovery Mission: Bringing Comet Wild-2 Samples Home to Earth" (Dr. Scott Sandford)
May 22: "OSIRIS-Rex: Revealing Secrets from the Dawn of our Solar System" (Dr. Dante Lauretta)
June 5: "Bringing Mars Samples Back to Earth" (Meenakshi Wadhwa)
(6) Inherent limitations of AI fairness: This is the subject of the cover feature of Communications of the ACM, issue of February 2022.
The vast majority of AI literature is concerned with the easily-attainable notion of group fairness, which requires that any two protected groups should, on average, receive similar labels. Group fairness expresses the principles of individual fairness by looking at the sum of discrimination toward an entire group rather than individual contributions.
Though this increased statistical power makes group fairness more-practical to measure and satisfy, it comes with its own problems, including Simpson's Paradox, which essentially warns us that conclusions may vary depending on the granularity of groups.

2024/01/29 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Wonders of our Solar System: Clearest photo of Jupiter ever taken Year of the humanoid: Legged robots from 8 companies vie for jobs Yaxi Highway, aka the Skyroad: China's 240-km marvel of engineering (1) Images of the day: [Left] Wonders of our Solar System: Clearest photo of Planet Jupiter ever taken. [Center] Year of the humanoid: Legged robots from 8 companies vie for jobs. [Right] Yaxi Highway, aka the Skyroad: China's 240-km marvel of engineering.
(2) Amazing math & engineering: This set of 242 interlocking bevel gears on the surface of a sphere is composed of 12 blue gears with 25 teeth each, 30 yellow gears with 30 teeth, 60 orange gears with 14 teeth, and 140 red gears with 12 teeth. [Tweet, with GIF image]
(3) Algorithmic video surveillance will be taken to new heights at the Paris Olympics: But unlike the Chinese who quietly accepted surveillance at the last Olympic Games, the French are vehemently protesting.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Three US soldiers killed and 34 injured in Jordan by drone strikes linked to Iran.
- Israeli investigation reveals that much of Hamas's arms used on Oct. 7 came from the Israeli military.
- The UN fires several employees after allegations that they aided Hamas in its attack of October 7.
- Artemis II will send astronauts around the Moon in world's first crewed deep-space mission in 50 years.
- Synchron is racing Neuralink to bring its brain implants, delivered via blood vessels, to market.
- An explanation of why we continue to cough after we are no longer sick.
- Modeling sports match-ups with intransitive dice games: A fun, but challenging, math exercise.
- The comic genius of Robin Williams during a British TV interview.
(5) Cox Communication's dishonest service: About a week ago, I went to Cox store in Santa Barbara to return a cable box I no longer needed. Rather than simply record the return, which would have reduced my monthly fee by a few dollars, the agent apparently signed me up for new services, which will increase my cost, all without my consent. What triggered my suspicion was the assignment of a new account number, an unnecessary action for the transaction. [On X (Twitter), a Cox PR person responded to my criticism and recommended that I contact Cox's customer service to fix the problem.]
(6) Ex-contractor for IRS sentenced to 5 years in prison for leaking Donald Trump's tax returns: As usual, low-level criminals are pursued with vengeance, while those at the very top walk free, either because they aren't charged or else their teams of influential (and expensive) lawyers use every delay tactic in the book and negotiate favorable plea deals after everyone is worn out.

2024/01/27 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Stearns Wharf during today's outing in Santa Barbara with my sisters on the occasion of my upcoming birthday: Batch 1 of photos Stearns Wharf during today's outing in Santa Barbara with my sisters on the occasion of my upcoming birthday: Batch 2 of photos Cover image of Homa Katouzian's 'Humour in Iran' (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Stearns Wharf during today's outing in Santa Barbara with my sisters on the occasion of my upcoming birthday. [Right] Homa Katouzian's Humour in Iran (see the last item below).
(2) Our bodies constitute permanent records of government policies: Americans are getting shorter (once the world's tallest, we are now hovering around 50th in the world), heavier, & less intelligent, and we die younger. In this podcast, two scientists discuss how these undesirable changes are direct consequences of government policies on healthcare, nutrition, and equity.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Taking advantage of the the Israel-Gaza conflict, Iran's Islamic regime picks up the pace of executions.
- Iran's top diplomat embarrasses the country with his English speech at the UN.
- Jewish Iranian-American astronaut Jasmine Moghbeli is a target of anti-Semitic hate speech in Iran.
- A hilarious explanation of the lyrics for the song "Waltzing Matilda." [5-minute video]
- Animal intelligence: Solving a maze by thinking outside the box. [Video]
- See if you can identify which of these ten faces were AI-generated and which ones are real (I got only 4).
(4) Attosecond physics: We can now mark time and observe physical phenomena within 10^(–18) second. This ability, which was honored with the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics, opens up new avenues for developing advanced materials with mind-boggling properties and for understanding our universe in much greater detail.
(5) Book review: Katouzian, Homa, Humour in Iran: Eleven-Hundred Years of Satire and Humour in Persian Literature, I. B. Tauris, 2024. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Combining Persian original texts with some English translations, the book, which is aimed at both scholars and ordinary readers, covers 11 centuries of satire, irony, & humor in Persian verse & prose. The Persian literary tradition includes various forms of humor, from the coarse and obscene to the subtle and refined. The sources range from Ferdowsi's epic Shahnameh, master satirists such as Obeyd Zakani, Sa'di, Rumi, Khayyam, Hafiz, Anvari, Sana'i, Khaqani, Suzani, Qa'ani, & Yaghma, ending with 20th-century literary figures such as Iraj, Dehkhoda, Bahar, Eshqi, Aref, Hedayat, Jamalzadeh, & Al-e Ahmad.
The book's 10 chapters follow a 17-page introduction, in which we read a few samples of humor and learn, among other things, about the lack of an exact Persian equivalent for the term "humor" or "humour" (none of the Persian/Arabic terms "tibat," "motayebeh," "mezah," "tamaskhor," "maskhareh," "shukhi," or "latifeh" means exactly the same).
- The First Three Centuries
- Rumi, Sa'di, Hafiz
- Obeyd Zakani (c. 1300-1370)
- From Old Classics to Neoclassics (15th to 18th Centuries)
- The Neoclassical Period: Bazgasht-e Adabi in the 19th Century
- Iraj and Bahar
- Dehkhoda and Eshghi
- Aref, Seyyed Ashraf, E'tesami, Rouhani, Bibi Khanom
- Satirical Fiction
- The Satirical Press
As a side note, "Homa" is usually a female name in Persian, but Dr. Homa Katouzian [1942-] is a man who uses the literary name "Homa" as a shorthand for "Homayoun."

2024/01/25 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Product sold by Amazon, with instructions exclusively in Chinese Map of Earth, centered at the North Pole Talangor Group talk by Dr. Towfigh Heidarzadeh (1) Images of the day: [Left] Convertible chair/step-ladder I bought from Amazon: The design idea is neat, but the assembly instructions are exclusively in Chinese. I have decided to return the item but fear that shipping it to China may cost me a fortune! [Center] Our Earth, viewed from a different perspective: Centered at the North Pole, this map tells us that the US and Russia are closer to each other than we generally think and highlights the immensity of the Pacific Ocean. [Right] Talangor Group talk (see the last item below).
(2) Several countries are studying near-Earth asteroids using space probes: One threatening asteroid, which is the size of a football stadium, will fly by very close to Earth in 2029 and may crash into the Pacific Ocean on its next visit in 2036, triggering a tsunami that destroys the US West Coast and Hawaii.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- NASA's Ingenuity will fly no more: A broken rotor blade seals the fate of the first copter to fly on Mars.
- How the merger of two neutron stars that occurred 130 million years ago was detected in 2022.
- Jon Stewart is returning to executive-produce "The Daily Show" and to host it on Monday nights.
- Racing cars on sloped roads: Straight-line road isn't the fastest. [Tweet, with animation]
- Farhang Foundation's Nowruz Concert in Orange County, California, March 23, 2024.
- Throwback Thursday: Frank Sinatra's 1975 concert in Iran; I was there and remember the event fondly.
(4) "Pale Blue Dot" refers to a photo of Earth taken by Voyager 1 space probe in 1990 from a distance of ~3.7 billion miles, as it was leaving our solar system. It has come to signify our small place in the universe.
(5) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Towfigh Heidarzadeh (UC Riverside) spoke about "Critical Thinking in Science: Demarcating Science, Pseudo-Science, Anti-Science, and Superstition." Before the main talk, yours truly made a short presentation on "Doublespeak in Science and Technology." There were ~95 attendees.
Demarcation of science and pseudoscience is important, both theoretically and from a practical standpoint (should the government invest in telepathy or alternative medicine?). Pseudoscience tends to impede the progress of science. Science is a complicated system/network. We cannot produce new science without relying on all that has gone before us.
Superstition is a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic, or false conception of causation. Pseudoscience is similar to superstition, but it uses scientific terms in order to legitimize non-scientific conclusions. Pseudoscience lacks evidence and isn't reproducible or falsifiable. Anti-science denies the legitimacy of science altogether, citing certain errors in previous scientific hypotheses to cast doubt on everything scientific.

2024/01/24 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Bike path not prioritized at UCSB MagQuest seeks new global magnetic map: A more-accurate magnetic map would help make the adjustments needed to find true north Tonight's IEEE CCS tech talk by Nicholas Hogasten
Math puzzle: What fraction of the square's area is shaded green? Math puzzle: In this diagram with a regular hexagon and two squares, what fraction of the hexagon's area is shaded purple? Math puzzle: In this diagram, what is the length of the blue line segment? (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Bike paths not prioritized (see the next item below). [Top center] MagQuest seeks new global magnetic map: A more-accurate magnetic map would help make the adjustments needed to find true north. [Top right] Tonight's IEEE CCS tech talk (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Math puzzle: What fraction of the square's area is shaded green? [Bottom center] Math puzzle: In this diagram with a regular hexagon and two squares, what fraction of the hexagon's area is shaded purple? [Bottom right] Math puzzle: In this diagram, what is the length of the blue line segment?
(2) On UCSB campus, today: This space between the campus library and the new ILP classroom building used to host a bike path. After building ILP, a walkway and landscaping replaced the bike path, making the bike parking area to the east of ILP nearly inaccessible from the west side of the campus. Predictably, students ride along the walkway to get to the parking area. Ironically, the space is wide enough to accommodate both a bike path and a walkway.
(3) Credit/debit-card fraud is rampant: A couple of days ago, I received notice from my bank that an attempted use of one of my cards at a jewelry business had been declined. They wanted to know whether I had initiated the transaction, which I had not. My card has been invalidated as a precautionary measure and is being replaced with a new card. Stay alert!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Biggest aircraft cleared for flight: The massive 400-foot air-transport is allowed to fly up to 1500 feet high.
- Lithium extraction gets faster & greener: New technologies double production while reducing pollution.
- World's first road with an EV charging lane is being built in Sweden.
- World Music Series: Mariachi Las Olas de Santa Barbara performed at UCSB today. [Video 1] [Video 2]
(5) Tonight's IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk: Nicholas Hogasten (Technical Fellow, Teledyne FLIR, Goleta) spoke under the title "Video Signal Processing for Thermal Imaging Applications."
Thermal Imaging presents interesting video signal processing problems. The speaker reviewed some of these problems & their potential solutions. The main purpose of the presentation was to get students or early-career scientist excited about the possibilities of thermal imaging, but anyone curious about sensing in more exotic wavebands learned something. Some basics on why thermal imagers have different properties and challenges compared with typical reflected-light imagers and signal-reconstruction solutions to overcome those problems were discussed. The talk also touched upon some physical-world phenomenology for LWIR/MWIR imagers.

2024/01/23 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The Milky Way Galaxy, as seen in the dark sky of Iran's Semnan Province This is our beautiful Golden State, California The city of Ardebil in Iran, at the base of the majestic Sabalan Mountain
If you crave lentil-rice (Persian Math puzzle: In this diagram with 3 squares, what is the area of the yellow triangle? Cover image of Sorina Higgins' book on C. S. Lewis (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The Milky Way Galaxy, as seen in the dark sky of Iran's Semnan Province. [Top center] This is our beautiful Golden State, California. [Top right] The city of Ardebil in Iran, at the base of the majestic Sabalan Mt. [Bottom left] If you crave lentil-rice (Persian "adas-polo") and don't feel like making it from scratch, Trader Joe's can help. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: In this diagram with 3 squares, what is the area of the yellow triangle? [Bottom right] Sorina Higgins' book on C. S. Lewis (see the last item below).
(2) Tim Scott and Ron DeSantis have endorsed Trump. Nikki Haley says she will pardon him if elected President. Go ahead, vote them in, if you crave a crime spree at the highest level!
(3) Harmful datasets to be removed: The UC Office of the President has directed all UC locations to remove the LAION-5B dataset from campus devices and networks. The Large-scale Artificial Intelligence Open Network (LAION) is a non-profit that creates open-source machine learning tools frequently used by AI researchers for the purpose of training AI models. The datasets are thought to contain harmful or illegal content.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California State University faculty began their systemwide strike on Monday (and ended it on Tuesday).
- Oscar nominations: "Oppenheimer" leads the way with 13 nods. [Full list]
- Today's New Hampshire primary may be the last stand for Nikki Haley and anti-Trump forces.
- Building a large restaurant from a food truck within minutes. [Tweet, with video]
(5) Course review: Higgins, Sorina, C. S. Lewis: Writer, Scholar, Seeker, Six lectures in the Great Courses series, Audible Originals, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Clive Staples Lewis [1898-1963], who went by the name "Jack" to his family and "C. S." professionally, was a prolific writer who wrote in multiple genres (children's books, sci-fi, theological reflections, and scholarly works), but he is best-known for his 7-volume "Chronicles of Narnia" series. Interestingly, Lewis did not have children of his own and he began writing his children's series relatively late in life.
For Chronicles, he originally had only one story in mind, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Ideas for additional volumes came to him in dreams. He wrote the seven volumes chronologically out of order. After his death, publishers chose to number the volumes in chronological order, with the prequel "The Magician's Nephew" issued as Volume 1, but C. S. Lewis's fans prefer his original production order.
Lewis lost his mother early on and was sent to a boarding school by his detached father. He later married an older woman, who had children his age. In a way, he took as his lover a woman who filled the gap left by the loss of his mother. Lewis, who was an atheist through his 20s, befriended several of his contemporary writers, including J. R. R. Tolkien, and became a religious man in part owing to their influence.
The six lectures in this wonderful course cover various aspects of Lewis's life and written work.
Lecture 1. Little Boy Jack: Childhood and Narnia
Lecture 2. A Life of Loss and Joy (bio and life philosophy)
Lecture 3. Hearing and Telling the Greatest Story (his religious conversion)
Lecture 4. Theological Fiction
Lecture 5. The Ransom Cycle (his sci-fi/space trilogy)
Lecture 6. Literary Criticism (his academic publications)

2024/01/21 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Santa Barbara the beautiful: Ads for real-estate agencies (not my photos) Los Angles' very-first freeway: The historic Arroyo Seco, connecting Pasadena to downtown LA Earth's beautiful nature: From various travel ads (not my photos)
Meme of the day: Stop War! Math puzzle: Find the ratio r/R of the radius of the yellow circle to the radius of the orange quarter-circle History of satire and humor in Iran: Book talk (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Santa Barbara the beautiful: Ads for real-estate agencies (not my photos). [Top center] Los Angeles' first freeway is hopelessly outdated—and dangerous, due to narrow lanes and super-short on- and off-ramps—but people love it. The first portion of the historic Arroyo Seco Freeway, connecting Pasadena to downtown LA, opened in 1940 and had a speed limit of 45 mph. [Top right] Earth's beautiful nature: From various Internet travel ads (not my photos). [Bottom left] Meme of the day: Stop War! [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Find the ratio r/R of the radius of the yellow circle to the radius of the orange quarter-circle. [Bottom right] Book talk on history of satire and humor in Iran (see the last item below).
(2) On punctuality: If you join a webinar and at 11:05 you get the message "Wait, the webinar starts at 11:00 and at 11:10 they are still playing elevator music, you know that it is organized by Iranians!
(3) Capturing the dynamics of long-term changes: The camera that is designed to take a single image of a Tucson, AZ, landscape over the next 1000 years.
(4) Why you can't tickle yourself: According to The Accidental Mind, a fascinating book I am reading, the cerebellum predicts our sensations and signals other brain regions to subtract the "expected" sensation from the "total" sensation, making the "net" sensation near-zero. This relativism is helpful because the brain should focus on unexpected sensations, which may correspond to danger. We now know that some humans who sustain damage to the cerebellum are unable to generate predictions and can thus tickle themselves.
(5) Today's University of Toronto book talk: Dr. Homa Katouzian (economist, historian, political scientist, literary critic; U. Oxford) spoke under the title "Humor in Iran: Eleven-Hundred Years of Satire and Humor in Persian Literature." The talk was based on a 2024 I. B. Tauris book by the same title. There were ~130 attendees. As a side note, "Homa" is usually a female name in Persian, but Dr. Homa Katouzian [1942-] is a man who uses the literary name "Homa" as a shorthand for "Homayoun."
Combining Persian original texts with some English translations, the book, which is aimed at both scholars and ordinary readers, covers 11 centuries of satire, irony, & humor in Persian verse & prose. The Persian literary tradition includes various forms of humor, from the coarse and obscene to the subtle and refined. The sources range from Ferdowsi's epic Shahnameh, master satirists such as Obeyd Zakani, Sa'di, Rumi, Khayyam, Hafiz, Anvari, Sana'i, Khaqani, Suzani, Qa'ani, & Yaghma, ending with 20th-century authors such as Iraj, Dehkhoda, Bahar, Eshqi, Aref, Hedayat, Jamalzadeh, & Al-e Ahmad.

2024/01/20 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Marall Nasiri wrote the names of 71 Iranian women political prisoners on her body as she accepted an acting award in Sweden Cartoon: 'Everyone on this stage is committed to a future of net-zero income-tax payments' Photo of Israeli women soldiers on the front line
A family picnic in rural Iran The S&P 500 index hits an all-time high, as it inches toward 5000 (NYT chart) Today's Farhang-Foundation/UCSB talk on poet Sohrab Sepehri (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Marall Nasiri wrote the names of 71 Iranian women political prisoners on her body as she accepted an acting award in Sweden. [Top center] New Yorker cartoon of the day: "Everyone on this stage is committed to a future of net-zero income-tax payments." [Top right] For years, Israelis have debated whether it's a good idea to deploy women soldiers on the front lines, given the atrocities they may face in the event of being captured. As discussion goes on, these women soldiers continue to serve as before. [Bottom left] A family picnic in rural Iran. [Bottom center] The S&P 500 index hits an all-time high, as it inches toward 5000 (NYT chart). [Bottom right] Today's talk on poet Sohrab Sepehri (see the last item below)
(2) Rain can't dampen women's "Call to Action": The 8th annual Women's March took place in Santa Barbara this evening, with the goal "to unite and mobilize our community to take a stand against the assault on women's rights and democracy." I feel guilty for skipping the event today for the first time since its inception, but here is our local ABC affiliate's report on the event.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Japan became the fifth country to set down a spacecraft on the Moon.
- AlphaGeometry AI program performs on par with gold-medalists in solving Olympiad geometry problems.
- In 2024, US domestic airfares will fall, while international flights will become more expensive. [NYT]
- Museum pieces: I must be one of the last people to get rid of my landline phone service! [Tweet, with photo]
(4) Today's Farhang-Foundation/UCSB talk: Dr. Fatemeh Shams (social literary historian & poet, U. Penn) spoke under the title "Sohrab Sepehri's Modernist Mission."
Sohrab Sepehri (1928-1980) is celebrated by some as one of Iran's greatest poets who inspired experimentalist modernist poets of his generation. He has also been criticized as being aloof and detached from societal realities. Dr. Shams introduced Sepehri's modernist mission and tried to rehabilitate the importance of his oeuvre by focusing on the between-ness and otherness that is central to his work.
Through a close reading of Sepehri' s Eight Books (Hasht Ketaab), Dr. Shams elaborated on ways in which Sepehri transcended the rigid boundaries of ideology and dialectical identity by inviting the reader into an imaginative space of aesthetic, existential, epistemological fluidity, and freedom.
Dr. Shams recited several of Sepehri's poems, including "A Garden in Sound," in Persian, while showing her English translations of the verses on projected slides. Sepehri's poetry has become very popular in post-Revolution Iran, because his words provide people refuge from hardships and oppression.
P.S.: Writing in The New Yorker, Neima Jahromi discusses Sohrab Sepehri's poetry, under the title "Poetry and Politics in Iran."

2024/01/18 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The entrance of Bagh-e Golshan Cafe in Tehran's Shah-Abad Ave., opposite Sepahsalar Garden Math puzzle: Find the ratio of the areas of the two squares Throwback Thursday (2): My aunt Soury's family, shortly after they immigrated to Israel in the 1940s (1) Images of the day: [Left] Throwback Thursday (1): The entrance of Bagh-e Golshan Cafe in Tehran's Shah-Abad Ave., opposite Sepahsalar Garden. The restaurant was open past midnight and featured live musical entertainment by popular singers of the day. [Center] Math puzzle: Find the ratio of the areas of the squares. [Right] Throwback Thursday (2): My aunt Soury's family, shortly after they immigrated to Israel in the 1940s.
(2) Berkeley Lecture Series (in Persian): Dr. Nayereh Tohidi will speak under the title "Iran in a Transformative Process by Woman, Life, Freedom." Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, 11:00 AM PST. [In-person and on Zoom]
(3) Iran's Supreme Leader advocates for a referendum among Palestinians to choose their form of government, but when it comes to Iran, he maintains that lay people aren't sophisticated enough to choose properly.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Retaliating for Iran's missile strikes, Pakistan attacks several points in Saravan, southeastern Iran.
- Persian music: Mostafa Maddahi sings & plays the tar, as the song's composer weeps in the audience.
- Persian music: Viguen performs "Mahtab," his own composition, with lyrics by Nasser Rastegar-Nejad.
- Piano maestro Anoushirvan Rohani and singer Homayoun Shajarian in a January 2024 Toronto concert.
- Wednesday's World Music Series concert by Los Catanes del Norte. [Video 1] [Video 2]
- A scene from the Iranian film "Tomorrow Is Bright," in which singer Delkash performs her own song.
(5) It appears that Supreme Leader Khamenei is trying to goad the US into bombing Iran in order to deflect attention from his regime's many political and economic failings.
(6) Colossus' 80th anniversary: The British Colossus was the first computer to decode German messages for the Allied forces during World War II and is credited by many experts for shortening the war.
(7) Interlinked Computing in 2040: Part of the cover feature of IEEE Computer magazine's January 2024 issue, focusing on safety, truth, ownership, and accountability.
(8) End of tenure at universities? Nebraska is the latest US state to propose legislation for ending tenure at public colleges. The merits of tenure or lack thereof can and has been debated extensively, with meritorious arguments on both sides. However, there will be serious financial implications if some colleges end tenure while others keep it. Colleges that ditch tenure will have to offer much higher salaries to keep and attract talent. For decades, faculty salaries have been much lower than those of industrial positions requiring comparable qualifications. Colleges without tenure will be in direct competition with industry for talent.

2024/01/16 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iran's two-faced Islamic regime wants hijabless women to vote (to boost participation figures) but bans offering government services to hijabless women Iranian architecture: The Ameri-ha Historical House, Kashan, Iran, was built in the second half of the 18th century A humbling space fact: Removing the Earth from the Milky Way Galaxy doesn't change it a bit
Then (2018) and now (2024): Facebook-generated post Math puzzle: In this diagram with two circles of known areas, what is the square's area? Cover image of John MacCormick's 'What Can Be Computed' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Iran's two-faced Islamic regime: One official says that hijabless women have the right to vote (to boost participation figures). Another says the government has banned offering services to hijabless women. [Top center] Iranian architecture: The Ameri-ha Historical House, Kashan, Iran, was built in the second half of the 18th century. The massive house covers 9000 square meters and has 85 rooms, two bath-houses, and 7 courtyards adorned with gardens and fountains. [Top right] A humbling space fact: Removing the Earth from the Milky Way Galaxy doesn't change it a bit. [Bottom left] Then (2018) and now (2024): Facebook-generated post. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: In this diagram with two circles of known areas, what is the square's area? (Note: Diagram not to scale) [Bottom right] John MacCormick's What Can Be Computed (see the next item below).
(2) Book review: MacCormick, John, What Can Be Computed? A Practical Guide to the Theory of Computation, Princeton, 2018. [My 4-star review of this course on GoodReads]
Theory of computation is the primary link between computer science and mathematics. Because of its requirement for rigor, theory of computation is often considered to be inaccessible to those who are not mathematically trained. This book attempts to bridge the gap by maintaining mathematical rigor in discussing topics in the theory of computation, while also linking the concepts to practical applications by encouraging active experimentation via computer programs in Python and Java.
Fundamental notions of the field, including Turing machines, finite automata, universal computation, nondeterminism, Turing & Karp reductions, undecidability, and complexity classes, including P & NP, are covered, as are the connections between undecidability and Godel's incompleteness theorem and Karp's famous set of 21 NP-complete problems. The presentation makes the field, usually the purview of graduate courses, accessible to undergraduate students.
The book essentially answers the following question affirmatively: "Is there anything that computers will never be able to do, no matter how fast the hardware or how smart the algorithms?" This verdict is in contrast to Rene Descartes famous statement: "There cannot be any [truths] that are so remote that they are not eventually reached nor so hidden that they are not discovered."
The book is subdivided into an overview (Chapter 1) and two parts: Computability Theory (Chapters 2-9) and Computational Complexity Theory (Chapters 10-14).
- Introduction: What Can and Cannot Be Computed?
- What Is a Computer Program?
- Some Impossible Python Programs
- What Is a Computational Problem?
- Turing Machines: The Simplest Computers
- Universal Computer Programs: Programs that Can Do Anything
- Reductions: How to Prove a Problem Is Hard
- Nondeterminism: Magic or Reality?
- Finite Automata: Computing with Limited Resources
- Complexity Theory: When Efficiency Does Matter
- Ply and Expo: The Two Most Fundamental Complexity Classes
- PolyCheck and NPoly: Hard Problems that Are Easy to Verify
- Polynomial-Time Mapping Reductions: Proving X Is as Easy as Y
- NP-Completeness: Most Hard Problems Are Equally Hard

2024/01/15 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today, we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King: Image 1 Today, we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King: Image 2 Israel is the only country in the Middle East to name a street after MLK, who was a Zionist
Reporters who were imprisoned for exposing the death of #MahsaAmini Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1969 (55 years ago) and in 2022 Cover image of 'Understanding the Brain' (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Today, we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, among whose memorable statements is the following: "We need leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity, but in love with humanity." [Top right] Israel is the only country in the Middle East to name a street after MLK, who was a Zionist. [Bottom left] Reporters who were imprisoned for exposing the death of #MahsaAmini (see the next item below). [Bottom center] Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1969 (55 years ago) and in 2022. [Bottom right] Understanding the Brain (see the last item below).
(2) Islamic Republic of Iran: A country where insider criminals get away with a slap on the wrist but those reporting on crimes serve long prison terms. These two women, who reported on the death of #MahsaAmini while in custody of the Morality Police, were just released from prison temporarily by posting huge bails and were immediately charged with new "crimes" for going hijabless! [#WomanLifeFreedom]
(3) "And Kill Them Wherever You Find Them": Name of Islamic State's operation for solidarity with Gaza. The suicide bombing at Qasem Soleimani's memorial in Iran was the first step of this operation.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Ron DeSantis is 2nd in Iowa & Nikki Haley finishes 3rd: 4th-place Vivek Ramaswamy ends his campaign.
- Nobel Peace Laureate Narges Mohammadi's prison sentence is extended by the Mullahs' regime in Iran.
- Full list of Emmy Awards: "The Bear" and "Succession" led with 6 wins each, while "Beef" followed with 5.
- An iPhone sucked out of a missing door in an Alaska Airlines mishap survived 16,000-foot fall to the ground.
(5) SAT seems to be winning the war waged on it: Highly-selective colleges are slowly returning to requiring SAT scores, citing their strong correlation with college performance, as measured by academic GPA.
(6) Elsevier journal Microprocessors and Microsystems has retracted all articles in a 2021 special issue guest-edited by Vimal Shanmuganathan, citing substandard rigor in the peer-review process.
(7) Course review: Norden, Jeanette, Understanding the Brain, 36 lectures in the Great Courses Series, The Teaching Company, undated. [My 4-star review of this course on GoodReads]
This course, designed and taught by Professor Jeanette Norden (School of Medicine, Vanderbilt U.), begins with "Historical Underpinnings of Neuroscience" (Lecture 1) and ends with "Neuroscience—Looking Back and Looking Ahead" (Lecture 36), visiting along the way topics such as brain structure, central nervous system, neurotransmitters, stroke, visual & auditory systems, depression, the reward system, brain plasticity, emotion & executive function, sleep & dreaming, consciousness, Alzheimer's, and effects of stress.
On this Web page you can find a list of lecture titles and a brief description of each lecture.

2024/01/14 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
So, you say the January 6 insurrection wasn't planned? How do you explain these T-shirts? Cartoon: Snow White and her agent, accountant, lawyer, life coach, personal assistant, publicist, and stylist Cartoon: The Ayatollah and his lash (1) Images of the day: [Left] So, you say the January 6 insurrection wasn't planned? How do you explain these T-shirts? [Center] New Yorker cartoon of the day: Snow White and her agent, accountant, lawyer, life coach, personal assistant, publicist, and stylist. [Right] IranWire cartoon of the day: The Ayatollah and his lash.
(2) North Korea is rated as the world's most-hellish country: Afghanistan is second. The Taliban are just as brutal, but they don't have a competent security apparatus. The documentary "Beyond Utopia," filmed on iPhones and currently vying for an Oscar nomination, chronicles a family's secret escape out of North Korea.
(3) With each new technology, we hear claims that it will revolutionize education: Yet, by and large, we still teach through a teacher meeting in-person with a number of students. What gives?
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Tal Becker's speech on behalf of Israel at the international court considering accusations of genocide.
- Today's amazing science fact: Electromagnetism explained via special relativity.
- Dangerous elevators: A small number of Paternoster or doorless lifts are still operating in parts of Germany.
- A new rendition of an old popular song from southwestern Iran. [1-minute video]
(5) With the lowering of dammed reservoirs on Klamath River, the largest dam removal project in US history entered a critical phase this week.
(6) Zero-proof bars are sprouting across the country: Non-alcoholic brews and spirits serve customers who seek out health & wellness alternatives in their drinking routines. At $400 million in annual sales, they form a tiny share of the market right now, but they are projected to grow to about 30% of the total market.
(7) Best-Presentation Award: My January 9, 2024, talk at the IEEE 14th Annual Computing and Communication Workshop and Conference was honored with a Best-Presentation Award. Here's a 14-minute recording of the practice version of my talk entitled "Recursive Implementation of Voting Networks." And here's the PDF paper.
(8) The next real estate crisis is looming: Empty offices in NYC and other major urban centers, along with ~40% price drop since the pandemic, are about to crush big banks, who are kicking the can down the road.
(9) American neurosurgeon Ali Rezai is pioneering ways to try to help people with drug addiction and with Alzheimer's disease. One experiment focuses beams of ultrasound on the brain.

2024/01/12 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The magnificent Dimond Head Volcano in Hawaii How war is spreading in the Middle East: New York Times infographic Promising information technologies for 2024
Lost city in the upper Amazon unearthed: Science magazine cover story Would-be dictator Donald Trump marches ahead, despite criminal indictments, civil lawsuits, and criticism from 'mainstream' Republicans In this image, Earth is compared in size to the much larger Jupiter, which has a diameter of ~11 times that of Earth, giving it a volume of ~1300x (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The magnificent Dimond Head Volcano in Hawaii. [Top center] How war is spreading in the Middle East: New York Times infographic. [Top right] Promising information technologies for 2024 (see the next item below). [Bottom left] Lost city in the upper Amazon unearthed: The dense system of pre-Hispanic urban centers consists of an anthropized landscape with clusters of monumental platforms, plazas, and wide streets running over great distances, intertwined with extensive agricultural drainages and terraces. Period of occupation: From about 500 BCE to 300-600 CE. [Bottom center] Would-be dictator Donald Trump marches ahead, despite criminal indictments, civil lawsuits, and criticism from "mainstream" Republicans. [Bottom right] In this image, Earth is compared in size to the much larger Jupiter, which has a diameter of ~11 times that of Earth, giving it a volume of ~1300x.
(2) IEEE Computer Society's 2024 Technology Predictions Report: The domains of predictions, listed in order from high-potential (graded A/B) to low-potential (graded C/D), include generative AI applications, next-generation AI, advances in cybersecurity, managing misinformation, remote healthcare, digital twins for vertical applications, new 3D printing applications, new programming models, Reliability, autonomic autonomous and hybrid systems, energy resources for powering data centers, sustainable ICT, regenerative agri-tech, non-terrestrial networks, new battery chemistry and architecture, low-power AI accelerators, alternate material for electro machines, alternate materials for electro machines, cost-effective recycling of batteries, metaverse, accessible quantum computing, and satellite (constellation) recycling.
(3) A question about time: Lines of longitude on Earth demark time (every 15 degrees is one time zone). But these lines all meet at the poles. So, what time is it at the poles?
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Harvard accused in federal lawsuit of not protecting Jewish students against intimidation and harassment.
- US FDA scientists recommend that the feds remove marijuana from its most restrictive category of drugs.
- Tomorrow's presidential election in Taiwan is more about economic woes than the threat from China.
- How we used to calculate pi and how Newton simplified the process by a series of brilliant discoveries.
- Periodic & aperiodic tilings of the plane and their relationship to crystals no one thought could exist.
- Ancient city, with sophisticated networks of roads & canals, found under vegetation in Amazon Forest.
(5) Today's surprising space fact: The first human-made object to reach space was Soviet Union's satellite Sputnik 1, which was launced on October 4, 1957.
(6) Get to know Donald Trump: His lawyer argued in court this week that former presidents are immune from prosecution even for any murders they ordered while in office. [New York Times report]
(7) Samantha Rose Hill, Hana Arendt biographer, explains how Arendt's writings on evil and totalitarianism found new popularity after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. [Video]
(8) An insightful analysis of the political dilemma facing American Muslims: After 9/11, American Muslims formed progressive alliances, leaving their Republican ties behind, despite the fact that their religious leaders remained staunchly conservative. Hamas atrocities of 10/7 again challenges their political leanings.

2024/01/11 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: Baccarat Cabaret in Tehran, Iran, 1974 Tonight's Talangor Group talk on emotional machiavellism: Flyer Cover image of Liz Cheney's 'Oath and Honor' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Throwback Thursday: Baccarat Cabaret in Tehran, Iran, 1974. Believe it or not, families frequented the cabaret, located in the basement of Atlantic Cinema on Pahlavi Avenue. It was more like a restaurant with entertainment than a genuine cabaret. [Center] Tonight's Talangor Group talk on emotional machiavellism (see the next item below). [Right] Liz Cheney's Oath and Honor (see the last item below).
(2) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Arash Taghavi spoke under the title "Emotional Machiavellism: An Introduction to Emotional Deception." Before the main talk, Dr. Ryan Homafar gave a short presentation on "Justice and Politics," in which he pondered the question of whether justice can be viewed as a necessity of politics, that is, a right, rather than a moral nicety, viz. an optional add-on. There were ~75 attendees.
Emotional manipulation is common in sociopolitical settings and in personal relationships. We try to emotionally manipulate others for three reasons: Gaining benefits; Maintaining power; Avoiding responsibility. Religions manipulate their followers by inducing guilt. Other methods used include threatening, gaslighting, invoking pity, and tantalizing (deceptive praise).
We all manipulate others emotionally and are manipulated in return to some extent. So, learning the signs of emotional manipulation is important to our well-being. Many of us Iranians have had emotionally manipulative parents. However, rather than blaming such parents, we should recognize that they are products of their upbringing and experiences. It is up to us to protect ourselves against such manipulations.
Lack of susceptibility to emotional manipulation is a sign of emotional maturity.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Donald Trump: "January 6 was a beautiful day." Vote for him if you want more such beautiful days!
- US missiles hit Houthi targets, after the Iran-backed group threatened shipping safety in the Red Sea.
- Quote of the day: "Illusion of knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance." ~ Physicist Richard Feynman
- The Drake Passage at the southern tip of South America and other dangerous waters of the Antarctic Circle.
(4) Book review: Cheney, Liz, Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning, unabridged 12-hour audiobook, read by the author, Little, Brown & Company, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is an important book, telling the story of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, interwoven with biographical information about Liz Cheney's life in Wyoming and Washington, DC, as well as about her father, former US Vice President Dick Cheney.
>Oath and Honor is as much an indictment of Donald Trump as it is a slap at her fellow-Republicans, who enabled and excused his immoral and narcissistic behavior. Cheney names multiple cowardly Republicans who publicly supported Trump out of political expediency, while criticizing him in private. The writing is straightforward and at times repetitive. Cheney's tone is angry, which is quite natural, given what she went through before and after she served on the House Select Committee. She fell out of love with the Republican party she previously adored. Cheney was stripped of her leadership position in the House
Republican caucus and was later defeated in her re-election bid by a Trump-endorsed candidate. The "warning" part of the book is about the real danger of Trump returning to the White House and completing what he couldn't do during his first term, because even his hand-picked officials and aides didn't go along with his crazy, anti-Constitutional schemes. The lies that Trump and his collaborators continue to perpetuate, and their schemes to get rid of public servants in the government, constitute real and present danger to the US democratic institutions and traditions.
As I write this review, Donald Trump faces 91 felony counts in federal and state courts, as well as multiple civil lawsuits, which may land him in jail and/or ruin him financially. Yet his support base continues to be strong, as if nothing has happened. The year 2024 will be a real test of the US system of justice and its safeguards against authoritarian tendencies in our leaders. If we emerge unscathed from this challenge, it is in no small part due to the courage exhibited by Liz Cheney.

2024/01/10 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Socrates Think Tank talk on modernity Father of the Internet, Robert Kahn, recognized with an IEEE Medal of Honor Cover image of Robert M. Sapolsky's 'Determined' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Socrates Think Tank talk on modernity (see the next item below). [Center] Father of the Internet, Robert Kahn, recognized with an IEEE Medal of Honor: Medals also given to other pioneers. [Right] Robert M. Sapolsky's Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will (see the last item below).
(2) Tonight's Socrates Think Tank talk: Dr. Abdi Modarressi spoke under the title "Musings/Inquiries on Modernity." There were ~145 attendees.
Modernity has two aspects: Physical modernization (renewal) and cultural modernity (enlightenment). Physical modernization and cultural modernity do not necessarily go hand in hand. The related term "modernism" refers to the manifestation of modernity in art styles.
Most societies, regardless of their development level, have embraced physical modernization (what the speaker called the "hardware" dimension of modernity). Physical modernization has no cultural prerequisites and can bring benefits to societies, whether or not they understand the technology and regardless of their ability to create the technology locally.
Cultural modernity (the "software" dimension) is a lot trickier and few societies outside Europe, the birthplace of modernity, have been able to achieve it (Japan being a notable exception). Iran had several opportunities, including during the Golden Age of Eastern Science & Arts and after the Constitutional Revolution, to make headway in this regard, but reactionary forces prevailed in both instances.
(3) US FDA issues a nationwide alert against taking tianeptine: Also known as "gas station heroine" (because it is sold at many gas-station convenience stores), the substance had been associated with overdoses and deaths.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Each container of bottled water contains hundreds of thousands of microscopic pieces of plastic.
- Work done 35 years ago in Macedonia to control a robot with brain waves honored as an IEEE Milestone.
- Congrats to Janet Afary & Kamran Afary for winning a second book prize for their Molla Nasreddin.
- Facebook memory from Jan. 10, 2018: The day when US 101 near Santa Barbara looked like a river.
(5) Today's surprising space fact: The largest volcano in the solar system is Olympus Mons on Mars. It has a height 3 times that of Mt. Everest.
(6) Book review: Sapolsky, Robert M., Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will, unabridged 17-hour audiobook, read by Kaelo Griffith, Penguin Audio, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The book's intentionally ambiguous title reflects the two parts of its message: The science of why there is no free will and the science of how we can best live once we accept this fact.
I have recently reviewed two concise books on free will or lack thereof. In 96 pages, Sam Harris argues persuasively that free will is an inherently flawed and incoherent concept (my review). As I wrote in my review of Free Will: A Very Short Introduction (132 pp.), Western philosophers holding various views on the topic of free will are classified, roughly, as incompatibilists, compatibilists, sceptics, and libertarians.
- Incompatibilists believe that the whole universe is defined by causal determinism, making free will impossible. All of our actions have root causes that are beyond our control. Put another way, free will is incompatible with determinism. Therefore, some philosophers reject causal determinism.
- Compatibilists think that even if we accept causal determinism, we can still have freedom of action, because only the decision to act is generated deterministically, not the ensuing voluntary action itself.
- Sceptics subscribe to incompatibilism but think that even if the universe is not causally determined, it is impossible to act freely, since what is left is chance. In other words, actions are random outcomes of chance events, with will playing no role.
- Libertarians believe that a universe determined in part causally and in part randomly leaves room for the freedom to decide on the actions taken. Alongside random & deterministic factors which make up the universe, there is a part of the human consciousness which decides independently. This kind of free will is neither a product of chance nor a consequence of a deterministic cause, but an agent of action itself.
Sapolsky begins by discussing the four viewpoints above, as well as their various shades and combinations, relating each category to moral responsibility & punishment, and continuing with the declaration that his goal "isn't to convince you that there is no free will; it will suffice if you merely conclude that there's so much less free will than you thought that you have to change your thinking about some truly important things."
He then presents quite a few arguments against the existence of free will. Some of the provocatively-titled chapters include "Willing Willpower: The Myth of Grit," "Is Your Free Will Random?" and "The Joy of Punishment." The "Appendix: Neuroscience 101" offers a capsule review of neurons and how they function, so that neuroscientific arguments against free will can be better understood.

2024/01/08 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A few Iranian women TV announcers/hosts from the pre-Revolution period Roya Heshmati tells her story of being punished with 74 lashes for refusing to wear the hijab Roya Heshmati, an Iranian woman who was punished with 74 lashes for refusing to wear the hijab
Celebrating my grand-nephew Aiden's first birthday over the weekend Math puzzle: Find the area of the square (1) Images of the day: [Top left] A few Iranian women TV announcers/hosts from the pre-Revolution period. [Top center & right] Roya Heshmati, an Iranian woman who was punished with 74 lashes for refusing to wear the hijab, tells her story. [Bottom left] Celebrating my grand-nephew Aiden's first birthday over the weekend. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Find the area of the square. [Bottom right] Remembering some of the victims of Ukranian Airlines Flight PS752 (see the last item below).
(2) NASA launches its first Moon-landing mission in 50+ years: The uncrewed commercial spacecraft is expected to land on the Moon on February 23, 2024.
(3) From time to time, I am surprised with the success of one of my social-media posts: A repost about a large language model trained in Persian at U. Tehran received more than 18,000 impressions on LinkedIn. [Image]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Boosting productivity and avoiding overload by streamlining the set of tech tools you use. [Report]
- The complete list of 2024 Golden Globes winners: "Oppenheimer" shines with 5 awards.
- A survey of ~3000 AI researchers indicates a 5% chance that AI will drive humans extinct.
- Santa Barbara Channel Islands history finds a home in Carpinteria.
- A few celebs reaching milestone birthdays (60th, 70th, and 80th). [Image from AARP Magazine]
- Ringo Starr continues the musical tradition of the Fab Four. [Image from AARP Magazine]
(5) Today's surprising space fact: The temperature on the surface of the Moon varies drastically. It ranges from a low of –173 Celsius at night to a high of 127 Celsius during the day.
(6) A final thought, on the fourth anniversary of the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Flight PS752: "Today marks 4 years since the tragic passing of our beloved colleague and co-founder of this lab, Prof. Mojgan Daneshmand, along with her husband Prof. Pedram Mousavi and their daughters, Daria and Dorina." This is how University of Alberta remembers a co-founder of its Microwave, Millimeter-Wave, and MetaDevices (M3) Laboratory.

2024/01/07 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today's film screening at UCLA: Maryam Sepehri's 'Alborz: We Climb Mountains' The exquisite tiling pattern of Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran A talk on intellectualism in Iran by Dr. Mohammad B. Bagheri (1) Images of the day: [Left] Film screening at UCLA (see the next item below). [Center] The exquisite tiling pattern of Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran. [Right] A talk on intellectualism in Iran (see the last item below).
(2) UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran: Maryam Sepehri's 86-minute documentary film "Alborz: We Climb Mountains" will be screened in Royce Hall 314. I won't be able to attend and write a report, so I am sharing the information for those who might be interested. [Sepehri's YouTube Channel]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US FDA authorizes Florida to import medications from Canada, where prices are significantly lower.
- Alaska Airlines grounds its 737 Max 9 fleet after one plane lost part of its fuselage during flight.
- Siberia is warming at twice the rate of the Earth: Melting permafrost uncovers history & ancient viruses.
- Astronauts on the International Space Station witness around 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets every day.
- Regional actor Kim Sullivan made it to the big time when he debuted on Broadway at age 70. [Image]
(4) Today's surprising space fact: The Sun is so massive that it accounts for 99.86% of the total mass of our solar system. Its mass is 330,000 greater than the mass of Earth.
(5) Bonus surprising space fact for today: The largest black hole discovered so far is TON 618. Its mass is estimated to be about 66 billion times that of our Sun.
(6) "Intellectualism": As part of UCSalamat series of talks, Dr. Mohammad B. Bagheri presented a continuation of the discussion he began on December 3, 2023. [My report on the first part]
Dr. Bagheri began by reiterating some notions from the talk's first installment. An intellectual is a thinker who also has social concerns, as opposed to just sitting in an ivory tower. The two parts of the term "rowshan-fekr" (Persian for "intellectual"), that is, "rowshan" ("lit" or "bright") and "fekr" ("thought"), have positive connotations. Because of this, Iranians tend to be reluctant to apply the label to anyone who disagrees with them politically. Also, given the long history of dictatorial rule in the country, anyone who collaborates with the government is automatically removed from the circle of intellectuals.
There are three main categories of intellectuals in Iran.
- Western-leaning intellectuals want to bring a version of Western civilization to Iran. They were mistaken in thinking that importing symbols of modernity (household appliances, western-style universities) to Iran would be sufficient for social progress. Their advocacy of changing the Persian script to the Latin script led to a backlash against them. Taghizadeh and Foroughi are apt examples of this group.
- Religious intellectuals (an oxymoron?) subscribe to religious idealism. They believe that religion must play an important role in people's daily lives. This group took advantage of people's distrust of Western intellectuals to advance their agenda. Jalal Al-e Ahmad and Abdolkarim Soroush are good representative of this group. Khomeini-devotee students who raided the US Embassy in Tehran and took hostages fall into this category (the latter group also had Marxist leanings).
- Leftist intellectuals sneakily inserted their viewpoints into the slogans/goals of Iran's 1979 Revolution to gain more power. The deep religious influence among Iranians in the pre-Revolution Iran made people distrustful of leftist ideologies, represented by the Toudeh Party and also several militant leftist or leftist-Islamic groups. Even though many leftist intellectuals were killed by the Islamic regime, their numbers and influence remain strong.
Dr. Mohamad Bagher Bagheri has a Web site through which you can learn more about his background and gain access to YouTube videos of his lessons on critical thinking.

2024/01/06 (Saturday): Today, I offer book reviews on AI & pocket-calculator histories and global trade.
Cover image of Clifford Pickover 'Artificial Intelligence: An Illustrated History Cover image of Keith Houston's 'Empire of the Sum: The Rise and Reign of the Pocket Calculator' Cover image of UNCTAD's 'Value Creation and Capture: Implications for Developing Countries'
(1) Book review: Pickover, Clifford A., Artificial Intelligence: An Illustrated History—From Medieval Robots to Neural Networks, Union Square & Co., 2019. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Clifford Pickover has a knack for explaining scientific concept in easily-readable form, as evidenced by his many books in this domain. His book on the history of artificial intelligence is no exception. True to his style, Pickover describes major systems and milestones in the history of AI, with each of the ~100 concise entries accompanied by a full-page illustration.
All important developments, be they fictional ("The Terminator") or real (the Rumba robotic vacuum cleaner), receive a mention. The book can be read from cover to cover like a sumptuous meal or be explored by snacking on the entries that look inviting.
(2) Book review: Houston, Keith, Empire of the Sum: The Rise and Reign of the Pocket Calculator, unabridged 9-hour audiobook, read by Elliot Fitzpatrick, Tantor Audio, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Many members of my generation owned and admired their electronic pocket calculators, which, after dethroning the engineers' slide rules, were themselves unceremoniously replaced by much more powerful computing devices. Nevertheless, calculators did play an important role in the development and history of computing. I have fond memories of my very first electronic calculator, the fairly affordable HP-35, which I bought in 1972 during my grad-school days at UCLA.
Beginning with a history of counting and ancient calculating devices, Houston tracks down the origins of the modern electronic calculator, along with some interesting detours, like how Texas Instruments hijacked high school math curricula across the US by promoting its outdated calculator lines that were highly profitable.
(3) Book review: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Value Creation and Capture: Implications for Developing Countries, UN Digital Economy Report, 2019.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The world's economic and social structures are being transformed by the rapid spread of digital technologies. The good news is that the digital economy is creating many opportunities for developing countries. But there are multiple pieces of bad news to worry about, particularly the widening digital divide and the benefits going disproportionately to a small number of countries, companies, and individuals.
It is imperative that the challenges just cited be addressed in these early years of the digital era, before the problems get out of hand. Success in this domain requires collecting statistics and empirical evidence and offering them as aids to decision-makers across the globe, as they try to adopt sound policies in the face of a fast-evolving digital economy comprising a moving target.
"This first edition of the Digital Economy Report—previously known as the Information Economy Report—examines the scope for value creation & capture in the digital economy by developing countries. It gives special attention to opportunities for these countries to take advantage of the data-driven economy as producers and innovators—but also to the constraints they face—notably with regard to digital data and digital platforms."

2024/01/05 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: Find the area of the quadrangle ABCD Bill Gates and Paul Allen, founders of Microsoft, at Seattle's Lakeside High School Cover image of 'The #MeToo Movement in Iran' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Math puzzle: Find the area of ABCD. [Center] Bill Gates and Paul Allen, founders of Microsoft, at Seattle's Lakeside High School, one of the few schools worldwide that owned an advanced Teletype Model 30 computer in 1968. [Right] The #MeToo Movement in Iran (see the last item below).
(2) First change in Microsoft Windows keyboard in three A newly-added key will launch Microsoft's AI chatbot, which is integrated into Word and other Office products. The software giant sees the key's addition as the entry point into the world of AI on the PC.
(3) Today's surprising space fact: The Voyager 2 spacecraft, launched in 1977, is the most-distant human-made object from Earth. It entered interstellar space in 2012.
(4) Oddities in the Iran explosion that killed 100+ at a ceremony marking the 4th anniversary of General Qasem Soleimani's assassination: None of his three children was in attendance. One of his daughters later said that she had a vision of her dad asking her not to attend! Soleimani's comrades, that is, other IRGC top generals, also skipped the ceremony. No high-level Iranian official, often paying lip service to Soleimani's influence & contributions, was in attendance. These facts make it more likely that Iran's Islamic regime had a hand in the massacre, to create a reason for cracking down on Sunni Muslims protesting their miserable living conditions in Iran's southeastern region. Iranians from all walks of life, particularly ethnic and religious minorities, are forgotten by the government, while billions of dollars in aid are given to Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and other proxy groups to wage war against Israel and the West.
(5) Book review: Yaghoobi, Claudia (editor), The #MeToo Movement in Iran: Reporting Sexual Violence and Harassment, I. B. Tauris, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi is a Roshan Institute Professor in Persian Studies and Director of the Center for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. She has written and lectured widely on social and political issues in Iran, particularly the challenges facing women in a patriarchal and theocratic society.
What makes Iran's #MeToo movement remarkable is the reluctance of many victims of sexual violence to speak up, given that reporting on their experiences may subject them to more violence in the guise of "family honor."
Contributors to this edited volume contextualize the Iranian #MeToo activism within the long tradition of Iran's feminist movements and within the Middle East historical background in 9 chapters that are sandwiched between an introduction by the author and an afterword by Roger Friedland, Janet Afari, and Charlotte Hoppen.
Narratives of survival of sexual violence are often delegitimized due to the cultural structure that gives men exposed as rapists the power to dismiss their accusers as crazy or delusional, particularly given that the victims have not traditionally enjoyed much family or societal support. The problems faced by the survivors are multiplied when they belong to sexually or socially marginalized groups.
You can find the book's table of contents on the Bloomsbury Web site.

2024/01/04 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Hope 2024 is off to a good start for you and your loved ones Humor: Ancient statue of Ayatollah Jannati on display at the Louvre Mural: Iranian mullahs proudly display their program to arm Hamas through Qasem Soleimani (1) Images of the day: [Left] Hope 2024 is off to a good start for you and your loved ones. If you are having problems in keeping your new-year resolutions or face other struggles, hang in there. Spring isn't too far away! [Center] Ancient statue of Ayatollah Jannati on display at the Louvre. [Right] Iranian mullahs proudly display their program to arm Hamas through Qasem Soleimani.
(2) A senior Hamas leader and two of his military aides killed by a drone strike in Beirut: Don't ask me why the Hamas leader was sheltered in Beirut, while his people are under Israeli attacks in Gaza.
(3) Iran previously used proxies to attack shipping vessels: Now, a one-way drone launched from Iran has hit CHEM PLUTO, a Japanese-owned chemical tanker. Additionally, an Iranian Navy ship has entered the Red Sea. The US may start sinking Iranian ships to deter additional attacks.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The year 2023 was the hottest on record, raising fears that global warming is actually accelerating.
- Islamic State takes credit for bombing at the anniversary observation of Qasem Soleimani.
- Harvard President Claudine Gay resigns under the pressure of mounting plagiarism accusations.
- Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in prison: But his list of clients is alive and may come out any day now.
- U. Tehran's NLP Lab has announced the availability of Llama 7b, a large language model trained in Persian.
- World's oldest land animal, a 400-pound tortoise on St. Helena Island, turns 191 (or more).
- Facebook memory from Jan. 4, 2014: With the kids, on the stairs leading to an Isla Vista beach.
- Facebook memory from Jan. 4, 2012: With the kids, on Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf.
(5) Today's surprising space fact: The fastest-moving object in the universe is a pulsar, which rotates at a speed of about 43,000 revolutions per minute.
(6) Japan Airlines jet is engulfed in flames after colliding with another plane on the runway: All passengers and crew got out safely, but 5 people died on the smaller Coast Guard plane.
(7) It seems that finally middling criminals above foot-soldier rank are being prosecuted in the US: But those higher up are still walking free and continuing with their evil deeds.
(8) Vaclav Hovel, on fighting tyranny (not an exact quote): You don't have to march on the streets and risk the consequences. Just decide that you won't participate in any activity based on lies. Serve the truth and the regime of lies will collapse on its own.
(9) A. M. Turing Award honoree Niklaus Wirth [1934-2024] dead at 89: Among his many contributions to computer science & engineering were the formal separation of language syntax & semantics, the programming language Pascal, and wonderful books on data structures, algorithms, & programming. RIP.

2024/01/01 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Welcoming the New Year 2024 Math puzzle: Find the length x Cover image of 'Free Will,' by Sam Harris (1) Images of the day: [Left] Welcoming the New Year 2024 (see the next item below). [Center] Math puzzle: Find the length x. [Right] Free Will, by Sam Harris (see the last item below).
(2) Happy New Year! This is a message we repeat every year, but then find out that the new year is much like the old year: full of challenges and disappointments; injustices and heartbreaks; rough spots and dead ends. Same old same old, as they say. But there are signs that 2024 may actually be different. In the US, fat cats, who have dodged accountability for years, may finally face justice. We may see the end of the brutal Islamic regime in Iran. We may witness Ukrainians prevail over the big bully to their north. Let's not lose hope!
(3) My New-Year 2024 puzzle: Every year, as a new year number emerges, I try to form the numbers 0, 1, 2, 3, ... by putting math symbols (including parentheses) between its digits. In the case of 2024, I have been able to do this for numbers up to 28. The first five appear below as hints and the rest are left to you as puzzles!
0 = 2 + 0 + 2 – 4
1 = (2 + 0) * 2 / 4
2 = 2 + 0 * 2 * 4
3 = 2 ^ 0 – 2 + 4
4 = 2 * 0 * 2 + 4
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Magnitde-7.6 quake in Japan causes damage, but the main threat seems to be from the resulting tsunamis.
- Ordinary Iranians suffer from poor air quality: Government officials use expensive air-purification systems.
- Iran's Supreme Leader claims that 20+ years ago, God spoke through his mouth to IRGC commanders.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy for those suffering from insomnia. [14-minute video]
(5) Today's surprising space fact: The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest spiral galaxy to our Milky Way. The two galaxies will collide in about 4 billion years, creating the new galaxy dubbed "Milkomeda."
(6) Book review: Harris, Sam, Free Will, Free Press, 96 pp., 2012.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Whether or not living beings are free to choose their thoughts and actions has been debated for centuries. A belief in free will seems to be essential for human survival. Thinking about law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, morality—as well as feelings of remorse or personal achievement—without first imagining that every person is the true source of his or her thoughts and actions, seemingly makes no sense.
The scientific consensus appears to be that free will is an illusion. However, we won't run into contradictions if we assume that we have free will (in fact, we almost need the illusion of free will to hold people accountable for their deeds or have any motivation at all), but evidence points in the opposite direction. As physical entities, our behavior (including thoughts) are governed by physical laws, so that our current state, a result of everything that has happened to us since the Big Bang, is theoretically enough to determine our future state.
In this short, easily-readable, and highly-personal book, Sam Harris, well-known for his books The End of Faith (2004), Letter to a Christian Nation (2006), The Moral Landscape (2010), Lying (2011), Waking Up (2014), and Making Sense (2020), provides a clear explanation of why free will is an inherently flawed and incoherent concept.
The intention to do one thing rather than another does not originate in consciousness. Using fMRI studies, neuroscientists have discovered that our brain activity indicates the choice we are going to make more than half-a-second before we become consciously aware that we will make that choice. Case closed!
This panel-discussion video is a good source for an introduction to free will.

Blog Entries for 2023

2023/12/31 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My year in books, according to GoodReads Here come end-of-year lists of the best and the worst of 2023 Cover image of 'To Infinity and Beyond,' by Tyson & Walker (1) Images of the day: [Left] My year in books, according to GoodReads: During 2023, I read and reviewed 113 books, with a total of 35,388 pages. The books ranged in length from 38 to 1388 pages, averaging 313 pages. On average, I gave the books a rating of 4.1 stars. [Center] Here come end-of-year lists of the best and the worst of 2023. [Right] To Infinity and Beyond, by Tyson & Walker (see the last item below).
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Update from 2023 to 2024 is in progress: Please wait. [Image]
- US Navy helicopters sink boats belonging to Yemeni Houthi rebels that attempted to hijack a cargo ship.
- Surf's up: Early afternoon on Saturday, 12/30, at Ventura Harbor Village Beach. [Video 1] [Video 2]
- Are you brave enough to drive on this floating bridge in China's Shizuguan Scenic Area?
- Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor: Part of a harp concert by Sophia Kiprskaya.
(3) Today's surprising space fact: The International Space Station, the largest human-made object in space, is the size of a football field. It travels at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour.
(4) Book review: Tyson, Neil deGrasse and Lindsey N. Walker, To Infinity and Beyond: A Journey of Cosmic Discovery, National Geographic, 2023. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Neil deGrasse Tyson [1958-] is an astrophysicist with a knack for science communication. Through his numerous public lectures, talk-show appearances, and the TV series "StarTalk," Tyson has established himself as a knowledgeable and witty astrophysicist who can explain the mysteries of the universe in the simplest possible terms. Tyson's co-author, Lindsey N. Walker, is a writer and senior producer at "StarTalk."
Let me begin my review by quoting a paragraph from the book's front flap: "The journey begins close to home, exploring Earth's atmosphere, the nature of sunlight, and missions past and present to nearby planets. From there, we surge on to exoplanets, black holes, nebulas, and galaxies. The farther we travel, the wilder the questions become as astrophysical theories collide with common sense. What's the shape of the universe? What happens when two black holes merge? Did other worlds spring into being at the Big Bang? And if so, can we tweak the spacetime continuum and visit them? As we travel through the cosmos and beyond, these and equally intriguing propositions are tackled with cutting-edge science—and a delightful dose of wit."
The book is composed of four parts, each with many sections (named in the table of contents below) and numerous sidebars, veering into "Hollywood Science," "Cosmic Conundrum," "Exploration," and "Science History." The division of material into relatively short sections, augmented by the detours just mentioned, make the book a joy to read. In fact, I plan on a second reading of some of the parts I found more-interesting to ensure proper understanding.
Part 1, Leaving Earth: Earth's atmosphere; Beyond the troposphere; The weight of air; Dreams of ascending; Felix Baumgartner and the edge of space; The billionaire "space race"; From aircraft to rockets; Rocket science and Max Q; Launch locations; Newton, an apple, and a cannonball; Rocketeers in peace and war; Attaining Orbit; Space junk and the Kessler effect; Orbits and their decay; The rocket equation; A lesson from meteorites; Onward to deep space.
Part 2, Touring the Sun's Backyard: Our Sun; A windy star; Mercury, first of the rocky inner planets; How Einstein killed Planet Vulcan; Exploring Mercury; Vibrant Venus; Phases of Venus; Transit of Venus; Exploring Venus; A lesson for Earth from Venus; Earth-Moon system; The tidal force; Mars; Imagined Martians; Exploring Mars; Terraforming Mars; The Asteroid Belt; Potentially hazardous asteroids and comets; The gas giants; Jupiter; A spot of red; Exploring Jupiter; Saturn; Exploring Saturn; Ocean worlds and the search for life (as we know it); Ice giants, Uranus and Neptune; Pluto and Planet X; On to beyond.
Part 3, Into Outer Space: Into thin air; Light, wave or particle?; Light, a wave; Light, a particle; The death of the aether; Gravity and Lagrange Points; Shocking truths; Shock waves beyond the Solar System; A dark mystery; Measurable yet unimaginable magnitude; The hidden messages in rainbows; The hunt for exo-Earths; Space pilgrims.
Part 4, To Infinity and Beyond: To the edge; Space/time; Time travel, heading to the future; Black holes; Time travel, returning to the past; FTL method #1, through the wormhole; FTL method #2, fire up the warp drive; FTL method #3, deploy the tachyons; Breaking and repairing causality; Many, many, many worlds; What about free will?; The journey continues.

2023/12/30 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian woman mullah: 'Hijab doesn't let men take advantage of my beauty' Meme: No means no. Isn't it amazing that we have to spend time on stating this obvious fact? Cover image of Mark L. Schrad's 'Vodka Politics'
Scenes from Friday's walk along Coast Village Road in Montecito: Batch 1 ofphotos Math puzzle: What is the ratio of the area of the red triangle to the area of the blue triangle? Scenes from Friday's walk along Coast Village Road in Montecito: Batch 2 of photos (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Iranian woman mullah: "Hijab doesn't let men take advantage of my beauty." You be the judge! [Top center] Meme of the day: No means no. Isn't it amazing that we have to spend time on stating this obvious fact? (Image credit: Amnesty Int'l) [Top right] Mark L. Schrad's Vodka Politics (see the last item below). [Bottom left & right] Scenes from Friday's walk along Coast Village Road in Montecito. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: What is the ratio of the area of the red triangle to the area of the blue triangle?
(2) Aerogel: This lightest-ever solid substance, which is an excellent insulator, was pioneered by NASA back in the dawn of the Space-Shuttle era. Its density of 0.00016 g/cm^3 makes it 6000+ times lighter than water.
(3) Observation by Neil deGrasse Tyson: The odds of a deck of 52 cards being shuffled into the exact same order is one in 52! (approximately one in 80 * 10^66 or one in 80 unvigintillion).
(4) Today's surprising space fact: Neutron stars are incredibly dense objects. They have a mass of about 1.5 times the mass of our Sun, but are only 12 miles in diameter.
(5) Book review: Schrad, Mark Lawrence, Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State, Oxford, 2014. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Vodka is the alcoholic drink commonly associated with Russia (and the former Soviet Union). Schrad chronicles 500 years' worth of evidence that vodka is a big part of Russia's economy, a major instrument of power, and, perhaps, a source of Russian society's backwardness. Its prohibition may have triggered the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and alcohol poisoning from its overuse leads to some 55,000 deaths annually (~200 times that of the US, which has more than twice the population). From the late 1680s to the 1800s, a tad over half of the state's revenue came from taxes on only two commodities: vodka and salt.
Schrad suggests that societal alcoholism isn't hard-wired into Russians' genetic code but is rather part of its autocratic system that has long used vodka as a tool of control. Examining palace intrigues under the tsars and the drunkenness of Soviet & post-Soviet leaders reveals the central role played by vodka. Most every modern state has successfully curtailed alcoholism, but vodka continues to pose a challenge to the Russian leadership and to the country's economy and healthcare system.
Schrad presents his detailed account of the role of vodka in Russia and the lives of Russians in 24 chapters, with titles such as "Peter the Great: Modernization and Intoxication," "Drunk at the Front: Alcohol and the Imperial Russian Army," "Did Alcohol Make the Soviets Collapse?" "Alcohol and Boris Yeltsin," and "Alcohol and the Demodernization of Russia." Schrad's scholarly treatment of the topic ends with 80 pages of notes.
In the book's ultimate paragraph, Schrad writes: "The story of vodka truly is the story of Russia: not just its culture and society, but its history and statecraft as well. Whether it can ever break free of the shackles of vodka —the autocratic system that nurtures it and is nurtured by it—may well be the most fundamental political question facing the future of Russia."

2023/12/29 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The magnificent salon of the Palazzo della Ragione (Padova), with a ship-shaped ceiling Fruits and finger-foods for my daughter's party with friends Stairway to Heaven: The celestial entrance known as 'Heaven's Gate,' located within the Tianmen Mountain in China
Meme: Do not confuse your love of privilege for the love of freedom What were Iranian intellectuals thinking in the lead-up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution? Math puzzle: Find the measure of the angle labeled with a question mark (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The magnificent salon of the Palazzo della Ragione (Padova), with a ship-shaped ceiling and the imposing cycle of medieval frescoes on an astronomical theme (photo by @urs.eggenberg). [Top center] Fruits and finger-foods for my daughter's party with friends. [Top right] Stairway to Heaven: The celestial entrance known as "Heaven's Gate," located within the Tianmen Mountain in China. [Bottom left] Meme of the day: Do not confuse your love of privilege for the love of freedom. [Bottom center] Iranian intellectuals will be judged harshly by history (see the next item below). [Bottom right] Math puzzle: Find the measure of the angle labeled with a question mark.
(2) What were Iranian intellectuals thinking in the lead-up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution? Here is a snapshot, captured from a letter written by Ali Asghar Haj Sayyed Javadi, just a few days before Khomeini returned to Iran. He predicted that after Khomeini's return, no one would lie, doors would not bear locks, everyone would act with brotherly love, and so on. "The Imam must come so that things are set right and wrongdoing, betrayal, and hate disappear."
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- High surf causes extreme flooding in areas of Ventura, California: Beaches are
- Big waves in Santa Barbara & other SoCal locations cause coastal flooding, delight surfers. [Photos]
- We expect one of the largest yearly declines in US violent crimes: In 2020, we saw the largest increase.
- StarTalk episode: Malcolm Gladwell, on the safety of self-driving cars. [9-minute video]
- A very interesting discussion on free will, or lack thereof.
- We humans have a hard time comprehending exponentially growing quantities and astronomical distances.
- Comedian George Carlin, on America's two favorite sports: Baseball and Football. [3-minute video]
- Sculptures dancing to Tom Jones' "Delilah." [3-minute video]
(4) New York Times' graphically-detailed report of how Hamas weaponized sexual violence in its Nov. 7, 2023, attack on Israel [read only if you can stomach explicit descriptions of sexual violence]: "A two-month investigation by The Times uncovered painful new details, establishing that the attacks against women were not isolated events but part of a broader pattern of gender-based violence."
All those claiming to be feminists must face this question: Do you condemn weaponization of sexual violence against women in organized and chaotic/haphazard acts of war?
(5) Today's surprising space fact: At a distance of about 10,000 light years from us, there is a giant cloud of alcohol. It contains enough alcohol to make 400 trillion pints of beer.
(6) Getting ready for winter quarter 2024: UCSB classes begin on January 8. Here is my updated Web page for the graduate course ECE 254B (Advanced Computer Architecture: Parallel Processing). If anyone is interested to follow along, links to recorded lectures are provided on the Web page.

2023/12/28 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Software developers need to learn about learning One of my favorite light meals: Feta cheese, with sour-cherry jam, on Costco baguettes or Iranian barbari bread ACM has launched the peer-reviewed quarterly journal 'Games: Research & Practice'
AI-powered forecasting: Predicting worldwide weather and cyclone tracks with greater speed and accuracy Math puzzle: Find the area A of the yellow triangle, given the areas of other triangles One hundred years of imagineering: This is the cover theme of E&T Magazine's Nov.-Dec. 2023 issue (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Software developers should learn about learning (see the next item below). [Top center] One of my favorite light meals: Feta cheese, with sour-cherry jam, on Costco baguettes or Iranian barbari bread. [Top right] Computer games gain academic stature: ACM has launched the peer-reviewed quarterly journal Games: Research & Practice, under Editors-in-Chief Sebastian Deterding and Kenny Mitchell from UK academic institutions. [Bottom left] AI-powered forecasting: Predicting worldwide weather and cyclone tracks with greater speed & accuracy. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Find the area A of the yellow triangle, given the areas of other triangles. [Bottom right] One hundred years of imagineering: This is the cover theme of E&T Magazine's Nov.-Dec. 2023 issue, which looks at the centenary of Walt Disney Pictures and how fiction and the film industry have inspired technological advances.
(2) Software developers should learn about learning: This is the theme of the cover feature for the Jan. 2024 issue of Communications of the ACM. The article offers ten pieces of advice to software developers.
- Human memory is not made of bits
- Human memory is made of one limited and one unlimited system
- Experts recognize, beginners reason
- Understanding a concept goes from abstract to concrete and back
- Spacing and repetition matter
- The Internet has not made learning obsolete
- Problem-solving is not a generic skill
- Expertise can be problematic in some situations
- The predictors of programming ability are unclear
- Your mindset matters
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Turkish soldiers kill Kurdish women, execution-style: Where is the outrage against Turkey?
- Teacher: "I won't hang photos of the killers of Iranian youth in my classroom. They belong in the trash bin."
- Google's top-3 search terms for 2023: Titan submersible, Israel-Gaza war, & death of actor Matthew Perry.
- Airplanes still have barf bags in seat pockets: But when was the last time you saw anyone throw up in flight?
- Observation of the day: We don't really wash our hands. We just watch as they wash themselves!
- Facebook memory from Dec. 28, 2018: Recitation of my humorous Persian poem from 1980.
(4) Generative AI's depiction of a child bride: Yes, most of us abhor hearing about girls as young as 9 marrying middle-aged or even old men, but seeing a picture is worth a thousand words.
(5) Today's surprising space fact: Venus's year is shorter than its day. Venus takes about 225 Earth days to orbit the sun, but it rotates on its axis once every 243 Earth days.
(6) Until the 18th Century, women couldn't write on paper: They were allowed only to embroider words on fabric or tapestry. Women like Caroline Schelling, Caroline von Gonda, and Betina von Arnim defiantly created a literary tradition for women, by dropping the needle and picking up the pen. [Facebook post, in Persian]

2023/12/26 (Tuesday): Today, I present 3 book reviews on the digital age and its social consequences.
Cover image of Kenneth Steiglitz's 'The Discrete Charm of the Machine' Cover image of Michael Filimowicz's 'Systemic Bias' Cover image of 'AI vs. Humans' by Eysenck & Eysenck
(1) Book review: Steiglitz, Kenneth, The Discrete Charm of the Machine: Why the World Became Digital, Princeton, 2019. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The analog signals of our televisions, radios, telephones, and computers gave way to digital signals several decades ago. Professor Kenneth Steiglitz (Princeton U.) explains the main reasons behind this transformation. In doing so, he pays tribute to the contributions of geniuses such as Joseph Marie Jacquard (stored-program loom), Charles Babbage (program branching), Alan Turing (discrete abstract computer), Harry Nyquist (digital signal processing), Claude Shannon (notions of information & bandwidth), and Richard Feynman (nanotechnology & quantum computing).
Steiglitz then proceeds to tell us how the brilliant ideas listed above led to transformative systems and applications such as the Internet, artificial intelligence, and autonomous robots, how certain problems continue to challenge us with present-day technology, and whether the toughest of these problems (e.g., traveling salesperson) will be made tractable by quantum computing or by new technologies mimicking the analog/digital mechanisms of the brain.
The history of how the digital idea took over to become the lifeblood of our civilization is impressive, but picturing where this revolutionary idea may take us in the years and decades to come is breathtaking.
(2) Book review: Filimowicz, Michael (ed.), Systemic Bias: Algorithms and Society, Routledge, 2022. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book is one of the titles in Routledge's "Algorithms and Society" series. Other titles in the series include Digital Totalitarianism, Privacy, and Deep Fakes. This fairly small volume contains three ~20-pp. chapters.
- "From 'Diversity' to 'Discoverability': Platform Economy, Algorithms and the Transformations of Cultural Policies" (by Christophe Magis). [Analyzes how the movement away from earlier critical studies of the global cultural economy has produced the weak concept of 'diversity.']
- "Modern Mathemagics: Values and Biases in Tech Culture" (by Jakob Svensson). [An attempt to understand tech culture, its values, and its biases through the metaphor of magic.]
- "Reading the Cards: Critical Chatbots, Tarot and Drawing as an Epistemological Repositioning to Defend Against the Neoliberal Structures of Art Education" (by Eleanor Dare and Dylan Yamada-Rice). [A critique of the neoliberal structures in universities, which undervalues alternative ways of knowing, such as making, drawing, and experimenting with materials.]
I found the coverage of topics somewhat haphazard and the depth of treatment rather disappointing.
(3) Book review: Eysenck, Michael W. and Christine Eysenck, AI vs. Humans, Routledge, 2022. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Most AI books are written by AI experts, who tend to focus on the red-hot field's achievements and positive transformative effects. Authors of the book under review are psychologists who bring their knowledge of human cognition to the discussion. It is becoming increasingly common for non-AI experts to write books about AI, with focus on social, economic, political, and human-development viewpoints.
The book's first six chapters cover a brief history of AI & robotics, AI dominance, human strengths, AI's extent of (un)intelligence, human limitations, and robots & morality. Chapter 7 ponders "the winner" and Chapter 8 considers the future. All chapters are richly illustrated with diagrams and photographs.
The digital economy is changing how companies create value and compete, so AI, as one of the cornerstones of our modern digital economy, will likely dominate the global scene. Strengths and weaknesses of AI and humans are in different domains, so, like many other authors, Eysenck & Eysenck reach the conclusion that AI should augment, not replace, human intelligence.

2023/12/25 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Wishing my family and friends a joyous Christmas, a peaceful week ahead, and a bright new year! My daughter paddle-boarding near Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf A classic car (DeSoto), today on Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf
More photos from Stearns Wharf Christmas Eve in years past (from Facebook memories) A few photos I shot along Cabrillo Blvd. on Sunday, between the Harbor and Stearns Wharf (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Wishing my family and friends a joyous Christmas, a peaceful week ahead, and a bright new year! [Top center] My daughter paddle-boarding near Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf: She started at the Harbor and I walked from the Harbor to the Wharf, where I took these photos on Sunday 12/24. [Top right] Classic DeSoto car, parked on Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf on Sunday (video clip, with music). [Bottom left] More photos from Stearns Wharf. [Bottom center] Christmas Eve in years past (FB memories). [Bottom right] A few photos I shot along Cabrillo Blvd. on Sunday, between the Harbor and Stearns Wharf.
(2) Happy Kwanzaa (December 26), the holiday that celebrates the African diaspora! Kwanzaa means "first fruits of the harvest" in Swahili. [Image]
(3) Ban Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from Facebook, X, and other social-media platforms: Any leader who blocks his/her people from using a platform should be banned from it.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Christ & Newton were both born on Dec. 25: Which one do you think had a greater impact on humanity?
- Five Israeli hostages found dead in Gaza Strip tunnel.
- The US targets Iran-backed militia in Iraq with airstrikes, after they carried out repeated drone attacks.
- NIAC lost favor when it was exposed as a lobby for Iran's mullahs: The Islamist CAIR is now on the ropes.
- Hundreds of Airbus workers fell sick after feasting on lobster & foie gras at the company's holiday party.
- There is now a 3.5-year continuous sea cruise which visits 150 countries and costs $116K for the basics.
- The five biggest tsunami waves in history: The biggest-ever was 1720 feet tall. [10-minute video]
- There's a neighborhood in Mexico City that can't give up on the famous 1960s hippie-favorite VW Beetle.
(5) The airport of the future: Icelandair utilized an AI image generation tool to envisage the architectural landscape of some of the United States' largest airports by 2050.
(6) Does computing have blood on its hands? Writing in the January 2024 issue of Communications of the ACM, columnist Moshe Vardi thinks so, citing hate-mongering, contributing to the youth mental-health crisis, and other misdeeds on social media as examples. "In the fall of 2021, whistleblower Frances Haugen released a massive set of Facebook internal documents to Congress and global news outlets. The documents revealed that Facebook was well aware of the adverse societal impacts of its technology ... It is no wonder that dozens of U.S. states are now suing Meta, accusing it of contributing to the youth mental health crisis." As a first step toward finding appropriate solutions, computing professionals, once considered "Rebels," to borrow a term from "Star Wars," must admit to having had a hand in creating the social-media "Empire."

2023/12/24 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Map: Just 9000 years ago, Britain was connected to continental Europe by an area of land called Doggerland, which is now submerged beneath the southern North Sea Our family's Secret-Santa gift exchange, in-person and via FaceTime Cover image of Thomas Pink's Free Will (1) Images of the day: [Left] Just 9000 years ago, Britain was connected to continental Europe by an area of land called Doggerland, which is now submerged beneath the southern North Sea. [Center] Our family's Secret-Santa gift exchange, in-person and via FaceTime: I got a 3-month membership to Audible (audiobook seller). [Right] Thomas Pink's Free Will: A Very Short Introduction (see the last item below).
(2) Einstein's biggest mistake: He thought that the universe is stationary, ridiculing those who considered it moving or expanding. Einstein's own equations suggested that the universe is moving, but he was so sure this isn't the case that he artificially added a term, which he called "anti-gravity," to make the equations support his view. Finally, when in 1922 Russian mathematician Alexandr Friedman suggested that Einstein should consider a universe in motion, Einstein began to slowly change his mind. It took him nearly a decade, and many publications by other physicists, to reverse his view. Finally, like a true scientist, Einstein admitted his mistake, when he said in 1931, "The redshift of distant nebulae has smashed my old construction like a hammer blow." The theory of an expanding universe led naturally to the Big Bang theory and a beginning for time. Ironically, the term "Big Bang" was coined by physicist Fred Hoyle in the 1940s as a mocking reference to the theory that everything was created out of nothing in the remote past, but this sarcastic nickname stuck.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Iran's Zayandeh Rud River basin in crisis: Report from Iran, published in Science magazine, Dec. 22, 2023.
- Dish TV has to pay a $150,000 space-debris fine for failing to properly de-orbit its Echo-Star-7 satellite.
- A viral dance turns into a collective act of civil disobedience, making Iran's joyless mullahs nervous.
- Can AI therapy help America's mental health problem? There are 20,000 apps claiming they can.
- David Papworth of Intel, on what led to Pentium 6 and how that changed the microarchitectural paradigm.
(4) Book review: Pink, Thomas, Free Will: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2004.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is yet another useful book in Oxford's "Very Short Introduction" series that does a commendable job of covering a complex & extensively-argued subject in just 132 pages. Whether or not we have free will has been the subject of debate among philosophers for many centuries, beginning with Aristotle in 4th-century BCE. Free will is one of the very few problems that modernity does not seem to understand better than past thinkers.
Ordinary (non-philosopher) humans tend to think that we have control over our actions and are thus morally responsible for them. Our feelings & desires, on the other hand, are beyond our control for the most part. Most religions advocate this view and condemn theories postulating the lack of free will, despite the seemingly contradictory assertion that an all-knowing God has charted our path in life.
Western philosophers holding various views on the topic of free will are classified, roughly, as incompatibilists, compatibilists, sceptics, and libertarians.
Incompatibilists believe that the whole universe is defined by causal determinism, making free will impossible. All of our actions have root causes that are beyond our control. Put another way, free will is incompatible with determinism. Therefore, some philosophers reject causal determinism.
Compatibilists think that even if we accept causal determinism, we can still have freedom of action, because only the decision to act is generated deterministically, not the ensuing voluntary action itself.
Sceptics subscribe to incompatibilism but think that even if the universe is not causally determined, it is impossible to act freely, since what is left is chance. In other words, actions are random outcomes of chance events, with will playing no role.
Libertarians believe that a universe determined in part causally and in part randomly leaves room for the freedom to decide on the actions taken. Alongside random & deterministic factors which make up the universe, there is a part of the human consciousness which decides independently. This kind of free will is neither a product of chance nor a consequence of a deterministic cause, but an agent of action itself.
There are many other shades of belief within and between the four main categories above, which can be pursued, perhaps for years, once the basics are understood.

2023/12/23 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mount Damavand greets the first rays of sunlight at dawn One example of many fascinating animations on Etienne Jacob's Web site Elephant Rock, Tongaporutu Beach, New Zealand
City of Goleta's 'Zip Books' Program Fir trees being cut down for Christmas: The St. Nicholas Day Massacre (cartoon) Cover image of Wendy H. Wong's 'We the Data' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Mount Damavand greets the first rays of sunlight at dawn: May brightness come to the entire land of Iran, following the gloom and darkness of the past 45 years. [Top center] Fascinating animations: Here's a GIF example. Many more GIF images & videos are found on Etienne Jacob's Web site, titled "Loops, creative coding." [Top right] Elephant Rock, situated in Tongaporutu Beach, New Zealand. [Bottom left] City of Goleta's "Zip Books" Program: If Goleta Valley Library or its local affiliates do not hold a title, a patron can request the book, which will be purchased using grant money and directly shipped from Amazon.com to the requester's home. [Bottom center] Fir trees being cut down for Christmas: The St. Nicholas Day Massacre. [Bottom right] Wendy H. Wong's We the Data (see the last item below).
(2) Did you know that our solar system rotates around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy? Since its birth, the Sun has gone around 20 times.
(3) Large container ships are going around the Horn of Africa: The Houthis in Yemen have made the Red-Sea route unsafe, adding 10 days to what would otherwise be a 25-day trip. This detour reduces cargo capacity and increases fuel costs. The Western world cannot and will not stand for a rogue nation disrupting international trade. If the Houthis do not stand down, get ready for a major show of force in Yemen.
(4) Book review: Wong, Wendy H., We, the Data: Human Rights in the Digital Age, The MIT Press, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Traditionally, human rights are defined in terms of our physical selves, including our thoughts and actions. In this digital age, we are all creators of data through our interactions in cyberspace, thus facilitating surveillance. Recording, analyzing, and permanently storing data about us, what Wong, a political-science professor at UBC, calls "datafication" of the world, necessitates that our data be included in any consideration and definition of human rights.
We should speak out when we feel we're being left out of the most-important conversations about technology, ethics, and policy. Prevalence of data does change the game in the sense of complicating the safeguarding of our lives and developing the human potential. Our rights and values have changed over time through various social developments and associated adjustments. There is no reason why we cannot adapt once more to make sure that datafication, and the age of surveillance capitalism it engenders (as discussed in Shoshana Zuboff's wonderful book), does not harm our humanity, that is, compromise our autonomy, community, dignity, and equality.
The book's eight chapters, listed below, illustrate the transformation of the human experience in the era of pervasive data and emphasize where autonomy, community, dignity, and equality can shape discourses and policies on data governance. Important topics, such as the right to be forgotten, facial recognition technology, the growing power of Big Tech & its near-total lack of accountability, are all included.
- Data Are Everywhere
- Why Human Rights and Data Go Together
- Data Rights
- Is Your Face Yours?
- Do We Need Human Rights When We're Dead?
- Big Tech and Us
- Data Literacy, or Why We Need Libraries, Not Twitter
- We, the Data
The book ends with a call to action through the recognition of a human right to data literacy. By itself, data literacy isn't enough to safeguard human rights, but it is a necessary and useful prerequisite.

2023/12/22 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
You are free to do what you want in your church: However, stay away from dictating what should be taught in science classrooms Cover image of Brian Kernighan's 'Millions, Billions, Zillions' Six generations (ages 111, 88, 70, 39, 16, 0.13 years) in one frame (1) Images of the day: [Left] You are free to do what you want in your church: However, stay away from dictating what should be taught in science classrooms. [Center] Brian Kernighan's Millions, Billions, Zillions (see the last item below). [Right] Six generations (ages 111, 88, 70, 39, 16, 0.13 years) in one frame.
(2) Where are Hamas leaders and administrators? Normally, when a country or territory faces an emergency (war or natural disaster), the leaders lead, calming the people, telling them where to go, and facilitating the distribution of water, food, & meds. They don't go underground or flee to other countries.
(3) "Margin Call": A 2011 American drama based loosely on Lehman Brothers and other over-leveraged investment banks that brought about the 2008 financial collapse. [10-minute video]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- War front has already been opened between Israel and Hezbollah in northern Israel.
- Will the US continue to appease the Houthis, despite their heightened aggression on behalf of Iran?
- Goleta Valley Library receives $4.3 million state grant for much-needed facility improvements.
- It's okay that some children are afraid of the dark, but it's tragic that some adults are afraid of the light.
- Persian cooking: Recipe for tahchin-e morgh (a dish with chicken & rice).
(5) Book review: Kernighan, Brian W., Millions, Billions, Zillions: Defending Yourself in a World of Too Many Numbers, Princeton, 2018. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Brian Kernighan [1942-], a Canadian computer scientist, was one of the three scientists at Bell Labs who revolutionized their field by devising the UNIX operating system. Later, he co-authored the first book on the highly-influential C programming language. So, this book on huge numbers and their impact on our society, hailed by the publisher as "an essential guide to recognizing bogus numbers and misleading data," should be considered a side project for Kernighan.
We humans have the ability to recognize small numbers built into our brain by evolution. We immediately recognize the difference between one predator and three predators following us. Larger numbers are abstract constructs whose recognition depends on our acquired computational abilities. In modern times, we have developed an appreciation for million and billion, in part because of the widespread use of the terms "millionaire" and "billionaire." Even here, most people have no idea how long it takes to count from 1 to 1,000,000. Trillion-dollar national budgets are beyond the grasp of even the most-numerate people.
With the help of examples drawn from journalism, advertising, politics, and other domains, Kernighan shows us how numbers can mislead and misrepresent. Consequences of misunderstanding numbers can be serious in domains such as voting, purchasing, and making investment decisions.
One essential skill for our modern world is the ability to tell whether a number is a ballpark estimate or the result of precise calculations. Another is the skill to quickly determine whether a number makes sense. Ballpark estimates are misrepresented if they come with too many digits of precision. A columnist's 1996 claim that Americans receive 2 million tons of junk mail per day is easily refuted by dividing the number by the US population and then estimating the load of a mail-carrier for a residential neighborhood. Complementing the ability to recognize fake or misleading numbers is learning how to make our own estimates when needed.
Collectively, the skills mentioned in the preceding paragraph, which this book attempts to develop, help us avoid becoming a victim of inadvertent or deliberate number abuse.

2023/12/21 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Celebrating the ancient Persian festival, Yalda Night Two math challenges: Simplify the first expression to the extent possible and solve the equation for n Throwback Thursday: The garrote, is a device for execution that found its way to modern times from the 1st-century BC Rome (1) Images of the day: [Left] Celebrating the ancient Persian festival, Yalda Night (see the next item below). [center] Two math challenges: Simplify the first expression to the extent possible and solve the equation for n. [Right] Throwback Thursday: The garrote, is a device for execution that found its way to modern times from 1st-century-BC Rome. The condemned would sit with a metal clap wrapped around his neck before the executioner turned the screw that would theoretically burst his brainstem, killing him instantly.
(2) Happy Yada Night (Shab-e Yalda): Iranians celebrate the longest night of the year occurring at winter solstice, because in ancient times they believed that evil forces were strongest on this longest night of the year and they began to weaken over the following days and months. Let's hope that the evil forces of Iran's murderous Islamic regime weaken and disappear from the face of the Earth. The images above include a Persian poem I composed for Yalda Night in December 2022. [Persian traditions & songs for Yalda night]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Rudi Giuliani was ordered to pay $148 million in a defamation case: Within days, he filed for bankruptcy.
- Saudi Arabia shoots down a Houthi missile, heading from Yemen towards Israel.
- Journalists @Sima_Sabet & @FardadFarahzad are targets of assassination plots in the UK by Iran's agents.
- Mass shooting in downtown Prague: The incident left 14 people dead and ~30 injured.
- Farhang Foundation's celebration of Yalda Night. [43-minute video]
- Facebook memory from Dec. 21, 2019: Two of the many versions of "Shab-e Toolani," a Yalda Night song.
- Facebook memory from Dec. 21, 2018: Earth at Winter Solstice.
- Facebook memory from Dec. 21, 2017: Calligraphic rendering of a verse by the Persian poet Sa'adi.
(4) Quote of the day: "By 2050, one thousand dollars of computing will exceed the processing power of all human brains on Earth." ~ Futurist & inventor Ray Kurzweil
(5) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Hassan Hossein Zadeh spoke under the title "Yalda Night and Mithraism." Before the talk, a video clip about Yalda Night was screened by Mitra Zaimi and a poem composed for Yalda Night last year was recited by yours truly. There were ~70 attendees.
The talk consisted of several short sections, as follows.
Introduction: Yalda Night is the birthday of Mithra (the Sun, symbol of love & goodness).
Linguistic roots: The word "Yalda" is composed of two parts, "Yal" meaning "Sun" and "dey" meaning "day."
Cosmological connection: Winter Solstice, when we have the longest night of the year.
Customs: Putting on one's best clothes and enjoying fruits, while celebrating with joy and reading poetry.
Yalda Night spread: Redness of the spread & the fruit (pomegranate, watermelon) represent warmth & love.
History: The earliest celebration of Yalda is unknown, but the tradition is at least 2500 years old.
Mithraism: The ancient Mithra or Mehr is a symbol of love, loyalty, truthfulness, brotherhood & victory.
Rome's official religion: Mithraism was adopted by Romans and was practiced for 400 years.
Link to Christianity: Popularity of Mithraism in Rome led to Christianity adopting many of its traditions.

2023/12/19 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Zoroaster statue by Edward Potter, installed in the 1950s atop New York's Appellate Court, Madison Square Park, Manhattan Comedian Jon Stewart finally understands the Republicans: Fiscal responsibility is a requirement only for spending programs that help the poor Cover image of 'The (Mis)Behavior of Markets' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Zoroaster statue by Edward Potter, installed in the 1950s atop New York's Appellate Court, Madison Square Park, Manhattan. [Center] Comedian Jon Stewart finally understands the Republicans: Fiscal responsibility is a requirement only for spending programs that help the poor. Paying for programs benefiting the rich is never discussed. [Right] The (Mis)Behavior of Markets (see the last item below).
(2) Justice served: A Swedish appeals court upholds the life sentence of Hamid Nouri, one of the Iranian officials on the "Death Panel" responsible for the massacre of political prisoners in the late 1980s.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Vera Molnar, a Hungarian-born artist who has been called the godmother of generative art, dead at 99.
- Brain-like supercomputer, that's much smaller & uses less energy than comparable machines, due in April.
- Albert Einstein on education: "Education isn't the learning of facts; it's the training of the mind to think."
- Einstein's other equation, A = x + y + z: A is success, x is work, y is play, z is keeping your mouth shut.
(4) Book review: Mandelbrot, Benoit B. and Richard L. Hudson, The (Mis)Behaviour of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin, and Reward, Profile Books, 2008. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Benoit Mandelbrot's influence on geometry has been likened to Albert Einstein's contributions to physics. In this book, Mandelbrot brings his ideas on chaos and complexity science to the field of economics, making a convincing case that decision-making based on normal distribution, taught to business majors for over a century, need to be updated and that fractals provide a useful tool for improving the predictions of existing economic theories.
As an example of the difficulty of predicting or even recognizing market variations after the fact, the authors present four price-charts of the kind you find in a brokerage-house report, two of which represent the prices of real financial instruments and two are forgeries. The challenge is to identify the real ones. Putting charts of the daily price changes side-by-side with the price charts helps us identify the real and forged charts.
The paradox of markets is that both real human emotions/decisions and stochastic/chance events affect the outcomes. A company's share price may rise because new income-producing contracts were signed, which prompted a bunch of investors to buy shares. On the other hand, there are seemingly random variations that no one understands and occasionally catch everyone by surprise, because normal distribution suggests that wild fluctuations are rare events.
For the period 1916-2003, the bell-curve-based theory predicts 58 days when the DJIA index moved more than 3.4 percent, but there were 1001. Theory predicts 6 days of index swings beyond 4.5 percent, but there were 366. And index swings of more than 7.0 percent should come once every 300 millennia; in fact, the 20th century saw 48 such days.
Mandelbrot proposes that there are two mechanisms at work. The Gaussian mechanism favors stability: The best predictor for tomorrow's price is today's price. There are frequent small changes and rare jumps. Fractal geometry provides just the right tool to model abrupt changes of the kind that takes people by surprise. In the same way that the fractal patterns repeat themselves along all time frames, stock prices also appear to move in replicating geometric patterns through time.
Even though Mandelbrot's insights provide us with an understanding of why markets behave the way they do, these insights do not help us predict market movements. Fractals explain roughness, a property that is superimposed on the smoother behavior provided by the Gaussian model. Prediction based on fractals would require that we estimate the length of time the fractal should be repeated, which is inherently difficult, given the infinitely-recursive nature of fractals.
You can hear Mandelbrot talk about the book in this 73-minute lecture he gave at Microsoft Research.

2023/12/17 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Italy's Dolomite Mountains (credit: NYT) Acoustic design of wall & ceiling of the music hall at Al-e-Qapu Palace, Esfahan, Iran A plate of exotic fruit to celebrate the end of the fall quarter (1) Images of the day: [Left] Italy's Dolomite Mountains (credit: NYT). [Center] Acoustic design of wall and ceiling of the music hall at Al-e-Qapu Palace, Esfahan, Iran. [Right] A plate of exotic fruit to celebrate the end of the fall quarter: Winter quarter will begin on January 8, so we have 3 weeks to enjoy the holidays.
(2) European Parliament awards the Sakharov Prize, EU's top human-rights honor, to Mahsa Amini and the #WomanLifeFreedom movement. Amini's family members were barred from traveling to accept the award.
(3) Do not trust dietary recommendations: After decades of telling us that whole-milk & other full-fat dairy products are bad for us, thus bringing about an endless array of low-fat and non-fat products, scientists now think that dairy fat may actually be good for us, reducing the risk of diabetes & lowering blood pressure.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Fake-news has risen 1000% since May: AI is making it easy for anyone to create propaganda outlets.
- Ex-officials of Islamic Republic of Iran living in US & Canada are facing increased scrutiny.
- Today, we came across some of my daughter's school artwork from years past.
- Jungle law: Buffalo relentlessly defends its calf against lions, before being forced to surrender.
(5) In the US, the best political commentaries come from comedians: Palestinians should set a more-realistic goal than "From the River to the Sea." Wars end through negotiations, which require a bit more flexibility than demanding 100% for your side and offering 0% to the other side.
(6) Pinkwashing: According to Palestinian-run BDS website (boycott, divestment, sanctions), pinkwashing is a propaganda ploy by the Israeli government "that cynically exploits LGBTQIA+ rights to project a progressive image while concealing Israel's occupation and apartheid policies oppressing Palestinians." It seems that all groups and nationalities are prone to falling for baseless conspiracy theories.
(7) AI job recruiters are here: Jenny Johnson, introducing herself as "the AI representation of elite recruiting ... with real-time global job insights, extensive industry knowledge, and 24/7 availability," contacted me (actually, the e-mail was sent mistakenly to my daughter), asking whether a paragraph she had put together about who I am professionally is accurate, so that she could send me "curated opportunities based on this profile." The paragraph was actually quite good as an AI program's work.
(8) The biggest Hamas tunnel in Gaza Strip uncovered by Israeli forces: The honeycomb of passageways features a drainage system, electricity, ventilation, sewage, rails, and a communication network.
(9) The beauties of Markoff equation: The equation x^2 + y^2 + z^2 = 3xyz has an infinite number of integer solutions and finding those solution reveals much beautiful mathematics. For example, if (x, y, z) is a solution, then so is (3yzx, y, z). A Markoff number is a positive integer z such that there exist two positive integers x and y satisfying the Markoff equation. The first few Markoff numbers are 1, 2, 5, 13, 29, 34, 89, 169, 194, 233, 433, 610, 985, ... ; Compare these with Fibonacci numbers 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, ... to discover an interesting relationship.

2023/12/15 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Obesity meets its match: Science magazine's cover feature Math puzzle: We have an outer square, a quarter-circle of radius 12, and a half-circle of radius 6. Find the area of the green right triangle Last night's shirin-polo (sweet or adorned rice) for early dinner, by my daughter (1) Images of the day: [Left] Breaktrough in treating obesity (see the next item below). [Center] Math puzzle: We have an outer square, a quarter-circle of radius 12, and a half-circle of radius 6. Find the area of the green right triangle. [Right] Last night's shirin-polo (sweet or adorned rice) for early dinner, by my daughter.
(2) Obesity meets its match: Drug treatments for obesity, a major public-health concern in the US, have a sorry past. But now, new therapies are breaking the mold, raising hope that they may lower rates of obesity and interlinked chronic diseases. The drugs, which mimic a gut hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1, are reshaping medicine, popular culture, and even global markets in ways both electrifying and discomfiting.
(3) Pluto back in the spotlight: It was demoted from a planet to a dwarf planet (it's smaller than our Moon) in 2006. Now, its unusually large moon, Charon, with a diameter that is over half that of Pluto itself, and the possibility of life beneath the surface of the extremely-cold dwarf planet have gotten scientists excited.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The next global superpower isn't who you think: An insightful 15-minute TED talk by Ian Bremmer.
- Is my toddler a stochastic parrot? An insightful, creative, and moving take on AI. [Illustrated essay]
- We tend to think that Americans aren't happy at work, but persistent employment misery may be a myth.
- McDonald's is releasing a new limited-edition Happy Meal for adults, complete with a very special toy.
(5) The Sun's warmth is an almost endless source of energy for us on Earth: Now, it seems, the coldness of deep space can also be tapped for energy. It may be decades before this scheme can be used at scale, but already chilling water to cool buildings by as much as 5 degrees Celsius has been demonstrated. The key to this advance is a new material that is remarkably efficient at sending heat out to the vast reservoir of cold in deep space, while preventing heating from both the Sun and the environment.
(6) The AI weather forecaster arrives: Trained on 40 years of weather data and models, artificial intelligence can now forecast the paths of hurricanes with eerie accuracy. [Source: Science magazine]
(7) Proof-of-concept spintronic probabilistic computer developed by Japan's Tohoku U. and UC Santa Barbara: The computer uses stochastic magnetic tunnel junctions interfaced with powerful FPGAs to achieve robustness and offer the fastest p-bits at the circuit level.
(8) Is Hamas really Islamic? Many, including some Muslims, denounce Hamas as a fringe group that betrays Islamic values, but Hamas does consider itself first and foremost an Islamic movement, dedicated to enforcing the dictates of Islam (sharia), including through jihad.
(9) A viral dance and "Happiness Campaign" frustrates Iran's clerics: It all started when a 70-year-old fish-market stall owner nicknamed "Booghy" grooved in public, an act the regime labeled as "criminal dancing."

2023/12/14 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Santa Barbara's Courthouse: Photographed yesterday on a spring-like early afternoon Three women in the spotlight: Golshifteh Farahani, Narges Mohammadi, Shirin Ebadi Socrates Think Tank talk by Dr. Mohammad B. Bagheri (1) Images of the day: [Left] Santa Barbara's Courthouse: Photographed yesterday on a spring-like early afternoon. [Center] Three Iranian women in the spotlight (see the next item below). [Right] Socrates Think Tank talk on brainwashing (see the last item below).
(2) Who are the sworn enemies of Iran & Iranians? From social media posts, you would think that Golshifteh Farahani, Narges Mohammadi, and Shirin Ebadi are the enemies, deflecting the spotlight from Ali Khamenei and his criminal gang. More has been written about Farahani's singing at the Nobel dinner than about the dictator keeping Mohammadi in prison and depriving her of personally accepting the biggest honor of her life. It can't be accidental that all three perceived enemies are women!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Narges Mohammadi's statement for her Nobel Peace Prize. [French, English, Persian]
- Nobel Laureate Narges Mohammadi's letter to Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Hjalmar Kristersson.
- A logo that NASA dumped over 30 years ago is making a comeback, both inside and outside the agency.
- New York, IBM, and Micron will collaborate in $10 billion chip research complex near U. Albany. [WSJ]
(4) Wednesday night's Socrates Think Tank talk: Dr. Mohammad B. Bagheri spoke on "Brainwashing." There were ~130 attendees.
One problem with studying brainwashing is that both those who engage in it and their victims tend to vehemently deny being a part of it. We tend to view brainwashed people as unfortunate others, even though we may also be victims without knowing it. Remember that no one is immune from brainwashing; it isn't something that happens only to others.
Brainwashing is a process of controlling a person's mind by interfering with his/her thoughts and beliefs. It is much harder to brainwash someone who is familiar with critical thinking, but just being educated does not immunize one against it.
Brainwashing can be of soft or hard kind. Soft brainwashing most-commonly occurs through education, news broadcasts, commercial ads, party politics, and punishment/rehabilitation (as in a jail). Hard brainwashing often entails various kinds of pressure, frightening, torture, or various kinds of drugs.
Question: Both in English and Persian the word "brainwashing" brings to mind removing or erasing brain contents, whereas what we really mean is altering thoughts and beliefs, that is, erasing and replacing them with new ones. Unfortunately, these non-descriptive terms are too established for us to change them. Even in French, the term for washing (lavage) is used.
Answer: Perhaps this non-descriptive term, that has to be constantly defined and explained, is one of the reasons for brainwashing not enjoying acceptance in the scientific community (it is often viewed as pseudo-science). Two other terms, "Coercive persuasion" and "mind control," are a lot better, but they are not used as much as brainwashing.

2023/12/13 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Some facts about the song 'It's Christmas Once Again in Santa Barbara' Watercolor portrait of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: by American artist Pam Wenger (1953-); on paper, 9 x 12 Cover image of David Epstein's 'Range' (1) Images of the day: [Left] "It's Christmas Once Again in Santa Barbara" is the title of a rather cheesy song written by Barry De Vorzon, who explains its origins at the beginning of this 4-minute music video (image credit: Santa Barbara Independent). [Center] Watercolor portrait of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by American artist Pam Wenger (1953-); on paper, 9 x 12. [Right] David Epstein's Range (see the last item below).
(2) "Saffron and Shabbat: Stories of Iranian Jewish Cooking in Diaspora": This is the title of a guest post on Ajam Media Collective by Tannaz Sassooni (@tannazsassooni), a Los-Angeles-based food writer. She begins by noting that she grew up on the floor of the kitchen, where her mother cooked dinner every night of the week. Sassooni ends her wonderfully-illustrated post by noting that if we don't document the rich culinary legacy that our matriarch left us, the heritage will be lost, as each new generation in the family living in diaspora moves further from the traditions of a distant 'home.'
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Discussion on the Confederate Flag in a 1988 episode of "Golden Girls." [4-minute video]
- Here's a challenge for you: A daunting 42,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. I haven't gone beyond 2500 pieces!
- Armenians are happy people: Part of a concert in which even the orchestra conductor dances!
- A smart comedy routine about why it makes sense to have 13 four-week months in a year.
- Facebook memory from Dec. 13, 2020: Darvish Khan's "Reng-e Parichehr & Parizad" (Persian music).
- Facebook memory from Dec. 13, 2018: Protest sign reading "We need healthcare not wealthcare."
(4) Book review: Epstein, David, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, unabridged 11-hour audiobook, read by Will Damron, Penguin Audio, 2019. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Malcolm Gladwell popularized the so-called "10,000-Hour Rule," the notion that repetition and practice are necessary for mastering something. Epstein argues that this theory of specialization applies to a limited number of skills and fails to set its adherents up for success in others. There is no evidence that someone who focuses on a single instrument beginning with childhood always ends up being more successful than multi-instrument experimenters.
Examples where repetition and practice pay off include playing classical music and golf (where the player repeatedly encounters pretty much similar situations). In other areas, sampling from a variety of domains before settling on a specialty or skill to pursue, that is having a broader range, is helpful.
Epstein maintains that the advice "never, ever quit" may be misguided. In fact, knowing when to quit one activity and starting something different is quite valuable. Van Gogh, who died at age 37, didn't develop his distinctive style until he was 34. He experimented with many skills and trades, failing in all of them, until a chance application of thick paint when he was painting during a storm created his characteristically bold style.
From his interviews with many successful people, Epstein arrived at the conclusion that late-blooming and meandering paths are the general rule rather than the exception. According to Epstein, avoiding super-specialization, or combining breadth and depth, allows you to benefit from the outsider advantage. The very top scientists participate in activities outside their areas of expertise. The higher up they are in scientific prestige, the more likely they are to have outside interests.
Active cultivation of inefficiency via taking the road less traveled buys you more advantages and is definitely not a waste of time. Frequent quitters and switchers end up with the most-fulfilling careers. In today's complex world, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences & perspectives will increasingly thrive.
[P.S.: A Persian review/discussion of Range is available in this 58-minute BPlus podcast.]

2023/12/11 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fossil of Gorgosaurus, T. rex's smaller cousin, has partially-digested drumsticks of two birdlike dinosaurs where its stomach once was Math puzzle: Determine whether the orange point is inside or outside the closed curve shown After a couple of weeks of intensive work, I am almost finished with my combination office/library/bedroom (1) Images of the day: [Left] A first of its kind archaeological discovery: Two researchers have found a fossil of Gorgosaurus, T. rex's smaller cousin, with the partially-digested drumsticks of two birdlike dinosaurs where its stomach once was. The discovery opens a window into the behavior and diet of a predator that lived 75 million years ago. [Center] Math puzzle: A closed curve divides the points on a plane into three disjoint subsets, that is, points inside the curve, points outside the curve, and those on the curve. For the closed curve shown, how would you go about determining whether the orange point is inside or outside the curve? [Right] After a couple of weeks of intensive assembly work, I am almost finished with my combination office/library/bedroom. Just have to place a desk along the third wall and move my books into the bookcases.
(2) Rise in US traffic deaths: Until a decade ago, US traffic deaths had fallen by 90% from their 1920 level, thanks to better road & vehicle designs and greater awareness of drunken driving. While the decline has continued over the past decade in nearly all advanced countries, the US rate is on the rise again. [Source: NYT]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- New engineering advance: Floating solar farms are proving feasible and effective.
- For the 2024 Golden Globe Awards, "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" lead the pack with 9 and 8 nominations.
- How Israel was born: A 14-minute video from the BPlus podcast creators (in Persian, with English subtitles).
- Mahsa Vahdat sings a Persian song, with Kurdish melody, at the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
- When dancing is deemed a crime in Iran, it becomes a political statement and an act of civil disobedience.
- Iranians are shaking & moving to the same tune that got an old man in trouble for "criminal" dancing.
(4) Some Iranians need to lighten up: The mullahs have declared dancing a criminal act, going as far as blocking the Instagram account of an old man who joyfully danced in an Iranian fish market. Other demonstrations of joy are similarly criminalized. One would think that younger, more-modern Iranians have no problems with showing joy on the streets or with breaking the stuffy "royal" protocol at the Norwegian dinner in honor of Narges Mohammadi, the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is in prison and could not attend. Didn't we rebel against a "royal" protocol and aren't we fighting against a "divine" protocol?
(5) Global warmth: We worry about another degree or two increase in average temperatures on Earth, as we should. But macro-level temperatures do not reflect what individual human beings experience. For example, many women who spend significant time in kitchens already suffer from the ill health effects of exposure to high temperatures, particularly in developing countries. Ditto for certain factory or mine workers. A further increase in temperatures will only exacerbate these health consequences. Economically-disadvantaged groups bear the brunt of rising temperatures and the resulting extreme weather conditions. Urban neighborhood, where the poor live, are affected more than suburbs or rural aeras.
(6) A final thought for the day, from comedian Jimmy Kimmel: "Just because you think Alfred is too old to take care of the Batcave, you don't replace him with the Joker."

2023/12/10 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Last night's loobia-polo (bean-rice) dinner by my daughter My makeshift work bench, as I continue to assemble IKEA bookcases: Only a couple more to go, plus extension shelves at the top Narges Mohammadi's children accept her Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf, as she remains imprisoned in Iran
(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Loobia-polo (bean-rice) dinner by my daughter. [Top center] My makeshift work bench, as I continue to assemble IKEA bookcases: Only a couple more to go, plus extension shelves at the top to go all the way to the ceiling. [Top right] Narges Mohammadi's children accept her Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf, as she remains imprisoned in Iran: Mojgan Shajarian performs "Morgh-e Sahar" ("Dawn Bird") at the ceremonies (4-minute video). [Bottom row] Three math puzzles: Find the fraction of each square's area that is shaded blue (left & right) and the ratio R/r in the center diagram with 2 circles, a semicircle, & a square.
(2) "Criminal dancing": Two words that tell you all you need to know about Iran's joyless theocratic regime, which has blocked an old man's Instagram account because he posted a video of himself dancing.
(3) Meanwhile in Texas: Six middle-age-to-older men assisted by three out-of-touch women sitting on the Texas Supreme Court have temporarily halted a lower court's decision to authorize a woman to have an emergency abortion despite the state's near-total ban.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Egypt's Pres. Sisi is Gaza war's big winner: His sinking popularity bounced back ahead of today's election.
- Penn President resigns after allowing a Palestinian conference on campus & evading questions in Congress.
- Amnesty International publishes 120-page report on dissidents being raped by Iran's security forces.
- The designation A-list university finds a new meaning: At Yale, nearly everyone gets "A"s.
- The saga of corruption continues in Iran: Trillions of tomans have disappeared in Tehran mayor's office.
- Missing tomato found at the International Space Station: "Houston, we have the tomato"!
- Just came across this TV ad jingle for a constipation medication: "Number 2 should be easy to do"!
- "Jamaal Jamaaloo": An old southern-Iranian song has gone viral in India, thanks to a Bollywood movie.
(5) Carl Jung on evil: "In the course of his long and productive life, Jung said a great deal about evil but relatively seldom in one place and never in the form of a single essay on the subject. His position must therefore be pieced together from many writings. However, Jung did have a consistent position on evil, which is clearly apparent in this collection. In his early work on the unconscious, Jung considered the role of evil in the mental processes of the severely disturbed. Later, he viewed the question of moral choices within the framework of his ideas about archetypes and the shadow. Murray Stein's selection and introduction show how Jung's thoughts on evil are related to these other facets of his wide-ranging thinking. Jung on Evil will appeal to all those interested in Jung, as well as students of religion, ethics and psychology."
As contemporary Persian poet Fereydoon Moshiri wrote in his wonderful poem "Gorg," there is a wolf (analog of our dark side) embedded in each of us which is responsible for all immoral and cruel acts, and this wolf is connected to and is nourished by wolves in other people.

2023/12/08 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Hanukkah to all those who observe the ancient Jewish Festival of Lights The IKEA Billy bookcases I am assembling to cover two walls in my new home have a recess in the lower back side to accommodate baseboards The cognitive powers of farm animals: New research is revealing surprising complexity in the minds of goats, pigs, and other livestock
A few color images from 'Your Brain on Art,' the book chosen for A few B&W images from 'Your Brain on Art,' the book chosen for A panel discussion on the Iranian film history (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Hanukkah to all those observing the ancient Jewish Festival of Lights: This year, the festival is on December 08-15, and as usual for Jewish festivals, observance started last night, on the eve of the first day. [Top center] I love IKEA's designs: The Billy bookcases I am assembling for my new home have a recess in the lower back side to accommodate baseboards. [Top right] The cognitive powers of farm animals: New research is revealing surprising complexity in the minds of goats, pigs, and other livestock. [Bottom left & center] A few color and B&W images from Your Brain on Art, the book chosen for "UCSB Reads 2024" program. [Bottom right] A panel discussion on Iranian film history (see the last item below).
(2) Many anti-Israeli protesters claim that they are anti-Zionists, not anti-Semites: I am willing to accept this if they also say that they are pro-Palestinians, not pro-murderous-Hamas.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- U. Nevada Las Vegas shooting leaves 3 dead and 1 critically injured: The gunman was killed by police.
- Israel says it plans to flood the Hamas tunnels in Gaza with sea water.
- Surprise, surprise: Vladimir Putin says he will seek another term as President of Russia.
- A win for Russia: The US Senate votes down Ukraine aid package, despite plea by President Biden.
(4) Former Islamic Republic of Iran top-level official ousted from his US faculty position: Oberlin College has removed Professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati from his tenured position.
(5) "Former Soviet Central Asia and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict": The new republics with significant Muslim populations have little baggage in the conflict, given their fairly recent independence. This provides an opportunity for both sides of the conflict to recruit them as allies.
(6) Iranian Cinema: 123 Years of History": This was the title of a panel discussion, sponsored by Georgetown University's Jalinous Lecture Series, featuring:
- Dr. Golbar Rekabtalaei (Historian, Author, Assoc. Prof. of History, Seton Hall U.)
- Dr. Pedram Partovi (Historian, Author, Assoc. Prof. of History, American U.)
- Ehsan Khoshbakht (Filmmaker, Film Curator, Writer, Critic)
In the late 1990s, a vault in Golestan Palace was discovered to hold films from the Qajar era, which revealed Iranian Cinema to be much older that we previously thought. Early Iranian films were private or shown in very limited screenings. Commercial Iranian cinema came much later, with the industry being younger than those in India and several other countries in the region.
Dubbing foreign films into Persian began in Italy and Turkey, before a thriving dubbing industry was established inside Iran. Similarly, early Persian films were made by Iranians in other countries (e.g., India) or by foreign filmmakers inside Iran, before a domestic film industry came into being.
The "alternative cinema" that emerged from the 1960s was mostly government-supported. Ironically, while the government was instrumental in launching a more-progressive Iranian cinema, its control and censorship tendencies have been a constant theme that have stretched through the Islamic Republic.
The term "filmfarsi," which became a pejorative term for poorly-made Iranian films, was initially used to advertise dubbed films that allowed Iranian audiences to watch films in Persian.

2023/12/07 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian Girl Scouts from the city of Sanandaj in the 1960s Gigantic newspaper headline from 1979, announcing Shah's departure from Iran Iranian women computer specialists in a photo from the summer of 1973
TED Immigrant Diaspora begins with an Iranian installment IEEE Central Coast Section holiday event in Santa Barbara, with Dr. Paul Leonardi as speaker Taylor Swift has been chosen as Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2023 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday (1): Iranian Girl Scouts from the city of Sanandaj in the 1960s. [Top center] TBT (2): Gigantic newspaper headline from 1979, announcing Shah's departure from Iran (photo by Akbar Nazemi). [Top right] TBT (3): Iranian women computer specialists in a photo from the summer of 1973, and the post-Islamic-Revolution headline of a fundamentalist newspaper about computers bringing dependence on imperialism. [Bottom left] TED Immigrant Diaspora begins with an Iranian installment (see the next item below). [Bottom center] IEEE Central Coast Section event in Santa Barbara (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Taylor Swift has been chosen as Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2023.
(2) "TED Immigrant Diaspora: Iranian": In a series of eight brief talks under the sponsorship of Farhang Foundation, young Iranian immigrants related their stories, composed of obstacles & heartbreaks as well as unexpected & much-deserved successes.
The participants were: Desiree Akhavan (Filmmaker); Leili Anvar (Poetry Professor); Dr. Abbas Ardehali (Cardiothoracic Surgeon); Maryam Banikarim (Recovering Executive); Newsha Ghaeli (Data Detective); Dr. Hani Goodarzi (Biomedical Researcher); Golriz Lucina (Creative Producer); Niaz Nawab (Singer & Composer).
The program starts at the 12:00-minute mark of this 113-minute video.
(3) New reporting on October 7 crimes: Hamas terrorists raped Israeli women both before & after they were shot in the head. Women's body parts were tossed around for fun. ISIS actions seem tame by comparison.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Presidents of Harvard, Penn, & MIT grilled by Congress for how they dealt with anti-Semitism on campus.
- Norman Lear [1922-2023], who revolutionized TV comedy with "All in the Family," dead at 101.
- Woman, who hurled a scalding burrito bowl at a Chipotle manager, sentenced to work at a fast-food joint.
- A viral video shows a robot figure-skating and landing a quadruple axel: It's not real, folks!
(5) Kevin McCarthy will retire at the end of 2023, one year before the end of his term: This is classic chickening out. He knows his chances of being re-elected are slim, so this early retirement will save him from having to explain his not running or a possible defeat, not to mention having to choose between supporting Trump or one of his primary challengers in the upcoming election year.
(6) Wednesday's IEEE Central Coast Section Holiday Banquet and Tech Talk: The venue was Mulligan's Cafe & Bar at Santa Barbara Golf Club. After a cocktail hour with hors d'oeuvres, dinner was served. The guest speaker, Dr. Paul Leonardi, Duca Family Professor & Chair of UCSB's Technology Management Department, spoke under the title "Helping Employees Succeed with Generative AI."
Recent news stories tout the productivity-amplifying and time-saving potential of generative AI tools like ChatGPT. But the reality is that most companies are not seeing such gains. Leonardi outlined the unique challenges that large language models (LLMs) present, including the fact that, by the very nature of their design, they're constantly changing.
Leonardi explained his practical STEP framework, which he developed by working with top companies that have successfully implemented GenAI to empower employees. He discussed how to create new avenues for value creation through improving employee experiences and turning attractive productivity numbers from potential into reality.

2023/12/05 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
More-efficient assembly of 20 IKEA bookcases Persian poetry & calligraphy: Opening verse from a beautiful poem by Mohammad-Hossein Shahriar 'Stonebreakers': Film screening, tonight at UCSB (1) Images of the day: [Left] More-efficient assembly of 20 IKEA bookcases: After assembling 2 of the bookcases one at a time, I decided to take all of them out of the cardboard boxes, sort the parts, and then use an assembly-line approach for completing the task. With all the boxes recycled, I also have more space in the room to do the work. [Center] Persian poetry & calligraphy: Opening verse from a beautiful poem by Mohammad-Hossein Shahriar (recitation of the complete poem by Shahriar himself). [Right] Film screening, tonight at UCSB (see the last item below).
(2) Quantum computing: "Advances in quantum computing are bringing us closer to a world where new types of computers may solve problems in minutes that would take today's supercomputers millions of years." Countries and major tech companies are in a race to get there first. [CBS "60 Minutes," 13-minute report]
(3) Behind the scenes of a surprising hit movie: Directing "Barbie" was a dream job for Greta Gerwig, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind "Little Women" and "Lady Bird." [CBS "60 Minutes," 14-minute report]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Use of rape as a weapon of war must be condemned forcefully & unconditionally. [H. Clinton commentary]
- Math scores for US students at all-time low on an international exam. [Washington Post report]
- President Biden hints that he would not seek re-election if Trump weren't running.
- Liz Cheney's memoir tops charts, quickly sells out on Amazon: My library hold has a wait time of months!
- Oxford Word of the Year: "Rizz" (Gen-Z slang for a person's ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner).
- Lyrics of 3 Googoosh songs (with English translation & transliteration), courtesy of UCSB ME Ensemble.
(5) Quote of the day: "Good does not become better by being exaggerated, but worse; And a small evil becomes a big one through being disregarded and repressed." ~ Carl Jung
(6) My newfound respect for handrails: Until several years ago, I vigorously avoided using handrails when climbing or descending stairs, for fear of germs. Now, I use them regularly for fear of tripping & falling!
(7) Importance of floating-point standard in a surprising application domain: IEEE Standard 754, the latest version of which was issued in 2019, aims to make floating-point arithmetic portable across different platforms. This is important for compute-intensive engineering applications, which would otherwise produce vastly-different results, depending on the machine on which they are executed. I have just learned that gaming systems also rely on reproduceable floating-point computations. If floating-point computations used to model the physical world produce the same results when supplied with the same inputs, then, instead of communicating the entire state of the game in a distributed multi-player system, one can synchronize the simulation by just sending the player inputs, a much smaller data set. [Ref. 1] [Ref. 2]
(8) "Stonebreakers": This was the title of a documentary film screened tonight at UCSB's Pollock Theater. The 2022 documentary chronicles the heated conflicts that emerged around public monuments and the politics of memorialization, both in the wake of George Floyd's murder and in the context of the 2020 US presidential campaign. The 70-minute film-screening was followed by a live discussion with filmmaker Valerio Ciriaci and producer/cinematographer Isaak Liptzin, moderated by UCSB's Stephanie Malia Hom.

2023/12/04 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Sunday's Arts & Craft Market at Santa Barbara's historic El Presidio Math humor: Weirdness of the number i UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran: Azadeh Kian
IranWire cartoon: Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi has been re-arrested with new charges, after a short period of release on bail Interest rate for 30-year fixed mortgages in the US since the 1980s Why don't Americans dance much anymore? (1) Images of the day: [Top left] I checked out Sunday's Arts & Craft Market at Santa Barbara's historic El Presidio. [Top center] Math humor: Weirdness of the number i. [Top right] UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran (see the last item below). [Bottom left] IranWire cartoon of the day: Iranian popular rapper & activist Toomaj Salehi has been re-arrested with new charges, after a short period of release on bail. The mullahs hate/fear music and musicians. [Bottom center] Interest rate for 30-year fixed mortgages in the US since the 1980s (see the next item below). [Bottom right] Why don't we dance much anymore? Americans' healthy & relaxing habit of dancing (in ballrooms, discos, parties, or streets) might be dying, according to a New York Times story.
(2) The weird US housing market: If the housing market behaved like other markets, prices would have fallen over the last several years. Mortgage rates have risen sharply since the COVID pandemic receded, as the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates to lower inflation.
(3) Taylor Swift 101: Some colleges are offering courses on Taylor Swift. Yes, you heard it right! Harvard, Stanford, NYU, and Arizona State are among colleges that aim to study the influence of the pop star.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Bradley Cooper plays composer Leonard Bernstein in "Maestro": Also starring Carey Mulligan. [Trailer]
- Bakhtiari Lur (from Iran) emulates Michael Jackson, dancing to a modern Persian song.
- True or false? There are more venomous species in warmer climates than in colder locations. [Answer]
- The Sleeping Beauty Problem: Somewhat similar to the Monty Hall Problem, but apparently more confusing.
- David Garrett's magical violin music. [4-minute video]
- Miracle of music: Young singer with speech impediment loses her stutter when she sings. [7-minute video]
(5) A special thanks to all the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, and agnostic mail carriers who deliver Christmas cards without screaming that it goes against their beliefs. We love you! [Credit: Jared Wilson]
(6) UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran: In today's installment, Dr. Azadeh Kian (U. Paris Cite) spoke in English about her new book, Rethinking Gender, Ethnicity and Religion in Iran: An Intersectional Approach to National Identity, which examines the crucial shifts that affected Sunnite and subaltern women once Shi'ism became the official state religion after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. [Book info]
Shi'ism legitimizes structural relations of power based on gender, ethnicity, religion, and class. Focusing on women in the Baluchistan and Golestan provinces in north-central and southeastern Iran, respectively, Dr. Kian studies issues of cultural racialization, ethno-centrism, Shi'a-centrism, and patriarchal & chauvinistic ideologies in Iranian society propagated by the state and sustained by its policies.
Based on quantitative and qualitative surveys taken throughout Iran, comprised of over 7000 married women and 100 interviews with a sample of Sunnite and subaltern Persian women, Dr. Kian reveals how social hierarchy and power relations based on gender, class, ethnicity, and religion operate. She also examines women's everyday lives and the family institution as a site of power in order to better understand the politics of ordinary Iranians and the relationship between state and society.
For future UCLA events and discussions on Iran, please visit this Web page.

2023/12/03 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My order of IKEA bookcases arrived today: Boxes My order of IKEA bookcases arrived today: One assembled bookcase Cover image of 'Arabs and Jews in the Ottoman Palestine' (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] My order of IKEA bookcases has arrived: I assembled one of them to see whether I can manage on my own or should hire someone to do the assembly. Doesn't seem to be too hard. Let the fun begin! [Right] Arabs and Jews in the Ottoman Palestine (see the next item below).
(2) Arabs & Jews in Ottoman Palestine (book review): Not even the sharpest-eyed observer of mid-19th-century Palestine could have detected hints of the future struggle between Jews & Arabs over this land. The source of the current troubles can be traced back to local problems over grazing and water rights, which expanded into self-aware national confrontations. Perhaps conflict was inevitable, given the Muslim attitude toward these immigrants and the Zionist aspiration to leave the diaspora behind and live as independent actors.
(3) Last night's UCSB Middle East Ensemble concert: As always, the program booklet contained all the lyrics in the original language and English translation & transliteration.
Part 1 of the program consisted of five segments.
- A traditional Arabic folk dance: Music by Abd Al-Wahhab.
- A set of four Armenian songs, featuring Steven Thomson.
- A candelabra dance, by special guest DeVilla.
- Two Greek songs, performed by Alexis Story Crawshaw.
- A solo dance, composed of four parts, by special guest Aubre Hill (see Video 1).
Part 2 of the program consisted of four segments.
- Two more Greek songs, performed by Alexis Story Crawshaw.
- An Upper-Egyptian stick dance, featuring special guest The Qabila Dance Company.
- A set of three Persian songs made famous by the pop diva Googoosh, performed by Javid John Mosadeghi.
- A finale dance set, in four parts, featuring special guest DeVilla.
[Images: Batch 1; Batch 2] [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4]
(4) Today's UCLA Salamat talk: Health lectures UCLA are monthly Persian Zoom presentations that also include non-health-related content. Leading today's program was Dr. Mohamad Bagher Bagheri, who talked about intellectualism. There were 25 attendees.
An intellectual is not the same as a thinker: A thinker (philosopher; e.g., Descartes) minds his/her own business, but an intellectual has concerns about society (e.g., Voltaire). One problem in the Persian language is that the word for intellectual, "rowshan-fekr" (meaning "lit thinker"), has a positive connotation, which makes it hard for some people to admit that a person thinking differently from them is an intellectual. We have no problem saying that someone is a writer, even if we think s/he writes awful books, but intellectual is different. The word "intellectual" is often conflated with several other Persian terms such as "nokhbeh" (tops in his/her field) and "farhikhteh" (academic "nokhbeh").
The word "intellectual" is used in two senses: General & special.
In the general sense, intellectualism is combining thinking with societal concerns. For example, when Socrates went among ordinary people to learn about their problems & concerns, he was engaging in intellectual activity. In this sense, Ayatollah Khomeini may be deemed an intellectual (the fact that his plans for society were misguided is a different story).
In the special sense, intellectualism began from the age of enlightenment in Europe, when it was combined with modernity, including the notion of democracy. Enlightenment had four pillars: Critical thinking (applied to everything, including the concept of God), science, humanism, and liberalism.
In Iran, intellectuals are divided into three groups: Western-leaning, leftist, and religious. The latter two groups will be discussed in another session next month. Western-leaning intellectuals include Taghizadeh and Foroughi. Two traits of Iranians make it hard for intellectuals to have an impact: Putting great weight on traditions (don't mess with Shab-e Yalda!) and being anti-government (so anyone who cooperates with the government is not deemed an intellectual).
Dr. Mohamad Bagher Bagheri has a Web site through which you can learn more about his background and gain access to YouTube videos of his lessons on critical thinking.

2023/12/01 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: We have a circle with its center at O and a quadrangle ABCD with its vertices on the circle. What is the measure of the angle x? Cover image of Henry Gee's 'A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth' Math puzzle: Squares of areas 1, 4, and x are embedded in the right triangle ABC. Find x (1) Images of the day: [Left] Math puzzle: We have a circle with its center at O and a quadrangle ABCD with its vertices on the circle. What is the measure of the angle x? [Center] Henry Gee's A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth (see the last item below). [Right] A second math puzzle for your weekend: Squares of areas 1, 4, and x are embedded in the right triangle ABC, as shown. Find x.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trailblazer: Sandra Day O'Connor [1930-2023], the first woman on the US Supreme Court, dead at 93.
- Three young Palestinian-American men shot in Vermont in an apparent hate crime.
- Iran's delegation leaves the Climate Summit in Dubai because of the presence of Israel's representatives.
- Good riddance: I don't want one more minute of my time to be wasted by news stories about George Santos.
- UCSB grapples with plans for student housing, now that Charles Munger, champion of "dormzilla," is dead.
- Persian music: Niaz Nawab sings "Hagh" ("Right"): Sponsored by Farhang Foundation. [3-minute video]
(3) Book review: Gee, Henry, A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters, unabridged 8-hour audiobook, read by the author, Macmillan Audio, 2021.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Many biographies of Earth have been written, so having yet another volume in this area may not seem exciting. All such books touch upon the key historical stages and notions: Earth's formation, plate tectonics, rapid evolution of life, the Great Oxygenation Event, early bacterial cells, endosymbiosis, multicellular life, tetrapods making landfall, the spinal cord, reptiles, dinosaurs, mammals, monkeys, and human-beings.
Gee offers a particularly detailed account of plate tectonics and supercontinent cycle. He tells us that the breakup of Rodinia (predecessor of Pangea) entailed so much volcanic eruption and extrusion of fresh rocks that the subsequent erosion drew enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to cause planetary-scale glaciation some time before 650 million years ago. Later, the formation of Pangaea caused far hotter, drier, and more seasonal land climate.
Previously, I had learned about certain sea creatures moving onto land to give rise to a vast number of new species. Details of how this transition occurred and its evolutionary basis were unclear to me. Gee provides much of the missing details. It turns out that some fish became flattened, so as to be able to swim and hunt for food in shallow coastal waters. Once there, they started to develop a set of four legs for easier movement, which then allowed them to transition onto land.
Dinosaurs are discussed as a relatively insignificant stage in the development of life, with three exceptions: Bipedalism gave them great advantage over other species; Innovations in respiration allowed them to grow very large; and transition to powered flight opened up new possibilities for them and the new species that followed.
Gee reminds us that evolution isn't goal-directed, so it does not move in one direction. When tetrapods moved onto land, their commitment to the new habitat was shaky. In fact, in a kind of reversal, some species did go back from land to sea. So, the prevailing impression that the profusion of early hominids as a series of ever more-bipedal species replacing one another in an orderly, preordained fashion is misguided.
The last third of Gee's book takes an anthropocentric turn, with heavy focus on primate and hominin evolution, ending with our departure from Africa. Perhaps skipping over recent events such as language development, domestication of plants & animals, and agriculture was necessary to keep the book "very short." Despite devoting many pages to the discussion of human development, Gee does acknowledge that the entire human history will perhaps be reflected in no more than a millimeters-thick layer in some future sedimentary rock.

2023/11/30 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: Four Iranian male singers from way back when Yes, there is an uptick in shoplifting incidents, but the rates over the past 3 years have been markedly lower than during the Trump years (NYT chart) This jigsaw puzzle, based on 3D pop art by Charles Fazzino, challenged me during a long wait at the doctor's office yesterday
Getting ready for the transition from fall to winter Talangor Group tech talk by yours truly on recurring designs and patterns in nature National Geographic's photo of the day (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday: Four Iranian singers from way back when, reunited. [Top center] Yes, there is an uptick in shoplifting incidents, but the rates over the past 3 years have been markedly lower than during the Trump years (NYT chart). [Top right] This jigsaw puzzle, based on 3D pop art by Charles Fazzino, challenged me during a long wait at the doctor's office yesterday. [Bottom left] Getting ready for the transition from fall to winter. [Bottom center] Talangor Group tech talk by yours truly (see the last item below). [Bottom right] National Geographic photo of the day.
(2) Henry Kissinger [1923-2023] dead at 100: The former US Secretary of State has received a lot of accolades, including a Nobel Peace Prize, but for some reason, I never liked or trusted the guy.
(3) Persian is spoken and ghormeh-sabzi stew is served on the International Space Station: Yesterday morning, NASA & Stanford U.'s Iranian studies program sponsored an amazing 20-minute live chat with Iranian-American astronaut Jasmine Moghbeli, who has taken a Persian stew with her to share with crewmates.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Assassins galore: Indian national charged for plotting to kill a US citizen for his Sikh separatist views.
- Communists and Islamists set aside their ideological differences to fight against the West.
- Do you know a Jew who was born in Bethlehem ~2000 years before 1948? Hint: His birthday is coming up.
- Here's what librarians do on their coffee breaks: Dominoes chain, but made with books.
(5) Forty-one construction workers were rescued in India: Stuck in a collapsed tunnel 300 feet underground for 17 days, they survived on supplies sent through narrow pipes.
(6) Tonight's Talangor Group tech talk: Yours truly spoke under the title "Recurring Designs and Patterns in Nature" (in Persian). Before the main talk, Dr. Mehdi Saremifar gave a brief presentation on "Starlink: A New Generation of Satellite-Based Communication." There were ~80 attendees.
My presentation was based primarily on the book Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does, by Philip Ball, which I have reviewed on GoodReads. If you don't have access to the book, this Wikipedia article contains an excellent summary.
I proceeded along the lines of the nine chapters in Ball's book: Symmetry; Fractals; Spirals; Flow and Chaos; Waves and Dunes; Bubbles and Foam; Arrays and Tiling; Cracks; Spots and Stripes. The roles of Fibonacci numbers and Fibonacci spirals and well as Benoit Mandelbrot's fractal geometry were among the topics emphasized. What Mandelbrot did for the advancement of geometry is comparable to Einstein's role in the advancement of physics.
While natural patterns tend to be beautiful, there are usually physical reasons behind their emergence. Beauty is often a mere side effect, with the possible exception of beautiful patterns on certain male animals that attract the opposite sex. For example, bilateral symmetry helps with more-efficient forward motion (in the same way that symmetric oars and rowing allows a boat to move forward smoothly and in a straight line). Likewise, the spiral pattern inside a sunflower maximizes the number of seeds that fit in a given area and spots & stripes are useful for camouflage. [My PDF slides]

2023/11/28 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Traditional Iranian meal Cover image of Jerry Seinfeld's 'Is This Anything?' Perhaps we should reconsider the theory that huge boulders were transported to the sites of Egyptian Pyramids and other ancient structures, using primitive mechanical aids (1) Images of the day: [Left] Traditional Iranian meal. [Center] Jerry Seinfeld's Is This Anything? (see the last item below).[Right] Perhaps we should reconsider the theory that huge boulders were transported to the sites of Egyptian Pyramids and other ancient structures, using primitive mechanical aids.
(2) Liberal arts vs. STEM programs: Yes, STEM fields are important but any scientist or engineer needs a solid background in liberal arts in order to create balanced designs with appropriate functionality, effective human interfaces, and attention to social consequences. While it is true that STEM majors lead to more lucrative careers, universities were never meant to be merely career-prep schools. [LA Times Editorial]
(3) Cerebras introduces 2-exaflop AI supercomputer: The goal is to have a 36-exaflop network by doubling the existing compute power and using 9 networked systems. [IEEE Spectrum magazine, Nov. 2023]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Iranian mullahs deem sociology an illegitimate field of study: Florida to follow suit.
- American students and rank among the lowest in the world for AI use.
- NASA slows the development of its Mars Sample Return mission, citing uncertainty over funding and design.
- Software-defined architecture: Dual-CPU computer teaches you system-level design. [IEEE Spectrum]
- Fish fossils on top of the Himalayan Mountains: The entire Earth may have once been covered with water.
- Did you know that the Sun is older than the Earth, but the water on Earth is older than the Sun?
(5) Wind turbines installed on floating platforms exploit the steadiest, strongest winds that blow over deep ocean water: Scaling the installations to giga-Watt level remains a problem. [IEEE Spectrum, Nov. 2023]
(6) Book review: Seinfeld, Jerry, Is This Anything? unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2020. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This autobiographical book consists of many short, joke-like observations on life, particularly life in New York City. Example: We get on a train (even though everyone is in the train, not on top of it), in a cab, but not on or in Uber; we just take Uber. Most of the observations aren't ha-ha funny, but that's Seinfeld's style, with all the impertinence and political incorrectness. The book's title reflects comedians' tendency to run jokes by their peers to see if they consider the material of value.
You may start getting bored at the beginning of the book, but if you persevere, the material grows on you. This look into the life and career path of one of America's greatest comic minds is a pretty good distraction in a world that has gone cruel and mad on us!

2023/11/27 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
First flight on Earth (Wright Brothers plane, Dec. 17, 1903); First flight on Mars (Ingenuity Helicopter, Apr. 19, 2021) IranWire cartoon: Ayatollah Khamenei's karma. The brilliant natural-lighting system of Sultan Amir Ahmad Public Bath, Kashan, Iran, from the 1500s (1) Images of the day: [Left] First flight on Earth (Wright Brothers plane, Dec. 17, 1903); First flight on Mars (Ingenuity Helicopter, Apr. 19, 2021). [Center] IranWire cartoon of the day: Ayatollah Khamenei's karma. [Right] The brilliant natural-lighting system of Sultan Amir Ahmad Public Bath, Kashan, Iran, from the 1500s.
(2) Now that visiting family members have returned home safely, the Thanksgiving holiday is officially over for us. Here's an apt quote about giving thanks from Henry David Thoreau: "I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanks-giving is perpetual."
(3) First Native-American woman engineer: Mary Golda Ross [1908-2008] worked at Lockheed from 1942 until her retirement in 1973, where she was best-remembered for her aerospace design work.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The US has no universal healthcare, but 10 states come close, with uninsured rates below 5%.
- Israeli forces discover and confiscate a Hamas suitcase bearing $1.5M in cash, allegedly coming from Iran.
- This is how some Iranian kids go to school, while millions in cash & arms are sent to terrorists abroad.
- More than 20 Baha'i homes invaded in violent raids and many arrested in Iran as crackdown intensifies.
- My kids and their cousins at Santa Barbara's House of Clues (after managing to escape) and with Grinch.
- Erdos-Straus Conjecture: The equation 4/n = 1/a + 1/b + 1/c has positive integer solutions for every n > 1.
(5) Hijab-enforcers are disavowed by Iran's Interior Ministry, which characterizes them as concerned citizens acting independently, but secret documents show that they are paid government agents. [Tweet, with video]
(6) Israel's Defense Minister reports that 100+ Hezbollah fighters have been killed over the past two months and many of their command posts & ammunition depots have been destroyed. [VOA Farsi Tweet]
(7) The origins of inequality: History shows us that patriarchal systems, which may appear robust and inevitable, aren't permanent or preordained. In this 64-minute podcast, host Angela Saini discusses her own book, The Patriarchs, which dispels commonly-invoked myths about gender inequality and its causes.
(8) Boredom is actually good for us: Our most-creative work comes during boredom or relaxation. Multitasking, far from being a productivity enhancer, actually wastes our mental energy. [3-minute video]
(9) AI to help solve the information deluge problem: Scientists in nearly all fields are overwhelmed by the sheer number of papers that come their way from professional bodies and commercial publishers. Keeping up has become a near-impossibility. There is some hope that new developments in AI can lead to automatic summarization and organization of the published research literature, thus streamlining the amount of information a scientist has to take in. There are tough challenges to be overcome, though. One is the tendency of generative systems that power AI research tools to hallucinate, that is, generate false content. Another is the economics of such AI tools in terms of free-vs.-paid service and handling of copyright issues in full-text access.

2023/11/26 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A Persian poem that honors the memory of Rachel Daie Cover image of Philip Ball's 'Patterns in Nature' Math puzzle: A circle of radius a intersects a semicircle of radius 2a. What is the ratio a/b? (1) Images of the day: [Left] Mrs. Rachel Daie, grandmother to my three children (mother of my late ex-wife), passed away on Saturday. This Persian poem honors her memory. RIP. [Center] Philip Ball's Patterns in Nature (see the last item below). [Right] Math puzzle: A circle of radius a intersects a semicircle of radius 2a, as shown. What is the ratio a/b?
(2) I hope no one is offended by the following observation about "saffron" books: Years ago, I encountered Gelareh Asayesh's Saffron Sky (a review) and Yasmin Crowther's The Saffron Kitchen (my review). What's the deal with the use of "Saffron" in book titles? There is another book, Saffron Dreams, and a Google search reveals Saffron Skies, Love & Saffron, Leila in Saffron, The Saffron Tales, and other titles. Could this be part of Iranians' feeling of inadequacy: Using our exotic side to appeal to foreigners? Perhaps I should start writing The Saffron University about my experiences as a university professor in Iran! I actually have another title in mind, but the project must wait until after I retire.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Human Rights Watch under fire for allegedly accepting millions in Qatar funds.
- Churches are under jihadi attacks in Western Europe, but no country experiences more attacks than France.
- Khamenei: "It's impossible for a woman to stand up and sing, with men who watch resisting temptation."
- Jurassic Park: Can you name this unusual animal? [Tweet, with video]
(3) Book review: Ball, Philip, Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does, University of Chicago Press, 2016. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Nature is complicated, seemingly employing an infinite collection of patterns and designs. But, upon closer inspection, we see that the patterns come from a relatively limited set of basic components. These familiar components recur at different size scales and in diverse, totally unrelated systems. What got me into studying this subject was a chance encounter with the observation that human fingerprint patterns and age rings in trees look quite similar.
The first person to try to develop a deep understanding of these patterns was Scottish zoologist D'Arcy Thompson, who wrote On Growth and Form, his 1917 masterpiece, to report on what he discovered. One of his key observations was the fact that pattern formation is not a static occurrence but arises from growth.
This very-interesting book consists of 9 chapters, sandwiched between an introduction and glossary & further reading. Here are the titles of the chapters and brief description of their significance.
- Symmetry: Bilateral symmetry facilitates directional motion. Many kinds of symmetry exist.
- Fractals: Benoit Mandelbrot's mathematical tool for studying roughness and self-similarity.
- Spirals: Most arise from the way things grow. Fibonacci spirals are frequent occurrences.
- Flow and Chaos: A positive feedback loop changes a river's zigzagging path over a flat region.
- Waves and Dunes: The interaction between wind and water or fluid-like sand.
- Bubbles and Foam: Bubbles are spherical; a mass of bubbles assumes complicated shapes.
- Arrays and Tiling: Patterns formed by juxtaposition or overlapping of identical shapes.
- Cracks: The similarity of cracks in dry lake beds, ceramic glaze, and cooling lava is amazing.
- Spots and Stripes: Can be explained in evolutionary terms, such as serving as camouflage.
The Wikipedia page "Patterns in nature" contains a useful summary of this book's contents.

2023/11/25 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women The Statue of Liberty was made of copper, but over the many decades since it was built, is has turned greenish due to oxidation Cover image of Cassidy Hutchinson's 'Enough' (1) Images of the day: [Left] International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women: Having expressed our gratitude for our blessings on Thanksgiving Day 2023, we should also remain aware of things that we don't have in this world. One such thing is violence-free home & work environments for many women. Violence against women comes in different forms, including sexual violence. [Center] The Statue of Liberty was made of copper, but over the many decades since it was built, is has turned greenish due to oxidation. [Right] Cassidy Hutchinson's Enough (see the last item below).
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hamas executes two Palestinian men in public. These terrorists kill anyone who opposes them. [Source: DW]
- Iran's President Raisi seemingly contradicts Supreme Leader Khamenei. [Tweet, with video]
- UCLA receives $11M from Persian Heritage Foundation toward the establishment of Yarshater Center.
- Thanksgiving feast continues a couple of days later: After-dinner entertainment by my nephew Avi.
(3) Book review: Hutchinson, Cassidy, Enough, unabridged 12-hour audiobook, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cassidy Hutchinson, went from an unknown young aide to Trump's Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to a celebrity virtually overnight, when she appeared as a witness in front of the US Congressional Committee investigating the events of January 6, 2021. On that infamous day, a violent mob of Trump supporters broke into the Capitol Building, destroying property and threatening to kill politicians who disagreed with them.
I was conflicted, as I listened to this audiobook. On the one hand, I was horrified by the fact that inexperienced young aides are placed in positions to make critical decisions and to influence decisions by others. On the other hand, we learned of some of the key missteps and evil plots in the Trump administration only because this particular young aide spoke up, when senior aides chose to keep quiet or to actively obstruct legal and legislative investigations.
The penniless Hutchinson was horrified when she was faced with huge legal expenses in order to testify in front of the January 6 Committee. She initially accepted legal help from the Trump world, which severely limited what she could and could not reveal. She herself was conflicted between loyalty to the president she adored (at least, before she came to understand the situation better) and the desire to testify truthfully. When she received an offer of pro-bono legal representation from independent attorneys, she finally relaxed somewhat and started speaking to Rep. Liz Cheney and, eventually, to the full committee.
The Trump world used a carrot-and-stick approach to try to force Hutchinson to reveal as little as possible. Lucrative job offers were dangled in front of this broke young aide, at the same time as she was warned about the dire consequences of betrayal. One can't help but feel sorry for her, although Hutchinson does not consider herself a victim in any of this, asserting that she knew full well what she was getting into.
Hutchinson reveals the dirty secrets of an administration awash in paranoia, looking everywhere, and even setting traps, to discover leakers. We learn that Mark Meadows' wife complained about the high cost of dry-cleaning her husband's suits, which smelled of smoke due to his burning large batches of documents in a fireplace. Ironically, the same paranoid people surrounding Trump allowed unsavory characters, such as the "My Pillow" guy (Mike Lindell) and a host of pardon-seeking individuals roam the White House grounds unescorted.
Hutchinson believes that January 6 happened in part because she and others in the administration didn't do enough to stop it. This is a very significant change of heart for a young woman who adored President Trump and, even after the events of January 6, still lobbied for a job at Mar-a-Lago.

2023/11/23 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Thanksgiving Day 2023 to all Remembering my mom a year after her passing: My Persian poem Book talk sponsored by Farhang Foundation and UCSB's Iranian Studies Initiative: Ava Homa
Yours truly doing the turkey honors on Thanksgiving Day (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Thanksgiving Day 2023 to all: Wishing you health, love, friendships, personal fulfilment, and many other gifts to enjoy & appreciate on this day and on every other day of the year. [Top center] My Persian poem honoring my mother Kokab a year after her passing (see the next item below). [Top right] Book talk sponsored by Farhang Foundation & UCSB's Iranian Studies Initiative: Ava Homa (Cal State U. Monterey Bay) speaks under the title "Daughters of Smoke and Fire: Art, Activism, and Fire" (video). [Bottom row] Photos from our Thanksgiving family gathering, including yours truly doing the turkey honors.
(2) Sharing with you what I wrote for my mom's first anniversary of passing, observed with the family on Thanksgiving Day 2023: As we gather here, thanks to our generous host Behnaz, to renew our family bonds and to give thanks for all our blessings on this Thanksgiving Day, let us also remember our mom Kowkab, aka grandma Kobi, and give thanks for the gift of the 93 years we had her on this Earth. We lost Kobi a year ago, on November 14, 2022 (Aban 23, 1401 in Iranian calendar), around 7:15 AM. The one year and 9 days since her passing has been tough on the entire family.
We miss a lot of things about her that we used to take for granted: Her mere presence; Our weekly visits; Regular audio & video calls; Delicious food that she prepared for our family gatherings and sent home with us; The link to extended family through her information channel; Generous gifts she gave us on many special and not-so-special occasions; News reports about Iran & the world; And her advice & encouragement when we were struggling or in a bind.
She is with us in spirit, though. Whenever we gather as a family, I visualize her sitting on a chair, sipping her tea, and occasionally complaining of various ailments; Delighting in the presence of her grandkids & great-grandkids; Talking about plans for upcoming family events; Relating memories from Kurdistan; And, lately, under-the-breath singing of a favorite Iranian song.
The Persian poem above, which has her name "Kowkab" and nickname "Kobi" as the initial letters of its half-verses, honors her contributions to our family.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Russian and Chinese executives hold secret talks on building a tunnel to Crimea.
- The Middle East after October 7: A viewpoint from Adi Schwartz. [33-minute talk]
- Fruit plates for our large Thanksgiving family gathering. [Tweet, with photo]
- Throwback Thursday: A nostalgic collage of singers and other artists in the pre-Islamic-Revolution Iran.
(4) There is hope for the United States: Former white evangelical shares his insider info about how evangelicals politicized religion and supported the hateful views of Donald Trump.
(5) Iran helped normalize hostage-taking: Now Israel, the US, and other countries are negotiating with terrorists who openly call for the annihilation of all Jews throughout the world.
(6) An important problem, formulated by an interdisciplinary team in the 1950s, is finally tamed: A groundbreaking algorithm for the max-flow problem was proposed in 2022. The problem, which has broad theoretical significance and practical applications, concerns transporting the most supplies from a source node to a destination node in a network while honoring link capacities. By mathematical duality, the max-flow problem is related to the min-cut problem. At this juncture, the nearly-linear-time algorithm is of theoretical nature and needs to be reworked for practical implementation. But breaking long-standing super-linear complexity barriers offers hope for scalable max-flow algorithms.

2023/11/22 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Jim Thorpe won two 1912 Olympics gold medals in these mismatched shoes he found in a garbage can Socrates Think Tank program: Iranian-American opera singer Shahrzad Tavakol Cover image of Mustafa Suleyman's 'The Coming Wave' (1) Images of the day: [Left] US track-and-fielder Jim Thorpe won two 1912 Olympics gold medals in these mismatched shoes he found in a garbage can: His own shoes were stolen on the morning of his competition. One of the shoes he found was too big, so he wore an extra sock on that foot. [Center] Socrates Think Tank program (see the next item below). [Right] Mustafa Suleyman's The Coming Wave (see the last item below).
(2) Tonight's Socrates Think Tank program featured SoCal-based Iranian opera singer Shahrzad Tavakol (Shahrzad Vocal Academy). There were ~95 attendees.
In this highly-enjoyable session, Ms. Tavakol related her life story, from being educated in Iran, majoring in fine arts, to her present career as a singer and multi-talented artist. I have chosen from YouTube a couple of her Persian songs, and one sample each of her work in French, English, and Armenian.
Shahrzad Tavakol's Facebook page; "Raaz-e Del" ("Heart's Secret"); "Ey Iran, Iran"; "La Vie En Rose"; "Besame Mucho"; "Zepyuri Hman"
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Vehicle explosion on a US-Canada bridge near Niagara Falls kills two and injures a US Border Patrol officer.
- This is a mosque in Gaza, with a lot of things that do not belong in a legit mosque. [Tweet, with video]
- Here's why sand dunes exist and look the way they do: It's the interaction between the wind & fluid sand.
- Eye-opening facts: This hourglass is a visualization of humans, living and dead, throughout the history.
(4) Book review: Suleyman, Mustafa (with Michael Bhaskar), The Coming Wave: Technology, Power, and the 21s Century's Greatest Dilemma, Crown, 332 pp., 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Mustafa Suleyman is a tech visionary. Trained in philosophy, he moved on to co-found DeepMind & Inflection AI, serve as a Google VP, build the large language model Pi (named for personal intelligence), and write The Coming Wave with author/publisher Michael Bhaskar. Suleyman's book has been characterized as "fascinating, well-written, and important" by Yuval Noah Harari, and it has received much praise from other luminaries.
On October 5, 2023, I was privileged to hear Suleyman in a fascinating, deep conversation with Dr. Misha Sra (UCSB CS) as part of UCSB's Arts & Lectures program. I have incorporated my notes from that session into the review that follows. As an aside, this Time magazine profile of Suleyman also reveals one of his dark sides.
Suleyman holds a mostly-optimistic view of AI developments and of technology more generally, although he does devote significant ink to AI's dangers under the umbrella of "containment." His company's Pi is envisaged as an empowerment tool for its owner. Interestingly, Pi is intentionally designed to avoid certain subjects, so if you try to flirt with it, you would get a polite answer such as "I'm just an AI, ..." Pi's design is focused on emotional intelligence, so that it can serve as a kind and supportive companion with the ability to carry on great conversations, rather than as a productivity, search, or question-answering tool. We must accept, however, that, as was the case with software, people will try to design AI to fill every possible niche.
We have unleashed so much power in our AI systems that the challenge is steering this power toward providing maximal benefits to us, while preventing any potential harm from self-directed agents. DeepMind's philosophy was that AI should aim to replicate human beings' vastly successful prediction engine, as opposed to focusing on merely rearranging and re-interpreting data. Over the past decade, compute power for AI has increased 10x every single year, yielding an astonishing overall improvement factor of 10^10, making sophisticated models possible.
Like any other product, Pi reflects its designers' values. So, it can be viewed as political, which is inevitable. We have to prepare for extreme instability. We are providing AI with a vast knowledge base at essentially zero marginal cost. Amassing power will become cheaper and everyone will be able to use the power for personal gain. We should be able to produce energy, offer healthcare, and educate everyone at essentially zero marginal cost. It is difficult to see how this will not lead to reduced suffering.
Containment is a simple idea. A well-functioning society should be able to temper development. We have done a reasonably good job with nuclear power and other technologies, which are now rather safe. But each new technology brings forth new elements that can create challenges. The good news is that regulators are moving faster than ever before and the biggest AI companies have voluntarily submitted to regulations. The bad news is that technology is moving much faster than the length of time, often measured in years, required to introduce, mull over, and enact legislation.
To ensure containment we need an "Apollo Program" for technical safety, accountability through frequent audits, choke points to limit the use of certain hardware & software, incorporation of AI critics into the circle of makers, assurance that businesses invest their profits with a greater ethical purpose, empowerment of governments to safeguard technology through regulation, establishment of alliances & global standards, a culture that encourages experimentation & learning from failures, grassroots movements toward awareness & ethical development/deployment, and an understanding that the path to dealing with the challenges involved is rather narrow and quite difficult to navigate.
A key challenge we face is the dearth of subject-matter experts in the public sector who would support the rolling out and administering regulations. We have to build at scale the needed expertise within the public sector, so that we are not dependent on, and so at the mercy of, the private sector with its massively greater wealth.

2023/11/21 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
'Girls in the Windows': Ormond Gigli's iconic 1960 photograph, whose print sold at a recent auction for $38,000 Former political prisoner & activist Mahvash Sabet maintains that Iranian Baha'is are prevented from living normal lives In Gaza, schools, theme parks, hospitals, and mosques look awfully alike
Sign of the times: At a supermarket checkout today (magazine with AI cover feature) Afterimage: Stare at the red dot at tip of the nose of this negative image for 30 seconds and then look at a white surface This registered national monument in Zanjan, Iran, is Rakhtshoorkhaneh ( (1) Images of the day: [Top left] "Girls in the Windows": Ormond Gigli's iconic 1960 photograph, whose print sold at a recent auction for $38,000. [Top center] Former political prisoner & activist Mahvash Sabet maintains that Iranian Baha'is are prevented from living normal lives. [Top right] In Gaza, schools, theme parks, hospitals, and mosques look awfully alike. [Bottom left] Sign of the times: At a supermarket checkout today. [Bottom center] Afterimage: Stare at the red dot at tip of the woman's nose of this negative image for 30 seconds and then look at a white surface while blinking your eyes quickly. You will see the original positive image. [Bottom right] This registered national monument in Zanjan, Iran, is Rakhtshoorkhaneh ("laundry house"): It was built in the 1800s for locals to use the running water in the canals to wash their clothes.
(2) Too many people think that amid the slaughter of hundreds of Israeli civilians, rape isn't something to dwell on: Rape isn't a legitimate method of combat. Let's all speak up (#MeToo).
(3) Reza Pahlavi kills his prospects of becoming Iran's leader: He confesses that he has nothing in Iran to return to. An Iranian king or president who does not care to live in Iran?
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- After OpenAI fired its high-profile CEO Sam Altman, 700+ employees signed a letter threatening to resign.
- The OpenAi coup was about safety vs. growth, or chief scientist Ilya Sutskever vs. CEO Sam Altman.
- An end to the Open AI saga? Sam Altman reinstated as the troubled company's CEO.
- Iranian official brags about personally delivering arms to Hamas & training them in the tunnels under Gaza.
- Israel's military releases videos of what it says is a fortified tunnel beneath the Al-Shifa Hospital complex.
- About 1/3 of Hamas' leadership has been eliminated: More work remains to be done. [Tweet, with photo]
- Cool science turns hot: How to make the world's hottest candle with a Tesla coil. [6-minute video]
- Holiday tip: Bringing up politics on Thanksgiving reduces the number of Christmas gifts you need to buy.
(5) Math puzzle: Consider a Lucas Sequence formed by the same rule as the Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, ...), but starting with the numbers L(1) = a and L(2) = b, rather than F(1) = 1 and F(2) = 1. How is the nth term L(n) of this sequence related to F(n)? What is the ratio L(n + 1)/L(n) for large n?
(6) Reforming expert testimony: In the US, both sides of a court case can call on experts to advocate for their positions. UK relies on experts called by the court as advisers, not as advocates. Writing in Communications of the ACM's December 2023 issue, Vint Cerf argues the advantages of the latter approach.
(7) New Yorker cartoon caption of the day (for Thanksgiving travelers): "Altimeter? Check. Instruments and radios? Check. Fuel gauges? Check. Prepared to sit on the runway for God knows how long? Check."

2023/11/20 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy World Children's Day (November 20): UNICEF's annual day of action for children, by children Iranian spies & operatives continue to enjoy academic and other freedoms in the US while denying it to their own citizens Cover image of David Sax's 'The Future is Analog' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Happy World Children's Day (November 20): UNICEF's annual day of action for children, by children, marking the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. [Center] Iranian spies & operatives continue to enjoy academic and other freedoms in the US while denying it to their own citizens. [Right] David Sax's The Future is Analog (see the last item below)
(2) American Association for the Advancement of Science CEO Sudip S. Parikh believes that continuing-resolution funding of the US government is no cause for celebration: Passing budgets on time is essential for the American scientific enterprise and for staying competitive on the world stage.
(3) Book review: Sax, David, The Future Is Analog: How to Create a More Human World, unabridged 10-hour audiobook, read by the author, Public Affairs, 2022. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I was quite disappointed with this book, primarily because of its misleading title. I picked it up thinking it was about how analog circuits and analog computation are coming back, as predicted by many researchers, myself included, after being sidelined for a few decades by the higher accuracy, greater flexibility, and extreme economy of digital systems. It turned out that Canadian journalist David Sax praises personal interactions and physical contact (what he calls "analog"), while dissing virtual meetings, social media, and screen-based interactions (his "digital").
I found myself mostly in agreement with what sax says in this book, but the nagging mischaracterization problem stayed with me until the end of the book. I might have given the book 4 stars, had it been titled 'Virtual Interactions Rob Us of Intimacy and Non-Verbal Cues During Conversations.' The latter title, while much better, is still a bit misleading in that it assumes that non-verbal cues are inherently incommunicable without physical proximity, even with advances in technology.
In a way, virtual interactions saved us during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also accelerated the demise of many brick-and-mortar businesses, which would have gone extinct anyway, albeit at a slower pace. Let's not forget the large number of introverted and physically-limited individuals who were given a voice and a chance to participate in social groups. Not everyone is an extrovert who thrives within large in-person meetings.
To say that humans are analog is highly misleading. We indeed embody many digital components & processes. A neuron is digital/analog, and it can be better approximated as a purely digital than a purely analog element.
Ironically, Sax did all of his interviews and consultations for the book via screens and phone calls. His point that a vast majority of books sold are in hard-copy format is well-taken, but the truth of this assertion at present does not extend into the future. It's only a matter of time before everyone "reads" books primarily via the audio-visual system embedded in VR glasses.
Sax's strongest point is that in-person conversations are more likely to veer off-course, thus leading to interesting threads and discoveries. But maybe this is mostly due to our not having had enough time to adjust to new technologies. Observation of reactions, body language, and the like isn't impossible through a screen, especially with the development of enhanced systems, such as 3D or holographic imaging, tactile & olfactory elements, and realistic simulation of each participant's environment.
We live the way we do because of a long string of accidental and targeted developments throughout our history. Our schools and classrooms look the way they do not because those designs/arrangements are inevitable but because they just happened. On-line instruction has had a rocky start, again not because it is inevitably bad but owing to incidental factors. Systems were developed and deployed in a rush during the pandemic years. We are capable of doing a lot better, with greater financial & personal commitment and with improved technology.
Sax retreats a bit from his harsh verdict in the book's concluding section, asserting that he objects to the thoughtless use of computers (only because we can) and that it's okay to use computers if we decide judiciously and with awareness on a case-by-case basis.

2023/11/19 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
IranWire meme of the day: Narges Mohammadi vs. the Islamic Republic Cartoon: A very-famous physicist after a few drinks On the way back from Vermont, I arrived early at Burlington airport, with 2.5 hours to spare, which I used for a Vermont-style brunch
Math puzzle: What fraction of the regular hexagon's area is outside the six semi-circles? Math puzzle: An outer pentagon is formed by two squares. What fraction of that pentagon's area is shaded green? Photos I took atop Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf today: The windy day brought out many sailboats (1) Images of the day: [Top left] IranWire meme of the day: Narges Mohammadi vs. Islamic Republic goons. [Top center] Cartoon of the day: A very-famous physicist after a few drinks. [Top right] On the way back from Vermont, I arrived early at Burlington airport, with 2.5 hours to spare, which I used for a Vermont-style brunch. [Bottom left] Math puzzle: What fraction of the regular hexagon's area is blue? [Bottom center] Math puzzle: An outer pentagon is formed by two squares. What fraction of that pentagon's total area is shaded green? [Bottom right] Photos from atop Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf: The windy day brought out many sailboats.
(2) Rosalynn Carter dead at 96: She expanded & formalized the role of the US First Lady and acted as a full partner to her husband, President Jimmy Carter.
(3) Nasrin Sotoudeh's message to her daughter Mehraveh for her 24th birthday: Even outside the prison, I am still a prisoner of patriarchs who want to control women's bodies and minds. ... We Iranian women must now try to conquer the big prison. Victory is near, my child; victory is near. [Facebook post, in Persian]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hamas supporters occupy the Leaning Tower of Pisa: Radical Islam won't stop after the destruction of Israel.
- Borowitz Report (humor): George Santos to spend more time with imaginary family.
- True or false: If x < y then x^y > y^x, i.e., putting the larger of x & y in the exponent yields a larger number.
- The groom with little sense of humor and lots of misogyny! [Tweet, with video]
- Iran's youth are driving the mullahs crazy! [Facebook post, with video]
- Humor: I wonder if the great Persian poet Sa'adi got in a fight with his beloved for this double-entendre.
(5) A partial list of political prisoners under the late Shah of Iran, in response to Reza Pahlavi's recent claim that the Shah's secret police only jailed hardened criminals like Ali Khamenei. [Tweet, in Persian]
(6) Did you know that President Franklin Roosevelt moved the Thanksgiving holiday, originally on the last Thursday in November, to one week earlier so as to extend the holiday shopping period and boost retail sales?
(7) Gender inequality is a major economic challenge for India: In many other countries, female labor-force participation has propelled economic growth. But India has one of the world's lowest rates of formal employment for women, a rate that has dropped from 29% to 24% since 2010.
(8) A little-known hijacking incident: On September 19, 1995, a Kish Air Boeing 707 landed in Eilat, south of Israel, after Saudi Arabia and Jordan declined to give it permission to land. The Iranian hijacker wanted to seek asylum in Europe, but the plane did not have enough fuel to get there. To avoid embarrassment, Iranian officials started blaming Israel for the hijacking and spread fake stories about mistreatment of the plane's passengers by the Israelis. In fact, the plane and its passengers were returned to Iran the following day, after refueling. Available videos show that the passengers were treated well.

2023/11/17 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
More photos from Burlington, Vermont: Batch 3 More photos from Burlington, Vermont: Batch 2 The cover image of 'Washington Examiner' depicts Hell's Kitchen
Well, it's not Thursday, but this 7-decades-old photo of the Iranian pop diva Googoosh, shown with her father, should not have to wait until then! Iran may be the only country that is going backward in time: Female cope in the city of Shiraz, ~50 years ago A little sign of implicit sexism in a plane's lavatory (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] More photos from Burlington, Vermont (see the next item below). [Top right] The cover image of Washington Examiner depicts Hell's Kitchen. [Bottom left] Well, it's not Thursday, but this 7-decades-old photo of the Iranian pop diva Googoosh, shown with her father, should not have to wait until then! [Bottom center] Iran may be the only country that is going backward in time: Female cope in the city of Shiraz, ~50 years ago. [Bottom right] A little sign of implicit sexism in a plane's lavatory.
(2) My second day in Burlington, Vermont: After yesterday's long walks off and on the UVM campus, today I relaxed at my hotel with reading & writing activities. In the evening, I attended IEEE Green Mountain Section's year-end banquet at the Essex Resort & Spa as the featured Distinguished Visitors Program speaker. The rooms and lobby areas of the Essex Resort & Spa are decorated with food/kitchen motifs.
(3) Reza Pahlavi's amnesia: For a while, he admitted that the late Shah made mistakes and that his secret police held political prisoners & tortured them. Now, he claims that SAVAK held & tortured only hardened criminals like Ali Khamenei. Also, he has opined that under PM Mossadeq, the threat of Soviet Union was quite serious, implying that Mossadeq's ouster was warranted for national security reasons.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Graduate enrollments at US universities surge, thanks in part due to the large flow of students from India.
- Pro-cease-fire protesters who shut down the super-busy SF Bay Bridge were arrested and their cars towed.
- Yet another failed Trump business? Truth Social has failed to attract advertisers and is losing much money.
- To LGBTQ activists marching in support of Hamas: Hamas would behead or otherwise kill you for your "sins."
- Is the English language on the decline? Scientist Stephen Pinker doesn't think so. />- The art of bulk cooking: The size of that wok is impressive! [11-minute video]
(5) Musk's anti-Semitic post causes swift reactions: In response to a post that accused Jews of "dialectical hatred against whites," Musk described it as "the actual truth." IBM reacted by pausing its advertising on X.
(6) On the hardness of making crossword puzzles: The problem of choosing words from a dictionary for inclusion in a given grid, so that intersecting words are consistent, is NP-hard.
(7) Did you know that there are quite a few uneducated writers, even some high-school dropouts, who became successful? The group includes multiple Nobel Laureates.
(8) Graduation ceremony of Sharif University of Technology, Kish campus, in which women appear without the compulsory hijab, has enraged the mullahs. [Tweet]

2023/11/16 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy International Day for Tolerance: Something we need more than ever in today's world Iranian Minister of Education calls for separate school textbooks for boys and girls Math puzzle: In this diagram with three regular pentagons, find the measure of the angle shown
Burlington, Vermont, photos: Batch 1 Burlington, Vermont, photos: Batch 2 Burlington, Vermont, photos: Batch 5
Burlington, Vermont, photos: Batch 6 Burlington, Vermont, photos: Batch 4 Burlington, Vermont, photos: Batch 7 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy International Day for Tolerance: Something we need more than ever in today's world. [Top center] Islamic Republic of Iran's Minister of Education: "There should be separate school textbooks for boys and girls." Seems like Iranian mullahs are in a race with the Taliban to come up with the most-idiotic ideas about women. [Top right] Math puzzle: In this diagram with three regular pentagons, find the measure of the angle shown. [Middle & Bottom rows] Burlington, Vermont (see the next item below).
(2) My first day in Burlington, Vermont: After arriving at my hotel around 2:00 AM due to flight delays and other mishaps, I spent a long day exploring Burlington and UVM, before giving a well-received talk, hosted by UVM's Student Chapter of IEEE. In the morning and early afternoon, I photographed my historic hotel (The Essex) and many of the impressive buildings on the campus of University of Vermont.
(3) The latest Top500 semi-annual list of the fastest supercomputers in the world is topped by the AMD-powered Frontier supercomputer, which retained its lead ranking with 1.194 Exaflop/s of performance.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Biden & Xi have a fruitful meeting in SF: Military communications restored. China does not want a "hot war."
- Life expectancy in the US continues to drop: Gender gap widens, in women's favor.
- The hole at the bottom of math: There are true statements that will remain unprovable forever. [Video]
- A couple of verses from a love poem by the great Persian poet Sa'adi. [Original & English translation]
(5) Weather forecasting comes to your PC: Google DeepMind's GraphCast weather-forecasting model that performs better than the best conventional forecasting tools can run on a desktop computer and makes its predictions in minutes. Using estimates of past global weather made from 1979 to 2017 by physical models, GraphCast learned links between different weather variables.
(6) Hospital search reveals Hamas strategy: Around Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital, Hamas tunnels, arms & ammunitions, and a dead hostage were found. Hamas commanders had already moved on. This is how they operate: Hide among/behind civilians and flee when the going gets tough.

2023/11/15 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: Find the side length of the square Math puzzle: What fraction of the area of the regular hexagon is shaded green? Cover image of Adam Grant's 'Hidden Potential' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Math puzzle: Find the side length of the square. [Center] Math puzzle: Find the shaded fraction of the regular hexagon. [Right] Adam Grant's Hidden Potential (see the next item below).
(2) Book review: Grant, Adam, Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things, unabridged 7-hour audiobook, read by the author and a large group of other narrators, Penguin Audio, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Grant is an organizational psychologist and Wharton's top-rated professor for 7 straight years. He has placed 5 books on New York Times' best-sellers list. So, when Grant says something, everyone listens!
There are two complementary views on what it takes to be successful: Talent and hard work (10,000 hours of intense practice, if you believe Malcolm Gladwell). One of the insights in Grant's book is that reigning in our perfectionist urges is also quite important. A perfectionist diver may never try difficult dives for fear of making mistakes. But mistakes are necessary on the path to success. We learn from our mistakes and criticisms that they engender, so being open to making mistakes is an essential element of success.
Grant tells the story of a Japanese architect, who learned to prioritize important elements in a design, sticking to the more-essential ones when constraints (plot size, location, ...) did not allow a well-rounded design. Then, there is the story of a baseball pitcher with a birth defect who was demoted to minor leagues multiple times, before emerging as a star at age 31, by tapping into his strengths to develop a mean knuckle-ball.
"Hidden potential" refers to the fact that some form of brilliance is buried inside every human-being, waiting to be discovered. Finland's educational system has done a fantastic job of uncovering and nurturing students' hidden potentials. Instead of singling out the best and the brightest for attention, Finnish schools give all students opportunities.
(3) Erdogan dreams about a "Muslim seat," with veto power, at the UN Security Council: He envisages Turkey as holding that seat.
(4) It would be much easier to eradicate Islamophobia if fewer Muslims joined phobia-inducing groups such as Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, Taliban (too many to list them all).
(5) UCSB Plous Award winner: Charmaine Chua (Global Studies) has been awarded the 2023-2024 Harold J. Plous Memorial Award, given annually to an outstanding assistant professor from the College of Letters and Science. Chua's work focuses on the political economy of globalization, particularly in the context of labor movements, logistics, and the infrastructures and technologies of global supply chains. She will deliver the Plous Lecture in spring.
(6) In the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict, acclaimed concert pianist Simon Todeschi reflects on his dilemma as a secular but proud Jew, who dislikes selective condemnation of violence.
(7) Final thought for the day: I will be in Burlington, Vermont, for the rest of this week to give a couple of IEEE Computer Society Distinguished Lectures.
- At University of Vermont: "A Puzzle-Based Approach to Promoting Technical/Digital Literacy"
- At an IEEE Section year-end banquet: "Interconnection Networks for Parallel Processors and Data Centers"

2023/11/13 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
An engineer who will be missed: Henry Petroski An engineer who will be missed: Cover image of Petroski's book, 'To Engineer Is Human' This misprinted stamp from 1918 commemorating the start of regular airmail service sold at an auction for $2 million
Electrically pumped mode-locked lasers in nanophotonics (cover image of Science magazine) Hamas tunnels with stored ammunition snake under underneath residential buildings & hospitals in Gaza Cover image of 'On the Nature of Things,' by Lucretius (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] An engineer who will be missed dearly (see the next item below). [Top right] This misprinted stamp from 1918 commemorating the start of regular airmail service sold at an auction for $2 million. [Bottom left] Electrically pumped mode-locked lasers in nanophotonics: They generate ~4.8-ps optical pulses around 1065 nm at a repetition rate of ~10 GHz, with energies exceeding 2.6 pJ and peak powers beyond 0.5 W. [Bottom center] Hamas tunnels with stored ammunition snake underneath residential buildings & hospitals in Gaza City (9-minute video). [Bottom right] On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius (see the last item below).
(2) Henry Petroski [1942-2023]: Mechanical-engineer extraordinaire, essayist, columnist, prolific author, and longtime professor at Duke University dies at 81.
Many of Petroski's best-known books fall into two categories: Those focused on the central role of failure in developing successful designs and those dealing with the evolution of ubiquitous objects, such as pencils, paper-clips, and forks.
I got to know Petroski through his wonderful book, To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design, which l have been using as an important source for my graduate course on dependable computing. RMS Titanic sank because of hubris on the part of its designers, but we learned more from this one failure than the success of many other vessels about how to design safe ocean liners.
I, for one, will miss the wisdom dispensed by Petroski in his essays and columns. Many of these works are timeless, so they will no doubt be reprinted for the benefit of new generations of engineers. Rest in peace, "Poet Laureate of Engineering"!
(3) Book review: Lucretius Carus, Titus (translated and with notes by A.E. Stallings), On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura), Penguin Classics, 2007. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
If you want to learn about science and philosophy, as they existed more than 2000 years ago (in the mid-first-century BCE, to be exact), this book by the Roman poet Lucretius is a must read. Written in some 7400 dactylic hexameters, the book aims to explain Epicurean philosophy to a Roman audience. Because there is no copyright, you can get the e-book or audiobook free of charge. Multiple translations of the work exist.
There are six sections (books) in Lucretius' tome. These sections were originally untitled, so the following are rough descriptions of the sections, in pairs.
Sections 1 & 2: The atom, its properties, and laws governing it
Sections 3 & 4: Mind, spirit, senses, death, and the role of sex
Sections 5 & 6: Astronomy and large-scale natural phenomena
Lucretius committed suicide at age 44. He wrote many books, only some of which have reached us. On the Nature of Things is deemed incomplete by many, who suggest that Lucretius might have died before he was able to finalize and fully edit his poem. Evidence in support of this hypothesis includes the fact that the book ends abruptly and does not include a promised discussion of the nature of gods.

2023/11/12 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
With Tim Scott revealing his gorgeous girlfriend on the debate stage, people have gone back to asking: 'Where's Melania?' On Sunday, we honored the memory of my mother at Santa Barbara Cemetery, nearly a year after her passing How I spent my Saturday: I assembled a bed I had ordered on-line, getting lots of physical exercise and even more mental exercise (1) Images of the day: [Left] With Tim Scott revealing his gorgeous girlfriend on the debate stage, people have gone back to asking: "Where's Melania?" [Center] On Sunday, we honored the memory of my mother at Santa Barbara Cemetery, nearly a year after her passing. May her soul and the soul of others we have lost rest in peace. [Right] How I spent my Saturday: I assembled a bed I had ordered on-line, getting lots of physical exercise and even more mental exercise in trying to figure out how to put it together. The bed has an excellent design and is made of great material (A, on both counts). Assembly instructions get a D.
(2) Miniature battery-free bioelectronics: Such devices obviate the need for bulky battery-packs and cumbersome tethers by relying on wireless transfer of energy or harvesting energy from the body itself.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Donald Trump is said to be considering Tucker Carlson as a possible running mate.
- Iran hires hitmen around the world, including on US soil, to abduct or kill its opponents. [13-minute video]
- To Iranian mullahs: Didn't you say you want to wipe Israel off the map? So, why do you demand a cease-fire?
- Hebrew pocket watch, frozen in time of it owner's death who sank with the Titanic, is auctioned off.
- The $222M that McDonald's CEO's widow Joan Kroc left for NPR 20 years ago saved public radio.
- Columbia U. suspends 2 pro-Palestinian groups due to harassment threats & unmanageable safety concerns.
- Conversation with Iranian-American astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli: Live from space, Nov. 29, 2023, 10 AM PST.
(4) Religion arose to help us deal with the fear of death: The oldest religious rituals are associated with burials. Are we humans developed enough now to face death directly, without a need for fairy tales? [3-minute video]
(5) A CV of Failures: According to Melanie Stefan, keeping a visible record of your rejected applications can help others to deal with setbacks. "My CV does not reflect the bulk of my academic efforts — it does not mention the exams I failed, my unsuccessful PhD or fellowship applications, or the papers never accepted for publication. At conferences, I talk about the one project that worked, not about the many that failed. As scientists, we construct a narrative of success that renders our setbacks invisible both to ourselves and to others. Often, other scientists' careers seem to be a constant, streamlined series of triumphs. Therefore, whenever we experience an individual failure, we feel alone and dejected. Such is not the case with every profession. Consider Ronaldinho. A football player cannot hide his setbacks. Everything is out in the open — every failure to be selected for a big competition, every injury, every missed penalty is on display. Maybe this is a good thing. It shows young aspiring players what it means to be a football player. It helps them to cope with their own setbacks. So here is my suggestion. Compile an 'alternative' CV of failures. Log every unsuccessful application, refused grant proposal and rejected paper. Don't dwell on it for hours, just keep a running, up-to-date tally. If you dare — and can afford to — make it public. It will be six times as long as your normal CV."

2023/11/11 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Here's an ageless quote, appropriate for this Veterans' Day, when we honor soldiers and their sacrifices in fighting wars Cover image of Sarah Hart's 'Once Upon a Prime' Webinar on tribal South-Persian weavings (1) Images of the day: [Left] An ageless quote, appropriate for this Veterans' Day, when we honor soldiers and their sacrifices in fighting wars, while generals and politicians are remembered in historical records as heroes: "In war the heroes always outnumber the soldiers ten to one." ~ H. L. Mencken [Center] Sarah Hart's Once Upon a Prime (see the last item below). [Right] Tribal South-Persian weavings (see the next item below).
(2) Textile Museum Associates of Southern California webinar: "'Truly Tribal' in South Persian Weavings" was the title of a fascinating presentation this morning by James Opie (Oriental rug scholar, author, collector, & dealer). Here's a link to Opie's second book, Tribal Rugs: A Complete Guide to Nomadic and Village Carpets.
Tribes wove for personal use and not for sale to outsiders. So, unlike urban patterns and weavings, tribal designs are characterized by imperfections and asymmetry. They also exhibit a wider range of creativity.
Sample weavings shown and explained included Afshari rugs; Arab-Khamseh hot pads & rugs; Bhaktiyari saddle-bags, trappings, & rugs; Bijar rugs; Luri gabbehs, gileems (flatweaves) & rugs; Qashqa'i bags, gileems, & workshop rugs; Safavid-era rugs.
I will add a link to the recording of this highly-recommended webinar when it becomes available.
(3) Iranian women continue to be killed by their Islamic government (for violating hijab laws) and by their male relatives (under the guise of family honor). [IranWire report]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Craziest political analysis: "Arab-Americans, upset with Biden's Middle East policy, may vote for Trump."
- On November 26, 1974, Israeli PM Golda Meir gave a speech that is still relevant nearly 5 decades later.
- The Iranian young girl who fell and went into a coma after being interrogated by the mullah's agents.
- An interesting post from Nairobi, Kenya, where a Congress on "Identity, Belonging, & Migration" is held.
- Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and his hilarious take on movies that violate laws of physics.
- Patterns of superstition: Our brains try to find patterns, faces in particular, everywhere. [8-minute video]
(5) Book review: Hart, Sarah, Once Upon a Prime: The Wonderous Connections Between Mathematics and Literature, unabridged 9-hour audiobook, read by the author, Macmillan Audio, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In this book, math professor Sarah Hart explores the relationship between mathematics and literature. She maintains that the relationship goes in both directions. Literature is full of references to mathematics and contains structures that are mathematical in nature. In the former category, Moby Dick, Flatland, and Life of Pi come to mind as stories with mathematical references. The contemporary novels A Gentleman in Moscow The Luminaries both make use of sequences of powers of 2. In the latter category, the permutational structures that govern some poetic forms constitute good examples. Sanskrit mathematics is expressed in words, using the language of poetry.
Hart bashes the prevailing stereotype of mathematicians as creatures living in a different world, where reason rules and the language of literature isn't spoken. On the contrary, several prominent mathematicians and scientist have pointed out that good science & math must contain beauty. A virtuous mathematical proof, like a beautiful poem, is tightly constructed and contains no unnecessary words. According to German mathematician Karl Weierstrass, "A mathematician who is not somewhat of a poet will never be a complete mathematician."
Contrary to popular view of math as a dry subject, it requires extreme imagination and creativity. The perceived boundary between mathematics and other creative arts is a fairly recent idea. For much of history, every educated person had to be conversant in math. The Persian poet Omar Khayyam, whose exquisite poems are known and valued worldwide, was in fact a polymath with significant contributions to mathematics. In my view, Hart is successful in sketching "the enduring conversation between literature and mathematics."

2023/11/10 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pro-Palestinian groups attack people gathered for a documentary film screening about Hamas atrocities at the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance St. Petersburg Mosque, Russia Brilliant T-shirt design: Nope, Not Again (1) Images of the day: [Left] Pro-Palestinian groups attack people gathered for a documentary film screening about Hamas atrocities at the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance. [Center] St. Petersburg Mosque, Russia. [Right] Brilliant T-shirt design: Nope, Not Again.
(2) Good riddance, Senator Joe Manchin: After sabotaging many Democratic plans in cahoots with the Republicans, the Democratic lawmaker says he will not seek reelection.
(3) Islamic Republic of Iran's view on Western hostages: "We hold hostages from every country that could possibly attack us militarily. We will kill all these hostages within an hour of the attack. I hope we get this opportunity." This guy's primitive brain doesn't work beyond his stupid pronouncement: Then what? Will the attacking country turn around and retreat or will the killing of hostages make it more determined to take revenge by wiping you off the map?
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US college campuses see the highest ever rates of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia incidents. [USA Today]
- Americans march for Israel, to free hostages, and against anti-Semitism: I fear violence at this 11/14 event.
- Nineteen Baha'is arrested by Iran's Islamic regime: Ten in the city of Hamedan and 9 in Karaj.
- On pitfalls of statistics: If Bill Gates walks into a room, everyone in the room will be a billionaire on average!
(5) An Islamic Republic of Iran official has mused that the US should return the entire country to Native Americans: Sure, right after Islamists and mullahs return Iran to Iranians!
(6) Comparing Hamas to the Nazis is misguided: Yes, Nazis shot Jews in the backs of their heads and pushed their lifeless bodies into trenches, but deep down they were ashamed of what they did, so they tried to hide their acts from Germans & the rest of the world, and soldiers routinely got drunk to forget what they did. Hamas terrorists were proud of their barbaric acts on Oct. 7, 2023. They gleefully videotaped the rapes, beheadings, and setting fire to buildings where people were hiding, posting the videos on social media. And they called their parents in Gaza to boast about how many Jews they had killed.
(7) "Reducing water temperature makes it cooler": This is a made-up example of the kind of headlines that make you go "duh"! Here's an actual example: "Rewarding women more like men could reduce wage gap." The report on this "study" in Cornell Chronicle continues thus: "Treating women more like men, especially in terms of salary, could narrow the gender wage gap."
(8) "No GPS, No Problem: Exploiting Signals of Opportunity for Resilient and Accurate Autonomous Navigation in GPS-Denied Environments": Autonomous vehicles rely on a steady stream of signals and information from external sources for localization, route planning, perception, and situational awareness. This includes reliance on positioning, navigation, and timing information from global navigation satellites. Current autonomous vehicles are too trusting of such information and too fragile in the face of loss or attenuation of communications links. In this IEEE AESS Distinguished Lecture, Zak Kassas (Ohio State U.) presents a framework for resilient and accurate autonomous navigation by exploiting ambient radio frequency signals of opportunity, which are not intended as navigation sources. Specialized vehicle-mounted radios collaboratively draw relevant positioning and timing information from ambient signals of opportunity to build and continuously refine a spatiotemporal signal landscape map of the environment within which the vehicles simultaneously localize themselves in space and time.

2023/11/09 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB Jazz Combos at Wednesday's World Music Series noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl, under impossibly blue skies Iran's former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif does not consider residents of Israel civilians Islamic Republic of Iran manipulates its proxy forces to gain more power: It cares even less about Palestinians than it does about Iranians
Throwback Thursday: Iran's Commission on Price Control sets the rates for chelow-kabob, ca. 1968 On anti-Semitism, bothsidesism, and whataboutism Tonight's Talangor Group talk on modern physics (1) Images of the day: [Top left] UCSB Jazz Combos at Wednesday's World Music Series noon concert, under impossibly blue skies (Video 1, Afro-Cuban mambo; Video 2, Cha-cha). [Top center] Iran's former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif does not consider residents of Israel civilians. [Top right] Islamic Republic of Iran manipulates its proxy forces to gain power: It cares even less about Palestinians than it does about Iranians. [Bottom left] Throwback Thursday: Iran's Commission on Price Control sets the rates for chelow-kabob (35-60 rials, depending on type and quality, ~$0.50-0.85), ca. 1968. [Bottom center] On anti-Semitism, bothsidesism, and whataboutism (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Talangor Group talk (see the next item below).
(2) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Alireza Badakhsan (U. Texas Dallas) spoke under the title "Reflection of the World in Modern Physics." Before the main talk, Dr. Tofigh Heidarzadeh (U. California, Riverside) made a brief presentation on the journey of physics until the modern times. There were ~85 attendees.
The most-important physics notions since the 20th century include quantum mechanics and relativity theory. These notions have transformed not just physics itself but our understanding of the world around us, so a basic understanding of them is essential for us modern humans. Like all important discoveries, such as the dual nature of light (composed of particles and waves), quantum mechanics and relativity created much confusion among physicists. Even today, quantum mechanics isn't understood to the same extent by every physicist. It is well-known that even Einstein did not come to peace with quantum mechanics.
In part of his talk, Dr. Badakhsan tried to tie the modern notions of physics to spirituality (e.g., Eastern religious & philosophical traditions) and mysticism (as practiced, for example, by several Persian poets). Having read Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics and several of its critiques bordering on ridicule, I am rather skeptical of these connections. Vague spiritual and mystical statements can be interpreted in many different ways and one can assign various meanings to them, including interpretations connecting them to physical laws that were never part of the intended meaning.
(3) My brush with anti-Semitism, bothsidesism, and whataboutism: I have started the process of leaving social-media groups that exhibit anti-Semitism in the wake of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Sometimes, the anti-Semitism is explicit and direct. At other times, it takes the form of bothsidesism and whataboutism (see below).
someone with quite a few family members residing in Israel, my interests and sensitivities are different from most of the people making comments about the conflict from various sociopolitical vantage points. I am very offended when the said family members are characterized as occupiers or oppressors that deserve to be annihilated. The older members of the family, who were oppressed in Iran's Kurdistan Province, immigrated to Israel in the late 1940s, penniless, where they started new lives after living in immigrant camps and kibbutzim for many years. As they built their new lives, they also helped build their new homeland.
BOTHSIDESISM: This is when data from both sides of a conflict are presented as if they are equally valid, to create the illusion of fairness. Actually, fairness requires vetting of data and presenting only information that is vetted and verified, even if this means excluding data from one side of the conflict. For example, when Israel says that ~1500 Israelis were slaughtered and ~250 were kidnapped on October 7, 2023, there is little doubt about the veracity of the claims, subject to the usual small uncertainties and inaccuracies. But when Hamas claims that Israel bombed a hospital, killing 500, there is no evidence to back it up. Experts examining the wreckage at the hospital parking lot have concluded that no more than 100 could have died, given that no buildings were damaged. More importantly, no evidence has been presented that Israel did the bombing. By now, Hamas should have been able to present evidence in the form of shrapnel and explosive residues to prove its claim, but no such evidence has been forthcoming. All the other Gaza casualty figures are similarly unverified and thus suspect.
WHATABOUTISM: This is the practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counteraccusation or raising a different issue. This strategy is like a murderer using the defense that other people have committed murder as well. Yes, they have, and they all should be prosecuted and punished similarly. One person's crime should be judged and punished for what it is and it cannot be forgiven because another person also committed the same crime or an even worse one. One should condemn Hamas' slaughtering of innocent civilians, using a sentence that ends in a period, not with a compound sentence that continues with "but." If you think Israelis have committed similar crimes, then raise your idea as a separate assertion, with its own evidence and analysis, using data from trustworthy sources.

2023/11/07 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today's sleepy Election Day: Abortion rights are front and center in several states, including in Ohio, where it's Issue #1 The human gut's private brain (from Science magazine) I love my new rainbow doormat from IKEA
Two Baha'i women in their 80s, whose husbands were executed four decades ago because of their faith, are being harassed by Iran's Islamic regime (Cartoon) Father: 'Do you have Jews, Christians, and Muslims at your school?' Daughter: 'No, we have only kids' Tonight's chelow-kabob dinner (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Today's sleepy Election Day: Abortion rights are front & center in several states, including in Ohio, where it's Issue #1. [Top center] Human gut's private brain (see the next item below). [Top right] I love my new rainbow doormat from IKEA. [Bottom left] Two Baha'i women in their 80s, whose husbands were executed four decades ago because of their faith, are being harassed by Iran's Islamic regime. [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: Father: "Do you have Jews, Christians, and Muslims at your school?" Daughter: "No, we have only kids." [Bottom right] Tonight's chelow-kabob dinner: Your place was empty!
(2) A second brain inside our gut: "Believe it or not, your small intestine has a brain of its own that takes over for you. The 'brain inside your gut,' or the enteric nervous system (ENS), is a complex network of neurons and glia often referred to as the 'second brain' owing to its cellular complexity and independence from central control. This second brain senses the movement of contents and responds by initiating contractions to move luminal contents in a unidirectional, aboral motion independent from your brain."
(3) Jewish Frenchman pretends to be Persian to save his life in a Nazi concentration camp, but he encounters challenges when a German deputy commandant demands Persian lessons: This is the intriguing premise (apparently based on a true story) of Vadim Perelman's "Persian Lessons" (2020). [2-minute trailer]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- In what kind of world is Donald Trump the focus of nearly all news stories, while two major wars are raging?
- Israelis are buying guns and getting firearms training in record numbers.
- Jewish man dies from head injury following altercation with pro-Palestinian demonstrator in S. California.
- The jihadi Janjaweed, a group with ties to Middle East Islamic extremists, massacres 773 civilians in Darfur.
- Ohio votes to enshrine the right to abortion in its state constitution.
- Iranian human-rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh sends a video message to the Paris Bar Association.
- Young Iranian women are bringing the misogynistic Islamic regime to its knees! #WomanLifeFreedom
- Another dot.com idea bites the dust: WeWork files for bankruptcy amid a glut of empty offices.
- Institute of Engineering and Technology's reading list on "Women in Engineering and Technology."
(5) Book talk: Dr. Bahram Grami introduces his book, Ahmad Shamlou, Behind the Mirror. This interesting talk, which the speaker insisted isn't a literary criticism, reveals a great deal about Shamlou's personality, his misogyny, the doubtful nature of his translations, his drug addiction, his promise to Queen Farah Pahlavi not to speak ill of the Shah's regime, his false claims of serving time as a political prisoner, his negative view of Nowruz, and the insults he hurled at the great poet Ferdowsi. [56-minute video]
(6) Diesel generator at an EV charging station: This isn't as silly as it may appear at first sight. The generator is said to be a back-up for the solar-powered facility in the Australian Outback. [Photo]
(7) A transformative change: Saudi Arabia will use the Western Gregorian calendar in lieu of the traditional Islamic calendar for official business.

2023/11/05 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Special issue of IEEE Computer magazine on computer engineering education New Yorker cartoon: Self-checkout comes to trick-or-treating Science magazine's cover feature on herbivores hampering restoration in degraded ecosystems
Old-time Iranian singer Akbar Golpayegani (1934-2023) dead at 89 My niece's belated birthday party: Photo 1 My niece's belated birthday party: Photo 2 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Special issue of IEEE Computer magazine on CE education: The issue offers three articles on teaching chip design & verification, edge AI, and multiprocessor OS. [Top center] New Yorker cartoon of the day: Self-checkout comes to trick-or-treating. [Top right] Science magazine's cover feature (see the next item below). [Bottom left] Old-time Iranian singer Akbar Golpayegani (1934-2023) dead at 89: The photo shows him, his wife, their daughter, and two granddaughters. [Bottom center & right] My niece's belated birthday party, during which the top piece of her wedding cake, frozen for about six months, was also served.
(2) Cover feature of Science magazine, issue of Nov. 3, 2023: Successful restoration of vegetation in degraded ecosystems, especially in warmer, dryer regions, is hampered by a substantial herbivore control of vegetation under restoration. "Herbivores at restoration sites reduced vegetation abundance more strongly (by 89%, on average) than those at relatively undegraded sites and suppressed, rather than fostered, plant diversity."
(3) A scathing critique of the positions taken by Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush, an architect of Iran's version of Cultural Revolution, which led to a 3-year closure of Iranian universities and expelling of many students and faculty members. 11-minute video, narrated in Persian]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hamas tunnels discovered in Gaza have entry and exit points under hospitals, mosques, and schools.
- This Palestinian girl claims UN aid entering Gaza is being sold on the black market at ridiculously high prices.
- Never forget the massacre of Oct. 7, 2023: Graphic footage from the dead at the music festival.
- Mark Meadows' book publisher is suing him for lies he included in his memoir in support of Donald Trump.
- Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: A somewhat deeper explanation, with an analogy to Fourier transform.
- Following national initiatives on AI promise & risks, the United Nations also launches an AI advisory body.
(5) The film industry is being taken over by game technology companies: This is the thesis of an article in IEEE Computer magazine (issue of November 2023). A result of this takeover will be the need for a chief scientist position at all major film studios.
(6) Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza was hit by a Palestinian rocket: New York Times draws this conclusion based on four sets of indicators that include video footage from the air, ground video footage, Hamas not having produced any evidence such as shrapnel after more than two weeks, and tapes of conversations between Hamas members. There is still a tiny non-zero probability that an Israeli rocket hit the hospital, but evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.
(7) The killing of 1400 Israelis by Hamas was justified: Thus says the Fatwa Department of Al Azhar University, the most prestigious institution in the Islamic world which is sometimes referred to as the Muslim "Vatican." The Fatwa reads, in part, "The term 'civilians' does not apply to the Zionist settlers of the occupied land. Rather, they are occupiers of the land, usurpers of rights, deviators from the straight path embodied by the prophets, and blatant disregarders for the sanctity of the historic city of Jerusalem, which encompasses the city of Jerusalem's respectable Islamic and Christian heritage."

2023/11/03 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: In this diagram with three squares whose areas are given, what is the area of the blue triangle? Talangor Group talk entitled 'Iranian and Modernity' Math/stat humor: Normal and paranormal distributions (1) Images of the day: [Left] Math puzzle: In this diagram with three squares whose areas are given, what is the area of the blue triangle? [Center] Talangor Group talk (see the last item below) [Right] Math/stat humor: Normal and paranormal distributions.
(2) "Beyond Engaging Men: Masculinity, (Non)Violence, and Peacebuilding": This is the title of a new report published by Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, launched on October 30, 2023. According to Dr. Robert U. Nagel, Lead Report Author, "Bringing in men and masculinities avoids burdening women with the sole obligation of achieving gender equality. We need to mobilize men to create more gender-equal processes and institutions that will benefit everyone."
(3) UCSB's Institute for Energy Efficiency celebrated its 15th anniversary today: The 5.5-hour program included an opening keynote address and talks on data centers, green AI, energy-efficient materials, and the challenge of climate change. The event concluded with a reception, a poster session, and a tour of Henley Hall.
(4) Thursday's Talangor Group talk: Ardeshir Mansouri (philosopher of science) spoke under the title "Iranians and Modernity." The main talk was preceded by two brief presentations: An anniversary remembrance of Vanik Tatavoosian (1953-2022), a founding member of the Talangor Group, and a brief talk by Dr. Payam Kiani on the Lion & Sun emblem, a composite symbol, said to be from the period of Seljuk Turks, that graced Iran's national flag until 44 years ago. There were ~90 attendees.
Modernity has its roots in the Renaissance period (centered in Italy, France, England) and the ensuing rebirth after the Dark Ages. With modernity, Europeans returned to their ancient selves, that is, who they were in the age of thought & reason. After modernity came modernism and modernization. In non-European lands, the process was reversed, so that they began with modernization and moved toward modernism and modernity. Russia must be considered non-European, because it embraced modernity with significant delay (18th century).
Iran's first encounter with modernity occurred in the Safavid period, when printing press, railroad, and photography, among other manifestations of modernization, were brought in. Iranian adoption of modernity did not start with thinkers and philosophers. Its roots can be found in the weakness against foreign powers. These foreigners had all the tools of power (militarism), so Iran's rulers aimed to duplicate their success. Unfortunately, the aforementioned manifestations of modernity were not used to spread modern thought but rather to spread religious beliefs and various "ism"s. So, part of the problem is that we adopted manifestations of modernity without modernizing our thoughts.
Interestingly, before we took significant steps in our quest to adopt modernity, we encountered the introduction of the notion of Westoxification, which opposed and tried to nullify Western thought. The idea was advanced that we should return to our own selves, not to European selves (our own modernity, not theirs). As a result, we vacillated between infatuation with Western thought and enmity to it, thus missing the boat of modernity.
It is in the aforementioned sense that some people consider "tajaddod" (renewal, in Persian/Arabic) to be different from modernity. Modernity for us is an imported notion, whereas return to self, which is highly desired, never actually happened in Iran. To summarize, the Persian/Arabic term "tajaddod" is sometimes taken to be equivalent to modernity and sometimes is taken to be different (a native version of return to self).

2023/11/02 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: My younger maternal aunt in a school photo from 70-75 years ago Throwback Thursday: My parents in a studio portrait from 70-75 years ago
Memes of the day about Iran Multicultural dinner: Italian pasta with meat sauce, Iranian Shirazi salad, and French bread Cover image of 'Accessory to War' (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Throwback Thursday: My younger maternal aunt (top right corner in the school photo, taken when she was a teen) looks so much like my mom; my parents in a studio portrait from 70-75 years ago. [Bottom left] Memes of the day about Iran: (1) The physician who attended her award ceremony wearing no hijab must wear the chador from now on. (2) One condition of Saudi Arabia to normalize its relation with Israel was being given control of the Gaza Strip. (3) Instagram accounts of many celebrity influencers are being closed over hijab violations. (4) In October 2023, 76 Iranian prisoners were executed. [Bottom center] Wednesday's multicultural dinner: Italian pasta with meat sauce, Iranian Shirazi salad, and French bread. [Bottom right] A book about the dark side of astrophysics (see the last item below).
(2) You ought to know: Palestinians were not driven out in 1948 by the Israelis. They were convinced by the armed forces of several Arab countries that planned to conquer Israel to get out of harm's way.
(3) Baha'i woman, who was expelled from school in Iran for her faith, won a prestigious prize in 2018: Shabnam Raayai-Ardakani is only the second woman to win APS's Fluid Dynamics Award.
(4) In Islam, the punishment for drinking and sexual promiscuity is condemnation to Hell, and the reward for those going to Heaven is access to unlimited liquor and sex. [Attributed to Iranian writer Sadegh Hedayat]
(5) Book review: Tyson, Neil deGrasse and Avis Lang, Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military, unabridged 19-hour audiobook, read by Courtney B. Vance, Random House Audio, 2018. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Tyson has written the book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (my lukewarm review). Before the latter book, Tyson wrote a much heavier tome, Accessory to War, which he jokingly describes as "Astrophysics for People Not in a Hurry." We often associate astrophysics with high-minded research focused on understanding the universe, with little attention to worldly applications. Tyson and Lang do a great job of dispelling this myth. In a nutshell, they state that astronomers have always been in the service of the warring generals. They are good at detecting, locating, and tracking objects, which are useful capabilities for land, sea, and air combat.
Accessory to War is detailed and well-researched, beginning with techniques and technologies used in the ancient world (use of the stars, vision aids) and continuing systematically up to the present day (advanced detection methods, space tech). The early part of the book is a feast of history, covering thousands of years of war & conquest with the help of astronomers and their tools. Ptolemy, Galileo, and Kepler paid close attention to military uses of their knowledge and had military sponsors.
In modern times, the invention of radar, understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond visible light, and space-based command & control have greatly increased combat capabilities. The close association between astronomy and war explains, in part, why the fields of astrophysics and space research are lavishly funded. Today, thanks to such funding, we have at our disposal a wide array of both earth-based and air/space-based detection & location technologies.
The 100+ pages of notes in the hardback version of the book (nonexistent in the audiobook, of course) are indicative of the authors' scientific minds and extensive research. Their arguments, that advanced technologies, space tech in particular, have made wars much more dangerous, is well-supported by the presented evidence. The combination of weapons of mass destruction and precision tracking & delivery methods have indeed brought humanity to the brink of extinction-scale wars, which can be avoided only through international cooperation and understanding.

2023/11/01 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Chess puzzle: White, which is in danger of losing the match, has a brilliant move that leads to a win Game trees for chess puzzles Today's World Music Series noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl (Klezmer Music with Kalinka) (1) Images of the day: [Left] Chess puzzle: White, which is in danger of losing the match, has a brilliant move that leads to a win. What is that move? [Center] Game trees for chess puzzles (see the next item below). [Right] Today's World Music Series noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl (Klezmer Music with Kalinka): The five-piece band included an accordion, a clarinet, a trumpet, a bass, and a banjo (Video 1: a 1920's tune entitled "Get Happy Jews") (Video 2: A Yiddish song from the 1920s) (Video 3: A song from Ukraine) (Video 4: A jazzy song whose title and background I did not catch) (Video 5: One last sample of music from the concert).
(2) On the structure of easy and tough chess puzzles: The diagram shows alternating chess moves by white and black. On the left is a typical easy chess puzzle, with white mating in 2 moves: White makes a move, black's move is forced, white finishes with the second move. In the middle is a somewhat more-challenging puzzle: White makes a move, black has two possible moves, one of which leads to immediate mate and the other one leads to a white move that mates in one more move. On the right is an example of a tough chess puzzle: Black has three possible moves in response to white's first move, and so on. This kind of rich branching structure occurs at the end of real chess games.
(3) In a message smuggled out of her prison cell, Nobel Peace Laureate Narges Mohammadi writes: "Victory is not easy, but it is certain."
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US special forces are in Israel to help in the search for hostages taken by Hamas.
- Philanthropic foundations to provide $200 million funding for AI advancement.
- FDA recalls 21 eyedrops due to unsanitary conditions in production facilities which create an infection risk.
- A capsule history of Israelis and Palestinians: It's quite different from what most people think.
- Talk about remote software update! NASA sends a software patch to Voyager 2, 12 billion miles away.
- Home sellers win a $1.8 billion lawsuit against brokerages that conspired to inflate agents' commissions.
- Why almost all coal on Earth was made at about the same time: Between 360M and 300M years ago.
- Corporate welfare, good (it's capitalism), welfare for workers and ordinary people, bad (it's socialism).
- George Carlin on political double-speak: How politicians torture the English language. [9-minute video]
- Facebook memory from Nov. 1, 2019: Persian music, performed on piano and kamancheh.
(5) This is why Israel cannot agree to a cease fire: "We will repeat the October 7 massacre time and again, one million times if we need to, until we end the occupation." ~ Hamas
(6) Persian music: The late Fereydoun Farrokhzad (assassinated by Islamic Republic of Iran operatives in Europe) performs a modern Persian song, accompanied by Shohreh Solati. [5-minute video]
(7) US universities covet the R1 (tier-1 research) designation: Currently, a complicated formula is used to determine which institutions qualify as R1. The process is being simplified to considering only two factors, viz. research expenditure of at least $50 million and granting of at least 70 doctoral degrees. The thresholds for the R2 designation are $5 million and 20 doctoral degrees.

2023/10/31 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Prominent Iranian human-rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh arrested for not wearing a hijab at a funeral With my daughter returning from a Halloween party, we have an additional cat in our household The Chinese non-believers: Iranian Paralympic athlete regained his sight by praying to the Eighth Imam the night before his match
Sunday's dinner: Quince stew (prepared in a slow-cooker) with rice: Stew in the slow cooker Sunday's dinner: Quince stew (prepared in a slow-cooker) with rice We are prepared to welcome little trick-or-treaters later this evening! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Prominent Iranian human-rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh arrested in Tehran for not wearing a hijab at the funeral of a 16-year-old girl who died after being roughed up by hijab-enforcers. [Top center] With my daughter returning from a Halloween party, we have an additional cat in our household. [Top right] The Chinese non-believers: Iranian Paralympic athlete regained his sight by praying to the Eighth Imam the night before his match: Chinese officials did not accept this excuse and kicked him off the games. [Bottom left & center] Sunday's dinner: Quince stew (in a slow-cooker) with rice, courtesy of my daughter. [Bottom right] We are prepared to welcome little trick-or-treaters later this evening!
(2) Jews who are religious and believe in putting up Torah scrolls (Mezuzahs) on the frame of their entry doors, have begun to remove them, because they are easy marks for spotting Jewish homes by anti-Semites.
(3) When physicists enter a new domain, they often discover the footsteps of mathematicians who walked there before. [9-minute video]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- At the end of "A Primer on Hamas" series of articles, by Mark Durie: Some Concluding Thoughts.
- Rival groups at UCSB organize events in support of Palestinians and Israelis. [Daily Nexus front page]
- A tale of two 19th-century researchers reveals how science professionalization led to women's exclusion.
- Instead of a polite, generic rejection note, employers should tell interviewees exactly where they fell short.
- Association for Computing Machinery issues principles for generative AI technology.
- A glimpse of Iran's diverse ethnic profile. [1-minute video]
- Funny comedy routine about old people: I really like his impersonation of a teen's disapproving reaction.
(5) The most-educated countries in the world: Germany ranks first with an education index of 0.94, literacy rate of 99%, and school achievement of 22.91. The next four countries are Finland (0.93, 100%, 25.29%), Iceland (0.93, 99%, 21.11%), New Zealand (0.93, 99%, 17.39%), Norway (0.93, 100%, 27.49%).
(6) The Encina Royale housing complex in Goleta has electrical outlets in the carports: Some residents use these outlets for recharging their electric vehicles. The homeowners' association has reminded the residents that such use of the outlets is disallowed and will lead to fines, given the significant fire hazard. A main reason is that the 60-year-old electrical infrastructure of those outlets cannot support the high currents drawn during the charging of large batteries. Even though not explicitly stated, I think the issue of who pays for the electric energy used during charging is also an issue. You may want to watch for similar problems where you live.
(7) Palestinians did not leave their homes in 1948 because Israel kicked them out: They left because Arab armies on the verge of an invasion to try to take the land asked them to get out of harm's way.
(8) Scarier than ghosts: American Jews constitute 2.4% of the US population but are victims in 60% of religious hate crimes, according to FBI data cited by Director Christopher Wray.
(9) Final thought for the day: Jews who are religious and believe in putting up Torah scrolls (Mezuzahs) on the frame of entry doors, have begun to remove them, because they are easy marks for spotting Jewish homes.

2023/10/29 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian education official: 'Students should record their Islamic prayers and submit the sound files to schools for verification' Chess puzzle: White to begin and mate in 2 moves Israelis have changed: They are now a lot more reflective and unsure of their future
Cover image of Science magazine: The small and mighty hypothalamus Toxic masculinity in soccer: Male player insults female referee who red-carded him Socrates Think Tank remembers director Dariush Mehrjui (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Islamic Republic of Iran education official: "Students should record their Islamic prayers and submit the sound files to schools for verification." [Top center] Chess puzzle: White to begin and mate in 2 moves. Hint: Black currently has no legal move, so if white does not create one, the match is a draw according to chess rules. [Top right] Israelis have changed: They are now a lot more reflective and unsure of their future. They hug more and have set aside petty grievances. Much like post-9/11 Americans. [Bottom left] The small and mighty hypothalamus: It controls temperature, sleep, eating, and social interactions. [Bottom center] Male soccer player insults female referee (see the next item below). [Bottom right] Socrates Think Tank remembers director Dariush Mehrjui (see the last item below).
(2) Toxic masculinity in soccer: In an old incident from 2015, which has resurfaced in a viral post with a new, highly-misleading caption, a Turkish soccer player told a German female referee, who red-carded him, to stick to the kitchen. He later apologized for the insult, but was "sentenced" to refereeing a girls' soccer match, which he did, without a 5-game suspension or any of the drama claimed in the new viral post.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- When "I condemn Hamas' massacre of Israelis" is followed by "but," I stop reading/watching.
- Jumping robots: These demos seem to have been filmed at UCSB.
- A partial list of apologies from the Catholic Church: Compare this record to the record of science & reason.
- Things to do in Ventura, CA, as recommended by AAA Magazine. [Tweet]
- Stand-up comedian Shaparak Khorsandi gets serious in this routine about the plight of women in Iran.
- Persian music: A beautiful pre-Islamic-Revolution love song. [1-minute video]
- Facebook memory from Oct. 28, 2021: Here is why we still need feminism.
- Facebook memory from Oct. 28, 2017: Team Tyson/Nye wants to make America smart again!
(4) Texas plans a referendum for establishing $4 billion endowment to add to its two top-tier research universities, UT Austin and Texas A&M.
(5) Socrates Think Tank panel discussion: In a Zoom session with ~75 attendees, five artists and critics discussed the films of the late Iranian director Dariush Mehrjui, who was found stabbed to death along with his wife in a home-invasion incident reminiscent of the 1988-1998 chain-murders of prominent opposition figures by Iran's government operatives. Mehrjui studied philosophy, so he brought philosophical points to his films. He was a founding member of Iran's New-Wave cinema of the early 1970s. Mehrjui's last film "La Minor" was completed in 2022, the same year he dared Iran's Islamic government to kill him, because he was anti-regime. It seems that the government took him up on this dare.
- Nakta Pahlevan (actor/writer/director): "On the Philosophy Hidden in Mehrjui's Films"
- Ali Kazemian (actor/director/writer/poet): "On Cultural & Psychological Aspects of the Film 'Hamoun' (1990)"
- Sepideh Jodeyri (poet/film-critic): "On the Film 'The Lodgers' (1987)"
- Forouza Pourkay (researcher/retired-professor): "On the Film 'Santouri' (2007)"
- Gholam Reza Azari (PhD in media/communications): "Closing Remarks" (due to Internet access restrictions, this Iran-resident panelist could not join, despite valiant efforts in trying different anti-filtering products)
A question-and-answer session followed the four presentations by the panelists.

2023/10/28 (Saturday): Today, I offer 2 book reviews on size & scale in nature and human-made systems.
Cover image of Vaclav Smil's 'Size' Cover image of D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's'On Growth and Form' Cover image of Geoffrey West's 'Scale' (1) Book review: Smil, Vaclav, Size: How It Explains the World, unabridged 9-hour audiobook, read by Stephen Perring, Harper Audio, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Vaclav Smil, professor of environmental studies at U. Manitoba, begins by observing that humans have always been fascinated by giant things. The seven wonders of the world were all humongous. When available material or construction methods impose a size limit, we work hard to overcome those limits in order to build taller skyscrapers, bigger airplanes, or larger dams. And our fascination with size isn't limited to human-made things. We are easily shocked and awed by the largest animals. At the other extreme, the tiniest things or beings also fascinate us.
Smil's book is related to another interesting book, Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies, by Geoffrey West (2017). [My review] There is a great deal of overlap between the two books. Size covers more ground, but is, by necessity, shallower, while, at double the size (pun intended), Scale digs much deeper into those aspects that it does cover.
Laws of scaling in nature are what limit the size of the largest animals and makes such animal heavier-built and less agile (compare an elephant with a gazelle). In many cases, size variations are distributed normally, with the distribution being nearly symmetric around the mean. A good example is the height of individuals, with separate distributions for men and women. In certain other cases, power-law distributions are applicable.
Size limitations and scaling laws also apply to human-made artifacts, such as buildings and jet engines. Smil covers the case of cities and companies in detail, showing that both have power-law scaling. There are very few gigantic metropolises or trillion-dollar companies, and many more provincial townships and small businesses. Other examples of power-law distributions are encountered in wealth of individuals, sales of books, and frequency of leading digits in numbers (Benford's Law). A straight-line plot on log-log scale is necessary, but insufficient, evidence for an underlying power-law.
Size is important in several different ways. It affects properties and behaviors. A large animal does not move or act in the same way as a small animal. We would readily admit to growth limits for biological systems, a recognition that has a very long history. That non-living systems also have growth limits comes as a surprise to many. An inordinately large city would be crushed under the burden of providing services and means of transportation. Even if we can build a super-tall skyscraper, it would be inefficient owing to the amount of floor space taken up by elevator shafts.
Given the importance of size, we have expended much effort on procedures and technologies for measuring it and on debating the relative merits of various characterizations and measurement methods. When one measures size (or anything else for that matter), one is drawn to consider norms and deviations from norms. This is readily accomplished in some cases, as in human height or body-mass index. With power-law distributions, however, well-defined mean and variance may not exist, making it difficult to characterize extreme cases.
Despite gaining much useful and interesting information from this book, I found it somewhat disappointing. Laws of scaling are not discussed as rigorously or completely as they could have.
(2) Book review: West, Geoffrey, Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies, Penguin, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Growth in the animal kingdom has been studied for at least a century. Scottish mathematical biologist D'Arcy Wentworth's classic 1917 (2nd ed. 1942) book, On Growth and Form, considers the effects of scale on the shapes of animals & plants and also discusses a wide array of mathematical structures and forms observed in nature, from the design of animal shells to the arrangement of plant leaves. The study of how the characteristics of living creatures change with size is known as "allometry," a term coined by J. S. Huxley & G. Tessier in a 1936 Nature paper.
Theoretical physicist Geoffrey West reiterates some of the old knowledge cited above and provides updates on studies performed since then. He also tackles scaling laws for cities and companies. Much of what I wrote in my review of Vaclav Smil's Size applies to this book as well, so I include it here by reference.
We humans are conditioned to think of scaling as being linear: Double the weight of an animal and it will need twice as much food. This follows the same logic as per-capita economic measures, that is, we tend to think in terms of a constant amount of food per cell. In this example, the food required actually grows sublinearly with weight. Doubling of weight leads to the need for ~70% more food. A cat is ~100 times heavier than a mouse but consumes only 10^(3/4) ~ 32 times the energy that the mouse consumes (a kind of economy of scale). Exponent factors 3/4 and 1/4 are encountered in many natural scaling formulas. In other cases of power-law scaling, the relationship may be superlinear.
We often talk of economy of scale as if it's an immutable law. Galileo was the first person to observe that organisms and structures cannot be scaled up indefinitely, because masses increase by the third power of size, whereas cross-section of supporting structures, such as bones and columns, increase by the square of size.
Many interesting scaling effects are discussed in connection with cities and companies. The two are different, in that companies tend to have short lifespans on average, whereas cities rarely go defunct. The speed of life, social interactions, and economic activity all scale with the size of a city (New Yorkers walk much faster than residents of small towns). There are surprising similarities among cities with diverse histories and cultural attributes. In the case of companies, scaling reveals universal dynamics that correspond to a company's size and age.
In summary, the characteristics and dynamics of diverse biological organisms, cities, and companies are governed by surprisingly similar laws that describe their structures as well as their limits.

2023/10/27 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Basalt rock near Meshginshahr, Iran Cartoon: Pumpkin patch. Spice patch. Latte patch. Cover image of Narges Mohammadi's 'White Torture' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Basalt rock near Meshginshahr, Iran: Basalt is formed from the rapid cooling of low-viscosity lava rich in magnesium and iron, exposed at or very near the surface of a rocky planet or moon. More than 90% of all volcanic rock on Earth is basalt. [Center] New Yorker cartoon of the day: Pumpkin patch. Spice patch. Latte patch. [Right] Narges Mohammadi's White Torture (see the last item below).
(2) Interview with Elaheh Amani on illicit sexual relations by Islamic Republic of Iran's government officials.
P.S.: Private affairs are of course private and I usually avoid discussing them in my posts. However, in the case of hypocrisy, the situation changes. When a public official lives differently from what s/he demands of others (to the extent of prosecuting and imprisoning them for the same acts), the matter becomes of public interest.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Maine mass shooter found dead of self-inflicted gunshot wounds: Nearly all mass shooters are cowardly.
- It would be ironic if the actions of a bunch of barbarians started World War III among civilized countries!
- Israel claims that it is responding to attacks by Iran-supported forces from north and northeast.
- Qatar must be called out for hosting Hamas leaders and providing them with offices and other amenities.
- Qatar's Jekyll-Hyde personas, as arsonist and firefighter, in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
- Putin mouthpiece threatens the US: "Iran will sink American ships taking part in the attack against Hamas."
- An exciting new archaeological discovery in Nineveh, Upper Mesopotamia (today's Mosul, Iraq).
(4) Book review: Mohammadi, Narges (translated by Amir Rezanezhad), White Torture: Interviews with Iranian Women Prisoners, Oneworld Publishers, 2022. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I had read Narges Mohammadi's White Torture in its original language (Persian) before, but after she was awarded the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize for her relentless support of human and women's rights in Iran, I went back to the book and embarked on a more-careful reading of its English translation. Mohammadi is serving a three-decade jail term on "anti-regime" charges and, ironically, was in prison when the Nobel Prize news came.
In this book, Mohammadi interviews 12 women prisoners about their ordeals and how solitary confinement affected their mental and physical states. Facing the prospects of solitary confinement herself, Mohammadi writes: "I declare ... that this is a cruel and inhumane punishment ... I will not rest until it is abolished."
Mohammadi asserts that Iran's Islamic regime uses solitary confinement as a form of torture to break the resistance of political prisoners and extract confessions from them that are then used to strike them with long prison terms or even death sentences. Isolated from other prisoners and kept in the dark about their own case and whether their families even know where they are, detainees become extremely vulnerable to pressure and manipulation, often making self-incriminating false statements in the hopes of ending their torturous isolation.
A tiny solitary-confinement cell and social isolation affect not just a detainee's mental well-being but also impair his/her physical health. Many detainees emerge from solitary confinement with various physical ailments, not to mention lifelong mental scars. Some of the women interviewed for the book were unable to return to normal life following release from prison. In the case of women prisoners, a routine part of solitary confinement is sexual humiliation and abuse.
White Torture has been turned into a documentary film by the same title. The film has been screened as a part of several on-line symposia centered on human rights. I watched it during one such event in January 2022 and found it well-done and effective.
One of the reasons most-often cited for opposition to the Shah in the lead-up to the 1979 revolution was the fact that his secret police, SAVAK, tortured prisoners to extract confessions. The fact that torture of all kinds, including the use of solitary confinement, is rampant in Islamic Iran's prison system is thus quite ironic. Based on the continuation of torture under two vastly different regimes, together spanning more than 70 years, it would be rather simplistic to think that torture will disappear from Iran with the fall of the Ayatollahs.

2023/10/26 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday (scenes from Iran of 5+ decades ago) Deir-e Gachin Caravansara (rest stop for caravans), Kavir National Park, Iran Fixed-wing drones, capable of operating in 30+ degrees Celsius below zero and equipped with ice-penetrating radar, help map ice sheets to the north of mainland Norway
Turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce for early dinner Women Peace and Security Index: The latest data from Georgetown U. show Afghanistan dead last among 177 countries Cover image of George Finney's 'Project Zero Trust' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday (scenes from Iran of 5+ decades ago): A taxi squeezing in two people on the front passenger seat intended for one person, and an implement that only older Iranians would recognize. [Top center] Deir-e Gachin Caravansara (rest stop for caravans), Kavir National Park, Iran. [Top right] Uncovering the secrets of ice with drones: Fixed-wing drones, capable of operating in 30+ degrees Celsius below zero & equipped with ice-penetrating radar, help map ice sheets to the north of mainland Norway that are 100+ meters deep, to assess the impact of their melting. [Bottom left] Turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce for early dinner: According to my chef daughter, there's no good reason to wait for Thanksgiving. And, of course, she's also making pumpkin pie! [Bottom center] Women Peace and Security Index: The latest data from a Georgetown U. report show Afghanistan dead-last among 177 countries in terms of women's inclusion, justice, and security. Iran (140/177), Pakistan, and several central-African countries are in the next tier. [Bottom right] George Finney's Project Zero Trust (see the last item below).
(2) Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: "Hamas says it will fight to the end. Yet its leaders hide under mosques' domes or flee to Egypt on ambulances, leaving their people behind. These leaders don't care if Gaza is destroyed and thousands of Gazans die." [Tweet, with video]
(3) Book review: Finney, George (foreword by John Kindervag), Project Zero Trust: A Story About a Strategy for Aligning Security and the Business, unabridged 8-hour audiobook, read by Daniel Thomas May, Ascent Audio, 2022. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Zero-Trust is a security approach that eliminates implicit trust in internal and external networks. Nothing is trusted by default and each access step undergoes mandatory checks. Because of hacking and infiltration, connections from the inside of your network or from trusted outside vendors could be just as malicious as those coming from elsewhere.
George Finney, a seasoned cybersecurity expert, is the Chief Security Officer at Southern Methodist University. In this book, he describes the Zero-Trust security strategy by telling a story. A number of employees of a fictitious company, including the just-hired IT Security Director, talk with internal and external experts as they try to deal with an in-progress ransomware attack and make their company ready for future attacks. Each chapter focuses on a particular sub-topic, with a recap of the main ideas, that is, a list of takeaways, provided at the end.
Implementing any security strategy presents a tradeoff between vulnerability and employee convenience/productivity. For example, allowing log-ons that persist for a long time makes it easier on users but is a recipe for disaster in terms of increasing the chances of intrusion. As another example, multi-factor authentication, done several times during the workday, creates extra work for users, but has a significant impact on security.
As they say, security is a weakest-link phenomenon, so all aspects of the system, from physical security to identity services and remote-access guidelines, must be included in the planning. Conventional wisdom has it that security is expensive. However, proper implementation of a security protocol can actually save money, besides the fact that insecurity can be extremely more costly. John Kindervag, who is given credit for inventing the Zero-Trust model of cybersecurity, has written the book's foreword.
On May 12, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order on improving the nation's cybersecurity, particularly against hostile nations, that includes directives for removing the barriers to effective sharing of cyberthreat information and advocates modernizing federal government cybersecurity through the adoption of best practices such as Zero-Trust.
Apparently, Zero-Trust does not ensure complete security, because the author & publisher have included extensive disclaimers at the beginning of the book to protect themselves against legal trouble!
In this 8-minute video, Finney describes how the book came about and what he tried to accomplish by writing the book.

2023/10/25 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Me & Javid John, a Santa Barbara-based Persian singer who joined the audience for today's noon concert, after performing a Persian song Math puzzle: Find the side length of the outer equilateral triangle from the given lengths Reflections on the brutal conflict in the Middle East (1) Images of the day: [Left] Me & Javid John, a Santa Barbara-based Persian singer who joined the audience for today's noon concert, after performing a Persian song (see the next item below). [Center] Math puzzle: Find the side length of the outer equilateral triangle from the given lengths. [Right] Reflections on the brutal conflict in the Middle East (see the last item below).
(2) Today's World Music Series noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: UCSB Middle East Ensemble performed a number of Egyptian songs and a Persian selection, in video 2 that follows, of a song made famous by Googoosh. He will perform three Googoosh songs at UCSB Middle East Ensemble's upcoming concert on Saturday, December 2, 2023. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Mass shootings at multiple locations in Maine kill 22 and injure dozens. "Thoughts and prayers"!
- The GOP was worried about not having a House speaker: Which brings to mind this Persian poem/proverb.
- A beautiful cover of the Beatles' "And I Love Her." [3-minute video]
- A talented street performer is surprised by another talented singer who joins in. [5-minute video]
- On the way back from today's noon concert, I encountered this group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
(4) On the Israel-Hamas conflict: I waited for a couple of weeks before offering a substantial post about the conflict in order to read about all opinions and have time to digest them.
I am very disappointed with the prevailing narratives on the traditional and social media. My perspective is that of a person with a large number of family members living in Israel. Whereas those who have no relatives or acquaintances involved in the conflict can still be compassionate, the situation is a lot more heart-wrenching when you think of specific loved ones in mortal danger, as you wait for receiving word about their safety. Here is my seven-part musing, for what it's worth. [Persian summary version]
- The October 7 massacre of 1400 Israelis (beheaded, machine-gunned, burned, raped, dragged by the hair) and the horrors suffered by 200+ hostages seem to have been forgotten. So far, in the span of one week, four hostages have been released in two rounds. How can the Western media celebrate the release of two hostages and parrot Hamas' propaganda that the release is motivated by humanitarian concerns? Humanitarian concerns by barbarians? At this rate, it will take ~1 year to free all the hostages, assuming Hamas actually wants to do this, rather than use a subset of the hostages to buy time to re-arm and repair its terror infrastructure.
- Arab and UN leaders speak about immediate cease-fire, implicitly advocating that Hamas remain in place intact. Given that the slaughter of October 7, 2023, was unprovoked, another event of the same kind may happen within a few months, with support from Iran, Turkey, Qatar, and other countries that shelter and arm anti-Israeli proxy forces. Hamas will be emboldened by its "success," while suffering only minor consequences.
- US and world media's tendency to cover "both sides" gives free air-time and ink to Hamas propaganda. Everyone interviewed advocates for peace and cease fire, and, when explicitly asked about the savage attacks of 10/7, they respond by condemning the killing of all civilians. This is akin to declaring that "all lives matter," when asked about whether they agree with "black lives matter." Yes, all lives do matter, but it also does matter who began the violence and who is being targeted for annihilation and genocide ("being wiped off the map," in the words of Iran's Supreme Leader).
- The coverage of the bombing of a Gaza hospital is a good example. Initially, Hamas claimed that Israeli forces bombed the hospital and that 500 were killed as a result. Later investigations revealed that a failed Islamic Jihad rocket, launched toward Israel, crashed on a hospital parking lot. No buildings were damaged and the number of casualties is unlikely to have exceeded 100. Yet, the initial narrative persists. When the alternate explanation is covered, it is labeled as one of two sides, despite the fact that only the theory implicating the Islamic Jihad is backed by data, images, and other facts.
- Top Hamas leaders do not actually reside in Gaza. They and their families live in Qatar & other foreign countries and they travel around the world, in the lap of luxury. So, when they shed crocodile tears for the impoverished people of Gaza, while profiting personally from the aid they receive in the name of Palestinians, from the real estate they own in Gaza & elsewhere, and from using their terror tunnels to smuggle goods into and out of Gaza, do not believe them. Again, you have to look hard in the US and international media reports to learn about the residence and financial status of Hamas political & military leaders.
- The false narrative of Israelis as occupiers must stop. Israelis settled in their holy land where they have roots. No occupying or colonizing group has ever found ancient manuscripts in archaeological digs that bore their history and were written in the same language they speak today. Many Israelis have lived in the land now called Israel for thousands of years and those who were resettled there from outside the region were moved there through a legitimate international process. Any opposition to the Israelis making their homes there should be taken up with the United Nations, not with the civilian population living and working there.
- The two-state solution existed 60+ years ago, but was rejected by Palestinians who, along with their allies, attacked Israel in June 1967, in what became known as the Six-Day War. Palestinians and Syria lost some land to Israel during that conflict, but they repeated their mistake in 1973's Yom Kippur War, cementing Israel's territorial gains. When the US and Russia occupied parts of Germany after World War II, it took decades for them to return the land to Germans. This is the reality of war: The victor tends to hang on to land it gains. Even now, when the two-state solution is discussed, return to the 1967 borders is one of the demands.

2023/10/24 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Part of tonight's dinner: Zereshk-polo with chicken Part of tonight's dinner: Crispy rice topped with gheimeh stew India's Solar Center in Eco Park, near Kolkata (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Tonight's dinner by my daughter: Zereshk-polo with chicken and crispy rice topped with gheimeh stew. [Right] India's Solar Center in Eco Park, near Kolkata (see the last item below).
(2) Middle East Forum: A Q&A Primer on Hamas, by Mark Durie. [Update: Parts 4-6 added on 2023/10/27]
Part 1: What is Hamas?
Part 2: Why Does Hamas Think It Will Win?
Part 3: Who Supports Hamas?
Part 4: Who Are the Palestinians?
Part 5: What Is the Occupation?
Part 6: Is Antisemitism Part of the Problem?
(3) Monday's Town Hall on DEI Climate Survey Report: Held at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House, the gathering was meant to offer an initial analysis of the data collected during a 2021 campus climate survey and compare it to an earlier 2014 campus climate assessment project. Victor Rios, Evelin Estrada, and Brett Collins from the UCSB DEI office conducted the meeting.
I attended the meeting because I wanted to learn about the state of DEI efforts on our campus and how the faculty/staff group Men Advocating for Gender Equity (MAGE), which I co-chair, fits in and can contribute to the campus program.
"Climate" refers to behaviors and attitudes within a workplace or learning environment, ranging from subtle to cumulative to dramatic, that can influence whether an individual feels personally safe, listened to, valued, and treated fairly and with respect.
The mission of DEI office is to reshape UCSB into a dignifying and affirming space, by improving outcomes for all students and employees, through addressing racism and other forms of bias, and by building coalitions with community members. The ultimate goal is to create an institution where all members feel embraced.
Much info, including the complete survey, is available through the Web site of UCSB's DEI office. Next steps in the process include disaggregated data analyses, policy and program recommendations, future assessment of campus climate, and understanding data needs.
(4) Iran's IslamAn exciting new archaeological discovery in Nineveh, Upper Mesopotamia (today's Mosul). https://www.facebook.com/iahapublic/posts/pfbid032wcsXzARPrVxHyp7W5pjq4EnzqcFmdZXJcUyQv29JwLLQuQ5f8t7zybMUzYceCALl c regime and surveillance cameras: At the scenes of several recent crimes by regime-supported goons, surveillance cameras did not exist, were turned off, or malfunctioned, per government claims. Surveillance cameras used to identify and prosecute hijab-less women, however, always work perfectly!
(5) Iranian-born classical guitarist Lily Afshar [1960-2023] dead at 63: The death report is confirmed by multiple sources, although there are Web sites that claim she is alive and kicking. She drew from Persian and Azerbaijani folk-music traditions to create arrangements for the classical guitar which are as rich and beautiful as a Persian miniature. [A sample of her work]
(6) India's Solar Center: India is a beacon of light when it comes to switching from fossil fuels to renewables. It has stayed ahead of its advertised goals and keeps moving the goal post forward. This dome in Eco Park, New Town, Kolkata, with a height of 29 meters and base diameter of 45 meters, has 2000 solar panels that power the facility itself and nearby street lamps. Inside the dome are exhibits about the benefits of renewable energy sources, such as tidal, geothermal, wind, and solar. [Source: IEEE Spectrum magazine, October 2023]

2023/10/23 (Monday): Today, I offer three book reviews on racism, human memory, and climate change.
Cover image of Bakari Sellers' 'My Vanishing Country' Cover image of Lauren Aguirre's 'The Memory Thief' Cover image of Zahra Biabani's 'Climate Optimism'
(1) Book review: Sellers, Bakari, My Vanishing Country: A Memoir, unabridged 5-hour audiobook, read by the author, Harper Audio, 2020. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I got to know the author from his formerly-frequent appearances on CNN panels. He impressed me with his reasoned arguments, steeped in historical references. So, I had to read his memoir, which did not disappoint. Portions of the book, primarily those dealing with the author's childhood and family life, are exquisitely written, and, had the writing been consistent throughout, a 5-star rating would have been in order.
Bakari Sellers [1984-] is from the town of Denmark, South Carolina. The town's name (as well as those of Sweden, Norway, & Finland) didn't result from Scandinavian settlers moving there, but was picked to honor Captain Isadore Denmark, an official with one of the railroad companies working in the area during the 1800s. A predominantly black town, Denmark used to be rather prosperous but fell on hard times due to various events, the last of which was the NAFTA agreement of 1994. The title's "Vanishing" refers to the struggles of rural South Carolina ("Country") and its forgotten people.
Sellers awes the reader, beginning with the introduction, where he discusses his father's civil-rights activism, career as a university professor, and friendship with Martin Luther King, as well as events of racial discrimination and violence when he was a little boy. He got into politics from a very young age, being elected at age 22 to the state's House of Representatives, where he served for 8 years. He was dissuaded from running for a statewide office, because "Democrats and Blacks do not win statewide races in South Carolina." Nevertheless, he ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2014, losing to Henry McMaster.
There are some inconsistencies in the positions taken by Sellers, which are perhaps the reasons for longwinded explanations that detract from this otherwise-important book. Whereas Sellers has worked for Congressman James Clyburn and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, he also holds controversial views, such as becoming a Zionist in 2016 and posting a later-deleted tweet, calling for a teenager involved in a skirmish with a Native American man at Lincoln Memorial to "be punched in the face."
Sellers adored his father Cleveland but had some difficulties with his mother Gwendolyn. He pursued a law degree and a legal career. He discusses some of his own health challenges and devotes many pages to his family's hardships, beginning in 2018, when his wife gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, with the girl suffering from a life-threatening ailment requiring kidney transplant and his wife nearly dying from post-delivery complications.
I view this book as essential reference for understanding structural racism that still pervades the US South. Such first-hand accounts of how racism affects people's lives, even those of a prominent and rather well-to-do family, helps us come out of our privilege shell and start thinking about personal actions we can take to guide our country into modern civilization, where compassion and human-dignity rule.
(2) Book review: Aguirre, Lauren, The Memory Thief and the Secrets Behind How We Remember: A Medical Mystery, unabridged 9-hour audiobook, read by the author, Blackstone Publishing, 2021.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The Memory Thief of this review is a medical nonfiction book. There are other books by the same title, including a young-adult novel and a fictional adventure. Lauren Seeley Aguirre, a science journalist, chronicles an investigation into devastating amnesia cases in a cluster of fentanyl overdose survivors. Studying these cases, doctors were able to prove that opioids can damage the hippocampus, a relatively small brain region that plays a big role in learning and memory.
Memory storage and recall are among the most-important attributes that make us human. We are just beginning to understand how memory works, how it fails, what deteriorates it, and how we can help it along. In particular, we are quite interested in learning how we can prevent or delay the onset of dementia, which affects 1 in 7 older Americans.
In The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, Daniel Schachter divides the various memory dysfunctions into seven categories.
- Transience: Forgetting that occurs with the passage of time.
- Absent-mindedness: Improper encoding that results from paying inadequate attention to something.
- Blocking: Not recalling something that is properly stored, owing to the loss of its recall cue.
- Misattribution: Remembering something correctly but attributing it to the wrong source.
- Suggestibility: Mixing information gained from outside sources with things personally experienced.
- Bias: Interpreting experiences and our memory of them in light of our current beliefs and feelings.
- Persistence: Remembering emotionally-charged experiences that we wish we would forget.
Memory loss occurs due to environmental factors. There does not seem to be a genetic condition that suddenly surfaces to make our memories fade. Memory storage and recall are among the most-complex tasks in the human brain, so anything that diminishes brain health can compromise our memory function. Examples include poor diet, sleep deprivation, heavy drinking, and opioid use. Both opioid-associated amnestic syndrome and Alzheimer's disease target and damage the hippocampus, from where the damage spreads to the rest of the brain. Shellfish poisoning is another cause of damage to the hippocampus.
Cognitive workout can help avert memory loss, but the workout should involve fairly difficult tasks. Contrary to the oft-given advice, doing crosswords and Sudoku puzzles isn't enough.
(3) Book review: Biabani, Zahra, Climate Optimism: Celebrating Systemic Change Around the World, unabridged 5-hour audiobook, read by Jeed Saddy, Tantor Audio, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
With regard to achieving results, there is no difference between climate denialism ("no action needed") and climate super-pessimism ("nothing can be done"). Unfettered optimism is also dangerous, because it creates a false sense of security.
In recent years, a new style of climate optimism has entered the scene, which advocates celebrating advances in understanding the problems, signing of international pacts, and emerging technologies for dealing with various challenges. Phenomenal advances in renewable-energy generation are also sources for optimism. We should build on these successes, rather than complain about politics-driven denialism in the US, noncompliance of treaty partners, and the slow pace of shifting to renewable energy sources.
I have previously read Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility [My review], in which Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua present diverse voices from the worldwide climate movement advising us to do our share by setting aside fear and despair. According to Biabani, a young climate activist, there are good reasons for climate optimism. Changing attitudes among people and, thus, politicians who represent them tops the list. Despite political rhetoric, which sometimes takes the form of ridiculing climate change, US Red states have embraced the use of renewable energy just as much as Blue states. Court cases increasingly end in favor of those advocating climate action and against polluters & deniers. Attitudes of businesses are also changing, as they realize that climate action is good for the economy and, in many cases, for their bottom lines.
While it is true that avoiding the use of plastic straws or single-use shopping bags will not solve the climate problem, every little bit helps. In particular, the awareness exhibited by consumers and the small steps they take help nurture the spirit of optimism, generating the will to become a part of more-significant local, national, and global efforts. Actions by local governments and indigenous populations continue to provide templates for broad-based programs.

2023/10/22 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Celebrations in Gaza after October 7, 2023 (top), and after September 11, 2001 (bottom) Flowers from 3 of my 4 rose bushes: I got to them a bit late, or there would have been many more Cover image of Brynn Reinkens' 'How Has the #MeToo Movement Changed Society?'
Math puzzle: In this diagram, find the ratio of the blue area to the red area Math puzzle 1: Find the radius of the circle in this diagram Math puzzle 2: Find the radius of the circle in this diagram (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Celebrations in Gaza after Oct. 7, 2023 (top), and Sep. 11, 2001 (bottom) (Source: Jerusalem Post). [Top center] Flowers from 3 of my 4 rose bushes: I got to them a bit late, or there would have been many more. [Top right] Brynn Reinkens' How Has the #MeToo Movement Changed Society? (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Math puzzle: In this diagram, find the ratio of the blue area to the red area. [Bottom center & right] Two math puzzles: Find the radius of the circle in each of the two diagrams.
(2) The FBI has its hands full these days: Increased terror threats due to the Hamas-Israeli conflict, hate crimes, domestic extremism, increased industrial spying/espionage, particularly in view of new algorithms and products in the AI domain, with the main culprits being China, Russia, and Iran.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Biden advises Israel not to repeat our 9/11 mistake: Focus on problem areas and don't broaden the conflict.
- Trump co-defendants are being given sweetheart, no-prison deals for pleading guilty: This is sickening!
- When Palestinians talk about Hamas's brutality & corruption, believe them: They risk their lives to speak up.
- An Iranian cabinet member claims that Iran will be sending a ship and multiple planes to Gaza.
- Ultimate flexibility: A robot that flies, walks, skateboards, and slack-lines. [5-minute video]
- Kurdish music: A beautiful song from Iran's Kermanshah region. [1-minute audio file]
(4) Book review: Reinkens, Brynn, How Has the #MeToo Movement Changed Society? ReferencePoint Press, 2021. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Much has happened in the past six years, after the hashtag #MeToo went viral in 2017. For example, in 2019, three former Fox News hosts founded "Lift Our Voices" to prevent businesses from hiding incidents of sexual harassment. They were driven by an unfair mandatory arbitration clause about workplace conflicts that new employees had to sign within a thick stack of papers. So, many sexual harassment cases were settled out of court, with the settlement always including a nondisclosure agreement. Essentially, the law was used to shield sexual abusers.
After an introduction entitled "Breaking the Silence," Reinkens reviews the impact of the #MeToo movement in five chapters:
- Solidarity, Awareness, and Accountability
- An Altered Legal and Political Landscape
- The Business World Adapts
- Ripples in Education
- Toward an Uncertain Future
The end-matter includes much useful info on sources and organizations/websites. The book also includes photos of some of the key players in the movement, along with events, such as marches & demonstrations.
According to Nisha Varia of Human Rights Watch, "The #MeToo movement has exposed deeply entrenched norms that enable abuse, and urgent action is needed to ensure that all workers are guaranteed their safety and dignity."
Whereas #MeToo movement activists are predominantly women, men must resist the temptation to dismiss the problem by asserting that such behavior and the toxic masculinity that causes it do not apply to them. Sexual abuse should be everyone's concern, even if we don't (or think we don't) contribute to the problem.

2023/10/21 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Tea harvesting in the Caspian-Sea Province of Guilan, Iran Twelve copies of the Persian word Cover image of 'USA Through the Lens of Mathematics' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Tea harvesting near the Caspian Sea, Iran. [Center] Twelve copies of the Persian word "eshgh" ("love"). [Right] USA Through the Lens of Mathematics (see the last item below).
(2) Iran architecture: A quick tour of Azadi (Shahyad) Tower in Tehran. I am sad to say that despite living and working within a mile of this beautiful monument, I never visited the treasures inside.
(3) Excerpts from Firoozeh Dumas' Funny in Farsi have been spotted on Tehran's metro cars: Whether they contain her actual musings or some distorted translation is anyone's guess! [See her post]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Top Hamas leader and his children are millionaires, living in luxury outside Gaza.
- A woman screaming anti-Khamenei slogans in Tabriz, Iran, was arrested and confined to a mental hospital.
- Kevin Chen, winner of the Rubinstein Competition, opened his concert at Carnegie Hall with "Hatikva."
- "Helping Employees Succeed with Generative AI": Harvard Business Review article by UCSB's Paul Leonardi.
(5) Another COVID-19 casualty: Just 48% of adult Americans attended at least one arts event from July 2021 to July 2022. Seems like people are not going back from on-line to in-person attendance. [Source: WaPo]
(6) Book review: Hritonenko, Natali and Yuri Yatasenko, USA Through the Lens of Mathematics, CRC Press, 249 pp., 2022. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
After traveling in the US, a country they love, the authors decided to share what they saw and learned in an educational way that would also exhibit the magic and versatility of mathematics.
Important facts and stats about the US are presented in the form of mathematical problems for students to solve in order to both hone their math skills and learn the pertinent facts. The problems are of various levels of difficulty. They are mostly interesting, though some of them seem forced. Each set of problems is followed by answers and complete solutions. Here's a list of chapter titles:
- The New Nation
- Geography of the United States
- National and State Parks
- The US Highways
- Constructions and Inventions in the United States
- The United States in Arts
- Shopping, Food, and Entertainment in the United States
The seven chapters are followed by three appendices containing algebraic formulas & properties, an index table tying the presented problems to mathematical notions (such as absolute value and circle), and an index table linking the problems to US states.
I present a few example problems to end my review.
- The difference between the fourth powers of the numbers of unpopulated and populated US territories is 5936, while the difference between their squares is 56. How many unpopulated and populated territories does the US have?
- Pennsylvania became the nth state in 1787, where n is the number of all factors of the year. Illinois became the mth state in 1818, where m is the number of all factors of the year if the number of all factors is written in the reverse order. What are the statehood orders of Pennsylvania and Illinois?
- The number of all people who have ever walked on the Moon is the smallest sum of Pythagorean triples, which are consecutive terms of an arithmetic sequence. How many people have walked on the Moon?
- In their paintings, American illustrators and sculptors Frederic S. Remington and Charles Marion Russell show the life of cowboys and American Indians and landscapes of old American West. Remington was born 3 years before Russell but died 17 years earlier. Russell lived 10 years more in the 19th century than in 20th. Who of these great artists lived longer and for how many years? What are years of their birth and death?
- How old was artist Georgia O'Keeffe when she died, if her age can be presented as the product of x and y, which bring the minimum value to the function y = 1887x^2 – 3774x + 1986? Have you noticed anything special about the equation?

2023/10/20 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Responsible Machine-Learning Summit 2023 Math humor: There are worse things than pizza with pineapple topping. Just saying! #MahsaAmini, the Kurdish young woman who became a symbol of Iran's #WomanLifeFreedom movement, was awarded EU's Sakharov human rights prize posthumously (1) Images of the day: [Left] Responsible Machine-Learning Summit 2023 (see the last five items below). [Center] Math humor about functions: There are worse things than pizza with pineapple topping. Just saying! [Right] #MahsaAmini, the Kurdish young woman who became a symbol of Iran's #WomanLifeFreedom movement, was awarded EU's Sakharov human rights prize posthumously.
(2) Two American hostages have reportedly been released by Hamas: But this is no cause for celebration. Hamas follows Iran's playbook. It commits atrocities, takes hostages, and then scores brownie points for releasing the hostages. The released mother & daughter are just like dozens of similar ones who were brutally killed and, in some cases, raped.
(3) Report from the 2023 Responsible Machine-Learning Summit: Today, I attended the latest installment of the annual day-long summit at UCSB's Henley Hall. The focus was on advances in generative AI and its applications. By 2:45 PM, I got saturated with information, so I did not stay for the event's final panel discussion, which I watched via streaming. However, I did attend in person all four informative keynote talks, about which I will write separately in the four posts that follow.
(4) Keynote 1 at today's Responsible Machine-Learning Summit: "Empowering Instruction-Following Research with Language Models as Simulators" (by Tatsunori Hashimoto, Stanford U.).
Large language models (LLMs) are increasingly closed off, with reasons including protection of trade secrets and safety concerns. Responsible use of LLMs requires understanding, for which we need tools. In Part 1 of the talk, Hashimoto discussed LLMs as emulators of human behavior, with the goal of replacing human feedback in reinforcement learning by LLMs. In Part 2, Hashimoto explored the limits of LLMs as human emulators. The latter discussion included the important question of whose opinions LLMs reflect by default and comparing LLM outputs with the results of opinion polls, where a poor match is observed.
(5) Keynote 2 at today's Responsible Machine-Learning Summit: "Watermarking of LLMs" (Scott Aaronson, U. Texas Austin & Open AI)
Aaronson has spent most of his career on, and is best-known for, quantum computing. He began by showing a scene from a "South Park" episode in which students used ChatGPT to do their homework and teachers used ChatGPT to grade them. The school brings in a guru who tried to detect work done by ChatGPT. Almost any nefarious use of LLMs involves attempts to hide AI's involvement. If only we could make that harder! As the Internet gets filled with LLM-generated data, there is a real danger that such data are fed back to the models, creating a destructive cycle. Watermarking entails the insertion of a statistical signal into LLM-generated text, perhaps in terms of pseudo-random word choices.
(6) Keynote 3 at today's Responsible Machine-Learning Summit: "Robustness of Adversarial Attacks on LLMs" (Eric Wong, U. Penn)
Adversarial attacks, often demonstrated through images and the resulting misclassifications, entail adding imperceptible changes to the input of a machine-learning algorithm to create undesirable behavior at the output. LLMs are built to detect certain queries and to avoid answering them. For example, if you post a question about how to build a bomb, an LLM will answer it with something like "I am sorry, but I cannot assist with that request." The jailbreak method can get around such restrictions by adding text to the query to evade the system's defenses. Jailbreak entails careful engineering of prompts to exploit model biases in order to fool it into generating output that may not align with its intended purpose. Stopping jailbreak attacks is thus an important research problem.
(7) Keynote 4 at today's Responsible Machine-Learning Summit: "Interpreting Deep Neural Networks Through the Lenses of Feature Interaction" (Yan Liu, U. Southern California)
Model interpretability in machine learning (ML) is the degree to which a human can understand the underlying cause of a decision. Stated differently, it is the extent to which we are able to predict what's going to happen, given a change in input or algorithmic parameters. Interpretability helps ML developers debug or improve their systems and allows ML users to trust the correctness and assess the fairness of a decision. Interpretability is somewhat different from explainability and requires a greater knowledge of the workings of the system, rather than offering explanations solely based on input and output. Applications of interpretability include building interpretable AI models, addressing fairness & robustness, and understanding LLMs.

2023/10/19 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of the October 13, 2023, special issue of Science magazine Math puzzle: In this diagram with three squares, prove that the two yellow line segments are of the same length Cartoon: Islamic Republic of Iran's version of Academy Awards (1) Images of the day: [Left] Special issue of Science magazine (see the next item below). [Center] Math puzzle: In this diagram with three squares, prove that the two yellow line segments are of the same length. [Right] Islamic Republic of Iran's version of Academy Awards.
(2) Brain cell census: The human brain contains 86 billion neurons and a similar number of non-neuronal cells. NIH's BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative works with centers in the US & Europe to characterize cell types and their functions in human, nonhuman-primate, and rodent brains. [Source: Science magazine, special issue of October 13, 2023]
(3) Iran's water crisis: An extended drought and mismanagement of water resources has reduced the quality of life in many regions and has led to decreased crop yields and the attendant food deficiencies.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- President Biden argues for assistance to Israel & Ukraine to help our allies' defense against brutal enemies.
- The FBI & other agencies have increased their alert levels in anticipation of violence against Jews & Muslims.
- War: Student groups on college campuses are up in arms & administrations are under pressure to take sides.
- NASA sends a spacecraft to orbit & study an asteroid, which may be between 30% and 60% metal.
(5) Quote of the day: "Patience isn't sitting and waiting, it's foreseeing. It's looking at the thorn and seeing the rose, looking at the night and seeing the day." ~ Mowlavi (Rumi)
(6) Fun fact of the day: Scheduled flight time between Los Angeles and New York has become about 30 minutes longer compared with 50 years ago. Nearly every other part of the trip also takes longer today compared with the 1970s, thanks to road traffic and airport security. [Source: New York Times]
(7) Pitfalls of interdisciplinary work: "I was attending a conference about contemporary art, and right before my talk a distinguished scholar approached me. As a small conversation group formed around us, I introduced myself as a psychology PhD student who would be presenting research on how the brain reacts to art. Silence descended, and all eyes were on me. ... Suddenly, the room felt intimidating. Only later did I learn how to stand up for myself and be proud of my status as an interdisciplinary researcher." [Opinion, in Science]
(8) "Neural Inference at the Frontier of Energy, Space, and Time": This is the title of a research article in the October 20 issue of Science magazine, which describes NorthPole, a new brain-inspired computer chip. "As seen from the inside of the chip, at the level of individual cores, NorthPole appears as memory near compute; as seen from the outside of the chip, at the level of input-output, it appears as an active memory. NorthPole is an architectural innovation at the intersection of brain-inspired computing and semiconductor technology, which defines a frontier that promises to expand."

2023/10/18 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Saturday's family gathering in Ventura, California, featured a delicious barbecue meal and other yummy foods and desserts Shattered peace hopes and Mariachi Las Olas de Santa Barbara IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk by Wayne Rothermich
Math puzzle: In this diagram with a square and a quarter-circle, what is the measure of the angle x? Math puzzle: In this diagram, the larger circle has radius 3 + 2 sqrt(2). Find the radius of the smaller circle. Math puzzle: Three circles with radii 1, 1, and 2 are external tangents. What are the radii of the smallest and the biggest circles shown? (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Saturday's family gathering in Ventura, California, featured a delicious barbecue meal and other yummy foods and desserts. [Top center] Shattered peace hopes and Mariachi Las Olas de Santa Barbara, who provided much-needed relief from non-stop bad news from around the world in today's noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl (Video 1; Video 2; Video 3; Video 4; Video 5). [Top right] IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Math puzzle: In this diagram with a square and a quarter-circle, what is the measure of the angle x? [Bottom center] Math puzzle: In this diagram, the larger circle has radius 3 + 2 sqrt(2). Find the radius of the smaller circle. [Bottom right] Math puzzle: Three circles with radii 1, 1, and 2 are external tangents. What are the radii of the smallest and the biggest circles shown?
(2) A letter from the late Dariush Mehrjui: Previously unpublished anti-regime writings of the slain Iranian director indicate that his and his wife's brutal murders were likely state-sponsored. [Letter image]
(3) It is becoming clear that the explosion killing hundreds at a Gaza hospital was caused by a malfunctioning Islamic Jihad rocket: The rocket fell on a hospital parking lot, where many refugees from other parts of Gaza had taken shelter. Its nearly-full fuel tank contributed to the horrific destruction.
(4) Richard Auhll [1941-2023]: A local entrepreneur and philanthropist, who generously supported UCSB and its College of Engineering, has departed following paralysis and COVID.
(5) Tonight's IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk: Nicholas Hogasten (Teledyne FLIR) was to speak under the title "Video Signal Processing for Thermal Imaging Applications." Due to the speaker not showing up, Wayne Rothermich, who has retired from Seymour Duncan, gave an impromptu talk about guitar pick-ups, vis., electronic devices that convert string vibrations to electric currents that are supplied to amplifiers.
There are many different kinds of guitar pick-ups, which differ in sound quality and other audio parameters. With metal strings, magnets are used to pick up the vibrations. In the case of acoustic guitars featuring non-metal strings, other methods, such as those based on piezoelectric properties, are used. A guitar may be outfitted with multiple pick-ups, which would allow the player to switch between them or use a combination of their outputs.
Master guitar players may order custom pick-ups according to their personal preferences. They bring their ideas to special technical advisers who translate them to appropriate pick-up designs. These custom orders usually cost several times the typical ~$100 mass-produced pick-up models.
Overall, this was a highly-informative impromptu talk. IEEE CCS has been experimenting with WebEx streaming of its technical talks for the benefit of those who cannot attend in person. I was a beneficiary of this option tonight. The sound quality was quite good after the talk began, but Images were fuzzy at times.
[Seymour Duncan Web site] [Seymour Duncan post about Wayne Rothermich]

2023/10/16 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: A rectangular area is divided up as shown. Find the ratio of the yellow area to the blue area Middle East's next generation will hopefully overcome dogma and live in peace and harmony Math puzzle: Prove that the area of the triangle BCD equals the area of the quadrangle FHCI
Saturday's Farhang Foundation webinar: Sample slide 2 Saturday's Farhang Foundation webinar: Sample slide 3 Saturday's Farhang Foundation webinar: Sample slide 4 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Math puzzle: A rectangular area is divided up as shown. Find the ratio of the yellow area to the blue area. [Top center] Middle East's next generation will hopefully overcome dogma and live in peace and harmony. [Top right] Math puzzle: Prove that the area of the triangle BCD equals the area of the quadrangle FHCI. [Bottom row] Saturday's Farhang Foundation webinar (see the last item below).
(2) Farhang Foundation's tribute to Dariush Mehrjui [1939-2023], a prominent Iranian filmmaker who was brutally murdered on October 14, 2023, along with his wife Vahideh Mohammadifar, in their home near Tehran.
(3) Web of lies and brutality: A brave Iranian young woman talks about the mullahs' lies, their killing/maiming of Iranians, and their celebration of beheadings & other heinous acts against the Israelis. [2-minute video]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The 10/14 solar eclipse was underwhelming in SoCal, but not in regions where they saw the "ring of fire."
- Famous film director and his wife found stabbed to death in their home in Iran. [Meme]
- Six-year-old boy killed in suburban Chicago in a suspected anti-Muslim hate crime.
- Bit-flip due to cosmic radiation: The fascinating story of how a Belgian candidate got 4096 extra votes.
- The woman who taught herself about hardware by building crazy, useless gadgets. [3-minute video]
- Facebook memory from Oct. 15, 2013: Happiness is a state of mind that has little to do with material wealth.
(5) Columbia University's Professor Joseph Massad is absolutely elated at the "astounding," "striking," "awesome," and "innovative" "victories of the resistance" in the recent Hamas terror attack on Israel.
(6) "Searching for Azadi: A History of Unfulfilled Hopes": This was the title of today's Farhang Foundation webinar featuring Dr. Abbas Amanat (Yale University). [Recording of the talk]
Dr. Amanat aimed to expose the roots of the concept of "azadi" ("liberty") in Persian. Since the beginning of the 20th century, in connection with the Constitutional Revolution, Iranians have sought azadi, but certain reactionary forces prevented the dream's realization. The process repeated after the 1979 Revolution, when forces of absolutism and intolerance crushed the people's hopes for azadi. One can say that in both instances cited above, the institutions of monarchy and religion contributed to the demise of azadi, with oil wealth (an instrument the state power) being an important additional factor.
During Dr. Amanat's presentation, segments of the following two songs, performed by Mohammad-Reza Shajarian (lyrics by Hushang Ebtehaj) were played.
- "Sepideh," a song about the dawn of liberty, performed and released shortly after the 1979 Revolution.
- "Oh the Joy of Liberty" ("Ey Shadi-ye Azadi"), written in the early 1980s but performed decades later.
Dr. Amanat then reviewed the linguistic origins of the words "woman," "life," and "freedom/liberty." Unlike European languages, the Persian word for "woman" is not a derivative of the word for "man" but is based on "life" and "regeneration." Religion places bounds on azadi, many of them associated with the notion of "namus" ("honor," often applied in the context of the subjugation of women). Religion is thus fundamentally at odds with the notion of liberty.
In the final segment of his talk, Dr. Amanat reviewed the notion of liberty in European sources on political philosophy ("Liberty, Equality, Fraternity") and its adaptation by Iranians active in the Constitutional movement of the early 1900s.

2023/10/15 (Sunday): Today, I offer three book reviews on Persian poetry, tyranny, and a prairie memoir.
Cover image of 'Gozideh-ye She'r-e Farsi' ('Collection of Persian Poems, Selected by Molla Sadra-ye Shirazi') Cover image of Timothy Snyder's 'On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century' Cover image of Tom Brokaw's 'Never Give Up: A Prairie Family Story' (1) Book review: Book review: Khatami, Ahmad (ed.), Gozideh-ye She'r-e Farsi (Collection of Persian Poems, Selected by Molla Sadra-ye Shirazi), Elm Publications, 349 pp., 2020. ISBN: 978-9642248629
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book contains samples of Persian poetry that for various reasons grabbed the attention of Molla Sadra, a 16th/17th-century Iranian philosopher with broad interests in literature. The selections are presented in rough chronological order, from the 9th century to the 16th century. The works of some four-dozen poets are sampled. At 77 and 64 pages, respectively, Attar and Khayyam are most-prominent in the book.
(2) Book review: Snyder, Timothy, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, unabridged 2-hour audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2017.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In this brief book, historian Timothy Snyder provides a guide on how to resist and survive in the climate of authoritarianism that afflicts America. Here are three of the most-important takeaways:
- Dodge political agendas by avoiding the news and reading more books.
- Nurture the community around you by demolishing social barriers.
- Be aware of the ways social media and cyberspace limit your freedoms.
Other lessons include not obeying without thinking, defending institutions, honoring professional ethics, standing out, using language kindly, believing in the primacy of truth, developing an investigative attitude, contributing to worthy causes, learning from peers in other countries, watching out for dangerous words, and striving to act courageously.
In a historical introduction, Snyder tells us that democracy in Europe shone and then faltered at three junctions, in circumstances that resembled the current situation in America.
- After World War I (1918)
- After World War II (1945)
- After the fall of communism (1989)
That authoritarianism could develop in America came as a surprise to many of us. The defeat of fascism, Nazism, and communism gave us a false sense of security and a belief in the inevitability of more democracy and more reason. Unfortunately, the course we saw as inevitable was anything but. We do have the will and the institutions to help us ride out the current authoritarian threats, but we must take this book's lessons to heart and stay super-vigilant.
(3) Book review: Brokaw, Tom, Never Give Up: A Prairie Family Story, unabridged 3-hour audiobook, read by Lincoln Hoppe, Random House Audio, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The author, Thomas John Brokaw [1940-], served for decades as a respected journalist and TV anchor. As an author, he is known for The Greatest Generation, an instant classic and a best-seller that shaped our knowledge and attitudes toward World War II. His latest book is a memoir, that is short on pages but long on substance.
Brokaw was born in South Dakota to Anthony Orville Brokaw (nicknamed "Red" for his fiery hair), a construction foreman, and Eugenia "Jean" Conley, who worked in sales and as a post-office clerk. Dropping out of second grade, Red constantly struggled to make ends meet, moving the family to wherever he could find work. The Brokaw House Hotel, where Tom's grandparents set up shop and started a long life in the state, was popular with railroad men and traveling salesmen. One tenant, an immigrant from Sweden, stayed for 50 years.
This book is an homage to the resilience, resourcefulness, and can-do attitudes of Tom's parents, who never gave up. His parents' sacrifices and sacrifices of their contemporaries, who persevered in the face of hardships, scarce resources, the Great Depression, and World War II, are indeed worth celebrating.

2023/10/14 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Friday's UCSB ECE Department Retreat at the Mosher Alumni House on campus Cartoon: Hijab enforcers in Iran and their latest victim, 16-year-old #ArmitaGravand Cover image of Katie Porter's 'I Swear: Politics Is Messier than My Minivan' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Departmental retreat (see the next item below). [Top center] Cartoon of the day: Hijab enforcers in Iran and their latest victim, 16-year-old #ArmitaGravand. [Top right] Katie Porter's I Swear: Politics Is Messier than My Minivan (see the last item below).
(2) Friday's UCSB ECE Department Retreat: Held at the Mosher Alumni House on campus, the retreat began with comments by the newly-appointed Dean of Engineering, Umesh Mishra, and continued with introduction of new faculty (Gian Yu, Niels Volkmann), a panel during which junior faculty shared their activities and visions (Nina Miolane, Kerem Camsari, Haewon Jeong, Bongjin Kim, Yao Qin), discussion of our degree programs and curricula, overview of research & strategic plans, and closing remarks by Department Chair B. S. Manjunath.
(3) From the horse's mouth: Senior Hamas official states that they have been secretly planning the terrorist attacks for two years, that Russia sympathizes with them, and that the return of hostages requires the release of all Hamas prisoners, including those in Western countries.
(4) Don't blame the victims: There are reports that Egypt and/or CIA had warned Israel about a Hamas attack. I wish people who spend time commenting on whether Israel knew about the attacks would look at videos of Hamas atrocities (mowing down people with machine guns, beheadings, massacring & abducting children, and setting people on fire & watching them die) and comment on how those acts serve the cause of Palestinian liberation. This reminds me of some MAGA Republicans in the US who blame Nancy Pelosi for failing to protect the Capitol Building from the Trump mob.
(5) Book review: Porter, Katie, I Swear: Politics Is Messier than My Minivan, unabridged 9-hour audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
US Representative Katherine Moore Porter [1974-] is the first Democrat to represent California's southcentral Orange County. She represented California's 45th District from 2019 and was re-elected in 2022 to the newly-defined 47th District. She is now running to fill Diane Feinstein's Senate seat. Known for her trademark portable white board, which she uses to flash numbers & charts during hearings, Porter was trained as a lawyer at Yale & Harvard, later teaching law at UNLV, U. Iowa, and UC Irvine.
Her textbook, Modern Consumer Law, and a stint as California's independent monitor of banks in a $25 billion nationwide mortgage settlement make her imminently qualified to chip in whenever consumer interests and protections are discussed. Furthermore, as a single mother of 3 children, from an abusive marriage, she has first-hand experience of consumer challenges to supplement her academic chops. She openly discusses being dismissed as a woman and fat-shamed by political opponents and ordinary people.
This memoir is a chronological account of Porter's life and career. The writing is rather uneven, some parts registering with the reader, while others getting bogged down in too many inessential details. Still, the book has my highest recommendation as the unlikely story of a single, progressive mom elected to represent a conservative, prosperous district (median household income of ~75K, vs. $31K for the US as a whole; median home prices of ~$619K, vs. $410K for the US).
One problem with the US Congress is that almost all of its members are independently wealthy. It's one thing to talk about the plight of the working class and quite another to have experienced those challenges. Being a Congressperson costs you a lot of money, which includes maintaining two residences, buying appropriate outfits, and so on.
Porter dispenses much advice, but does not take herself very seriously. She writes with a good sense of humor, joking that "the computer made a mistake" is the corporate version of "the dog ate my homework."
Katie Porter has already established herself as a force to be reckoned with and a worthy next-generation replacement for Elizabeth Warren (one of her role models) and Bernie Sanders. Corporate execs are known to undergo special preparations for her kind of questioning. I hope she doesn't lose her edge, as she climbs the political ladder and becomes a California Senator. We need someone (hopefully more than one, but even one is better than none) who can keep corporate execs' feet to the fire and who doesn't let them get away with word salads and rehearsed lines of doublespeak.

2023/10/13 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Friday the 13th: Not just a harmless superstition Eighty years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled that forced patriotic rituals are unconstitutional #ArmitaGravand, who went into a coma after being roughed up by hijab enforcers, has been declared brain-dead (1) Images of the day: [Left] Today is Friday the 13th (see the last item below). [Center] Throwback Thursday: Eighty years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled that forced patriotic rituals are unconstitutional. "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." [Right] Another murder by Iranian mullahs: #ArmitaGravand, who went into a coma after being roughed up by hijab enforcers, has been declared brain-dead. RIP, brave daughter of Iran!
(2) Heroes who saved lives: This Israeli couple managed to hide their 10-month-old twins in a shelter before confronting, and getting killed by, Hamas terrorists. The twins were found and saved after 14 hours.
(3) Israel's border-wall border-wall miscalculation: Inexplicably, Israel thought that a Gaza fence would protect it. The billion-dollar project was completed in 2019 and was inaugurated with much fanfare. It turned out to provide little protection against determined terrorists.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The US and Qatar block Iran's access to $6 billion from prisoner swap deal for its support of Hamas.
- Overcoming regulators' objections, Microsoft closes $69 billion deal to acquire the gaming giant Activision.
- Facebook memory from Oct. 12, 2018: Apt reminder about why Americans MUST vote in 2024.
- Facebook memory from Oct. 12, 2017: German soldiers cut off the beard of an old Jewish man.
- Facebook memory from Oct. 13, 2017: Without science, it's just fiction.
- Facebook memory from Oct. 13, 2016: US federal budget explained in comparison with a household budget.
(5) For those who have not heard Nobel Peace Laureate Narges Mohammadi speak: A 2021 conversation with her about human rights in Iran, particularly her view of solitary confinement as torture. Mohammadi is the author of White Torture: Interviews with Iranian Women Prisoners, a 2022 book that is on my to-read list.
(6) Here is a repost from Friday, May 13, 2011: Friday the 13th isn't just a harmless superstition; it has led to some interesting mathematical problems and to serious economic losses. Please read on.
- The number 13 is considered unlucky, in part because 12 is deemed a lucky or complete number: 12 is the number of months, zodiac signs, hours on the clock face, Apostles, gods of Olympus, tribes of Israel, and so on.
- According to mathematical analysis by B. H. Brown, the 13th of the month is slightly more likely to fall on a Friday than on any other day. Sunday and Wednesday are also a bit more likely to be the 13th.
- Friday the 13th occurs at least once and at most 3 times a year. Any month that begins on a Sunday has a Friday the 13th.
- On average, there is a Friday the 13th once every 212.35 days, which amounts to about 1.72 per year.
- Fear of Friday the 13th is known as friggatriskaidekaphobia, Frigga being the Norse goddess associated with Friday. Nearly 20 million people in the US are affected by this fear, causing $1 billion in lost business.

2023/10/11 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Top-10 countries with the lowest per-capita murder rates My daughter's sesame beef dish, with my Persian Shirazi salad My recent posts on LinkedIn have been well-received
Photos of atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists in southern Israel Happy International Day of the Girl (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Top-10 countries with the lowest per-capita murder rates: At 6.8, the US is way down the list, below countries such as Egypt, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. [Top center] My daughter's sesame beef dish, with my Persian Shirazi salad. [Top right] My recent posts on LinkedIn have been well-received: One described a noteworthy case of brain drain from Iran and another was about an academic demotion given to a scientist who went on to win a Nobel Prize. [Bottom left] NYT photos of atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists in southern Israel (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Happy International Day of the Girl: A global observance dedicated to recognizing and empowering girls around the world, serving as a poignant reminder of the unique challenges and barriers girls face in various societies and the urgent need to break down these barriers for their well-being and development.
(2) World Music Series noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: Performance by Los Catanes del Norte provided a much-needed break from the barrage of bad news in recent days. [Photo] [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]
(3) Hamas has done Putin, the Iranian mullahs, and the Taliban a big favor: Its murderous terrorist attack on Israel has made the world forget the atrocities in Ukraine, the winning of a Nobel Peace Prize by an Iranian political prisoner, and the death of 2500+ people in Afghanistan earthquakes.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- According to multiple reports, military equipment given to Ukraine have somehow found their way to Hamas.
- Some of the Israeli children kidnapped by Hamas terrorists. [1-minute slide show]
- Facebook memory from Oct. 10, 2021: Yesterday was World Day Against the Death Penalty.
- Facebook memory from Oct. 11, 2019: Kurdish women fighters in northeastern Syria.
(5) Daily update from Israeli Defense Forces: New death toll of Israeli civilians is 1200, as dead bodies continue to be discovered at the Hamas attack sites. [12-minute video]
(6) The hostage-taking industry in the Middle East: It all started in late 1979, with Khomeini's followers taking 66 Americans hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran. Not having paid a price for that blatant act, except for facing half-baked sanctions that were easily circumvented by the regime cronies and international middle-men, they upped the ante and became more brazen in taking hostages and demanding exorbitant sums of money for their release. Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Iranian regime puppets use the same playbook. They typically exchange one hostage for dozens of captured terrorists.
(7) Many pro-Hamas rallies around the world are or turn anti-Semitic: In New York City, some attendees praised Hamas terrorists infiltrating Israel on power paragliders and machine-gunning "hipsters." In Sydney, Australia, a dominant chant was "Gas the Jews."
(8) Puzzle of the day: Iranian mullahs openly support Hamas and celebrate their "victory." And Hamas thanks the Islamic Republic, without whose financial and military help they could not have pulled off their biggest terrorist attack. But the US maintains that Iran had no direct role in the recent conflict.
(9) Some people have apparently woken up from a deep slumber and are pointing to civilian deaths in Gaza Strip: They seem to have no memory of the terrorists who slaughtered, raped, and kidnapped 900 civilians, as they live-streamed their deeds, provoking Israel's attacks on Hamas headquarters and ammunition depots.

2023/10/10 (Tuesday): Today, I offer three book reviews on inventions, numbers, and physics.
Cover image of Brigit Krols's 'Accidental Inventions' Cover image of Julia Collins's 'Numbers in Minutes' Cover image of Michio Kaku's 'Physics of the Impossible' (1) Book review: Krols, Birgit, Accidental Inventions: The Chance Discoveries that Changed Our Lives, Insight Editions, 2009. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This illustrated book, with lots of images and brief half-page descriptions, is an easy read and a delight. It teaches us that many of the most-useful items in our daily lives were invented accidentally. Errors and accidents play key roles in science and technology. In other words, "oops" may be just as important for discoveries as "aha." According to Mark Twain, "Accident is the name of the greatest of all inventions." Sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov tells us that "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'eureka!' but 'that's funny'."
Krols groups the inventions she discusses into five categories. Category titles and examples follow.
- Entertainment: Silly Putty; Play-Doh; Fireworks; Slinky; Roulette
- Food & Drinks: Artificial Sweeteners; Peanut Butter; Cheese; Tea
- Medicine: X-Rays; Penicillin; Viagra; Band-Aids; Rubber Gloves
- Everyday Life: Superglue; Post-Its; Kleenex; Velcro; Stainless Steel
- Substances: TNT; Radioactive Material; Synthetic Dyes; Dynamite
(2) Book review: Collins, Julia, Numbers in Minutes: The Quickest Explanation of Maths in 200 Essential Numbers, Quercus, 2019. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Let me begin with an aside. In my Web search to learn more about the author, I discovered Julia C. Collins [1842-1865], an essayist and schoolteacher, whose The Curse of Caste was among the first novels published by African-American women. Among the many other Julia Collins search hits is the esteemed author of the book under review who earned a doctorate in 4D knot theory from U. Edinburgh and proceeded to become Outreach Officer at the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute. Among other activities, she is passionate about encouraging girls and young women to participate in maths.
Collins presents numbers in three sections, sandwiched between a short introduction and a glossary.
- Whole Numbers (pp. 8-255)
- Decimals and Fractions (pp. 256-387)
- Negatives, Non-Real Numbers and Infinities (pp. 388-407)
The book is printed in 5"-by-5" pocket size. To give you a taste of the 200 numbers in this book, let me present a couple of examples from the first section and one example each from the other two sections.
The number 40: There are forty possible 2-digit endings for a prime number; the 60 endings of the form xy, with y equaling 5 or an even digit, are easily ruled out. Among the first 10,000 primes, 57 is the most-frequent ending. After the first billion primes, 47 takes over.
The number 561: The smallest Carmichael number (numbers that look prime through the lens of a common primality testing known as Fermat's Little Theorem) has factors 3, 11, and 17.
The number 0.7405: A 16th-century explorer wondered whether he was stacking the cannonballs most efficiently, so he asked around and the question found its way to Johannes Keppler. Although everyone agreed that stacking in layers, the way oranges are stacked at a fruit stand, is most-efficient, it took mathematicians ~400 years to prove what became known as Keppler Conjecture.
The number –1/12: There are many proofs that that the Ramanujan Sum 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + ... equals –1/12, which is a doubly-absurd result for its finiteness and negative sign. A notebook of the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan contains the "proof" shown below. With today's rigorous mathematics, we know that we cannot add multiples of infinite sums together, without running into potential contradictions.
c = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + ...
4c =   4   +   8   +   12   + ...
c – 4c = –3c = 1 – 2 + 3 – 4 + 5 – 6 + ... = 1/(1 + 1)^2 = 1/4
c = –1/12
(3) Book review: Kaku, Michio, Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel, Anchor Books, 2009.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The idea of exploring the physics of phenomena at the boundary of impossibility (at least with our current state of knowledge) is fascinating. Kaku tackles a number of such phenomena in three parts.
Class-I impossibilities, the longest of the three parts (10 chapters, 194 pp.), discusses force fields, invisibility, phasers & death stars, teleportation, telepathy, psychokinesis, robots, extraterrestrials & UFOs, starships, and antimatter & anti-universe. These are all interesting and appropriate subjects, except that, in my view, robots do not belong here. Certain aspects of robotics, such as sentience or emotive behavior could be included, but "robots" in unqualified form conjures an old technology, rather than an envelope-pushing area of study.
Class-II impossibilities (3 chapters, 59 pp.) include faster than light, time travel, and parallel universes.
Class-III impossibilities (2 chapters, 29 pp.) encompass perpetual-motion machines and pre-cognition.
A 19-page epilogue, entitled "The Future of Impossible," concludes the book.
Kaku states that "impossible" is often relative. At one point in time, people expressed skepticism that dinosaurs dominated the Earth for millions of years, before suddenly vanishing. The reasons for this disappearance might have formed fertile grounds for sci-fi, before some of the theories turned into actual "sci." Similarly, the problems discussed in this book fall somewhere between "sci" and "sci-fi," with class-I impossibilities situated closer to the "sci" end.
I was very surprised and disappointed by the book's total lack of diagrams or other graphical aids. Writing anything about science & technology without using diagrams/charts/photos is utterly absurd.

2023/10/09 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The 2023 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics: Awarded to Claudia Goldin Physics joke: Lunar eclipse, solar eclipse, apocalypse Solar eclipse of 2023: The 'ring of fire' solar eclipse of Saturday, October 14
An entire Israeli family massacred in cold blood by Hamas terrorists UCSB Jewish students set up a tent in front of the campus library to commemorate Israeli casualties A point I have been trying to make for a long time with no success, and a coded message for you to decipher (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Nobel Prize, Economics (see the next item below). [Top center] Physics joke: Lunar eclipse, solar eclipse, apocalypse. [Top right] "Ring-of-fire" solar eclipse of 2023 (see item 3 below). [Bottom left] An entire Israeli family massacred in cold blood by Hamas terrorists. [Bottom center] UCSB Jewish students set up a tent in front of the campus library to commemorate Israeli casualties of the Hamas terrorist attacks and to seek support for Israel. [Bottom right] A point I have been trying to make for a long time with no success, and a coded message for you to decipher.
(2) The 2023 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics: Awarded to Claudia Goldin "for her research on gender gaps in the labor market." Goldin, the first woman to earn tenure in Harvard's economics department, is the third woman to be awarded the economics Nobel.
(3) The "ring of fire" solar eclipse of Saturday, October 14, 2023, will be visible in much of United States, Mexico, and South America. The eclipse will be partial in California and much of US; it will be total on a band extending from Oregon to Texas. In Los Angeles, CA, it begins at 8:08 AM PDT, reaches maximum eclipse at 9:25 AM, and ends 10:50 AM. For other times, see this Sky & Telescope article.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Roger Waters adapts Pink Floyd's classic "The Wall," putting new lyrics to it to produce "Hey Ayatollah"!
- English lesson: Do you know when to use "made of," "made from," "made with," and "made out of"?
- An amazing rate of change: The many now-familiar things that did not exist 25 years ago.
- A beautiful dance, amid the news of war and other devastation. Enjoy! [1-minute video]
(5) "Understanding the Hamas War on Israel": This was the title of today's Middle East Forum webinar, featuring Daniel Pipes, Gregg Roman, Jonathan Spyer, and Nave Dromi. Hamas managed to pull off a surprise attack on Israel, leading to many casualties and political consequences. What does this mean for Israel's domestic debate? For the rapprochement with Saudi Arabia? For the Palestinian Authority? Will it lead to fundamental changes in Israel's security establishment? Will Hamas survive? How will Hezbollah respond? And what about Israel's Muslim citizens? [62-minute video]
(6) I for one will be very careful before sharing videos from Gaza and other conflict zones: During previous conflicts, videos belonging to earlier or other wars and, in one case, of a soccer riot were posted.

2023/10/08 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of a special issue of Science magazine: Ancient DNA Quote from Narges Mohammadi, the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Islamic architecture: Shah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran
California is 18 times as large as Israel Some of the civilian casualties of the Hamas attack on Israel Areas of Hamas rocket strikes and terrorist attacks in Israel. (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Ancient DNA: A special section in Science magazine's issue of Oct. 6, 2023, contains articles about how ancient DNA has radically altered our understanding of the evolutionary history of plants and animals. [Top center] Quote from Narges Mohammadi, the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and her dual awards from the Nobel Committee and the government of Iran. [Top right] Shah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran. [Bottom left] California is 18 times as large as Israel: This is why the barrage of Hamas missiles coming from Gaza Strip is so devastating, despite strong anti-missile defense systems. [Bottom center] Some of the civilian casualties of the Hamas attack on Israel. [Bottom right] Areas of Hamas rocket strikes and terrorist attacks.
(2) Dictatorial regimes are fond of installing surveillance cameras everywhere: Surveillance cameras help them maintain their grip on power but can also expose their lies. Iran's Islamic government released edited security camera footage, with obvious gaps, to claim that the hijabless 16-year-old #ArmitaGravand went into a coma because of a pre-existing medical condition, rather than due to assault by hijab enforcers. The missing parts of the security camera footage are being shared on social media, exposing the Islamic regime's lies and clearly indicating the cause of the victim's serious injuries.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Magnitude-6.3 earthquake in western Afghanistan kills at least 2000: The death toll is expected to rise.
- Israeli casualties of Hamas attacks have surpassed 400, with 2000+ injured.
- Hamas forces have undressed the corpse of a female Israeli soldier and are shown dancing over her body.
- What Hamas did to women, children, & elder Israeli resembles the methods of ISIS & Iranian mullahs.
- Israel war: American Jews have been advised to be vigilant personally & to beef up security at their events.
- The US confirms that Americans have been killed or are missing in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel.
(4) On the Hamas-Israel conflict: The massacre of ~1000 Israelis by Hamas terrorists is the largest loss of life among civilian Jews since the Holocaust. The Yom Kippur war of 50 years ago (October 1973) had 2000+ Israeli casualties, but those were primarily soldiers killed on the battlefield, not civilians. In the wake of the Hamas brutality, killing entire families and massacring hundreds of young people attending a music festival, Israelis are more united than ever, but they are proceeding carefully, in view of 100+ civilian hostages held by Hamas. There is no doubt in the minds of Israelis that Hamas must be totally destroyed. Gaza residents aren't pro-Hamas, according to several recent polls, so they can be won over with a careful campaign. There is little doubt that the missiles and other arms used in the attacks were supplied by Iran. Beyond that, Iran's role in the atrocities is still unknown, but a large number of Iranian officials and pro-regime cronies did celebrate the Hamas massacres, one tweeting that "the killing of the dogs has begun" (sag-koshi). Hamas leadership has likely fled Gaza Strip already, leaving helpless civilians to deal with the Israeli retaliation. The latest Hamas attack is tantamount to the death of the two-state solution, which is cause for celebration among the Islamists in the region, including Iran's Islamic regime.

2023/10/06 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Nobel Peace Laureate Narges Mohammadi still smiles after being sentenced to 30+ years in prison The 2023 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Narges Mohammadi Iran's Islamic regime continues its murderous ways: Armita Gravand is in a coma (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] One more Nobel Prize announced (see the next two items below). [Top right] Iran's Islamic regime continues its murderous ways (see the last item below).
(2) The 2023 Nobel Peace Prize: Awarded to jailed human/women's-rights activist Narges Mohammadi "for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all."
(3) A woman who still smiles, after being sentenced to 30+ years in prison: The Nobel committee heard the message of Iran's #WomanLifeFreedom revolution and honored one of its most-eloquent and fearless representatives, #NargesMohammadi, with the Nobel Peace Prize for 2023. Meanwhile the Iranian mullahs and their cronies have already begun their campaign to smear Mohammadi and the "politicized" Peace Prize.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Gaza militants fire rockets into Israel in surprise attack, during which gunmen also crossed the border.
- CERN in Switzerland uses 111,000 devices to reach one exabyte of storage capacity.
- Atomic-scale multi-qubit platform raises hopes of scaling up quantum computers.
- Familiarity and recognizability breed comfort, making it more likely for us to accept falsehoods as truths.
- My daughter's creations (inspired by her late grandma): Tah-chin, with fried zucchini as appetizer. [Photos]
(5) Science note: We often talk about a blanket warming us or one blanket being warmer than another. Actually, a blanket has no warmth of its own. It simply prevents the warmth of our body from going out or the chill of the environment from coming in. It's just an insulator.
(6) Arrival of human beings in the Americas: Previous evidence pointed to people walking over from Siberia via a dry land bridge around 15,000 years ago. Controversial radiocarbon dating of seeds from a set of preserved footprints in New Mexico's White Sands National Park indicates that humans were perhaps present in the Americas as early as 22,000 years ago.
(7) The award of the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize to #NargesMohammadi, the unjustly imprisoned Iranian human/women's-rights activist, has led to different reactions: There are many supportive statements, but we also see statements beginning with "I am happy/proud, but ..." At the risk of over-generalizing, it seems that opposition groups working outside Iran against the country's Islamic regime can't see eye to eye, so they are incapable of celebrating an honor or victory earned by a member of a group other than their own. Mohammadi is characterized as a reformist, so those who have lost hope in reforming Iran's theocratic regime are suspicious of her Peace Prize recognition. Some go as far as suggesting that honoring Mohammadi is part of a Western plot to keep the mullahs in power.
(8) The mullahs keep assaulting beautiful young women to keep their shaky hold on power: #ArmitaGravand is the latest victim to be brutally punished for defying Iran's compulsory hijab laws. She is in a coma at a military hospital with no visitors allowed. Two of her friends were forced to testify on state TV that Armita had not been assaulted by hijab enforcers in a metro car.

2023/10/05 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature awarded to Norwegian writer Jon Olav Fosse October 5 is World Teachers' Day The current status of physics: Humor, with a lot of truth (1) Images of the day: [Left] Nobel prizes (see the next item below). [Center] World Teachers' Day (see the last item below). [Right] Current status of physics: "... we've basically got it all worked out, except for small stuff, big stuff, hot stuff, cold stuff, fast stuff, heavy stuff, dark stuff, turbulence, and the concept of time."
(2) The 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature: Awarded to Norwegian writer Jon Olav Fosse "for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable." The prize is awarded for a writer's entire body of work.
(3) On the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics: What is an attosecond? It's a time period equal to one quintillionth of a second, or 10^(–18) seconds. Scientists use attosecond pulses of light to study the motion of electrons in atoms and molecules, which can reveal the underlying mechanisms of many physical and chemical processes.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Throwback Thursday: Tehran of 1967, as shown in the Italian movie "Tom Dollar." [3-minute video]
- Simone Biles, US women's gymnastics team win record 7th straight world championships title.
- Waiting for conspiracy theories to emerge about the National Alert test on October 4. [Cartoon]
- Wonders of math: Onion shape formed by the plots of the functions y = x^n and y = x^(1/n).
(5) Rewrding creativity: Twenty Americans have won what has come to be known as "The Genius Award," MacArthur Foundation's no-string-attached $800,000 fellowships to help advance their work.
(6) Tonight's interesting Arts & Lectures program at UCSB's Campbell Hall: Mustafa Suleyman (Co-Founder of DeepMind & Inflection AI, and author, with writer/publisher Michael Bhaskar, of the 2023 book The Coming Wave: Technology, Power, and the 21s Century's Greatest Dilemma) discussed many ideas from his book and his experience as an AI entrepreneur, in conversation with Dr. Misha Sra of UCSB's Computer Science Department. A free copy of the book was supplied to every attendee.
It was a fascinating and deep conversation about where AI is headed and how large language models will transform our lives, businesses, and society. I have taken extensive notes from tonight's conversation, which I will incorporate into my forthcoming review of the book.
For now, suffice it to say that Suleyman holds a mostly optimistic view of AI developments, quite a contrast with the many doomsday accounts. His company's version of ChatGPT is named Pi, for personal intelligence, which is envisaged as an empowerment tool for its owner. Interestingly, Pi is intentionally designed to avoid certain subjects, so if you try to flirt with it, you would get a polite answer such as "I'm just an AI, ..." Pi's design is focused on emotional intelligence, so that it can serve as a kind and supportive companion, rather than as a productivity, search, or question-answering tool.
(8) Happy World Teachers' Day: October 5 commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO recommendation concerning the status of teachers, which sets benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers, and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, and teaching and learning conditions.

2023/10/04 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The 2023 Nobel Prize in Chemistry announced Math puzzle: An ant moves on the grid lines from A to C via a shortest path. What is the probability it will pass through B? Jimmy Carter, our 99-year-old ex-president (1) Images of the day: [Left] Another 2023 Nobel Prize (see the next item below). [Center] Math puzzle: An ant moves on the grid lines from A to C via a randomly-chosen shortest path. Find the probability that it will pass through B (Credit: @Math_World_). [Right] Our 99-year-old ex-president (see the last item below).
(2) The 2023 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Awarded jointly to Moungi Bawendi, Louis E Brus, and Alexey Ekimov "for the discovery of quantum dot technology, which revolutionized industries from consumer electronics to healthcare." Back-story: In a highly unusual incident, the honorees' names were inadvertently leaked and published by news media a few hours before the official announcement.
(3) Soccer World Cup's Centenary: The 2030 tournament will be held on three continents (Spain, Portugal, Morocco, & 3 South American countries). Centennial festivities are planned for Uruguay's Centenario Stadium, which hosted the inaugural 1930 World Cup final. There is talk of Saudi Arabia hosting the 2034 tournament.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Kevin McCarthy fails to get enough support to remain Speaker of the House: He says he won't run again.
- The newest member of the US Senate Laphonza Butler is sworn in to replace California's Diane Feinstein.
- The high-tech Las Vegas Sphere, featuring a 160,000-square-foot LED screen, opened with a U2 concert.
- Malcolm Gladwell talks with Neil deGrasse Tyson about the extreme safety of self-driving cars.
- Math puzzle: What is the value of sqrt(i) + sqrt(–i)?
- A gentle math puzzle: Find x, given that x/21 + x/77 + x/165 + x/285 + x/437 + x/621 = 100.
- Facebook memory from Oct. 4, 2018: Creating exquisite metallic carpets in Isfahan, Iran.
(5) Iran's murderous Islamic regime: A year after #MahsaAmini's death while in custody for improper hijab, 16-year-old #ArmitaGaravand has gone into a coma after a confrontation with the morality police. And these are just two of hundreds of murderous acts by Iran's security forces & terrorist Revolutionary Guards.
(6) A model life for an ex-president (unlike you-know-who): Jimmy Carter has turned 99. He reportedly has two longstanding wishes that he would like to see fulfilled before he dies.
First, he likes to see the eradication of a horrible infectious disease caused by Guinea-worm larvae in unsafe drinking water. This may actually happen, given that there are today only six known cases of the disease worldwide, thanks mostly to Carter's relentless, decades-long efforts in fighting it.
Second, he likes to see peace in the Middle East, a feat that is still unrealized, despite Carter winning a Nobel Peace Prize for it. Efforts by Saudi Arabia and Israel are moving the process along, but this is a tough nut to crack. Whether the two countries can overcome opposition from Iran and others remains to be seen.
I for one cheer wholeheartedly for President Carter's well-being and for his staying alive until the realization of at least one of these two wishes.

2023/10/03 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine Women sound off on being forced into unsafe/illegal abortions The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics (1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] The first two Nobel Prizes for 2023 (see the next three items below). [Top center] Women sound off on being forced into unsafe/illegal abortions (see the last item below).
(2) The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: Awarded jointly to Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman "for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19."
(3) The unlikely and revealing back-story of Katalin Kariko's 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: In 1995, UPenn demoted Kariko because she could not get the financial support needed to continue her research, effectively forcing her into retirement. The university is still celebrating her win, with no mention of the demotion or her rocky history with the university.
(4) The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics: Awarded jointly to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L'Huillier "for experimental methods that generate attosecond pulses of light for the study of electron dynamics in matter."
(5) Today is IEEE Day: Designated to celebrate the first time in history when engineers worldwide gathered to share technical ideas in 1884, IEEE Day features activities by IEEE's many geographic & technical entities.
(6) Why are the Democrats smiling? Because they averted a government shutdown! We have sunk so low that we declare victory while all of our major problems are still intact: poverty, racism, sexism, healthcare, immigration, gun violence, educational decline, infrastructure rot, ...
(7) Politics cancels soccer match in Iran: A Saudi Arabian team in Isfahan for a soccer match leaves in protest after objecting to a Qasem Soleimani bust near the playing field, which the authorities failed to remove.
(8) An impressive mathematical animation: This spiral rotates by a tiny angle on every frame. Even though it seems that the circles change size and color, they are actually unchanging.
(9) Quoted in New York Times: "I'm 79, and women my age remember when abortion was illegal. Many of us either had a back-alley abortion, or had friends who had one. We are determined that neither our daughters nor our granddaughters have to experience this. Many of the elderly men I know still vote for Republicans. But watch out: We outlive you!" ~ Mary Leonhardt

2023/10/01 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Millions of years, captured in one frame Ten Baha'i women were executed by Iran's mullahs in 1983: The group included a 17-year-old girl and a pregnant woman Iranian school bus from the early 1960s
Banned-Books Week (October 1-7): This year's theme is 'Let Freedom Read' Math puzzle: Determine the length of the line-segment PQ Cover image of Gerard J. Milburn's 'The Feynman Processor' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Millions of years, captured in one frame. [Top center] Ten Baha'i women were publicly executed by Iran's mullahs in June 1983: The group included a 17-year-old girl and a pregnant woman. [Top right] Iranian school bus from the early 1960s. [Bottom left] Banned-Books Week (October 1-7): This year's theme is "Let Freedom Read." Banning books closes off readers to people, places, and perspectives. Standing up for stories unleashes the power that lies inside every book. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Determine the length of the line-segment PQ (credit: @dmgr_2318). [Bottom right] Gerard J. Milburn's The Feynman Processor (see the last item below).
(2) The new phone-call etiquette: Increasingly, people text first to set up a mutually agreeable talk time. Leaving voice messages and playing phone-tag is falling out of favor.
(3) The US House passes a bill to keep the government open for 45 days: The GOP argues that the temporary fix will give the House and the Senate time to agree on a permanent measure. The question is: If you can solve the problem in 45 days, why didn't you start 45 days ago? You knew about this deadline months ago!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Former US President Jimmy Carter celebrates his 99th birthday today.
- The good girl who fell into the Trump trap: Cassidy Hutchinson's just-published memoir tells us how/why.
- The state of computing in 1962, when computers could do 1000 calculations per second. [10-minute video]
- Africa is splitting into two continents: A long, deep rift in Earth's crust may someday connect to an ocean.
(5) Book review: Milburn, Gerard J., The Feynman Processor: Quantum Entanglement and the Computing Revolution, Perseum Books, 1998. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book combines a description of quantum physics with an introduction to computer science., in the following 6 chapters, followed by a 3-page epilogue:
- The Quantum Principle (pp. 1-37)
- Quantum Entanglement (pp. 38-71)
- Teleportation for Gamblers (pp. 72-91)
- Reality, by Nintendo (pp. 92-118)
- Quantum Software (pp. 119-170)
- The Dream Machine (pp. 171-191)
Physicist Richard Feynman postulated in 1982 that to simulate quantum systems, you may be forced to build quantum computers. From the early-1980s germ of an idea (attributed to Paul Benioff, Yuri Manin, Richard Feynman, and David Deutsch), interest in quantum computing picked up, reaching a fever pitch in the 1990s with the development of quantum algorithms and quantum computational complexity results. Seminars, workshops, and experimental demos of quantum devices & algorithms proliferated in the late-1990s. When I chanced upon this 1998 book, I decided it may be a fun read about the excitement, as quantum computing emerged from the shadows and became a subject for dinner-table conversations and media reporting.
The book falls short in its twin goals of providing a layman's introduction to the main ideas of quantum physics and their computing implications. My recommendations for gaining an understanding of quantum computing are as follows:
- Bernhardt, Chris, Quantum Computing for Everyone, 216 pp., MIT Press, 2020.
- LaPierre, Ray, Introduction to Quantum Computing, 382 pp., Springer, 2021.
We have not only discovered more about quantum computing over the past 2+ decades, we have also learned how to better explain the ideas to non-specialists.

2023/09/30 (Saturday): Today, I offer three books reviews covering business, science/tech, and art.
Cover image for 'The Digital Mindset' Cover image for 'The Hidden History of Code-Breaking' Cover image for 'A Simple Visual Guide: Persian Carpet' (1) Book review: Leonardi, Paul & Tsedal Neeley, The Digital Mindset: What It Really Takes to Thrive in the Age of Data, Algorithms, and AI, unabridged 7-hour audiobook, read by Emmanuel Chumaceiro, Ascent Audio, 2022. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
[After reading this book in hard-copy form, I refreshed my memory by listening to its unabridged 7-hour audio version (read by Emmanuel Chumaceiro, Ascent Audio, 2022).]
A few days before writing this review, I watched a TED-style talk under the title "The Road Turned, Iran Kept Going Straight," by three popular Iranian professors, who were recently fired from their tenured positions by the country's dictatorial regime. The speakers pointed out that a few centuries ago, Iran was economically bustling and an important hub on the Silk Road. Then, overland trade routes were replaced by more-efficient and cheaper sea lanes, which led to Iran being left behind and becoming isolated when it did not adapt. In today's world, countries and businesses that do not adapt to digital technologies face similar fates.
UCSB Technology Management Program's Paul Leonardi and Harvard Business School's Tsedal Neeley set out to help businesses deal with the pressures and challenges of going digital. According to the authors, a digital mindset consists of a set of approaches in three key areas: collaboration, computation, and change. Working with others and effective collaboration are already familiar to most people. But collaboration in the digital era is quite different, because it requires working with other people and with machines. Making machines do what you want and trusting their predictions or recommendations are parts of the challenge.
Appreciating data and recognizing them as social constructs is another key factor. The digital world is constantly changing, so instituting an approach to change is essential. Development of skills in employees to embrace new technologies and to become capable of thriving in a changing environment is another fundamental requirement.
We are in a transition period. Younger workers have grown up with digital technologies, so they are "digital natives," while older workers can be viewed as "digital immigrants" with limited skills in their adopted digital environment. The authors assert that to be a competent citizen of the digital world requires only a 30% fluency in a limited number of areas. This is akin to what happens in learning a foreign language, where mastery might require the knowledge of about 12,000 words, whereas knowledge of 30% of these words, or about 4000 words, provides a person with the ability to work with others. The authors identify the 30% skill & knowledge sets that would make businesses digitally literate, as they proceed to higher levels of proficiency.
(2) Book review: McKay, Sinclair, The Hidden History of Code-Breaking: The Secret World of Cyphers, Uncrackable Codes, and Elusive Encryptions, Pegasus, 400 pp., 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book chronicles the never-ending arms race between code-makers and code-breakers. I don't understand "The Hidden History" part of the title though, because, to me, this is a rather conventional historical account. Apparently, the hidden-history moniker sells, because Thom Hatmann has an entire series of book with titles such as The Hidden History of Neoliberalism and The Hidden History of American Healthcare (the latter one I have read and reviewed on GoodReads).
McKay provides technical details and interesting tidbits about many of the codes he discusses. We learn about Samuel Morse coming up with the idea of dots-and-dashes, in what later became known as Morse Code, while on board a trans-Atlantic ship. Other stories included are Alan Turing's cracking of the German Enigma Code, which contributed to the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, and the long and hard road of the Human Genome Project, a major step in solving the mystery of what makes us human.
The subject of code-making interacts with many other disciplines (including linguistics, math, history, archaeology, literature, biology, and politics), borrowing ideas and constructs from them and influencing them in return. There are also social dimensions to code-making and code-breaking. Secret lovers have contributed many methods to the field because of their desire to encode messages in order to arrange romantic meetings.
Throughout the book, there are puzzles of various levels of difficulty for readers to solve. Some of these puzzles are unclear and do not contain sufficient details for typical readers to tackle them. Use of more photos and diagrams (of devices and their principles of operation) would have been helpful. Despite these shortcomings, the book is still a valuable addition to historical accounts on the topics of code-making and code-breaking.
(3) Book review: Zhuleh (or Jouleh), Turaj, A Simple Visual Guide—Persian Carpet: Classified Study of Designs, Origins, History, Styles and Schools, In Persian & English, Translator Roozbeh Zhuleh, Yassavoli Publishers, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I learned of this book when I attended an August 17, 2023, Zoom webinar by the author under the title "The Pathology of Iranian Carpets Over Time," in which he drew on decades of work on Persian carpets to provide a diagnosis of what ails the carpet-weaving arts and industry in Iran. Briefly, carpet-weaving peaked during the Safavid era (1501-1736 CE) alongside several other art forms, later falling by the wayside, primarily due to the use of low-quality material and labor-saving shortcuts in production.
The book begins with four introductory chapters on weaving in Iran, characterization of Persian carpets, origins of Persian carpets, and styles & schools of carpet-weaving, and ends with a discussion of carpetology around the world. Each of the book's remaining 16 chapters, averaging ~4 pages in length, is devoted to a particular style or region of carpet-weaving. The narrative for each chapter is offered in both Persian & English and is accompanied by photos of the discussed styles.

2023/09/29 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of 'Science' magazine, issue of September 29, 2023 Status and solidarity of women in Afghanistan and Iran Cover image for Barbara W. Tuchman's 'The March of Folly' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Global warming's toll on the body: According to Science magazine's special section on "Heat and Health" (issue of Sep. 29, 2023), a warmer climate is unhealthy, both due to its direct impact on the human body and because of its effects on vector-borne and other diseases. [Center] Status and solidarity of women in Afghanistan and Iran (see the next item below). [Right] Barbara W. Tuchman's The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (see the last item below).
(2) Gender apartheid in Afghanistan and Iran: Georgetown University panels have chimed in on the situation of women in the Middle East.
On Afghanistan, they suggest that "eradicating the deeply rooted and institutionalized discrimination faced by Afghan women necessitates a resolute and unified stance from the global community."
On Iran, they note that "the Iranian regime has proposed a new law that could put women in prison for up to 10 years for not wearing the mandatory hijab," adding that the strict dress code constitutes gender apartheid.
(3) Make sure to thank an earthworm for bread: Earthworms help make soil more fertile by burrowing, which renders it more porous, and by digesting dead plant matter. Their impact on improving wheat harvest is roughly equivalent to one slice in every loaf of bread. [Source: Science magazine, issue of Sep. 29, 2023]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Dianne Feinstein [1933-2023]: First female mayor of San Francisco & 6-term California Senator dead at 90.
- US Secretary of State Tony Blinken conducts musical diplomacy. [1-minute video]
- An Iranian couple dressed in Qashqa'i attire walk on a street in northern Tehran. [1-minute video]
- Silvergreens, a defunct salad joint in my area, is back (sort of): It delivers salads & wraps to businesses.
- Facebook memory from Sep. 29, 2017: When two cats ate my daughter's loan copy of a book!
- Facebook memory from Sep. 29, 2011: Work vs. play.
- Facebook memory from Sep. 29, 2010: Fast food in ad photos vs. in reality.
(5) Book review: Tuchman, Barbara W., The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, unabridged 18-hour audiobook, read by Wanda McCaddon, Blackstone Audio, 2009. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The author discusses the four most-important follies of world governments, as follows:
- Troy's falling for the horse offered by the Greek and taking it into their city, thus losing the war.
- Popes' failure to reverse the church's decline, leading to Protestant reforms of the 16th century.
- England's policies during the reign of King George III, in connection with the United States.
- United States' misguided policies during the Vietnam War, prolonging the conflict and losing it.
The latter part takes up about 40% of the book, with the other three covered in lesser depth.
The book covers important topics, that is, the narrowmindedness and selfishness of those in power, but it is written in a way that does not arouse the reader's interest. A dry subject matter along with dry writing and dry narration make for a less-than-pleasurable reading/listening experience.
A Persian translation of this book exists under the title "Tarikh-e Bi-Kheradi" ("History of Idiocy," translated by Hassan Kamshad).

2023/09/28 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: HP-35 was one the first pocket scientific calculators. It was certainly the first affordable one at ~$50 Throwback Thursday: A couple of my electronic gadgets that were pretty cool in their days Persian calligraphy: A rendering of the revolutionary slogan #WomanLifeFreedom
Math puzzle: Compute the area of the quadrangle ABCD Socrates Think Tank talk on the new economic world order: Flyer Socrates Think Tank talk on the new economic world order: Sample slides (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday: HP-35 was one the first pocket scientific calculators. It was certainly the first affordable one at ~$50. I bought one in 1972, when I was a grad student at UCLA and had much fun with it. [Top center] Throwback Thursday: These gadgets of mine, now headed to e-waste dump, were once among the coolest digital devices. The Canon Powershot SD1000 camera was the first camera I could put in my shirt pocket so that I could take it out quickly to capture various events. The Flip Mino camcorder, with 1 hour of video storage, was even thinner than my digital camera and most people would watch in disbelief as I told them that I was video-recording. [Top right] Persian calligraphy: Rendering of the Iranian people's revolutionary slogan #WomanLifeFreedom. [Bottom left] Math puzzle: Compute the area of the quadrangle ABCD. [Bottom center & right] Socrates Think Tank talk (see the last item below).
(2) In many countries, the military wants to oust civilian leaders to establish a dictatorship: In the US, some civilian leaders advocate ousting or even killing military generals who oppose their dictatorial schemes!
(3) Last night's Socrates Think Tank talk: Dr. Saied Tousi, CEO of USVOLT and board member of several biotech & industrial companies, spoke under the title "New Economic World Order: 'The End of Globalization' and Cold War II." There were ~130 attendees.
Dr. Tousi began by recapping his previous talk, allowing the audience to ask questions if any point needed clarification. He then embarked on a detailed discussion of two worldwide trends.
The first trend is the collapse of global fertility rate, with the exception of most countries in Africa. Italy, Japan, and China are among the countries that are affected most severely. In Japan