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Page last updated on 2024 April 07

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 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 2023

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 Cover image of (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 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.

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 alone, there are 10 million unoccupied dwellings that city governments are anxious to give away. Russia also has serious problems in demographics, owing to a reduction of the number of young people (lower birth rate, plus casualties of war), which is particularly detrimental to its military power.
The second trend pertains to large-scale changes in energy resources and markets (see the image). North America has become pretty much independent of Middle Eastern oil, which now goes almost exclusively to India, China, and Japan. Concurrent with changes in energy markets, the global supply chain is also undergoing a transformation. For example, Mexico is attracting a good chunk of the business that previously went to China.
There was also some discussion of the drumbeat about the US dollar being ousted from its position as the default currency for international trade. These stories are propagated primarily by Russia, China, and Iran. Despite these claims, the US dollar continues it rise, while other currencies, including euro, are declining. During the Q&A period, I mentioned that Bitcoin and gold dealers also contribute to propagating these falsehoods in order to boost their sales.
I also introduced during the Q&A period Tim Marshall's book Prisoners of Geography (my review), which confirms many of the points made by the speaker about the self-sufficiency and relative safety of the US (North America, more generally), compared with other countries/regions.

2023/09/27 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Interactive Learning Pavilion (a UCSB classroom building) and some its outdoor seating to study or take a break Monday night after sunset atop UCSB's West Campus bluffs, looking westward & eastward Sidewalks are important: Don't treat them as necessary evils
Math puzzle: What is the ratio of the blue area to the yellow area within the square? UCSB Library's reception for the start of the new academic year: Wide shot UCSB Library's reception for the start of the new academic year: Close-up of the UCSB Reads 2024 book selection (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Interactive Learning Pavilion (a UCSB classroom building) & some its outdoor seating to study or take a break: I will be teaching my fall 2023 graduate course ECE 257A on fault-tolerant computing in this nicely-equipped new building, which hosted an open house yesterday (2-minute video). [Top center] Monday night atop UCSB's West Campus bluffs, looking westward & eastward (1-minute video). [Top right] Sidewalks are important: Don't treat them as if they are necessary evils (see the next item below). [Bottom left] Math puzzle: What is the ratio of the blue area to the yellow area within the outer square? [Bottom center & right] UCSB Library's reception for the start of the new academic year: Chancellor Henry Yang, EVC David Marshall, Librarian Kristin Antelman, and about 40 faculty members were in attendance. The UCSB Reads 2024 book selection, Your Brain on Art (my review), was announced during the festivities.
(2) Sidewalks as afterthoughts: Having walked in many neighborhoods of different cities, I've wanted to write about this issue for a long time. It seems that in developing city neighborhoods, planners first allocate space to roads and to parking lots serving road-side businesses. Then, whatever space is left over is used for sidewalks. Nowhere is this problem more visible than in a section of State Street near Santa Barbara's Las Positas Road. To make the city pedestrian-friendly, there is no need to close the streets to traffic, as done recently in the downtown area. Let's begin with providing decent sidewalks of reasonable width and with smooth surfaces.
(3) At least 125 people were killed and hundreds wounded in a fuel depot explosion in Nagorno-Karabakh amid an exodus of ethnic Armenians from the region. Turkey is supportive of Azerbaijan's military offensive.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Fireworks cause a deadly fire, killing at least 100 at a wedding hall in Iraq.
- Google turns 25: The optimism about a benevolent company has turned into worries about too much power.
- Iranian agents and regime apologists are in positions of power in the US government.
- Mind your surroundings: This Chicago woman puts up a fight, but she has no chance against two burly men.
- Math puzzle: What is the rightmost digit of the number 2019^2018^ ... ^3^2^1?
- Vera Rubin [1928-2016]: The hidden figure who proved the existence of dark matter in the universe.
- Goleta Lemon Festival celebrates 30 years: Saturday-Sunday, September 30 & October 1, 2023; Girsh Park.
(5) American might on full display: Iran releases several American hostages in exchange for getting some of its own money back, but pretends that the releases were motivated by humanitarian concerns and the US "coming to its knees." North Korea releases an American soldier who had entered the country illegally, saying that the American was expelled, as if being returned from North Korea to the US constitutes a punishment!
(6) I become upset when people say they are dissatisfied with both major parties: Equating the Democrats' faults with the atrocious behavior of the Republicans is a disservice to our country and to democracy.
(7) Inequity in grocery pricing: You have probably noticed that upscale supermarkets in affluent neighborhoods have much higher prices. According to a PBS Newshour story, low-scale markets in poor neighborhoods also have higher prices, while also offering fewer deals to their customers.

2023/09/25 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iran's architecture: The historic Qavam mansion in Shiraz Physics joke: Inside the box, Schrodinger's cat plans its revenge Knot theory: A small sample of an endless variety of mathematical knots (1) Images of the day: [Left] Iran's architecture: The historic Qavam mansion in Shiraz. [Center] Physics joke: Inside the box, Schrodinger's cat plans its revenge. [Right] Knot theory (see the next item below).
(2) Knot theory is a branch of topology concerned with the study of mathematical knots: While inspired by knots which appear in daily life, such as those in shoelaces and rope, a mathematical knot differs in that the rope ends are joined so that it cannot be undone. A mathematical theory of knots was first developed in 1771 by Alexandre-Theophile Vandermonde. Alan Turing knew that telling whether two knots are equivalent (one can be turned into the other, without cutting the rope) is extremely difficult. [8-minute video]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The 4.5-billion-year-old rock that has been brought back to Earth. [6-minute video]
- Scientists use 5 million hours of supercomputer time to create a 3D model of exotic supernovae.
- Manhattan Project II: Los Alamos will be the site of a new major effort to modernize the US nuclear arsenal.
- No need to wait for quantum hardware: Companies run quantum equations and quantum software on GPUs.
- Rachel Maddow's incredibly detailed report about Kazakh corruption, money laundering, and Donald Trump.
- Hyper-inflation in Zimbabwe: They've introduced a paper-currency worth 50 trillion Zimbabwe dollars.
(4) Documentary film about Wendy McCaw: She bought Santa Barbara News Press, one of the oldest newspapers in California, in 2000 for $110 million and ran it into bankruptcy in 2023. When it became clear in the late 2000s that McCaw had fired or caused the resignation of the best journalists on her staff, Santa Barbara residents began cancelling their subscriptions to the paper. This 2008 film is an excellent reminder of the importance of journalism ethics and responsibilities of journalists to the community. [79-minute film]
(5) Formulation of money-laundering detection as a graph problem: The challenge is to find large sums of money divided into smaller transactions between numerous bank accounts, a technique known as "smurfing."
(6) Machine unlearning: We are bombarded daily with reports on advances in, and new applications of, machine learning (ML). Owing to considerations such as privacy, usability, and the right to be forgotten, the need may arise to remove information about some specific samples from an ML model. This is called "machine unlearning." The most-common unlearning schemes fall under the two main categories of data reorganization and model manipulation. [Source: Article by H. Xu et al. in ACM Computing Surveys, January 2024]
(7) Is the Internet making us criminals? In a survey of 8000 teens, aged 16-19, across 9 European countries, nearly half admitted engaging in cybercriminal behavior in the previous 12 months. [Source: David Geer, in Communications of the ACM, October 2023]

2023/09/24 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: Find the area of the blue rectangle Math puzzle: Given the angles in this figure, prove that a^2 + c^2 = 2b^2. Math puzzle: We have two squares and an equilateral triangle. Find the ratio of the areas of the two squares
Iran's architecture: Diamond Hall at Golestan Palace Museum, Tehran. See if you can read the hidden message in this photo Cover image of Andy Clark's 'The Experience Machine' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Math puzzle: Find the area of the blue rectangle. [Top center] Math puzzle: Given the angles in this figure, prove that a^2 + c^2 = 2b^2. [Top right] Math puzzle: We have two squares and an equilateral triangle. Find the ratio of the areas of the two squares. [Bottom left] Iran's architecture: Diamond Hall at Golestan Palace Museum, Tehran. [Bottom center] See if you can read the hidden message in this photo. Painters have used this method of creating hidden messages for centuries. With the use of AI, the task is now easier than ever. [Bottom right] Andy Clark's The Experience Machine (see the last item below).
(2) Two University of Tehran professors have been suspended because they held a thesis defense exam for Leila Hosseinzadeh, a political prisoner and student activist who has been expelled from the university.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Tobacco companies are doing to processed foods what they did to cigarettes: Making them more addictive.
- US Companies' insistence that employees return to the office has resulted in a wave of resignations.
- Which is the best public college in the US? Can't tell you, for there is a tie between UCLA & UC Berkeley!
- America's political system has been hijacked but we can get it back through local action. Get involved!
- At dementia cafes, catering to Japan's aging population, forgotten or mistaken orders are tolerated.
- Scenes from the 1979 movie "Tehran Incident," featuring Peter Graves and Pouri Baneai. [3-minute video]
- Persian poetry: Praising the solidarity among various regions & ethnicities in Iran. [2-minute video]
(4) Book review: Clark, Andy, The Experience Machine: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality, unabridged 9-hour audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Our model of the world around us is not shaped based on a one-way transmission of information from sense organs to the brain. There are more neurons going from the brain to sense organs than the other way around. We don't use sensory information to build a model but rather to adjust/correct a pre-conceived model. This is why two people can look at the same scene and reach different conclusions, which forms the basis of lack of complete trust in eyewitness accounts. Our preconceived model of the world prevails if there is inadequate sensory information to change/correct it. Relying on the preconceived model alone, when there is no sensory data or not enough to change it, is hallucination.
Here is a visual demo of how our expectation shapes our perception. If you scan this diagram from left to right, you tend to recognize the middle shape as the letter "B"; scan it from top to bottom and you will likely see it as the number "13." Here is an audio demonstration of the importance of a previous model in our comprehension. Listen to each sine-wave speech (SWS), once before the original speech and once after. You will note that the second time, you can make sense of the words spoken.
Our brains are running a continuous simulation of the world around us. Sensory info is used to update the model, not build it from scratch. The eyes need only send to the brain the visual details that differ from what is expected or predicted. This leads to informational and energy efficiency. A fascinating book all around!

2023/09/23 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
'Frida,' by UK artist Jane Perkins who creates collage/mosaic artwork from found and upcycled material Cover image for Chuck Wendig's 'Gentle Writing Advice' Golestan Palace Museum, Tehran, Iran: Sample of the mosaics (1) Images of the day: [Left] "Frida," by UK artist Jane Perkins who creates collage/mosaic artwork from found and upcycled material. [Center] Chuck Wendig's Gentle Writing Advice (see the last item below). [Right] Golestan Palace Museum, Tehran, Iran: Sample of the mosaics.
(2) Tonight, I watched the classic-rivalry soccer match between UCSB & Cal Poly SLO: This is mid-way through UCSB's 2023 season, with a record of 4-4-0. UCSB led 1-0 at halftime on a beautiful goal that involved 3 passes inside the box. In the second half, UCSB scored with a header on a corner kick to prevail 2-0. [Images]
(3) A capsule containing fragments of the Bennu asteroid, which has a 1 in 2700 chance of hitting Earth in 2182, will parachute onto a Utah bombing range on Sunday. The fragments may hold clues on life's origins.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez charged with taking signifcant bribes in cash and gold bars.
- Math puzzle: P, I, and E are three different non-zero digits. Find the value of PIE if sqrt(PI) + E = sqrt(PIE).
- Math puzzle: What is the 0th root of 4?
- Facebook memory from Sep. 23, 2020: Many who pretend to be Christians, know little about the bible.
- Facebook memory from Sep. 23, 2018: Playing on the word "eshgh" ("love") in Persian calligraphy.
- Facebook memory from Sep. 23, 2014: Replica of Babbage's Difference Engine (Computer History Museum).
(5) Book review: Wendig, Chuck, Gentle Writing Advice: How to Be a Writer Without Destroying Yourself, unabridged 7-hour audiobook, read by Adam Verner, Penguin Audio, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book, which targets both novice writers and those who have made it, can be summarized as follows: There is no one-size-fits-all process for writing. I can tell you how I do it, but that may not work for you; or even for me, on the next project. Write every day? Fine if you can do it, but it's not necessary. Write a certain number of words per day or per week? Ditto! Start with an outline? Do it if it feels natural to you.
Despite a lack of concrete advice, the humorous prose makes the book an enjoyable read/listen. There are a lot of advice lists in this domain: Top-10 essentials, 15 tips, 20 things to do, 12 things to avoid, '500 Ways to Be a Better Writer' (Wendig's own earlier book), and so on.
As a writer, you spend a lot of time writing and rewriting, but you also need to spend much time reading. It is important to relax and proceed at your own pace. Writing can be hard on a person, in terms of sheer effort and fear of failure. Taking good care of yourself and treating yourself gently are important ingredients of a successful writing career.
Advice pieces such as "avoid adverbs" are nonsense. Do not avoid anything if it adds depth or clarity. Just make sure you do not overuse adverbs, or anything else, for that matter.
I end my review with a few interesting quotes from the book:
- [W]riting is a squiggly, fiddly, wiggly thing. It's not IKEA furniture.
- If you catch yourself staring at a blank page, remember that you're not alone. It happens to all writers.
- You don't have to finish everything you start, but make sure that you finish some work.

2023/09/21 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mullahs love rap music, but not all rappers: Toomaj Salehi has been in prison for one year Iranian boy looking for food in a dumpster, finds a book instead Evidence unearthed that Stone-Age humans built wooden structures
Another example of Iran's brain-drain: Prof. Tara Javidi of UCSD Talangor Group talk by Dr. Nader Noori on remembering and forgetting mechanisms in the human brain (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Mullahs love rap music, but not all rappers: Amir Tataloo is allowed to leave Iran to give a concert in Germany. Meanwhile the popular rapper Toomaj Salehi has been in prison for nearly a year and reportedly may face the death penalty. [Top center] A picture is worth 1000 words: Iranian boy looking for food in a dumpster, finds a book instead. [Top right] Evidence unearthed that Stone-Age humans built wooden structures: According to a paper published in the journal Nature, wooden logs, bearing signs of intentional modification and believed to be nearly 0.5 million years old, have been found in the banks of a river in Zambia. [Bottom left & center] Another example of Iran's brain-drain: Tara Javidi, who achieved first rank among hundreds of thousands of participants in Iran's 1993 nationwide university entrance exams, is now a distinguished engineering professor at UCSD (image credit: Dr. Pamela Karimi). [Bottom right] Talangor Group talk by Dr. Nader Noori on remembering and forgetting in the human brain (see the next item below).
(2) Luiz Andre Barroso [1964-2023]: Google's inventor of the modern data center, and winner of ACM-IEEE's 2020 Eckert-Mauchly Award, dead at 59. His paper in IEEE Micro, entitled "A Brief History of Warehouse-Scale Computing," is a good overview of modern data centers and their origins. Cause of death is under investigation.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Iran spins the prisoner swap with the US for internal consumption: "The US was brought to its knees".
- Sloan Foundation funds research on the development of IEEE Standard 754 on floating-point arithmetic.
- The 12 biggest myths, perpetuated by the rich, about why taxing the rich will cause more harm than good.
- Love and hope are renewable resources: Use them generously!
- "Oppenheimer," the movie, was factually accurate, say physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson & author Kai Bird.
- Santa Barbara's Paseo Nuevo mall to be demolished and replaced with rental units, offices, & retail space.
(4) Giving a little girl a platform vs. brainwashing her: One seven-year-old girl is writing a novel and hopes to become rich; The other one prays that her father, her brother, and herself are martyred. [1-minute video]
(5) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Nader Noori (VP, Stealth Neurotech) offered the second part of his presentation of last week entitled "From Pavlov's Dog to Marcel Proust: Various Forms of Memory and Their Workings" [my Facebook post of last week]. This week's title was "In Search of Memories: From Marcel Proust to ChatGPT." There were ~85 attendees.
Tonight's topics included forgetting (useful & harmful varieties), the role of cues in memory recall, impact of sleep on memory reinforcement, dreams & nightmares, language learning, musical memory, and deja vu.

2023/09/20 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) Images of the day: [Left] IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk (see the next to the last item below). [Center] Farhang Foundation announces its top six Iranian short films: The in-person awards ceremony is scheduled for October 1, 2023. [Right] Socrates Think Tank talk on Persian poetry (see the last item below).
(2) Jury research: Trump attorneys are contacting potential jurors in the District of Columbia and asking them to fill out a questionnaire. This kind of "jury research" is apparently a thing for rich defendants. During this process, the defense team may come across sympathetic potential jurors, whom they will try to seat if presented as part of the jury pool. All they need is one such juror to mess up a unanimous guilty verdict. No such luxury is available to poor defendants, even if they are assigned a competent public defender. Talk about a two-tiered justice system!
(3) AI lifeguard: Cameras scan the water to detect anyone in trouble and a life-vest or raft is flown over by a drone. AI can be more-effective than a human lifeguard at both parts of this rescue operation. x
(4) Regenerative architecture: Brazilian architectural firm Estudio Guto Requena built a concept store for the Nescafe coffee brand in Sao Paulo using 3D printing with biodegradable materials and recycled plastic.
(5) Numerous Web sites are cashing in by selling Ozempic's main ingredient, semaglutide, on the cheap as a weight-loss drug: FDA has warned against advertising the off-brand use as FDA-approved.
(6) Tonight's Socrates Think Tank talk: Dr. Ryan Homafar spoke on "Aesthetics of Violence in Contemporary Persian Poetry" (in Persian; ~130 attendees). I will present just a very brief report on this talk, given that, due to overlap with another meeting I had committed to attending, I joined Dr. Homafar's talk 30 minutes late.
The kind of violence discussed in this talk is primarily of the magnanimous kind seen in idealistic and mystic poetry, with variations that include self-flagellation, torture by the beloved's love, sacrificing the body for spiritual gain, and cruel seduction. At the end of the talk, a few references were made to poetry of armed conflict, particularly works inspired by the Iran-Iraq war and sacrifices made by devoted Iranian fighters at the front. Throughout the talk, Dr. Homafar recited poems by classical and modern Persian poets in support of the points he wanted to make. A very enjoyable talk indeed!
It was announced by the program's host that Dr. Homafar will conduct a class on Persian poetry under the auspices of Socrates Think Tank and Talangor Group.
(8) Tonight's IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk: Dr. Brad Paden (Chief Scientist & Co-Founder of LaunchPoint Electric Propulsion Solutions; UCSB Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering) spoke under the title "Adventures in Mechatronics." There were 32 attendees.
The talk's focus was on the creativity and challenges associated with the invention and design of mechatronic devices. Example systems included a maglev transportation system, a guided-catheter system, an oxygen concentrator, maglev artificial hearts, high-speed switching mechanisms including an electronic engine valve, high-power-density motors, and an energy storage system, along with blue-sky ideas such as electromagnetic launch. While modeling, control and optimization are essential ingredients in mechatronic systems, the large design and application spaces of mechatronic systems compel us to place a high value on innovation at the level of system architectures. This point was illustrated throughout the talk.

2023/09/18 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Celebration of my latest academic promotion with the family, at my sister's Math puzzles: Find the limit as n tends to infinity and evaluate x in (0, pi/2) Cover image of Tara Kangarlou's 'The Heartbeat of Iran' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Celebration of my latest academic promotion with the family, at my sister's. [Center] Math puzzles: Find the limit of the top expression as n tends to infinity and evaluate x in (0, pi/2) from the botton equation. [Right] Tara Kangarlou's The Heartbeat of Iran (see the last item below).
(2) Irony of ironies: Sanctioned Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, complicit in mass murders of political prisoners as a member of a death panel, arrives in New York on a plane belonging to a sanctioned Iranian airliner and will be protected by the US Secret Service while in the US.
(3) Iran's totalitarian regime uses a shiny object to distract: Concurrent with the anniversary of #MahsaAmini's murder by the morality police and the release of US hostages in return for freeing $6 billion in frozen assets, Cristiano Ronaldo visits Iran at the invitation of the mullah's regime. Apparently, Iranians are easily distracted!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Canadian PM Justin Trudeau accuses the government of India of killing a Sikh leader on Canadian soil.
- Let me show you what self-confidence looks like! [Video clip]
- Facebook memory from Sep. 18, 2020: My poetic tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg [1933-2020]
- Facebook memory from Sep. 18, 2016: Vietnam rice fields as nature's painting.
(5) Book review: Kangarlou, Tara, The Heartbeat of Iran: Real Voices of a Country and Its People, Ig Publishing, 2021. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The story of Iran tends to be told as the interaction between the oppressors and the oppressed, but ordinary Iranians lead lives that are predominantly occupied by family ties, love, career concerns, music, food, and many other human needs. Yes, oppression is a big part of the picture, but it isn't everything.
Iranian-American journalist Tara Kangarlou set out to portray ordinary Iranians, not those who govern them. Using stories from 24 individuals, chosen to represent Iran's diverse population in terms of ethnicity, religion, profession, gender identity, and more, Kangarlou succeeds in depicting Iranians as having the same hopes and aspirations as people in other countries and thus sharing a lot in common with those labeled as "enemies" by the ruling mullahs.
Of course, a country of 83 million cannot be profiled in only 24 lives, but even this limited profile presents a refreshingly different image of Iran than we see in books focusing primarily on the ruling class, religious fanatics, or the theocratic system. In the rest of this review, I discuss my impressions of four of the 24 chapters, two of them in some detail and two others rather briefly.
Chapter 5, Rabbi Harav Yehuda Gerami: The young leader of the Abrishami Synagogue appears cautious in his remarks. After all, unlike a few others on the list, his full name and position are spelled out in the book. He aspires "to keep alive a centuries-old religious tradition that allows Iranian Jews to practice their faith to its fullest within the borders of their homeland." It is because of statements such as the above that the author may have felt compelled to include a disclaimer at the end of the chapter, characterizing the young rabbi's musings as a story about one person and his family, adding that persecuting individuals based on their faith is an evil act that should always be condemned. Rabbi Gerami takes pride in being the only academically trained rabbi in Iran. His beliefs and aims are more contemporary than typical Jewish leaders who are hakhams (Torah scholars). He relates that he never felt any prejudice against his Jewish community or when he was a public-school student. He dismisses incidents of harassment to naughty children and kids-just-being-kids. He maintains that Iranian Jews are allowed to take the religious pilgrimage to Israel, apparently closing his eyes to the fact that numerous Jews have been tried as Israeli spies, simply because they had traveled to Israel. He cites the presence of 25,000 Jews in Iran as "a sign that Jewish people can live freely in the country," ignoring the damning number of 55,000 Jews estimated to have left Iran in the Revolution's wake.
Chapter 8, Mina: Being identified only by her first name is a sign that this woman's story is likely damaging to the Islamic Republic. At age 12, Mina was forced to marry a 30-year-old man, an event she considers tantamount to being killed. Mina wasn't allowed to go to school, even before she got married. At 14 and 18, she gave birth to two sons, and at 19, she lost her husband in a car accident. Getting remarried would have likely meant giving up her two sons, so, she decided to endure hardships to raise her sons and allow them to get educated. She eventually found a job at an army hospital, spending part of the Iran-Iraq War years working in hospitals near the front. Even with a permanent job, survival wasn't easy, because she paid up to 80% of her income for rent. Her two sons never went to college, as she had hoped, but she is happy that they are healthy and hold good jobs. For every Mina, who, through sheer determination and some luck, makes it through life as a child bride, there are numerous others who lead miserable lives. Imagine a woman, who has not experienced a normal childhood, trying to raise normal, healthy kids, without any safety net. Child marriages are not banned in Iran. They are in fact encouraged and enshrined in the country's laws. In the US, child marriages are frowned upon, but due to exceptions and local customs, a quarter-million children, some as young as 12, were married during the 2000s.
Chapter 17, Amir Saneei: A soldier/teacher, from a family with several generations of teachers, is paid the equivalent of $7.00 per month. As a kid, Amir was conflicted about chanting "Death to America" and "Death to Israel," given his parents' lesson "To love all and not say bad things about anyone." Despite the measly compensation, Amir works with dedication, cultivating the confidence that he can help any student, regardless of the circumstances.
Chapter 24, Taraneh Aram: A transgender woman, born Amir, adopted her first and last names after sex-change surgery at 22. Amir's mother working as a nurse in a fancy private hospital allowed him to realize his plans. Somewhat surprisingly, Iran does provide support to transgender people, mainly because they are deemed sick. This advocate for the LGBTQ community is judged by both men and women as half-woman, because she can't give birth.
Inclusion of brief biographies of the 24 individuals, at the beginning of the chapters or as sidebars, would have been helpful in providing the reader with a roadmap and a sense of why a particular individual was chosen for inclusion. In the current format, one does not learn about the specifics of some individuals until several pages into the chapter.

2023/09/17 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time Pyramid: A sculpture that will be completed in 3183 CE Our amazing nature: Rings in a tree stump resemble ridges in a fingerprint US research enterprise and slave labor (1) Images of the day: [Left] A sculpture that will be completed in the year 3183: Currently, this work-in-progress in the German town of Wemding consists of four large concrete blocks. Titled "Time Pyramid," the sculpture, which will be 24 feet (7+ meters) tall upon completion, was started by Manfred Laber in 1993, with plans to add a new concrete block every decade. [Center] Our amazing nature: Rings in a tree stump resemble ridges in a fingerprint. [Right] US research enterprise and slave labor (see the last item below).
(2) The multi-tier justice system in the US: Yes, our justice system has many tiers, but not in the way that Donald Trump and his cronies claim (they maintain that Trump is treated more harshly than other criminal defendants). Any other defendant violating court orders on what he can and cannot do while out on bail would have been incarcerated by now. A petty criminal who passed off a fake $20 bill was essentially executed by a cop within minutes of committing his crime; no trial, no defense, no jury, nothing. The justice system keeps threatening Trump with consequences if he continues his foul talk about witnesses, jury members, prosecutors, and judges, in much the same way a parent might threaten a misbehaving child, without any intention of following through with the threats.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Russia's invasion of Ukraine has produced half a million deaths, counting losses on both sides. [CBS News]
- Iran: A dozen policemen in full riot gear surround an unarmed woman protester sitting on the ground.
- Iran wants to erect a digital wall: Researchers increasingly isolated as Internet access becomes restricted.
- Songbird species that display complex vocal learning are better problem-solvers and have larger brains.
- Math puzzle: Find all solutions to x^y = y^x, where x is not equal to y. [Example: 2^4 = 4^2]
- I hate it that we are giving positions of power to very old people, but do compare 46 & 45 in these photos.
(4) The amazing Statue of Liberty: This 10-minute video shows design and construction details. I climbed all the way to the head of the Statue in the 1970s. Now, doing so requires making a reservation weeks or even months in advance. Most visitors climb to the top of the pedestal, where there is an observation deck.
(5) Slave labor at US research universities: This is a controversial topic, so please bear with me as I introduce the problem and leave details to future posts. One of the benefits of achieving the highest academic rank is that you can discuss controversial topics and offer harsh criticisms, without fear of reprisals.
Graduate students are used and abused in the research enterprise. Saying that they learn valuable skills that make them more-attractive to the academic and industrial job markets, while partially true, is akin to saying that slaves benefited from job-training & skills acquisition. The situation might have been tolerable if students were treated in a friendly, compassionate manner by professors, but, in many cases, professors with research funding pit students against each other in disbursing the relatively small number of fully-paid research positions. Increasingly, undergrads are also being used in unpaid research roles, essentially mimicking within the university the corporate abuse of unpaid internship positions.
Slave labor isn't limited to students but extends to less-prestigious academic ranks such as adjunct faculty positions. When the hours spent on lesson preparation and grading are factored in, many adjunct faculty members are paid close to minimum wage.

2023/09/16 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today is the first anniversary of #MahsaAmini's death while in the custody of Iran's morality police Marjan Satrapi's new book, 'Woman, Life, Freedom': Image 2 Marjan Satrapi's new book, 'Woman, Life, Freedom': Image 1 (1) Images of the day: First anniversary of Mahsa Amini's brutal murder (see the next two items below).
(2) Today is the first anniversary of #MahsaAmini's death while in the custody of Iran's morality police: Her death sparked an uprising, some would say a revolution, that frightened the mullahs into killing hundreds of protesters, arresting thousands, and blocking/throttling the Internet. Amini's parents have invited Iranians to join them in celebrating the life of "Iran's Daughter." The government has established a security perimeter, using armored vehicles, around her family home and the cemetery where she is buried. Widespread protests in Iran and cities around the world are planned. #WomanLifeFreedom
(3) "Woman, Life, Freedom: A Retrospective": This was the title of today's webinar with Marjane Satrapi, author of the graphic novel Persepolis, and Abbas Milani, Director of Stanford University's Iranian Studies Program. The discussion was moderated by Sima Sabet. Satrapi talked about her new graphic history of Iran's #WomanLifeFreedom movement and the effort she led to offer free downloads of the Persian translation of the book, Femme, Vie, Liberte. Milani provided historical context for this latest movement of Iranian women that has earned the world's respect and support. [105-minute recording of the webinar]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The story of Iran's #MahsaAmini uprising, as told by its iconic images/videos. #WomanLifeFreedom
- Rana Mansour's touching rendition of the English version of Shervin Hajipour's Grammy-winning "Bara-ye."
- California sues Big Oil Companies, citing decades of deception on the subject of climate change.
- "May Iran Never Grieve": A musical performance featuring the voices of Mina Deris and Maliheh Moradi.
- Iranian scientist Paniez Peykari's 18-minute TED-style talk on the universe, its past, and its future.
- Baratunde Thurston's 17-minute TED talk: "How to Deconstruct Racism, One Headline at a Time"
- A cemetery in Los Angeles, California, where many old-time Iranian singers are buried. [5-minute video]
- Furniture used to last generations. Now it barely survives a move. What happened?
- Family gathering in Ventura, California, for the second night of Rosh Hashanah. [Photos]
- Joke of the day: (Q) Are five followers a lot? (A) On social media, no; in a dark alley, yes!
(5) Quote of the day: "Make your daughter so capable that you don't have to worry about whether or not she gets married. Instead of saving money for her wedding day, spend it on her education and, most importantly, prepare her for herself, not for marriage. Teach her self-love and confidence." ~ Anonymous
(6) Little Scandinavia: South Carolina has an area with the tiny towns of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. These names did not arise from Scandinavian settlers moving there. It all started with Denmark, which was named in the 1800s to honor Captain Isadore Denmark, an official with one of the railroad companies working there. As the railroad line was extended up towards Columbia, communities were named in order to fit with the "Scandinavian" naming theme. The towns are too tiny to appear on regular maps. Now you know!

2023/09/15 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
First night of Rosh Hashana at my home Happy Rosh Hashanah to all who celebrate the Jewish New-Year festival Manhattan's new Perelman Performing Arts Center (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Happy Rosh Hashanah to all who celebrate the Jewish New-Year festival: The new Hebrew calendar year 5784 will start tomorrow and, like all Jewish holidays, is celebrated beginning with the night before. Observance of Rosh Hashanah involves eating several kinds of fruits and vegetables; apple dipped in honey represents sweetness and pomegranate signifies fruitfulness. [Right] Manhattan's new Perelman Performing Arts Center: Located next to One World Trade Center, the new NYC cultural site houses three theaters that can be rearranged in 60 different ways. Its translucent exterior glows amber in the evening, as chandeliers cast the silhouettes of theatergoers onto its surface.
(2) An interesting 63-minute interview (in Persian) with Dr. Narjess Afzaly, an outstanding computer scientist who left Iran and now lives in Australia, about her experiences in and connections with mathematics. To see many more such interviews, you can subscribe to Dr. Amir Asghari's YouTube channel.
(3) Quote of the day: "We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and go away, but there will always be science, engineering, and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics." ~ African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Death toll of Libya's catastrophic flooding surpasses 11,000, with roughly the same number still missing.
- United Auto Workers starts strikes against all Big Three automakers for the first time in history.
- Say her name: #MahsaAmini, a vibrant swimming coach who wanted to become a doctor.
- NASA appoints a research director to lead a scientifically rigorous study of UFO reports.
(5) According to Republicans, Democrats are at fault for US budget deficits: But of our $30.9 trillion national debt, $7.8 trillion (one quarter) was amassed during Trump's presidency. So, the GOP wants us to feel guilty for the huge debt and agree to pay some of it back from cuts in Social Security and Medicare. Give me a break!
(6) The CIA spy Tony Mendez, the protagonist of the movie "Argo," was actually accompanied by a second spy, Ed Johnson, a linguist, whose identity had not been revealed until now.
(7) Quaternions: Numbers of the form a + ib + jc + kd, where a is the real component and b, c, d are the imaginary parts, were devised in 1843 by Irish mathematician Sir William Rowan Hamilton as extensions of complex numbers a + ib. Quaternions are often used in graphics programming as compact representations of 3D rotations and offer some advantages over matrices. The article "Quaternions in Signal and Image Processing: A Comprehensive and Objective Overview," published in the September 2023 issue of IEEE Signal Processing magazine is a good starting point for learning about quaternions and their applications.
(8) Minimal prime numbers: If in the decimal representation of a prime number we can cross out some digits to form another prime number, then we call the original number a non-minimal prime. For example, 593 is a non-minimal prime, because crossing out the digit 9 yields the prime number 53. In a minimal prime, no shortened version of the number is a prime. Jeffrey Shallit showed in 2000 that there are exactly 26 minimal primes, the largest one being 66600049. Similarly, there are only 32 minimal composite numbers, with 731 being the largest, such that crossing out any digit of the number leaves a prime number.

2023/09/14 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Walking on a gloomy/windy Wed. afternoon around Goleta's Coal Oil Point Reserve Throwback Thursday: Aerial view of Ku Klux Klan parade on Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC, 1926 Photos from my days at Arya-Mehr/Sharif University of Technology
Talangor Group talk by Dr. Nader Noori on memory and its workings: Flyer Talangor Group talk by Dr. Nader Noori on memory and its workings: One of the slides (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Walking on a gloomy/windy Wed. afternoon around Goleta's Coal Oil Point Reserve. The Devereux Slough is nearly dry, a harbinger of the fire season being upon us (1-minute video). [Top center] Throwback Thursday: View of Ku Klux Klan parade on Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC, 1926. [Top right] Photos from my days at Arya-Mehr/Sharif University of Technology (see the next item below). [Bottom row] Talangor Group talk by Dr. Nader Noori on memory and its workings (see the last item below).
(2) Me & math: An 89-minute interview, in Persian, on "People & Mathematics" site (run by Dr. Amir Asghari), with a focus on how my life & career have been intertwined with math. Because the interview occurred with little preparation and no rehearsals, a few inaccuracies slipped in. For example, I used the term "perfect graphs" where I meant "complete graphs." None of the errors is serious enough to affect the interview's overall authenticity.
(3) Throwback Thursday: The first photographs of Iran taken during 1848-1858 by Colonel Luigi Pesce, who was in charge of training Iran's new infantry troops up to the Italian standard. [24-minute slide show]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The 2024 US presidential race will be dominated by competing criminal trials of Donald Trump &Hunter Biden.
- Iran, the ammunitions highway during World War II (12-minute documentary film, narrated in Persian).
- Two physicists and a neuroscientist carry on an interesting discussion on free will. [10-minute video]
- Mr. Haloo recites his poem about a stolen donkey, with everyone blamed for the loss, except the thief!
(5) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Nader Noori (VP, Stealth Neurotech) spoke under the title "From Pavlov's Dog to Marcel Proust: Various Forms of Memory and Their Workings." There were ~75 attendees.
The main talk was preceded by the short presentation "Is There a Superior Language?" in which Dr. Hossein Samei talked about the age-old human tendency to compare languages with regard to usefulness, completeness, and expressive power. Linguistically, there is no basis for rank-ordering different languages, and each language must be viewed as the best communication tool within the culture where it was developed. Unfortunately, nearly all claims of linguistic superiority are driven by vanity, xenophobia, and exploitation. Since short presentations do not come with a Q&A period, I posted the following comment on the meeting chat: "But we can say that a particular language is more developed or more expressive in a particular domain of discourse, such as science."
Pavlov's dog refers to a famous experiment on dogs, where a bell is rung before providing a dog with food. The dog then learns to associate the sound of the bell with food, thus starting to salivate after the bell rings and before actual food is supplied. According to the behaviorist theory, organisms are active in producing memory phenomena, rather than doing so passively. This contrasts with the now prevalent cognitive tradition of memory research in which the use of strategies is avoided, with an alternative approach that may incorporate internal structures.
Memory has two separate mechanisms for short durations and long durations. There are people with brain damage who do well in remembering in the short term but not in the long term. Other topics discussed by Dr. Noori are affective (emotional) memory, which plays a key role in our decision-making, motor memory, declarative memory, & face-recognition memory (with its dysfunction known as Prospognobsia). Interestingly, reading and writing rely on two different memory mechanisms (sensing vs. motor).
Learning and memory are broad and widely-studied topics with tons of research results. A second session is planned for continuing the discussion, when Dr. Noori will also deal with the important subject of forgetting.

2023/09/13 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
At the urging of other activists, Iranian political prisoner Bahareh Hedayat ends her hunger strike after hospitalization UCLA's new Dean of Engineering is Ah-Hyung 'Alissa' Park The face and name of #MahsaAmini have become symbols of Iranian women's determination to claim their rights as well as the rights of Iranian men (1) Images of the day: [Left] At the urging of other activists, Iranian political prisoner Bahareh Hedayat ends her hunger strike after hospitalization. [Center] UCLA's new Dean of Engineering is Ah-Hyung "Alissa" Park. [Right] The face and name of #MahsaAmini have become symbols of Iranian women's determination to claim their rights as well as the rights of Iranian men. Say her name! Display her face!
(2) Putin defends Trump and criticizes the "rotten" American state's legal system. Sure, the best system of Justice uses poisoning, pushing out of high-rise windows, and exploding airplanes to take care of business.
(3) Quote of the day: "We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and go away, but there will always be science, engineering, and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics." ~ African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Casualties of catastrophic flooding in Libya have tripled to 6000: A further doubling is quite possible.
- Mitt Romney to retire: Another Republican exits the US Congress rather than fight the hijacking of his party.
- Hats off to the resilient Iranian youth who still dance on the streets and sing about love. [2-minute video]
- Fascinating GIF art by Frederic Vayssouze-Faure. He has a lot more on Tumblr.
- Stop hate. We need love and unity. [1-minute video]
- Victor De Martrin musical animation has a marble hitting xylophone bars to create the Mario Bros theme.
(5) The road turned, but Iran didn't: Fired university professors Mohammad Fazeli (sociologist), Arash Raisi-Nejad (international relations expert), and Farhad Nili (economist) give a 26-minute joint presentation, in Persian, about how Iran went from being a center of commerce along the Silk Road to a totally isolated country. It failed to adapt to changes, when overland trade routes were replaced by the much-cheaper sea lanes of the Indian & Atlantic Oceans.
(6) Quote of the day: "Mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true." ~ British philosopher Bertrand Russell
(7) On the tradition of a woman taking her husband's last name: Among women in opposite-sex marriages in the United States, four in five changed their names, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center. The practice is most-common among conservative Republican women (90%) and least-common among liberal Democrats and those with post-graduate degrees (about 2 in 3).
(8) Biden administration's R&D priorities for the 2025 budget request:
The 4-page document dated August 17, 2023, specifies seven broad categories.
*Advancing trustworthy artificial intelligence technology
*Leading the world in maintaining global security & stability
*Stepping up to the global challenge posed by the climate crisis
*Achieving better health outcomes for every person
*Reducing barriers and inequities
*Bolstering innovation to build economic competitiveness
*Strengthening & advancing America's unparalleled research

2023/09/12 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Introducing two books on the MeToo movement: One edited by UNC's Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi and another by Brynn Reinkens Cartoon: Vacation for ordinary people vs. academics Sign carried by a protester: 'Kurdistan isn't alone, the entire Iran has its back' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Book introductions: The #MeToo Movement in Iran, edited by UNC's Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi, surveys the Iranian MeToo activism and places it in the broader Middle East context. The relatively short book How Has the #MeToo Movement Changed Society? by Brynn Reinkens reflects on the MeToo movement in the US and how it has given rise to solidarity, awareness, and accountability in our society. [Center] Vacation for ordinary people vs. academics. [Right] In the lead-up to the anniversary of Mahsa Amini's murder, this sign carried by a protester says: "Kurdistan isn't alone, the entire Iran has its back."
(2) Disasters in North Africa: A total of 5000 are believed dead and thousands are still missing in catastrophic flooding in Libya which broke dams and in a 6.8-magnitude earthquake in Morocco.
(3) Exponential factorials: The notation n! represents the product n*(n – 1)* ... *2*1. Similarly, n$, the exponential factorial, stands for n^(n – 1)^ ... ^2^1, where by convention, the expression is evaluated from right to left. The exponential factorial n$ grows a whole lot faster than the product factorial n! (for example, 5! is 120, whereas 5$ is a number with 180,000 digits).
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- House Speaker Kevin McCarthy orders impeachment inquiry into Biden amid pressure from hard-liners.
- Forced marriage in Pakistan: Watch and weep at the level of human brutality. [1-minute video]
- Two large wine reservoirs broke in Portugal, sending a river of red wine to the streets.
- Facebook memory from Sep. 12, 2017: One of the few times I responded to a Donald Trump tweet.
(5) Female college students widely outnumber men: Combined with the fact that men drop out of college at higher rates than women, the college-educated workforce will continue to be mostly female.
(6) Mathematicians find 12,000 solutions for the surprisingly-tough 3-body problem: The question of how 3 objects can form stable orbits around each other has troubled mathematicians for more than 300 years, but now researchers have found a record 12,000 orbital arrangements permitted by Newton's laws of motion.
(7) Global smartening more dangerous than global warming: We humans may be wiped out by the results of global warming in a century or so, but an even more-immediate danger is unanticipated consequences of smart devices and algorithms taking over our daily lives. Just as in global warming, we have, and should strive not to miss, a window of opportunity to prevent damage from an out-of-control global smartening process.
The risks of AI are well-known and calls for ethical-AI and responsible-AI are proliferating. What's unique about AI is that the calls for caution are coming from AI researchers and developers, not from social scientists. As in any other new technology, those who discuss the social aspects of AI systems fall into two categories.
AI optimists see opportunities for improving the human condition and removing a host of social ills, from poverty to educational challenges. AI pessimists see hazards such as alienation and the widening of opportunity & wealth gaps, stoking the fear that whoever controls the AI will control citizens and institutions, leading to authoritarian rule. Most participants fall between the extremes and are thus assuming a wait-and-see attitude.
While we may consider the pessimistic view an extreme position that will rob us of opportunities to reap the benefits of AI, we must consider that even a small chance of these fears materializing is enough for us to jump into action. Would you board a plane that has a 1-in-20 a-priori chance of crashing on the account that it is 19 times more probable for you to complete your flight and enjoy whatever you planned to do at the destination?

2023/09/11 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US Ramanujan summation Cover image of William Lutz's 'Doublespeak' (1) Images of the day: [Left] The 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US: Remembering and honoring the victims of the brutal Al Qaeda terrorists remains important, particularly at this time of widespread conspiracy theories and denial of the role played by the government of Saudi Arabia in assisting the terrorists. [Center] Math oddity (see the next item below). [Right] William Lutz's Doublespeak (see the last item below).
(2) Ramanujan summation: The following proof that 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + ... = –1/12 was found in one of the notebooks of the Indian math prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan.
c = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + ...
4c =   4   +  8  + 12   +   ...
–3c = c – 4c = 1 – 2 + 3 – 4 + 5 – 6 + ... = 1/(1 + 1)^2 = 1/4
c = –1/12
That something is wrong with the reasoning above became known much later, when more rigorous math was developed. Meanwhile, this absurd summation has found applications in physics, particularly in string theory.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Los Angeles Times op-ed by author Roya Hakakian about her immigrant father's reaction to 9/11.
- Another disaster in north Africa: Hundreds dead in Libya flooding, but officials fear it could be thousands.
- Hats off to Jon Stewart, who fought tirelessly to get 9/11 responders the benefits & respect they deserve.
- Bed Bath & Beyond is back from the dead: I've received 4 e-mails from the bankrupt company in 2 days.
(4) Book review: Lutz, William, Doublespeak—From Revenue Enhancement to Terminal Living: How Government, Business, Advertisers, and Others Use Language to Deceive Us, Ig Publishing, 2nd edition, 2015.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I really enjoyed reading this unique book on the subject of doublespeak and learned a great deal from it. At its worst, doublespeak, like George Orwell's "Newspeak" in 1984, is a language designed to limit thought. At its best, doublespeak is inflated language that gives importance to the mundane. Doublespeak isn't just an annoyance: It can be deadly. When defective cars are recalled, the language used may not convey adequately that the defect could be fatal and thus must be fixed promptly. Ford once announced that the rear axle bearings of Torino and Mercury Montago cars "can deteriorate" and that continued driving can "adversely affect vehicle control." It is quite possible that some recipients of this notice did not take their cars to be fixed, thinking that the problem was noncritical.
Lutz divides doublespeak into the four categories of euphemism, jargon, gobbledygook, and inflated language.
- Euphemism: An inoffensive or positive word or phrase used to avoid a harsh, unpleasant, or distasteful reality, such as the US State Dept.'s use of "unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of life" in lieu of "killing." This kind of doublespeak should not be confused with tactfulness/sensitivity, such as when we use "passed away" for "died."
- Jargon: A verbal shorthand that when used properly can lead to precision and communication efficiency. But using "organoleptic analysis" for "smelling" reeks (pun intended) of doublespeak.
- Gobbledygook: Piling on words to confuse or overwhelm the audience. Here is an example from the then US Senator Dan Quayle: "Why wouldn't an enhanced deterrent, a more stable peace, a better prospect to denying the ones who enter conflict in the first place to have a reduction of offensive systems and an introduction to defensive capability?" Alan Greenspan is also masterful in creating such "word salads."
- Inflated language: Making the ordinary sound extraordinary. Examples include calling a car mechanic "automotive internist" and elevator operators "vertical transportation corps."
In the preface to the 2015 edition, Lutz notes a marked increase in the use of doublespeak: "Doublespeak that once prompted disbelief or in some cases outrage now passes unnoticed and without comment. Doublespeak has become part of the working vocabulary of public discourse.
Politicians are fond of doublespeak. Here's a striking example from US President Ronald Reagan: "I will not stand by and see those of you who are dependent on Social Security deprived of the benefits you've worked so hard to earn." This statement was interpreted by the public as Reagan being opposed to cuts in Social Security benefits. However, later clarification from the White House revealed that Reagan had chosen his words very carefully. He was reserving the rights to judge who was "dependent" on Social Security and who had "earned" the benefits.
Another major offender is the government. Thousands of people are killed in misdirected drone strikes. The countless children or entire wedding parties killed are referred to as "collateral damage." Similarly, we do not torture but use "enhanced interrogation techniques." Government support for religion is camouflaged as "faith-based initiatives" and helping the rich by reducing or eliminating estate taxes is sold to the public as reforming the deplorable "death tax." The book is replete with examples of doublespeak in different domains, as evident from its chapter titles, listed below. Following the nine chapters, there are three appendices: "Quarterly Review of Doublespeak," "Recipients of Doublespeak Award," and "Recipients of the George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contributions to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language."
- Involuntary conversions, preemptive counterattacks, and incomplete successes: The world of doublespeak
- Therapeutic misadventures, the economically nonaffluent, and deep-chilled chicken: The doublespeak of everyday living
- Virgin vinyl, real counterfeit diamonds, & genuine imitation leather: With these words I can sell you anything
- Negative deficits and the elimination of redundancies in the human resources area: Business communication, sort of
- Protein spills, vehicle appearance specialists, and earth-engaging equipment: Doublespeak around the world
- Predawn vertical insertion and hexiform rotatable surface compression units: The Pentagon word machine grinds on
- Nothing in life is certain except negative patient care outcome and revenue enhancement: Your government at work
- Winnable nuclear wars and energetic disassemblies: Nuclear doublespeak
Everyone should read this book. You will learn a lot and either smile or cringe as you read some of the more-preposterous examples. Comedian George Carlin had a super-funny routine about words & phrases that help hide the truth, apparently taking many of his examples from this book.

2023/09/10 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Twin primes and Brun's Constant (~1.9022) Happy Grandparents' Day to all those who are blessed with grandkids Cover image of Etienne S. Benson's 'Surroundings: A History of Environments and Environmentalisms'
Stroll in Ventura Harbor Village: A few chalk paintings Stroll in Ventura Harbor Village: Yours turly near Ventura Harbor's entry/exit channel Stroll in Ventura Harbor Village: Miscellaneous photos (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Twin primes and Brun's Constant (~1.9022): The infinite sum of the reciprocals of twin primes (pairs of prime numbers that differ by 2), that is, 3 & 5, 5 & 7, 11 & 13, ... , is approximately 1.9022. Viggo Brun tried to use this summation as a way of showing that there are infinitely many twin primes and was surprised when the sum proved finite. Of course, this finiteness does not prove that there are only a finite number of twin primes. [Top center] Happy Grandparents' Day to all those who are blessed with grandkids: "The best baby-sitters, of course, are the baby's grandparents. You feel completely comfortable entrusting your baby to them for long periods, which is why most grandparents flee to Florida." ~ Humorist Dave Barry [Top right] Etienne S. Benson's Surroundings: A History of Environments and Environmentalisms (see the last item below). [Bottom row] Saturday's stroll in Ventura Harbor Village to see a smallish street-painting festival and arts/crafts show.
(2) Maui fire death toll is ~180: This number results from adding the 66 individuals still missing (and who must be presumed dead) to the official death toll of 115.
(3) Iranian-American writer Roya Hakakian declines an invitation to participate in a meeting with Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, because such a meeting would legitimize a murderous Islamic Republic official and insult Iranian people who have undergone imprisonment, torture, rape, and even execution in their fight for freedom & democracy.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Magnitude-6.8 quake in a mountainous region of Morocco kills 2000+, with the death toll expected to rise.
- Le Monde publishes a hopeful victory message written by women political prisoners in Iran.
- Why are the laws of nature the way they are? A 12-minute presentation by Thomas Hertog.
- A brief introduction to epigenetics, by British biologist Nessa Carey. [7-minute video]
- Check out this amazing Boogie Woogie version of "The Swanee River," performed by Pianist Marius Labsch.
(5) Book review: Benson, Etienne S., Surroundings: A History of Environments and Environmentalisms, Penguin Random House, 2020. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The notions of environment and environmentalism are relatively new. Today, when we think about environmentalism, we think of activists who want to return our Earth to its pristine state, that is, how it was before widespread human activity transformed it. This is rather unrealistic and reeks of hubris. Another view of environmentalism is learning to live responsibly on an Earth that has been transformed by human life and progress. In other words, those holding the latter view accept that we have entered a distinct geological period, the Anthropocene Epoch, variously considered to have begun with the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s or the Great Acceleration of the 1950s, with certain irreversible changes over earlier eras.
This is a book of history (of ideas, of science, and of technology) which challenges much of what we think we know about environments and environmentalism, making us reconsider the reasons for caring about it and approaches to protecting it.

2023/09/08 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The largest adobe mud-brick structure in the world: Bam Citadel in southeastern Iran has a 2500-year history Unusual cloud formation, this afternoon in Goleta, California Cover image of Vaclav Smil's 'Numbers Don't Lie' (1) Images of the day: [Left] The largest adobe mud-brick structure in the world: Bam Citadel in the city of Bam, southeastern Iran, has a 2500-year history. It was an important hub on the Silk Road in the Medieval Era. [Center] Unusual clouds in Goleta, CA. [Right] Vaclav Smil's Numbers Don't Lie (see the last item below).
(2) UK-based math educator Dr. Amir Asghari runs a Web site, with the title "People and Mathematics," devoted to "curious, honest, and candid conversations with individuals whose professional lives are intertwined with mathematics." The site currently contains three chapters, each introducing 12 men and women.
(3) Iranian operatives roam in the US as lobbyists and academic "scholars": Hossein Mousavian, who served on Iran's nuclear diplomacy team in negotiations with the EU and International Atomic Energy Agency, is a frequent guest on policy forums, urging Washington to engage with Tehran and not seek regime change.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hurricane Lee reaches the rare category-5 strength and may strengthen again as it heads toward the US.
- G-20 summit convenes in New Delhi, sans China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin.
- Sophisticated Iranian cyber-attack on Middle East Forum is thwarted by Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center.
- The US Internal Revenue Service is using AI technology to detect certain categories of tax fraud.
(5) The US really needs to be made great again: The party of "law & order" has degenerated into a '1984'-style thought-control and history-rewriting enterprise. [Tweet, with photos of Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy]
(6) With McConnel on the way out and Trump on the way to jail, US Republicans are poised to bring their young stars to the forefront: So, it is disheartening to see Biden (80) and Pelosi (83) seeking re-election.
(7) After being notified of a hefty premium increase for my car insurance policy and complaining to the company's chat "assistant," I researched on-line and found out that the phenomenon is nationwide and that my rate increase was actually not as bad as the average increase.
(8) Book review: Smil, Vaclav, Numbers Don't Lie: 71 Stories to Help Us Understand the Modern World, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by Ben Prendergast, Penguin Audio, 2021.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
While it is true that numbers don't lie, they can be exploited for dressing up lies as truths, as aptly demonstrated in Darrel Huff's How to Lie with Statistics and Michael Wheeler's Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics, the latter taking its title from a saying popularized by Mark Twain, who attributed it to the British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli.
Smil's book contains 71 largely-independent essays on interesting and often controversial topics having to do with numerical assessment and statistical inference. The essays, which average ~5 pages each (~5 minutes of audio), can be read straight through or in many sittings. Examples of the 71 hot-button topics discussed include vaccinations, malleability of unemployment stats, environmental impacts of cars & cell phones, nuclear electricity, electric-powered container ships, the inexcusable global food waste, why tall people enjoy so many benefits, and making sense of Brexit.

2023/09/07 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The number of abortions in the US has not gone down, despite Supreme Court's reversal of Roe-v.-Wade and passage of restrictive state laws: NYT chart Throwback Thursday: Kakh-e Marmar (Marble Palace), Tehran, Iran, is a former royal residence, now a museum, built by Reza Shah during 1934-1937 Share of income earned by the top 1% in the US is on the rise again: NYT chart (1) Images of the day: [Left] The number of abortions in the US has not gone down, despite Supreme Court's reversal of Roe-v.-Wade and passage of restrictive state laws (NYT chart). [Center] Throwback Thursday: Kakh-e Marmar (Marble Palace), Tehran, Iran, is a former royal residence, now a museum, built by Reza Shah during 1934-1937. [Right] Share of income earned by the top 1% in the US is on the rise again: It stands at 19% now, compared with ~11% five decades ago (NYT chart).
(2) Dictators can tolerate no dissent: Having ruined Iran's economy, Supreme Leader Khamenei and his gang of terror have shifted their attention to Iran's academic institutions, one of the country's few bright spots. They have started to install utterly unqualified gang members in academic positions. A couple of Iranian universities have had good showings on international rankings, though the positions have been in decline in recent years. Now, the decline and the resulting brain drain will accelerate, as the best students & faculty members abandon the compromised institutions. [Tweet, with image]
(3) Several former university presidents in Iran have criticized the firings of popular professors and the appointment of utterly unqualified faculty members: They seem to have forgotten that they are guilty of driving off many highly qualified faculty members because of following the motto "religious devotion before expertise"! They are pretending that Islamic Iran was flawless when they were in power and has deteriorated since. This is reminiscent of former PM Mir Hossein Mousavi referring to "the golden age of Imam [Khomeini]," despite its extrajudicial mass-executions and terror fatwas, and Abdolkarim Soroush, who oversaw the "cleansing" of Iranian universities under the banner of "Cultural Revolution," now criticizing the regime's higher-education policies from his perch in the United States!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- EU-official/hostage from Sweden has been in an Iranian prison for more than 500 days.
- The ugly US culture wars are in part the fault of colleges abandoning civics courses.
- The Great Wall of China is no match for the bulldozers of greedy contractors.
- A British diplomat in Iran answers a few questions in Persian. [1-monute video]
- Another viral musical hit in Iran: "Take off Your Headscarf" has become a new protest anthem.
- Mean tripping of a little kid: This soccer player was ejected by the referee, even before the game began.
(5) This Iranian cleric accuses Islamic Republic leaders of generating unrest, including burning of Qurans by their own agents, in order to crack down on dissent and consolidate their power. [6-minite video]
(6) Going in the opposite direction of its US counterparts, Mexican court expands abortion access, including as part of the national health system.
(7) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Reza Sarmast and Eng. Mitra Zaimi presented the second part of the talk "The Paradox of Plentiful Oil," which they began last week. The talk was accompanied by screening a documentary video on "Oil in Iran: From Discovery to Nationalization" to make up for the lack of coverage of Iran's case in the book. There were ~70 attendees.
Is there such a thing as the curse of oil? In last week's installment of the talk, the speakers showed that there is indeed a curse of oil for many countries with incapable governments, Venezuela being the poster child of such regimes. Tonight, the speakers focused on two notable exceptions to this rule, Indonesia & Norway, where capable governments have successfully avoided the curse of oil. A key to Norway's success was viewing the oil income as just one revenue stream, rather than the economy's main pillar. For Indonesia, sheer luck led to oil income being directed to repayment of foreign debt, thus sparing adverse effects of the economy.

2023/09/06 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Saeed Haddadian, a singer of religious hymns ('maddah') and a Khamenei crony, has been appointed to a professorial chair at U. Tehran Time limit for kisses in the passenger-unloading area of an airport Science magazine's cover feature: Unraveling Turkey's geometrically-complex sequence of earthquakes
Islamists' obsession with women's looks: Portrait of Mahsa Amini Islamists' obsession with women's looks: Theology professor views women only as tempters and seducers Socrates Think Tank talk by Mehdi Khalaji under the title 'Do Iranians of the Digital Age Living Under a Totalitarian Regime Need to Read Poetry?' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Meet the new Professor of literature at U. Tehran: Saeed Haddadian, a singer of religious hymns ("maddah"), has been appointed to a professorial chair as part of a program aimed at controlling Iranian universities by Supreme Leader Khamenei's hardline cronies (see also the next item below). [Top center] Time limit for kisses in the passenger-unloading area of an airport (excuse the awkward English). [Top right] Unraveling Turkey's geometrically-complex sequence of earthquakes: Science magazine's cover feature, issue of Sep. 1, revisits Turkey's magnitude-7.8 twin quakes of February 6, 2023, classified as one of the deadliest natural disasters in the area over the past millennium. [Bottom left & center] Islamists' obsession with women's looks: To me, the good looks of women like the late #MahsaAmini trigger awe and respect. Islamists, such as this theology professor, however, see nothing but temptation & seduction in women's looks. [Bottom right] Tonight's Socrates Think Tank talk (see the last item below).
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Proud Boy leader will be in prison until he is a Proud Old Man. I hope his boss gets a similarly long term.
- The Biden administration cancels oil-drilling plans in Alaska's wildlife refuge.
- This 5-minute report on the follies of Iran's foreign policy led to the closure of Entekhab news site.
- The Rolling Stones unveil their first musical album in 18 years. It is entitled "Hackney Diamonds."
(3) John H. Glenn Lecture in Space History: Today's National Air & Space Museum's "Trailblazers in Conversation" program featured Astronauts Drs. Anna Fisher, Rhea Seddon, & Kathryn Sullivan, alongside NASA Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy (in-person and on YouTube). The three women astronauts answered questions about becoming interested in working for NASA, discussed their training, and recalled their social & professional experiences as women techies. The program marked the 45th anniversary of NASA's historic 1978 astronaut candidate class, which included the first six women candidates amongst its 35 new guys.
(4) Tonight's Socrates Think Tank talk: Dr. Mehdi Khalaji (Senior Fellow, Washington Institute) spoke under the title "Do Iranians of the Digital Age Living Under a Totalitarian Regime Need to Read Poetry?" There were 100 attendees, with possibly many attendees left out due to the Zoom limit.
As I usually do before attending a lecture, I researched the speaker's background from on-line sources. I discovered that Khalaji had studied Islamic theology at Qom Seminary and philosophy at Tehran's Tarbiat Modarres (Teacher Training) University. After leaving Iran, he pursued additional studies in Paris and later worked for BBC Persian, Radio Farda, and Radio Free Europe. He has written in opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and, apparently, has tried to undermine international sanctions against Iran. According to Wikipedia, "In March 2019 Khalaji and his wife, Marjan Sheikholeslami Aleagha, were listed among the main suspects in the largest financial corruption case in Iranian history with a total amount of 6.7 billion euros. Khalaji and his wife are suspected that they made contracts with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps oil and gas company, Sepanir, and in order to bypass sanctions they used personal accounts which were used to embezzle money to United States and Canada."
Based on the profile above, I was hesitant to attend the talk, but in the final analysis, I decided to do so in light of the talk's connection with one of the titles on UCSB Reads 2024 Program's short list of books, Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us (I serve on the program's Advisory Committee). In the book, the authors Susan Magsaman and Ivy Ross discuss many practical benefits of the arts, besides the obvious aesthetic enjoyment. Pursuing and participating in art improves cognition, learning ability, memory, and focus, while reducing stress. Just one art experience per month can add 10 years to one's life. There are music-therapy and museum-therapy in the medical domain and I don't see why we can't make use of poetry-therapy! And you don't have to be good at it to reap these benefits. So, the answer of Your Brain on Art to the question posed in its subtitle is an emphatic "yes"!
Unfortunately, the talk was only marginally related to its advertised title and thus to the important topics I discussed above, that is, new neuroscientific research results on how arts affect us. It contained mostly political narratives and some general remarks on the potential harms of technology (social media, in particular). I believe that the speaker's dissing of social media is in part driven by the negative information about, and accusations against, him.

2023/09/04 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy US Labor Day Turning a revolution into a business opportunity: Her royal highness is selling access Anniversary of the #WomanLifeFreedom movement: On September 16, 2023, Iranians in the homeland and in diaspora will join forces to honor the memory of #MahsaAmini
My approximation of Labor Day barbecue, with oven broiled chicken kabobs and veggies Math puzzle: Find the area of the green square in the middle The Beatles as children. I don't know if these are AI-generated or real (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy US Labor Day: "Of life's two chief prizes, beauty and truth, I found the first in a loving heart and the second in a laborer's hand." ~ Khalil Gibran [Top center] Turning a revolution into a business opportunity: Her royal highness is selling access with $450 VIP bundles. [Top right] Sep. 16, 2023, anniversary of the #WomanLifeFreedom movement: Iranians in the homeland and in diaspora will join forces to honor the memory of #MahsaAmini, whose death while in the custody of Iran's despised morality police sparked a revolution. [Bottom left] My approximation of Labor Day barbecue, with oven broiled chicken kabobs and veggies. Your place was empty! [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Find the area of the green square in the middle. The green and blue squares have the same center. [Bottom right] The Beatles as children. I don't know if these photos are AI-generated or real.
(2) Dry water: Significantly heavier than regular water and coming to a boil at around 50 degrees Celsius, this undrinkable 3M product has found a number of niche applications, such as extinguishing fires at electronic installations (regular water would damage the electronics). It is an excellent insulator and can be used to cool circuitry by coming in direct contact with them. [15-minute video]
(3) Please sign this petition to secretaries of state in charge of ensuring that presidential candidates meet the qualifications set forth in the US Constitution (14th Amendment, in particular).
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Indian lunar rover, Pragyan (wisdom, in Sanskrit), begins its search for ice near the lunar south pole.
- Kim Jong Un to visit Putin: Russia plans to buy arms & ammunition from North Korea.
- The Burning Man Festival turned into The Drowning Man Festival due to severe flooding around Las Vegas.
- Does Vivek Ramaswamy know what white DJT supporters think of Latinos, Indians, & other brown people?
- The anatomy of a Ronaldo header into the goal. [1-minute video]
- Liberace demonstrates the boogie-woogie style of piano-playing and its variations. [4-minute video]
(5) Wreckage of 150-year-old ship found nearly intact in Lake Michigan: The dishes of grain ship Trinidad, which sank in 1881, are still nearly stacked in their cabinets.
(6) A water park in Mashhad, Iran, was closed by authorities due to women being improperly veiled. Which begs the question: "What constitutes proper veil in a water park?"
(7) Nomad high-schoolers in Iran learned English 50+ years ago, becoming proficient after a few months. Compare their language skills with those of current Islamic Republic ministers & diplomats! [2-minute video]
(8) The cost of being a student: Setting aside expenditures on tuition and housing, the two biggest expenses for students, there are other secondary costs that exert added financial pressure. Textbooks and supplies are examples of the latter. In this essay, a teaching assistant points out that some students can't afford the cost of buying and registering "clickers" and are thus penalized when such electronic devices are required for class participation. Faculty members and TAs should be mindful of the cost of supplies and devices, and explore alternatives, before specifying them as required.

2023/09/02 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pottery shop in Yazd, Iran, prominently displaying the distinct color of Iranian ceramics, turquoise blue Consequences of hijabless appearance in space: Text-message warning, followed by locking up the ISS (Mana Neyestani cartoons) Faster job growth (by more than 2.5x) leads to expanded middle class under US Democratic administrations
Jasmine Moghbeli and her husband don their #WomanLifeFreedom T-shirts Memes of the day about today's Iran: Arrests, executions, etc. Thursday night's pizzas on half-pita-breads: Toppings include cooked ground beef, pineapple, and lots of onion (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Pottery shop in Yazd, Iran, prominently displaying the distinct color of Iranian ceramics, turquoise blue. [Top center] Consequences of hijabless appearance in space: Text-message warning, followed by locking up the ISS (Mana Neyestani cartoons). [Top right] Faster job growth (by more than 2.5x) leads to expanded middle class under US Democratic administrations. [Bottom left] Jasmine Moghbeli and her husband don their #WomanLifeFreedom T-shirts. The caption states that this woman would be in prison if she lived in Iran. [Bottom center] Memes of the day about today's Iran: Widespread arrests of activist, executions, an imprisoned young man dying in custody (likely due to torture), and a surprising rise in oil exports & income. [Bottom right] Thursday night's pizzas on half-pita-breads: Toppings include ground-beef, pineapple, & onion.
(2) Hijabless Iranian women are knocked to the ground by stick-wielding vigilantes: The women are restrained by grabbing their hair, kicked, handcuffed, and touched all over their bodies in violation of Islamic rules.
(3) A university president in Iran threatens dissident students with confinement to mental institutions: Political abuse of psychiatry to "tame" dissidents has a long, shameful history in Russia and other countries. It also harms those in genuine need of psychiatric help.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- German women reopen the debate about why they can't appear in public wearing only a bikini bottom.
- A living robofish built from human cardiac cells swims like a fish & could pave the way for artificial hearts.
- AI + Holograms = Virtual presence, anywhere, in any language (4-minute talk at a Microsoft event).
- Honoring those who lost their lives to keep the #WomanLifeFreedom Revolution alive. [3-minute video]
- Rock art: Reproducing a few classics and creating some amazing new images. [1-minute video]
- France has too much wine and is paying large sums to have the oversupply destroyed: Let's head to France!
(5) Iran news: Social-media influencers and humorists are having a field day with Iranian-American Astronaut Jasmine Moghbeli's travel to space, hijabless and without having to obtain the written consent of her husband.
(6) The Holocaust didn't appear out of the blue: It was preceded by years of segregation, clothing mandates, a slate of restrictive laws, and regional massacres in Germany and other Nazi-controlled areas.
(7) John B. Goodenough [1922-2023], pioneering material scientist dead at 100: He was a giant in the fields of solid-state chemistry and physics. "His revolutionary insights into the fundamental physical properties of materials helped enable the wireless and artificial intelligence revolutions and advanced the science needed to help reduce carbon emissions."
(8) A century ago, on September 1, 1923, a magnitude-7.9 earthquake devastated Tokyo: The killer quake was followed by 1000 aftershocks over 10 days. The quake's direct damage paled in comparison with the damage caused by ruptured gas lines that created more than 130 major fires. "In Tokyo, the fires merged into a firestorm so intense that it created its own wind system and set alight the city's many wooden buildings. Survivors rushed to seek safety. Bridges became choke points, and as those made of wood caught fire, people were trapped." The two-day burning left 140,000 dead people in its wake.

2023/08/31 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian-American astronaut Jasmine Moghbeli, with her husband Talangor Group's talk on the paradox of plentiful oil Meme: Protest art is the right of Iranian artists (1) Images of the day: [Left] Iranian-American astronaut Jasmine Moghbeli left the country (actually the Earth) without a need to obtain her husband's permission, as required by Iran's Islamic laws! In this 1-minute video, Moghbeli talks in Persian about embracing adventure as a child and reacting in disbelief when she was chosen to command a NASA mission taking astronauts to the International Space Station. [Center] Talangor Group's talk on the paradox of plentiful oil (see the last item below). [Right] A new wave of arrests, firings, and intimidations in Iran: The mullahs intensify their pressure and scare tactics against academics, journalists, artists, and celebrities a few weeks before the anniversary of #MahsaAmini's death while in the custody of Iran's despised morality police, because they fear widespread street protests in September.
(2) The great Persian poet Sa'adi has a section on the benefits of keeping quiet in his magnum opus, Golestan: The fifth tale in the section, with the message that a wise man would not argue with a fool, is reproduced in this Facebook post. Not long ago, I read and reviewed the book STFU: The Power of Keeping Your Mouth Shut in an Endlessly Noisy World, which offers the same advice in a convincing way.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Fire in a multi-story rental building in South Africa kills at least 73 people.
- Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow's eloquent response to accusations from a MAGA lawmaker.
- UCSB Alpha Sigma Kappa: A sorority for women and non-binary students in technical studies.
- Well, here's affirmation from a fortune cookie: "Your effortless sense of humor will help someone in need."
(4) A lengthy discussion on the recent purges of faculty members at Iranian universities: Participants include purged faculty members and other higher-education experts. [5-hour audio file, in Persian]
(5) Why do US politicians cling to power long after they become ineffective due to old age? Examples include Mitch McConnel, Diane Feinstein, as well as Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
(6) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Reza Sarmast and Eng. Mitra Zaimi talked under the title "The Paradox of Plentiful Oil." There were ~75 attendees.
Is there such a thing as the curse of oil? In other words, does possession of oil reserves lead to underdevelopment? Based on Terry Lynn Karl's book, The Paradox of Plenty, the speakers presented some ideas in this domain, with the discussion to continue next week (Wednesday, September 7, 2023, 7:00 PM).
The book deals with both theoretical analysis and historical narrative, based on six case studies. Spain was a powerful country, given its vast gold stockpiles. Spain's gold-based power later gave way to black-gold power. Oil states faced problems similar to Spain's problems with gold. The paradox is that oil wealth, instead of bringing prosperity and comfort, leads to complicity and laziness, Venezuela being the prime example. There are only two exceptions: Indonesia and Norway.
In the 1970s, oil prices quadrupled, an event that constitutes the largest transfer of wealth without a war. "Dutch Disease," a term coined by the Economist magazine, afflicts oil-rich countries and other countries whose currency gains strength from discovery of valuable new resources. The term originates from the decline of manufacturing and agriculture when oil was discovered in northern Netherlands in 1959.
Capable governments can take advantage of oil income within a diversified economy, alongside appropriate taxation, thus reducing undesirable swings. Incapable governments rely exclusively on oil income, so they prosper when prices go up and struggle when they go down, making long-term planning impossible.
Venezuela is a poster child of incapable governments. When its oil income increased, half of it was taken by foreign oil companies and the other half was distributed to about 1/8 of the population. The development program was focused on industries that required heavy investment, used a lot of energy, and created few jobs. High-income government jobs stifled the private sector, leading to a rise in unemployment, out-of-control inflation, and low national satisfaction.

2023/08/30 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Diaspora Arts Connection presents the 7th annual Cover image of Jaqueline Rose's 'On Violence and on Violence Against Women' Flyer for Socrates Think Tank talk on NICArt (1) Images of the day: [Left] Diaspora Arts Connection presents the 7th annual "Let Her Sing" concert: UCLA's Schoenberg Hall, September 24, 2023. [Center] Jaqueline Rose's On Violence and on Violence Against Women (see the last item below). [Right] Socrates Think Tank talk on NICArt (see the next item below).
(2) Tonight's Socrates Think Tank talk: Niosha Nafei-Jamali spoke under the title "Introducing NICArt: Beyond Niosha Dance Academy." there were ~100 attendees.
I knew about Niosha Dance Academy through family members. This talk, punctuated with photos and video clips, taught me and impressed me a lot more. With the slogan "Engage-Educate-Entertain," NICArt (Niosha International Conservatory of Arts) extends the cultural reach of Niosha Dance Academy to diverse artistic and geographic domains. One of Niosha's visions is to make the musical show "The Story of Nowruz" a staple of spring and Nowruz, in much the same way that "The Nutcracker" is a staple of Christmas and winter. SoCal performances of the show are planned for Saturday-Sunday, March 9-10, 2024, in Orange County.
Niosha's brief bio on YouTube. NICArt Facebook page. NICArt on Instagram. NICArt Web site. Info and trailer, "The Story of Nowruz". SF Chronicle story about Nowruz. Niosha Dance Academy's Web site. Niosha Dance Academy's NBA halftime show (2017).
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Arrival of four new astronauts at the International Space Station: It's getting crowded up there!
- Qatar's years-long disinformation program to manipulate the US justice system and public opinion.
- Santa Barbara experiences the electric-bike craze: City leaders are tackling the resulting safety issues.
- Today's fortune-cookie message: "Your desire to discover new frontiers will lead you far."
(4) Book review: Rose, Jaqueline, On Violence and on Violence Against Women, Faber & Faber, 2021.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Rose begins by observing that while everyone thinks they can recognize violence when they see it, "the most prevalent, insidious forms of violence are those that cannot be seen." She then goes on to cite cruel laws that impact disadvantaged groups as examples of unseen violence. A group of white men surrounding former US President Donald Trump as he signed a global gag order to cut American funding to any organization in the world offering abortion or abortion counseling were committing violence: They participated in an act that increased illegal abortions by thousands, leading to many deaths and countless injuries.
Consistent with its title, Rose's book has a sharp focus on violence against women, although she does discuss other categories of violence. Women are almost always victimized more gravely whenever there is a rise in violence. The COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant restrictions led to a general increase in violence, but had a greater impact on domestic violence against women.
I have previously read an introduction to violence from Oxford's "Very Short Introduction" series (My review). The related notion of nonviolence (in pursuing personal goals and, more commonly, in collective combat against oppression) is discussed in The Forces of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind (My review).
Rose covers her subject in nine chapters, bearing the following titles.
- I am a knife: Sexual harassment in close-up
- Trans voices: Who do you think you are?
- Trans and sexual harassment: The back-story
- Feminism and the abomination of violence
- Writing violence: From modernism to Eimear McBride
- The killing of Reeva Steenkamp, the trial of Oscar Pistorius: Sex and race in the courtroom
- Political protest and the denial of history: South Africa and the legacy of the future
- One long scream: Trauma and justice in South Africa
- At the border
In the afterword, Rose explains why the book cannot have a conclusion. "Violence is not a subject about which anyone can believe, other than in a state of delusion, that everything has been said and done." In addition to different external forms of violence, we must understand the inner force of violence, the deadly temptation to make violence always somebody else's problem. We need to keep listening to "those who show that reckoning with the violence of the heart and fighting violence in the world are inseparable."

2023/08/29 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
JWST discovers a question mark in space Cartoon: Iran purges university professors and plans to replace them with 'revolutionary' faculty members Cover image for Philip Dwyer's 'Violence: A Very Short Introduction' (1) Images of the day: [Left] JWST discovers a question mark in space: Scientists believe it to be a couple of dust clouds in the process of forming two stars, but this won't stop conspiratorial (photoshop; alien graffiti) or humorous (information kiosk at Space Mall) explanations! [Center] Iran purges professors and plans to replace them with "revolutionary" faculty members (see the next item below). [Right] Philip Dwyer's Violence: A Very Short Introduction (see the last item below).
(2) Iran purges university professors: Their "crimes" range from having secular views to supporting dissident students and other protesters. President Raisi plans to add 15,000 "revolutionary" professors to the faculty ranks at Iranian universities. Having destroyed the country's economy, the mullahs are now bent on destroying what is left of its system of higher education.
(3) Zanan Collective conference at Cal State Long Beach, September 16-17, 2023: Bearing the title "The #WomanLifeFreedom Revolutionary Movement: Achievements and Challenges," the 2-day conference will feature panel discussions alongside art exhibits & performances.
(4) Book review: Dwyer, Philip, Violence: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2022.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I am a big fan of Oxford's "Very Short Introduction" series, which now contains hundreds of titles. I have pursued quite a few of the titles to delve into new areas of knowledge or to freshen up on subjects I had previously studied. I was drawn to this particular title when I encountered it while searching for another book, On Violence, and on Violence Against Women, which is now on my to-read list.
Titles of the book's seven chapters provide a good representation of its scope.
Chapter 1: Violence Past and Present
Chapter 2: Intimate and Gendered Violence
Chapter 3: Interpersonal Violence
Chapter 4: The Sacred and the Secular
Chapter 5: Collective and Communal Violence
Chapter 6: Violence and the State
Chapter 7: The Changing Nature of Violence
The most-common definitions of violence include only intentional acts of harm to human beings. World Health Organization (WHO) defines violence as the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation. The modern view of violence also encompasses harming animals, the environment, and inanimate objects such as cultural sites.
Violence is rooted in our deep prehistoric past. Our aggressive impulses evolved from the need to acquire food & mates and to avoid predators. The nature-versus-nurture dichotomy also enters into the discussion here. Some cultures are more violent than others and within the same culture, some groups may be more violent. Inter-group violence (war) existed in nearly all prehistoric societies. Skeletal remains point to violent trauma throughout human history.
Violence against women is particularly widespread and troubling. WHO data from 80 countries indicate that 35% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence (the range is from 23% in high-income countries to as high as 38% in Southeast Asia). In India, a woman is raped on average every 20 minutes. In South Africa, it's every 36 seconds.
After 1800, homicide in the Western World ceased to be common. The United States, with homicide rates of 2.5 to 9 times that of other affluent countries, is an exception. School mass shootings and other forms of gun violence are off the charts in the US. In the area known as the Northern Triangle in Central America, homicide rates are worse than in the Europe of the Middle Ages.
The state monopolization of violence gained momentum beginning in the 1500s. Nearly all cultures are willing to inflict severe punishments, including death, on those who deviate from the rules. The enjoyment of pain and humiliation meted out to those thought to deserve it is also universal. Torture was quite common in Europe before the French Revolution.
The extent to which religion and violence go hand in hand is hotly debated. Prominent atheist intellectuals are convinced that the very nature of religion leads to violence. In a 2004 BBC audit which ranked 3500 wars from 0 (not religious at all) to 5 (very religious), most wars were ranked 0 or 1. Of course, religious violence can take other forms besides wars. Examples include human sacrifice, ceremonial cannibalism, and scalping in certain regions of the world. In contrast to interpersonal or intimate violence, which involves encounters between a handful of people, collective and communal violence can involve crowds (mobs), often organized but sometimes spontaneous, as in subsistence-related unrest. Crowd or mob mentality is often blamed for the escalation of violence in such cases.
Some historians have argued that as states began to gain a monopoly over violence, taking charge of administering justice, levels of violence among ordinary people declined. This does not mean, however, that violence declined overall: Think of warfare, terrorism, political purges, concentration camps, and genocides. In the final chapter on the changing nature of violence, the author notes that environmental disasters and mass extinctions are now viewed as "slow violence," causing harm incrementally rather than spectacularly. This slow violence can and does lead to more spectacular forms of violence, such as warfare. In other words, ecocide can be a precursor to genocide. Regardless of the form, underlying reasons, and scope (individual, community, or state), "haunting shadows cast by violence indelibly remain with us."

2023/08/28 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today is the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington Cover images of five book on the UCSB Reads 2024 short-list Heads-up computing comes of age: Cover image for 'Communications of the ACM'
Rebutting rebuttals in the assessment of confernece submissions Iranian-American Jasmin Moghbeli commands an ISS space mission with three other astronauts from different countries Connections, a new game by New York Times (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Today is the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington: Marchers marked the occasion a couple of days ago in the nation's capital. The 1963 march was for "jobs and Freedom," but it is remembered best for MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech. [Top center] Five book reviews (see the next item below) [Top right] Heads-up computing comes of age: The device-centered paradigm has outlived its usefulness and is giving way to anywhere/anytime computing with new generations of digital eyeglasses and displays. [Bottom left] Rebutting rebuttals in the assessment of confernece submissions (see the last item below). [Bottom center] Iranian-American Jasmin Moghbeli, front-center in the photo, commands a space mission with three other astronauts from different countries to the International Space Station. [Bottom right] Connections, a new game by New York Times: Create four groups of four, with each group representing a theme or recognizable category, such as colors or exclamations of joy. You have to be patient and not go with your first instinct. In this puzzle, there are six state names, so four of them may be identified as a group. But then, what do you do with the other two state names?
(2) Book reviews: UCSB Reads 2024 Advisory Committee met today to trim the short-list of 5 books to a rank-ordered list of 3 books, so as to proceed with negotiations with authors & publishers in priority order. UCSB will announce the final selection during the fall quarter. Here are the 5 books and my GoodReads reviews.
- Neely, Nick, Alta California: From San Diego to San Francisco, a Journey on Foot ... (2019). [My review]
- Yong, Ed, An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us (2022). [My review]
- Desmond, Matthew, Poverty, by America (2023). [My review]
- Taussig, Rebekah, Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body (2020). [My review]
- Magsamen, Susan & Ivy Ross, Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us (2023). [My review]
(3) You've heard about responsible AI, trustworthy AI, and explainable AI: Now comes the idea of humble AI! People don't like to be judged inaccurately and/or harshly. When this happens, users lose trust in AI. Humble AI calls for AI developers/deployers to appreciate & mitigate such harmful effects. Fascinating article!
(4) UCSB grades over the decade that started with the academic year 2012-2013: Proportion of A grades has generally increased (A+, A, and A– now account for 58% of all letter grades). [Source: UCSB Daily Nexus]
(5) Studying the impact of an author-rebuttal process in conference evaluations: Unlike journals, most technical conferences make an accept/reject decision on submitted manuscripts based on a single round of reviews. In an opinion piece entitled "Rebutting Rebuttals," published in the September 2023 issue of CACM, N. Dershowitz & R. M. Verma suggest that data point to the ineffectiveness of the rebuttal process. A key table in the paper, attributed to Gao et al., shows that reviewers mostly do not change their assessments following author rebuttals, and when they do, it is usually in the downward direction for highly-rated manuscripts and in the upward direction for lower-rated submissions (which could mean the acceptance of a worse collection of manuscripts). In the table, numbers 1-6 are reviewer rankings, pre-rebuttal in columns & post-rebuttal in rows. You can find a lot more analysis in the paper.

2023/08/26 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: Evaluate this infinite product Math puzzle: Find the radius of the three identical blue circles at the bottom-left of the diagram Math puzzle: Find the area of the green square inside the 3:4:5 triangle (1) Three math puzzles: [Left] Evaluate this infinite product. [Center] Find the radius of the three identical blue circles at the bottom-left of the diagram. [Right] Find the area of the green square inside the 3:4:5 triangle.
(2) I am excited and honored to report that I have been promoted to the rank of Distinguished Professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, effective July 1, 2023.
Addendum: So, what is a Distinguished Professor? At most US academic institutions, professorial ranks are assistant, associate, and full professor. At University of California, there are two further ranks of Prof VI (past mid-range along the scale Prof-I-to-Prof-IX) and Distinguished Professor (which is also called Above Scale; the end of the line of academic advancement). The latter two ranks require surpassing certain performance thresholds in teaching/mentoring, research publications, international recognition, awards/honors, and professional & public service.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- CDC Says New COVID-19 subvariant may lead to more breakthrough infections in vaccinated people.
- Healthcare deserts in the US significantly overlap with regions having Internet connectivity problems.
- There have been several US mass-shootings over the past week: They no longer even make front-page news!
- Researchers at Indiana University, Bloomington, discover a botnet powered by ChatGPT operating on X.
- Human-rights activist Narges Mohammadi talks in Persian about the plight of the Baha'i community in Iran.
- In Britain, record numbers of women will start computing degree programs this year.
- George Carlin's super-funny routine about words & phrases that help hide the truth. [9-minute video]
(4) An interesting ACM podcast: Rashmi Mohan hosts Anima Anandkumar, Bren Professor of Computing at Caltech and Senior Director of AI Research at NVIDIA, where she leads a group developing next-generation AI algorithms. Her research has spanned healthcare, robotics, and climate change modeling. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an NSF Career Award, and was most-recently named an ACM Fellow. Her work has been extensively covered on PBS, in Wired magazine, MIT Tech Review, YourStory, and Forbes.
In this 46-minute audio file, Anima talks about her journey, growing up in a house where computer science was a way of life, with family members who served as strong role models. She shares her path in education & research at IIT-Madras, the importance of a strong background in math in her computing work, and some of the breakthrough moments in her career, including work on using tensor algorithms to process large datasets. Anima discusses topic modeling and reinforcement learning, what drives her interests, the possibilities of interdisciplinary collaboration, and the promise and challenges brought about by the age of generative AI.
(5) University professors are being fired in droves in Iran: The Islamic Republic has always had a problem with universities and accepted them reluctantly. Free thinking and theocracy are incompatible.
(6) Remember VCRs and DVD players? My daughter recently visited the world's last operational Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon.
(7) The many ways one can teach a robot: "The human brain is wired to be able to learn new things—and in all kinds of different ways, from imitating others to watching online explainer videos. What if robots could do the same thing? It is a question that ACM Prize recipient Pieter Abbeel, professor at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the Berkeley Robot Learning Lab, has spent his career researching. Here, we speak with Abbeel about his work and about the techniques he has developed to make it easier to teach robots."

2023/08/25 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
At Goleta's Coal Oil Point Beach, looking at four main compass directions: West At Goleta's Coal Oil Point Beach, looking at four main compass directions: North At Goleta's Coal Oil Point Beach, looking at four main compass directions: East
Trump Towers in Russia and Turkey didn't work out, so he is negotiating with prison officials to put his name on this guard tower At Goleta's Coal Oil Point Beach, looking at four main compass directions: South Math puzzle: What is the infinity root of infinity? (1) Images of the day: [Top row & Bottom center] Thursday afternoon at Goleta's Coal Oil Point Beach, looking at the four main compass directions. [Bottom left] Trump Towers in Russia and Turkey didn't work out, so he is negotiating with prison officials to put his name on this guard tower. [Bottom right] Math puzzle: Evaluate.
(2) Rebuilding Maui will take years, if not decades: Please continue to help through your favorite charity. Almost all major charities have established Maui Fire funds. [Photo]
(3) Temperature variations explained: The time-delay effect that causes mid-afternoon to be the hottest time of the day and August to be the hottest month of the year. [7-minute video]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general intere
- Where do pro-lifers stand on this? Guns killed 4752 children in the US during 2021 (+42% over 2018).
- US cinema buffs rejoice: You can see any movie on Cinema Day (Sunday, August 27, 2023), for only $4.00.
- GOP debate attack chart: Haley sparred with several others. Ramaswamy was attacked the most.
- In the United States, you are either Native American or immigrant. There is no other category.
- Math puzzle (Ramanujan Problem): Find integer solutions to sqrt(x) + y = 7 and x + sqrt(y) = 11.
- From the horse's mouth: Instagram founder explains pixels in this 6-minute video.
- Understand how Internet search works from this well-made 5-minute video.
- Understand how chatbots and large language models work from this 7-minute video.
(5) The smooch: Spanish soccer chief Luis Rubiales refuses to resign from his position following a week of criticism over placing an unwanted kiss on a star player of Spain's winning Women's World Cup team. [CNN]
(6) How the Shah caused his own downfall: The number of mosques in Iran increased from 200 to 55,000 during Shah's reign. He lavishly supported these mosques, religious schools, and the mullahs running them.
(7) The Elsevier journal Microprocessors and Microsystems retracts dozens of articles published in three of its Special Issues on <Embedded Processors / Signal Processing / Internet of People>: "Significant similarities were noticed post-publication between these special issue articles and other published sources. There is an indication that attempts have been made to disguise the copying using automated paraphrasing. Subsequent to acceptance of these special issue papers by the responsible guest editor the integrity and rigor of the peer-review process of the Special Issue were investigated and confirmed to fall beneath the high standards expected by Microprocessors & Microsystems. Due to a configuration error in the editorial system, unfortunately neither the Editor in Chief nor the designated Handling Editors received these papers for approval as per the journal's standard workflow."
(8) Quote of the day: "Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex." ~ Mahatma Gandhi
(9) Final thought for the day: Multiple TV channels & news Web sites are showing Trump's mug-shot, which is really scary, so I won't share it here at this late evening hour, shortly before you go to bed. You are welcome!

2023/08/24 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday (1): Historic photo showing Tehran of ~100 years ago, with Shemiran Gate in the background Throwback Thursday (2): What was the supposedly modern & educated Shah of Iran thinking when he announced in 1975 that all Iranians should join his single Rastakhiz Party? Cartoon: How I spent my summer days (mostly putting on and washing off sunscreen)
I keep running into ads for clothing inspired by carpet designs and other Persian motifs New Yorker cartoon about today's film-making (green screen) Fake Hafez and Mowlavi/Rumi in English 'translations' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday (1): Historic photo showing Tehran of ~100 years ago, with Shemiran Gate in the background, in what is now a neighborhood of the north-central part of the mega-city. Qajar-era Tehran was surrounded by a moat and a wall with 114 planned towers and 8 gates allowing people to enter and leave the city. [Top center] Throwback Thursday (2): What was the supposedly modern and educated Shah of Iran thinking when he announced in 1975 that all Iranians should either join his single Rastakhiz Party or leave the country? [Top right] New Yorker cartoon of the day: How I spent my summer days. [Bottom left] I keep running into ads for clothing inspired by carpet designs and other Persian motifs (Source). [Bottom center] New Yorker cartoon of the day about overuse of green screens in today's cinema: "We'll add everything later." [Bottom right] Fake Hafez & Mowlavi/Rumi in English "translations" (see the last item below).
(2) Many women's dilemma, as told in "The Bridges of Madison County": Here is a Persian interpretation of a German film critic's review of the 1995 Clint Eastwood film, in which he and Meryl Streep played the main roles. My loose translation of some thoughts in the following essay: "If women aren't forced, as home-makers and mothers, to bury themselves between the kitchen and the bedroom, they won't become eternal losers in life. To emerge as heroes, instead of getting old after abandoning our true loves for security, respectability, and paradise under our feet, we must change the world and its power dynamics. In Iran, the Mahsa Revolution is showing us the way."
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Near-misses on airport runways are on the rise. [New York Times report]
- An Egyptian woman created this 1-minute video clip from photos of #MahsaAmini.
- Math puzzle: Show that any two consecutive Fibonacci numbers are relatively prime.
- Facebook memory from Aug. 24, 2019: On the distinction between Judaism and Zionism.
- Facebook memory from Aug. 24, 2019: On Republicans lying that Democrats give free stuff to everyone.
- Facebook memory from Aug. 24, 2017: Slide show made by Google Photos from my shots in Seattle.
(4) Westerners who earn a living by emulating Hafez or Mowlavi/Rumi: Years ago, after numerous attempts to find original Persian poems from their purported English translations posted on social media, I gave up the practice, because I came to the conclusion that the translations were made-up or were so loose as to be entirely different poems. I remember taking keywords from purported translations and doing Google searches. Then, I would guess about Persian words in the original poem based on the English words and perform more Google searches. Not once did I succeed with this approach.
The example which is stuck in my mind is this supposed Hafez verse: "Even after all this time the sun never told the earth 'You owe me.' See what happens with a love like that? It lights the whole sky." The verse, which appears in cyberspace with quite a few minor variations, certainly holds a noble sentiment, which many may find beautiful or inspiring, but it's not something that Hafez said or wrote. Often, a popular original-fake is turned into many variant-fakes, which are then used to create memes & art, thereby gaining eternal life!
I recently discovered this 2020 article, in which Omid Safi (Duke U. Islamic Studies Center) proposes that such fake poems constitute "Western appropriation of Muslim spirituality."
By the way, musings of Buddha, Dalai Lama, Einstein, and Gandhi have been similarly appropriated!

2023/08/23 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Chess puzzle: White to start and mate in two moves. My purely-technical Facebook post about the history and recent trends in floating-point arithmetic was removed on account of going 'against our Community Standards on cybersecurity' Tuesday concert at La Patera Historic Ranch Park (1) Images of the day: [Left] Chess puzzle: White to start and mate in two moves. [Center] My purely-technical Facebook post about the history and recent trends in floating-point arithmetic was removed on account of going "against our Community Standards on cybersecurity." Refer to the last entry in my blog post of September 21, 2022, to see if you can figure out what triggered FB-AI's wrath! [Right] Tuesday concert at La Patera Historic Ranch Park: Since I posted about the Ranch and Stowe House in detail last week, tonight I will just post three sample musical videos of the band Down Mountain Lights (Video 1; Video 2; Video 3).
(2) Widespread Internet outages are expected in Iran: As we approach the first anniversary of #MahsaAmini's death in the custody of Iran's Morality Police, the regime is preparing for possible street protests. Many students and other activists have already been arrested to induce fear in demonstrators. This Web site shares tools for dealing with expected Internet outage in Iran.
(3) Sepideh Qolian on trial in a civil suit in Iran: Her previous court session had been cancelled because Qolian did not agree to appear with a headscarf. The new court session was a closed one, because she again refused to wear the hijab. Qolian faced her accuser, the reporter/interrogator Ameneh-Sadat Zabihpour, a TV "reporter" involved in extracting forced confessions from accused dissidents and making fake "documentaries" about them. In court, the physically diminutive, mentally gargantuan Qolian praised a number of freedom-fighters and spat in the face of her despised accuser.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- There is a confirmed death toll of ~115 in the Maui fire, but 800+ are still missing.
- Plane crash near Moscow kills 10, possibly including Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner mercenary leader.
- Made-up quote: "If you go after me, I'm coming after you!" ~ V. Putin, on the plane crash near Moscow
- India becomes the first country to land a spacecraft on the southern polar region of the moon.
- Israeli academics turn on their government, because academia must be built on democratic foundations.
- Wouldn't it be nice if the GOP presidential candidates never mentioned the orange guy during the debate?
- I'm sorry about the $200,000 bond: We should all try to facilitate Trump's disappearance, not make it harder!
- Facebook memory from August 22, 2010: My daughter showing off her newly-pierced ears.
(5) Iranian filmmaker and literary figure Ebrahim Golestan [1922-2023] dead at 100: Much praise has been offered for his work and influence over the years, and now in eulogy. There are also contrary views criticizing Golestan as the embodiment of Iran's patriarchal culture. Here's one example.

2023/08/21 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Facebook memory: NASA's magical shot of the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 My latest entry in New Yorker cartoon caption contest (#863) Mathematician/Engineer Claude Elwood Shannon (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Facebook memory: NASA's shot of the total solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017. [Top center] My latest entry in New Yorker cartoon caption contest (#863): "I said I want a 'stick-figure salary' not a 'a six- figure salary'." [Top right] Mathematician/Engineer Claude E. Shannon (see the last item below).
(2) A much-wanted championship & an unwanted kiss: An official of Spain's Soccer Federation kissed a player on the lips during World Cup medals ceremony, a grim reminder of sexism prevailing in sports and elsewhere.
(3) The ultimate in talent-show performance: The young woman performing here had advanced-stage cancer and died later. Meanwhile, she brought cheers and tears with her original song containing her life story.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hilary departs Southern California, leaving massive flooding, mudslides, and upheaval in its wake.
- A flying robot can float on gusts of wind like a bird: While floating, it uses 150 times less power.
- How a modern recycling facility recovers all useful elements from spent lithium batteries.
- Partying with classical music: "I'm a Barbie Girl," played in the style of six classical composer.
- Sample "cheesy" TV commercials from pre-Islamic-Revolution Iran (tea leaves & sandwich spread).
- Facebook memory from Aug. 21, 2017: The day when we watched a total solar eclipse in Salem, Oregon.
- Facebook memory from Aug. 21, 2014: All those awesome feelings over small things.
- Facebook memory from Aug. 21, 2010: "The blind and the Oppressor" (a Rahi Moayeri Persian poem).
(5) Stern competition between Iranian mullahs and the Taliban: Iran eliminates sculpture and cinema from art majors in a university admissions guide. Officials then claim an error, which will be corrected.
(6) You are probably over-sharing on Venmo: If you use Venmo, please review your privacy settings, because certain default settings expose all of your info to other users.
(7) Amazing instructional videos: This Web page contains short (~5-minute) videos about artificial intelligence and computers. Enjoy! I will post about some of the more-interesting videos in this collection separately.
(8) Mathematician/Engineer Claude Elwood Shannon [1916-2001]: Known as father of the information age, he made major contributions to the theoretical foundations of modern computing and digital communication.
- Information theory: He devised a theory of communication and the notions of entropy & channel capacity.
- Digital circuits: His MS thesis introduced circuits for logical operations, connecting them to Boolean algebra.
- Cryptanalysis: He laid the foundation for modern cryptography after working with Alan Turing during WW II.
- Sampling theory: He contributed to the Nyquist-Shannon theorem about signal reconstruction from samples.
- Data compression: His entropy concept paved the way for compression methods (e.g., Huffman coding).
- Reliable transmission: His noisy-channel coding theorem bounds the data rate, given an error probability.
- Maximum data rate: He contributed to the Shannon-Hartley theorem to bound a channel's data rate.
- Artificial intelligence: His maze-navigating mouse was an early demonstration of AI and machine learning.

2023/08/20 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran Hurricane Hilary has turned into a tropical storm as it approaches Southern California Cover image of an important book about the life of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (1) Images of the day: [Left] Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran. [Center] Hurricane Hilary has turned into a tropical storm as it approaches SoCal: Extensive rain is expected, but the impact may be less than previously feared. [Right] An important book about the life of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (see the last item below).
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Magnitude-5.5 quake near Ojai, California, around 2.41 PM today: Aftershocks are being felt in the area.
- Spain squeaks by England 1-0 to claim its first women's soccer World Cup title. [4-minute highlights]
- An open and honest criticism of Islamic officials in Iran for being brutal, dishonest, and clueless.
- Regional Iranian music: A song from the western Luristan Province, with subtitles. [5-minute video]
(3) Book review: Bird, Kai and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, unabridged 27-hour audiobook, read by Jeff Cummings, Blackstone Audio, 2007.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I sought this book after watching Christopher Nolan's 2023 film "Oppenheimer" at an IMAX theater, so as to maximize the enjoyment of the film's brilliant cinematography. Cillian Murphy plays the title role, with Emily Blunt portraying his wife Kitty, Robert Downey Jr. as the devious Lewis Strauss, and Rami Malek as physicist David Hill. Matt Damon's portrayal of General Leslie Grove is less convincing. Given that a film, even one that is 3 hours long, cannot capture all the details of a complex life and filmmakers are prone to dramatization & exaggeration, perusing the book that inspired the movie became a must.
The initial "J." in J. Robert Oppenheimer, JRO [1904-1967], stands for "Julius," his father's first name (a common practice among some Jews). The title's Prometheus is a mythical figure "best known for defying the Olympian gods by stealing fire from them and giving it to humanity in the form of technology, knowledge, and more generally, civilization. In some versions of the myth, he is also credited with the creation of humanity from clay" (Wikipedia).
A relatively shy boy, JRO wasn't into playing with boys his own age. At Harvard, he majored in chemistry, but he was really interested in physics, which he later pursued at University of Gottingen in Germany, a major center for theoretical physics. After doing research at several institutions, he became a professor of physics at UC Berkeley, later leading Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, 1947-1966, where the likes of Albert Einstein, Kurt Godel, and John von Neumann roamed.
JRO was an enigmatic scientist, brilliant but also mercurial, who led US's efforts to develop the atom bomb (The Manhattan Project) from 1941 until the end of World War II. He wasn't completely trusted because he befriended members of the US Communist Party, but his expertise was too valuable to the war effort to set aside. So, he was put in charge at Los Alamos Laboratory, while being under surveillance. He emerged as a hero, when the project successfully tested an atom bomb, with the US military dropping two bombs on Japan's Hiroshima and Nagasaki shortly thereafter.
JRO enjoyed the limelight in the wake of Manhattan Project's success, while also harboring doubts about weapons of mass destruction and the potential for an arms race with the Soviet Union getting out of control. Having seen the devastation caused by the atom bombs dropped on Japan, he began opposing the development of the Super-bomb (H-bomb), an even more devastating weapon of mass destruction. In the end, he was heartbroken when his security clearance was revoked after a Joseph-McCarthy-style tribunal ruled that he could not be trusted.
JRO suffered from episodes of depression, homesickness, and other mental troubles throughout his life. He was a brilliant scientist but his naivete and detachment from worldly matters (he did not read newspapers or magazines) made him a victim of political manipulation in Washington, where people are thrown away like soiled toilet paper when they no longer serve the political ambitions of those pulling the strings. Much of this book is a manifesto in defense RJO and a criticism of the misguided policy of setting aside scientists for traits they tend to have as a matter of course (liberalism, favoring open discussions, thinking about the ethics of war, pursuing social justice).
One of RJO's sins was his defense of openness about technical advances, particularly the development of weapons of mass destruction. He believed that openness would curtail over-development of weapons by our enemies, that is, would dampen an arms race, and would keep the public informed about what an atomic war would mean. He advised his scientist colleagues that they had no more say in how the military used the results of their work than any other member of the public. He considered the wisdom of the masses critical in making major war-and-peace decisions at the national level.
President John F. Kennedy tried to make it up to RJO (and to compensate for his own failings in not standing up to Joseph McCarthy) by bestowing him with Atomic Energy Commission's highest honor, the Enrico Fermi Award. He was assassinated before he could do it and the task fell to Lyndon Johnson, who praised RJO profusely during his remarks. In accepting the award, RJO noted that Jefferson had often written of the brotherly spirit of science, a spirit that, unfortunately, hasn't always prevailed.
RJO died at age 62, having lost a lot of weight and nearly all of his mental sharpness. The urn containing his ashes was dropped at sea, as he had requested. Following his death, messages of sympathy and admiration arrived in large numbers.

2023/08/19 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Kourosh Beigpour's talk on 'Mystical Origins of Persian Calligraphy' Simple math puzzle: Find the area of the blue quadrangle Math puzzles: Four seemingly underspecified problems from @gs_bangalore
Walking in Ventura, before the arrival of Hurricane Hilary Lectures for the graduate course on fault-tolerant computing on my YouTube channel The universe in pictures: A historical timeline since the Big Bang and comparing Hubble & James Webb images from the same region of our universe (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Talk on "Mystical Origins of Persian Calligraphy" (see the next item below). [Top center] Simple math puzzle: Find the area of the blue quadrangle. [Top right] Geometric puzzles: Four seemingly underspecified problems from @gs_bangalore. [Bottom left] Walking in Ventura, before the arrival of Hurricane Hilary. [Bottom center] Course lectures on my YouTube channel (see the last item below).[Bottom right] The universe in pictures: A historical timeline since the Big Bang (the time scale is highly nonlinear) and comparing Hubble & James Webb images from the same region of our universe.
(2) Farhang Foundation's program on August 12, 2023: Kourosh Beigpour spoke under the title "Mystical Origins of Persian Calligraphy." I was very disappointed that I could not attend on that day. Fortunately, the link to the program's recording has just been released (36-minute video).
Award-winning graphic artist and type designer Kourosh Beigpour shares his profound insights into the captivating world of Persian calligraphy, delving deep into the mystical origins that have shaped this cherished art form. His relentless dedication to preserving the authenticity of this art while infusing it with his own contemporary expression has earned him accolades and admiration.
(3) One of my English language pet peeves: When one registers for an event such as a conference in advance, it is called "advance registration," not "advanced registration"!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Constitution prohibits Trump from ever being president again: Article in The Atlantic.
- Some of the prominent faces of dissent in Iran's #WomanLifeFreedom Revolution. [2-minute video]
- The funeral of old-time singer Parvin in Iran: No mullahs, just poetry and music. [3-minute video]
- Where would India be today had it not been colonized by the British? An interesting discussion.
(5) The 1988 Iranian prison massacre: Thousands of Iranian prisoners were executed by an extrajudicial process triggered by a fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini. Of the panel involved in carrying out the fatwa, only Hamid Noury has been brought to justice by an international war-crimes tribunal in Sweden. Another prominent member of the panel, Ebrahim Raisi, is now Iran's president. Ayatollah Montazeri was the only official to object to the executions at the time, and he was promptly sidelined and confined to house arrest for the rest of his life. This article by Hamid Enayat, published in Middle East Quarterly, contains a detailed account of the extrajudicial executions and its criminal participants who remain at large.
(6) Complete on-line graduate-level course on fault-tolerant computing: I am learning to organize my YouTube videos and, as a first step, have set up a playlist composed of 16 lectures for my upcoming fall 2023 UCSB graduate course, ECE 257A. These lectures were recorded during the distance-learning of the COVID years and are made available here to the public.
Playlist name: Fault-Tolerant Computing Lectures (UCSB Graduate Course) [Playlist link]
Other info, including course textbook and lecture slides can be found on the UCSB ECE 257A Web page.

2023/08/18 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The intricate design and tiling scheme of the dome at Isfahan's Shah Mosque On-line course on transitional justice Cover image of Meghan O'Gieblyn's 'God, Human, Animal, Machine' (1) Images of the day: [Left] The intricate design and tiling scheme of the dome at Isfahan's Shah Mosque. [Center] On-line course on transitional justice (see the next item below). [Right] Meghan O'Gieblyn's God, Human, Animal, Machine (see the last item below).
(2) Iran Academia's course on "Transitional Justice": This 7-week on-line course, which I just finished, is organized as follows. Week one, titled "Foundational Aspects of Transitional Justice," covers the concept's development and basic principles. Week two, "Dealing with Past Atrocities," discusses truth and justice mechanisms that are not dependent on transition. The following weeks delve deeper into specific topics, including "The Right to Truth and Truth Commissions" (Week 3), "The Right to Justice and Criminal Prosecutions" (Week 4), "Reparations and Guarantees of Non-repetitions" (Week 5), "Mass Graves" (Week 6), and "Memory and Transitional Justice" (Week 7).
In very brief terms, transitional justice aims to soothe & heal the victims of oppression or war crimes, identify the culprits & punish them according to local or international laws, and, in cases where punishment isn't possible or the amnesty option is pursued, at least draw a solid line between the present and the past to ensure that heinous crimes are not forgotten or repeated. Agents who committed crimes against humanity are liable (having followed orders isn't a valid defense), as are those who planned the atrocities or issued the orders. Monuments & other memorials may be erected as part of the remembrance process and as a way of preventing repetition of the crimes. In the case of memorializing in the service of healing, art can play a significant role.
I took this course because I was curious about mechanism for bringing perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes to justice as part of a national healing process, when dictatorial regimes fall or when peace prevails after conflict. I was particularly interested in the pros and cons of pursuing justice versus granting general amnesty.
The various presentations and reading material for this free on-line course were uneven in terms of engaging the viewer/reader, comprehensibility, and logical organization. Visual aids were non-existent. It is difficult to learn from dry, monotonous, long-winded explanations. With regard to content, much of what was presented falls under common-sense provisions, that one can deduce without instruction. In particular, end-of-section questions were almost always answerable by analyzing the text of the answers, without a need to have listened to presentations or perused the reading material.
(3) Book review: O'Gieblyn, Meghan, God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology. Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning, unabridged 9-hour audiobook, read by Rebecca Lowman, Random House Audio, 2021.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
[My pitch of this book to "UCSB Reads 2024" Committee was posted on June 14, 2023.]
We are bombarded daily with stories about ChatGPT and how AI is threatening the essence of our being as humans. Technology is speeding up our lives, leaving little time for reflection, yet the deep changes that are afoot demand that we devote enough time to think about the future of humanity and our challenges over centuries and millennia, not focus merely on today, this quarter, or the next political election. On the other hand, maybe we should just stop thinking and trust the judgement of algorithms!
In 304 pages (9 hours of audio), O'Gieblyn, an essayist, columnist, and thinker, who studied theology in college, paints a detailed picture of our struggles to reconcile spirituality with technical progress. The writing is that of an essayist, almost devoid of jargon, although, as a columnist for Wired magazine, O'Gieblyn can be legitimately called a tech writer.
We humans are constantly thinking of ways of controlling and overtaking nature. We outsource our intelligence to machines, as extensions of our minds, increasingly seeing ourselves as machinelike in the process. Descartes considered all animals essentially as clocks, that is, robots without any inner experience. He believed that humans were also machines, but with souls, a viewpoint that created problems for the clockwork universe.
This is more or less the starting place for O'Gieblyn's book, which is about how the success of the modern scientific worldview rests on mechanical metaphors, with the attendant discounting of individual human thought and agency. We put consciousness and free will to the side, as we try to describe the world as a mere machine. We did it with the clock metaphor, and that's what we're doing with the computer metaphor, with the computational theory of mind.
O'Gieblyn's book provides ample opportunities to ponder and discuss hot-button issues of the day. Increasingly, technology is being developed and sold with religion-like tropes. So, we might wonder whether we are on our way to a utopian digital heaven, offered to us by gods of technology, or a dystopian digital hell of our own making. Is academia threatened by ChatGPT and similar developments? Is our increasing reliance on technology helping or impairing our move toward equity and social justice?
In the final Chapter 13, entitled "Virality," a very important point is raised about our society's exclusive focus on form at the expense of content. In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, many "experts" with no training in epidemiology or even medicine began modeling the pandemic and how it spread. They argued that data tell us everything, so there is no need for domain expertise to analyze the data and produce diagnoses & recommendations. That a former theologian generates a remarkable synthesis of key ideas addressed for centuries through faith, philosophy, science, and technology is a pleasant surprise.
O'Gieblyn's statement that "All the eternal questions have become engineering problems" is both jarring and enlightening. The modern world has transformed empirical scientists from bad guys, who undermined religion, to good guys, who may help open a portal to digital heaven for our digitized & uploaded souls.

2023/08/17 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: My younger son's yearbook photo from August 2003 Definition of poetry by English poet William Blake (1757-1827) Art-deco typewriting desk
IEEE Central Coast Section talk on acoustic filters: Dr. Gregory C. Dyer Socrates Think Tank talk on modern telescopes: Dr. Bahram Mobasher Talangor Group talk on Persian carpets: Dr. Touraj Jouleh (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday: My younger son's yearbook photo from August 2003. [Top center] Definition of poetry by poet William Blake (1757-1827). [Top right] Art-deco typewriting desk. [Bottom left] Talk on acoustic filters (see the next item below). [Bottom center] Talk on what we are learning from modern telescopes (see item 3 below). [Bottom right] Talk on Persian carpets (see the last item below).
(2) Wednesday night's IEEE Central Coast Section talk: Dr. Gregory C. Dyer (Resonant, a Murata Company) spoke under the title "XBAR and the 5G Acoustic Filter." This hybrid event was held at Rusty's Pizza in Goleta and streamed on-line via WebEx.
Acoustic filters are foundational components of the radio frequency front end (RFFE) modules that enable today's compact, high performance, wide bandwidth mobile phones. These passive devices are composed of acoustic resonator networks that have a high selectivity, low-loss bandpass RF filter response. Additionally, state-of-the-art acoustic filters have footprints of less than 1 square millimeter while operating at input power levels on the order of 1 Watt. In this talk, Dr. Dyer surveyed the core acoustic filter technologies, with an emphasis on transversely excited bulk acoustic resonator (XBAR) filters. He discussed acoustic resonator and filter physics and highlighted the differentiating attributes that the XBAR technology provides for Fifth Generation (5G) telecommunications and beyond.
I had to leave the event early to make it to another meeting, so my report is based on speaker's abstract.
(3) Wednesday night's Socrates Think Tank talk: Dr. Bahram Mobasher (UC Riverside) spoke under the title "Uncovering the Secrets of Our Universe and Life with Present and Future Telescopes" to 100+ attendees.
Beginning with a history of space observations via crude early telescopes (Kepler, Galileo), Dr. Mobasher discussed many other telescopes built and used through the centuries, up to and including modern space telescopes (Hubble, James Webb, Euclid).
[Dr. Bahram Mobasher's Google Scholar profile]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A weakened Hurricane Hilary to arrive in Southern California on Sunday. [Projected hurricane path]
- How language shapes the way we think: 14-minute TED talk by Lera Boroditsky.
- Michigan State University students unearth an observatory buried on campus since 1881.
- Stephen Pinker answers questions about language rules and good writing.
- Cartoon of the day: "Jason, I'd like to let you play, but soccer is a girls' game." [Image]
(5) Spain v. England in women's soccer World Cup final (Fox, Sun. 8/20, 3:00 AM PDT): Neither team has won a women's World Cup title before. In an exciting match that went scoreless for 80 minutes, Spain scored in minutes 81 & 90 to eliminate Sweden 2-1. In the other semifinal match, England breezed by Australia 3-1.
(6) Thursday night's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Touraj Jouleh spoke in Persian under the title "The Pathology of Iranian Carpets Over Time." Before the main talk, Mitra Zaimi shared a video clip about Iran's Constitutional Revolution of 1905, whose 118th anniversary was on August 5. There were ~70 attendees.
Dr. Jouleh divided his discussion into four historical periods.
- The Safavid era (1501-1736 CE): Known as the golden age of arts in Iran, the Safavid era led to the flourishing of carpet-weaving. We have inherited many exquisite carpets from that period. Each Safavid king was fond of a different art form. The art form that was emphasized depended on the interests of the Director of the Royal Library, appointed by the king. Centralization of the management of arts was a misguided policy that also had adverse effects on carpet-weaving. The idea was to bring the best artists to the capital and use them in the service of royalty and their preferences. Only carpets from 4-5 centers/regions have survived from the Safavid era to the present day. Carpets and other art forms from Kurdistan, Turkmenistan, and many other rural regions must have been ignored, given that we do not have any samples from these areas. The art of weaving was a practical art, because many villagers and nomadic tribes depended on guelims, gabbehs, khorjins (saddlebags), and the like for survival. So, it is extremely unlikely that carpets and other forms of weaving were not pursued in area outside the few centers that we now know about.
Unfortunately, so much time was spent on the Safavid era and related Q&A that time ran out and the other three eras (Qajar, 1789-1925; Pahlavi, 1925-1979; Islamic Republic, 1979-now) were not discussed. There was just a casual reference to the problem of low-quality material and time-saving shortcuts in production over the past 5-6 decades that have doomed the art of carpet-weaving.
The meeting's organizer announced that the discussion will continue in another session (perhaps next week).

2023/08/16 (Wednesday): Today, I offer three book reviews, which together with reviews of Alta California (posted on July 30, 2023) and An Immense World (posted on August 15, 2023) cover the short-list of "UCSB Reads 2024" program. The short-list will be rank ordered in a committee meeting on August 28, 2023.
Cover image of Matthew Desmond's 'Poverty, by America' Cover image of Rebekah Taussig's 'Sitting Pretty' Cover image of Susan Magsamen's and Ivy Ross's 'Your Brain on Art' (1) Book review: Desmond, Matthew, Poverty, by America, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by Dion Graham, Random House Audio, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I perused this book shortly after I finished Mark Robert Rank's The Poverty Paradox: Understanding Economic Hardship Amid American Prosperity, giving it a 5-star review on GoodReads. The very existence of poverty in America, the world's wealthiest nation, is surprising. Rank's explanation is that the economic system in the US is set up like a game of musical chairs, played with 10 people and only 8 chairs, where the chairs represent opportunities in the form of decent-paying jobs. Desmond reaches essentially the same conclusion. It's not that the world's wealthiest nation cannot eliminate poverty. The existence of poverty is purposeful, because keeping some citizens poor serves the interests of many. Desmond dismisses those who blame poverty on systemic and structural causes, because such attributions allow us to skirt personal agency, that is, the fact that the poor are not exploited by a system but by people who are a rung or two above them on the economic ladder.
Poverty would not exist in the US, were it not for choices and actions of more-fortunate Americans. Examples of exploitative choices and actions abound: Paying undocumented workers less than the minimum wage or denying them overtime; Charging exorbitant bank overdraft fees; Setting a lower tax rate for capital gains compared with income earned through labor; Charging high rents to low-income tenants, who have few alternatives. According to Desmond, "Poverty isn't simply the condition of not having enough money. It's the condition of not having enough choice and being taken advantage of because of that."
Affluent Americans defending exclusionary zoning that keeps low-income families away from their neighborhoods has the effect of curtailing upward mobility, thus essentially being a segregationist act. The wealthiest Americans not paying their fair share of taxes is another inhibitor of upward mobility, because of its negative impact on funding adequate safety nets; and the safety nets that are in place are rather difficult to access by the poor, due to bureaucratic red tape.
Desmond's previous book, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning best-seller, Evicted, offered a thorough and thoughtful study of the US rental housing system which, among other ills, perpetuates poverty. When a low-income family spends up to 3/4 of its income on rent and is constantly worried about making the payment and avoiding eviction, it is left with little time or emotional energy to better itself in order to escape poverty's vicious cycle.
Poverty isn't a problem affecting only the poor. It drags the entire society down by being ever-present in our news, visible to us as we walk in a park, depressing us and making us feel shame. It is thus imperative that we all carefully examine our lifestyles to identify all the ways in which we contribute to poverty.
(2) Book review: Taussig, Rebekah, Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Body, HarperOne, 2020. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
At 14 months old, Taussig was diagnosed with a malignant cancer that attacked her spine. She became cancer-free after two years of intense treatment, but was left paralyzed from the waist down. In her memoir-cum-disability-justice-manifesto, Taussig, creator of the Instagram account @sitting_pretty, offers a nuanced portrait of a body that looks and moves differently than most. "Taussig's explorations of the ways her own ordinary, resilient, disabled body interacts with a largely able-bodied world are complex, evading neatly tied conclusions and categories" (Rumpus literary & culture on-line magazine).
This is the first book about disability that I have perused, so I learned a great deal from it. For many of us, seeing a disabled person evokes a variety of feelings, including pity, mercy, and charity. The obviously-visible disability tends to blind us to the fact that there is a thinking, feeling, and, perhaps, brilliant person behind the abnormal physical appearance, with many of the same challenges and aspirations as the rest of us.
Our movies and literature depict disability as horrific, inspirational, or beatific. Growing up, Taussig yearned for stories depicting disability as both nuanced and ordinary. Contrary to popular views, a disabled person isn't looking for help, kindness, and charity, but connection and understanding. Looking down on or dismissing disabled persons are prime examples of ableism, a term that I understood only after reading this book.
Like racism, ableism, defined as discrimination based on disability, is often exhibited with little or no malicious intent. Ableism includes a wide spectrum of utterances and actions, from able-bodied individuals using facilities intended for disabled people to making assumptions about a disabled person's inability to perform or excel at certain tasks. We all need to challenge ableism in the same ways that we have learned to challenge racism and sexism.
Becoming familiar with a disabled person's fears, hopes, and ambitions goes a long way toward avoiding implicit ableism, instilled in us by our upbringing and social conditioning. This is an excellent book for giving us the requisite familiarity.
(3) Book review: Magsamen, Susan and Ivy Ross, Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us, Random House, 2023. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
We have known for a long time that, far from being a luxury, art is essential to our well-being. Susan Magsamen (Johns Hopkins U.) & Ivy Ross (Google) present ample evidence from neuroscience research that engaging in art for as little as 45 minutes a day reduces the stress hormone cortisol, regardless of whether you are good at the activity. Just one art experience per month can add 10 years to one's life. The effect of playing music on building cognitive skills and improving learning is well-known, as is the health impact of listening to music. Doctors now routinely prescribe museum visits for a host of maladies, from loneliness to dementia.
Chapter 1, "The Anatomy of Arts," begins with a quote from dancer/choreographer Martha Graham: "There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique." The chapter then proceeds with what the authors characterize as an arts anatomy cheat sheet, reviewing foundational science that illuminates the ways in which humans are wired for the arts.
The remaining six chapters are entitled "Cultivating Well-Being" (2), "Restoring Mental Health" (3), "Healing the Body" (4), "Amplifying Learning" (5), "Flourishing" (6), and "Creating Community" (7). The seven numbered chapters are preceded by an introduction entitled "The Language of Humanity" (including a self-assessment survey under "An Aesthetic Mindset") and a conclusion entitled "The Art of the Future."
Engagement with the arts affects both our physical & mental well-being and our learning capacity. Unfortunately, we have seen in recent decades reduced attention to art education in favor of science & math. A pioneering large-scale Brookings Institution study found that "a substantial increase in arts educational experiences has remarkable impacts on students' academic, social, and emotional outcomes. Relative to students assigned to the control group, treatment school students experienced a 3.6 percentage point reduction in disciplinary infractions, an improvement of 13 percent of a standard deviation in standardized writing scores, and an increase of 8 percent of a standard deviation in their compassion for others."
In addition to citing research results from a variety of disciplines, particularly neuroaesthetics, the book features conversations with artists such as David Byrne and Rene Fleming. The authors end with this final sentence: "The world, and its beauty, are there waiting for you."
This 59-minute conversation with the authors at Aspen Institute touches upon the key ideas from the book.

2023/08/15 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Camels in the Taklamakan Desert, northwest China A meme for fellow book lovers Cover image of Ed Yong's 'An Immense World'
Tonight's concert at Goleta's La Patera Historic Ranch: Batch 1 of photos Tonight's concert at Goleta's La Patera Historic Ranch: Batch 2 of photos Tonight's concert at Goleta's La Patera Historic Ranch: Batch 3 of photos
Tonight's concert at Goleta's La Patera Historic Ranch: Batch 4 of photos Tonight's concert at Goleta's La Patera Historic Ranch: Lake Los Carneros Park Tonight's concert at Goleta's La Patera Historic Ranch: Batch 5 of photos (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Camels in the Taklamakan Desert, northwest China. [Top center] A meme for book lovers facing a dearth of shelving. [Top right] Ed Yong's An Immense World (see the last item below). [Middle & Bottom rows] Tonight's concert at the La Patera Historic Ranch in Goleta (see the next item below).
(2) Tonight's concert at Goleta's La Patera Historic Ranch: Held on Tuesday nights, the concerts are similar in spirit to Santa Barbara's Concerts in the Park, which I could not attend this year, due to conflict with another standing commitment on Thursday nights. Tonight's band was Moneluv, which played original and cover songs.
[Sample music from the concert (2-minute videos): Video 1; Video 2; Video 3]
La Patera Historic Ranch is also home to South Coast Railroad Museum, where an old Goleta Depot was moved and restored. Besides Tuesday evening concerts, other events take place at the Ranch. There is also a museum store, a few ranch exhibits, and guided tours of the historic Stowe House. Goleta's Lake Los Carneros Park is one of my favorite walking spots: The historic Stowe House is at the upper left corner of the map.
(3) Book review: Yong, Ed, An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, Penguin Random House, 2022. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
We humans navigate and organize the world by our sense of sight. Our trichromat vision (eyes containing three distinct types of cones, each specialized in detecting a different range of wavelengths) is indeed powerful. Some animals, such as horses & dogs, as well as many "color-blind" people, have only two types of cones. There are animals with more than three kinds of cones, but they lack brain mechanisms to compare those colors, which is the primary method for us humans to construct a model of the world around us. Daphnia water fleas, for example, can detect ultraviolet light, but only as flashes that trigger the response of swimming away toward green & yellow wavelengths, which signal the presence of food; they are unable to see entire scenes.
Having established the primacy of vision (or the nearly equivalent echolocation ability of bats & dolphins) in constructing a world view, Yong moves on to discuss various senses in turn. Here is the book's table of contents. An interesting collection of photos, showing some of the animals discussed, follows Chapter 13.
Introduction: The Only True Voyage
Chapter 1: Leaking Sacks of Chemicals | Smells and Tastes
Chapter 2: Endless Ways of Seeing | Light
Chapter 3: Purple, Grurple, Yurple | Color
Chapter 4: The Unwanted Sense | Pain
Chapter 5: So Cool | Heat
Chapter 6: A Rough Sense | Contact and Flow
Chapter 7: The Rippling Ground | Surface Vibrations
Chapter 8: All Ears | Sound
Chapter 9: A Silent World Shouts Back | Echo
Chapter 10: Living Batteries | Electric Fields
Chapter 11: They Know the Way | Magnetic Fields
Chapter 12: Every Window at Once | Uniting the Senses
Chapter 13: Save the Quiet, Preserve the Dark | Threatened Sensescapes
Each animal's senses and corresponding sense organs have been shaped by evolution to best match its needs. A highly-developed sense may compensate for another weak sense. When we lose a sense (e.g., sight) or have it significantly weakened, other senses begin to pick up the slack so as to allow us to live almost normally.
Other than sensing capabilities, animals are different in many other ways. For example, some 350 species of fish can produce electricity for defensive, surveillance, and hunting purposes. Humans have been familiar with these features from thousands of years ago, long before anyone knew what electricity was. Electric eels constitute the ultimate in electro-efficiency, having most of their 7-foot-long bodies comprised of 5-10 thousand electrocytes, allowing them to discharge up to 860 volts. Magneto-reception capability, useful for localization and navigation, is another wonder of nature found in some animal species.
We humans also sense differently from one another, depending on our genetic make-up, training, profession, and possible illnesses & accidents affecting one or more of our senses. So, each of us has a somewhat different model of the world on which we base our actions and decisions. Our extraordinary capabilities as a species do not arise from superior sensing capabilities but from our ability to process and combine information from multiple sources.
We are capable of putting ourselves in the shoes of other species, so as to understand what they sense and how they "see" the world. "A bogong moth will never know what a zebra finch hears in its song ... and a dog will never understand what it is like to be a bat. We will never fully do any of these things either, but we are the only animal that can even come close." We must choose to use our gifts of curiosity and imagination to step into the worlds of other animals: To observe, to understand, and to expand our horizons.

2023/08/14 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Science magazine's special section on Australia's environmental challenges (Issue of August 11, 2023) A friendly suggestion to Iranian mullahs struggling to deal with women's hair Women walking unveiled on a street in Tehran, Iran (1) Images of the day: [Left] Science magazine highlights Australia's environmental challenges (Issue of August 11, 2023): The special section features articles on wildfires, indigenous water science, loss of terrestrial biodiversity, approaches to conserving the marine ecosystem, and indigenous prescription for planetary health. [Center] A friendly suggestion to Iranian mullahs struggling to deal with women's hair. [Right] Iran is pregnant with more unrest (see the next item below).
(2) First Anniversary of Mahsa Uprising in Iran: The Islamic regime is preparing for September 16, 2023, which is one year after #MahsaAmini died while in custody of Iran's morality police, triggering street protests throughout Iran that became known as the Mahsa or #WomanLifeFreedom Revolution. While the regime's brutal reaction, including the killing of 500+ protesters and blinding of many others, has calmed things down for now, the anniversary is expected to bring people back to the streets. [Photo credit: Masih Alinejad tweet]
(3) To conservatives who whine that Trump poses a risk to their election chances: Well, you created this monster. Don't try to make us feel sorry for you. We will take full advantage of your vulnerability with Trump!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Donald Trump and 18 of his allies charged in Georgia election-meddling criminal case.
- US shift away from fossil fuels to clean energy is happening faster than you think.
- Women's soccer World Cup has reached the semifinal stage: Spain v. Sweden & Australia v. England.
- The eBay stalking scandal: How a journalist couple became the target of harassment by eBay employees.
(5) Missing Iranian wrestler, who protested the execution of Navid Afkari, confirmed dead: Amin Bazrgar went missing in 2021 after making a series of Instagram posts. Security forces have told his family that several of his bones were discovered on a mountain in Shiraz.
(6) Scientists must begin to rehabilitate their image: Multiple high-profile cases of research misconduct and the resultant legal actions are not conducive to productivity and public trust. [Science magazine editorial]
(7) Want a cool $1 million reward? Try proving within two years Goldbach's conjecture that any integer greater than 5 can be written as the sum of three prime numbers. For example, 21 = 11 + 7 + 3.
(8) "Killing Christians takes us to paradise": Two Muslim boys, aged 15 & 16, were recently tried in Austria and sentenced to two years in prison each, because they wanted to kill Christians and restore the caliphate. They had planned to massacre as many people as possible during an attack at the 15-year-old's middle school.
(9) In Stuart Walker's book Design for Resilience, Chap. 24 is entitled "Design for Resilience" (pp. 311-339). Within Chap. 24, there is a section entitled "Design for resilience" (pp. 329-332). I kid you not!

2023/08/13 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme: 'Poverty exists not because we cannot feed the poor, but because we cannot satisfy the rich' Saturday's walking experience: From Anaheim's Amtrak Station, 1.7 miles to my niece's place, along the Santa Ana River Trail Amtrak train at Goleta Station
The US version of the board game 'Chutes and Ladders,' which is based on anancient Indian board game, turns 80 SI and binary prefixes for referring to large quantities Math puzzle: The areas of four smaller squares are given and the area of the large square is sought (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Meme of the day: "Poverty exists not because we cannot feed the poor, but because we cannot satisfy the rich." [Top center & right] My train/walk adventure (see the next item below). [Bottom left] The US version of the board game "Chutes and Ladders" turns 80: The game is based on the ancient Indian game "Moksha Patam" that was brought to the UK in the 1890s. [Bottom center] SI and binary prefixes (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Math puzzle: I have posted instances of such geometric puzzles before. In this one, areas of four smaller squares are given and the area of the large square is sought.
(2) My train trip to Anaheim: Yesterday, I took Amtrak's Train 770 from Goleta to Anaheim to visit with some family members. Luckily, my destination was only a 35-minute walk away from the Anaheim Transportation Center, so I left my car at home and made it a rail/walk adventure. Even though the train ride was 4+ hours each way, I spent 3/4 of that time doing useful work, such as reading books, writing, reading/answering e-mail, and checking social media. Also, I calculated that the cost of the train ticket was a bit less than what I would have paid for gas. So, it was a win-win situation: Less stress & time waste, plus lower cost.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- As the Maui wildfire death toll approaches 100 and the extent of devastation becomes clearer, please help.
- Hawaii officials were warned years ago about deadly fire danger in Lahaina.
- In the women's soccer World Cup, all the teams with previous championships have been eliminated.
- Roller-skaters inject some joy in Iran's joyless society created by the mullahs.
- Being a good citizen: This man's removal of rocks from the road surface may have saved lives.
(4) SI and binary prefixes: System International, French for International System (of Units), in use worldwide, has a recommended set of prefixes for multiples and fractions of units. Even in the US, which isn't yet on board with SI, we use some of the units and prefixes (such as calorie & kilocalorie, second, volt, milliliter, milligram, and so on). Here is a partial list of the SI prefixes for multiples. [The full list]
kilo (k, 10^3), as in kilogram = kg, kilometer = km
mega (M, 10^6), as in megatonne = Mt, megapixel = MP
giga (G, 10^9), as in gigawatt = GW, gigahertz = GHz
The next three in the series are tera (T, 10^12), peta (P, 10^15), and exa (E, 2^18). So far, so good. However, in computer science & engineering, kilobyte usually does not mean 1000 bytes, but 1024 bytes. This is because 1024 equals 2^10, and powers of 2 are more convenient for use as memory-capacity units. The same holds for megabyte (2^20 bytes), gigabyte (2^30 bytes), terabyte (2^40 bytes), petabyte (2^50 bytes), and exabyte (2^60 bytes). The powers of 2 just cited are:
2^10 = 1024
2^20 = 1,048,576
2^30 = 1,073,741,824
2^40 = 1,099,511,627,776
2^50 = 1,125,899,906,842,624
2^60 = 1,152,921,504,606,846,976
The first four are fairly close to powers of 10, viz., one thousand, one million, and one billion. After that, the difference increases, until it reaches ~15% between 2^60 and 10^18. Because of the small differences, problems seldom arise from the ambiguity when we state, e.g., that a computer has a 1-TB SSD drive. However, science demands precision and it is best to have a unique interpretation for the value of each prefix.
Many proposals have been floated over the years, including the scheme of International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The IEC prefixes were incorporated into the ISO/IEC 80000 standard alongside the decimal SI prefixes in 2008. A nice feature of the IEC scheme is its uniformity: Ki is binary-kilo, Mi is binary-mega, and so on. The only exception is that the lowercase k for kilo is replaced with the uppercase version in Ki. This is to remain consistent with the past usages of k and K for kilo and binary-kilo, respectively. [More details]

2023/08/11 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Hip-hop turns 50 The fight over water at the Iran-Afghanistan border: The dry Hamun Lake Repression of science in communist countries (1) Images of the day: [Left] Fifty years of hip-hop (see the next item below). [Center] The fight over water at the Iran-Afghanistan border: The age-old conflict is intensifying due to drought. The photo shows the bone-dry Hamun Lake in eastern Iran. [Right] Poster about science in the Soviet Union (see the last item below).
(2) Hip-hop turns 50: On August 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc brought two turntables to his sister's Bronx party. He looped the funkiest snippets of songs. Music historians took note. "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang was the first mainstream hit in 1979. Run-DMC "kicked the door open" in the 1980s. Now, hip-hop is a worldwide phenomenon. [Source: Time magazine]
(3) Dissent in Iran: During this year's Muharram mourning rituals, Iranian mullahs got a slap on the face when mourners used chants criticizing their brutality, corruption, and anti-social ideas. [2-minute video]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration completes upgrades to its supercomputer system.
- This stunning rainbow cloud spotted in China is caused by condensation from rapidly-rising air.
- Facebook memory from Aug. 11, 2019: When I met Donald Knuth at a TeX Users Group conference.
- Facebook memory from Aug. 11, 2015: Bride leads wedding guests in a spirited Indian dance routine.
- Facebook memory from Aug. 11, 2014: Beautiful recreation of the sounds of a thundershower.
(5) Repression of science in communist countries: During my August 10, 2023, presentation on Lagrange Points, I briefly cited the sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, in which he paints an interesting picture of physics research in China during Cultural Revolution, when speaking of the Big Bang theory and Einstein's special & general relativity were considered reactionary. Several questions arose during the Q&A session about why communism would oppose any science. I did some digging and present the results below.
First, ideology-based opposition to social sciences isn't surprising and is also observed in countries governed by Islamic theology. Statistics isn't a social science, but has many applications therein. Furthermore, the notion of randomness is at odds with the certainty & infinite wisdom claimed for central planning (or God's will in Islam).
Portions of physics were frowned upon by the Soviet Union. In the late 1940s, quantum mechanics and special & general relativity were criticized on grounds of "idealism." Soviet physicists developed a version of the statistical interpretation of quantum mechanics, which was seen as more adhering to the principles of dialectical materialism. This process did not go as far as defining an "ideologically correct" version of physics and purging non-conforming scientists, because of the realization that it might cause harm to the Soviet nuclear program. After the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, China reorganized its science establishment along Soviet lines, using bureaucratic rather than professional principle of organization (that is, using non-scientist leadership), separating research from production, establishing specialized research institutes, and giving high priority to applied science & technology, which includes military technology.
In biology, a similar disdain developed in the Soviet Union. In the mid-1930s, Stalin supported the agronomist Trofim Lysenko and his campaign against genetics, which was characterized as "bourgeoisie science" (due in part to its association with the priest Gregor Mendel). In a notorious "Pavlovian Session" of the 1950 joint meeting of the USSR Academy of Sciences and the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences, several prominent Soviet physiologists were accused of deviating from Pavlov's teaching. The result of promoting pseudo-science was forcing physiologists to accept a dogmatic ideology that damaged the quality of biological research in the Soviet Union and isolated it from the international scientific community. In China, "learning from the Soviet Union" was the official policy in biological research until 1956, when the Qingdao Symposium brought about major changes leading to open discussions and rejection of Lysenko's pseudo-science.
References:
- Wikipedia: Repression of science in the Soviet Union
- Wikipedia: Pavlovian session
- Wikipedia: History of Science and technology in the People's Republic of China
- "Genetics in China: The Qingdao Symposium of 1956" (PDF)

2023/08/10 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: Sister Mary Kenneth Keller, the first woman to earn a doctorate in computer science in the United States, 1965 This diagram is due to mathematician Diego Rattaggi. The number in/by each circle indicates its radius and phi is the Golden Ratio Motifs found on objects dug up in Iran's Fars Province: Dated as far back as 500 BCE
Creative artist's depiction of the poor and the rich Talangor Group talk by Dr. Behrooz Parhami: GIF image illustrating the five Lagrange Points Talangor Group talk by Dr. Behrooz Parhami: Event flyer (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday: Sister Mary Kenneth Keller, the first woman to earn a doctorate in computer science in the US, 1965. [Top center] Mathematics that amazes: This diagram is due to mathematician Diego Rattaggi. The number in/by each circle represents its radius and φ is the Golden Ratio. [Top right] Motifs found on objects dug up in Iran's Fars Province: Dated as far back as 500 BCE, these motifs offer ideas for artwork, interior decoration, and even tattoos. [Bottom left] A creative artist's depiction of the poor and the rich. [Bottom center & right] Technical talk on Lagrange Points (see the last item below).
(2) Oral History of Iranian Jews: Housed at UCLA Library's Special Collections.
Abstract: Record Series 779 contains oral history transcripts and audio recordings donated to UCLA's Center for Oral History Research, and interviews from the Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History, many of them in Persian.
I learned from this 86-minute video about Homa Sarshar being honored with the 13th Bita Prize that she has donated an extensive archive about Jews of Iran, along with her own personal papers, to Stanford University.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hawaii wildfires loss: 36 deaths, 1000s of evacuees, & total destruction of the historic town of Lahaina.
- Hawaii late-night update: Maui wildfire death toll has risen to 53 and is expected to rise even further.
- "Inside the Iranian Uprising": An informative & effective 53-minute episode of the PBS series "Frontline."
- Physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks his mind on Barbie and the outrage over the new "Barbie" movie.
(4) Golriz Ghahraman, a young woman who fled Iran with her family when she was 9 and is now a member of parliament in New Zealand, challenges Iran's ambassador in front of a number of New Zealand MPs.
(5) Iran's hostage-taking is rewarded once again: I am happy for the five Americans who will be coming home, but they will soon be replaced by other Americans in Iranian jails. [NYT report]
(6) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Yours truly spoke in Persian under the title "Lagrange Points and Their Significance to Observation Satellites and Space Telescopes." There were ~65 attendees.
A brief presentation by Dr. Hossein Samei entitled "The Difference Between Script and Language" preceded the main talk. One interesting observation was that languages have been around for ~300,000 years, whereas scripts are fairly new (~5000 years). Some languages have no written form. Children learn their mother tongue way before they learn to read or write. Script is a technological phenomenon, not an integral part of a language. There exist thousands of languages but only two-dozen basic scripts.
Application of math to physics has given rise to the field of mathematical physics. Mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange [1736-1813] did pioneering work in this area. After reviewing a few concepts from physics about motion, equilibrium, and gravitational attraction, I introduced one problem in this domain, its solution, and a few notable applications to Earth observation, monitoring of the Sun, and space telescopes. The problem addressed is an instance of the three-body problem, which is super-difficult to solve in general. However, when one of the bodies is much smaller than the other two, so that its gravitational pull can be neglected (e.g., a satellite, compared with the Earth and the Moon), the problem becomes tractable. For each pair of heavy objects, with one rotating around the other, there are five special Lagrange Points in space. These points were introduced and related to the applications cited above.

2023/08/08 (Tuesday): A pictorial on the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: External shot 2 Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Entrance Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: External shot 3
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Lobby Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Selfie Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Museum Store
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Praxinoscope Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Mutoscope Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Phenakistiscope
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Dolby Family Terrace (16) Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Barbra Streisand Bridge Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Dolby Family Terrace (14)
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Stories of Cinema 1 Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Stories of Cinema 2 Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Magic Lanterns
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Back Drop 25 Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Back Drop 26 Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Back Drop 24
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Space travel Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Terminator Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Star Wars robots
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Oscars ceremonies Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Scale-model house, 33 Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Scale-model house 34
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: [Top row] My day-trip to Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: Located at 6067 Wilshire Blvd., right next door to LACMA, the Museum is a treat for movie lovers. Movies occupy a special position at the intersection of arts and technology, so both artists and tech enthusiast will enjoy the extensive exhibits offered here.
[Second row] Every corner of the Academy Museum is filled with exhibits on cinema and film artists, including the entry lobby named in honor of pioneer and norm-breaking actor/director Sidney Poitier.
[Third row] Three early devices creating the illusion of motion (Praxinoscope, Mutoscope, Phenakistiscope).
[Fourth row] The Barbra Streisand bridge connects the Academy Museum of Motion Picture's main building to the Dolby Family Terrace, where one can relax while enjoying an expansive view of the surrounding areas.
[Fifth row] The 3-story exhibit entitled "Stories of Cinema" is augmented with a tour of cinema's pre-history in the exhibit "The Path to Cinema," which contains multiple early devices and a display on Magic Lanterns.
[Sixth row] The exhibit entitled "Back Drop: An Invisible Art" uses Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 film "North by Northwest" to illustrate how much work goes into creating what you see behind the actors. Initially, backdrops were painted. Later, photographs were used. Now, digital displays do the job.
[Seventh row] Some of Academy Museum's displays on character creation.
[Eighth row] Some of the displays on the Oscars and make-believe locations (animated or live action).
[Bottom row] Among movies honored in exhibits are "Casablanca" and the works of Pedron Almadovar.

2023/08/07 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
NYT chart: US income growth since 1980, after taxes and benefits, by income group JR-15, the fully-functional assault rifle for kids (JR = junior, get it?) Cover image of 'The Book of Why,' by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie (1) Images of the day: [Left] The widening US income gap: Income growth since 1980, after taxes & benefits, by income group (New York Times chart). [Center] JR-15, the fully-functional assault rifle for kids (JR = junior, get it?): Just what we needed, because we don't have enough school shootings & other forms of gun violence. [Right] The Book of Why, by Judea Pearl & Dana Mackenzie (see the last item below).
(2) US women's exit from the 2023 soccer World Cup: The penalty kick nearly saved by the US goalie actually crossed the goal line by millimeters, giving Sweden an advantage in the sudden-death stage of PKs. The Swedish goalie emerged as the game's hero, for saving multiple shots during the match.
(3) NASA reestablishes contact with Voyager 2: The spacecraft, which left Earth 46 years ago and is currently 12.3 billion miles away, stopped communicating in July, when controllers accidentally sent a command that shifted its antenna 2 degrees away from Earth. A special command, dubbed "interstellar shout," has led to the reorientation of the spacecraft's antenna and resumption of communications with Earth. Voyager 2, the only spacecraft to have flown by Neptune and Uranus is now outside the Solar System, in the interstellar space. It's twin, Voyager 1, is the most-distant spacecraft from Earth (around 15 billion miles away, or ~5 times further than Pluto).
(4) Book review: Pearl, Judea and Dana Mackenzie, The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect, Hachette, 2018. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Computer scientist Judea Pearl (UCLA) and writer Dana Mackenzie introduce their target general audience to the subject of causality and causal inference from statistical and philosophical viewpoints. During my doctoral studies at UCLA in the early 1970s, I was fortunate to be a student in Judea Pearl's graduate course on computer memories, a topic outside his areas of expertise that he must have taught based on departmental need; yet, I learned a great deal from the course.
Early-20th-century statistical methods were inadequate for describing causal relationships between variables. A "Causal Revolution," which began in mid-20th-century, provided conceptual and mathematical tools for the task. Common statistical tools, such as correlation and regression, operate at the level of association (a crowing rooster is associated with a rising sun), without any implication that one event causes the other event.
Higher levels or rungs of the ladder of causation, intervention and counterfactuals, deal with these two questions: "How does intervention X affects the outcome Y?" and "What might have been under different circumstances?" Bayes' Theorem and Bayesian networks are introduced as tools related to causal diagrams. Ironically, it is rather difficult to show that cigarette-smoking causes cancer; it does, but no amount of discussion of correlation between smoking and cancer constitutes adequate proof.
Causal reasoning helps resolve a number of well-known paradoxes: The Monty Hall Problem, Simpson's Paradox, Berkson's Paradox, and Lord's Paradox. The authors end their presentation in Chapter 10 with a discussion of the use of causal reasoning in big-data and AI. Solving the tough philosophical problem of AI reflecting on its own actions requires the use of counterfactuals and, thus, causal reasoning.
The book's table of contents follows.
Introduction: Mind Over Data
Chapter 1: The Ladder of Causation
Chapter 2: From Buccaneers to Guinea Pigs: The Genesis of Causal Inference
Chapter 3: From Evidence to Causes: Reverend Bayes Meets Mr. Holmes
Chapter 4: Confounding and Deconfounding: Or, Slaying the Lurking Variable
Chapter 5: The Smoke-Filled Debate: Clearing the Air
Chapter 6: Paradoxes Galore!
Chapter 7: Beyond Adjustment: The Conquest of Mount Intervention
Chapter 8: Counterfactuals: Mining Worlds that Could Have Been
Chapter 9: Mediation: The Search for a Mechanism
Chapter 10: Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and the Big Questions
Pearl & Mackenzie have an information page on the book, with much useful background, as well as links to many pertinent news reports and book reviews.

2023/08/06 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The ancient Roman Theater of Sabratha, Libya 'The Mission of San Salvador' tall-ship replica, on display at Santa Barbara Harbor, tells part of Santa Barbara's origin story Arts & crafts show held along Cabrillo Blvd. on the last day of 2023 Fiesta (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The ancient Roman Theater of Sabratha, Libya. [Top center & right] Today, on the last day of the 2023 Fiesta (Old Spanish Days), I visited Santa Barbara's waterfront, where an arts & crafts show was held along Cabrillo Blvd., various street musicians provided entertainment for the crowd, and a historic tall ship was open to visitors. "The Mission of San Salvador" replica tells part of Santa Barbara's origin story. It was in this ship that Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed to establish the first contact between Europeans and native people of the west coast of North America at the beginnings of the modern world.
(2) Living like a billionaire, without being one: The latest revelation about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is that, besides taking billionaire-style vacations involving yachts and exotic locations, he owns a $267,230 RV, built from a 40-foot converted bus with someone else's money. [NYT report]
(3) Billionaire Wendy McCaw paid a fortune for Santa Barbara News Press: After 23 years of turmoil, she buried the corpse of the once-thriving newspaper. Here is an in-depth story from Washington Post.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Meeting in Saudi Arabia may be the first ever "peace talks" where only one side of the conflict is invited.
- US women's soccer team exits the 2023 World Cup after its 0-0 match (decided on PKs) against Sweden.
- In defense of LGBTQ rights: Impassioned speech by Los Angeles School Board President.
- Mahtab Ghorbani's speech about Iran's brutal Islamic regime during a Senate session in France.
- A woman plays music on a street in Tehran, while defying Iran's compulsory hijab laws.
- LinkedIn post by a friend: I'm happy to share that I'm starting a new position as Retired at None!
(5) On watching "Oppenheimer" at an IMAX theater: On Saturday, I drove to Camarillo's Edwards Cinemas, which is the nearest IMAX theater to me. I had read that watching Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer," with its brilliant cinematography, on IMAX is well worth the extra cost (and in my case, 75 minutes of driving each way). I wasn't disappointed.
Robert Oppenheimer was an enigmatic scientist, brilliant but also mercurial, who led US's efforts to develop the atom bomb (The Manhattan Project) near the end of World War II. He wasn't completely trusted because he befriended a member of the US Communist Party, but his expertise was too valuable to the war effort to set aside. So, he was put in charge, while being under surveillance. He emerged as a hero, when the project successfully tested an atom bomb, with the US military dropping two bombs on Japanese cities shortly thereafter. The film shows Oppenheimer enjoying the limelight in the wake of the project's success, while also harboring doubts about weapons of mass destruction and the potential for an arms race with the Soviet Union getting out of control. In the end, he was heartbroken when his security clearance was revoked after a Joseph-McCarthy-style tribunal ruled that he could not be trusted.
Cillian Murphy is magnificent in the title role, as are Emily Blunt (playing his wife Kitty), Robert Downey Jr. (portraying the devious Lewis Strauss), and Rami Malek (as physicist David Hill). Matt Damon's performance as General Leslie Grove is less impressive. The film itself is well done, both cinematically and with regard to its message of political manipulation in Washington, where people are disposed like soiled toilet paper when they no longer serve the political ambitions of those pulling the strings.

2023/08/04 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fiesta song-and-dance performance venue, the majestic Santa Barbara Courthouse Highlights from the Edson Smith Historical Photograph Collection: The Public Library Building over the years Teacher/Librarian Julia Laraway's fabric collage and art quilts made of cotton batik and silk fabrics
Highlights from the Edson Smith Historical Photograph Collection: Santa Barbara's 1925 earthquake Highlights from the Edson Smith Historical Photograph Collection: Fiesta, first train arrival, and more Highlights from the Edson Smith Historical Photograph Collection: State St., oil drilling, fire department, store (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Fiesta song-and-dance performance venue, the majestic Santa Barbara Courthouse (Video 1; Video 2). [Top center] Exhibition of photos at SB Public Library: Highlights from the Edson Smith Historical Photograph Collection, which contains over 3100 images of Santa Barbara from the 1870s to the 1950s (The Public Library Building over the years). [Top right] Art exhibit at SB Public Library: Teacher/Librarian Julia Laraway's fabric collage and art quilts made of cotton batik and silk fabrics featuring birds and animals of Santa Barbara's San Marcos Foothills. [Bottom row] Three more batches of photos from the historic photos exhibit, including images from the 1925 SB earthquake, scenes from Fiesta & the first train arrival in SB, and State Stree, oil drilling, fire department, & store.
(2) Dr. Nadia Nadim: She plays on the Danish women's national soccer team and has scored ~200 goals in her professional career. She fled Afghanistan at age 11 when her father was executed by the Taliban, speaks 11 languages, and plans to become a reconstructive surgeon when her playing days are over. [14-minute video]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The gunman who killed 11 people in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue was sentenced to death.
- UCLA Chancellor Gene Block to go back to academic work after 17 years of leading the campus.
- Like other organizations, universities are reconfiguring resources, as more employees seek remote work.
- Number of students from immigrant families at US colleges rose from 20% in 2000 to 33% in 2021.
- Trump, breaking into song: "I'm so indicted, I just can't hide it; I'm about to go to jail and I don't like it."
- Quote of the day: "It's not the voting that's democracy; it's the counting." ~ Tom Stoppard
- Concession speeches by US candidates: There was none in 2020 and there may be none in 2024.
- Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, are separating.
- World's oldest (known/recorded) kiss happened ~4500 years ago in the Middle East.
- Expertise is pattern recognition: How a master chess player's memory is different from ours.
- Fifteen scenes in famous movies that the actors later regretted agreeing to shoot. [18-minute video]
- Fcebook memory from Aug. 4, 2014: Verses from Sa'adi's Boustan, with an adage-like final verse.
- Fcebook memory from Aug. 4, 2010: Costco exploiting the passions of those addicted to booze and guns.
(4) Water-rights fight between Afghanistan and Iran: This 24-minute documentary, narrated in Persian, traces the long history of conflict over water from Hirmand (Helmand) river, which is vital for agriculture and ranching in both countries.
(5) Germany was eliminated from the 2023 Women's World Cup: A 1-1 draw against South Korea, along with Morocco's 1-0 defeat of Colombia led to Germany being sent home before the knock-out stage for the first time ever (5-minute highlights). Another surprise was the elimination of Brazil after a 0-0 draw with Jamaica.

2023/08/02 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoons: Officials & clerics in charge of enforcing Iran's hijab laws, and Florida's roll-out of its new vocational training program Cover image of Rebecca Traister's 'All the Single Ladies' The 18th-century equivalent of multiple open windows on your big-screen monitor (1) Images of the day: [Left] Cartoons of the day: Officials & clerics in charge of enforcing Iran's hijab laws have been exposed as having illicit sex with both men and women. Meanwhile, Florida rolls out its new vocational training program. [Center] Rebecca Traister's All the Single Ladies (see the last item below). [Right] The 18th-century equivalent of multiple open windows on your big-screen monitor.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The credit rating of United States was downgraded for the second time on Tuesday 8/01.
- Making sense of legal jargon: New York Times has annotated Donald Trump's latest indictment document.
- Room-temperature, ambient-pressure superconducting material claimed by a Korean research team.
- Florida moves to a different time zone (the 1800s): Cases of leprosy surge in Central Florida.
- Two Iranian journalists, imprisoned for exposing #MahsaAmini's death, earn a major international honor.
- Iran closes schools and other services due to 100-degrees-plus heat and shortage of electricity.
(3) Book review: Traister, Rebecca, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, Simon & Schuster, 2018. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The titles of this book's 10 chapters, sandwiched between an introduction and a conclusion, provide an apt summary of its big ideas.
Chapter 1: Watch Out for That Woman: The Political and Social Power of an Unmarried Nation
Chapter 2: Single Women Have Often Made History: Unmarried in America
Chapter 3: The Sex of the Cities: Urban Life and Female Independence
Chapter 4: Dangerous as Lucifer Matches: The Friendships of Women
Chapter 5: My Solitude, My Self: Single Women on Their Own
Chapter 6: For Richer: Work, Money, and Independence
Chapter 7: For Poorer: Single Women and Sexism, Racism, and Poverty
Chapter 8: Sex and the Single Girls: Virginity to Promiscuity and Beyond
Chapter 9: Horse and Carriage: Marrying—And Not Marrying—In the Time of Singlehood
Chapter 10: Then Comes What? And When? Independence and Parenthood
It used to be that almost all college girls/boys had boyfriends/girlfriends. The exceptions were few and far in between. That's no longer the case. The author writes that at 18, she had never even had a serious boyfriend, and neither had any of her closest friends. In lieu of dating, her generation hung out and hooked up. So, the median age of first marriage among American women, historically hovering around 21, has risen to ~27, with the fraction of married women dropping below 50%. The fraction of married Americans aged 18-29 has dropped from 60% in 1960 to ~20% today.
For modern women, the early adult years, which were spent in married life by their mothers, are spent developing careers & friendships, falling in & out of love, moving in & out of apartments, paying their own bills, and prospering & getting in financial trouble. The unmarried lifestyle has come to be accepted by society. A state that was viewed as a disorder not too long ago is now considered normal. This independence comes at a price, however. "Many single women are poor or struggling. Almost 50 percent of the 3.3 million Americans now earning minimum wage or below are unmarried women."
Whereas old-fashioned women waited for their real lives to start upon getting married, modern women are living their real lives without waiting. Singledom is to be celebrated, not because it is necessarily a better way of life but rather because it expands the set of options available to women (and men). "Single female life is not prescription, but its opposite: liberation." I highly recommend this book and urge you to familiarize yourself with the epoch of single women.

2023/08/01 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A beautiful mosque in Esfahan, Iran, reflected in a photographer's camera lens Challenging chess puzzle: White to start and mate in two moves Cover image of Maria Ressa's 'How to Stand Up to a Dictator'
The evolution of medicine: From a pair of snake to dollar sign I had some leftover Persian herbs-stew (ghormeh-sabzi) but no rice. So, I ate the stew with leftover pasta noodles Ancient roads built by workers with no degrees lasted for an eternity. Then, the engineers arrived! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] A beautiful mosque in Esfahan, Iran, reflected in a photographer's camera lens. [Top center] Challenging chess puzzle: White to start and mate in two moves. [Top right] Maria Ressa's How to Stand Up to a Dictator (see the last item below). [Bottom left] The evolution of medicine over the ages. [Bottom center] Forgive me Father, for I have sinned: I had some leftover Persian herbs-stew (ghormeh-sabzi) but no rice. So, I ate the stew with leftover pasta noodles. I have repented! [Bottom right] Ancient roads built by workers with no degrees lasted for an eternity. Then, the engineers arrived!
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Special Counsel Jack Smith reads a statement about Donald Trump's indictment for January 6 crimes.
- Borowitz Report (humor): Trump only a few indictments away from clinching GOP nomination.
- Iran politics: "Iran in a Transformative Process by Woman, Life, Freedom" (Article by Dr. Nayereh Tohidi).
- Rock-climbing couple say their wedding vows while climbing rocks near Tabriz, Iran. [1-minute video]
(3) Book review: Ressa, Maria, How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future, unabridged 10-hour audiobook, read by the author and Rebecca Mozo, Harper Audio, 2022.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book is an important memoir/manifesto, but it suffers from over-generalizations and undue simplifications. The Nobel Peace Laureate author, born in Manila and raised in the US from age 10, relates her first-hand experience, having made a name for herself as a CNN correspondent in Asia, where she brought many innovations to the live coverage of events through social media. Her first brush with dictatorship came when Rodrigo Duterte was elected president of the Philippines, unleashed a murderous war on drugs, and harassed his on-line critics, which included Ressa and the Rappler news site she helped launch.
Ressa's critical journalism led to a sequence of 10 arrests over a period of only 2 years. The problem with social media is that while it is a great tool for citizen journalism, it is also a deadly weapon in the hands of a dictator and his/her cyber-army. Duterte unleashed vicious social-media attacks and abused the justice system to charge his critics with various crimes, such as tax evasion, securities violations, or cyber-libel.
Ressa isn't shy about blaming Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, whose greedy policies have led to uncontrolled spread of disinformation, benefiting primarily oppressors who have vast financial and human resources. She stresses the need for legislation to hold technology companies accountable, more international collaboration between news organizations in spreading facts and democratic ideals, and more spending on investigative journalism to help expose dictators' playbooks.
Standing up to a dictator isn't risk-free: Exposing the dictator's methods subjects you to on-line harassment, arrests & other judicial entanglements, and even imprisonment. At the extreme, you may be forcefully "disappeared" or physically eliminated. The global reach and instant spread of news helps mitigate the risks to some extent, but you may still have to wear a bullet-proof vest and watch your comings & goings.
A key element of social media's role in the spread of disinformation is recommendation algorithms. Mindlessly recommending a fake story or a conspiracy theory to someone who posts or reads similar stories creates a vicious cycle that leads to radicalization. The greed element comes into play because such recommendations are much cheaper to implement than ones that have humans in the loop. An algorithm to maximize ad revenues will invariably lead to compartmentalized groups of users, each of which is extremely biased and not open to alternative viewpoints.
Of course, even if the will for tighter control of the spread of disinformation emerges in the tech industry and the society as a whole, the technical aspects of the problem are ultra-complex. Once you put a group of individuals in charge of purging "undesirable" stories from social media, you need mechanisms to prevent the abuse of this censorship power. Such details are what distinguish a manifesto from a fully fleshed-out implementation plan.

2023/07/31 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Reminder posted at Rusty's Pizza on Storke Road in Goleta: Water cups are for water only An on-line book seller is being shuttered in Iran because of its employees posting a hijab-less photo Santa Barbara's La Fiesta (Old Spanish Days) will be held August 2-6 (1) Images of the day: [Left] Sign posted at Rusty's Pizza on Storke Road in Goleta. [Center] An on-line book seller is being shuttered in Iran because of its employees posting a hijab-less photo. [Right] Santa Barbara's La Fiesta is coming (see the last item below).
(2) Apocalypse/Apocalyptic numbers: These numbers have 666 digits, where 666 is the beast number. The 3184th Fibonacci number is apocalyptic and its first 6 digits are 116724, which suggest the existence of three other apocalyptic Fibonacci numbers. Apocalyptic primes are of the form 10^665 + n, where n = 123, 1837, 6409, 7329, 8569, 9663, ... (Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences, A115983).
(3) How to deal with an unreasonable reviewer asking to cite irrelevant references: Attempt by reviewers to pad their own citations or those of their collaborators is a serious problem in our current peer-review process. Some reviewers want to have their publications or those of associates cited, even if the works are irrelevant or marginally relevant to the item under review. Unfortunately, many authors hesitate to fight such requests and opt for including the suggested references, just to gain the approval of the unreasonable reviewer and thus have their work accepted for publication. This article suggests ways of resolving the issue by appealing to the publication's editor-in-chief at the earliest opportunity, arguing why the suggested references are irrelevant and asking for a replacement reviewer.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- ChatGPT is characterized as open-source, but it scores quite low on an openness scale.
- Many of us have experienced jet-lag: Astronauts' rocket-lag is significantly broader and more intense.
- The widely-spoken Mandarin rated as the world's hardest-to-learn language.
- Persian music: An anti-hijab, pro-joy anthem. [3-minute video]
(5) Made-up quote of the day: "Stop worrying mom, we are fine." ~ Spirit of a girl appearing to her mom, who is on trial for murdering her son & daughter and who claims her children are happy where they are
(6) How scientists work to correct errors in a published paper: Prompted by Stanford University President's high-profile case of scientific misconduct, the issue of correcting scientific errors has come to the forefront.
(7) Santa Barbara 2023 Old Spanish Days (La Fiesta): Programming for the 5-day event includes the following, plus multi-day El Mercados (Mexican Markets) at De La Guerra Plaza and SBCC's La Playa Stadium.
8/02: La Fiesta Pequena (Little Fiesta) at the Old Mission, 8:00-10:00 PM
8/03: Las Noches de Ronda (Nights of Gaiety) at SB Courthouse Sunken Garden, 8:00 PM (through Saturday)
8/04: The Historical Parade, featuring floats and horses, along Cabrillo Blvd., plus Flor y Canto (Courthouse)
8/05: Fiesta Arts & Crafts Show, all day, Cabrillo Blvd. (through Sunday), plus Tarde de Ronda (Courthouse)
8/06: Tours of a historical replica of the 1542 Galleon San Salvador (Santa Barbara Harbor, Sat.-Sun.)

2023/07/30 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Windcatchers in the super-hot city of Yazd were ancient architects' solution for cooling buildings IranWire cartoon: In Iran, journalists who report on police violence or corruption of officials are treated more harshly than the perpetrators Cover image of Nick Neely's 'Alta California' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Windcatchers in the hot city of Yazd were ancient architects' solution for cooling buildings: They were sometimes combined with underground aqueducts known as qanats for more-effective cooling. [Center] IranWire cartoon: In Iran, journalists who report on police violence or corruption of officials are treated more harshly than the perpetrators. [Right] Nick Neely's Alta California (see the last item below).
(2) Slab City, California: This lawless community of 150-4000 seasonal residents in a desert near San Diego takes its name from concrete slabs that were left behind when a US Marine Corps training camp in the area was torn down after World War II, with the land later conveyed to the State of California. [4-minute video]
(3) A wide gap between state-sanctioned and people's religion: Iranians use Muharram mourning ceremonies to speak up against the government's oppression and corruption. #WomanLifeFreedom [Tweet, with video]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Blast at a political rally in Pakistan kills at least 44, with the death toll expected to rise.
- Swaths of Iraq, once part of the "Fertile Crescent," are drying out due to scarce water & high temperatures.
- Attention, Trader Joe's shoppers: Some cookies & falafel are recalled, because they may contain rocks.
- Challenges of conducting a music class in the presence of children! [Tweet, with video]
- Fine examples of rock art. [1-minute video]
- Happy Sunday: Get up and dance, even if only for a short break from sit-down work.
- Facebook memory from July 30, 2017: The day I visited the Freedom Sculpture on Santa Monica Blvd.
(5) The bright side of turning 50: This 7-minute Persian song appears to be a response to a humorous song that expounds upon all the health problems one faces after turning 50.
(6) Book review: Neely, Nick, Alta California: From San Diego to San Francisco, a Journey on Foot to Rediscover the Golden State, unabridged 19-hour audiobook, read by Tristan Wright, Dreamscape Media, 2019.
[My 4-star review of this book GoodReads]
This is a combo book for hikers, naturalists, and history buffs. Neely sets out from San Diego and walks 650 miles northward over 12 weeks, carrying only a backpack & a tent and crossing the counties of San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Mateo. He describes the 9 counties in 9 chapters of varying lengths. Santa Barbara and Monterey get the lion's share at ~60 pages or ~160 minutes each.
Neely traces the route of the first overland Spanish expedition, led by Gaspar de Portola in 1769. He describes the landscape, plants, and wildlife he encounters. History enters the picture when he passes interesting spots, such as where the Chumash Indians thrived, oil-drilling operations near the Carpinteria coast, or the Old Santa Barbara Mission. California's challenges in the domain of water, agriculture, oil & gas, immigration, and development come up from time to time.
In listening to the audiobook, I was naturally more interested in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties, that is, where I live and the counties to its south and north, but I did learn a great deal about the other six counties covered. Neely's narrative becomes drawn-out at times, but he does manage to keep the reader's interest overall.
For me, learning the origins of city, neighborhood, ranch, and road names was a major treat. For example, the name of Goleta, my hometown, means "schooner." Among multiple possible explanations for this choice is that the first-ever American ship was built in the slough in 1828. As I read about historical developments along the route, I couldn't help but wonder how much nicer our state would be today, had efforts to preserve wetlands and delineate nature preserves started a century earlier than they did. Neely's story also motivated me to try to walk along parts of the route he describes, perhaps limiting myself to what can be done in a single day, preferably without trespassing in this age of widespread gun ownership!
Alta California quickly became a national best-seller in the US. Interestingly, exploration of California by sea (1840, Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast), on horseback (1913, J. Smeaton Chase, California Coast Trails), and on foot (2012, Cheryl Strayed, Wild) have also resulted in best-selling books.

2023/07/28 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian currency, with wonderful embroidery by @minaembroidery Optical illusion: At first glance, you don't realize that there is just one person in this photo Cover image of Science magazine, with a special section on social media and elections (1) Images of the day: [Left] Iranian currency, with embroidery by @minaembroidery. [Center] Optical illusion: At first glance, you don't realize that there is just one person in this photo. [Right] Impact of social media on elections (see the last item below).
(2) Public opinion about what NASA should prioritize: Searching for asteroids that could hit Earth (60%); Monitoring Earth's climate (50%); Returning astronauts to the Moon (12%). [Source: Pew Research Center]
(3) The power of language in deceiving and controlling people: "The pen is mightier than the sword" isn't just a saying. Dictators use words more than guns to maintain power. In the commercial domain, doublespeak is used to sell you "sugar-free" products that contain many different kinds of sugars and fresh "deep-chilled" chicken that's really frozen chicken. [6-minute video of interview with author William Lutz]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- About half of the US population, from California to Maine, is under heat alert.
- Biden administration unveiled new safety measures to protect outdoors workers vulnerable to heat.
- A microscopic worm, frozen for 46,000 years, was revived and started having babies.
- Facebook memory from July 28, 2017: Our challenges are power density, circuit degradation, & reliability.
(5) Valley Marketplace in Valencia: I stopped there on Thursday, on the way back from Pine Mountain Club to Goleta, and found it to be an excellent Persian supermarket. It has an extensive meat section, a produce section with Persian goodies, a full-service deli (where you take a number to be served), and a bakery that prepares fresh barbari bread daily. [Tweet, with photos]
(6) De Bruijn sequences: Consider the set of all 3-bit binary sequences, that is, 000, 001, 010, ... , 111. The circular 8-bit sequence 00010111 contains all of the preceding 3-bit sequences as substrings. The 8-bit string is thus B(2, 3), a de Bruijn sequence with all possible 3-symbol subsequences over a 2-symbol alphabet.
B(2, 4) example: 0000100110101111
B(2, 5) example: 00000100011001010011101011011111
From the examples above, it's not difficult to guess the length of a B(2, n) sequence, but can you prove it? What about B(k, n)?
(7) The killer mullahs of Iran go to Europe for medical care: Knowing that they may be pursued or even arrested, they use deception to hide their treatment. Instead of getting a German visa, for example, they go to Italy or France (where they are less likely to be exposed), traveling from there to the hospital of their choice. Dr. Majid Samii, who runs a medical center in Hanover is complicit in facilitating their travels and, at least in one case, helping them escape the wrath of Iranians in diaspora. He is close to several top mullahs and has been showered with praise as well as funding to set up medical facilities in Iran. [Facebook post, with photos]
(8) Interesting fact: Almost half of the world's population speaks a language of the Indo-European language family, encompassing more than 400 languages. [Source: Science magazine]
(9) Social Media and Elections: This is the theme of a special section of Science magazine, issue of July 28, 2023, which comprises the following three research articles, an editorial, a news story, and a podcast.
- Asymmetric ideological segregation in exposure to political news on Facebook
- How do social media feed algorithms affect attitudes and behavior in an election campaign?
- Reshares on social media amplify political news but do not detectably affect beliefs or opinions

2023/07/27 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Goleta weather will be super-hot over the next few days AESS lecture on tracking of space objects, by Dr. Puneet Singla Prenote talk about the US CHIPS and Science Act of 2022: Batch 1 of slides
Prenote talk about the US CHIPS and Science Act of 2022: Batch 2 of slides Prenote talk about the US CHIPS and Science Act of 2022: Batch 3 of slides Prenote talk about the US CHIPS and Science Act of 2022: Batch 4 of slides (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Good morning, at the start of a super-hot day! As I prepare to head back to Goleta, after spending a day in Pine Mountain Club, here's the weather that awaits me over the next few days. [Top center] AESS lecture on science & practice of accurate tracking of space objects (see the next item below). [Top right & Bottom row] Prenote talk about the US CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 (see the last item below).
(2) Information and resource management for accurate tracking of resident space objects: This was the title of Wednesday's webinar by Dr. Puneet Singla (Penn State U.), offered via Zoom under the auspices of IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society.
Space situation awareness (SSA) is the ability to detect, track, and characterize passive & active space objects. In light of the large number of resident space objects (RSOs), and the generally-accepted notion that our knowledge about the number and nature of most of the objects is severely limited, accurate tracking and characterization of RSOs is a must.
For RSO tracking, the core information needed is the orbit parameters and their associated uncertainties specified at a given epoch. This allows for accurate forward prediction but owing to both the nonlinearity of the orbital dynamics and measurement sparsity/unevenness, the uncertainty associated with RSOs orbit increases in time. The fact that none of the prior accidental collision between tracked objects was observed in real time as they occurred underscores the need for SSA.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Second Trump aid charged in the case of mishandling classified/snesitive documents.
- Yuval Noah Harari explains consequences of removing the only check on the power of Israel's government.
- July 2023 is on track to become the hottest month on record.
- Women's soccer World Cup: USA and Netherlands play to a 1-1 tie, each ending up with 4 points.
- Facebook memory from July 27, 2020: Report on fake degrees in Iran (in Persian).
(4) "When the Government Makes Big Bets on Science and Technology: The CHIPS Act": This was the title of a prenote (new term, I guess, referring to a distinguished conference-related talk delivered before a conference) for IEEE 2023 Midwest Symposium on Circuits and Systems. The CHIPS-related talk was given by NIST Director Dr. Laurie Lacascio.
Manhattan Project, Man on the Moon Project, and Human Genome Project are perhaps the best-known examples of big bets by the US government. The $52-billion CHIPS & Science Act of 2022 (CHIPS Act, for short), is the latest example. Funding under the CHIPS Act began in February 2023 and is ongoing.
Dr. Lacascio discussed various aspects of the CHIPS Act and its potential impacts on US leadership and self-sufficiency in the targeted areas, as evident from the sample slides included in the images. The talk's recording as well as the slides used will likely be made available through MWSCAS 2023 Web site.

2023/07/25 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
RoboCup turns 25: Soccer-playing robots Not your father's lenses: Metalenses offer compact, high-performance designs for cameras and projectors Uses of drones in offensive & defensive warfare
Physicist Robert Oppenheimer on Time magazine covers X: The service formerly known as Twitter (shades of Prince) Today is my 6th X (Twitter) anniversary (1) Images of the day: [Top left] RoboCup turns 25 (see the next item below). [Top center] Not your father's lenses (see item 3 below). [Top right] Uses of drones in offensive & defensive warfare (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Robert Oppenheimer on Time magazine covers (see item 4 below). [Bottom center] The service formerly known as Twitter (shades of Prince). [Bottom right] Today is my 6th X (Twitter) anniversary: By and large, I have enjoyed the medium, but must confess that the quality of comments and other interactions often disappoint me. Will I survive another year? Will Twitter survive to the next anniversary? We will see!
(2) RoboCup at 25: The RoboCup dream is to build robots capable of playing soccer at the World Cup level, that is, do for soccer what DeepMind and AlphaZero did for chess. That dream is still far from realization, but significant progress has been made over the past 25 years. Currently, robots compete annually in multiple leagues: Small-size; Middle-size; Humanoid; Standard-platform (identical robots are provided to all contestants, who must design winning algorithms and software for them). [From: IEEE Spectrum, July 2023]
(3) The Incredible Shrinking Lens: This is the title of a cover feature in IEEE magazine (July 2023). A metalens is a flat glass surface, topped with a semiconductor layer on which is etched an array of pillars less than a micrometer high that can manipulate light waves with a degree of control not possible with traditional lenses.
(4) Physicist Robert Oppenheimer appeared on the cover of Time magazine twice: Once as a hero, after atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, and another time as a traitor, after he voiced opposition to nuclear arms race and was exposed as having had a love affair with a member of the US Communist Party while leading the Manhattan Project. [11-minute video]
(5) Imagining what Fox News anchors might say about Trump if they held him to the same standards as Obama: This 4-minute montage is rather old, but it is worth re-sharing.
(6) Math puzzle: Find all possible arrangements of four points on the XY plane so that the distance between any two points is one of only two values. For example, if the four points are the vertices of a unit-square, then the two distances are 1 and sqrt(2).
(7) Drones are transforming offensive and defensive warfare: Offensive drones, of the kind used by Russia to strike Ukrainian cities, have dominated the news lately. Less conspicuous are inexpensive defensive drones used to patrol the skies. China's DJI Mavic 3, used by both Russia and Ukraine for surveillance, costs $2000, which means you can buy 55,000 of them for the price of a single F-35 stealth jet. Recently, a $3200 Ukrainian grenade-equipped drone destroyed a $4 million Russian T-90 tank. [From: IEEE Spectrum, July 2023]

2023/07/24 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Science magazine cover feature: Cover image Science magazine cover feature: Article summary Cover image of Bernie Sanders' 'It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism'
'Love Affairs and Differential Equations': Title of an entertaining paper by Harvard U.'s Steven H. Strogatz Brave journalists #ElahehMohammadi and #NiloofarHamedi have been in prison since September 2022 for reporting on the death of #MahsaAmini NYT chart: Children of the super-rich are more than twice as likely to be admitted to elite colleges (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Fleshing out the genetic basis of the human skeletal form: New research validates specific genetic variants that affect human skeletal form and ties a major evolutionary facet of human anatomical change to pathogenesis. [Top right] Bernie Sanders' It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism (see the last item below). [Bottom left] "Love Affairs and Differential Equations": Title of an entertaining paper by Harvard University's Steven H. Strogatz. [Bottom center] Brave journalists #ElahehMohammadi and #NiloofarHamedi have been in prison since September 2022 for reporting on the death of #MahsaAmini (#WomanLifeFreedom). [Bottom right] Children of the super-rich are more than twice as likely to be admitted to elite colleges: The upper middle-class gets the short end of the stick (NYT chart).
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The service formerly known as Twitter: Musk ditches the iconic bird logo, as he rebrands his company "X."
- Protests in Israel against Netanyahu's "reform" of the judiciary broaden to include members of the military.
- Netanyahu's government has declared a war on women: A new bill will roll back women's rights.
- Felons can't vote, presumably because they lack proper judgement, but they can run for US presidency!
- Top tech firms sign White House pledge to flag AI-generated images.
(3) Book review: Sanders, Bernie and John Nichols, It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism, unabridged 11-hour audiobook, read by the first author, Random House Audio, 2023.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Sanders opens with the assertion that uber-capitalism, currently prevalent in the US, is characterized by unfettered greed and environmental destruction. It isn't merely unjust, but grossly immoral. While the middle and lower classes struggle, the oligarchs are doing extremely well and they own the democracy in which we take pride. The oligarchs also reign over information outlets, thus also owning our freedom of speech. The good news is that we are beginning to see cracks in the oligarchy's hold over levers of power.
Sanders then quotes Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose vision of America has unfortunately not been realized. Advocating a second Bill of Rights, Roosevelt said in his speech of eight decades ago: "We have come to clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence." Economic rights are indeed human rights. Our country cannot prosper while 60% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck and 60,000 die annually because they cannot get the medical care they need (85 million Americans are uninsured or under-insured).
The numbers cited by Sanders about the extent of inequality in the US are staggering. Some 90% of our wealth is owned by 0.1% (one-tenth of 1%) of the population; the wealth of 725 US billionaires rose 70% during the pandemic, to more than $5 trillion; BlackRock, Vanguard, & State Street, major shareholders in 96% of S&P 500 companies, now control assets of $20 trillion. And these individuals and corporations spend lavishly to stifle any effort to raise taxes, citing the potential disincentives high tax rates can create. Never mind that America thrived under Eisenhower, when the top tax rate was around 92% and the richest 20% of Americans controlled less than 43% of the wealth.
Sanders, a master of facts and figures, provides a great deal more data in support of his economic proposals. I think every American should read this book and ask himself/herself questions of the following nature: Why are we paying twice as much per-capita as French and German citizens for healthcare, achieving poorer results and leaving millions of people uninsured, while big pharma is rolling in money (their profits rose by 90% in 2021)?
In the final chapter 10, "This Is a Class War—It's Time to Fight Back," Sanders reiterates the main ideas, recommending that "We must stop being afraid to call out capitalism and demand fundamental change to a corrupt and rigged system." Democracies thrive and get stronger from criticisms and suggestions for improvement. Only dictatorial systems claim that all is perfect and show distaste for critical viewpoints.

2023/07/23 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
IranWire cartoon: Enforcement of compulsory hijab laws is again front-and-center for Iran's Islamic regime 'Barbenheimer': Name given to two new movies, 'Barbie' and 'Oppenheimer,' if you happen to see them on the same day Santa Barbara News Press files for Chapter-7 bankruptcy
Driving map, shoting the routes from Goleta to Pine Mountain Club Our Sunday night dinner: Miso soup Our Sunday night dinner: Sushi (1) Images of the day: [Top left] IranWire cartoon of the day: Enforcement of compulsory hijab laws is again front-and-center for Iran's Islamic regime. [Top center] "Barbenheimer": Name given to two new movies, "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer," if you happen to see them on the same day. [Top right] Santa Barbara News Press files for bankruptcy: The Chapter-7 filing ends more than 150 years of history. [Bottom left] Bee-line distance vs. driving distance: The community of Pine Mountain Club is on the other side of the mountains from Santa Barbara, at a bee-line distance of about 42 miles. Driving distance is nearly 3 times as long (123 miles; 130 minutes under normal traffic). [Bottom center & right] Our Sunday night dinner, courtesy of my son: Miso soup and sushi (with crab meat, beef rib meat, and other ingredients). Your place was empty.
(2) How good a physicist was Oppenheimer, the A-bomb's architect? According to Historian David C. Cassidy, he was no Einstein, but he did Nobel-level work on black holes.
(3) Topsy-turvy US history: Florida middle-schoolers will be taught about the benefits of slavery, including skill-building for blacks. Apparently, those who worked to free the slaves interrupted these benefits!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Today's headline: "Nobody did anything about anything that you wanted them to do something about."
- Iran finds itself under pressure from several European countries for its assistance in the killing of Ukrainians.
- I find the prospects of a Trump victory over the gutless DeSantis, Pence, Scott, and Haley creepily satisfying.
- An Iranian woman's car was confiscated for not wearing a hijab: She defiantly walked home sans a hijab.
(5) On the 1935 Goharshad Mosque rebellion & massacre in Mashhad: Iran's Islamic regime is exaggerating by up to 100-fold the number of deaths (~20 confirmed in burial records, plus a couple dozens of soldiers & officers) and falsely linking, for propaganda purposes, the event to opposition to Reza Shah's order to remove women's hijabs. [12-minute video]
(6) Let's guard the Persian language: Please, please, don't use the Arabic word "nesvaan" to refer to women: Don't even use "baanovaan," which is an okay word similar to "ladies." Use "zanaan," because it creates fear in mullahs and other misogynists. Also, never use "rejaal" for "mardaan" (men). [Persian version in a tweet]
(7) New York Times tribute: Tony Bennett's melodic clarity, embrace of the audience, and warm interpretations of musical standards won him generations of fans.
(8) The most wide-open women's soccer World Cup in history is now in progress: Team USA is still favored to go all the way, but other teams have improved significantly.

2023/07/22 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A wonderful Jason Mraz concert in Santa Barbara Simple joys of childhood and the immense popularity of soccer around the world Image purportedly showing the Sun setting at the North Pole and the Moon at its closest point to Earth. See if you can explain why this can't be an actual photograph (1) Images of the day: [Left] A wonderful Jason Mraz concert in Santa Barbara (see the next item below). [Center] Simple joys of childhood and the immense popularity of soccer around the world. [Right] Test your knowledge of physics: I first posted this image, purportedly showing the Sun setting at the North Pole and the Moon at its closest point to Earth. See if you can explain why this can't be an actual photograph.
(2) My daughter and I attended an enjoyable Jason Mraz concert at Santa Barbara Bowl on Friday night: My ticket to this concert was a Fathers' Day gift from the kids last month. Thank You! Mraz and his SuperBand of a dozen superb musicians performed his well-known songs such as "Lucky" and "I'm Yours," as well as selections from his newer albums "Look for the Good" (2020) and "Mystical Magical Rhythmical Radical Ride" (2023). A group of rowdy, anti-social drunkards sitting not too far from us spoiled part of the fun. Don't miss this mystical magical concert if it comes your way! [Setlist]
(3) Tony Bennett [1926-2023] dead at 96: He was a champion of the Great American Songbook and a likable guy who collaborated with many artists from multiple generations. RIP!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Sepideh Qolian refused to wear a hijab for her court appearance in Iran, so the session was cancelled.
- Elite colleges have begun the process of eliminating legacy admissions.
- State abortion bans will soon be offset, at least in part, by medical advances and enlightened drug policies.
- On multitasking: For my age, I am good at multitasking: I can listen, ignore, and forget all at once.
- Quote of the day: "A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart." ~ Goethe
(5) One of the clearest explanations of the Enigma, the German message-coding machine used during World War II for secret communications. [16-minute video]
(6) Donald Trump does not know the meaning of love: He has no understanding of romantic love or of Christian love (love thy neighbor; love thy enemy). In fact, in a speech at a prayer-breakfast meeting, he criticized the idea of loving your enemy, apparently unaware that it came from Christ himself. He does not love. He does not pray. He does not ask for forgiveness. Exactly what about this charlatan is Christian?
(7) Let's guard the Persian language: The Arabic word "shahid" is often used to refer to someone who sacrificed his/her life for a noble cause. Let's use "jaavid-naam" instead. [Tweet, with the Persian version]
(8) The anatomy of a soundbite: Why it is important for scientists to create their own soundbites that provide the public with concise and fun explanations. [6-minute video]
(9) Women's World Cup Soccer: USA 3-0 Vietnam. Despite the win, this was a shaky start for team USA, as they had several other scoring opportunities. [5-minute highlights]

2023/07/20 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mothers of murdered/executed dissidents are on the front line of opposition to Iran's brutal Islamic regime US trillion-dollar companies, including newcomer to the club, NVIDIA, and their valuations over the past 5 years Iranian-American snacks: Lavashak-e anaar (dried pomegranates) and popcorn
Memories from my 2017 UCLA Bilingual Lectures on Iran Talangor Group talk by Dr. Hossein Samei Iran's ancient architecture from the Sassanid Period: Falak-ol-Aflak Castle in the city of Khorramabad, Lorestan Province (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Mothers of murdered/executed dissidents are on the front line of opposition to Iran's brutal Islamic regime. [Top center] US trillion-dollar companies, including newcomer to the club, NVIDIA, and their valuations over the past 5 years. [Top right] Iranian-American snacks: Lavashak-e anaar (dried pomegranates) and popcorn. [Bottom left] Memories from my UCLA Bilingual Lectures on Iran (see the next item below). [Bottom center] Talangor Group talk (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Iran's ancient architecture from the Sassanid Period: Falak-ol-Aflak Castle in the city of Khorramabad, Lorestan Province.
(2) Memories from my UCLA Bilingual Lectures on Iran: On Nov. 19 & 20, 2017, I presented two lectures entitled "Computers and Challenges of Writing in Persian," as part of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran. One image shows family & friends at my Persian-language lecture of 11/19, another is from my English presentation of 11/20, and the third is from Farhang Foundation's 2017-2018 annual report.
[PDF slides] [Lecture in Persian, 73-minute podcast] [Lecture in English, 81-minute podcast]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Stanford President resigns for research misconduct, allegedly for not correcting mistakes in publications.
- Women's soccer World Cup begins with violence: Two people are killed by a gunman in New Zealand.
- Facebook memory from July 20, 2021: Some of what we'd see on Iranian currency if people had a say.
- Facebook memory from July 20, 2020: On why we don't need perfect tests to control the spread of diseases.
- Facebook memory from July 20, 2018: 50th-anniversary reunion of Fanni College's Class of '68 in Armenia.
- Facebook memory from July 20, 2017: Zardak, Iran, is halfway around the world from Chase Palm Park.
(4) Iraqis storm & torch the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad: Once again citizens of a backward Middle-Eastern country think that a Western Democracy can dictate to its citizens not to burn a holy book.
(5) Tonight's Talangor Group talk: Dr. Hossein Samei (Emory U.) talked in Persian under the title "The Persian Script and Its Challenges." There were ~60 attendees.
As Iranians, we are all aware of challenges of the Persian script in terms of teaching to children or foreign learners, and using it for precise, error-free communication. The problems include silent letters, multiple letters (up to 4) with the same sound, and minor variations between letters (e.g., use of 1-3 dots over or below the same base shape to form different letters). These difficulties are not unique to Persian and other languages/scripts suffer from them as well. For example, we have "s" & "c" and "ch" & "tu" in English that can sound the same, and we have numerous instances of silent letters, as in "knight" and "subtle." In fact, the English script is one of the most-irregular in the world.
One can try to fix the problems by changing the script (e.g., by using a Latin-based script for Persian, a solution pursued by multiple countries, such as Turkey) or by making improvements (e.g., by removing and/or adding letters). Most people are hesitant to make any changes, given the connection of the Persian script to a large volume of literary/poetic works and its cultural significance. Going back to ancient times, there were only a handful of different scripts. Other cultures and civilizations adopted one of these options to devise their own script, leading to possible mismatch between language needs and script capabilities. Change of script is often intertwined with a desire to change cultural direction and usually has some ideological and political undertones.
This two-part Nova series on writing and how it revolutionized the spread of information is quite interesting.
Here is a viewpoint that I could not discuss during the Q&A period, because the program was quite long and I had to leave: In the case of Persian, a significant obstacle to changing the script is its close relationship with the art of calligraphy. This link is quite dear to our hearts. Almost every Persian home has calligraphic art on display. Admiring elements of calligraphic art (color scheme, symmetry, overlap. etc.) and trying to decipher its textual content is a favorite pastime of mine and of many other Iranians.
This talk connects nicely with my 2017 talks, given at UCLA under the title "Computers and Challenges of Writing in Persian," which outlined efforts over five decades to produce computer-printed Persian script of reasonable quality (see item 2 above).

2023/07/19 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A wonderful poster to empower women and girls: Held by Michelle Obama Enhanced satellite image of Iran and parts of its neighboring countries A wonderful painting of #Mahsa_Amini by an unknown artist
Facebook memory from July 19, 2019: Glorious sunsets Facebook memory from July 19, 2011: The tiny town of Persia, Iowa Facebook memories from years past: My portraits
About the name of the city of Goleta meaning 'schooner' A view of Santa Barbara's waterfront at sunset IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk by Dr. Ambuj Singh of UCSB (1) Images of the day: [Top left] A wonderful poster to empower women and girls. [Top center] An enhanced satellite image of Iran and parts of its neighboring countries. [Top right] A wonderful painting of #Mahsa_Amini by an unknown artist. [Middle row] Facebook memories: Glorious sunsets, from July 19, 2019; The tiny town of Persia, Iowa, from July 19, 2011; My portraits over the years. [Bottom left] The naming of my hometown, the city of Goleta (see the next item below). [Bottom center] A view of Santa Barbara's waterfront at sunset. [Bottom right] IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk by Dr. Ambuj Singh of UCSB (see the last item below).
(2) What's a Goleta? Inspired by Nick Neely's book, Alta California: From San Diego to San Francisco, a Journey on Foot to Rediscover the Golden State, which contains many historical tidbits about the Golden State, I looked up the details of where the name of Goleta, my current hometown, comes from. The name means "schooner." Among multiple possible explanations for this choice is that the first-ever American ship was built in the slough in 1828. [Goleta history]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Russia continues to strike Odesa with ballistic missiles & drones, after pulling out from grain deal.
- Sugar Lab, a digital bakery based in East Los Angles,