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Page last updated on 2021 October 22

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 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 2021

2021/10/22 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Modern free women, who are overjoyed by meeting and taking photos with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a symbol of women's oppression and human-rights violation Postcards from Salinas: UCSB Library exhibit Cover image of Clifford Pickover's 'The Math Book'
My new invented dish: Sabzi-polo (Persian herb-rice) with teriyaki chicken, put together from leftovers! Iran's women ice-hockey team reaches the final match of a regional competition (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Islamic Republic fans and apologists in Dubai: Modern free women, who are overjoyed by meeting and taking photos with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a symbol of women's oppression and human-rights violation. [Top center] US history (1920s-1930s): A few panels from UCSB Library's interesting exhibit, "Postcards from Salinas," depicting the lives of Filipina/o immigrants who settled in California's Salinas Valley, pre-1941. [Top right] Clifford Pickover's The Math Book, favorably reviewed (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Anti-women protesters in Iran (see the next item below). [Bottom center] My new invented dish: Sabzi-polo (Persian herb-rice) with teriyaki chicken, put together from leftovers! [Bottom right] Iran's women ice-hockey team reaches the final match of a regional competition, where it will face Russia again, having beaten it earlier. Where do these women even practice?
(2) Feminism destroys families: This is the message seen on the protest sign in the photo. Another sign blamed leftist feminists for the society's woes. The patriarchy in Iran is bent on removing "mehrieh," the only protection available to women within a marriage (the requirement that the man pay an agreed-upon sum to terminate the marriage). One feminist responded that we will gladly abolish mehrieh, if you give us the rights to divorce, equal jobs & pay, children's custody, and choice (in abortion and clothing).
(3) Book review: Pickover, Clifford, The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics, Sterling, 2009. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is a great book, with many strengths and a few weaknesses. As the author readily admits on p. 15: "This is not a comprehensive or scholarly dissertation, but rather it is intended as recreational reading for students of science and mathematics and interested laypeople." The "recreational-reading" objective explains the blending of some lightweight material with deep results. The book consists of self-contained articles, presented in chronological order, each consisting of one page of text and one page of graphics. In a majority of instances, however, the graphics are decorative, providing little in way of illustrating the concepts or making them easier to understand.
Having discussed the weaknesses, let me shift my focus to the book's strengths. Pickover, the prolific author of 40+ books, has a gift for describing mathematical concepts in accessible form. On p. 14, the author whets the reader's appetite by promising answers to a number of intriguing questions:
- Why was the first female mathematician murdered?
- Who was the "Number Pope"?
- Who was the earliest named individual in the history of mathematics?
The very first idea ("Ant Odometer," p. 15), dating back 150 million years, concerns the way ants have evolved to be able to return home along a straight line, after traveling along a winding path in search of food. They accomplish this feat using their sense of direction and their ability to count steps. If an ant's legs are artificially shortened or lengthened before its return trip, it either does not reach its nest or overshoots it.
The final entry in the book, "Mathematical Universe Hypothesis" (p. 516), describes the work of MIT Physics Professor Max Tegmark, who hypothesized in 2007 that our universe isn't just described by mathematics—it is mathematics! "[W]e don't invent mathematical structures—we discover them, and invent only the notation for describing them."
From among the other 248 entries, let me describe just one: "Andrica's Conjecture" (p. 482). If p(n) is the nth prime number and g(n) = p(n+1) – p(n) is the gap between p(n) and the next prime p(n+1), then g(n) < 2 sqrt(p(n)) + 1. Put another way, sqrt(p(n+1)) – sqrt(p(n)) < 1. This relationship remains an unproven conjecture, but it is believed to be true based on empirical evidence.
I was particularly intrigued by three entries describing ideas from Persian mathematicians/philosophers. On p. 84, we read about "Al-Khwarizmi's Algebra" (830 CE), the first book on the systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations. Then, on p. 94, "Omar Khayyam's Treatise" (1070 CE), having to do with solving third-degree and some higher-order equations, is discussed, as well as his writings on properties of non-Euclidean geometries, an area that did not flourish until the 1800s. Ghiyath al-Din Jamshid al-Kashi's "Law of Cosine" (ca. 1427 CE), which relates the side lengths of a triangle and the cosine of the angle opposite to the side of length c by the identity c^2 = a^2 + b^2 – 2ab cos(C). The latter identity includes the Pythagorean theorem c^2 = a^2 + b^2 as a special case corresponding to C = 90 degrees.
Pickover's fascinating book ends with 8 pages of notes, providing details and references for the 250 entries, a 2-page index, and one page of photo credits.

2021/10/21 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: If life gives you lemons ... well, there is a limit on how much lemonade you can make! A recent burst of attention to AI ethics: Google Scholar publication stats over the years Cartoon: Iran's morality police is bent on forcing women into heaven at any cost!
(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Cartoon of the day: If life gives you lemons ... well, there is a limit on how much lemonade you can make! [Top center] A recent burst of attention to AI ethics: Using Google Scholar data, Jason Borenstein et al. have traced the history of papers published with AI/artificial-intelligance & ethics/ethical in their titles, in a paper published in the Oct. 2021 issue of IEEE Computing Edge. [Top right] Second cartoon of the day: Iran's morality police is bent on forcing women into heaven at any cost! [Bottom row] Sample slides from Wednesday night's technical talk by Dr. Tevfik Bultan (see the last item below).
(2) UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series is back with October events: "Recent Developments and Changes in Iran" is the focus of a series of panels, the first two of which (in Persian) are listed below (registration links included).
Panel 1: Health & Public Health Policy—Political & Social Changes; Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, 11:30 AM PDT.
Panel 2: Economic Challenges—The Politics of Water and Gender; Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, 11:30 AM PDT.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Brief report on today's virtual meeting of the UCSB Faculty Legislature (first one for 2021-2022).
- Prop gun on film set kills one person and injures another: Actor Alec Baldwin fired the gun.
- Facebook memory from Oct. 20, 2016: Sage's snake vs. con-man's wiggly line. [FB post]
- Facebook memory from Oct. 20, 2015: Man = Woman, nothing more, nothing less! [FB post]
- Facebook memory from Oct. 21, 2018: When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.
- Facebook memory from Oct. 21, 2011: 'Earth' without 'art' is just 'Eh'!
(4) Wednesday night's IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Dr. Tevfik Bultan (Professor and Chair of UCSB's Computer Science Department) talked at 6:30 PM PDT under the title "Software, Logic, and Security." The Zoom session had 18 participants.
What we tend to describe as "tech companies" are really computer companies and operate predominantly in the business of software. Currently, the world's top 5 companies in terms of market capitalization are computer companies, and all of them, except Apple, which does both hardware and software, are software-centered businesses. Software is increasing in complexity and is becoming more critical in everything we do, so ensuring its dependability is a major concern.
Software doesn't just drive the computer industry but many other R&D endeavors, such as NASA space missions, studying the human genome, and scientific discoveries in physics. Software engineering (SE), an area defined in 1968 to help find a solution to the "software crisis," continues to be front-and-center, as we deal with hackers, data leaks, and security breaches.
Dr. Bultan's research approaches the software dependability problem through 3 complementary approaches:
- Formal methods: Mathematical tools that support rigorous specs, design, development, & verification.
- Automation: Mechanization of SE tasks, such as bug/vulnerability detection, testing, & verification.
- Logic solvers: Automated tools that check satisfiability of logic formulas to automate SE tasks.
The connection between logic and computing goes back to the origins of the computing discipline. In recent years, automated logic solvers have become critical tools for detecting computer security vulnerabilities. By reducing the search for security vulnerabilities in computer systems to the search for satisfying solutions to logic formulas, automated logic solvers can be used as security-vulnerability detectors. As a concrete example, Dr. Bultan described the detection and elimination of access control vulnerabilities in cloud computing platforms using the computing-logic connection.
[IEEE CCS event page] [IEEE CCS Technical Talks page] [Speaker's home page]

2021/10/19 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Survey of women's status across countries: Best and worst Survey of women's status across countries: Climate change Survey of women's status across countries: Regional variations in Afghanistan
Survey of women's status across countries: Report cover image Try your math skills in finding a limit and a geometric area Halloween is around the corner, so here are a few ideas for scary masks and costumes! (1) Images of the day: [Top row & Bottom left] Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security assesses women's status across countries (see the last item below). [Bottom center] Try your math skills by finding the limit of the depicted expression as n tends to infinity and the area of the blue region as a function of a and b. [Bottom right] Halloween is around the corner, so here are a few ideas for scary masks and costumes!
(2) Facebook friendship: Over the past week alone, I have received friend requests on Facebook from three people who have locked their profiles and show nothing other than a profile pic. There is also, needless to say, a steady stream of friend requests from super-good-looking young women, who share very little about their interests (I suspect that many older men receive requests of the second kind)! As I have often said, friendship without common interests doesn't make sense, virtually or in the physical world.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Santa Barbara County hits 70% vaccination rate for eligible residents.
- As most colleges struggle financially, wealthy colleges see double-digit endowment returns.
- Facebook memory from Oct. 19, 2015: They look crooked but they are four perfectly round circles! [Image]
- Facebook memory from Oct. 19, 2014: Figure-skating to Indian folk music. [4-minute video]
(4) Eerie parallels in Iran and Afghanistan: A member of Iran's women national volleyball team was executed in 1988. A member of Afghanistan's women volleyball team was beheaded by the Taliban in 2021. [Tweet]
(5) "Pioneers: Iranian-Americans in Science Today": Georgetown U. Zoom panel discussion, with Dr. Mona Jarrahi (Professor, Physical and Wave Electronics, UCLA) and Dr. Pardis Sabeti (Professor, Harvard U. & Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health). Friday, October 29, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT. [Registration]
(6) Ads for hearing aids: I have been swamped in my on-line interations with hearing-aid ads. I don't have a hearing problem (I think), but receiving so many ads makes me think that maybe the machine-learning algorithms of the vendors and advertisers are on to something that I don't yet know! I used to receive cremation and funeral-home ads, but I guess they have given up on that account, having learned from my Facebook posts that I am an avid walker!
(7) Women, Peace and Security Index 2021/22: The third edition of this important resource, published by Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, was released early this morning via a Zoom session that featured a number of distinguished panelists. A key conclusion is that the global advance of women's status has slowed and disparities have widened across countries.
- In overall country performance, the best list is topped by Norway, Finland, and Iceland. The United States has dropped out of the top-20 countries, to 21st place. The worst list is topped by Afghanistan (earning a score 28% worse than in 2017), Syria, and Yemen.
- There is a strong correlation between WPS and GAIN indices, the latter quantifying countries' vulnerability to climate change and readiness to respond to its impacts. Therefore, countries where women's inclusion, justice, and security are promoted are also better placed to address the rising threats of climate change.
- The United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan were selected for detailed regional analysis. The results confirm that national averages are poor indicators. In Afghanistan, e.g., the share of men who condoned wife-beating ranged from 97% in Paktia to 15% in Daykundi. In the US, the top-ranking Massachusetts scored more than four times better than the bottom-ranking Louisiana.

2021/10/18 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
History in pictures: Philadelphia Electric Company's streetlight maintenance vehicle, 1910 Wordle: Now we know that masks and proper ventilation are more-effective COVID-19 prevention methods than washing hands Woman shown wiring a pre-computer-era IBM 405 giant accounting machine in 1934
Who do you trust more on #ClimateChange: A know-nothing 75-year-old (Donald Trump) or a wise 18-year-old (Greta Thunberg)? Cartoon: Haters, liars, and misinformation spreaders hitching a ride on Facebook Cover image of David Wells's 'Games and Mathmatics: Subtle Connections (1) Images of the day: [Top left] History in pictures: Philadelphia Electric Company's streetlight maintenance vehicle, 1910. [Top center] At the beginning of the pandemic, we washed our hands ceaselessly: Now we know that masks and proper ventilation are more-effective prevention methods. [Top right] Woman shown wiring a pre-computer-era IBM 405 giant accounting machine in 1934. [Bottom left] Who do you trust more on #ClimateChange: A know-nothing 75-year-old or a wise 18-year-old? [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: Haters, liars, and misinformation spreaders hitching a ride on Facebook. [Bottom right] Games and Mathematics (see the last item below).
(2) Our new solar water-heater tank (photo): Last night, our solar water-heater tank began leaking. What saved our house from being flooded was the pan with drainage pipe we had installed under it and a moisture sensor inside the pan (totally worth the cost). The tank was drained this morning and replaced this afternoon.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Colin Powell dead at 84: The former secretary of state & Joint Chiefs chairman fell victim to COVID-19.
- UN report: Collapse of international tourism could cost the world $4 trillion for 2020 and 2021.
- NASA probe Lucy launched on a 12-year mission to explore 8 carbon-rich astroids.
- Autonomous trains seen as solution to truck-driver shortage & moving goods on our aging infrastructure.
- Math puzzle: Find all prime number pairs a & b so that a^b + b^a is also prime.
- Facebook memory from October 18, 2019: Unstable US president triggers war between two of our allies.
(4) Book review: Wells, David, Games and Mathematics: Subtle Connections, Cambridge U. Press, 2012, 246 pp. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book consists of two parts, "Mathematical Recreations and Abstract Games" (Chs. 1-5) and "Mathematics: Game-Like, Scientific and Perceptual" (Chs. 6-20). A listing of chapter titles provides a good indication of the book's scope and coverage: 1. Recreations from Euler to Lucas; 2. Four abstract games; 3. Mathematics and games: mysterious connections; 4. Why chess is not mathematics; 5. Proving versus checking; 6. Game-like mathematics; 7. Euclid and the rules of his geometrical game; 8. New concepts and new objects; 9. Convergent and divergent series; 10. Mathematics becomes game-like; 11. Maths as science; 12. Numbers and sequences; 13. Computers and mathematics; 14. Mathematics and the sciences; 15. Minimum paths from Heron to Feynmann; 16. The foundations: perception, imagination and insight; 17. Structure; 18. Hidden structure, common structure; 19. Mathematics and beauty; 20. Origins: Formality in the everyday world
One feature of abstract games and traditional puzzles is that, unlike language and literature, they are appreciated across different cultures. Most puzzles and games are quite old, re-emerging in different times and places with minor variations. For example, evidence of dice games has been found in excavations in southeastern Iran, at a site believed to date back to 3000 BCE.
Despite the existence of mathematical games and puzzles, a significant number of games do not arise from math. However, almost all games are eventually tied to and studied using mathematical tools. Insights gained from math can help in the development of games and may even render them trivial. Solving puzzles is a lot like proving theorems in mathematics, which involves finding the right transformations and the order in which they are applied.
Wells has chosen some well-known games & puzzles, and quite a few delightfully original ones, to make his philosophical points. Like other authors dealing with philosophical aspects of mathematics, Wells discusses the notion of mathematical beauty and what it means to be a mathematician. I take pleasure in highly recommending this enlightening book, which offers much more than a mere compilation of thought-provoking games & puzzles.

2021/10/17 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Saturday's birthday party for my niece: Batch 1 of photos Saturday's birthday party for my niece: Batch 2 of photos Saturday's birthday party for my niece: Batch 3 of photos
Awesome math: Diameter formulas for an arbitrary trapezoid A mathematical oddity (pi^4 + pi^5 ~ e^6): Shown in equation and geometric forms A square of side length 24 cut into four equal pieces, with the pieces then rearranged (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Saturday's birthday party for my niece. [Bottom left] Awesome math: Diameter formulas for an arbitrary trapezoid. Not surprisingly, interchanging c and d in the formula for p yields the formula for q. [Bottom center] A mathematical oddity (π^4 + π^5 ~ e^6). [Bottom right] Math puzzle: A square of side length 24 is divided into four identical pieces and the pieces are rearranged to form a larger square, with a 10 × 10 square hole in the middle. Find the lengths of all line segments in the figure.
(2) This poster board at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace provides info on the Alisal Fire: As of Friday, the fire was ~40% contained, from north and south, and was spreading east-west. It is now ~80% contained.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Proof of past life on Mars may be hidden in ancient lake/crater: Rover may find fossilized signs of alien life.
- US Navy introduces USS Santa Barbara, a fast, agile combat ship, designed to operate near shores.
- A couple of messages to men from Iranian women, for my Persian-speaking readers. [Tweet]
- Meme of the day: I want to stop philosophizing, but I Kant!
- Kurdish music: The beautiful oldie "Shirin Shirin" (9-minute video).
- Persian music: Mahmood Schricker plays the electric setar.
- Math puzzle: In how many different ways can 1225 be written as sum of 2 or more consecutive numbers?
- Amazing explanations of why the surface area of a sphere is 4 times the area of its great circle. [Video]
(4) The golden ratio φ: The number φ = (1 + √5)/2 has many interesting properties. One such property is that the (n+2)nd power of φ equals the sum of its (n+1)st and nth powers, that is, φ^(n+2) = φ^(n+1) + φ^n. In particular, the identity φ^2 = φ + 1 indicates that we can have a right triangle with side lengths 1, √φ and φ.
(5) NASA and climate change: After decades of focusing primarily on space, NASA turns its attention to our Earth and devotes a great deal of its technology and resources to dealing with climate change. Over the coming years, NASA will partner with agencies such as FEMA and, given its immense expertise in Earth observation and climate science, it will take a leading role in helping the US and the world prepare for the challenges ahead. Like the International Space Station, which has had a dedicated 24/365 mission-control center for 2.5+ decades, NASA's climate-change effort will have a non-stop coordinating command center.
(6) Book review: Thompson, Clive, Smarter than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, Penguin, 2013. [This review was written on October 15, 2014, and was posted to GoodReads on October 15, 2021, in anticipation of my upcoming review of the book Coders by the same author.]

2021/10/15 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Zoom talk about the death of Gholamreza Takhti: The champion's bust Zoom talk about the death of Gholamreza Takhti: News clip about his death Zoom talk about the death of Gholamreza Takhti: Book about his life
The group Republicans for Voting Rights has launched a billboard campaign across the US in response to calls for sham audits of the 2020 election Music by dead people still sounds pretty good! Multiple interlocked Penrose or impossible triangles (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Zoom talk about the death of Gholamreza Takhti (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Voting rights focus of Times Square billboard in NYC: The group Republicans for Voting Rights (RVR) has launched a billboard campaign across the US in response to calls for sham audits of the 2020 election. [Bottom center] Music by dead people still sounds pretty good! [Bottom right] Multiple interlocked Penrose or impossible triangles (credit: Thomas T. Burgess)
(2) "Health & Public Health Policy, Political & Social Changes (in Iran)": This is the title of Panel 1 in "Recent Developments and Changes in Iran," an outreach series of UCLA's Iranian Studies Program. [RSVP]
The Sunday, October 24, 2021, 11:30 AM PDT Persian panel will include:
Sahar Motallebi (Lund U.): "The Public Health Structure and the Management of the Corona Crisis in Iran"
Mehrzad Boroujerdi (Virginia Tech): "Assessing Iran's New President, Cabinet, and Parliament"
Mohammad Ali Kadivar (Boston College): "Contentious Politics in Iran: Recent Developments and Patterns"
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- ISIS responsible for ~50 deaths in a coordinated suicide-bombing/shooting attack at an Afghan mosque.
- PEN America honors jailed Iranian writers: Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, and Keyvan Bajan.
- The 3rd ed. of "The Global Women, Peace and Security Index 2021/22" will be launched on October 19.
- World's richest people, 1988-2020: Early on, the Japanese dominate; near the end, it's mostly Americans.
- ACM's STOC 2022 "call for papers": Authors should randomize, not alphabetize, names to avoid biases.
(4) The following upcoming free technical events may be of interest to you:
- Dr. Tevfik Bultan's 10/20, 6:30 PM, Zoom talk, "Computing, Logic, and Security." [Free registration]
- International (Virtual) Conference on Computer Design, 10/24-27. [Free registration]
(5) As time goes by, we don't realize how much we have aged: Here is a story from Iran that is claimed to be factual, but it still holds a lesson, even if made up.
I went to see a dentist. In the waiting room, I looked at his degrees and certificates, and recognized the name as that of a high-school classmate. When I went in, I saw this withered, decrepit man, and became convinced that he could not have been my classmate. Still, after the end of the exam, I asked him if he went to Harat High School. He said that he did, and told me the year of his graduation, which matched mine. He apologized for not recognizing me and asked what subject I had taught at Harat!
(6) "Global 1968, the Death of Takhti, and the Birth of the Iranian Revolution": This was the title of a Stanford University Zoom presentation on Friday 10/15 by Drs. Naghmeh Sohrabi & Arash Davari, which focused on the 1968 death of Gholamreza Takhti, Iran's beloved world-champion wrestler. Rumors that the Shah's secret police, not suicide, had caused Takhti's death led to street demonstrations that can be viewed as triggering events for further social unrest. University students, coming together around this national mourning event got their first taste of political mobilization and power, organizing themselves in the ensuing decade and solidifying their power in the lead-up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Coincidentally, 1968 was the year in which student demonstrations in France and elsewhere materialized, a few months after the Takhti protests in Iran.

2021/10/14 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Members of the just-elected UN #HumanRightsCouncil include Eritrea and UAE! Mullah wearing a hard hat on top of his turban Math puzzle: If w is defined by the top expression, what is the value of the bottom expression?
Math puzzle: In this diagram with a unit square, two half-circles, and a quarter-circle, what are the radii of the largest two blue circles? Math puzzle: In this diagram, three lengths and two angles have been specified. What is the area of the trapezoid ABCD? Math puzzle: What fraction of the quarter-circle's area is shaded? (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Members of the just-elected UN Human Rights Council: None of these countries is perfect, but charging Eritrea and UAE with safeguarding human rights? You gotta be kidding me! [Top center] Hard hat on top of turban: Just as Trump kept feeding material to US comedians, mullahs provide an endless source of humor in Iran. [Top right] Math puzzle: If w is defined by the top expression, what is the value of the bottom expression? [Bottom left] Math puzzle: Within a unit square, two half-circles, a quarter-circle, and an infinite series of blue circles are drawn as shown. Find the radii r1 and r2 of the largest and second-largest blue circles. All radii are rational numbers. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: In this diagram, three lengths and two angles have been specified. What is the area of the trapezoid ABCD? [Bottom right] Math puzzle: What fraction of the quarter-circle's area is shaded? (Credit: Diego Rattaggi)
(2) Women's place in the Islamic Republic of Iran: This is what the Iranian regime does to women who don't wear a headscarf or wear it in a way that is not sanctioned. [Video]
(3) The Iranian Taliban: Those who condemned the US and shed crocodile tears for George Floyd, pull a woman by her hair, shove her, and use a device made for trapping wild animals to arrest her for "improper" hijab. Even a murderer should not be subjected to this barbaric treatment! [Video]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Change of procedures at SCOTUS to solve the problem of female justices being constantly interrupted.
- Republicans spreading the big lie do not question the validity of the elections in which they kept their seats!
- Sepideh Qolian: Opinion piece about the 26-year-old who exposed the abuse of women in Iranian prisons.
- Kurdish dancing at a primary school in Turkey. [3-minute video]
- Can't argue with this fortune-cookie message: You are the life of the party!
(5) Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani, 96, has boasted that he feels and acts like he is 40: A Twitter user commented under a tweet about this claim that he is 32, but feels like he is 96 because of the mullahs' stupidity and devastating policies!
(6) Don't forget to compliment people (it won't cost you anything): A photographer snapped two photos of each subject, one without a prompt and another after telling him/her that s/he was beautiful. [Slide show]
(7) There are five computer scientists/technologist among the new members appointed to President Biden's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology: Eric Horvitz (Microsoft), William Dally (NVIDIA), William Press (U. Texas Austin), Phil Venables (Google Cloud), Andrea Goldsmith (Princeton U.).
(8) Women shot in Esfahan for riding bikes: The culprit was released from custody upon intervention by security forces. Esfahan is the same city where women were sprayed with acid a few years ago due to lacking "proper" hijab, and the culprits, incited by the city's Friday Prayers Leader, were never punished.
(9) Final thought for the day: "What me want to know is: What are the implications of supply-chain crisis for cookie?" ~ Cookie Monster, in New Yorker cartoon

2021/10/14 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Face mask for teachers, with a clear mouth window NYC's latest skyscraper: The 1428 feet tall, 60 feet wide, skinny skyscraper If these painted teeth begin trending, marketers of tooth-whitening products will go bankrupt!
Nobel Prize gender gap: Over the 120-year period 1901-2020, a tiny fraction of Nobel Prizes went to women The most dangerous walkway on the UCSB campus: Vehicles The most dangerous walkway on the UCSB campus: Parking lot (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Face masks for teachers: Finally, after a long delay, my order of face masks with clear mouth window arrived yesterday. [Top center] NYC's latest skyscraper (see the next item below). [Top right] If these painted teeth begin trending, marketers of tooth-whitening products will go bankrupt! [Bottom left] Nobel Prize gender gap: Over the 120-year period 1901-2020, a tiny fraction of Nobel Prizes (58 out of 876) went to women. The 2021 Prizes, all but half of one going to men, did little to narrow the gap. [Bottom center & right] The most-dangerous walkway on the UCSB campus: This walkway is shared by trucks, vans, and other vehicles, which are supposedly limited to the speed of 5 miles/hr, but they seldom observe the limit. The reason for this sharing is the Bioengineering Building being located where there are no roads to service its delivery and maintenance needs. A large building should never be sited where there are no roads.
(2) The skinny skyscraper at NYC's 111 West 57th St.: The fascinating story of a building that is 1428 feet tall (435 m, 82 stories) and only 60 feet wide, to fit on a small plot of land, with stunning views of Central Park. One complication was the new tower being surrounded by a century-old historic building with protected status. Excavation & laying down of the foundation of this engineering marvel took 2+ years. [55-minute video]
(3) Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for 2021: The Royal Swedish Academy has honored David Card (1/2; for his empirical contributions to labor economics) along with Joshua D. Angrist & Guido W. Imbens (1/4 each; for their methodological contributions to the analysis of causal relationships).
(4) Math help: YouTube channel with impressive math videos, often explaining concepts in an intuitive or enlightening way. Recently-added videos pertain to neural networks (19-minute video), essence of linear algebra (16 videos), and essence of calculus (12 videos).
(5) Persian music: The song "Yad-e Javani" ("Reminiscences of Youth"), based on a poem by the Azeri poet Mohammad-Hossein Shahriar, with the background of sights from pre-Revolution Iran. [8-minute video]
(6) Iran's architecture: This magnificent 110-room Qajar-era mansion, known as "Haj Agha Ali's House," is located near the city of Rafsanjan, in Kerman Province. [2-minute video]
(7) On treatment of women by Iran's morality police: The mullahs pay lip service to the special place of women in Islam, but in practice shove them into patrol cars & hit them as they are thrown in. And this is in plain sight. Imagine what happens behind walls in detainment centers!
Addendum: When I tweeted the video above, a reader posted these photos, claiming that Masih Alinejad is a CIA puppet, who doesn't show the "reality" of Iranian women. Here is how I replied.
"And exactly why are the faces of women in the group photo blurred, if this is normal? The truth is that Iranian women have wonderful accomplishments, DESPITE all the restrictions imposed on them by the regime (like the husband of an athlete not allowing her to travel abroad), not because of the regime's policies. It is typical of the Iranian regime and its apologists to label anyone exposing shortcomings or oppression as CIA or Mossad agent. If you want to find enemy agents, look no further than those who abuse and oppress women!"

2021/10/11 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today, the National Indigenous Peoples' Day was celebrated according to a proclamation by President Biden Monday evening's sunset at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace (four photos) Dodgers or Giants? One thing VP Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff don't agree on
Math puzzle: Find the radius of the inscribed circle in a triangle having side lengths 20, 21, and 29 Math puzzle: Finding the value of one algebraic expression, given the value of another one A very challenging Sudoku puzzle with zero given digits at the beginning (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Today, the National Indigenous Peoples' Day was celebrated according to a proclamation by President Biden. [Top center] Monday evening's sunset at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace. [Top right] One sticky source of disagreement between VP Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff. [Bottom left] Math puzzle: Find the radius of the inscribed circle in a triangle having side lengths 20, 21, 29. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Finding the value of one algebraic expression, given the value of another one. [Bottom right] A very challenging Sudoku puzzle (see the next item below).
(2) Sudoku puzzle with zero given digits at the beginning: See if you can solve this very challenging Sudoku puzzle, observing the following rules (besides those of normal Sudoku):
- The dashed dominoes have a common sum for their two entries.
- An orange dot separates entries that are either consecutive numbers or have a ratio of 2.
- Two squares separated by a chess knight's move can't contain the same number.
You can find a lot more of these tough puzzles on "Cracking the Cryptic" YouTube channel. [Solution]
(3) A US Navy engineer, who had access to restricted data about naval nuclear technology, was arrested with his wife for trying to sell the secrets to someone he thought was an agent for a foreign government.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Alisal Fire to the north of Santa Barbara grew to 3000 acres on Monday, leading to mandatory evacuations.
- Actress Geena Davis is passionate about gender & STEM, says Diversity in STEAM magazine's cover feature.
- The most-powerful economies in Europe (1960-2021): Real GDP and per-capita GDP, nicely visualized.
- An originally B&W video from Paris of 120 years ago, colorized by AI software. [1-minute video]
(5) Info I shared with my students in the graduate course ECE 257A, Fault-Tolerant (Dependable) Computing: Congressional testimony by Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen is a watershed moment in holding social-media accountable for the harm done by spreading disinformation and misinformation. Haugen also had a "60 Minutes" interview, during which her identity was revealed (she was anonymous prior to that). The Facebook case is an important development, because harm from computers (and advanced technology, more generally) comes not only from system defects/faults/errors/malfunctions, that we as engineers try to prevent or remedy, but also from greed, as well as intentional or unintentional abuse. A new book by Jessica M. Smith, Extracting Accountability: Engineers and Corporate Social Responsibility (MIT Press, 2021, open-access link), is an interesting and useful read in this regard.

2021/10/10 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Hong Kong in 1964 & now, nearly half a century later The route taken by a female falcon, as it flew 10,000 km, from South Africa to Finland Artist's rendering of Curetes Street, as it looked like in ancient Greece
Memes and a cartoon about the death penalty Cartoon about climate change: 'So we lose a few critters--What's that to ME?' Cover image of Carol Leonnig's and Philip Rucker's book, 'I Alone Can Fix It' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Hong Kong in 1964 & now, nearly half a century later. [Top center] The route taken by a female falcon, as it flew 10,000 km, from South Africa to Finland, in 42 days. It flew along an approximately straight path, except where it avoided flying over bodies of water. [Top right] Artist's rendering of Curetes Street, as it looked like in ancient Greece. [Bottom left] Let's abolish the super-cruel death penalty (see the next item below). [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: "So we lose a few critters—What's that to ME?" [Bottom right] Carol Leonnig's and Philip Rucker's book, I Alone Can Fix It (see the last item below).
(2) Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty: This medieval form of punishment has been abolished in nearly all advanced countries and in many developing countries. Arguments for death penalty come mostly from the scriptures, while those against it have scientific and legal bases. It has been established that the death penalty does not deter crime. Furthermore, the irreversible nature of executing someone and inevitable errors in the justice system provide compelling cases against it.
(3) Book review: Leonnig, Carol and Philip Rucker, I Alone Can Fix It: Donald Trump's Catastrophic Final Year, unabridged 19-hour audiobook, read by January LaVoy, Audible, 2021.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is Leonnig's and Rucker's second book on the Trump administration. The Pulitzer-Prize-winning authors have explained in media interviews that they did not anticipate writing a second book on the heels of their 2020 volume, A Very Stable Genius, because, their thinking went, that Trump had settled into the job, and, as disturbing as his behavior was, little new would emerge in 2020. However, as the last year of Trump's presidency unfolded, including his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his inciting the January 6 US Capitol riot, more than enough material emerged for another book. The titles of both books are quotes from Trump himself.
I Alone Can Fix It is a page turner: Very hard to put down, once you get started. And the audiobook's narration by January LaVoy is superb! The authors present a great deal of information on every aspect of Trump's last year in office, although they focus more on some individuals (notably, Alex Azar, Bill Barr, Mark Meadows, Stephen Miller), leaving out the details, and, as a result, going light on others, who were equally, if not more, at fault for all that went wrong (Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner). General Mark Milley is the only character emerging with his reputation intact.
We knew that Trump thrives on chaos and enjoys making his aides fight each other, so that no one is comfortable and in charge. He is, according to a senior administration official, a "guy who takes fuel, throws it on the fire, and makes you scared shitless, [and then says] I will protect you ... [much like] what Hitler did to consolidate power in 1933."
Trump's mishandling of the pandemic is clear as day, but this book fills many gaps in our knowledge about why and how his reactions were shaped. He viewed the pandemic, not as a deadly threat to Americans but as a danger to his re-election campaign. He knew, and the then Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu kept telling him, that how he dealt with the pandemic was the determining factor for his re-election chances. Still, his inability to feel and show compassion (such as visiting a hospital with COVID-19 patients to comfort them) drove him in the direction of minimizing the threat and pretending that all was under control.
Trump's actions resulted from his desire to maximize his re-election chances, leading to his favoring advice from his economic team, which warned him that restrictions and shut-down would put the economy in the dumps, with little chance of recovery by election time. He did, reluctantly, agree to lock-downs favored by his medical advisers, when he observed body-bags piling up in a hospital, but he continued to play down the danger and to assert that the problem would magically disappear.
The book's epilogue focuses on Trump's sustained assertion, months after the 2020 election, that he had actually prevailed, losing only because of fraud. He also continually attacks every Republican, including staunch allies Mike Pence, William Barr, and Mitch McConnell. He keeps insisting that the January 6 mob was "a loving crowd," consisting of 1 million supporters, an exaggeration by a factor of 10-20.
On Amazon, the book gets an average rating of 4.4 stars, but there are a surprisingly-large number of 1-star reviews, which means that 5-star reviews are dominant (n = 8000+). Like everything else in our national politics, we are hopelessly divided in assessing this book! On GoodReads, the reviews are much more consistent: Primarily 4 and 5 stars, for an average of 4.5 stars (n = 600+).

2021/10/09 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Solvang day trip Map of Solvang Solvang day trip
Solvang day trip Solvang day trip Solvang day trip
Solvang: Classic cars Solvang: Classic cars Solvang: Classic cars (1) Today's family adventure in Solvang, California, where classic and antique cars were on display. [Video]
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Abolhassan Banisadr dead at 88: The first Iranian President dies in Paris after a long illness.
- An upcoming abortion case will serve as a lie-detector test for the US Supreme Court.
- Pew Research Center: Population of US adult singles grew from 29% to 38% over the past three decades.
- Linkage-mechanism for converting binary numbers to decimal numbers. [Credit: Keishiro Ueki] [Video]
- Country-rock music: Glen Campbell's touching rendition of "I'm Not Gonna Miss You." [Video]
- Multi-talented comedian: Hilarious stand-up routine by Taylor Mason.
- NYer cartoon: "Thank goodness Facebook is back. For a few hours I had no idea where to direct my rage."
- A few royals in their painted portraits (Facebook profile pics?) vs. in real life. [Video]
(3) "The Scientific Body of Knowledge—Whose Body Does It Serve? A Spotlight on Women's Brain Health": This is the title of UCSB Library's Pacific Views Series talk by Prof. Emily Goard Jacobs (UCSB Psych./Brain Sci.) on Tue. Oct. 26, 2021, 4:00 PM PDT. The event will also be live-streamed on UCSB Library's Facebook page.
(4) Your workout burns fewer calories than you think: The bottom line is that when you think you are burning 100 calories, you burn only 72 on average. According to a new study in Current Biology, our bodies compensate for the calories we burn during workouts by expending fewer calories throughout the rest of the day.
(5) Do we really need front windows on planes? NASA's new supersonic jet does away with them, using a camera-based vision system instead, to reduce noise resulting from sonic booms.
(6) Banisadr was no hero and long-dead (alternative opinion): Much has been and is being written about the passing of Iran's first president at age 88. After being impeached and forced to flee Iran in disguise, he turned into a critic of the regime he helped install (much like Trump supporters turning against him to clear their names or make a buck). He was a party to many of the Islamic regime's crimes and oppressive policies, particularly against women and religious/ethnic minorities. [Persian Facebook post]
(7) Iran seems to be a step ahead of the US in this one respect: The entity overseeing Iranian physicians (Sazeman-e Nezam Pezeshki) has summoned to its professional court Dr. Hossein Ravazadeh, for spreading disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines and peddling unproven "natural" cures. [Letter, in Persian]

2021/10/08 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Jane Goodall graces the cover of Time magazine again Magic hexagon: This specimen, containing the numbers 2 through 128 and having the magic sum 635, was discovered by Arsen Zahray in 2006 Cover image of Jessica M. Smith's 'Extracting Accountability: Engineers and Corporate Social Responsibility'
Photo of a stack of frequently-banned books Meme: Misguided advice from a supposed psychologist/relationship-counselor Meme: If the people stand ... the game will be over (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Jane Goodall graces the cover of Time magazine again: The woman who launched her career in 1960, when she traveled to Tanzania to study chimpanzees, is now an 87-year-old environmental activist and an ambassador of hope. [Top center] Magic hexagon: This specimen, containing the numbers 2-128 and having the magic sum 635 along rows in any of the three directions, was discovered by Arsen Zahray in 2006, using simulated annealing. [Top right] Book introduction: Smith, Jessica M., Extracting Accountability: Engineers and Corporate Social Responsibility, MIT Press, 2021 (on-line open-access link). [Bottom left] Some of the greatest books of all time are among the ones that are regularly banned by schools and libraries across the globe. [Bottom center] This woman is apparently a psychologist/relationship-counselor: Amazingly, she talks about how men can "get" girls! Which century is she from? [Bottom right] Meme of the day: If the people stand ... the game will be over.
(2) The Nobel Peace Prize for 2021: The Nobel Committee honors journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov "for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace."
Maria Ressa applies freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence, and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. In 2012, she co-founded, and still heads, Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism.
Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions. In 1993, he helped found the independent newspaper Novaja Gazeta. Since 1995 he has been the newspaper's editor-in-chief.
(3) Unfinished no more: A group of musicians have used AI to finish Beethoven's 10th symphony from fragmentary sketches left of its first movement. The work will have its world premiere in Germany on October 9, 2021, nearly two centuries after the composer's death in 1827 at age 56.
(4) "Media Workshop for Scholars: Beyond the Discipline": This was the title of Wednesday's 2-hour working-lunch session conducted by Nomi Morris (UCSB Writing Program), which aimed to train scholars to think like journalists, to promote and disseminate their research results. The workshop was held at the beautiful Mosher Alumni House on the UCSB campus. A summary of key points from the workshop follows.
- We should learn to think like journalists. We are all journalists now!
- Thinking about your material: angle, packaging, newsworthiness.
- Pitching and writing the material: accessibility, eliminating jargon.
Newsworthiness has many components: impact, timeliness, proximity, prominence (related to some big news story), novelty, conflict (drama), emotions (human interest), helpfulness, risks & threats (safety), trends.
To get some practice, each participant wrote a "budget line," a pitch consisting of 1 to 3 sentences, and a press release, bringing his/her research to the attention of the news media.

2021/10/07 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: In this diagram, with 6 equal squares and 3 colored lines, what is x? My certificate of Fellowship in Asia-Pacific Artificial Intelligence Association Math puzzle: In this diagram containing a square, a semi-circle, and a line connecting a corner to the middle of one of the sides, what is the area of the blue region?
Math puzzle: The area of each of the two rectangles in this diagram is 10 units. What is the area of the red region? Math puzzle: Find the area of the colored region in this diagram, which shows the equilateral triangle ABC, its three medians, and six circular arcs Math puzzle: What is the ratio of the red area to x^2 + y^2? (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Math puzzle: In this diagram, with 6 equal squares and 3 colored lines, what is x? [Top center] My certificate of Fellowship in Asia-Pacific Artificial Intelligence Association. [Top right] Math puzzle: In this diagram containing a square, a semi-circle, and a line connecting a corner to the middle of one of the sides, what is the area of the blue region? [Bottom left] Math puzzle: The area of each of the two rectangles in this diagram is 10 units. What is the area of the red region? [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Find the area of the colored region in this diagram, which shows the equilateral triangle ABC, its three medians, and six circular arcs. [Bottom right] Math puzzle: What is the ratio of the red area to x^2 + y^2?
(2) The 2021 Nobel Prize in literature: Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, who moved to England at a young age, has been honored for his "uncompromising and passionate" portrayals of the effects of colonialism and focus on the refugee experience.
(3) The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian were honored jointly "for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch." The survival of our species is dependent on our ability to sense heat, cold, and touch. "David Julius utilized capsaicin, a pungent compound from chili peppers that induces a burning sensation, to identify a sensor in the nerve endings of the skin that responds to heat. Ardem Patapoutian used pressure-sensitive cells to discover a novel class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs."
(4) "No Time to Die": This is the title of the latest (25th) James Bond film and the last one with Daniel Craig, arguably the best James Bond ever, in the title role. The film was due in theaters last year, but its release was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems that the producers are making it more and more difficult to add to the films in this highly-successful franchise. James Bond is now long-retired and has been replaced by another 007 agent, but he is forced to return to action due to a bioterrorism threat. Usually, James Bond saves the world, but this time he is also saving the movie industry by helping it get back to blockbuster releases.
(5) A beautiful spot on the border between Iran & Iraq: Kurds from both countries as well as tourists frequent this border area, which has no wall or barbed wire, to mingle and drink tea at tiny cafes on either side.
(6) Here is a list of 102 "High Councils" in Iran, for everything from cultural revolution to humor: These are toothless entities that merely add to the crushing administrative bureaucracy, without doing anything to solve the country's many economic, social, and political problems.
(7) The death of the Concorde: Characterized by some as a marvel of engineering, the European supersonic passenger plane actually had multiple design flaws that led to a fatal crash in 2000 and its eventual retirement in 2003. [37-minute video]
(8) Diversionary narratives: A regime that has run Iran's economy into the ground and has marred the country's international standing blames external "enemies" and ancient kings for the misfortunes. [Meme]

2021/10/06 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme: Winter coats don't work. People wearing coats can still die of hypothermia Pro-life is a joke in Iran: Honor killings are religiously sanctioned Making kabob in the age of beef shortages and sky-high prices in Iran!
Math puzzle: The yellow triangle has side lengths 3, 4, and 5. What are the radii of the circles? A remarkable experssion for pi and a geometric puzzle Math puzzle: In this diagram with a square of side length 10 and a semicircle, what is the length of the blue line? (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Meme of the day: Winter coats aren't needed and don't work. Very few people die of hypothermia, and many of those who do, perish despite wearing winter coats! [Top center] Pro-life is a joke in Iran: Abortions are banned but beheading or chopping up your daughter because she has a boyfriend is religiously sanctioned. [Top right] Making kabob in the age of beef shortages and sky-high prices in Iran! [Bottom left] Math puzzle: The yellow triangle has side lengths 3, 4, and 5. What are the radii of the circles? [Bottom center] Another remarkable mathematical expressions for the number pi, and a geometric figure with some known angles and with BC = CD, in which the value of X is sought. [Bottom right] Math puzzle: In this diagram with a square of side length 10 and a semicircle, what is the length of the blue line?
(2) The 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Awarded in equal shares to Benjamin List and David W. C. MacMillan, the Prize recognizes their development of a precise new tool for molecular construction that greatly impacts pharmaceutical research and helps make chemistry more environmentally friendly. [Images]
(3) Kudos to Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen: Her command of the subject matter in yesterday's congressional testimony was impressive. The former FB data scientist outlined how Facebook knowingly exploited young children, girls in particular, on Instagram and how, by promoting hate-filled, misleading, and divisive content, it increased user engagement to maximize its profits. The hearing was reminiscent of hearings on the harms of cigarette-smoking and, true to form, Mark Zuckerberg took issue with her claims, just as tobacco executives vehemently denied their knowledge that smoking caused cancer.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A near-Earth asteroid is worth at least $11 trillion because of its precious metals.
- Presentation of the 2020 Breakthrough Prize to Alex Eskin and, posthumously, to Maryam Mirzakhani.
- Esfahan's rep in Iran's parliament: Solution to drought is resorting to Imams & reciting the rain prayer.
- Persian music: A jazzy rendition of the old song "Shaneh" ("Comb") by Pegah Sherkat and Dafan Band.
- Persian music: Zohreh Jooya's modern rendition of the old song "Simin Bari." [6-minute video]
(5) Iranian music: The late singer Mohammad Nouri explains the history of the popular Iranian song "Jom'eh Bazar" ("Friday Market"), first written in the regional Guilaki dialect and later translated to Persian.
(6) Technology transfer from Moon to Earth: Plans to connect humans on the surface of the Moon through WiFi may help us improve connectivity of ill-equipped regions of Earth.
(7) Angry White Men: This is the title of a 2013 book by Michael Kimmel, bearing the subtitle "American Masculinity at the End of an Era." The book was updated in 2017, when Donald Trump was elected president. The anger stems from women and non-whites gradually claiming the rights denied them for centuries, threatening the status of white males as the dominant group in shaping social norms. Looking at the two photos in this Facebook post, one can't help but wonder what labels would be attached to women or non-whites if they behaved in this way at a congressional hearing!
(8) Iran's new guidelines for producers of TV films: Men cannot be shown pouring tea for women and women should not eat pizza on screen. Getting weirder by the day!
(9) A final thought: Yesterday's meal prep results were six servings of pasta with meat sauce & mixed veggies, tacos (with leftovers), and mu daughter's Mexican roasted corn with cotija cheese (with leftovers). [Photo]

2021/10/05 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy IEEE Day 2021: A group of girls celebrating the day in 2019 Happy IEEE Day 2021: The event's logo Cover image of Michael Wolff's book 'Landslide'
History in pictures: Customers waiting for their turn to use a shower stall, in an Iranian public bath-house of 5 decades ago Cafe for nerds: Ca + Fe Four brothers from a musical Iranian family: Left to right, Ardeshir, Anoushiravan, Shahrdad (Shardad), and Shahriar Rohani (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Happy IEEE Day 2021! Observed on the first Tuesday in October, IEEE Day commemorates the first worldwide gathering of engineers and IEEE members in early October 1884. [Top right] Michael Wolff's Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency (see the last item below). [Bottom left] History in pictures: Customers waiting for their turn to use a shower stall, in an Iranian public bath-house of 5 decades ago. [Bottom center] Cafe for nerds. [Bottom right] Four brothers from a musical Iranian family: Left to right, Ardeshir, Anoushiravan, Shahrdad (Shardad), and Shahriar Rohani.
(2) The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics honors contributions to the understanding of complex systems: Half the Prize was awarded jointly to Syukuro Manabe & Klaus Hasselmann "for the physical modelling of Earth's climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming" and the other half to Giorgo Parisi "for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales."
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Angela Merkel saved and strengthened Europe: She showed that compromise was necessary & possible.
- Major retail chains are battling organized shoplifting rings that steal in bulk and sell their loot on-line.
- Independent commission: Hundreds of thousands of children were abused by the Catholic clergy in France.
- Hurricanes are being studied by drones, both the flying and the sailing kinds.
- Oops! At Taipei's taekwondo medals ceremony, Iran's old royal anthem is played in lieu of the current one!
(4) Question: What's special about the prime number 73,939,133?
Answer: Remove digits one by one from the right end, and each resulting number is a prime.
(5) Book review: Wolff, Michael, Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency, unabridged 11-hour audiobook, read by Holter Graham, Audible, 2021. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is Michael Wolff's third book on Trump, following Fire and Fury (2018; my review) and Siege (2019).
Given how Trump was depicted in Wolff's previous two books and his threats of suing the author, it's mind-boggling that he still gave Wolff access and sat down for an on-the-record personal interview in the lobby of Mar-a-Lago. The result is a detailed and insightful look at Trump's wrath-filled and expletive-laden final weeks in power, particularly focusing on the post-2020-election events and Trump's first days at Mar-a-Lago, after grudgingly accepting defeat.
Nearly all loyalists had abandoned Trump after his election loss, particularly in the wake of the January 6, 2021, events. He was left with Rudy Giuliani, Mark Lindell ("the Pillow Guy"), and a few other "crazies," who listened to his conspiracy yarns, regarding voting fraud & stolen election, and reinforced his sense of victimhood. His key advisors avoided him like the plague, fearing his wrath and seeing little chance of influencing his behavior.
When Wolff asked Trump about specific former allies during the final interview, Trump lashed out at most of them and brought up many other names not related to the question, as he tried to settle scores with the "disloyal" bunch, Mitch McConnel being atop the list. He similarly lashed out against his VP Mike Pence, criticizing his lack of courage and inept handling of the pandemic. Superme Court Justices, particularly Brett Kavanaugh, didn't fare any better.
For a rapidly-produced book, Landslide is surprisingly thorough, deep, and well-written, weaving a seamless and absorbing narrative from chaotic and disparate accounts supplied by those aiming to blame Trump for everything, while portraying themselves as adults in the room. Many of these sources enjoyed their proximity to power and the good graces of a populist leader for years, jumping ship only when it became clear that it was sinking.
Having read a dozen or so books on Trump, I sometimes feel that I've had enough. Yet, as each new book comes out, I have a hard time avoiding it! So, now, I'm looking forward to reading two other 2021 titles, I Alone Can Fix It (by Carol Leonnig & Philip Rucker) and Peril (by Bob Woodward & Robert Costa). Stay tuned for my reviews!

2021/10/04 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Creative painting of airplanes: Set 1 of photos Many causation theories are simply illusions: One heavy bird! Creative painting of airplanes: Set 2 of photos
At UCSB, both the Arts & Lectures and Theater/Dance programs have returned to live performances Cartoon: Biden's challenging task of herding the Democrats! live outdoors performance of Shakespeare's (1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] Creative painting of airplanes. [Top center] Many causation theories are simply illusions: Look at the super-heavy bird! [Bottom left & right] At UCSB, both the Arts & Lectures and Theater/Dance programs have returned to live performances. On Sunday afternoon, I attended a live outdoors performance of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" on UCSB's beautiful Commencement Green (1-minute video). [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: Biden's challenging task of herding the Democrats!
(2) Toxic relationships must be terminated right away: This advice applies to men as well as women, but recent events confirm that women are in much greater danger of harm from such relationships.
(3) A few one-liner mathematical puzzles from various sources.
- What is the limit of 1/(n + 1) + 1/(n + 2) + 1/(n + 3) + ... + 1/(2n), as n tends to infinity?
- Compute the approximate value of 1/1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + ... + 1/1024.
- What is the smallest power of 2 containing two consecutive zeroes in its decimal representation?
- Given that 0 < x, y < 1, find the maximum of xy(1 – xy)/[(x + y)(1 – x)(1 – y)].
- Evaluate the expression tan^2(π/16) + tan^2(2π/16) + tan^2(3π/16) + ... + tan^2(7π/16).
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Spilled oil from a Southern California off-shore platform comes ashore at Huntington Beach.
- The January 6 insurrection was worse than we knew: New York Times editorial.
- Kudos to Tunisia: The first country in the Arab world to have a woman leader. [NPR report]
- The EU-Japan space project BepiColombo to start orbiting Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, in 2025.
- New kind of glass: Inspired by sea shells, the "unbreakable" glass dents rather than shatter when hit.
- Farhang Foundation's celebration of Mehregan Iranian Festival, with Ava Choir. [4-minute video]
(5) "Language and Diaspora": This was the theme of an on-line discussion & book-reading with author Fariba Sedighim, whose books reflect not only the experience of writing in exile, but also the challenges faced by women and religious minorities in Iran and abroad. [Cover images of two books by Fariba Sedighim]
[Full recording of the 124-minute session: Video]
(6) Hate speech enriches social-media platforms: Facebook has known from its own internal research that angry, polarizing, divisive content is more likely to keep users engaged. [14-minute CBS News report]
(7) Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp went down today: Facebook's week, already in a bad state due to a whistleblower's revelations on CBS News last night, became worse by a worldwide disruption of service.
(8) Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacuring Co.: If you haven't heard of TSMC, you should learn about this biggest player in world tech. The $550 billion company controls more than half the global market for made-to-order chips, with clients including Apple, Intel, Qualcomm, AMD, and Nvidia.
(9) Pandora papers: In what is being described as the biggest-ever leak of offshore financial secrets, a large number of powerful individuals, including King Abdullah of Jordan and Vladimir Putin of Russia, have been exposed for inappropriately channeling money abroad.

2021/10/02 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today at Women's March Santa Barbara, rallying to safeguard reproductive rights: Set 1 of photos Today at Women's March Santa Barbara, rallying to safeguard reproductive rights: Photos from the Web Today at Women's March Santa Barbara, rallying to safeguard reproductive rights: Set 2 of photos
Walking on Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf: Performers Walking on Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf: Misc. sights Walking on Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf: Shops (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Today at Women's March Santa Barbara, rallying to safeguard reproductive rights (1-minute video). One sign said, half-jokingly, "If you cut off my reproductive rights, I'll cut off yours." [Bottom row] Performers and businesses on Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf, on a beautiful October afternoon.
(2) The n queens problem solved after 150+ years: It is possible to place 8 queens on a standard 8-by-8 chessboard so that they do not threaten each other. Furthermore, we can do this in 92 different ways, falling under 12 distinct patterns, considering symmetry and reflection. The number of solutions to the general problem of placing n queens on an n-by-n chessboard had remained a mystery for over 150 years, even though we knew that the problem has solutions for all n, with the exception of n = 2, 3. It has now been determined that the approximate number of different solutions for a very large n-by-n chess board is (0.143 n)^n.
(3) Joke of the day: When God created the chicken and gave it wings, the chicken asked the Creator whether it should fly. The response was: "Don't be silly! Your wings are intended as finger food, not for flight."
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The number of American lives lost to COVID-19 surpasses 700,000.
- Facebook knew about, but hid, the mental health effects of Instagram on teens.
- It was bound to happen, sooner or later: Ransomware attack at hospital may have led to a baby's death.
- Amazing 3D drawings. [2-minute video]
- An interesting observation: up | turned upside-down | is | dn
- We all need to brush up on our social skills as we return to work and social gatherings. [Image]
(5) Facebook memory from October 2, 2018: This year's IEEE Day celebration is on Tuesday, October 5, but today is the 33rd anniversary of my arrival in California and at UCSB. [Facebook post]
(6) Former FM Javad Zarif has written a 6-volume book on Iran's nuclear deal: I for one have no interest in this two-faced creature's attempt to absolve himself of all the regime's crimes. I remember him emphatically denying the existence of any political prisoners in Iran and dismissing as rumors the denial of educational opportunities to Bahais. Now, part of his attempt at rehabilitation is the claim that he was essentially forced to lie due to heavy outside pressure and his unwillingness to cause the Islamic regime's downfall.
(7) My response to a Facebook friend complaining about the "dictatorial" mask and vaccine mandates: You are completely free not to obtain a driver's license, but then you won't be allowed to drive on the road, because doing so will endanger other people's safety. Masks and vaccines are of the same nature. If you stay at home and don't interact with others, no one will force you to wear a mask or get vaccinated.
(8) My response to another Facebook friend making fun of plexiglass shields in supermarkets, given that the cashier touches all the items scanned: It's not all about protecting you. That poor cashier, who is likely required by his/her employer to be vaccinated, comes in contact with hundreds of people during the day, many among them not vaccinated or even tested.

2021/10/01 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
CRML 2021 Summit talk on human-compatible AI: Slide set 1 CRML 2021 Summit talk on human-compatible AI: Book cover image CRML 2021 Summit talk on human-compatible AI: Slide set 2
Mini-pizzas (3 different kinds) and salad for last night's dinner: Photo 1 An expression for pi and an eerily accurate approximation for e Mini-pizzas (3 different kinds) and salad for last night's dinner: Photo 2 (1) Images of the day: [Top row] CRML 2021 Summit talk on human-compatible AI (see the next item below). [Bottom left & right] Mini-pizzas (3 different kinds) and salad for last night's dinner. [Bottom center] A formula for π discovered by Giulio Fagnano in 1750 and an expression, formed from one occurrence of each of the digits 1-9, which is claimed to yield the first 18 trillion trillion digits of Euler's number e ~ 2.71828.
(2) "Human-Compatible AI": This was the opening talk of today's 2021 Summit of UCSB Center for Responsible Machine Learning. The thesis of Professor Stuart Russell (UC Berkeley; author of influential books on AI) was that we shouldn't have to do AI research while wearing an ethics armor. Instead, we should modify the definition of AI so that the benefits to humans are front and center.
My question: How does AI ethics interact with system reliability? If we don't design AI systems to be fault-tolerant, the occurrence of hardware or software faults may invalidate the assumptions under which the system was deemed to be beneficial.
Answer: This is valid point. Unfortunately, strong emphasis on reliability and correctness of computer-based systems is lacking in the US. Europeans spend much more effort in this area.
From the Internet: Westminster Abbey Institute Dialog—Have the Machines Taken Over? [70-minute video]
Event's recording: The Summit's YouTube streaming video (talks and a panel session).
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi appointed as the Inaugural Director of UNC Chapel Hill's Persian Studies Program.
- A wake-up call: Google time-lapse videos show how much the Earth has changed since 1984.
- Bones of two new dinosaur species with crocodile-like heads unearthed in England's Isle of Wight.
- Misunderstanding: It looks like dancing, but it's something totally different! [1-minute video]
- It's pomegranate season: Persian folk song celebrating the arrival of pomegranates! [2-minute video]
- Spanish/Persian music: A beautiful jazzy Spanish song, later covered in Iran with Guilaki and Persian lyrics.
- Iranian music: The all-women Mozhan Band performs a regional folk song. [3-minute video]
- Persian poetry: Afghan man Najibullah Alizadeh recites poems about being fond of the Persian culture.
(4) The Moon is leaving us: Don't worry too much, though, as it is moving away from us at a super-slow pace of 1.5 inches (~4 cm) per year. But this tiny change does add up over billions of years. When the Moon was formed 4.5 billion years ago, it was 10 times closer to Earth than it is today.
(5) "Dollar Tree Plus": This is the name of a section in some Dollar Tree stores featuring costlier items. With inflation showing its ugly head, in part due rising transportation costs, get ready for $1.25 or even $2 stores!
(6) Highly-decorated Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami under fire: Kiarostami's film, "Zaloo" ("Parasite"; 2002, released in 2021), is about the director interrogating and shaming his own son about why he is failing at school. This 9-minute sample scene is quite difficult to watch, as it amounts to child abuse and psychological torture. I am very disappointed with Kiarostami and don't understand why he released this confessional film. The preview doesn't show any physical violence, but the son has bruises that may have resulted from slapping. Abusing women and children is sanctioned by Iran's Islamic regime, which may have given Kiarostami the license to publicly screen and boast about his child abuse.

2021/09/29 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The birthplace of the AC electrical grid: Folsom, California Cartoon: Nothing scares the Taliban and other stone-age 'conservatives' more than educated women Customized Volkswagen Beatle limo models from the 1970s
Meme: The left is morally right; the extreme right is morally bankrupt Cover image of Virginie Despentes's book, 'King Kong Theory' Cover image of the Octover 2021 issue of 'Communications of the ACM' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The birthplace of the AC electrical grid: Long-distance transmission of alternating-current electricity was first accomplished in 1895 by the power-generation facility in Folsom, CA. Earlier, electricity distribution was a short-range business, driven by nearby direct-current (DC) generators. [Top center] Cartoon of the day: Nothing scares the Taliban and other stone-age "conservatives" more than educated women. [Top right] Volkswagen Beatle limo models from the 1970s. [Bottom left] Meme of the day: The left is morally right; the extreme right is morally bankrupt. [Bottom center] Virginie Despentes's book, King Kong Theory (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Human detection of machine-manipulated media: Given the proliferation of fake images and other digital media, the cover feature of the October 2021 issue of Communications of the ACM is quite timely.
(2) Today's noon concert: Las Cafeteras played at UCSB's Storke Plaza. [Video 1] [Video 2] I had take-out lunch to eat at the concert. My fortune cookie said: "You see beauty where others only see ordinary."
(3) Book review: Despentes, Virginie (translated from the French original by Frank Wynne), King Kong Theory, FSG Originals, 2021. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Despentes was meant to write, even though she got to writing in a roundabout way. This autobiographical feminist manifesto, originally published in 2006, has received rave reviews. There is no preface or introduction: The author jumps right in with a chapter entitled "Bad Lieutenants," where we read on pp. 4-5:
"I wouldn't write what I write if I was beautiful, beautiful enough to turn the head of every man I met. ... When I was unemployed, I didn't feel shame at being excluded. All I felt was rage. It's the same when it comes to being a woman: I don't feel remotely ashamed at not being some superhot babe. What I do feel, on the other hand, is fucking furious that as a woman that men don't really find attractive, I'm constantly made to feel that I shouldn't even exist. ... As women go, I'm more King Kong than Kate Moss. I'm the sort of woman you don't marry. You don't have kids with; I speak as a woman who is always too much of everything she is: too aggressive, too loud, too fat, too brutish, too hairy, always too mannish, so they tell me. But it's precisely my masculine qualities that mean I'm more than just another social outcast."
This hard-hitting and open writing style continues throughout the book, with chapters separated by quotations from the likes of Virginia Woolf, Angela Davis, and Simone de Beauvoir. Despentes tell us about her encounter with rape, life as a sex worker, her opinion of porn (if you find porn disgusting, then go make better porn), being under constant attack as a public figure, and the societal expectation of women to remain silent, even when assaulted.
The author's manifesto is best summarized by Simon de Beauvoir, in a quotation appearing on p. 103: "[T]he 'true woman' is an artificial product that civilization makes, as formerly eunuchs were made. Her presumed 'instincts' for coquetry, docility, are indoctrinated, as is phallic pride in man. Man, as a matter of fact, does not always accept his virile vocation; and woman has good reasons for accepting with even less docility the one assigned to her."
At 160 pages, the book is light, but definitely not lightweight! It draws the reader in, so that I finished it in just two sittings. Overall, I consider the book a valuable addition to feminist writings. It's not an easy book to read, as the sarcastic and bickering tone can become demoralizing. So, pick it up if you feel you can handle graphic language and discussion of difficult subjects. Wynne's translation is wonderful, to the extent that one does not notice that the book was written in a different language.
I can't end my review without mentioning one of the book's flaws. It contains generalized statements (say, about men) that Despentes purportedly despises in other contexts. Whether this flaw comes from the original writing or is an artifact of the English translation is unknown to me.

2021/09/27 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today, on UCSB campus, near the University Center Meme: A smart person with an obese dad wouldn't have knocked another obese person! Cover image of Douglas Hofstadter's magnum opus, 'Godel, Escher, Bach' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Today, on UCSB campus, near the University Center (see the next item below). [Center] Meme of the day: A smart person with an obese dad wouldn't have knocked another obese person! [Right] Douglas Hofstadter's magnum opus, Godel, Escher, Bach (see the last item below).
(2) My first in-person class after 1.5 years: The campus was buzzing with students today, when I had my first fall-quarter class session. My students were just as happy to see me as I was to be face-to-face with them. I am using the inverted-classroom model, with students watching recorded lectures ahead of time and bringing their questions to class. I also prepare thought-provoking topics for in-class discussion.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- VC of January-6 Commission Liz Chaney talks with CBS News "60 Minutes" program. [14-minute video]
- Iranian human-rights activist Narges Mohammadi has been sentenced to 2.5 years in prison & 80 lashes.
- Specialty developed & advertised in this digital age: Make-up tricks to throw off facial-recognition software!
- Former President Obama gives President Biden's domestic agenda a boost by asserting that we can affort it.
(4) Book review: Hofstadter, Douglas R., Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Basic Books, 1979.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Winner of a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, Godel, Escher, Bach (GEB) is one of those rare treats that come along once every few decades. I first read the book in the early 1980s and have gone back to it a couple of other times before. This time I decided to help introduce Hofstadter's magnum opus to a new generation of potential readers, particularly students of computer science and engineering, by writing a detailed review. The book's title seems to suggest that it is about relationships among mathematics, art, and music, but Hofstadter himself has clarified that its primary focus is on how cognition emerges from hidden neurological mechanisms.
After an introduction entitled "A Musico-Logical Offering," we encounter the interesting "MU Puzzle" early in Chapter 1. The puzzle contemplates strings formed from the three letters M, I, and U. You form a set of strings, beginning with the single string MI and adding more according to the following four rules, until you have the string MU in the set. In the following, the symbols x and y stand for arbitrary strings in the alphabet {M, I, U}.
Rule 1: If you have xI in your set, you can add xIU.
Rule 2: If you have Mx in the set, you can add Mxx.
Rule 3: If you have xIIIy in the set, you can add xUy.
Rule 4: If you have xUUy in the set, you can add xy.
The puzzle can be viewed as a formal system that has a single "axiom" MI and an infinite set of "theorems" that can be derived from the axiom by means of the four rewriting rules. The puzzle essentially asks you if MU is a theorem in this system.
From this auspicious beginning, Hofstadter never lets up. Stimulating ideas abound in this densely-packed tome, so, in what follows, I briefly discuss each of the three names appearing in the book's title.
Godel's incompleteness theorem, one of the deepest results in mathematics, is, of course, essential to the book's message. Using a formal language invented by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, Kurt Godel proved in 1931 that any formal system leads to unresolvable contradictions. Take, for example, the statement "This sentence is false." If the sentence is true, then it is false, and if it is false, it is true. The contradiction here can be attributed to imprecisions inherent in natural languages, but Godel overcame this objection by building a similarly puzzling contradiction within a precisely-defined formal system. Godel's incompleteness result is a consequence of a self-referencing property, which, in the context of the highly-complex human mind, is not only unproblematic, but in fact leads to consciousness.
The book's early chapters are sprinkled with interesting drawings by M. C. Escher to make various points, such as the distinction between figure and (back)ground, a source of many optical illusions, and visualization of a strange loop, which climbs through several layers, but somehow ends up where it started. An example of the latter includes the image of two hands, each one drawing the other, leaving the viewer unable to decide which one is the primary layer. Similarly befuddling is Escher's image of water from the bottom of a waterfall going downhill to reach the top of the waterfall, or monks climbing a set of stairs around a quadrangle and, magically, returning to the first stair after climbing four staircases, as illustrated in this 1-minute video.
Strange loops also appear in sound, as evident in Bach's compositions. The illusion known as "Shepard tone" consists of notes that seem to get higher and higher in pitch, without ever going beyond audible frequencies, as illustrated in this video. In such a sound loop, frequencies are chosen to give an illusion of the pitch continually climbing. Bach seems to have hit upon the idea of using algorithms in his "The Musical Offering" to turn a simple theme into complex music. Bach's music thus provides not just an illustration of Hofstadter's strange-loop idea, but also an interesting link to algorithmic composition of music in a way that audiences cannot tell whether it is the work of a human composer or an AI composition system.
[MIT Open Courseware contains a series of six free lectures on GEB]
[GEB is available in PDF format for free download]
[Some useful links related to GEB can be found on this Web page]

2021/09/26 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
See how nations rise and fall: Dubai and Kabul airports, sixty years ago! Cartoon: How to lose nearly all of your weight! It's 'pie,' not 'pi': New mathematical discovery about the number pi!
Santa Barbara Planned Parenthood used-book sale: My daughter and I caught the last day of the week-long sale Math puzzle: In a triangle, each of the sides is divided into four equal parts and lines drawn as shown in the diagram. What is the ratio of areas of the two triangles? History in pictures: The year is 1965. The place is near the intersection of Istanbul and Lalehzar streets in Tehran (1) Images of the day: [Top left] This is how nations rise and fall: Dubai and Kabul airports, sixty years ago! [Top center] Cartoon of the day: How to lose nearly all of your weight! [Top right] It's "pie," not "pi": New mathematical discovery about the number pi! [Bottom left] Santa Barbara Planned Parenthood used-book sale: My daughter and I caught the last day of the week-long sale, when books were marked down by 50% and you could fill a large paper shopping bag for $10. Here are the contents of my bag. I am always amazed at how well these giant events are organized. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: In a triangle, each of the sides is divided into four equal parts and lines drawn as shown in the diagram. What is the ratio of areas of triangles ABC and DEF? [Bottom right] History in pictures: The year is 1965. The place is near the intersection of Istanbul and Lalehzar streets in Tehran. The street vendor sells books by weight, at 100 rials per kg (~ $0.60 per lb).
(2) "Does This Show Make Me Look Fat?" A couple of days ago, I watched this informative Semel Institute program, in which comedian Kathy Ladman talked about her lifelong struggle with eating disorders. [Video]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Amtrak train traveling from Chicago to Seattle derails in Montana, killing 3 and injuring several others.
- Santa Barbara hematologist/oncologist is seeking a religious exemption for COVID-19 vaccination.
- Quote: "I like Republican presidents who win re-election." ~ Liz Cheney, needling Trump for bashing Bush
- Distribution of assets comprising the net worth at different tiers, from $10,000 to $1 billion. [Chart]
- Some key physical concepts, with equations and illustrations. [Image]
- Iranian women's national soccer team qualifies for the Asian Cup tournament for the first time ever.
- Iranian man, advising a woman that she shouldn't sing in public, gets an earful from the crowd. [Video]
- My foray into healthy eating: Tray of vegetables, before going into the broiler. [Photo]
(4) Trustworthy AI: This is the title of an article in the October 2021 issue of Communications of the ACM, which offers the following three key insights:
- Traditional dependability attributes of reliability, security, privacy, and usability must be augmented with probabilistic accuracy under uncertainty, fairness, robustness, accountability, and explainability.
- Formal methods can help ensure the trustworthiness of AI systems.
- The probabilistic and data-based nature of AI systems raise the bar on formal methods.
(5) Mathematical curiosity: The number 376 is automorphic, meaning that its square ends in the same digits as the number itself. But it is much more!
376^2 = 141,376     376^3 = 53,157,376     376^4 = 19,987,173,376
(6) Another mathematical curiosity: Consider the infinite sum 1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + ...
Here is one way to evaluate the sum: (1 – 1) + (1 – 1) + (1 – 1) + (1 – 1) + ... = 0
Here is another way: 1 – (1 – 1) – (1 – 1) – (1 – 1) – ... = 1
A third way, using the identity 1 + x + x^2 + x^3 + ... = 1/(1 – x), with x = –1, leads to 1/2.
Which of the three results is correct?
(7) Finally, a point of agreement between Democrats and Donald Trump: Having Stacey Abrams as governor of Georgia would be 'better' than current GOP Governor Brian Kemp. Of course, Trump said this because he despises Kemp, but still, he should be applauded for speaking the truth once!

2021/09/25 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: What is the area of the blue square within a regular hexagon of side length 2? Two math puzzles involving equilateral triangles Math puzzle: What is the area of the blue region between the two circles
Puzzle involving two half-circles within a larger circle, and a tangent line Humor: A sobering mathematical identity! Math puzzle involving two squares and a number of connecting lines (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Math puzzle: What is the area of the blue square within a regular hexagon of side length 2? [Top center] Two math puzzles: What is the side length of the equilateral triangle at the top? What is the ratio a/b of the lengths of the two green line segments in the image involving three equilateral triangles? [Top right] Math puzzle: What is the area of the blue region between the two circles, if the line shown is divided into three equal segments of length a? [Bottom left] Math puzzle: Two half-circles that are tangent to each other at point P are drawn within a larger circle, as shown, and the line tangent to both half-circles at P is drawn to intersect the outer circle. Show that Dd = 2mn (credit: @Math26039335). [Bottom center] Humor: A sobering mathematical identity! [Bottom right] Math puzzle: In this diagram, containing two squares and a number of connecting lines, the lengths of AM and GN are 4 and 9, respectively. What is the length of AG?
(2) Iran's Islamic regime continues its brutal treatment of women activists protesting torture and other human-rights violations: Sepideh Qoliyan, intermittently imprisoned in the past, is summoned to court for "propaganda against the regime." Why exactly is propaganda against a regime that deems itself democratic a crime?
(3) Kayleigh McEnany slams the sharp rise in US murder rate under Biden: Then, she realizes Biden wasn't president in 2020 and deletes her tweet; no correction, no apology!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Nature's wrath: Fast-moving lava from La Palma volcano in Spain led to the evacuation of 6000+ people.
- Average surface temperature in the bodies of our Solar System. [NASA diagram]
- Stand-up comedian Kellen Erskine is pretty funny: He has the deadpan style of Steven Wright. [Video]
- K-Von's stand-up comedy routine: Pretty funny, especially near the end, where he kids his family. [Video]
- Feta cheese and fig jam, on Costco artisan bread: An unbeatable combination for breakfast. [Photo]
(5) "Bacha posh": "Bacha" (boy) is a variant of the Persian "bach'eh" (child). "Posh" is from the Persian "poosh" (wearing, clothed). The term "bacha posh" is used in Afghanistan to refer to a girl who is dressed up as a boy. This custom is followed by some families, usually those who have only female children, to claim the social status coming from having male children and to allow the cross-dressed girl to work to boost the family income. The full reasons, the logistics, and the impact of the practice on the girls so dressed, in one of the most-backward culutres of the world, are rather complicated. [Photo] [Info from Jenny Nordberg's 2014 book, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan; my review is forthcoming.]

2021/09/23 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The beauty of symmetrical designs and color schemes in Iranian architectural tilings: Photo #1 Cartoon: The Iranian regime is impotent against brave Iranian women who are fearless in demanding their rights! The beauty of symmetrical designs and color schemes in Iranian architectural tilings: Photo #2
A garage in Old Town Goleta, with a few old/antique cars Cover image for Clifford Pickover's 'A Passion for Mathematics' Split-level sidewalk in Old Town Goleta, with levels abruptly ending or merging in places, and obstacles presenting hazards even for sighted pedestrians (1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] The beauty of symmetrical designs and color schemes in Iranian architectural tilings. [Top center] The Iranian regime is impotent against brave Iranian women who are fearless in demanding their rights! [Bottom left] As I was walking around in Old Town Goleta this morning, waiting for my car to be serviced, I came across a garage with a few old/antique cars. [Bottom center] Clifford Pickover's wonderful book, A Passion for Mathematics (see the last item below). [Bottom right] How does the City of Goleta get away with this? Split-level sidewalk in Old Town Goleta, with levels abruptly ending or merging in places, and obstacles, such as this traffic-light pole, presenting hazards even for sighted pedestrians.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Very proud of UCSB students for their 98% vaccination rate. The latest figure for faculty & staff is ~85%.
- UCSB's Dr. Leah Stokes testifies as an expert witness at congressional hearing on building electrification.
- An ancient biblical city in the Jordan Valley (possibly Sodom) was destroyed by cosmic impact.
- Iran's top nuclear scientist was assassinated last November by a remotely-controlled killer robot.
- Sickening: Seven-year-old Iranian girls must cover their hair to protect grown men against being aroused!
- Persian music: "Blue as the Turquoise Night of Neyshabur," by Kayhan Kalhor. [3-minute video]
- Where most UCSB students come from. [California map, from Daily Nexus, Sep. 23, 2021]
- Distribution of UCSB's ~4000 int'l students by country. [World map, from Daily Nexus, Sep. 23, 2021]
- Today's concert at UCSB's Stork Plaza, by the wonderful La Santa Cecilia. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]
(3) Book review: Pickover, Clifford, A Passion for Mathematics: Numbers, Puzzles, Madness, Religion, and the Quest for Reality, Wiley, 2005. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
[I read and reviewed this book a long time ago. I am posting this review in September 2021, having just finished reading another one of Pickover's many publications, The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics (Sterling, 2009); review forthcoming.]
Following an introductory chapter discussing mathematical marvels from beyond the edge, The Ramanujan code, blood dreams and God's mathematicians, the mathematical smorgasbord, explanation of symbols, and cultivating perpetual mystery, the material is organized into the following seven chapters:
Chapter 1. Numbers, History, Society, and People
Chapter 2. Cool Numbers
Chapter 3. Algebra, Percentages, Weird Puzzles, Marvelous Mathematical Manipulation
Chapter 4. Geometry, Games, and Beyond
Chapter 5. Probability: Take Your Chances
Chapter 6. Bing Numbers and Infinity
Chapter 7. Mathematics and Beauty
The book's pages are formatted like a magazine, with "stories," ranging in length from a few lines to about half a page, introducing various people/concepts. Some entries are questions, whose answers appear in the section "Answers and Further Exploring" at the end of the book.
Let me end my review with brief versions of five representative stories, as examples of form and content.
The Number Pope: Gerbert of Aurillac (ca. 946-1003), elected Pope Sylvester II in 999, was fascinated by math, replaced Roman numerals by Arabic numerals, and was viewed by his detractors as an evil magician.
Progress in Mathematics: "In most sciences, one generation tears down what another has built and what one has established another undoes. In mathematics alone, each generation adds a new story to the old structure." ~ Herman Hankel [1839-1873]
First Female Doctorate in Math: Who was the first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics, and in what century did she receive it? [Answer: Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850-1891), who made valuable contributions to the theory of differential equations.]
The Special Number 7: In ancient days, the number 7 was thought of as just another way to signify "many." Even in recent times, there have been tribes that used no numbers higher than 7. In the 1880s, the German ethnologist Karl von Steinen described how certain South American Indian tribes had very few words for numbers. As a test, he repeatedly asked them to count ten grains of corn. They counted "slowly but correctly to six, but when it came to the seventh grain and the eighth, they grew tense and uneasy, at first yawning and complaining of a headache, then finally avoided the question altogether or simply walked off." Perhaps seven means "many" om such common phrases as "seven seas" and "seven deadly sins."
Anamnesis and the Number 216: During Pythagoras's time, most philosophers believed that only men could be happy. Pythagoras believed that plants, animals, and women could also be happy, and that he himself had been both a plant and an animal in past lives, with 216 = 6^3 years between his successive incarnations.

2021/09/22 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Images from Time magazine's special issue on the world's 100 most-influential people Summer is over and autumn is here, along with the new academic year. Hoping that readjustment to in-person (or, as some call it, 3D) teaching goes smoothly! For feta-cheese lovers in the US: Costco now offers Kirkland-brand organic Greek feta in 800-gram packages (1) Images of the day: [Left] Time magazine's special issue on the world's 100 most-influential people is out. The list includes the expected politicians: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Donald Trump, and Xi Jinping, but also Joe Manchin and Iran's Ebrahim Raisi! Among "icons," I was pleased to see Nasrin Sotoudeh. In the arts, most of the selections were unknown to me. [Center] Well, all good things must come to an end: Summer is over and autumn is here, along with the new academic year. Hoping that readjustment to in-person (or, as some call it, 3D) teaching goes smoothly! [Right] For feta-cheese lovers in the US: Costco now offers Kirkland-brand organic Greek feta in 800-gram packages. The taste is pretty good, in my opinion, but then people tend to disagree on the best feta cheese! I placed the four slices within the package in small deli containers for freezing.
(2) British innovator Clive Sinclair dead at 81: He had a hand in many products and industries, including home computers and personal electric transports.
(3) Disinformation 101: Iranian state-controlled media launch a coordinated campaign to blame delayed vaccinations and the resulting deaths on the Rouhani government, rather than on Khamenei's explicit order against importing vaccines from the West.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump lawyer's full memo: A step-by-step plan to overturn the 2020 election with help from Mike Pence.
- California woman arrested for running a student-debt-relief scam and pocketing $6 million.
- Visualizing the air flow field around the front landing gear of a Bowing 777. [Video]
- Superstition in the 21st century: Some couples time pregnancies to avoid undesirable zodiac signs!
- "Governance Deadlock and Economic Crisis in Iran": Paper by Pooya Azadi (part of Iran 2040 Project).
- Staffers chase an inflatable moon that rolled away from a moon festival in Henan Province, China!
(5) Is there a "Moore's Law" for algorithms? MIT researchers reviewed 57 textbooks and over 1110 research papers to chart algorithms' historical evolution. They covered 113 algorithm families, sets of algorithms solving the same problem highlighted by textbooks as paramount; the team traced each family's history, tracking each time a new algorithm was proposed. Forty-three percent of algorithm families dealing with large computing problems saw year-on-year gains equal to or larger than Moore's-Law-dictated improvements, while in 14% of problems, algorithmic performance improvements overtook hardware-related speed-ups.
(6) FLOTUS Dr. Jill Biden returns to the classroom at Northern Virginia Community College: Community college leaders are thrilled to have such a high-profile advocate for their institutions.
(7) Advances in reservoir computing: Reservoir computing is a generalization of earlier neural-networks that uses recursive connections to create complex dynamical systems suited to the solution of a variety of problems, including natural-language processing. Now, the method that was already much faster than conventional hardware-software systems has been improved to use fewer resources and offer an additional speed-up of between 33 and one million.
(8) "Quantum Computing Architectures": Interview (57-min podcast) with Dr. Fred Chong, Seymour Goodman Professor of CS at U. Chicago and Chief Scientist of SuperTech, a quantum software startup.
(9) Will we have laser ovens in our kitchens? Columbia engineers have been working on using lasers for cooking, and 3D-printing technology for assembling, foods, giving us digital personal chefs.

2021/09/21 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy International Peace Day: Not much to celebrate at the moment, but let's hope for better days ahead! To upgrade or not to upgrade: Temptation in the Garden of E-Waste (cartoon about Apple iPhone-13 Ten years' worth of photos capturing the Moon's 48 different colors
Afghan boy holds a sign that reads: I won't go to school without my sister. I support my sister Bagher Abad Castle (Yazd, Iran): Built around 245 years ago, the restored castle is now a tourist lodge, under the name Ariz Ecocastle Cover image of Sean Carroll's 'From Eternity to Here' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy International Peace Day: Not much to celebrate at the moment, but let's hope for better days ahead! [Top center] To upgrade or not to upgrade: Temptation in the Garden of E-Waste. [Top right] In honor of tonight's Harvest Moon, here are 10 years' worth of photos capturing the Moon's 48 different colors. [Bottom left] Afghan boy holds a sign that reads: I won't go to school without my sister. I support my sister. #WeAreAllEqual [Bottom center] Bagher Abad Castle (Yazd, Iran): Built around 245 years ago, the restored castle is now a tourist lodge, under the name Ariz Ecocastle. [Bottom right] Sean Carroll's From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time (see the last item below).
(2) Open-source app helps Iranians hide text messages within image files: The Nahoft (Persian word for "hidden") Android app can encrypt up to 1000 characters of Persian text into random word strings.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Okay, now it's the left's fault that Trump voters aren't taking the COVID-19 vaccine! [Breitbart News]
- Winning against China 3-1 & against all other opponents 3-0, Iran becomes Asia's volleyball champion.
- Humor: A couple of new sources of information on COVID-19 and other diseases. [Images]
- A couple at Woodstock Music Festival (1969) and the same couple 50 years later. [Photos]
- Musical prodigy: Eleven-year-old Taiwanese boy plays his own composition on the ukulele.
- Facebook memory from September 21, 2011: A beautiful Persian poem from Sheikh Baha'i.
(4) Book review: Carroll, Sean, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, unabridged 16-hour audiobook, read by Erik Synnestvedt, Tantor Audio, 2014.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I have previously read and reviewed two books by theoretical physicist Sean Carroll, giving each 5 stars.
- The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (2016) [Review]
- A Series of Fortunate Events: Chance and the Making of the Planet, Life, and You (2020) [Review]
I have also read and reviewed several other books dealing with the theories of time, although Carroll's From Eternity to Here is quite a bit more detailed and comprehensive.
- The Order of Time (by Carlo Rovelli, 2018) [Review]
- Your Brain is a Time Machine: The Neuroscience and Physics of Time (by Dean Buonomano, 2018) [Review]
- Time's Arrows: Scientific Attitudes Toward Time (by Richard Morris, 1986) [Review]
Understanding time is a centuries-old problem tackled by scientists and philosophers. A main question is whether time is an integral part of the universe or just a convenient tool for studying laws of nature. There has been some progress, but many of the arguments supporting this or that theory seem circular at best. Given the unresolved status of the nature of time, writing and reading even more books on the topic is warranted, with each author providing valuable insights and viewpoints that shed light on some aspect of this important and challenging problem.
Time is often described as the fourth dimension, but with the proviso that it is different from the other three dimensions. If we could move along the time dimension as we do along the other three dimensions, all points in spacetime (the name given to the four-dimensional space) would be accessible to us. We could travel forward or backward in time, just as easily as we can move along the positive or negative X, Y, or Z axes. The fact that certain natural processes are irreversible (or, at least, extremely difficult or unlikely to reverse), along with the notion of entropy, gives time a "direction," the so-called "arrow of time."
Another difference between time and the other three dimensions is that time is generally thought to have a beginning, named "The Big Bang," whereas x, y, and z extend to infinity in both directions (there are theories, though, in which time has no beginning). The universe moves from lower-entropy states toward higher-entropy ones. We have all heard about the second law of thermodynamics, which implies that the universe continually moves from order (low entropy) to disorder (high entropy). Carroll probes the notion of entropy by presenting its various (equivalent) definitions and discussing the question of whether there is a highest entropy that the universe can reach.
If one accepts determinism, the doctrine that the future state of the universe, including everything about us human beings, is completely determined by its present state and laws of physics, then time-travel presents no paradoxes or inconsistencies. Every time you go to a particular point in spacetime, the exact same events occur. You cannot disrupt the present by the proverbial killing of your grandfather while traveling to the past. Free will, on the other hand, appears to be in conflict with the possibility of time travel. There are many more layers of complexity to the question of time-travel.
As you read the book, you will probably nod in agreement with the various facets of time that it explains. But, at least for me, this agreement does not mean that I can explain the notions to others! In the words of Saint Augustine: "What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know." If you have to read just one book about the nature of time, and how it interacts with physical theories, this book is it.

2021/09/19 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Visual proof of the infinite sum 1/4 + 1/16 + 1/64 + 1/256 + 1/1024 + ... = 1/3 Two interesting prime numbers Four math puzzles involving angles between lines within a cube
UCSB's move-in weekend, as seen during my afternoon walk at a dorm complex near where I live Cover image of Eric Schlosser's 'Fast Food Nation' A few entries by Iranian children in JQA 21st International Environmental Children's Drawing Context (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Visual proof of an infinite sum, said to have been known 2200+ years ago. Each of the three equal gray, black, and white areas within the 1 × 1 square represents the sum: 1/4 + 1/16 + 1/64 + 1/256 + 1/1024 + ... = 1/3 [Top center] Two interesting prime numbers. The first one's decimal representation begins & ends with 1, has 123456789 in the middle, and is filled with 0s elsewhere. The second one's decimal representation, when formatted into lines of 60 digits, spells INFINITY. [Top right] Four math puzzles involving angles between lines within a cube. [Bottom left] UCSB's move-in weekend, as seen during my walk at a dorm complex near where I live. [Bottom center] Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (see the last item below). [Bottom right] JQA 21st International Environmental Children's Drawing Contest: A few award-winning drawings submitted by Iranian children in 2021.
(2) Kurdistan's Jewish past: A US army vet, two Israeli engineers, and the head of a preservation group carried out an audacious plan to restore an ancient shrine of the biblical prophet Nahum of Elkosh in Iraq.
(3) Freedom & personal responsibility: Several GOP governors are opposed to vaccine & mask mandates, saying that citizens can be trusted to do the right thing on their own. So, the next time a natural disaster hits, we should avoid state-wide & federal disaster relief and hope that the citizens can rescue themselves!
(4) Book review: Schlosser, Eric, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, abridged 9-hour audiobook, read by Rick Adamson, Random House Audio, 2001. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The growth of fast-food in the US is a direct result of our busy, always-on-the-go lifestyle. This lifestyle demands food that is quick to acquire and easy to eat, preferably with only one hand, perhaps while driving. Hamburgers and other sandwiches are a good match, but chicken wasn't, until the food industry put it in sandwiches or shaped it into nuggets! The amount of research that goes into making the resulting foods uniform (among franchises across the world) and great-tasting is mind-boggling! Making the perfect French fries (potato types, oil used, flavorings added) is a case in point.
This meticulously-researched and eye-opening book provides an expose on not only the American fast-food empires but also on the food industry more generally. For example, the impact of Schlosser's detailed description of unsanitary environments and inhumane working conditions in chicken farms and slaughterhouses go well beyond fast food. Use of unskilled labor, with virtually no pre-existing skills or even training is another valid criticism offered by Schlosser. Machines in a typical McDonald's franchise essentially self-operate and even help the unskilled attendant by sounding buzzers at various stages when human intervention is needed.
Fast-food has transformed not just our eating habits but much of our food industry. We now have gigantic frozen-fries factories that look much like other heavy industries, except that conveyor belts carry potatoes, rather than manufactured parts. Every step of the way is fully automated, from "exploding" the skins off potatoes, cutting them into perfectly-shaped pieces, frying them to perfection, and, finally, packaging and freezing them.
The most-worrisome aspect of this book is how little things have changed in the two decades since it was published. Our obesity problem has gotten worse. Yes, we now have food labels and calorie counts, but the food industry has learned to game these informational labels to its benefit. Children are still targeted by loads of sugar in their food, bells & whistles (such as games and toys), and even playgrounds. Marketing to schools is another tool of expanding the fast-food market.
Related to and complementing Fast Food Nation is Michael Moss's 2021 book, Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit our Addictions. Schlosser also discusses the addictive nature of fast-food, but Moss provides a lot more detail on this facet of the food indstry. Here is my 4-star review of the latter book.

2021/09/18 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: Find x, given that the lengths AQ and BC are equal Math puzzle: Find the area of the green region within the 20 x 20 square Math puzzle: A neat geometric problem involving only angles
IET talk by Dan Hart, President & CEO of Virgin Orbit, on new developments in space technology Selfies I took over the past few days, wearing two of my RBG T-shirts: #2 Selfies I took over the past few days, wearing two of my RBG T-shirts: #1 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Math puzzle: Find x, given AQ = BC. [Top center] Math puzzle: Find the area of the green region within the 20 × 20 square. [Top right] Math puzzle: A neat geometric problem involving only angles. [Bottom left] IET talk by Dan Hart on developments in space technology (see the last item below). [Bottom center & right] Selfies I took over the past few days (see the next item below).
(2) Facebook memory from September 18, 2020: My poetic tribute to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, aka "the notorious RBG" (I have several T-shirts bearing her likeness or words).
R >> Rising to the summit of the legal profession
U >> Uphill she trekked, from a humble beginning
T >> Trusted and bright, she toiled with obsession
H >> Harboring a passion for leading and winning
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Taliban announce reopening of boys' high schools in Afghanistan: No mention of girls' high schools!
- Today's 100-200 protesters at the US Capitol were vastly outnumbered by police and media reps.
- Physics puzzle: Can you explain how this device, known as Galton board, works to sort the balls by color?
- Film music: Street performance of the theme from "Mission Impossible" (by Lalo Schifrin, 1966).
(4) Mitch McConnell, a most despicable US politician, said:
(2017) There is no chance we won't raise the debt ceiling ... America's not going to default.
(2021) Republicans are united in opposition to raising the debt ceiling.
(5) Fistfight among Taliban leaders sidelines the "moderate" Mullah Baradar: The top leaders are unhurt, but several bodyguards were apparently killed or injured in a shootout within the palace!
(6) Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi is awarded an honorary doctorate in Tajikistan: Raisi's formal education in Iran is only to grade 6, although, like many Iranian politicians, he claims to have earned a doctorate degree. The legitimacy of his degrees is in doubt, given that he has occupied high-level positions since he was 19.
(7) "The New Era of Space Architecture": As part of the "IET at 150" global engineering talks series, Dan Hart, President & CEO of Virgin Orbit, spoke this morning (10:00 AM PDT) about the future of satellite launches, including the application of smartphone technology, minimizing environmental impacts, rapid development via additive manufacturing, and the possibility of space launches from airports.
We can now launch satellites from a Boeing 747 climbing to 35,000 feet (already 2/3 of the way to space), using much less energy and not needing a rocket-launch base. This makes space technologies accessible to many countries who would not be able to do it with the current launch technology. Many 747s are becoming available now. They can be modified to serve as satellite launch vehicles, a technology that is transportable to anywhere in the world.
As we open up space for participation by diverse industrial and international collaborations, we must be mindful of the space environment, just as we are of Earth's environment. Challenges such as space debris require ingenious engineering solutions. The space economy will grow from the current $400 billion to over $1 trillion in a couple of decades. New technologies are lowering the barriers to entry into space projects. Two decades ago, launching a satellite would have required $500 million in funding; now, it's two orders of magnitude smaller.
[The talk begins at the 11:20 mark of this YouTube video]

2021/09/17 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Family gathering at Sadaf Restaurant (Thousand Oaks): Batch 5 of photos Family gathering at Sadaf Restaurant (Thousand Oaks): With my daughter Family gathering at Sadaf Restaurant (Thousand Oaks): Batch 10 of photos
Iran has carried out assassinations and kidnappings in over 20 countries: Map My areas of interest in computer-engineering research on one PowerPoint slide Meme: When some conflict or disagreement stresses you out, just zoom out! (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Family gathering at Sadaf Restaurant (Thousand Oaks) to celebrate the start of the academic year and my youngest niece moving in for in-person classes at UCLA. [Bottom left] Iran has carried out assassinations and kidnappings in over 20 countries: At least 540 Iranians have been killed or kidnapped. [Bottom center] My areas of interest in computer-engineering research (see the next item below). [Bottom right] When some conflict or disagreement stresses you out, just zoom out!
(2) Describing my research, in one slide: To introduce research interests of our faculty to incoming graduate students, we were asked to provide a summary in one PowerPoint slide and a few words. Here are mine.
B. Parhami works in three overlapping subfields within the broad area of computer architecture & design.
In computer arithmetic, he studies novel number representation systems, table-based & table-assisted computation, and arithmetic with emerging low-power nanotechnologies.
In parallel processing, he studies & designs interconnection networks, including their packaging & layout, and application-specific search & associative processors.
In dependable computing, he deals with fault avoidance & tolerance strategies at all system levels, voting algorithms & networks, and robust parallel/distributed systems.
These efforts are linked by the consideration of four key system attributes: Performance; Quality; Reliability; Scalability (PQRS). [See the bottom of the slide for what these attributes entail]
(3) Math puzzle: What is the maximum number of circles of diameter 5 cm one can pack in a circle of area 500 cm^2 using square packing, that is, with the circles aligned horizontally or vertically?
(4) UCSB students struggling with housing shortage now also face course shortages: Many are finding it hard to enroll in the 12 units needed for full-time status. Course shortages appear to be a nationwide problem.
(5) There is no such thing as a good mullah: Thinking that the Taliban have changed or that there are good & bad Taliban is a dire mistake. Iranians also thought that some mullahs were more enlightened than others.
(6) October strike for UC lecturers: University of California's 6800 lecturers, teaching 1/3 of undergraduate hours across the system, call for a general strike to demand salary increases, consistent evaluation & rehiring processes, and enforceable workload standards.
(7) Semel Institute comedy show: Comedian Kathy Ladman will perform "Does This Show Make Me Look Fat?" (Thursday, September 23, 2021, 5:00 PM PDT). [Free registeration]

2021/09/16 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Birds gathering at sunset: Simply magnificent! Powering chips from underneath to save energy and space Life imitating art: Young girl emulates the pose of a statue
Yet another surprising math identity, this one involving Pascal's Triangle Cartoon: If Moses led the Jews out of Egypt today Cover image of Jonathan Karl's book about the Trump presidency (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Birds gathering at sunset: Simply magnificent! [Top center] Powering chips from underneath (see the next item below). [Top right] Life imitating art: Young girl emulates statue's pose. [Bottom left] Yet another surprising math identity, this one involving Pascal's Triangle. [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: If Moses led the Jews out of Egypt today. [Bottom right] Jonathan Karl's book about the Trump presidency (see the last item below).
(2) Next-gen microchips may be powered from below: In today's chips, both signals and power reach the silicon from above. Putting power connections underneath, a side of the chip that has been ignored thus far, can save power and make more room available for signal routes. [Source: IEEE Spectrum on-line]
(3) Quote of the day: "I wanted the book to force you into the understanding that you don't have to like a rape victim for her to deserve justice." ~ Julia Dahl, on her new novel, The Missing Hours
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Emotional testimony: Simone Biles speaks at the US Senate hearing on Dr. Larry Nassar sexual abuse.
- Inspiration4 crew will spend 3 days in space: Four non-astronauts form the first civilian crew to orbit Earth.
- This year's prestigious Harold J. Plous Award goes to UCSB Ass't Prof. of Biology, virologist Carolina Arias.
- Be clever: What's your clever solution to this simple math problem? 1.5 / 1.25 [Credit: @pwharris]
- Classical music is alive and well in Iran: Wonderful performance of "Gramophone Waltz" (Eugen Doga).
- Iranian regional music: Rastak Ensemble performs the old Shirazi song "Aasemoon," wearing period attire.
(5) MooLoo: This is the name of a potty-training method for cows, discussed in a paper published in the journal Current Biology, which aims to reduce harmful emissions.
(6) Book review: Karl, Jonathan, Front Row at the Trump Show, unabridged 10-hour audiobook, read by the author, Penguin Audio, 2020. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Veteran reporter Karl enjoyed significant insight and access in tackling the same subjects that many others have previously covered. All the key events (campaign flubs, staff firings, impeachment, and attacks on the press) are there, but there are also nuggets that I had not heard before. Accounts of Karl's direct, personal brushes with Trump, tabloid subject of many years ago and White House press briefer of late, are particularly telling.
Karl also paints detailed portraits of Trump's cabinet ministers and aides, with very few emerging unscathed. Sean Spicer was temperamental, slamming doors on the faces of people he disliked. Sarah Sanders was fond of "alternative facts," a la Trump and his other aide, Kellyanne Conway, including a complete fabrication about hearing from FBI rank & file that they detested James Comey.
At the end of his book, Karl ruminates on the lasting damage Trump may have done to American democracy. Making our society insensitive to lies, stoking hate, and attacking all the pillars of democracy, particularly the press, have caused serious wounds that may take decades to heal. Ironically, Trump would be nothing without the press. He lives for his moments in the spotlight, and, until recently, made good use of those moments. His lies have caught up with him, however, and the press nowadays only exposes his vile nature and his grandiose view of himself.
I hesitated grabbing this book when it became available at my local public library, wondering about the incremental gain from perusing yet another book on the dysfunctional Trump presidency. Well, I was pleasantly surprised! Karl literally sat on the front row at White House press briefings, aka Trump Show, and he had a long-term relationship with Trump, going back to the days when Karl was an inexperienced tabloid reporter trying to cover the flamboyant real-estate developer.
Given that the book was written before the COVID-19 pandemic's fatalities and economic impacts, another volume may be needed to finish the story of one of the darkest chapters in the US history. Karl's confrontations with Trump continued during the COVID-19 press briefings, mostly conducted by Trump himself, and Trump didn't exactly ride off into the sunset after January 20, 2021, so ABC's Chief White House Correspondent may have enough material for an encore.

2021/09/15 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme: Women prisoners in Bushehr, Iran, are subjected to the most-inhumane torture Women of Afghanistan post photos on social media with colorful Afghan dresses to fight the Taliban's hijab mandate North Korea's atom-shaped science and technology center
Math puzzle: Given the top equality, evaluate the bottom expression A few opinion gems from Larry Elder
IEEE CCS 2021/09/15 technical talk on communicating with Mars Upcoming talks of interest to IEEE CCS members and the community at large (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Sepideh Qolian (Iranian political prisoner, on temporary leave from jail): "Women prisoners in Bushehr are subjected to the most-inhumane torture." [Top center] Women of Afghanistan post photos on social media with colorful Afghan dresses in defiance of the Taliban. [Top right] North Korea's atom-shaped science and technology center. [Middle left] Math puzzle: Given the top equality, evaluate the bottom expression. [Middle right] The failure of the recall effort in California is no cause for celebration: Yes, Governor Newsom prevailed by 64% to 36%, but the more than 1/3 of Californians who voted "yes" on the recall question essentially endorsed Larry Elder, a talk-show host with zero qualification for running the world's fifth-largest economy (they may have voted for other replacement candidates, but they knew that Elder would be the replacement in case of success). Here is my compilation of a few opinion gems from Elder (not quotes). [Bottom left] This evening's IEEE CCS technical talk on communicating with Mars (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Upcoming talks of interest to IEEE Central Coast Section members and the community at large.
(2) Guards at Iran's nuclear facilities sexually harassed female UN atomic energy inspectors: Male guards inappropriately touched the women's private parts during bodily searches.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California's recall-election results vs. COVID-19 situation: Eye-opening! [Credit: Dr. Eric Ball] [Maps]
- Scary thought for the day: One in 500 Americans have died of COVID-19!
- Republicans expressing their opinions about rape: Vote these blockheads out!
- Magic routine: Most of these acts are likely digital tricks, but they are still quite entertaining. [Video]
(5) Tonight's IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Jared Call, Eve J. Pereira, and Harvey Elliott (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory) talked at 6:30 PM PDT under the title "Connecting with Mars: The Evolution of Relay Telecommunication Networks for Mars." The Zoom session had 21 participants.
In the 1960s, we were excited about efforts to land humans on the Moon. Now, six decades later, we can't stop talking about going to Mars. On route to landing humans on Mars, many shorter-term milestones must be met, including returning soil samples from Mars. The goal of humans setting foot on Mars in a decade or two entails many challenges, not the least of which is devising an appropriate communications infrastructure, given that radio signals take ~600 times as long to reach Earth from Mars compared with from Moon (13 ± 7 minutes vs. 1.3 seconds).
The Mars Relay Network is a major component of NASA's ongoing exploration of Mars that has evolved organically over the years to meet the needs of the various operations scenarios. This talk introduced the benefits and challenges of telecommunications at Mars, touching upon many interrelated topics such as space exploration, triumph, adversity, clashing superpowers, human-made crater formation, 400-MHz radio waves, planning tools, network topologies, international cooperation, tragedy, commensal symbionts, multi-mission operations, communication protocols & CCSDS space standards, Beagles, space cats, balloons, and surface penetrators!
The three speakers covered various aspects of the challenges of communicating at and with Mars. Jared Call (Applied Math degree from Cal Poly Pomona; Astronautics degree from USC; at JPL since 2002) provided an overview of the Mars telecommunications problems, the history, various players & projects, technical roadblocks, and future plans. Eve Pereira (Computer Science degree from Cal State LA; Executive MBA from Claremont Graduate U.; at JPL since 2001) discussed the enormous scheduling and coordination challenges, among different NASA teams and with international collaborators. Harvey Elliott (Planetary Science & Space Systems Engineering degrees from U. Michigan; at JPL since 2019, after a short stint at Planetary Resources in Seattle) focused on communications architectures, implementations, & protocols.

2021/09/14 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: What are the areas of the two squares in this diagram? Math oddities, involving two surprising algebraic expressions Math puzzle: What fraction of the outer square's area is green?
Iranian women of note: Nargess Eskandari, PhD, Mayor of Frankfurt Iranian women of note: Maryam Zaree, actress/filmmaker Cover image of 'Data Feminism,' a book by Cahterine D'Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Math puzzle: What are the areas of the two green squares in this diagram? [Top center] Math oddities: The sum at the top has a rather surprising result. The hairy expression at the bottom evaluates to a constant! [Top right] Math puzzle: What fraction of the outer square's area is green? [Bottom left & center] Iranian women of note: Former political prisoner Nargess Eskandari, PhD in psychology from U. Frankfurt, has been elected mayor of Frankfurt. Her daughter, Maryam Zaree, who was born in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, is an actress/filmmaker who has made the autobiographical documentary "Born in Evin." [Bottom right] Data Feminism, a book by Cahterine D'Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein (see the last item below).
(2) California's recall effort fails: Governor Newsome prevails by a wide margin and will be allowed to serve out the rest of his term. Even though the race has been called, the final vote tally is not yet known.
(3) Trump's foiled plans to leave Biden with a disastrous situation in Afghanistan, while claiming credit for ending the war: Eight days after the 2020 election, Trump secretly signed a memo to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by January 15, 2021. [According to the new book Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa]
(4) Book review: D'Ignazio, Catherine, and Lauren F. Klein, Data Feminism: A New Way of Thinking about Data Science and Data Ethics, Informed by the Ideas of Intersectional Feminism, MIT Press, 2020.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Data Feminism is an indispensable book for our time. D'Ignazio is an Assistant Professor of Urban Science and Planning at MIT; Klein is an Associate Professor in Departments of English and Quantitative Theory & Methods at Emory University. Both are versed in data science and its ethical underpinnings. I attended a book talk by the second author on September 10, 2021. [Recording of the talk]
Data is power, and that power is wielded by the elite, consisting primarily of white men. This is where feminism comes in. The imbalance of power in data collection leads to missing data sets. Intersectional feminism, when applied to data science, can help that power be challenged and changed. The book's missing-data aspects overlap with Caroline Criado Perez's Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, which I have previously discussed in my 5-star review.
Data feminism is based on seven principles, which are quite easy to agree with, although the term "feminism" turns some people off at the outset. The principles are: Examine power; Challenge power; Elevate emotion & embodiment; Rethink binaries & hierarchies; Embrace pluralism; Consider context; Make labor visible. These seven principles from the book are also elaborated upon in the article "Seven Intersectional Feminist Principles for Equitable and Actionable COVID-19 Data" (Big Data & Society, Vol. 7, No. 2, July 2020).
I recommend the book and the just-cited article highly. Given the central role of data in our modern world, perhaps no domain is more worthy of our attention than ensuring equitable participation of all stakeholders in data science and in entities dealing with the collection and interpretation of data.
[Open-access on-line copy of the book] [Fairly-long book excerpt]

2021/09/13 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: What angle is made by the two red diagonal lines drawn on the two sides of a cube? Physics puzzle: Imagine heating a metal ring (a washer) enough so that it expands. Does the hole get bigger or smaller? Math puzzle: Find the area of the white triangle at the top of the diagram
Women's rights in Iran and Afghanistan: Tehran 1979 Women's rights in Iran and Afghanistan: Kabul 2021 The Taliban sitting and standing on chopper rotor blades (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Math puzzle: What angle is made by the two red diagonal lines drawn on the two sides of a cube? [Top center] Physics puzzle: Imagine heating a metal ring (a washer) enough so that it expands. Does the hole get bigger or smaller? [Top right] Math puzzle: Find the area of the white triangle at the top of the diagram. [Bottom left & center] Iran and Afghanistan: Tehran 1979 looked a lot like Kabul 2021! [Bottom right] Even if the US didn't disable the military equipment it left behind, the Taliban are doing the job!
(2) Ignorance about rape: In saying that he'll eliminate rape and take rapists off the streets, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appears oblivious to the fact that rape is primarily an exercise of power & control, not a means for sexual gratification. Abbott seems totally unaware that most rapes are not committed by street criminals but by men known to and trusted by the victims, including family members, exes, teachers, coaches, party attendees, and, yes, boyfriends & husbands. Rape and abortion bans are both about power & control.
(3) Humorous Persian poetry: This recited poem, from the book Playing Doctor, makes fun of Iranian officials' dubious claims of having earned doctorate degrees.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- UCSB is 5th among public colleges, behind UCLA, Berkeley, Michigan, Virginia (US News & World Report).
- Why do white Christians vote Republican and black Christians vote Democrat? [15-minute video]
- A history tour of the modern Middle East: How the US stole the area and its oil. [22-minute video]
- Mathematical magic: Turning a bottle inside-out, over and over again! [Animation]
- A source of mathematical puzzles and pastimes: From time to time, I will share tweets from this account.
- Persian music: Bahar Choir's on-line group performs "Bia, Bia." [8-minute video]
(5) Special 20th-anniversary tribute to 9/11 heroes: CBS News "60 Minutes" program honors the efforts of FDNY and other heroic first-responders. [Part 1, 14 minutes] [Part 2, 16 minutes] [Part 3, 10 minutes]
(6) Tech discovery allows robots to climb walls and crawl across ceilings: UCSD researchers have used a motor-driven flexible disk vibrating at 200 hertz to generate a thin layer of low-pressure air between itself and a surface it's vibrating against, thus creating a suction-like effect. [Source: IEEE Spectrum magazine, Sep. 2021]
(7) Europe champions the right to repair: In July 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order urging the FTC to address "unfair anticompetitive restrictions on third-party repair or self-repair of items." As important as this order is to consumers, it is even more critical for the US Defense Department, because soldiers have been unable to fix critical gear in the field, when a manufacturer insists that it be sent back to an authorized repair facility. Among other consequences of making repairs difficult and time-consuming is consumers being forced to buy new equipment to avoid the hassle. This "planned obsolescence" benefits only equipment manufacturers. Just as in the case of data privacy laws, Europe has taken the lead in addressing the problem by requiring manufacturers to display a "repairability score" prominently next to the price of a product. [Source: IEEE Spectrum magazine, Sep. 2021]

2021/09/12 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mathematical surprise: Plotting a polynomial equation in x and y Mathematical surprise: A mere coincidence or ... Mathematical surprise: Equations for Pringles chips (1) Mathematical oddities: The plot of x^6 + y^3 = 3xy; An eerie coincidence; Equations for Pringles chips.
(2) "Avicenna, the History of Public Health in Iran, and Impacts on Modern Medicine": Panel moderated by Sheva Tabatabainejad and featuring Dr. Hakima Amri (Professor, Georgetown U.) & Dr. Willem Floor (Historian, Writer, & Iranologist). Friday, September 17, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT. [RSVP]
(3) The Kingdom's hypocrisy: Saudi Arabia, which fought tooth-and-nail to stop the release of information on its nationals who helped two of the 9/11 terrorists, and did not cooperate in court cases involving the said individuals, now says it welcomes the declassification of investigative documents by the Biden administration.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The book we have all been waiting for: Computer Engineering for Babies! [2-minute video]
- Hyperinflation: This is what 1,200,000 rials (120,000 tomans) buys you in today's Iran. [Tweet]
- Is this how QR codes are made? [25-second animation]
- Math reward: Beal conjecture and the outstanding $1 million prize to prove or disprove it.
- Stand-up comedy: Joe DeVito likens dating over 40 to thrift-store shopping.
- Persian music: Popular Iranian singer Shakila's first-ever performance at age 18. [5-minute video]
(5) Defeating cancer: Don Lubach of UCSB is featured in the fall 2021 cover story of OnCenter, the magazine of the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center and Cancer Foundation of Santa Barbara. In describing his dealings with a throat-cancer diagnosis, Don says: "I knew through my whole adventure, Cindy was always there. Before this, I did not know that a nurse navigator career even existed or the value it would have for me."
(6) Advice from "James Bond" (Pierce Brosnan): "Our world doesn't need a lone hero ... who only chases adventure and glamour. We need people who have a passion and a sense of a mission. ... You are the architects and the engineers of a new tomorrow, and like no species before us, we have the power to shape the future. ... The world doesn't need a hero with a license to kill. We need people with the courage to create." [Video]
(7) Women's oppression in Iran: Trying to return to the US after visiting Iran with her husband and daughter, a doctoral student finds out at the airport's family-affairs booth that her husband has placed a block on her leaving the country. [Persian tweet]
(8) The real reason water is transparent: Most people think that the transparency of water results from its physical properties. The real reason, however, is that our eyes evolved under water, before we moved onto land. So, our eyes developed to sense electromagnetic waves that water lets through, what we now call the visible light spectrum.
(9) Extra-judicial arrests in Iran: The third brother of the executed wrestler #NavidAfkari, whose other two brothers are serving jail time in solitary confinement, has been arrested by plainclothes security men.

2021/09/11 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Twenty years after 9/11: Honoring our founding principles Twenty years after 9/11: World Trade Center's Twin Towers Zoom talk about the great Persian poet Sa'adi: Flyer (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Twenty years after 9/11 (see the next item below). [Right] Zoom talk about the great Persian poet Sa'adi (see the last item below).
(2) The 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks: Twenty years ago today, our country changed dramatically by a shocking event. As is the case for any significant loss, we needed to go through the well-known stages of grief, except that the denial & isolation stage has already lasted 20 years. As noted on NPR a couple of days ago, for many years, Hollywood wouldn't touch the story, despite its significant dramatic potential. Not only did film producers not make movies about 9/11, they went back and erased the Twin Towers from films that had already been made. We thought that erasing the event (turning the proverbial moment of silence in honor of the victims into years of silence) would help us heal. It's going to be a long journey from here to the final stage of acceptance. Honoring the victims requires that we go back to the founding principles of our country (equality, tolerance, inclusion), work hard to excel (respect knowledge and expertise again), and consider sacrificing some personal privileges for the benefit of our society (the right way to hug the flag).
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Taliban of Afghanistan (left in this photo) and their Iranian buddies: Destroying TV satellite dishes.
- A restaurant in Yerevan flaunts its celebrity guests with this sign: See if you can spot the odd man out!
- Picking a STEM major: A humorous guide.
- Neighborly folk: Italians joining together on a side street to have a community dinner!
(4) September 11 conspiracy theories: Conspiracy theories tend to spring up in the wake of major calamities: Assassinations; mass-shootings; plane crashes; even floods and earthquakes. There were a few theories about the 9/11 attacks being an inside job immediately after they happened, but conspiracy theories took off and gained widespread acceptance after the Bush Jr. administration was caught lying about Saddam having weapons of mass destruction. The latter lie further eroded our trust in the US government, giving new life to 9/11 conspiracy theories. The current abundance of conspiracy theories about everything is a direct result of Trump administration's lies to the people and its assertion that everyone else is lying. Conspiracy theories thrive in an atmosphere of dishonesty and distrust.
(5) "The Place of Sa'adi in Persian Literature": This was the title of today's Zoom lecture by Dr. Zahra Taheri (poet, author, and lecturer in Persian language & literature at Australian National U.), with ~50 attendees.
Sa'adi Shirazi [1210-1291(2?)] was born at the time of the Crusades, which made vast areas of the Muslim world unstable. He was 10 when the Mongols invaded Iran. So, his period was a turbulent one. Shiraz was one of the few places enjoying relative calm, instead of being destroyed by the Mongols, because the Atabaks who ruled the region surrendered and agreed to pay taxes to the Mongols.
Sa'adi was sent to the Nezamieh School in Baghdad, with the expectation of becoming a cleric like his father. Returning to Shiraz after extensive travels, Sa'adi found the environment ripe for literature and began writing his Golestan, using Shahnameh as his model. Golestan, and the subsequent Boustan, are viewed as practical guides to the philosophy of life.
There is disagreement among researchers about whether Sa'adi was a Sufi, speaking allegorically of the love for God, or a down-to-earth poet writing about life and physical love. Sa'adi's Ghazals are of a different nature than Mowlavi's. Muslims in Sa'adi's period were divided into two groups. Sa'adi was part of the majority Ash'aris, who believed in pre-determined fate (determinism). Montazeris, who were in the minority, believed in free will.
In the end, we have to let Sa'adi speak for himself through his poetry and other writings, rather than try to fit him within our pre-conceived frameworks. Dr. Taheri, who sprinkled her talk with verses from Sa'adi, ended her remarks by reciting a Sa'adi ghazal and screened a music video featuring one of Sa'adi's poems.

2021/09/10 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mathematical magic: The golden ratio phi related to i. These photos of alleged rampage at Afghanistan's Music School by the Taliban are unconfirmed, but NPR reports that the school has fallen silent Talk on data feminism: Book cover, the speaker, and one of the slides (1) Images of the day: [Left] Math magic: The golden ratio φ related to i. [Center] Afghanistan's Music School falls silent: These photos of alleged rampage by the Taliban are unconfirmed, but NPR reports that the school has fallen silent to avoid the ire of the extremists. [Right] Talk on data feminism (see the last item below).
(2) The Islamic regime's long list of taboo subjects: Members of some book clubs in Iran spend more time figuring out how to smuggle banned writings into Iran than to talk about literature per se.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Polls favor Governor Newsom: Get ready for years of whining about California's stolen recall election!
- Banking redefined: Afghanistan's new Central Bank Chief at his desk, holding a machine gun!
- Those who think COVID-19 isn't real should not be admitted to the hospital when they contract the disease.
- Why Iran delayed vaccinations: COVID-19 deaths remove Iran's social-security budget shortfall. [Meme]
- Robots cannot get a US patent (yet): Only an actual human-being can be listed as an inventor on patents.
- A joy for book lovers: Santa Barbara's Planned Parenthood annual book sale runs from 9/17 to 9/26.
(4) Ice cream: A friend of mine told me about kulfi Indian ice cream, which is nearly identical to traditional Iranian ice cream. So, my Iranian friends who are homesick can enjoy this ice cream the next time they visit an Indian restaurant. The eggless, no-churn dessert is flavored with saffron, cardamom, & rosewater.
(5) UCSB alert (real e-mail received): Hazardous material [chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, etc.] released on campus. [Location/building] is being evacuated. Avoid [name general area of campus to avoid]. Update will be provided when more information is available.
(6) UCSB's new classroom building is making good progress: A great resource for the next academic year, the building is located south (to the right, in this photo) of the Davidson Library.
(7) "Data Feminism": This was the title of today's U. Virginia webinar by Dr. Lauren Klein (Assoc. Prof., Depts. of English and Quantitative Theory & Methods, Emory U.). Data is power, and that power is wielded by the elite, consisting primarily of white men. This is where feminism comes in. The imbalance of power in data collection leads to missing data sets. Intersectional feminism, when applied to data science, can help that power be challenged and changed.
Book citation: D'Ignazio, Catherine, and Lauren F. Klein, Data Feminism: A New Way of Thinking about Data Science and Data Ethics, Informed by the Ideas of Intersectional Feminism, MIT Press, 2020.
[Open-access on-line copy of the book] [Fairly-long book excerpt]

2021/09/09 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: My paternal grandmother, with my cousins Kam & Mandy Tonight's kitchen productions: A small batch of pasta with meat sauce, and attempt at salvaging some old hot-dog buns by turning them into pizzas Persian calligraphic art depicting the word 'faghan' within 'Afghanistan'
Participants in a Panel discussion on women's rights (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Throwback Thursday: My paternal grandmother, with two younger cousins. [Top center] Tonight's kitchen productions: A small batch of pasta with meat sauce, and attempt at salvaging some old hot-dog buns by turning them into pizzas. [Top right] Wonderful Persian calligraphic art by Reza Taghipour: Playing on the fact that the Persian/Arabic word "faghan" ("wail" or "alas") is part of "Afghanistan." [Bottom] Panel discussion on women's rights and strategies for effecting change (see the last item below).
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Novavax begins early-stage trial for its combined flu/COVID-19 vaccine.
- Great advice: "Stop for a minute and realize you are just a 3-pound brain that's piloting a slab of meat"!
- World Cup qualifiers: Following a 1-0 win over Syria, Iran beat Iraq 3-0 to remain on top of its group.
- Beautiful song (Turkish? Azeri?), performed aboard a ferry boat, elicits smiles and dancing. [Video]
(3) "Iranian Women on the Frontlines: Strategies for Change": This was the title of today's on-line panel discussion for early-risers on the US West Coast; it began at 7:00 AM PDT! Hosted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and moderated by Azadeh Pourzand (Co-Founder and Director, Siamak Pourzand Foundation), the panel featured the following speakers. [Event page] [95-minute recording]
- Nazanin Boniadi (women's-rights activist, actress, & former spokesperson for Amnesty International USA) set the stage for the discussions that followed by presenting an overview of challenges we face in the realm of women's rights, brought to the forefront by the plight of Afghan women under a reconstituted Taliban regime. Reviewing the case of Iran, Ms. Boniadi enumerated changes in the country's social norms and legal code, particularly laws governing marriage & divorce, travel restrictions, and the jobs women can hold.
- A short documentary was screened at this point that depicted the status of Iranian women before and immediately after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Near the end of the film, Ayatollah Khomeini was heard saying that women want freedom to do what they did under the Pahlavi regime, that is, exhibit themselves in front of the "impure" eyes of men. It has always been a puzzle to me why Iranian men aren't more offended by such characterizations of their intents and behavior.
- Masih Alinejad (journalist, author & women's-rights activist) outlined her record of political activism, beginning in her teens, when she distributed pamphlets against the government and was arrested for it. She then pointed out that what just happened to the women of Afghanistan has been happening in Iran for 42 years. The role of the UN is a joke, giving countries like Iran seats on bodies that monitor human and women's rights. Women activists do not want international recognition in the form of awards. What they want is countries like the Islamic Republic and Afghanistan delegitimized by withholding diplomatic recognition.
- Guity Pourfazel (human-rights lawyer and old-time activist) was imprisoned when she signed an open letter calling for Supreme Leader Khamenei to step down, owing to incompetence in dealing with Iran's challenges) spoke via a video, recorded during a temporary medical release from prison in Iran, after contracting COVID-19. She made the point that the two words "Islamic" and "Republic" are contradictory and cannot co-exist. Her legal license was revoked after the Islamic Revolution, but then she and other women were allowed to practice law in limited form, leading to subsequent conflicts and pressures. Iranian women must join and participate in international organizations that pursue women's rights to make their voices heard.
- Narges Mohammadi (Spokesperson, Defenders of Human Rights Center) began by pointing out that Iranian women have become aware of oppression and injustice over the past 42 years. This awareness is a necessary start, but it is not sufficient for reclaiming their rights. Women in different social strata assess the causes of their oppression differently. It is thus important to devise action plans that accommodate these different viewpoints by focusing on the commonalities. Aiming for incremental changes in discriminatory laws is one way of maintaining unity and making progress.
- Narges Mansouri (women's-rights activist & member of the Workers Syndicate of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company) believes in the intersectionality of women's and labor movements. She too was one of the signers of the open letter calling for Supreme Leader Khamenei to step down. She and several other signers were kidnapped (no arrest warrants) and subjected to harsh interrogation and solitary confinement. She presented a long list of women who were slain or sentenced to long prison terms by the violent Islamic government.
- Sheherazade Semsar de Boisseson (Member of the Board of Advisors, Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service; Former CEO of Politico Europe) pointed out that as our democracies become fragile, we see the plight of women in Iran and elsewhere being discussed not as humanitarian issues but as tools in the service of politicians' own agendas. True non-partisan support for these women is essential. It's not about Donald Trump or Joe Biden. Not about Russia or China. It's about the women and their requests and expectations of support.
- A question-and-answer period followed.
- Melanne Verveer (Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security), who had opened the session, closed the panel discussion by praising the bravery of Iranian women, both inside and outside Iran, working to publicize the plight of women everywhere in order to claim their rights. More power to these brave and selfless women, who, despite significant risks to their livelihoods and their lives (even those outside Iran aren't safe) continue to lead and inspire!

2021/09/08 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Jean-Paul Belmondo, France's popular new-wave actor, recently passed away at 88 Wonders of nature: The 'kissing' rocks in Switzerland Egypt's Giza pyramids, as seen from the air: Dryness all around, with the exception of the golf course on the lower right!
This Venn diagram explains it all: Intended for a chuckle, not deep analysis! Fine example of an ambiguous drawing Cover image of Eugenia Cheng's 'x + y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] French press celebrates the life of Jean-Paul Belmondo (1933-2021), the popular new-wave actor who recently passed away at 88. [Top center] Wonders of nature: The "kissing" rocks in Switzerland. [Top right] Egypt's Giza pyramids, as seen from the air: Dryness all around, with the exception of the golf course on the lower right! [Bottom left] This Venn diagram explains it all: Intended for a chuckle, not deep analysis! [Bottom center] Fine example of an ambiguous drawing. [Bottom right] Eugenia Cheng's x + y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender (see the last item below).
(2) Negative probabilities: Probabilities of events must be positive. Yet, negative probabilities can be used and serve a useful purpose, much like square roots of negative numbers. Quasiprobability was first introduced in the 1942 paper "The Physical Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics" by Paul Dirac. Since then, quasiprobability has been used not just to explain concepts in quantum mechanics, but also in finance and engineering.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Mexico's Supreme Court rules that abortion isn't a crime: Lucky for Texans that Trump's wall wasn't built!
- Men decline in US college enrollment: Women now form ~60% of college students, an all-time high.
- Iran's Energy Minister orders prayer recitation by everyone in his department for ending the drought.
- Timeline of Iranian women's movement, beginning with the Constitutional Revolution of 115 years ago.
- UCSB Arts & Lectures Program announces the opening of its 2021-2022 season. [Digital brochure]
- No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram: Summary of Sarah Frier's book, in Persian, B-Plus Podcast.
(5) Book review: Cheng, Eugenia, x + y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender, unabridged audiobook, read by Moira Quirk, Hachette Audio, 2020. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
On her Web site, the author self-identifies as "Mathematician + Pianist" and provides an impressive list of accomplishments since earning a PhD degree in pure mathematics from University of Cambridge in 2002. Cheng's 11-minute TEDx talk points to abstract math as a tool for understanding inequality.
Why do we put athletes, particularly younger ones, through so much pressure? Increasingly, they are cracking under the spotlight. And we have seen that people tend to close their eyes on abuses, sexual or otherwise, in the interest of winning more medals. Competitions and their tolls on athletes are really unnecessary. We are so wrapped up in awards and medals that we fail to see signs of trouble, which, in the case of world-champion American gymnast Simone Biles, were quite evident if anyone had been paying attention to her.
Cheng provides an example where short-listers in a particular competition decided to forego the final round and share the prize. Their wish was granted, to everyone's satisfaction. Why does there have to be a single best gymnast? Unlike when we try to fill a single position during the hiring process, there is no shortage here. We create artificial shortages (only one gold medal), because we have been conditioned by our ingressive world (rewarding individualism and single-track thinking), instead of behaving in a congressive way (bringing people/ideas together and thinking about broader communities).
Cheng suggests that her mathematical specialty, category theory, is just the right tool for thinking about and dealing with issues of gender inequality. For those who haven't heard of category theory, this diagram, charting subfields of mathematics, may be helpful.
Category theory is more interested "in describing things by the role they play in a context, rather than by their intrinsic characteristics." Cheng explains, "if we have two things that are not equal, we could make them equal by making the lesser one greater or by making the greater one less ... However, there is a completely different way we could do it, which is by evaluating the two things on a new dimension entirely."
From the latter angle, the solution to male domination in certain fields isn't to try to empower women who exhibit traits often associated with men, such as competitiveness. Putting competitive women in charge merely patches up symptoms and will do little to remove unjust relationships. In fact, inordinate emphasis on gender in discussing inequality is counterproductive. Cheng suggests that we focus on behavioral styles, not gender. Classifying people as congressive or ingressive is much more productive. STEMM disciplines (the last M stands for medicine) benefit from congressive behavior in conducting team projects or making peer reviews serve the purpose of constructive criticism, rather than gate-keeping.
Cheng's framework is useful for dealing with gender inequality issues but can also be applied to other aspects of the diversity challenge entailing ethnicity, disability, sexuality, and more.

2021/09/07 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of the book 'Machines We Trust' Undersea mining in Pacific Ocean's Clarion-Clipperton Zone Cover image of Martin J. Blaser's 'Missing Microbes'
History in pictures: How Jeeps were shipped out during World War II Cartoon: Nutrition facts for junk food Wonders of nature: This photo contains no leaves, only parrots! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Technical book intro: Machines We Trust: Perspectives on Dependable AI (see the next item below). [Top center] Undersea mining (see item 3 below). [Top right] Martin J. Blaser's Missing Microbes (see the last item below). [Bottom left] History in pictures: How Jeeps were shipped out during World War II. [Bottom center] New Yorker cartoon of the day: Nutrition facts for junk food. [Bottom right] Wonders of nature: This photo contains no leaves, only parrots!
(2) Machines We Trust: Perspectives on Dependable AI: I will be teaching a graduate course on dependable computing beginning in 3 weeks. The discipline of dependable computing (aka fault-tolerant computing) traditionally deals with preventive and corrective methods of dealing with hardware faults and software bugs. Safety-critical systems have been around for decades in the form of flight/space control and patient monitoring systems and, more recently, automotive electronics. The latest subarea, now attracting a great deal of attention, is ensuring trustworthy AI, as machine-learning and other AI tools infiltrate our daily lives. I am working on formulating problems in this domain for my biweekly homework assignments.
(3) Metals under the ocean: The CCZ (Clarion-Clipperton Zone) is a vast, 4.5 million km^2 abyssal plain in the Pacific Ocean, southeast of Hawaii, which contains a seafloor rich in polymetallic nodules. Multiple countries have obtained authorizations to explore the area for metals that are essential to modern battery technologies and other emerging applications.
(4) Book review: Blaser, Martin J., Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues, unabridged 9-hour audiobook, read by Patrick Lawlor, Tantor Audio, 2014.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Emergence of penicillin, the first true antibiotic, in 1929 is often viewed as a triumph of science over disease-causing microorganisms. The use of antibiotics, alongside vaccination, has no doubt eradicated many dangerous diseases, but these miracle-drugs have a down side that we are just beginning to understand.
Here's my take of the primary message of this book: The human body is like an ecosystem that is in a precarious balance. Microbes are everywhere, some in small numbers, others in billions, each playing a role in our well-being and survival. Our bodies are hosts to "good microbes," that are our allies in optimal functioning, and "bad microbes," that either hurt us now or remain dormant for long periods of time before striking. The microbes form a microbiome within which they can complement each other, with one organism supplying food for another, e.g., or may fight for resources. This microbiome of around 100 trillion bacterial cells coexists with some 10 trillion human cells. If we remove some microbe species, the balance is disturbed and the result may be catastrophic.
The effects of disturbing the microbiome's balance can be likened to the experience of removing the gray wolf from Yellowstone National Park, as part of the US government's predator control program in the lower 48 states. In the absence of wolves, populations of deer and elk increased, resulting in overgrazing and disappearance of vegetation important to protecting soil and riverbanks against erosion. The rivers widened and got warmer due to dearth of shade on the riverbanks. The beaver population was also affected by shortage of food and material to build dams, which are critical to regulating water flow in rivers. In short, the entire ecosystem suffered. When wolves were reintroduced to the area in 1995, a wonderous turnaround occurred.
Over the past few decades, overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics has been killing or reducing the populations of "good microbes," to the detriment of our immunity and metabolism. Blaser presents a large number of examples where the resulting imbalance is implicated in diseases and other health challenges, such as obesity. These microorganisms are transferred from mother to child, in large part as a baby passes through the birth canal. So, the prevalence of C-section births also disturbs the microbiome, as do inordinate use of antiseptics and sanitizers.
Antibiotics are also used in livestock because of their positive effect on growth. Some 70% of antibiotics sold in the US is used as growth agents, not to kill disease-causing bugs. Pharma companies like selling antibiotics by the ton to ranchers, rather than by the milligram to human users. The result is the transfer of antibiotics residues from animals to human beings. Another effect of antibiotics overuse is the emergence of antibiotic-resistant microbes, the so-called "superbugs," but Blaser does not dwell much on this aspect, except to cite the obvious effect of running out of treatment options for really sick patients.
In summary, antibiotics are wonderful and continue to save countless lives. But sometimes we can have too much of a good thing. We should exercise caution, taking antibiotics when they are genuinely needed, not "just in case." We should also ban their use to fatten animals. Better understanding of probiotics (beneficial microorganisms) and prebiotics (ingredients that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms) and how they can help restore our missing microbes is another fruitful area for additional studies.

2021/09/06 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy US Labor Day: Workers Happy US Labor Day: US flag Cover image of Robert Lacey's 'Inside the Kingdom'
Happy Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New-Year festival, to all who celebrate it
Celebrating Rosh Hashanah with my extended family: Two group photos before dinner Celebrating Rosh Hashanah with my extended family: Apple & honey, dinner, and desserts Celebrating Rosh Hashanah with my extended family: Entertainment and a game (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] 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 right] Robert Lacey's Inside the Kingdom (see the last item below). [Middle] Happy Rosh Hashanah to all those who celebrate the Jewish New-Year festival: The new Hebrew calendar year 5782 will start tomorrow and, like all Jewish holidays, is celebrated beginning with the night before. Observance of Rosh Hashanah involves several fruits and vegetables. For example, apple dipped in honey represents sweetness and pomegranate signifies fruitfulness. [Bottom row] Celebrating Rosh Hashanah with my extended family: Blessing, dinner, desserts, and more.
(2) Book review: Lacey, Robert, Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia, unabridged 14-hour audiobook, read by the author, Tantor Audio, 2009.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book comes three decades after historian Robert Lacey's first book on Saudi Arabia, The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of Sa'ud, which was banned in Saudi Arabia. In the meantime, the country has grown into a mishmash of conflicting objectives resulting from irreconcilable differences between religious dogma and a desire to move toward modernity with help from the country's immense oil wealth. Ironically, as the country has grown richer and more connected to the world, its government has become more pious, retracting to its Wahhabi and Salafi ("the way of ancestors") roots! Despite banning his first book, Saudi Arabia invited Lacey into the country to assess its situation in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The royal family doesn't do anything without seeking permission from the ulema (religious leaders). Disagreements between the royal family and the ulema have produced a frozen status of mutual tolerance: The King and Princes need the ulema, who give them legitimacy, and the ulema need the largesse of the royal family for life's necessities and luxuries. As a result, mega-structures (towers, mosques, malls) are the only signs of modernity in the country. Women only recently were given permission to drive cars and they are still harassed on the streets by cane-wielding religious police. Even seemingly modern Princes, who spend much time at European resorts, treat their wives in accordance with Islamic edicts.
A striking example of how the ulama affect royal decision-making appeared during the first Gulf War. Saddam had amassed soldiers and equipment along the Saudi border in a threatening posture. The Saudis needed America's help, but religious dogma prevented them from inviting "infidels" into Islam's holy land. The ulama were against granting permission to US forces to enter the country in order to defend it against Iraq. King Fahd, desperate and threatened, continued to press the ulama for some sort of accommodation. They finally relented and produced the following justification: Muslims are forbidden from eating pork, but there are stories in the Hadith (religious texts) that if a Muslim is in danger of starving to death, eating pork and other forbidden food becomes acceptable. The implication was that if Muslims are in danger of being slaughtered by Saddam, then it's okay to temporarily tolerate the filthy infidels! This insulting attitude toward one's savior is deplorable!
Lacey presents detailed accounts of several other key events in the recent history of Saudi Arabia, including terrorists hijacking Mecca's Grand Mosque in 1979, just two weeks after the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran by extremist students, the reaction and damage-control measures after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the royal family's relationship with the Bin Laden family and its most-famous member, Saudi support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, and souring of relationships with several Arab countries who took the side of Saddam during Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
While many of Lacey's assertions are unsourced and unverifiable, the overall tone of the book is that of an expert with vast amounts of personal experience and significant access to the royal family & other Saudi authorities. I suggest that the reader pair this historical account with the more-personal story of Carmen Bin Laden, who was married to, and later divorced, Yeslam Bin Laden (one of Osama's brothers) and who also had first-hand experiences in the Kingdom, as well as access to the royal family and other Saudi aristocrats. Here is my 4-star review of the latter book, Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia.

2021/09/05 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Talk by Dr. Dariush Ashoori on challenges of the Persian language Artistic river-map of Africa Book talk by Dr. Elaheh Kheirandish on science and culture in Islamic lands (1) Images of the day: [Left] Talk on adaptation challenges of the Persian language (see the next item below). [Center] Artistic river-map of Africa: Here is a Web page with river-maps of the US and other areas of the world. [Right] Book talk on science and culture in Islamic lands (see the last item below).
(2) "Challenges of the Persian Language': In Saturday's gathering of the Class of 1968, Tehran U. College of Engineering (Fanni'68), Dr. Dariush Ashoori, prominent Iranian thinker, author, translator, and researcher, discussed some of the challenges faced by the Persian language, as it tries to keep pace with modern ideas and technology, while at the same time dealing with the dual invasions of Western and Arab cultures, the former a direct result of globalization and the latter being pushed by Islamic clerics. Dr. Ashoori has proposed the notion of "open language" to embrace modernity and deal with the tsunami of impurities resulting from cultural invasion. This 73-minute YouTube video from 2013 contains many of the ideas discussed today.
(3) Math puzzle: Four different numbers are picked uniformly at random from {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10}. Given their sum is even, what is the probability their product is even?
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- We so miss the notorious RBG and her courage & wisdom, as the US Supreme Court shows its new face.
- Borowitz Report (humor): Texas Republicans back statewide dress code for women.
- Don't try this at home: Impressive soccer tricks! [4-minute video]
- A talented musical family: Can't get enough of this song! [2-minute video]
- Persian music: An amazing solo tombak performance. [1-minute video]
- Arabic music: Rachid Taha performs the Algerian song "Ya Rayah." [4-minute official] [6-minute live]
(5) Persian music: Philharmonic Stars, led by Mahasti Kamdar, perform the oldie "Kieh Kieh Dar Mi-Zaneh" ("Who's Knocking"). Look for their other songs on YouTube, including "Shekar-e Ahoo" and "Simin Bari."
(6) The GOP's Texas-sized mistake on abortion: Charles Dent, CNN commentator and former Republican Congressman, believes that by pushing extreme abortion laws, such as the one just passed in Texas, the GOP is committing the same mistake they made in the Terri Schiavo case in 2005, when they passed a law that would prevent the family of a brain-dead patient in an irreversible vegetative state from removing her life support.
(7) Global Citizen Live Concert: Held on Sep. 25, 2021, the concert will be broadcast live from Lagos, Paris, NYC, London, Los Angeles, Rio, Seoul, and Sydney. Artists are still being added to an already-impressive list.
(8) "Baghdad and Isfahan: A Dialog of Two Cities in an Age of Science ca. 750-1750": This was the title of Saturday's Farhang Foundation book talk by Dr. Elaheh Kheirandish (historian of science, Harvard U.). The speaker was joined by Dr. Jan P. Hogendijk, U. Utrecht, and Ms. Maera Siddiqi, Harvard U, as panel members. According to Dr. Hogendijk's introduction, half of the book is on history of science and the other half presents the sociocultural context. In her book, Dr. Kheirandish has provided translations of poetry, being published for the first time.
Baghdad and Isfahan were great centres of learning at the heart of the Islamic civilization. Dr. Kheirandish's "tale of two cities" was inspired by a chance encounter with a medieval manuscript (Plate 1 in the images; low-res, because it was captured from the screen), which led her on a journey to uncover the voices of court astronomers, mathematicians, scientists, mystics, jurists, statesmen, and Arabic/Persian translators & scholars to document the lasting contribution of sciences from Islamic lands.

2021/09/04 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Puzzle involving a chessboard and domino tiles Cartoon: Here's how to end all abortions! The proposal to split California into two states is back
Institution of Engineering and Technology turns 150: Cover image of E&T magazine You have heard of the Vitruvian Man: Here is Cargo-Shorts Man! Cover image of Carmen Bin Laden's 'Inside the Kingdom' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Puzzle involving a chessboard and domino tiles (see the next item below). [Top center] Cartoon of the day: Here's how to end all abortions! [Top right] The proposal to split California into two states is back: One will be "fun" California, with Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Wine Country, the other one, well, see for yourself! Proposals for secession and splitting into more than two states are also floating around. [Bottom left] Institution of Engineering and Technology turns 150: The UK-based professional society publishes its flagship E&T magazine and several technical journals. [Bottom center] You have heard of the Vitruvian Man: Here is Cargo-Shorts Man! [Bottom right] Carmen Bin Laden's Inside the Kingdom (see the last item below).
(2) Logical-reasoning puzzle: Consider an 8 × 8 chessboard and 32 domino tiles, each of which can cover two adjacent squares on the board. Clearly, the entire board can be covered with the 32 domino tiles, in a variety of ways. If we cover one of the squares with a chess piece, the remaining 63 squares cannot be completely covered with domino tiles, because 63 is odd. What happens if we cover two squares with chess pieces? Is it the case that we can always cover the remaining 62 squares with 31 domino tiles?
(3) Part of the poem "Fear" by Khalil Gibran: The river needs to take the risk | of entering the ocean | because only then fear will disappear, | because that's where the river will know | it's not about disappearing into the ocean, | but of becoming the ocean
(4) Book review: Bin Laden, Carmen, Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by Shohreh Aghdashloo, Hachette Audio, 2004.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I listened to this audiobook and reviewed it many years ago. Recently, I came across another book by the same title, but a different subtitle, Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia. Perusing the latter book prompted me to post this belated review.
Carmen Bin Laden is the half-Swiss, half-Persian ex-wife of Yeslam Bin Laden, one of the 26 brothers of Osama Bin Laden. Upon seeing this book, my first impression was that Carmen Bin Laden has written a gossipy, "I married the mob" book, to capitalize on her last name. Her divorce, which began with a separation in 1988 and official filing in 1994, was eventually finalized in 2006, with full custody of her three daughters, a couple of years after this book was published.
In fact, the book offers much more than what I expected. It is thoughtfully written and provides a window into Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi culture in which fundamentalism and associated intolerance and terrorist ideologies thrive, women are treated like dirt, and the rich & powerful literally get away with murder. The said rich, including members of the enormous royal family, shamelessly violate the religious laws that the Saudi state enforces on mere mortals, within the country and especially during regular pleasure trips abroad.
Surprisingly, most members of the large Bin Laden family weren't really connected to their notorious member. Writing that she met Osama Bin Laden only a couple of times, Carmen doesn't dwell on him in the book, although she does offer the obligatory passage on the 9/11 terror attacks and her state of mind when she learned about them. The book's focus is for the most part on her own sheltered life, and women's lives more generally, in Saudi Arabia. We learn that even wives of rich Saudi men, who are showered with expensive jewelry and couture (all dressed up and nowhere to go), suffer physically and emotionally.
Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo's reading, though less than perfect, lends an aura of authenticity to the story.

2021/09/03 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of IEEE Computer magazine, issue of August 2021 IEEE Distinguished-Lecturer Series: Webinars for September 2021 Cover image of IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of September 2021
Visual proof of two trig identities The electric motor turns 200: Michael Faraday's prototype Visual proof of Viviani Theorem: The sum of distances from a point inside an equilateral triangle to the three sides equals the triangle's altitude (1) Images of the day: [Top left] IEEE Computer magazine, issue of August 2021: The cover feature deals with the safety, security, and reliability of autonomous-vehicle software. [Top center] IEEE Distinguished-Lecturer Webinar Series: These webinars are free to everyone, not just to IEEE members. The last one listed is mine and I have given the talk on a couple of occasions before. [Top right] IEEE Spectrum magazine's latest cover (see the next item below). [Bottom left] Visual proof of the trig identities sin(2x) = 2 sin(x) cos(x) and cos(2x) = cos^2(x) – sin^2(x). [Bottom center] The electric motor turns 200: On September 3, 1821, Michael Faraday invented the electric motor, jotting in his notebook "Very satisfactory, but make more sensible apparatus." The model in the photo was created a year later. [Bottom right] Visual proof of Viviani Theorem: The sum of distances from a point inside an equilateral triangle to the three sides equals the triangle's altitude.
(2) IEEE Spectrum magazine, Sep. 2021: The 1963 HX-63, designed and built in only 12 copies by the Swiss company Crypto AG, was an electromechanical cypher system that operated on the same principles as the German Enigma of WWII fame, but was a great deal more secure. The article, linked below, contains a number of very interesting photos. It covers the machine's scandalous history involving the shady Rubicon spy case.
(3) Mikis Theodorakis, celebrated Greek composer, best-known for "Zorba the Greek" and "State of Siege" movie themes, dead at 96: Greece has announced a 3-day national mourning period.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US Northeast "surprised" by remanents of Hurricane Ida, as it dumps massive amounts of rain on NY & NJ.
- California fraud: Over 65,000 fake student accounts uncovered in community college financial-aid scam.
- Does Susan Collins regret voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, claiming that he will protect Roe v. Wade?
- Meme of the day: There's no such thing as banning abortions. There's only banning safe and legal abortions.
- "In the Interrogation Room": A 49-minute documentary film (in Persian) about torture in Iranian prisons.
- AI makes photo-realistic edits on Elon Musk's and Mark Zuckerberg's images.
- Iranian girl, 14, who was forced to marry a mullah, murdered by relatives due to suspicion of an affair.
- The Taliban start erasing women from public displays: Here, they paint over a beauty salon's entry sign.
- The Swedish pop group ABBA to release new music 40 years after they split.
- ISIS-like talk on Iran's state TV: According to this mullah, raping female war prisoners is permitted. [Video]
(5) Operation London Bridge: This is the code name for UK's just-leaked elaborate plans in the event of Queen Elizabeth II's death. They include social-media blackouts and a ban on retweets.
(6) Trump-like California recall-election candidate: Republican candidate Larry Elder had said in 2011 that a woman accusing him of sexual misconduct was too ugly for her claim of sexual harassment to be true.
(7) Final thought for the day: We have to engage in difficult conversations. Should people rebuild their houses in flood/fire zones, or should they relocate? When are we going to take climate change and its extreme-weather consequences seriously? Have we seen enough flooded subways and knocked-out power plants to conclude that our infrastructure is broken, or do we plan to continue bickering politically on the need to upgrade it?

2021/09/02 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Walking on Goleta Beach and Goleta Pier: Pretty clouds Walking on Goleta Beach and Goleta Pier: Boad & wheelchair Walking on Goleta Beach and Goleta Pier: The birds
Afghan gaphic artist Shamsia Hassani often draws women with no mouth Chart: As we prepare for the new academic year, California's and Santa Barbara County's COVID-19 cases are moving in the right direction. Telephone sheep, by Jean Luc Cornec: Excellent use for old recycled telephones and their cords (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Tuesday afternoon on Goleta Beach and Goleta Pier: Pretty clouds, birds, and the realization that there exist beach wheelchairs. [Bottom left] Depicting women's frustrations: Afghan graphic artist Shamsia Hassani often draws women with no mouths. [Bottom center] As we prepare for the new academic year, California's and Santa Barbara County's COVID-19 cases are moving in the right direction. [Bottom right] Telephone sheep, by Jean Luc Cornec: Excellent use for old recycled telephones and their cords.
(2) UCSB campus rules: Just added to my course syllabus an announcement about UCSB requiring everyone to be vaccinated and wearing a mask being mandatory for all indoor activities, until further notice.
(3) Farhang School in South Tehran: Built and run by Nader Mousavi, the school caters to Afghan children in Iran who are denied public education by the Islamic regime. A very worthy cause to support!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Afghan civil war likely: Panjshir, the last part of Afghanistan not under Taliban control, continues to resist.
- Tech history: How IBM's Deep Blue beat chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. [From IEEE Spectrum]
- It is a known fact that different species cannot interbreed: Scientists are zeroing on the genetic reasons.
- Classical-guitar concert: Ana Vidovic performs at the St. Mark's Church, San Francisco. [60-minute video]
- Twin-Cities Iranian Culture Festival: Month-long event, with the biggest day on Sunday, Sep. 19, 2021.
- Persian music: Nice performance of "Shab-e Entezar" ("The Expectant Night"), aka "Montazerat Boodam."
- Persian music: A beautiful old song, performed in a garden setting, with Shahpour Forte in the background.
- Persian music: A pleasant rendition of "Kieh Kieh Dar Mi-Zaneh?" ("Who's Knocking?") by Lay Lay.
(5) IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk, Wed. Sep. 15, 2021, 6:30 PM PDT: Join us for what promises to be an informative presentation, entitled "Connecting with Mars: The Evolution of Relay Telecommunication Networks for Mars," by Jared Call, Eve J. Pereira, Harvey Elliot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. [Free registration]
(6) IET Eng Talk, "The New Era of Space Architecture": Dan Hart, President & CEO of Virgin Orbit, will talk on Sat., Sep. 18, 2021 (10:00 AM PDT), about the future of satellite launches, including the application of smartphone technology, minimizing environmental impacts, rapid development via additive manufacturing, and the possibility of space launches from airports. [Broadcast link]
(7) Iran Water Project: This is one of several humanitarian-aid initiatives (supporting Afghan refugees is another one) by Moms Against Poverty. "The water shortage crisis, hot weather, and coronavirus have put Iran's southeastern province of Sistan & Baluchestan in a critical state. Iran is in the middle of a climate crisis with no rain and the driest conditions seen in 53 years. Resources that supply water to towns and villages in this region are drying rapidly! Please take action now and help the people of Sistan & Baluchestan!" [Video]
(8) An upcoming US Capitol rally will include extremists: Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and other groups are planning to attend to demand "justice" for those arrested in connection with the January 6 insurrection.
(9) Man & woman wanted for financial fraud flee after cutting monitoring bracelets: Tarzana, California, couple Richard Ayvazyan, 43, & Marietta Terabelian, 37, were convicted in June of conspiring with family members and others to fraudulently secure at least $18 million in emergency relief money.

2021/08/31 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Playwright/Director Bahram Bayzaie and his 'Crossroads' play Cover image of Wendy Northcutt's 'The Darwin Awards, Next Evolution' My decluttered and organized work area at home, in preparation for the fall quarter (1) Images of the day: [Left] Conversation with playwright/director Bahram Bayzaie on his "Crossroads" play (see the next item below). [Center] Wendy Northcutt's book, The Darwin Awards Next Evolution (see the last item below). [Right] Part of my getting ready for the fall quarter: I spent much of Monday afternoon decluttering and organizing my work area at home. Over several years, many cables, adapters, and other connectors had accumulated that were no longer serving any purpose, the corresponding devices having become obsolete and replaced. It feels good to have no redundant wires/cables on or under my desk!
(2) Playwright/Director Bahram Bayzaie [1938-], in conversation with Dr. Abbas Milani: Part of Stanford University's celebration of the Iranian-born artist's 10-year affiliation with Stanford. The discussion was centered around "Crossroads," a play he wrote in Iran but staged after many years in the US. According to Martin Scorsese, "you can feel Bayzaei's background in Persian literature, theater and poetry. Bayzaie never received the support he deserved from the government of his home country."
I will post a link to the recorded version of this conversation when it becomes available.
(3) Fake news continues: Calling the scum that spread blatant lies "conservative" is giving them too much credit. Their latest coordinated fake-news story claims that President Biden did not show up at Dover to honor the fallen US troops, despite his presence being documented on live TV coverage.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Persian-style (or is it Turkish or Greek?) rendition of "Lambada." [3-minute video] [The original]
- Facebook memory from August 31, 2014: Persian piano music performed by my nephew Avi. [Video]
- Facebook memory from August 31, 2012: How good are you in geography? [Puzzle]
- Facebook memory from August 31, 2012: Great example of smart street art. [Photo]
- Facebook memory from August 31, 2011: "Washington is Hollywood with ugly faces." [Quote]
(5) Book review: Northcutt, Wendy, The Darwin Awards Next Evolution: Chlorinating the Gene Pool (Darwin Awards #5), abridged 4-hour audiobook, read by Patrick Lawlor and Julie Schallar, Listen & Live Audio, 2008.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The tongue-in-cheek Darwin Awards are given to those who voluntarily remove themselves from the gene pool by an idiotic act, thereby contributing to human evolutionary improvement. Northcutt got the idea for the "honor" and launched the Darwin Awards Web site in 1993.
There are five selection rules, as explained on the Award's Web site:
- Reproduction: Out of the gene pool, dead or sterile
- Excellence: Astounding misapplication of judgment
- Self-selection: Cause one's own demise (no bystanders hurt)
- Maturity: Capable of sound judgment
- Veracity: The event must have been verified
This fifth book and the other ones in the series describe a large number of events that have led to Darwin-Award "honors" over the years or have produced near-misses, skirting death by shear luck ("at-risk survivors"). You can sample the stories by asking for a random selection.
The three conservative talk-show hosts who recently died of COVID-19, after ranting endlessly against vaccination and other preventive measures, deserve to be added to the list of Darwin-Award recipients.
A delightful extra in this volume is a series of between-chapters "science interludes" that describe fascinating and little-known scientific developments. Here are their brief descriptions.
- The mosquito spit contains painkillers and vessel dilators, to make the bite easier on you and the mosquito.
- Flowering plants took over a world filled with giant carnivores and survived the herbivores emerging later.
- The charms of e-coli, and the tale of a company that evolved from a 2-man operation to become Genentech.
- Reducing the success rate of forced copulation explains the unusual shapes of genitalia in female ducks.
- One of the largest volcanic events in millions of years led to mass extinction and formed the Siberian traps.
- Hobbits may have actually lived on Indonesia's Flores Island and could constitute a different homo species.

2021/08/30 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Countries with the US as top business partner vs. those that do more business with China Cover image of the September 2021 issue of 'Communications of the ACM' MOOC Feminism, Gender, and Sexuality: A couple of slides from Dr. Saeed Paivandi
Hurricane Ida, as seen from the International Space Station The last US military plane leaves Afghanistan ahead of the August 31 deadline Cover image of David Whyte's 'Midlife and the Great Unknown' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Countries with the US as top business partner (blue) vs. those that do more business with China (orange). [Top center] Cover feature of the September 2021 issue of Communications of the ACM: As ubiquitous abstractions, graphs allow the development of reusable computing tools with broad applications. The need for graphs of increasingly larger sizes necessitates closer scrutiny of such tools to allow effective, scalable, and reproducible performance. [Top right] MOOC on Feminism, Gender, and Sexuality (see the next item below). [Bottom left] Hurricane Ida as seen from the International Space Station: Arriving in Louisiana on the 16th anniversary of Katrina, Ida was one of the strongest storms ever to hit the US. New Orleans was well-prepared for it. [Bottom center] The last US military plane leaves Afghanistan ahead of the August 31 deadline. [Bottom right] David Whyte's Midlife and the Great Unknown (see the last item below).
(2) Feminism, Gender, and Sexuality: I have updated my FB post of Aug. 3, 2021, about Iran Academia's MOOC on Feminism, Gender, and Sexuality up to Week 7 (the final week, in progress now), featuring instructors Dr. Fatemeh Karimi (Director, Kurdistan Human Rights Network), Paria Rahimi (McMaster U.), Dr. Niloofar Hooman (McMaster U.), and Dr. Saeed Paivandi (U. Lorraine, Nancy).
The two slides in the image above are from the presentation by Dr. Saeed Paivandi, whose focus was on the representation of men & women in school textbooks of Iran & Afghanistan. The textbooks feature not only a lack of balance in quantity but also perpetuate stereotypes and are clearly dismissive of women's contributions to society. A striking example appears in a narrative about the key role played by Ali Akbar Dehkhoda's mother in his development, after his father died when he was 9, without even mentioning her by name! (I tried to find out his mother's name, but Wikipedia mentions only his father by name!)
(3) An enjoyable musical experience: Watch CRUSH Duo, composed of cellists Chenoa Orme-Stone and Katrina Agate, play as part of UCSB Music Department's Summer Music Festival. Ahna Lipchik, a leading dancer with State Street Ballet, accompanies the Duo on some pieces.
(4) Book review: Whyte, David, Midlife and the Great Unknown: Finding Courage and Clarity through Poetry, unabridged 3-hour audiobook, read by the author, Sounds True, 2008.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book, targeting the 25% of people between the ages of 35 and 55 living in the United States, is an excerpt from the 2001 set "Clear Mind Wild Heart." I am not in the targeted demographic, but still decided to peruse the book, having heard praise for Whyte's success in bringing the poetic imagination, not only to people's private lives, but also to the corporate world.
While talking about the need to engage with the poetic imagination as a companion and guide for the challenging terrain of midlife, Whyte makes a remarkable observation: A swan is extremely awkward when it walks on land, barely able to maintain its balance, but it undergoes a magical transformation, as it steps from land into the water, suddenly becoming agile and majestic. We all need to find our elements, the setting in which we can be graceful and self-assured.
Elsewhere, Whyte opines that one of the saddest things to observe in this world is an old person who has become bitter and cynical. The outer bodily deterioration, combined with the mind's inner rot, is simply unbearable! As American writer Henry Miller opined about aging, "If you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter and cynical, man you've got it half licked."
I suppose these two pieces of advice, as well as much of the book's other content, are just as useful to human-beings before reaching midlife and afterwards, so I recommend the book to everyone, young and old.

2021/08/29 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Statues of illiberty: Real Iranian and Afghan women, versus how their governments want them to look Statement by Code.org on ACM's Turing Award bestowed on Jeffrey Ullman History in pictures: The Beatles with the Everly Brothers, Don & Phil (1) Images of the day: [Left] Statues of illiberty: Real Iranian and Afghan women, vs. how their governments want them to look. [Center] Statement by Code.org on ACM's Turing Award bestowed on Jeffrey Ullman (see the next item below). [Right] History in pictures: The Beatles with the Everly Brothers, Don & Phil.
(2) Jeffrey Ullman's Turing-Award honor questioned: The September issue of CACM has published a letter by Mohammad Mahmoody, who protests the prestigious honor being bestowed on Ullman, on the grounds that for over a decade, he had openly and unapologetically denigrated Iranian students, referring to them as "Islamic terrorists" and holding them accountable for the actions and words of Iran's ruling clerics.
Code.org has taken a stance on this issue by deleting its social-media posts congratulating Professor Ullman and urging ACM to revisit its criteria for granting the Turing Award. [Ullman's deleted Web page]
(3) New Yorker cartoon caption of the day (friends speaking in a bunker): "Aw, look at all these photos of us wearing masks, back when we were all able to live aboveground."
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Ida is on track to make landfall as a strong category-4 hurricane on the Louisiana coast today.
- Explosive-filled car hit by US drone in Kabul: Either a car-bomb or a car carrying multiple suicide bombers.
- Karzai to head Afghanistan's transitional government: The Taliban ask the US not to withdraw diplomats.
- Iranian-American Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, among US military personnel killed in Kabul Airport explosion.
- Ed Asner, famous for the role of boss in "Mary Tyler Moore Show" & winner of 7 Emmy Awards, dead at 91.
- An Iranian girl performing defiantly in front of an art school that banned women from majoring in theater.
- A farmer arranged his sheep to form a heart, as a tribute to an aunt, whose funeral he couldn't attend.
- Infinite series with unexpected sum: The sum of inverse factorials, that is, without the (n + 2) term, is e.
(5) More of the wonders of the number π:
π/2 = (4/3) × (16/15) × (36/35) × (64/63) × ...   [Even squares > 0, divided by one less]
π/4 = (8/9) × (24/25) × (48/49) × (80/81) × ...   [One less, divided by odd squares > 1]
(6) "Baghdad and Isfahan: A Dialog of Two Cities in an Age of Science ca. 750-1750": Book talk by Dr. Elaheh Kheirandish, Harvard U. (Saturday, September 4, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT)
(7) "An unexpected tool for understanding inequality: abstract math": An 11-minute TEDx talk by Eugenia Cheng, whose book x + y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender I will review in the near future.
(8) UCSB's Summer Music Festival: Duo Con Fuoco, composed of pianists Dr. Petra Persolja & Adam Gravelle, and North Indian Classical Music, with Scott Marcus on sitar & Shashank Aswathanarayana on tabla.
(9) Explaining category theory & why it's trendy: "It offers a birds-eye view of the structure of mathematical objects. It is a new universal language that allows us to speak about multiple areas of mathematics at the same time. It allows us to build many bridges between seemingly unrelated fields of study, and thus find many unexpected connections which has led to very fruitful research." [Diagram]

2021/08/27 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Chris Funk's book demystifying the role of climate change in extreme weather and natural disasters Clifford Pickover's book featuring 250 milestones in mathematics Clifford Pickover's book featuring 250 milestones in physics
UCSB's student newspaper publishes its inaugural issue for the academic year 2021-2022 You have heard about little free community libraries: Now there is a community fridge in Isla Vista UC hasn't been transparent on Accellion data breach that compromise massive information about its employees
Lao Wang restaurant in Isla Vista openly advertises a bribe for 5-star reviews These five Taliban leaders were released from Guantanomo in 2015 and lived in Qatar, before returning to Afghanistan Lost in translation: Iran is quite proud of it 'Cultural hirtage'! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] UCSB researcher Chris Funk (Geography Dept.) has published a book, Drought, Flood, Fire: How Climate Change Contributes to Catastrophes, to demystify the role of climate change in extreme weather and natural disasters. [Top center & right] Clifford Pickover's books on math and physics, featuring 250 milestones in each field. [Bottom left] As the UCSB campus prepares to return to normal, the student newspaper publishes its inaugural issue for the academic year 2021-2022. [Bottom center] Little free community libraries are sprouting everywhere: Now there is a free community fridge in Isla Vista for exchanging food in a similar manner. [Bottom right] UC hasn't been transparent on Accellion data breach that compromised massive amounts of information about its employees. [Bottom left] There's gotta be a law against this: Lao Wang restaurant in Isla Vista advertises a bribe for 5-star reviews. I have posted a negative review on Yelp, along with the photo. (P.S.: Yelp sent me a message that it has removed my photo and comment. They are upset with me for disclosing fraud rather than with the cheating restaurant!) [Bottom center] These five Taliban leaders were released from Guantanamo in 2015 and lived in Qatar, before returning to Afghanistan. [Bottom right] Lost in translation: Iran is quite proud of it "Cultural hirtage"!
(2) Book-summary podcast: Conrad, Peter, The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Treatable Disorders, Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2007. [BPlus Persian podcast #62]
(3) Mathematical paradox: You probably think that 1/2 of all positive integers are even. I will prove otherwise. Write the positive integers in the following order:
(1, 2, 3), (5, 4, 7), (9, 6, 11), ... , (4n – 3, 2n, 4n – 1), ...
In the sequence above, all odd integers and all even integers will eventually appear. Within each group of 3 integers, the middle one is even, so 1/3 of all positive integers are even!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Republicans fuming over abandoning Afghan allies were eerily quiet when Kurdish allies were left behind.
- Journalist Azmat Khan to Join Columbia's journalism faculty to lead new international-journalism center.
- We cannot have four points on the plane so that the distance between any two of them is an odd integer.
- The dots in this image are on 3.5-hour closed paths: They are not just jittering or sparkling.
(5) Housing crisis for UCSB students: As the 2021-2022 academic year is set to begin, UCSB students are having problems securing housing, and prices for what is available are going through the roof. Of course, it's not all the campus administration's fault, as this opinion piece suggests.
(6) "Data Feminism": This is the title of a free webinar by Dr. Lauren Klein (Assoc. Prof., Departments of English and Quantitative Theory & Methods, Emory U.). Friday, Sep. 10, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT. [Book info]
(7) Afghan commander asserts that they were betrayed by the US: In fact, they betrayed the US, not the other way around. They drew salaries and paraded their "might" in the relative safety that US presence provided. They were never prepared to fight for their people. Reminds me of Shah's generals, who surrendered without firing a shot. I am not saying that they should have fought, but they had pledged allegiance to the country's constitutional monarchy. They drew good salaries and benefits, and marched in parades with their medals during peace time, never intending to fight any enemies, within or without.

2021/08/26 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Persian story-reading with author Mehrnoosh Mazarei A couple of selfies taken at Santa Barbara's Shoreline Park this afternoon This afternoon at Santa Barbara's Shoreline Park: A bluff-top area with a wonderful walking path and beautiful views of the ocean (1) Images of the day: [Left] Persian story-reading with author Mehrnoosh Mazarei (see the last item below). [Center & Right] This afternoon at Santa Barbara's Shoreline Park: A bluff-top area just to the west of SB Harbor, with a wonderful walking path and beautiful views of the ocean.
(2) The Persian language & script: I had previously posted about factors contributing to the longevity of the Persian language, despite multiple foreign invasions of the land of Iran. Here's another account by BBC's Pargar program. And here's a Pargar program about ideas for reforming the Persian script.
(3) Tool that predicts the next block of sentences based on a few past blocks can help remove writer's block: It may even help creativity by inspiring something that the writer didn't think of before.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A dozen US soldiers killed, 15+ injured in two explosions at and just outside Kabul Airport.
- Kabul Airport explosions by ISIS suicide bombers also claim the lives of 60+ Afghans.
- Our supposed ally and recipient of much US aid: Pakistan, the real winner of the Afghanistan debacle.
- A female Professor in Kabul reports that she has been placed on leave without pay until further notice.
- Masih Alinejad talks about women's rights and how Iran's hijab laws insult not only women, but also men.
- "Iranian Women on the Frontlines: Strategies for Change": Panel discussion, Sep. 8, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT.
(5) Unfortunately, ordinary Afghans will suffer: Still, the upcoming fight between the Taliban and ISIS will help improve the world by getting rid of some extremist scum. As the Persian saying goes, "casualties on either side will benefit Islam"!
(6) An art school in Iran bans women from majoring in theater: The days when female characters in plays are either eliminated or played by male actors aren't far behind this decision! Shades of medieval Europe.
(7) The GOP knocks California for high taxes and praises Texas for low taxes: But for the bottom 60%, Californians actually pay less in taxes! Everything is assessed from the viewpoint of the rich.
(8) Math puzzle: Find a 6-digit number such that when it is multiplied by 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6, the results consist of the same digits in the same order, if viewed circularly.
(9) "Literature and the Feminine Perspective: Story-Reading with Merhnoosh Mazarei": This was the title of yesterday's Zoom session, sponsored by Department of Asian Studies, U. British Columbia. I joined the 7:00-9:00 PM PDT session around 8:00 PM, thus hearing only passages from two stories ("The Pickup" & "A Stranger in My Room"), along with the subsequent discussion.
Unfortunately, a couple of discussants tried to convince others of the validity of their take on the stories, ascribing intentions to the author that may or may not be there. Ultimately, the effect of a fictional story on the reader is quite personal and must be allowed to develop freely, without overly strict philosophical or ideological interpretations.
The session has been recorded and I will attempt to watch its first half (which I missed) via this link.

2021/08/25 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Strength in diversity: UCSB, UCLA, and NMHU join forces to bring diversity to research on petroleum-based polymers Right-wingers are busy re-writing history: They are also re-defining dictionary terms, such as 'liberal'! Cover image for the book 'Alan Turing: The Enigma'
Math puzzle: A 5-by-5 table whose rows and columns form arithmetic progressions One-dimensional or 'Tape' chess Geometric fact about squares built on the sides of a parallelogram (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Strength in diversity: UCSB, UCLA, and NMHU join forces to bring diversity to research on petroleum-based polymers. [Top center] Right-wingers are busy re-writing history: They are also re-defining dictionary terms, such as "liberal"! [Top right] Alan Turing: The Enigma (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Math puzzle: Find x, after filling out this 5×5 table with entries that form arithmetic progressions in every row and column. [Bottom center] One-dimensional or "Tape" chess (rules). [Bottom right] Interesting geometric fact: If you build squares on the sides of any parallelogram, the centers of the resulting squares are vertices of a square.
(2) Random thought for the day: I feel sorry for a future widow of a real Nigerian millionaire who wants to transfer funds out of her country with help from a kind stranger in the West. No one will believe her!
(3) How are fake news, misinformation, and disinformation different? [Source: "Data and Disinformation," IEEE Computer, Vol. 54, July 2021, pp. 105-110]
- Fake news: False, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.
- Misinformation: The inadvertent sharing of false information.
- Disinformation: The deliberate creation and sharing of information known to be false.
(4) Book review: Hodges, Andrew, Alan Turing: The Enigma, unabridged audiobook on 24 CDs, read by Gordon Griffin, Brilliance Audio, 2012. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I listened to the audio version of this book, which apparently served as the main inspiration for the 2014 biopic "The Imitation Game," several years ago. The "Enigma" of the title refers both to the name given to a Nazi Germany's secret-communication code, which was thought to be unbreakable, and to Turing's personality and life. Reading some other material on Alan Turing for a personal research project, I decided to share my thoughts on the book in this belated review.
Hodges has done a wonderful job of collecting in one place pertinent facts from Turing's life, his contributions as father of computer science, as well as theoretical & practical aspects of code-breaking. At ~800 pages in its print version (31 hours in audio format), the book is rather long for the average reader. In fact, despite my intense interest in the subject matter, I found completing the book a tough challenge.
Turing is known as the father of computer science for several important contributions, which include devising the Turing machine, formulating what later became known in the field of artificial intelligence as the Turing test, and putting the theory of computability on firm footing. Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), a leading organization for computing professionals, has named its most-prestigious award, given once a year and sometimes described informally as the Nobel Prize of computing, after Turing.
As a gay man, Turing suffered greatly, including being denied the security clearance that was necessary for his work. After he was tried for "gross indecency" in 1952, he agreed to undergo a form of chemical castration in order to avoid prison time. These injustices drove him to take his own life in 1954.
One of Turing's most-impactful contributions was leading a team of mathematicians charged with breaking Nazi Germany's secret-communication code, The Enigma. This work is thought to have saved an estimated 21 million lives by helping the Allies overcome Germany during World War II. I have studied the Enigma, the code and the machine used for its encoding & decoding, and still find it difficult to accept that such an ingenious scheme could be compromised by even more-ingenious methods.
In tackling the Enigma code, Turing made good use of Bayesian statistics for reasoning under uncertainty. Turing's strategy is described in great detail in the book The Theory that Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines & Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy (by Sharon B. McGrayne, Yale University Press, 2011). Turing used Bayes' rule to tame the combinatorial complexity of breaking highly sophisticated coding schemes: "As a measure of their belief, [code-breaking] team members assigned a Bayesian probability to each speculative code group according to how often it had occurred in already deciphered messages. The most probable blocks, as well as borderline or especially important cases, were studied further" [p. 83 of the just-cited book].
Here is a list of four other excellent books on Alan Turing, the first three of which are perhaps more-accessible than Alan Turing: The Enigma.
- Prof: Alan Turing Decoded (by Alan Turing's nephew, Durmot Turing, drawing material from the family)
- The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded (graphic novel by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Leland Purvis)
- Turing's Cathedral (by George Dyson; von Neumann brings the Turing machine from theory to practice)
- Turing's Vision: The Birth of Computer Science (by Chris Bernhardt; Highly technical)
An alternative to reading compiled biographies is to delve into Turing Digital Archive's original material.

2021/08/24 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
CCTV of Iran's notorious Evin Prison hacked: The control room at the Evin Prison Cover image for  the book 'Human Rights Activists in Iran: History, Obstacles, Achievements' Cartoons: Airport security check in 2021, and the plight of Afghans
UC Berkeley's Professor Jennifer Tour Chayes profiled by ACM Sholeh Wolpe spoke on defiance in Persian poetry Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, this year's recipient of the British Royal Society's highest honor, the Copley Medal (1) Images of the day: [Top left] CCTV of Iran's notorious Evin Prison hacked: Mountains of prisoner-abuse evidence emerge on social media. [Top center] Book to be released on August 30, 2021: Human Rights Activists in Iran: History, Obstacles, Achievements. [Top right] Cartoons of the day: Airport security check in 2021, and the plight of Afghans. [Bottom left] Women in STEM: UC Berkeley's Professor Jennifer Tour Chayes, profiled by ACM. [Bottom center] Sholeh Wolpe spoke on defiance in Persian poetry (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Women in STEM: This year, the British Royal Society's highest honor, the Copley Medal, first awarded in 1731, goes to Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell. A member of the team that discovered pulsars in 1967, she was overlooked for a Nobel Prize in favor of her male collaborators.
(2) "I Am a Girl": I had shared the wonderful song "Dokhtar Astam" before, but let me re-dedicate it to the girls and women of Afghanistan, who must now redouble their efforts to overcome oppression by a newly-emboldened Taliban. The world is with you! [4-minute video]
(3) Rohani vs. Rouhani: Their last names are identical in Persian (though, they use different English spellings), but Anoushiravan Rohani created memorable music that delights Iranians and people around the world (such as his "Soltan-e Ghalbha," put to Arabic lyrics in this 5-minute video), whereas Hassan Rouhani gutted Iran's economy and destroyed the little international
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- How ironic that people who call others "sheep" for following science-based guidelines take livestock meds!
- Math puzzle: What is the value of i^i? [Video with the solution]
- Nikola Tesla's sculpture made of various electrical gadgets, on display in Prague's Art Museum. [Video]
- Women in Iranian cinema and theater: A BBC Persian round-table (with Aghdashloo, Taslimi, Tolouei).
(5) Fun with math: When you double the number 105263157894736842, the digit 2 at the number's right end moves to its left end. 105263157894736842 × 2 = 210526315789473684
(6) Possible scientific misconduct by guest editors of multiple special issues of Microprocessors and Microsystems: Journal publisher Elsevier is looking at the sub-par refereeing process for multiple special issues and will take appropriate actions, when done. According to Elsevier, "While it's not clear what exactly happened in this case, at least four journals have been scammed by rogue editors in the past two years."
(7) "How to Read Persian Classical and Modern Poetry as Poems of Defiance": This was the title of today's enjoyable Zoom talk by Sholeh Wolpe, sponsored by UC Riverside's History Department and moderated by UCR's Dr. Fariba Zarinebaf. (BTW, no question mark is needed at the end of the title!). Citing examples from Attar's "Conference of the Birds" and a few contemporary Persian poems, including her own work (all in English), Ms. Wolpe elaborated upon how poets have spoken against oppression and authority, either openly or allegorically. Among women poets, Forough Farrokhzad was unique in being forthright in putting her feelings & desires into words, and attacking the religious establishment & its patriarchal basis, thereby eliciting both adulation & vicious attacks, and paving the way for many women poets. [Sample poetry recitation]

2021/08/23 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
QR codes posted throughout Melbourne, Australia, link to a video that claims Jews were responsible for 9/11 The Qajar-era Hariri House on Tabriz's Tarbiat Street is registered as one of Iran's national monuments Chalk drawings of theorems, somewhere in Greece
Samples of coins minted in honor of Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci Zoom talk on the poetry of Mehdi Akhavan-Sales: Speaker Zoom talk on the poetry of Mehdi Akhavan-Sales: Flyer (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Anti-Semitism goes high-tech: QR codes posted throughout Melbourne, Australia, link to a video that claims Jews were responsible for 9/11. [Top center] The Qajar-era Hariri House on Tabriz's Tarbiat Street is registered as one of Iran's national monuments. [Top right] Math in unexpected places: Chalk drawings of theorems, somewhere in Greece. [Bottom left] Samples of coins minted in honor of Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci (1170-1250). [Bottom center & right] Zoom talk by Dr. Zohreh K. Ghahremani on the poetry of contemporary Iranian poet Mehdi Akhavan-Sales (see the last item below).
(2) Fun with math: Consider the number pairs (25, 5), (36, 6), (625, 25), (390625, 625), which are of the general form (x^2, x). What is special about these pairs is that the 2k-digit or (2k – 1)-digit x^2 ends in the same k digits as x. A more impressive example follows. Are there infinitely-many such pairs?
3317093849 18212890625 = 18212890625^2
(3) Books on the "UCSB Reads 2022" program's short-list have been rank-ordered: The final selection will be announced soon. Here are my reviews of the four books, in alphabetical order of the titles.
[Exhalation] [The Friend] [The Inequality Machine] [The Undocumented Americans]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Who knew that replacing Taliban with Taliban would take 20 years, 4 US presidents, and thousands of lives?
- The Borowitz Report (humor): FDA withdraws approval from "whatever drug Rand Paul is on."
- Saw an ad for a T-shirt with this inscription: "Professor—Because freakin' awesome isn't an official job title"!
- Motivational message: If cauliflower can become pizza, you, my friend, can become anything you want!
- Persian poetry: A beautiful ghazal by Mowlavi (Rumi) espousing the virtues of and looking outside oneself.
(5) From a woman friend's Facebook post, in Persian: Tell us how to behave, how much distrust to harbor, and how scared to be, so that when we are assaulted, you don't blame us instead of the perpetrator. respect my ancient motherland had left.
(6) Surveillance photos/videos leaked from Iran's notorious Evin Prison: Gross violation of prisoners and their privacy, especially in the case of women, who are more vulnerable with the mostly-male prison guards. Some of the released videos reveal prisoner abuse.
(7) Is China a surveillance state or a data-privacy champion? The Wall Street Journal reports that China has passed one of the world's strictest data-privacy laws, much like Europe's GDPR. I can't reconcile this with many previous reports about the Chinese government collecting massive data on its citizens, calculating a "social credit score" for each person, and using the score to dole out rights and benefits.
(8) "Poetry of Khorasan: Mehdi Akhavan-Sales": This was the title of Sunday's Zoom talk by Dr. Zohreh K. Ghahremani in which she presented a brief bio of contemporary poet Mehdi Akhavan-Sales [1929-1990] and recited a few of his poems, including his famous "Zemestan Ast" ("It's Winter"). The session started by showing this music video from Farhang Foundation. A couple more videos were shown at the end of the session. An interesting aside offered by Dr. Ghahremani is the fact that Mashhad is the only Iranian city with a university named after a poet (Ferdowsi).
[Bios of Akhavan-Sales: Wikipedia; Iranica] [His poetry: Collection; A recitation]

2021/08/21 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
John Kerry's 2018 memoir: Cover image of the Persian translation John Kerry's 2018 memoir: First page of Ch. 18 on JCPOA ('Barjam') The Quarrymen (1957), later becoming The Beatles: George was 14, John 16, and Paul 15 (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] John Kerry on JCPOA ("Barjam"): In his 2018 memoir, John Kerry devoted Chapter 18 to the nuclear deal with Iran. I have a PDF file of Chapter 18 in the book's Persian version. Friends who introduced the Persian book to me indicate that the translation by Ali Mojtahedzadeh is well-done. [Right] The Quarrymen, later becoming The Beatles: In this 1957 photo, George was 14, John 16, and Paul 15.
(2) Today's Kabul feels like Tehran of 1979: People are burning or burying books, photos, documents, and other artifacts that may be construed as "un-Islamic," should their homes be searched by the Taliban.
(3) Quote of the day: "All I could see around me were the fearful and scared faces of women and ugly faces of men who hate women." ~ An Afghan university student (quoted in The Guardian)
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Proof that the on-line future has arrived: People now spend more at Amazon than at Walmart. [NYT]
- In case you have forgotten, almost everyone had a vaccine passport all through school. Relax! [Image]
- Engineering failure: A cargo ship breaks into two parts off the coast of northern Japan.
- The iconic magnetic-strip on credit cards will be phased out over the next decade.
- History of alt-milk (humor): This New Yorker piece constructs a funny history of almond-milk and the like.
- Restaurant servers working from home: I bet you didn't think this was possible!
(5) Ten girls on Afghanistan's robotics team rescued: Exactly as it happened in Iran after 1979, the brightest Afghans will move abroad, helping Western economies prosper and making Afghanistan even poorer.
(6) Revealing quote of the day: "Women know less than men about political issues, economics, and current events. Good news for Democrats, bad news for Republicans. For the less one knows, the easier the manipulation." ~ Misogynistic writing of Larry Elder, leading Republican candidate in California's recall election
(7) The Postal Service is mentioned in the US Constitution: It is a power of Congress "To establish Post Offices and Post Roads." As an essential public service, it was never intended to make money, much like our military, our highway system, and FEMA.
(8) My talk about computer architecture: I will be giving one of my IEEE Computer Society Distinguished Visitor Program talks for IEEE Denver Section via WebEx on November 11, 2021, 5:00 PM PST.
(9) "Coded Bias": Based on the book Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, this important documentary, which is available on Netflix, deals with artificial-intelligence-based systems inheriting, and at times amplifying, the bias embedded in their designers and in data sets. [My 4-star review of Weapons of Math Destruction]

2021/08/20 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB North Campus Open Space: Effects of the prolonged California drought Persian carpet in 3D: St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London UCSB North Campus Open Space: The story of the area's restoration efforts & outcomes
Afghanistan: Talk about a toxic culture The new map of Afghanistan as a weeping woman Islamic rules for buildings, architecture, and engineering have been published! (1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] UCSB North Campus Open Space: Effects of the prolonged California drought and the story of restoration efforts & outcomes. [Top center] Persian carpet: St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London. [Bottom left] Talk about a toxic culture! (see the last item below) [Bottom center] The new map of Afghanistan as a weeping woman. [Bottom right] Engineers rejoice: Islamic rules for buildings, architecture, and engineering have been published!
(2) Apt warning: Just because places are opening up doesn't mean that the COVID-19 danger is behind us. Most openings are economically motivated. Mask up, wash your hands, keep a safe distance, avoid crowds!
(3) One-hundred-year-old Iranian poet from Kermanshah: Shokrollah Davidian has lived in Israel for 75 years and still composes poems about Iran and holds poetry & music nights at his home in northern Israel. [Video]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Secret IRS files show how billionaires successfully lobbied to shape Trump's 2017 tax cuts to their benefit.
- In this 14-minute TEDx talk from 5 years ago, Yalda Hakim describes the plight of Afghan women.
- Playing some mean basketball in full Islamic hijab: Sad and inspiring at the same time. [Video]
- Government study finds that Iranian schoolgirls are distancing themselves from "Islamic hijab."
- Kala pocket sundial: Though a bit pricy at $59, it makes a fine gift for the person who has everything!
- Cartoon of the day: Misinformation joins the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. [Image]
- Facebook memory from August 20, 2017: My day at the world-famous Powell Books in Portland, Oregon.
(5) Facebook memory from August 20, 2019: Compulsory hijab isn't a minor inconvenience, as some claim. It is a tool of oppression that helps Iran's brutal Islamic regime stay in power.
(6) A liar has poor memory: This Persian saying is aptly demonstrated in these clips from Iran's state TV, first praising the "Dear Leader" for his infinite wisdom in banning vaccine imports from the West (because MRNA vaccines interfere with your genes and promote cancer) and then, a few months later, bashing "hostile media" for spreading lies about vaccine import ban!
(7) Oxymoronic: It seems like the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will have a president. But "emirate" means "a political territory that is ruled by a dynastic Arabic or Islamic monarch-styled emir"!
(8) Afghanistan's machine-gun culture: Why is it that nearly all Taliban members hold machine-guns in photos and videos that we see these days, as if they would be naked without the weapons? Why is it that we don't see the Talibs talk to children, kindly and reassuringly? Why don't they interact with women without pointing a weapon at them? Do they ever smile? Talk about toxic masculinity!
(9) Afghanistan's machine-gun culture: Why is it that nearly all Taliban members hold machine-guns in photos and videos that we see these days, as if they would be naked without the weapons? Why is it that we don't see the Talibs talk to children, kindly and reassuringly? Why don't they interact with women without pointing a weapon at them? Do they ever smile? Talk about toxic masculinity!

2021/08/19 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
One-stop shopping: While you order pizza or a sandwich, you can also buy a thesis or half-dozen research papers Wonderful editorial illustrations by Eiko Ojala Wearing my pi T-shirt to celebrate the derivation of 62.8 trillion digits of pi
Organizers of a garden event reminded 'the ladies' that they will provide shoe-stoppers (for high heels) at check-in for those who need them! IEEE CCS August 18, 2021, talk by Dr. Faramarz Davarian A Pythagorean triangle visits us from the Twilight Zone: Side lengths 1, i, and 0 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] One-stop shopping in Tehran, Iran (undated photo): While you order pizza or a sandwich, you can also buy a thesis or half-dozen research papers for use in your next academic promotion! [Top center] Wonderful editorial illustrations by Eiko Ojala. [Top right] Wearing my π T-shirt to celebrate the derivation of 62.8 trillion digits of π (see the next item below). [Bottom left] A very Iranian initiative: Organizers of a garden event reminded "the ladies" that they will provide shoe-stoppers at check-in for those who need them! [Bottom center] IEEE CCS August 18 talk by Dr. Faramarz Davarian (see the last item below). [Bottom right] A Pythagorean triangle visits us from the Twilight Zone (credit: Cliff Pickover).
(2) How does one compute billions or even trillions of π's digits? Following my post about Swiss researchers having derived 62.8 trillion digits of π, a few friends inquired about methods used to do this. This Web page has a nice summary of methods. Most of these methods are based on various series expansions, along with a capability to represent large numbers. One can do the latter by using vectors of machine-words, such as using one-hundred 32-bit words to represent an unsigned number with up to 3200 bits (~963 decimal digits). Arithmetic operations such as addition and multiplication can then be programmed on numbers thus represented, but they take much longer than ordinary operations on machine-words, hence the need for supercomputers when trillions of digits and a similarly large number of operstions are involved.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Ebrahim Raisi's cabinet in Iran: An assortment of internationally sanctioned and wanted individuals!
- Citing "freedom," several Republican governors are imposing their lethal opinions on their constituents.
- Director of Tehran's Coronavirus Taskforce admits that Iranian authorities lied to WHO about fatalities.
- The #StopHatePropaganda campaign in support of Baha'is in Iran gathers support ("Iran Without Hate").
(4) Last night's IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Dr. Faramarz Davarian (Manager of Deep-Space Network Technology at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JPL) talked at 6:30 PM PDT under the title "Connecting with the Moon: Can We Provide Communications Connectivity for Human Presence on the Moon Similar to What We Have on Our Planet?" The Zoom session had 19 participants. [IEEE CCS event page]
Although humans have already visited the Moon, brought Lunar samples back to Earth, and made many Earth-based and space-based observations of the Moon, there is much about the Moon that remains unexplored. Furthermore, the Moon provides opportunities that are unique and attractive. For example, the far side of the Moon is shielded from radio emissions generated by human activity, hence, it provides a great opportunity to observe the universe with radio telescopes free from man-made noise and Earth's atmosphere.
Recent observations have indicated that there is water on the Moon, with the highest concentration at the poles, particularly the South Pole. The Moon is also rich in minerals and has a much lower gravity pull than the Earth. Therefore, the Moon has been suggested as a convenient station on the way to other destinations, such as Mars. Using the resources of the Moon, humans can develop rockets to take off in the low Lunar gravity rather than taking off from Earth.
Imagine a scenario where there are human colonies on the moon, and robots are performing tasks not suitable for humans. Moreover, the surface of the Moon is dotted with radio telescopes and other scientific instruments. Lunar dwellers, humans and robots, need to be connected to each other and to Earth. How do we provide connectivity for the above scenario? In this talk, we examine options for lunar communications and provide examples of networks that can provide connectivity for the Moon.
Topics discussed by Dr. Davarian with regard to communications requirements for lunar exploration included contacting the moon, relay satellites to allow indirect transmissions from/to Earth, challenges in selecting relay-satellite orbits (stable or "frozen" orbits), on-the-ground large antennas to receive signals from lunar relays, communication modes/delays/bandwidths, supporting an Internet-of-things on the Moon, and the structure of a wire-mesh radio-telescope to be built by robots over a lunar crater. [IEEE CCS Technical Talks page]

2021/08/18 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Image from an archived version of GOP's Web page praising Trump's deal with the Taliban According to a Trump spokesperson, the inauguration crowd on August 13 (Trump's reinstatement date) was the largest ever! New facts about the number (computing its digits and amazing formulas)
Walter's Wiggles on the hike to Angels Landing in Zion National Park, Utah, United States Meme: Those who accuse you of having irrational fears harbor a long list of irrational fears themselves! Mini-pizzas: French baguette & sliced French loaf, with veggie toppings (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Erasing history, a la "1984": Calling it "routine Web maintenance," the GOP removes a page praising Trump's "historic" peace deal with the Taliban! (Image from an archived version of the RNC page) [Top center] According to a Trump spokesperson, the inauguration crowd on August 13 (Trump's reinstatement date) was the largest ever! [Top right] New facts about the number π (see the next item below). [Bottom left] Engineering meets nature: Walter's Wiggles on the hike to Angels Landing in Zion National Park, Utah, United States. [Bottom center] Meme of the day: Those who accuse you of having irrational fears harbor a long list of irrational fears themselves! [Bottom right] Mini-pizzas: French baguette & sliced French loaf.
(2) The number π back in the news: Swiss researchers have set a new record for calculating the digits of π. Using 108+ days of a supercomputer's time, they have derived 62.8 trillion digits of π. Today, I encountered two amazing formulas for π. The first formula uses only the number 2. The second one is a rapidly-converging series, with its first term, corresponding to q = 0, yielding 1/π = 0.318,309,886 or π = 3.141,592,654.
(3) Dreams of Afghan women have been crushed: Not just by the Taliban, but by all Afghans, who would not take the opportunity provided by 20 years of US presence & support to reform their society from within.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Creator of Sudoku puzzle, Maki Kaji [1951-2021] dead of cancer at 69.
- The difference between Democrats and Republicans: "Tax and Spend" vs. "Borrow and Spend"!
- Iran's Khavaran Cultural Complex was erected on a bulldozed Baha'i cemetery. [English] [Persian]
- Facebook memory from August 18, 2019: Defeated 0-3 by Amazon/Google ads!
- Facebook memory from August 18, 2017: Solar eclipse and my trip to the US Pacific Northwest.
- Facebook memory from August 18, 2014: Several icons of contemporary Persian poetry in one frame.
- Facebook memory from August 18, 2010: Math puzzles, a simple one and something more challenging.
(5) Facebook memory from August 18, 2017: Masterful poem & advice from the great Persian poet Sa'adi, of particular relevance to those who say Afghanistan or Haiti isn't our problem!
(6) The Afghan military betrayed fellow Afghans by not firing a single shot: They also allowed vast amounts of US-supplied arms to fall into the Taliban's hands, ensuring their reign of terror for years to come.
(7) ACM Turing Award is now in its 55th year: Known informally as the Nobel Prize of Computing, the first Turing Award was given in 1966 to Alan J. Perlis, with the 2020 Award recently going to Jeffrey Ullman and Alfred Aho. ACM had a 50th-anniversary celebration for the award in 2017. You can read about that celebration and a number of associated special presentations on this ACM Web page.
(8) Sometimes, even well-meaning men can become complicit in the oppression of women: I use this Facebook memory from August 18, 2014, to amplify what I wrote earlier about all Afghan men, and not just the Taliban, sharing the blame for the oppression of women in that country. In Iran and, to my chagrin, in the US too, men, sometimes inadvertently, help advance a patriarchal view of women. For example, some right-wingers in the US are pointing their fingers at attempts to educate Afghan women about feminism and their rights for what is happening to them. So, they blame the victims and those who tried to help them, rather than blaming the Taliban or the men who chose inaction over the past two decades, when they could have used the opportunity provided by the US presence and support to help reform the Afghan society from within.

2021/08/16 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Inside a US Air Force transport plane taking off from Kabul Airport Photo-op: Former US Secretary of State with a Taliban leader in Doha, Qatar Meme: As Kabul falls, women are once again exposed to oppression and violence
What are these people doing atop an airplane at Kabul Airport? This isn't a train! Beef liver, baked in the oven (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Inside a US Air Force transport plane taking off from Kabul Airport. And here's a video of the plane trying to take off amid a sea of Afghans, running next to the plane and hanging on to it. [Top center] Photo-op: Former US Secretary of State with a Taliban leader in Doha, Qatar. [Top right] Meme of the day: As Kabul falls, women are once again exposed to oppression and violence. [Bottom left] What are these people doing atop an airplane in Kabul? Maybe they took "Airbus" too literally! [Bottom right] Beef liver, baked in the oven: It does not compare with broiling over charcoal, the way we did in Iran, but it's still okay.
(2) The Taliban indicate that journalists' and women's rights will be respected within the confines of Islam: Ask any Iranian journalist or woman about the meaning of the last phrase!
(3) Magnitude-3.9 quake shook Tehran on Aug. 15, 2021: This particular moderate quake apparently caused no damage, but the possibility of major destruction from a quake along the North Tehran fault line has worried many in the metropolis. More than two million people in Tehran and one million in Alborz Province reside within the fault zone, an area that includes many residential towers along narrow streets with poor emergency access.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- End of terrorism in Afghanistan: Like Iran, terrorists in power use cops and courts to kill their opponents.
- August 16 vs. January 6, 2021: Similar, but seven months and thousands of miles apart. [Photos]
- Hormoz Farhat [1928-2021], Iranian ethnomusicologist living in Ireland, dead at 93. [2010 BBC intro].
- Bikers are bad for the economy! They don't buy cars or gas, and they don't pay for repairs or parking.
- Here are a couple of interesting maps of the subfields of mathematics and their relationships.
- For my Persian-speaking readers: BPlus podcasts bring you summaries of non-fiction books in Persian.
(5) My essay for IEEE Computer Society's 75th anniversary contest: I first shared this essay, entitled "Digital Slavery," on May 16, 2021. Having heard that it was not chosen as the winner, I decided to post this reminder, because it spans some very important topics.
(6) When a fact-checker fact-checks itself: Snopes retracts 60 articles written by its co-founder David Mikkelson, who owns half of the company, because of plagiarism revealed by a BuzzFeed investigation.
(7) Fake COVID-19 vaccines in Iran: A criminal band, which included a doctor, refilled used vaccine vials with a muscle-relaxant and sold them to patients for 6 million tomans ($250) per injection.
(8) A serious case of public-health malpractice: One of the first groups of COVID-exposed people on a cruise ship, arriving in the US on the same flight, were packed into a busy airport and later allowed to go on their ways, taking different flights and spreading the disease even further.
(9) The Trans-Iranian Railway becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site: The 1394-kilometer (865-mile) wonder of engineering, linking the Persian Gulf coast to the Caspian Sea, is one of 33 new sites chosen by UNESCO on July 25, 2021. Featuring 224 tunnels, 174 viaducts, and 186 smaller bridges, the railway climbs to two 2134-meter (7000-foot) summits.

2021/08/15 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Afghanistan, in two photos: Taliban leaders and their idols Afghanistan, in two photos: Illustration of Taliban's plans for women The mathematics of manhole covers (example from Wiesbaden, Germany)
I would not stand on that rock: Would you? Meme: Take state and local elections, including the upcoming recall election in California, seriously The book 'Mine!' by Michael A. Heller and James Salzman (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Afghanistan, in two photos: Taliban leaders, their idols, and an illustration of their plans for women. [Top right] The mathematics of manhole covers (example from Wiesbaden, Germany). [Bottom left] I would not stand on that rock: Would you? [Bottom center] Meme of the day: Take state and local elections, including the upcoming recall election in California, seriously! [Bottom right] The book Mine! by Michael A. Heller and James Salzman (see the last item below).
(2) On Afghanistan: Many seem to think that the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban was due to mistakes by Biden or the US. I have news for these people! I don't deny huge mistakes and big lies over 20 years, but the recent hand-over of Afghanistan to the Taliban was no mistake. It was negotiated by Trump and Biden administrations, negotiations during which the current government of Afghanistan had no part. The Afghan government is corrupt to the core and there was no hope for its reform. The Afghan President is now a fugitive and there are reports that military leaders are rounding up their ill-gotten gains and looking for refuge in Turkey (they will likely go to Western countries later on). In a barren, poor, backward country, all these leaders lived in mansions and palaces that put celebrity residences in the West to shame!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Taliban leadership enters Kabul's Presidential Palace and officially takes over control of Afghanistan.
- Hamid Karzai & 2 others form a coordination committee for peaceful transition of power in Afghanistan.
- My Persian-speaking readers might learn a lot about Afghanistan from this 114-minute discussion.
- GOP strategist and his 19-year-old associate arrested for underage sex trafficking.
- This 84-year-old woman had 11 of her family members executed by the Iranian regime during the 1980s.
- Massive landslide on August 10, 2021, along the Tehran-Chaloos Highway in Iran. [Video]
(4) Book review: Heller, Michael A. and James Salzman, Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives, unabridged 11-hour audiobook, read by Rene Ruiz, Random House Audio, 2021.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This wonderful book by Michael A. Heller (Columbia Law School) and James Salzman (UCLA School of Law & UCSB Bren School of the Environment) opens our eyes to the complexities hidden in the seemingly simple notion of ownership. Rules of ownership are indeed simple in some cases. If you own a cow, then its milk is yours, as are any calves it delivers. Most situations, however, aren't so clear-cut, and the resulting complexities keep armies of lawyers busy.
The book is full of interesting examples of apparent and hidden complexities in the notion of ownership. Purchasing an airline ticket gives you ownership of a plane seat for the duration of your flight. More precisely, you own the space between two armrests, between the back of your seat and the back of the seat in front of you, and between the floor to the overhead compartment. If the passenger in front of you reclines his seat, is he invading the space you own? He, too, understood the ownership of his seat as including the right to recline it. This conflict has resulted in many fights aboard planes, especially when a passenger brings along a gadget known as "knee defender" that prevents the seat in front of him from reclining.
Another interesting case arises when trees I have planted in my yard grow tall enough to block sun rays from reaching solar cells installed by a neighbor. Does the neighbor "own" the sun rays that my trees block? What happens if we can't resolve the conflict amicably? Possible court-ordered solutions include cutting down the trees (with or without compensation), moving the solar cells to a different location (with or without the expectation that I bear the cost), and a number of intermediate options.
Is it okay to claim ownership over a parking space by placing a chair on it? Other complicated situations arise in connection with inheritance, copyright, and designs of various kinds (clothing, furniture, gadgets, computer programs, user interfaces). Can delivery drones fly over your house, or are you allowed to shoot them down. We know that airplanes can and do fly over our properties. Does a drone's lower flying altitude make it different? Can we demand a micropayment for each over-flight?
One of the most challenging ownership questions, which affects our lives in the modern world, arises in connection with the collection and use of data. Digital possessions present thorny issues. Do you really own an e-book? There have been cases of e-books and other electronic files being removed by the company that sold them to you, because the fine-print in the terms-of-use agreement allowed them to do just that.
The concept of ownership isn't binary or static; rather, it's a story-telling exercise. There are but six stories that are used for this purpose: First-in-time; Possession; Labor (I made it!); Attachment (to something I own); Self-ownership (my body); Family. And, of course, there are always arguments about which story applies or, when the same story is used, who was first, whether something is really attached to something else (as in sun rays being attached to solar cells, in my previously-cited example), and who should own grandpa's rocking chair.
I found this book quite enlightening, with excellent examples, delightful writing, and scholarly treatment of the complexities of property law. You can get a good overview of the book from this 73-minute book talk.

2021/08/14 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Afghanistan & Iran: This has been a dark week for women in the Middle East Cartoon: Excellent strategy to get around vaccine distrust of Trump supporters Iran's new cabinet has many members from Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps
Russian and British diplomats in Tehran recreate a famous photo from the Tehran 'Big Three' conference of 1943 Aerial view of a column of camels in the desert, as the sun is about to set Today's Zoom session was the second in a series on 'Tarikh-e Bayhaqi' (1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] This has been a dark week for women in the Middle East: In Afghanistan, the Taliban are advancing, forcefully removing women from their families and taking them as slaves. In Iran, the vilest, most-misogynistic elements of the regime are being installed as cabinet members and in other official positions. Even darker weeks may be ahead. [Top center] Cartoon of the day: Excellent strategy to get around vaccine distrust of Trump supporters. [Bottom left] Diplomatic hubris and insensitivity: Russian and British diplomats in Tehran recreate a famous photo from the Tehran "Big Three" conference of 1943. The diplomats sit in positions originally occupied by Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill, with Franklin Roosevelt's seat pointedly empty. The photo has caused quite a stir in Iran! [Bottom center] Aerial view of a column of camels in the desert, as the sun is about to set. [Bottom right] Today's Zoom session was the second in a series on Tarikh-e Bayhaqi (see the last item below).
(2) Weeping for people of Afghanistan, particularly women: The Taliban forcefully remove women and girls from their homes for use as sex slaves (euphemistically, as "brides" for their warriors). [Video]
(3) Iran's health system is said to be on the verge of collapse: This young woman curses Khamenei and other Islamic regime officials for causing the death of a loved one due to banning Western vaccines.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Afghan culture will survive a Taliban takeover, just as Iran's culture has survived a 2nd Arab invasion.
- First signs of atrocities in Afghanistan: People are shot on the street and cars & trucks are confiscated.
- Magnitude-7.2 earthquake causes 300+ deaths and massive damage in Haiti.
- Iranian Lur, who calls himself "uneducated," tells it like it is: The numbing effect of religious superstition.
- Iranian regional music: This 2-minute video clip is from a surprisingly well-made Iranian TV series.
- Pleased to share the news that I have been elected Fellow of Asia-Pacific Artificial Intelligence Association.
(5) The GOP's war on science is also a war on working women: Schools and health facilities are staffed mostly by women, who are put in unneeded danger by resistance to masks and vaccination.
(6) SCOTUS rules on school vaccination mandates: In a first case of its kind to reach the US Supreme Court, objections to Indiana University's vaccination requirement were rejected.
(7) Britain's worst mass-shooting in a decade: The perpetrator, who killed 5 people and himself, loved Trump & guns and hated his looks & lack of success with women.
(8) The biggest wildfire in history: Raging in Siberia, there is virtually no hope of containing this fire by human means. The only hope for putting out the fire, which is larger than all other world fires combined, is getting some heavy rains soon.
(9) "The Charms of Tarikh-i Bayhaqi (Bayhaqi's History)": In today's gathering of the Class of 1968, Tehran University College of Engineering (Fanni'68), Mr. Abdollah Kowsari (prolific author & translator of 80+ books) offered a second take on an 11th-century book which not only constitutes an important historical record from Iran's Ghaznavid Empire but is also viewed as one of the literary treasures in the Persian language. Only 6 of an estimated 30 volumes of the original work have survived and these volumes cover the reign of Mas'ud I (for this reason, the book is sometimes referred to as Mas'udi History). Mr. Kowsari recapped his comments from the last session, which was marred by audio problems, added a few more thoughts, and read "The Story of Hasanak (the Vizier)," a passage from the book. It is likely that readings from Tarikh-i Bayhaqi will continue periordically in future sessions of this group. [Recording (link forthcomint)]

2021/08/13 (Friday): Today, I am offering three book reviews, the first two of which are from "UCSB Reads" program's short list for 2022. The final choice will be made in late August and announced shortly thereafter.
Cover image of Karla Cornejo Villavicencio's 'The Undocumented Americans' Cover image of Sigrid Nunez's 'The Friend' Cover image of Alan Alda's 'If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? (1) Book review: Villavicencio, Karla Cornejo, The Undocumented Americans, unabridged 5-hour audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2020. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Undocumented Americans (illegal immigrants, to those who want to demonize them) constitute one of the hot-button issues in modern US politics. The two sides of the political divide are patently clear as one reads reviews of this book on-line: One side urging compassion, the other insisting on the rule of law. One side praising the author for her accomplishments, the other panning her for taking resources away from documented Americans.
Villavicencio, an undocumented American, daughter of undocumented parents, a Harvard graduate, and a Yale doctoral student, takes us through the lives of her cohorts, most of whom aren't as lucky as her. They are, by and large, holding low-wage jobs and living in neighborhoods devoid of cheer and resources. For most, getting a decent high-school education isn't in the cards, let alone attending a world-class university.
This book is a welcome addition to the literature on the immigrant experience, because those of us who were lucky to be born into privilege, or did experience immigration, but not with as much hardship and struggle as most undocumented immigrants, would not know about their stories if they're not told by people like Villavicencio. On the negative side, Villavicencio's focus on undocumented immigrants at NYC's WTC Ground Zero or in Flint, Michigan, reeks on sensationalism.
The book is classified as non-fiction, but the author characterizes it as "creative nonfiction, rooted in careful reporting, translated as poetry." While the stories are compelling, the writing is less than inspiring in my view. Still, I do recommend Undocumented Americans, as it is one of the few books that paints close-up portraits of those who risk everything in an increasingly-hostile society to build a future for themselves and their families.
(2) Book review: Nunez, Sigrid, The Friend, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by Hillary Huber, Penguin Audio, 2018. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
A self-described loner, Nunez won over the literary world in her mid-sixties with her 2018 book, The Friend. She was admired by fellow-novelists before, but this book has endeared her to a broader audience.
The novel's opening lines place a group of writers at the funeral of a well-known professor/novelist who committed suicide. Those gathered seem to care more about gossiping and networking than paying respects or grieving. Nunez maintains her critical tone about writers and the literary scene throughout the novel.
The protagonist narrator maintained a relationship with her now-dead friend through his three marriages. From him, she inherited an old, deteriorating Great Dane, which serves as a link connecting her to his memories. The dead professor/novelist was a sexual predator, who pursued his female students, including the protagonist, with no regard for their well-being.
Even though I liked the writing style in this novel, the combination of the story revolving around writers and the craft of writing, and a sexual predator getting a pass from an admiring protege, turned me off. Regarding the first point, insider stories can sometimes be fun and informative (such as an engineer writing about his/her relationship with other engineers, rather than about technology). Regarding the second point, I realize that a novel is fictional and its subject matter may bear no relation to the author's beliefs. Yet, I find praise for a sexual predator disturbing nonetheless.
If you are an aspiring writer, then The Friend may serve as a cautionary tale for you. Otherwise, it is just a depressing insider-story about yet another group of struggling souls.
(3) Book review: Alda, Alan, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2017. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I became familiar with actor Alan Alda's passion for effective communication when I attended a 3-day "Science Communication" workshop he led in Santa Barbara in late June 2016. Sometimes described as "improv for scientists," the workshop aimed to implant a number of skills in the scientist/engineer attendees by means of improv exercises, which help in reading of audience reactions through visual cues. Many of the workshop's hands-on exercises aimed to break down inhibitions, allowing participants to communicate openly & honestly.
This book expands on the aforementioned workshop's approach to sharpening the skills of scientists, doctors, lawyers, and everyone else in reaching their audiences through distilling the message in a goal-oriented way and making personal/emotional connections by means of story-telling. Even though Alda focuses on a single idea, that we have to relate to each other in order to communicate effectively, the prose remains sharp and useful through many examples and variations discussed.
Alda uses his acting experience, alongside results from sociology, psychology, and neuroscience to stress the importance of empathy, active listening, use of helpful, reassuring words (instead of jargon or "lecturing"), and keeping the listeners' needs in mind. He advocates the use of improv's "yes, and" style, rather than the conversation-killing "but," to keep the communication channel open. Responsibility for effective communication lies with the person trying to make a point, but understanding is ultimately about receiving, not sending.
This is a book that must be read at least twice, a first reading to catch the overall message and a second, more-focused reading, perhaps while taking notes, to isolate and ingest the methods that are most-applicable to one's personal situation.
Watching this 58-minute video from 2017, in which Alda is interviewed by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, constitutes a good starting point for greater enjoyment in perusing the book. You can also find much useful information through the Web site of Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. (@AldaCenter)

2021/08/12 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Newsweek magazine cover, depicting President Xi: Global CEOs are reassessing the risks of doing business in China Three-month trend of biweekly confirmed COVID-19 deaths per million people: Iran vs. four European countries Sony Pictures has announced Mike Richards and Mayim Bialik as replacements for the late Alex Trebek
A wonderful fractal pattern Cartoon: The origins of dinosaurs Persian idiom: 'A flower has no front or back' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] As President Xi becomes more confrontational, global CEOs are reassessing the risks of doing business in China. [Top center] Three-month trend of biweekly confirmed COVID-19 deaths per million people: Iran vs. four European countries. [Top right] New "Jeopardy!" hosts: Sony Pictures has announced a main host (Mike Richards) and a secondary permanent host (Mayim Bialik, of "Big Bang Theory" fame) as replacements for the late Alex Trebek. [Bottom left] A wonderful fractal pattern: If this image had infinite resolution, you could zoom in on any of the squares and see the same overall pattern inside it. [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: The origins of dinosaurs. [Bottom right] Persian idiom: "A flower has no front or back" is the poetic/polite response to someone apologizing for turning their back on you.
(2) Fooling the brain: How under the right conditions your brain thinks of a rubber hand, which isn't even connected to your real arms, as belonging to you, feeling cold, heat, and pain through it. [Video]
(3) Honestly, resisting masks isn't about freedom: Most schools enforce rules on make-up, skirt length, and exposure of shoulders, necklines, & midriffs. No parent screams at school-board meetings about them.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Canadian study: Inexpensive anti-depressant could help boost immunity against and treat COVID-19.
- Iran's new president is filling his cabinet with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders and members.
- Who decided that COVID-19 vaccination cards should be 3"x4", rather than the size of a credit card?
- Don't bother to lock your door if this guy is in your neighborhood: No wall or fence can stop him! [Video]
- Outdoor summer movies in Isla Vista, California: Friday nights, Aug. 13 to Sep. 10, 2021, 8:30 PM PDT.
- Math puzzle: Find the loan amount of a 30-year, 4% fixed-rate mortgage, with monthly payment of $573.
- French fan of Persian literature and music: In this video, she speaks in Persian and sings a classical song.
- Iranian regional music: A beautiful song from the Guilan Province on the Caspian coast. [Video]
(5) Poor workmanship: I had my courtyard gate replaced this week, after a 6-month delay and multiple follow-ups. COVID-19 has become a convenient scapegoat for those who don't perform their jobs properly. Yes, contractors are in short supply, but replacing a door should not take 6 months! And the new gate has multiple problems, from the large gap underneath, that allows small animals to creep in, to unprofessional paint job that did not cover the pencil markings of the carpenter who cut the gate to size. [Photos]
(6) Logical puzzle: In a class of 123 students, the professor suggests a game to play. She would put a white or black hat on each student's head. A student cannot see the color of his/her own hat, but s/he can see the hats of all other students. Once the game starts, no form of communication is allowed among the students, but before the placement of hats, they can confer with each other to devise a winning strategy. With the hats on, the students are called upon one by one to guess the color of their own hats. Each correct guess earns one point. The aim is to maximize the score in the worst case. To make things more challenging, one student acts as an agent, with the aim of disrupting the other students' strategy. How should the students proceed?
(7) Why do religions have a problem with women: Traditional interpretations of the world's major faiths all delegate women to a secondary status, in theology and in society. It's hard to believe that some women take the side of such views. Here is a debate between two women on women & religion. [Debate summary]

2021/08/11 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Allyson Felix, US Olympic athlete Cartoon: The vaccinated master & his cronies should be tried for genocide due to delayed vaccine procurement Symmetries in Persian-carpet designs intrigue mathematicians (1) Images of the day: [Left] Allyson Felix, US Olympic athlete (see the next item below). [Center] Cartoon of the day: The vaccinated master & his cronies should be tried for genocide due to delayed vaccine procurement (credit: IranWire.com). [Right] Symmetries in Persian-carpet designs intrigue mathematicians.
(2) Tokyo 2020 has been called the "moms' Olympics": This is a big change from previous tournaments. Allyson Felix was dropped by Nike after she got pregnant, on the assumption that she would never get back in shape to compete internationally. Well, less than a year after her C-section delivery, she was back at winning medals. Nike called, but she rejected their offer, starting her own sneaker brand instead. In Tokyo, she became the most-decorated US track-and-field athlete of all time, wearing her own brand in competitions.
(3) Detecting disinformation: If you see a claim on social media that Pfizer, Moderna, and other Western vaccines turn you into chimps, but the post is silent on the Sputnik vaccine, be suspicious!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Helpers of the delta variant: Thousands of unvaccinated, unmasked bikers travel across the country.
- Documents relating to Saudi Arabia's involvement in the 9/11 attacks one step closer to public release.
- US Capitol rioters are being fined at the rate of 1/3 of a cent for each $1 of damage they inflicted!
- Florida hospitals requested hundreds of ventilators from the federal government for COVID-19 surge.
- Magic tricks: There are many such routines that involve a screen, but this one is very special. [Video]
- Facebook memory from August 11, 2015: This 10-minute TED talk is beyond inspiring!
(5) A major victory for human-rights Hamid Nouri's trial for war crimes, resulting from his role in summary executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s Iran, opens in Stockholm.
(6) Quote of the day: "When you think of it, Al Gore lost the election by 537 votes. Hillary Clinton lost the election by 77,000 votes. But Trump lost the election by 7 million votes. I think they should show that every day on TV." ~ American singer/actor Barbra Streisand
(7) Math-inspired poetry: This clever Venn-diagram poem was posted on the occasion of John Venn's 187th birthday: There are actually two poems that share the middle part.
(8) "Poetry of Khorasan: Mehdi Akhavan Saales": This is the title of a Zoom talk by Zohreh Ghahremani, Sunday, August 22, 4:00 PM PDT (Meeting ID 874 1157 6093; Passcode 1100). [Image]
(9) CNN's Chris Cuomo under fire: As brother of disgraced NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, Chris has to navigate a fine line on his CNN show. In the past, he has not always kept a distance from his politician brother, going as far as interviewing the Governor on his program. I happen to like Chris Cuomo, but conflict of interest (even the appearance of it) is a no-no for a journalist. Chris is now on leave, as the news of his brother resigning NY's governorship dominate the airwaves, claiming that he is using a previously-scheduled vacation time. But his leave and his brother's woes appear to be related.

2021/08/10 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
In a couple of weeks, the 'UCSB Reads 2022' book will be selected: You can help us with the task Santa Barbara Public Library & UCSB partner to preserve Santa Barbara's history US Mint's American Innovation dollar coin honors Ralph Baer, the 'father of the video game' (1) Images of the day: [Left] In a couple of weeks, the "UCSB Reads 2022" book will be selected: If you want to help us with the task, you can express your opinion about the short-list candidates. [Center] Santa Barbara Public Library & UCSB partner to preserve history: Over 3,000 historic photos of SB County, 104 issues of SB's first newspaper, and SBPL's own archives are preserved at UCSB Library. [Right] US Mint's American Innovation dollar coin honors Ralph Baer: The "father of the video game" developed the Brown Box, which paved the way for modern home video game consoles including the PlayStation and Xbox.
(2) Pseudo-polynomial-time algorithms: Weakly NP-complete problems are those that can be solved in polynomial time in terms of the maximum input value. For example, the 0-1 knapsack problem with n items is NP-hard and needs exponential time in n, but with linear-programming, we can solve it in O(nW) time, where W is the knapsack's capacity. If W is bounded by a polynomial in n, then the running time is polynomial.
(3) Vaccine hesitancy is a worldwide problem: This Gallup chart shows the percentage of citizens of various countries, grouped by world regions, who believe vaccines are safe. The US and Iran are quite similar, at a tad over 70%. France, Switzerland, Japan, and South Korea on the low end, and India, Egypt, Rwanda, and Venezuela on the high end, are some of the surprises in the data.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Dixie Fire, previously categorized as California's 2nd-largest, has expanded to become the largest ever.
- Black realtor, showing a house, and his two black clients arrested when neighbors reported a break-in.
- Cartoon of the day: The noble us vs. the ignoble them. [Image]
- Author Samineh Baghcheban (Pirnazar) at 96: She keeps active and uses poetry to maintain mental acuity.
- Never give up: But also never celebrate too early! [3-minute sports highlights]
- Math puzzle: Let F(k) be the kth Fibonacci number. What is gcd(F(35), F(84))? [A helpful theorem]
(5) Talk, on the occasion of the 115th anniversary of Iran's Constitutional Revolution: Dr. Janet Afari outlines the vital role of the South Caucasus diaspora community and the Tbilisi-based Molla Nasreddin newspaper.
(6) Iran's cyber-army keeps expanding in size and capability: The brutal Islamic regime is growing desperate, as it attacks every activist, regardless of the size of his/her following. It is criminal to leave the Iranian people without vaccines and other critical medical needs, spending time and money on feeding a huge cyber-army.
(7) Meme of the day: If you don't protest the use of vaccination passports, pretty soon the government will make you show an age passport to enter a bar and a driving passport to operate a tractor-trailer.
(8) Iran's Head of Judiciary has said that no Iranian is banned from returning to Iran: That's great, but no one is worried about not being allowed to return to Iran. It's not being able to leave that worries them!
(9) Final thought for the day: The #MeToo movement is alive and well! NY Governor Andrew Cuomo finally resigns after throwing everything at his sexual-abuse problem; "These allegations are false"; "What's alleged never happened"; "That's not who I am"; "I was misunderstood"; "it's a cultural-difference problem." These "explanations" no longer cut it. Neither does the hypocrisy of paying lip service to the need for respecting and supporting women victimized by sexual abusers, while simultaneously doing the exact opposite.

2021/08/09 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
With planes flying over the Eiffel Tower, Paris takes the Olympics baton from Tokyo Cover image of Dax-Devlon Ross' book 'Letters to My White Male Friends' Iran's 1988 death panel: Its four members and some of its victims (1) Images of the day: [Left] With planes flying over the Eiffel Tower, Paris takes the baton from Tokyo. [Center] Dax-Devlon Ross' book Letters to My White Male Friends (see the last item below). [Right] Iran's 1988 death panel: Ebrahim Raisi, Islamic Republic's new president, was a member of a judicial panel appointed by Khomeini and charged with killing unrepentent political prisoners who had already been tried and were serving prison terms. Most of the estimated 8000 victims were buried in unmarked mass graves.
(2) Iranian driver runs over two women after admonishing them for "improper hijab": Yet another proof that compulsory hijab laws and violence against women are two sides of the same coin.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- College officials have a new problem to worry about: Fake vaccination cards for COVID-19.
- Fish & chips without chips is weird enough: But what is chips without chips? [Image of menu]
- Facebook memory from August 9, 2018: A wonderful song with Persian and Azeri lyrics.
- Facebook memory from August 9, 2011: Beautiful Persian verses from Hatef-e Esfahani.
(5) Facebook memory from August 9, 2011: This puzzle is based on a true story. Augustus De Morgan, a 19th-century mathematician, was once asked about his age. He replied: "I was x years old in the year x^2."
(4) Book review: Ross, Dax-Devlon, Letters to My White Male Friends, unabridged 5-hour audiobook, read by the author, Macmillan Audio, 2021. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is one of many call-to-action books about racism that have been published in recent years. After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, many of the author's white male friends reached out to him to see if he was doing okay. So, he decided to formulate his thoughts on systemic racism and police brutality in a way that would allow his friends to be better allies. In his words, when it comes to racism, white men are "everyone's target but no one's focus." On the other hand, "when it comes to conversations about race, white men are typically coddled and appeased."
Ross breaks the common mold of discussing only how racism affects blacks and other people of color by focusing also on its effects on white folks, who are robbed of experiencing fullness and meaningful relationships. He observes that limited education and dialog on race, a result of the the perception that we have moved to a post-civil-rights world, has left many members of the society with "underdeveloped understandings of the ways in which race and racism operate."
Having been educated in an elite private school, later earning a juris doctorate from George Washington University, Ross himself was disconnected from topics of race and his lived experiences as a black child. Mingling in schools with children of powerful white people, who weren't inclined to discuss systemic racism, made him lose sight of the fact that he wasn't really one of them. So, he needed much unlearning and self-reflection to realize that most white people didn't treat him in the same way as his circle of friends did.
Ross believes that in view of white men wielding much social power, they must be engaged in conversations about race, because "[w]e cannot have a racial reckoning without it." There isn't much in this book that hasn't been said by many others. However, Ross's set of experiences and perspectives on the topic make this relatively short book (or long letter) a worthwhile read.
Here are two example books that make many of the same points as Ross.
DiAngelo, Robin, White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism [4*]
Saad, Layla, Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor [5*]

2021/08/08 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Tech's focus should change: Satellite Internet access for everyone Tech's focus should change: Not enough focus on eliminating world hunger A photo from the closing ceremony of Tokyo 2020 Olympics (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Too much emphasis on giving everyone Internet access, not enough on eliminating world hunger (see the next item below). [Right] The Tokyo Olympics is finally over: Despite the lack of spectators, organizing and running the 2020 Olympics was a massive undertaking. This 18-minute video explains the 7-year process. And here are some photos from the closing ceremony.
(2) Tech's focus should change: This morning, I watched a tech talk about how technology is changing, with exponential rise in capacity/capability & exponential drop in cost, and how within 3-4 years, each human being, including every child in Africa, will have full access to the world's store of knowledge via satellite Internet. This is wonderful, but I hope that the said child will be healthy and have enough food to eat as she surfs the net!
(3) China had an at-most-one-child policy for many years: Republicans seem to be headed toward imposing an at-least-one-child policy for women. Many conservatives now blame childless women for America's ills.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Taliban continue to advance toward population centers: Threatened Afghans are begging for support.
- Iran's new President ("The Hanging Judge") chooses the head of Iran's prison system as his Chief of Staff.
- The Web turns 30: Tim Berners-Lee published the first public web page on August 6, 1991.
- While My Carillon Gently Weeps: Sample from Wesley Arai's recital on UCSB Storke Tower's Carillon today.
- On the waterfront: Strolling along Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf on this Fiesta Sunday.
- Today's Fiesta (Old Spanish Days) edition of arts & crafts exhibits along Santa Barbara's Cabrillo Blvd.
(5) Math puzzle: The deca tree has 10 trunks. On each trunk, there are 10 branches. On each branch, there are 10 twigs. On each twig, there are 10 leaves. One day, a wood-cutter comes along and cuts down one trunk from the tree. Then he cuts off one branch from another trunk. He then cuts off one twig from another branch. Finally, he pulls one leaf from another twig. How many leaves are left on the tree?
(6) Grades for sale: Baltimore City Community College math professor who demanded $150, $250, and $500 for C, B, and A grades sentenced to one year in prison.
(7) California's massive Dixie Fire has grown to become the second-largest wildfire in state's history: The fire that completely destroyed the historic mountain town of Greenville is only 21% contained.
(8) Math puzzle: Let the function f(x, y), defined for positive integers x and y, have the properties f(x, x) = x, f(x, y) = f(y, x), and f(x, y) = f(x, x + y). What is f(66, 770)?
(9) Damage from an Iranian ballistic missile attack: This CBS "60 Minutes" report shows that the human and material toll of Iran's missile attack in retaliation for the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani was much greater than the US admitted officially. It's quite fortunate that a full-blown war was averted.

2021/08/07 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Webinar on Bayhaqi's History: Abdollah Kowsari History in pictures: First group of women admitted to Tehran University, Iran (1940s). Webinar on the Shahyad Monument in Tehran (aka 'The Freedom Tower') (1) Images of the day: [Left] Zoom meeting on Bayhaqi's History (see the next item below). [Center] History in pictures: First group of women admitted to Tehran University, Iran (1940s). [Right] Webinar on the Shahyad Monument in Tehran (see the last item below).
(2) "The Charms of Tarikh-i Bayhaqi (Bayhaqi's History)": In today's gathering of the Class of 1968, Tehran University College of Engineering (Fanni'68), Mr. Abdollah Kowsari (prolific author & translator of 80+ books) spoke about an 11th-century book which not only constitutes an important historical record from Iran's Ghaznavid Empire but is also viewed as one of the literary treasures in the Persian language. Only 6 of an estimated 30 volumes of the original work have survived and these volumes cover the reign of Mas'ud I (for this reason, the book is sometimes referred to as Mas'udi History).
Mr. Kowsari began by presenting a brief biography of Abul-Fazl Bayhaqi and his place in the royal court of the day as "dabir" (literally, "transcriber," but actually more like a trusted adviser). He then read and interpreted selected parts of the book. He mentioned that various selections of Bayhaqi's History have been published, among which the one by Dr. Mohammad Dehghani (Nashr-e Ney) is recommended, because it contains a very useful introduction and a glossary to help the modern reader.
Unfortunately, Internet connectivity problems (apparently from the speaker's side in Iran) made it rather difficult to make sense of the presentation. The session was recorded and, if the recording is better than what we had in the live session, I will share the link.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- By one measure, creativity seems to peak around age 25: A tad earlier, and drops off faster, for men.
- Both the US men's & women's teams win Olympic gold in basketball, prevailing over France & Japan.
- Math puzzle: Let F(i) be the ith Fibonacci number. Prove that gcd(F(j), F(k)) = F(gcd(j, k)). [Proof]
- Facebook memory from August 7, 2016: My cartoon portrait, drawn at the Fiesta Arts & Crafts Festival.
(4) Iran's government banned this ice-cream commercial, because it arouses men: Banning the ad for the stated reason is mad! But I do have a problem with it from a women's-equality standpoint: It's wrong to exploit women to sell fridges, cars, or ice cream.
(5) "The Shahyad Monument: A Symbol of Iranian Civilization and Culture": The monument, renamed "Azadi Tower" after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has come to define Tehran, and, in many ways, Iran. In today's Farhang Foundation webinar, the monument/tower was discussed by its architect, Hossein Amanat.
Mr. Amanat began his presentation by recalling the 1966 competition for the monument's design, which he entered as a very young architect, not expecting to win against other, more-experienced, competitors. Even after his design was chosen, delays in the award of a contract to build it made Mr. Amanat nervous, thinking that perhaps the authorities were hesitant to trust such an important project to an inexperienced architect. The rest, as they say, is history!
A key architectural feature of the monument/tower is extensive use of geometry, borrowed from Iranian architecture over many centuries. During the talk, Mr. Amanat described his design's features and where the various ideas came from. When asked whether he was okay with the monument's new name, he said that "Azadi Tower" is a fine name and that he is more concerned with neglect and lack of proper maintenance, which have led to the crumbling of the stone facade and the tile dome. [Photos & architectural drawings]

2021/08/06 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Hisashimichi highway interchange near Tokyo, designed to cause minimal disruption to its surrounding environment How to write good: Valuable tips for aspiring writers! Math puzzle: What fraction of the square area is colored orange? (1) Images of the day: [Left] Engineering marvels: Hisashimichi highway interchange near Tokyo, has been designed to cause minimal disruption to its surrounding environment. [Center] How to write good(ly): Valuable tips for aspiring writers! [Right] Math puzzle: What fraction of the square area is colored orange?
(2) Morality police roughs up a woman on a street in Tehran, as they try to arrest her: Yet more evidence for those who claim that hijab is not a big problem in Iran, because compulsory hijab laws are rarely enforced.
(3) Sample ballot in California's recall election: The 46 candidates who want to replace Governor Newsom include entertainers, actors, teachers, pastors, realtors, and business owners. [Image]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Countries ranked by healthcare system cost (left in this image) and performance (right). [Bernie Sanders]
- Climate change may lead to the collapse of a critical system in the Atlantic Ocean.
- Math puzzle: What is the probability p that a randomly-chosen divisor of 10^8 is divisible by 10^6?
- Augmented reality: Making art come alive! [Video]
- John Williams conducts a medley of Oscar-winning movie theme songs. [5-minute video]
- Persian music: "Soltan-e Ghalbha" ("King of Hearts"), in an intimate private performance.
- Persian music: An instrumental piece on tar.
- Persian music: Soheila Golestani performs "Gheseh-ye Faramoush" ("Forgotten Tale").
(5) International collaborative music: old video is the result of a project by violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who invited a number of famous women singers (including Marzieh from Iran) to perform together.
(6) The pro-sports world is racing toward extinction: The reason Barcelona is letting Lionel Messi go is that the club lost $470M last season and can no longer afford his $84M salary.
(7) Sara Molaie, on discovering unexpected connections between Persian & Hebrew: Interestingly, both languages underwent revival movements in the 19th century. I have learned from Mr. Mohammad Amini that a highly-anticipated forthcoming book will discuss the rediscovery of a large number of Persian terms via a scholarly study of copies of an old bilingual Torah held in Britain and France.
(8) Gee, I'm having a hard time deciding who to believe: Dr. Anthony Fauci, who graduated first in his class at Cornell Medical School, served under six presidents, and received numerous awards & honors, or Jim Jordan, a former assistant wrestling coach during whose tenure many wrestlers suffered sexual abuse.
(9) Final thought for the day: For every power abuser and sexual predator in public office, there are dozens of enablers nearby. This was true of Donald Trump, and it is true of Andrew Cuomo.

2021/08/05 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Vaccinologist Barbie: A new doll modeled after Professor Sarah Gilbert Peacock dancers: Decorative set, offered for sale by Lezze Design (1) Images of the day: [Left] Vaccinologist Barbie (see the next item below). [Center] Old Spanish Days (Santa Barbara Fiesta) all but cancelled: Previously, the food courts and parade had been eliminated. Now, other than the opening ceremony of last night in front of Santa Barbara Mission, which was closed to the public, everything else, including song-and-dance performances at SB Courthouse's Sunken Garden, has been removed from the program. [Right] Peacock dancers: Decorative set, offered for sale by Lezze Design.
(2) Vaccinologist Barbie: Mattel introduces a new doll resembling the co-creator of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, Prof. Sarah Gilbert. Other new Barbie dolls include US healthcare workers Amy O'Sullivan and Dr. Audrey Cruz, Canadian doctor & campaigner Dr. Chika Stacy Oriuwa, Brazilian biomedical researcher Dr. Jaqueline Goes de Jesus, and Australian co-creator of a reusable gown for frontline staff, Dr. Kirby White.
(3) Olympics soccer: The US women's team beat Australia 4-3 to win the bronze medal. Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe scored two goals each, and the defense held under late pressure, to seal the win. One of Rapinoe's goals came off a corner kick, with only the goalie touching the ball.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Enrique Mora's attendance at the inauguration of Iran's criminal new president, Ebrahim Raisi, condemned.
- The looming water crisis in Kermanshah, Iran: Khuzestan's drought protests are just the starting point.
- Iranian hospitals overwhelmed by delta variant and black market for beds: Deaths rise to 300 per day.
- How scientists & publishers are fighting against fake-paper factories: Industrial-scale cheating exposed.
- Mechanical "doping": Belgian pro-cyclist caught using a hidden motor on her bike. [Video report]
- Facebook memories from August 5, 2017: Fiesta confetti and my T-shirt. [Photos]
- And from 2019: After Sandy Hook, we said "never again." What do we say 2191 mass shootings later?
(5) Facebook memory from August 5, 2012: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with a straight face, talking to Barbara Walters: "No government kills its people, unless it's run by a crazy person." No kidding!
(6) Fighting on two fronts, against an opponent on the mat and against medieval rulers back home: Iranian Olympic athlete Sara Bahmanyar struggles to keep her head covering in place during a match.
(7) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW): Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, CEDAW, often described as an international bill of rights for women, has been endorsed in full or in part by 189 countries; only Iran, Somalia, and Sudan have rejected the Convention. Many Islamic countries have joined the Convention with "reservations" attached to some of its parts, such as Articles 2 & 16 (see below), citing incompatibility with religious edicts. Given that Articles 2 & 16 represent the essence of the Convention, such reservations are the same as not accepting it. So, it's fair to say that some two-dozen Islamic countries have not endorsed CEDAW.
Article 2 begins: "States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women ..."
Article 16 begins: "States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations ..."
CEDAW's home page (includes link to the Convention's full text).
[Credit: Lecture by Dr. Roja Fazaeli (Trinity College), Iran Academia's course on Feminism, Gender, & Sexuality]

2021/08/04 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Newsweek magazine cover about a doomsday coronavirus variant Facebook memory from August 4, 2019: A Persian verse from Sa'adi Cover image of the book 'A Swim in a Pond in the Rain', by George Saunders (1) Images of the day: [Left] The doomsday variant: As long as coronavirus continues to spread far & wide through unvaccinated people, chance mutations can lead to even deadlier variants. [Center] Persian poetry: A verse from Sa'adi. [Right] A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, by George Saunders (see the last item below).
(2) Cartoon caption of the day: "When pressed, the tailor, a material witness in the suit, came apart at the seams. His altered testimony completely unraveled. The tale he had woven proved a complete fabrication."
(3) President Biden to state officials banning mask mandates and other restrictions: If you're not going to help, at least get out of the way of people trying to do the right thing!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Daisy Veerasingham to become the first woman to lead the 175-year-old Associated Press news agency.
- Mexico will sue major US-based gun manufacturers over gun-trafficking across the US-Mexico border.
- Homes of Baha'i families destroyed in the northern Iranian village of Roshan Kuh, Mazandaran Province.
- Khamenei releases a 5-minute video to embarrass Rouhani, as he hands over Iran's presidency to Raisi.
- Farzaneh Fasihi is the first Iranian female sprinter to reach the Olympics in 57 years: She got no support.
(5) Pressure mounts on NY Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign: Report released today detailing the results of a thorough investigation into allegations by 11 women of sexual harassment, involving 179 witnesses, leaves no doubt that he behaved inappropriately on many occasions. Cuomo's explanation that these are all cases of misunderstanding and cultural differences does not hold water. Even if some of the alleged behavior is acceptable in Italy, say, which I seriously doubt, he is still responsible for the harm he caused these women.
(6) Book review: Saunders, George, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, unabridged 15-hour audiobook, read by George Saunders, Phylicia Rashad, Nick Offerman, Glenn Close, Keith David, Rainn Wilson, B. D. Wong, and Renee Elise Goldsberry, Random House Audio, 2021. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In some ways, it's harder to write a short story than a full-length novel. Word and space limitations require economy in introducing characters and events. Every element of the prose must help move the story along, making asides and detours harder to justify, although some short-story masters do introduce superfluous elements or passages to good effect.
The four Russians of the subtitle are Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, whose works Saunders has been using in a class on Russian short story at Syracuse University. He characterizes the stories as "seven fastidiously constructed scale models of the world, made for a specific purpose that our time maybe doesn't fully endorse but that these writers accepted implicitly as the aim of art—namely, to ask the big questions, questions like: How are we supposed to be living down here? What were we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?"
The book includes seven translated short stories in full, along with analyses and afterthoughts. Saunders begins with Chekhov's 11-page short story "In the Cart," stopping after each page and asking questions about what was and wasn't there, to allow us to develop awareness of the state of the story at that point and Chekhov's thought process in moving the story along. The lesson here is that a good (short) story is a constantly-evolving narrative, until its very last line.
Other themes explored by Saunders in the remaining six short stories, listed below, include plot, character, use of irrational elements, and the possibility of a clunkily-written story to project perfection.
Anton Chekhov: "The Darling"; "Gooseberries"
Iven Turgenev: "The Singers"
Leo Tolstoy: "Master and Man"; "Alyosha the Pot"
Nikolai Gogol: "The Nose"
Learn about the book from George Saunders himself (58-minute video).

2021/08/03 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Chart: Sales of Apple's AirPods exceed revenues of many top tech companies! Misogyny in action: The unusual physiques of gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Michael Phelps <i>Cover image of the book 'American Amnesia,' by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson (1) Images of the day: [Left] Sales of Apple's AirPods exceed revenues of quite a few top tech companies! [Center] Misogyny in action: The unusual physique of Simone Biles (likely the reason for her success in performing challenging gymnastics maneuvers) has been the subject of mockery on social media. Compare this with the not-much-discussed unusual physique of former swimmer Michael Phelps. [Right] American Amnesia, by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson (see the last item below).
(2) UCSB Middle East Ensemble had a rehearsal at West Campus faculty housing today. [Video 1] [Video 2]
(3) Iran Academia's MOOC on Feminism, Gender, and Sexuality: Following are topics and instructors in this excellent on-line course, conducted in Persian, which is now in week 3 of 7.
Week 1 (History of Women's Movement): Dr. Nayereh Tohidi (CSUN), Fatemeh Shayesteh (U. Kansas)
Week 2 (Feminist Theories 1): Dr. Shahrzad Mojab (U. Toronto), Niloofar Hooman (McMaster U.), Somayeh Rostampour (U. Paris Descartes)
Week 3 (Feminist Theories 2): Dr. Roja Fazaeli (Trinity College, Dublin), Dr. Nadia Aghtaei (U. Bristol), Mojtaba Golmohammadi (Author/Researcher), Sama Khosravi Ooryad (U. Gothenburg)
Week 4 (Manhood): Dr. Fataneh Farahani (Stockholm U.), Sahar Fetrat (King's College, London), Dr. Atlas Torbati (U. London)
Week 5 (History of Sexuality): Dr. Mehran Rezaei, U. Sussex; Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi, UNC Chapel Hill; Anahita Hosseini, U. Sussex)
Week 6 (Queer Movement and Theory): Zeinab Nobowati (U. Oregon); Romina Akhtari; Shahram Kiani; Sima Shakhsari (U. Minnesota)
Week 7 (Sexuality in Everyday Life): TBA
(4) Book review: Hacker, Jacob S. and Paul Pierson, American Amnesia: Business, Government, and the Forgotten Roots of Our Prosperity, unabridged 17-hour audiobook, read by Holter Graham, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Government in the US was once part of a smartly-configured mixed private/public economy and an engine for broad prosperity. Those who see the government as the root of all evil have forgotten how the mixed economy of the 20th century enabled vastly improved educational attainment, scientific progress, health, longevity, and economic security.
The balance struck between free-market capitalism and government-led programs for social good is now in danger of being discarded in favor of making everything market-driven. The point has been made by many authors that a long-term view of prosperity and attention to infrastructure is beyond the capacity of the free market and businesses driven by bottom-line and "share-holder value." Keeping the air and water clean may reduce short-term profits, but is necessary for longer-term economic and social progress. While businesses can successfully conduct product- or service-driven R&D projects, nurturing scientific breakthroughs requires broad-based collaboration that is ill-suited to corporate resources and goals.
The amnesia isn't accidental. It has been systematically promoted by big business and finance industry through spending unparalleled sums on lobbying and enabled by the revolving door that allows government employees to amass fortunes after they leave their posts. The new wealthy elite, enamored by misguided Ayn-Randian notions, and the Republican Party trying to win more power for itself by vilifying the government, instead of helping fix what's wrong, are chipping away at the roots of our heretofore successful system.
Changes in the corporate culture are big parts of the problem. The bosses of great American companies, such as Kodak and GM, used to be respected figures who worked with the government to help get things done. They are now by and large concerned with their own compensation, bonuses, and amassing enough money to retire early to their mansions and yachts. Powerful lobbies, such as Chamber of Commerce, and think tanks funded by the likes of Koch Brothers, are aiming to dismantle our mixed economy, at a time when our world status and environmental stewardship are under threat.
All hope is not lost, though. There are signs of broadening participation in the political process. Young voters supporting the policies of progressive politicians such as Bernie Sanders constitute a glimmer of light shining on an otherwise bleak landscape. Let's hope the younger generation takes over and pulls us back from the brink, before the destruction of our government institutions moves beyond the point of no return.

2021/08/02 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Medain Saleh, a pre-Islamic tomb in Saudi Arabia, has been carved out of a single piece of rock Chart: Abundance of elements in the universe, in Earth's crust, and in human beings Visualizing the severe drought in California: Lake Oroville's drying up in 3 years (1) Images of the day: [Left] Saudi Arabia's first World Heritage Site: Medain Saleh, a pre-Islamic tomb, has been carved out of a single piece of rock. [Center] Abundance of elements in the universe (horizontal axis), in Earth's crust (vertical axis), and in human beings (circle size). [Right] Visualizing the severe drought in California: Lake Oroville's drying up in 3 years.
(2) Wow, what a big surprise! As he prepares to leave office in a matter of day, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani admits that his government has not always told the truth to the Iranian people.
(3) What is it with these entitled sons? Qaddafi's son wants to take Libya back. The Shah's son, Reza Pahlavi, wants to take Iran back. Khamenei's son dreams of becoming Iran's Supreme Leader. Queen Elizabeth II's son is growing impatient with his mom's long reign.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Colonel Vindman's detailed account of Trump's phone call to Zelenski and the resulting political mess.
- History will judge Khamenei's ban on importing COVID-19 vaccines to Iran as an act of genocide.
- Roza Eftekhari [1961-2021], long time feminist and women's-rights activist dead at 60.
- Saudi Arabia & Iran are cut of the same cloth: MBS sent a hit team to Canada to assassinate Saad Aljabri.
- Newsweek "My Turn" essay by an Olympic gymnast: Women face "twistees," periods, and leotard fears.
- Math art: Unfolding exponential sums. [Tweet by Thien An]
- Abandoned Olympics venues of the past: Facilities that cost a fortune but are rotting from neglect.
(5) CONCACAF Gold Cup: The US men's national soccer team prevailed over Mexico 1-0 to win the championship late in extra time. Mexico was dominant in time-of-possession, scoring opportunities, and corner kicks, but the young, inexperienced US side held on for the narrow victory. [4-minute highlights]
(6) US women's soccer team eliminated by Canada 1-0 from the Olympics gold-medal competition: Canada, scoring on a questionable penalty kick, will play Sweden for the gold. The US will play Australia for bronze.
(7) NBC is ruining the Olympics for many of us: Whenever I read a non-NBC story about the Olympics, videos in the story are blacked out. NBC has exclusive broadcast rights for the Tokyo Olympics and has taken greed to the extreme is spoiling news coverage of the events.
(8) Puzzle: In the following sentence, fill in the blanks with numbers to make it true. [P.S.: I have found two solutions, but don't know whether they are the only possible ones.]
In this sentence, the number of occurrences of 0 is __, of 1 is __, of 2 is __, of 3 is __, of 4 is __, of 5 is __, of 6 is __, of 7 is __, of 8 is __, and of 9 is __.
(9) Iran's Parliament is discussing a law to limit Internet access: Pitched by the government as a plan to "protect users in cyberspace," Iranians are understandably skeptical. The prevalent view is that the government, which has blocked Internet access in the past during political unrests, would like to make the blockage permanent, offering instead a national Intranet to Iranians. Another view is that the government wants to make money off satellite Internet service, which it has already started to pitch at exorbitant prices.

2021/07/31 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk by Dr. Faramarz Davarian (JPL), Aug. 18, 6:30 PM PDT The tiny green blot is North America on Jupiter Diagram for the crazy 3x + 1 problem (1) Images of the day: [Left] IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Dr. Faramarz Davarian (JPL) will talk on August 18, under the title "Connecting with the Moon: Can We Provide Communications Connectivity for Human Presence on the Moon Similar to What We Have on Our Planet?" [Center] The tiny green blot is North America on Jupiter. [Right] Collatz's conjecture, or the 3x + 1 problem (see the next item below).
(2) The crazy 3x + 1 problem: Also known as Collatz's conjecture, this easy-looking tough problem has baffled mathematicians for decades. It can be formulated as a game. Start with any positive integer and develop a sequence of integers from it, using the following rule in each step: Halve your number if it's even; triple it and add 1 if it's odd. Lothar Collatz, who formulated this problem, conjectured that no matter what number you start with, you will always arrive at the tight loop 4 → 2 → 1 → 4 after a finite number of steps. This conjecture is believed to be true, but no one has been able to prove or disprove it.
(3) Lost and never found: Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies are kept in digital wallets. If one loses the private key to a digital wallet, the money is lost. In their column, published in the July 2021 issue of IEEE Computer magazine, Jeffrey Voas and Nir Kshetri state that some 20% of all bitcoins, worth around $140 billion in January 2021, are in accounts which are no longer accessible.
(4) CONCACAF Gold Cup: US men's national soccer team squeezes by Qatar 1-0 on a late goal to advance to the tournament's final match against Mexico (Sunday, August 1, 2021, 5:30 PM PDT, on FS1).
(5) IEEE Computer magazine's cover feature for Juy 2021 contains the articles: *Diverging Images of the Technoscapes in Developing Economies *Reshaping the Landscape of the Future: Software-Defined Manufacturing *Experiencing Hyperloops: The Transit of the Future *Worlds Apart: Technology, Remote Work, and Equity *Toward Embodied Intelligence: Smart Things on the Rise *Isomorphic Internet of Things Architectures with Web Technologies
(6) Political humor from Iran: The Islamic regime has ruined Iran to such an extent that everyone wants to flee the country. Reza Pahlavi is apparently the only one who wants to return!
(7) Central Coast Community Energy: Beginning in October 2021, the electric energy provider in my area will switch from Southern California Edison to CCCE. Edison will continue to distribute the energy, maintain the infrastructure, and bill customers. CCCE isn't an investor-owned utility, but a nonprofit public agency with open board meetings, striving to obtain the best value for its customers. Hoping things work out as planned.
(8) Iran is dying of thirst: One reason is building too many dams on rivers whose flows cannot support the envisaged agricultural and industrial projects. Equally important is the digging of an inordinate number of wells to tap into the underground water, which has been sinking lower and lower due to overuse. Well stats follow.
Years ago (#Wells): Fifty (47,000); Forty (162,000); Thirty (225,000); Twenty (450,000); Ten (736,000)
(9) Final thought for the day: Stop saying you don't want to be part of the vaccination experiment. We are all part of the experiment, either as the group getting the life-saving med or as the control group.

2021/07/30 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian athletes make people-to-people connections in Tokyo, despite their government's death-to-everyone slogans Cartoon: Kevin McCarthy plans to start a company to offer January-6-style tours of the Capitol Building Cover image of IEEE Computer magazine, issue of July 2021
Math puzzle: Find the angle x in this diagram showing an equilateral triangle embedded in an isosceles triangle Math puzzle: Find the length AE, assuming that the outer triangle is isosceles Math puzzle: Find the length x, assuming that the line inside the triangle bisects the angle on the lower left (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Iranian athletes make people-to-people connections in Tokyo, despite their government's death-to-everyone slogans. [Top center] Cartoon of the day: Kevin McCarthy plans to start a company to offer January-6-style tours of the US Capitol Building. [Top right] Cover image of IEEE Computer magazine, July 2021 (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Math puzzle: Find the angle x in this diagram showing an equilateral triangle embedded in an isosceles triangle. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Find the length AE, assuming that the outer triangle is isosceles. [Bottom right] Math puzzle: Find the length x, assuming that the line inside the triangle bisects the angle on the lower left.
(2) Six months ago, they told us to wear winter coats; now, they want us to wear shorts & put on sunscreen: Analogy to show the silliness of those who criticize changing guidelines, as the COVID-19 situation evolves.
(3) Trump calls the January 6 cops who spoke to Congress "pussies": He should be forced to meet the cops and tell his opinion of them in person. He will need quite a few bodyguards, though!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Five-billion-year-old space rock, uncovered in an English field, may help solve mysteries of our solar system.
- Blue lives matter, unless those hurting the cops wear red hats!
- Iranian mothers demanding justice for their kids killed during 2019 protests are beaten up & arrested.
- Baltimore aunt kept the decomposing bodies of her niece and nephew in her car trunk for months.
- British Computer Society offers a practical guide to increasing gender diversity and inclusion in tech.
(5) Olympics soccer: The US women's national team squeezes through to the semifinals after winning against Netherlands on PKs (the score was 2-2 at the end of 90 minutes and extra time). The US goalie was the star of the day, saving a penalty kick during the match and a couple more during the PK shootout. On Monday, August 02, the US will play Canada at 1:00 AM PDT and Australia will face Sweden at 4:00 AM.
(6) Metcalfe's Law: Computing is full of empirical laws, which are not really laws in the scientific sense of the term. Amdahl's Law, Moore's Law, and Denard Scaling are some of our better-known empirical laws.
While working with Ethernet, Robert Metcalfe suggested that the economic value of an n-node network (of computers, servers, phones, or users) is proportional to n^2, which is also the number of possible connections between pairs of nodes. If the law holds, a 10-fold network growth, say from 100 nodes to 1000 nodes, increases its economic value 100-fold. Many people believe in Metcalfe's Law and are willing to back up their confidence with money (i.e., investment in network-related ventures).
Metcalfe's Law has been criticized, citing imperfect network scalability, that is, because the Law is based on the implicit assumption that network cost grows linearly with size. However, like other large-scale systems, networks aren't infinitely scalable. For this reason, the slower-growing function n log n is sometimes suggested for the increase in network value with its size. The truth may lie somewhere between n log n and n^2.

2021/07/29 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Newsweek magazine cover story: Ronald Reagan started MAGA Persian poetry: A verse from Sa'adi on why love of one's motherland and living abroad are not necessarily in conflict Portrait of Iranian film director Bahram Beyzaie
Fish ladder: Diagram Fish ladder: Long view and close-up Unprecedented widening of the US wage gap: Chart (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Blame Ronald Reagan for MAGA: He started it; others took it to the extreme. [Top center] Persian poetry: A verse from Sa'adi on why love of one's motherland and living abroad are not necessarily in conflict. [Top right] Portrait of Iranian film director Bahram Beyzaie (see the last item below). [Bottom left & center] Migratory fish such as salmon swim upstream to lay eggs: So, fish ladders are provided next to dams to allow fish to get to the upper waters. [Bottom right] Unprecedented widening of the US wage gap: In the four decades between 1979 and 2019, the real income of people in the bottom-10 percentile of hourly wages has grown by 3%. Those in the middle earned 15% more. Those in the upper fifth have seen a 63% growth. (Source: Time magazine, double-issue of August 2 & 9, 2021)
(2) What ASEE's ECSJ (Equity, Culture, and Social Justice) Division is all about: Blog post by Stephen Secules, who as Chair of ECSJ's Constituent Committee led the efforts to form the new division.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Strongest quake in decades off Alaska's coast: The 8.2 shaker has had magnitude 6.2 & 5.6 aftershocks.
- Since its discovery in 1930, Pluto has traveled less than half the way around the sun. [Image]
- The World's 100 Greatest Places: According to Time magazine's double-issue of August 2 & 9, 2021.
- Borowitz report (humor): Biden considers banning vaccine to persuade people to get it.
- Whatever it takes to win! [Video showing the shaking and slapping of an athlete]
- Math puzzle: Compute the sum 1 – 2 + 3 – 4 + 5 – ... – (2n – 2) + 2n – 1.
- Scenes and narrative from my 7/28 morning walk in Goleta's Hollister-Patterson area. [7-minute video]
- Facebook memory from July 29, 2010: A Persian couplet from Abou-Saeid Abolkheir. [Image]
(4) Stanford conference in celebration of Iranian film director Bahram Beyzaie: Today's English-language panel (featuring Abbas Milani, Negar Mottahedeh, Saeed Talajooy) will be followed by a Persian-language panel (featuring Sahand Abidi, Hamid Amjad, Jaleh Amouzgar, Amir Siadat, Mandana Zandian) on Friday, July 30, 10:00 AM PDT. The panels, devoted to discussing the works of Beyzaie, were preceded by pre-recorded presentations on Stanford Iranian Studies YouTube channel.
The following links to films and lectures are from Stanford Iranian Studies Program e-mail of July 9, 2021.
"Bahram Beizaei: A Journey in Search of Identity" (28-minute video)
"Bahram Beizaei According to Amir Naderi" (Keynote; 22-minute video)
English-language panel:
"Beizaei's Singularity in the Labyrinth of Iranian Modernities" (Abbas Milani; 18-minute video)
"Elemental Beizaei" (Negar Motahhedeh; 24-minute video)
"Bashu, the Little Stranger: ... (A Ritual of Exorcism)" (Saeed Talajooy; 29-minute video)
Persian-language panel:
"The Approach Towards the Tradition and True Function of Criticism ..." (Sahand Abidi; 22-minute video)
"Beyzaie and the Origins of 'Modern Characters' in Iranian Drama" (Hamid Amjad; 26-minute video)
"Mythical Characters from Ferdowsi's Shahnameh in Beyzaie's Works" (Jaleh Amouzegar; 32-minute video)
"Patriarchy & Thanatos: Beyzaie's Works as a Celebration of Life ..." (Amirhossein Siadat; 19-minute video)
"Passing from Forgetfulness" (Mandana Zandian; 18-minute video)

2021/07/28 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photo of Elahe Sharifpour-Hicks US gymnast Simone Biles (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Elahe Sharifpour-Hicks, and a cartoon about her (see the last item below). [Right] US gymnast Simone Biles cracks under extreme pressure (see the next item below).
(2) Pressures of competition: Why do we put athletes, particularly younger ones, through so much pressure? Increasingly, they are cracking under the spotlight. And we have seen that people tend to close their eyes on abuses, sexual or otherwise, in the interest of winning more medals. Competitions and their tolls on athletes are really unnecessary. We are so wrapped up in awards and medals that we fail to see signs of trouble, which, in the case of US gymnast Simone Biles, were quite evident if anyone had been paying attention to her (photo).
In the book x + y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender, which I am reading now, Eugenia Cheng provides an example where short-listers in a particular competition decided to forego the final round and share the prize. Their wish was granted, to everyone's satisfaction. Why does there have to be a single best gymnast? Unlike in trying to fill a single position during the hiring process, there's no shortage here. We create artificial shortages (only one gold medal), because we have been conditioned by our ingressive world (rewarding individualism and single-track thinking), instead of behaving in a congressive way (bringing people/ideas together and thinking about broader communities). I will write a review of this wonderful book in due course.
(3) The puzzle of Elahe Sharifpour-Hicks: I didn't know Ms. Hicks until very recently, when I came across comments by her fans and detractors on social media. I was surprised by passionate debates about her role (devoted human-rights activist or apologist for Iran's Islamic regime), reeking with insults from both sides. Then, I saw Ms. Hick's homophobic rant against another reporter who disagreed with her:
*I have lost the quote; will supply it here when I locate it*
Yesterday, I watched her interview/debate on Iran International TV. The network is Saudi-owned, so it is far from being impartial, but Ms. Hicks apparently requested time on the network, so I assumed she had something important to say, in order to set the record straight. The focus of the interview/debate was Ms. Hicks's claim that armed MKO members, supported and trained by Israel, were among those protesting water shortages in Iran's Khuzestan Province. Here is her tweet:
"Unfortunately many of armed MKO members are among protestors in Kuzestan. The group has been supported, funded and trained by Israel."
Given the seriousness of these charges and their effect on how the Iranian regime might treat the protesters (Iran's state media and several officials have already quoted and used Ms. Hicks's tweet multiple times), I was anxious to hear her answer to the question of whether she had any evidence for this claim. Instead of answering the question, she went into a diatribe about her stellar human-rights record. Upon insistence by the program's host, she finally said that she was warning the protesters about the possibility of opportunists infiltrating their ranks to take advantage of the situation.
I read her tweet above not as a warning about possible infiltration, but a direct accusation that could put the protesters' lives in danger. She could have apologized and admitted an error, but she did not. Even if her tweet was just a warning (which it isn't), asking a group of downtrodden people fighting for their survival not to protest because "enemies" might take advantage of them is not something one would expect from a human-rights activist affiliated with the prestigious Human Rights Watch.
[P.S.: I tried to consult Ms. Hicks's Twitter feed to verify the quotes. I discovered that I am blocked!]

2021/07/27 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Toddler shown wailing for Imam Hussein: This is child abuse Cartoon about speeches disguised as questions, and diagrams representing structured knight tour on a 64 x 104 chess board Logo of the 2021 ASEE Annual Conference (virtual meeting) (1) Images of the day: [Left] This is child abuse, plain & simple: Parents who force a toddler to wail for Imam Hussein should be arrested. [Center top] My academic readers would identify with this cartoon: "We'd now like to open the floor to shorter speeches disguised as questions." [Center bottom] Math & beauty: Structured knight's tour on a 64 × 104 chess board. [Right] ASEE's Annual Conference (see the last two items below).
(2) In-person work hesitancy: You have heard about vaccine hesitancy, but we now face another challenging result of the pandemic: People are not sure whether they want to go back to in-person work. Media reports indicate that some people have quit their jobs for various reasons, including employers not being responsive to their preference for working predominantly from home and for accommodations to bring their furry friends to work. Employers' fears are real. A UCSB e-mail about the process of returning to in-person work in fall 2021 took pains to remind faculty members that we have a commitment for having some minimum level of on-campus presence and availability to students!
(3) Hamid Nouri will be tried in Sweden for his role in the mass execution of political prisoners in the 1980s Iran: Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's president-elect, is another person who took part in the said executions.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Champion of disinformation: This Florida doctor has published 600+ articles that cast doubt on vaccines.
- Borowitz report (humor): GOP to punish Cheney and Kinzinger by forcing them to spend hour with Ted Cruz.
- You won't be storming the beaches at Normandy: You're asked merely to get vaccinated and wear a mask!
- Women in math: Dr. Julia B. Robinson [1919-1985] is best-known for solving Hilbert's 10th problem.
- A challenging problem for math aficionados. [Tweet by Thien An]
- A cubic equation ax^3 + bx^2 + cx + d = 0 with three real roots can be solved using trigonometry. [GIF]
- Glass coffins: Will these new coffins become popular? Remains to be seen!
- Classical guitarist Soren Madsen plays "Stairway to Heaven." [3-minute video]
(5) "Innovative, Engaging Pedagogies for Engineering Ethics Education": This was the title of another session at ASEE Annual Conference, which I attended today. I had no paper presentation in this session, but because the topic overlaps with an area I am studying at present, I decided to attend. The papers in this session were:
- "Let's Play! Gamifying Engineering Ethics Education Through the Development of Competitive and Collaborative Activities"
- "Piloting an Ethics Choose-Your-Own Adventure Activity in Early Engineering Education"
- "Using the Boeing Max Air Disaster as A Role-play Scenario for Teaching Ethical Thinking"
- "Examining Faculty Barriers and Challenges in Adopting Ethical Pedagogies in Online Environments"
I look forward to reading the papers in detail once the conference program has been concluded.
(6) "Women in Science and Engineering: A Tale of Two Countries": This morning, on the second day of ASEE's Annual Conference, I presented my paper comparing opportunities and obstacles faced by women in the US and in Iran, as they pursue STEM majors and careers. Papers 2-5 in my session were (link top session):
- "Featuring Silenced Perspectives in STEM: Supporting Multicultural and Diversity Leadership Through the STEM Foundry Heritage Fellows Program"
- "Seeing the Invisible: The Year This White Woman Spent Learning at an HSI"
- "Equity, Engineering, and Excellence: Pathways to Student Success"
- "Identifying Engineering Students' Beliefs About Seeking Help for Mental Health Concerns"
I learned quite a bit from the presentations above. I was particularly impressed with Dr. Lizabeth Thompson's "Seeing the Invisible," sharing her experiences during a sabbatical-leave from a predominantly-white selective state university (Cal Poly), working at a Hispanic-serving institution with vastly inferior resources (Cal State Los Angeles). She called on everyone to spend their sabbatical leaved at HBU or HSI institutions, where they can be of immense service. [My paper (PDF)] [Recording of my practice presentation]

2021/07/26 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine cover feature: Family portraits of resilience in a year of violence against Asian-American elders Cover image of Jeremy Campbell's 'Grammatical Man' This young man, who was planning his marriage later this year, was killed during peaceful water protests in Ahwaz (1) Images of the day: [Left] Time magazine cover feature (issue of August 2 & 9, 2021): Family portraits of resilience in a year of violence against Asian-American elders. [Center] Jeremy Campbell's Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life (see the last item below). [Right] A marriage that will never be: This young man and woman were to be married later this year, but the man was killed during peaceful protests for water shortage in Ahawaz, Iran, by a government that sent soldiers, instead of aid.
(2) Elahe Hicks is asked to offer evidence for her claim that armed MKO members were among Khuzestan water protestors: She talks about her background and activities, rather than answer the specific question. It is patently clear that she has no evidence whatsoever. She now claims that she was warning against possible infiltration by extremist groups, rather than make allegations about a particular group.
(3) Iran's President Rouhani: "If it weren't for sanctions and COVID-19, US dollar would be at 5000 tomans." Iranian people: "If it weren't for you mullahs, it would be even cheaper!"
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- First successful transplant of a total artificial heart: A 39-year-old man received the French-made heart.
- Stop throwing your food away: The lie of "best by" dates and the resulting food waste.
- Clever transformation of landmarks into interesting designs, using paper cutouts. [Pictorial]
- A Persian market was selling sour cherries for $10/lb. As much as I like sour cherries, I decided to wait!
(5) Iran beat Poland in Olympics men's volleyball: Before the match, Polish player Michal Joroslaw Kubiak had characterized Iran's national team as weak and thus not a worthy opponent!
(6) Book review: Campbell, Jeremy, Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life, 319 pp., Simon & Schuster, 1982. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
It is clear that a 300-page book cannot cover the history of our universe, from the Big Bang to human evolution, human communication, and artificial intelligence, as Campbell tries to do here. Yet, an understanding of where we stand and where we are headed as a species requires an examination of the entirety of events leading to our emergence ("creation"). Campbell's thesis is that information is at the root of everything, not just the obvious domains of genetics, languages, and brain functions, but also nature as a whole.
The science of information was born during World War II, directly affecting communications and computing, but also stimulating ideas in biology, linguistics, probability theory, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and art, that is, nearly everything! Processes found in nature do have random elements, but they mostly resemble the orderly formation of sentences in a language, yielding boundless structures from a finite collection of "words." So, we don't just have a grammatical man, as the book's title suggests, but also a grammatical universe.
There's a good deal of overlap between this book and Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (my review). Campbell's discussion of information theory also overlaps with the biopic A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, by Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman (my review).
The book is composed of four parts, whose titles and chapters are listed below, plus an afterword entitled "Aristotle and DNA," which elaborates on how Aristotle's view of the world was biological/informational, rather than mechanical, which makes him the sole classical thinker to have seen a glimmer of information theory.
Part 1. Establishing the Theory of Information (6 chapters): The second law and the Yellow Peril; The noise of heat; The demon deposed; A nest of subtleties and traps; Not too dull, not too exciting; The struggle against randomness.
Part 2. Nature as an Information Process (4 chapters): Arrows in all directions; Chemical word and chemical deed; Jumping the complexity barrier; Something rather subtle.
Part 3. Coding Language, Coding Life (5 chapters): Algorithms and evolution; Partly green till the day we die; No need for ancient astronauts; The clear and the noisy messages of language; A mirror of the mind.
Part 4. How the Brain Puts It All Together (6 chapters): The brain as cat on a hot tin roof and other fallacies; The strategies of seeing; The bottom and top of memory; The information of dreams; The left and right of knowing; The second-theorem society.

2021/07/25 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Kimia Alizadeh Zonoozi, taekwondo athlete competing for the refugee team: Tweet Kimia Alizadeh Zonoozi, taekwondo athlete competing for the refugee team: Drawing Discussion of digital currencey in Fanni'68 graduates group: Part 2
NASA's dynamically-updated map shows fires raging in the US and Canada Gathering of a few 1968 graduates of Tehran University College of Engineering in Los Angeles Wonders of nature: Painted grasshopper (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] An epic battle at the Tokyo Olympics: Reminiscent of the battle of Rostam & Sohrab in Shahnameh, Kimia Alizadeh Zonoozi, a member of the team of refugees (state-less athletes) competing in taekwondo, faced her former teammate from Iran, Nahid Kiyani Chandeh, but in subsequent matches barely missed earning the refugee team's first medal. [Top right] Discussion of digital currencey continued (see the last item below). [Bottom left] NASA's dynamically-updated map shows fires raging in the US and Canada. [Bottom center] Last night's gathering of a few 1968 graduates of Tehran U. College of Engineering in Los Angeles. The sumptuous dinner included yummy smoked white-fish, herb-rice, and beef stroganoff. The dessert table shown included Persian ice-cream, a cake, various sweets, and fruit. [Bottom right] Wonders of nature: Painted grasshopper.
(2) Sheeple: Derived by combining "sheep" and "people," this word was added by Merriam-Webster in 2017, but it has been around since 1945. It refers to people who are easily-influenced by manipulators, fads, and other trends. A very useful word, indeed!
(3) Political humor from Iran: The government has ordered those running mourning ceremonies for Imam Hussein to not dwell too much on his being denied water by Yazid. They should make up some other reason for Imam Hussein's woes in Karbala desert!
(4) Douglas Adams, author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, on our reaction to technology:
- If it existed when you were born, it's normal and a natural part of the world.
- If it was invented between when you're 15 and 35, it's exciting and revolutionary.
- If it emerged after you turned 35, it's pointless and against the natural order of things.
(5) "Digital Currency: History, Technologies, and Social Impact" (special focus on bitcoin and blockchain): In the second gathering of the Class of 1968, Tehran University College of Engineering (Fanni'68) on this topic, beginning at 10:00 AM PDT on 7/24, Drs. Sirous Yasseri (Brunel U.) and Behrooz Parhami (UCSB) continued their presentation, with more detail on blockchain & bitcoin and some discussion of the environmental and ethical issues in bitcoin mining and use (in Persian).
SY began the presentation by talking about how bitcoin came about in 2009 and developed over the last 12 years. Over this period, Bitcoin's value has soared from a small fraction of a cent to ~$35K (at its peak in April 2021, bitcoin was worth $61K). Discussion of bitcoin's history was followed by more detail about the blockchain protocol, function of the main bitcoin network nodes, and the operation and incentives for bitcoin miners. The presentation included interactive demonstration of what happens during bitcoin mining, the workings of digital signatures, and how manipulation of data in already-closed blocks invalidates them.
BP continued by using back-of-the-envelope calculations to derive the computational requirements of bitcoin mining to be on the order ot 10^18 ops (exa-ops) per block. He continued with a review of the types of hardware used in computation-intensive applications (CPU, GPU, TPU, FPGA, custom-VLSI, supercomputer), deriving time and energy-consumption estimates in each case, to provide ballpark figures for energy costs. He ended by discussing environmental impacts of bitcoin mining and ethical implications of fully-distributed control (no one in charge) as well as untraceable financial transactions.
[Part 1 Recording (passcode k@cF2f!w)] [Part 2 recording (passcode &3bv7bV1)] [BP's slides]

2021/07/23 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mashregh News Service's report on the Khuzestan water protests in southern Iran Ahwaz, Abadan, Khuzestan: Air, water, blood (clever calligraphic art by Reza Taghipour) When women stopped coding: Women engineers in front of an early computer
Very young Iranian child working as a porter New York Times 'Two Not Touch' puzzle The college-debt crisis: Newsweek magazine cover image (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Mashregh News Service, quoting Elahe Hicks, claims that armed MKO members were among Khuzestan protesters: Now, Mashregh is a regime-approved news service, with access to government and other sources inside Iran. Why would it use a report from someone residing in the US to make such a claim? And why would it be calling a report coming from one of Iranian regime's apologists in the US a "confession" by the protesters? [Top center] Ahwaz, Abadan, Khuzestan: Air, water, blood (clever calligraphic art by Reza Taghipour). [Top right] When women stopped coding: Elaboration on reasons for the number of women in computer science plummeting since the mid-1980s, as also observed in my paper to be presented on July 27 at the 2021 ASEE Conf. [Bottom left] It's a shame that in Iran, a country sitting on vast reserves of oil and other resources, children must work under inhumane conditions to survive. [Bottom center] New York Times "Two Not Touch" puzzle: Put two stars in each row, each column, and each enclosed region, so that no two stars are adjacent horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. [Bottom right] The college-debt crisis: Large sums of money owed by many graduates hinders their careers and affects their parents' lives too.
(2) #IAmKhuzestani: In solidarity with the people of Khuzestan, who are thirsting for water, and, instead of receiving help from Iran's government, are sent Revolutionary-Guards brigades with orders to shoot.
(3) A new paper by Professor Claudia Yaghoobi: "Over Forty Years of Resisting Compulsory Veiling: Relating Literary Narratives to Text-Based Protests and Cyberactivism," J. Middle East Women's Studies, 2021. [Read]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Statement by 174 activists & scholars, condemning Iran's assassination and kidnapping of dissidents.
- Director Vahid Jalilvand expresses support for Iranians protesting water shortages and economic hardships.
- Amnesty International: At least 8 protesters/bystanders have been killed in Khuzestan's water-protests.
- Word puzzle: Write the name of a country in the blank space to complete a common word. IN     TE
- Persian poetry: An Iranian woman recites a poem by an Afghan woman, sharply criticizing religious zealots.
- Persian music: Medley of several popular songs, performed as part of a Nowruz celebration program.
(5) How the magnificent Aral Sea, one of the largest lakes in Asia, nearly dried up when the Soviet Union mismanaged the natural resources of Uzbekistan. [5-minute video]
(6) Khamenei devotees in the US: Iranian agents, who plot to take over the White House and convert it to a Husseinieh (Islamic Center devoted to Imam Hussein), operate in the open and even post videos on social media about their plans. In parallel, many Iranian-Americans act as apologists for Iran's brutal Islamic regime.
(7) Hassan Abbasi, a key ideologue of the Islamic regime in Iran: An ally of Supreme Leader Khamenei and his son Mojtaba, he claims to be a doctor but he does not even have a bachelor's degree.
(8) Final thought for the day (on philosophy and perils of academic research):
- Sisyphus was doomed to push a boulder uphill, only to see it roll back down just before reaching the summit.
- Professor writing about Sisyphus was doomed to discover a major error each time he neared the conclusion.

2021/07/22 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My dad, on the right, striking a pose with three of his brothers 7.5 decades ago Newspaper article from 1963 about a prototype wireless pocket phone Making pizzas with two different kinds of naan flatbread, from Ralphs and Trader Joe's
Cartoon: Gene pool (Autry, Simmons, etc.) The 2020 Turing Award Lecture: Batch 1 of screenshots The 2020 Turing Award Lecture: Batch 2 of screenshots (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Throwback Thursday: My dad, on the right, striking a pose with three brothers 7.5 decades ago, and Newspaper article from 1963 about a prototype wireless pocket phone. [Top right] Making pizzas with two different kinds of naan flatbread, from Ralphs and TJ's. [Bottom left] Cartoon of the day: Gene pool. [Bottom center & right] The 2020 Turing Award Lecture (see the last item below).
(2) Quote of the day: "You don't love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song that only you can hear." ~ Irish poet & playwright Oscar Wilde [1854-1900]
(3) "The Shahyad Monument: A Symbol of Iranian Civilization and Culture": The monument, which has come to define Tehran, and, in many ways, Iran, is discussed by its architect, Hossein Amanat. [Sat., Aug. 7, 2021]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump must be very happy that Barrack is finally arrested! (He wouldn't know how 44's name is spelled.)
- A small step toward banning fossil fuels: Santa Barbara City Council bans gas hook-ups in new buildings.
- This mullah advises "human beings" against saying hello to "women." Note his choice of words!
- I hate it when I join a Zoom meeting at 9:03 & see the message "Please wait. The webinar will start at 9:00"!
(5) Tribute to Iranian singer Mohammad Nouri: I posted this video on Facebook nearly three years ago, but have just learned that UMG has released its copyright claim on my post. So, here it is again! [9-minute video]
(6) Real input data has noise, and with noise, worst-case algorithm performance is less likely to arise: This observation in a 20-year-old paper, explaining why some algorithms work better in practice than in theory, has won Shang-Hua Teng (USC) and Daniel A. Spielman (Yale U.) STOC's "Test of Time" Award.
(7) ACM 2020 Turing Lecture: In today's 9:00 AM PDT session moderated by John L. Hennessy (himself a Turing Award honoree), Professors Alfred Aho and Jeffrey Ullman spoke under the title "Abstractions, Their Algorithms, and Their Compilers." The talk was structured around the theme that computer science, viewed as mechanization of abstractions, teaches us computational thinking, a skill that is useful for everyone, not just computer scientists. [Recorded lecture: Link forthcoming]
Ullman began by discussing data-structure and algorithm abstractions, providing examples of such abstractions that have led to major advances in computing. In the second part of his presentation, that followed the first part of Aho's talk, Ullman focused on abstractions pertaining to large data sets, which typically reside on secondary storage. Here, the running time is dominated by the number of disk accesses, not the number of computation steps. Some data structures and algorithms that do not do so well in the standard RAM model, become very efficient in the disk model. Aho also talked about the relational model of data and the role of the map-reduce abstraction in performing data-intensive computations easily and efficiently.
Aho began by discussing the use of abstractions in designing compilers. These abstractions helped transform compiler design from an art to a science, so much so that many parts of the process can be, and have been, automated. The Aho-Ullman series of "dragon books" played a key role in helping this transformation. In the second part of his talk, Aho presented abstractions in the domain of quantum computing, which are fundamentally different from previous abstractions in computer science. Quantum computing is still in its infancy and large-scale machines with the requisite reliability remain to be realized. Such machines won't be stand-alone systems but will likely be used as adjuncts to conventional computers.

2021/07/21 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Visualizing the drought in southwestern US: Hoover Dam's Lake Mead in 1985, 2000, 2010, and 2020, in satellite images One of our neighbors, who had left a door open, encountered this large bird inside Actor Clint Eastwood over the years, from James Dean look-alike to Jack Nicholson look-alike!
What's in a word? Talking about women in Persian Ancient architecture: The 1500-year-old Ark of Bukhara castle in Uzbekistan A book that came out in 2020 with little fanfare has turned into a surprise best-seller (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Visualizing the drought in southwestern US: Hoover Dam's Lake Mead in 1985, 2000, 2010, and 2020, in satellite images. [Top center] One of our neighbors, who had left a door open, encountered this unexpected visitor inside. We live near a wilderness area. In recent weeks, animal traffic in the neighborhood has increased, perhaps because of drought-impacted wildlife going in search of scarce water. [Top right] Actor Clint Eastwood over the years, from James Dean look-alike to Jack Nicholson look-alike! [Bottom left] Talking about women in Persian (see the next item below). [Bottom center] Ancient architecture: The 1500-year-old Ark of Bukhara castle in Uzbekistan. [Bottom right] Why evangelicals love John Wayne and Donald Trump: A book that came out in 2020 with little fanfare has turned into a surprise best-seller.
(2) The loaded Persian word "baanovaan": In Persian, women are referred to by different words such as "zanaan," "baanovaan," and "khaanom-ha." The first one corresponds to the English word "women," while the latter two are often translated as "ladies." My preferred word is "zanaan," in part because "baanovaan," originally deemed a more polite and complimentary term, has been appropriated by the mullahs to subtly dismiss women. In many instances, they make it even worse by using the Arabic word "nesvaan," which carries the Islamic-Sharia connotation of helpless, subservient women. The terms "jonbesh-e zanaan" ("women's movement") and "hoghoogh-e zanaan" ("women's rights") so scare the mullahs that they would rather remove the word "zanaan" from their vocabulary. In English, too, "women's movement" and "women's rights" lose their edge if replaced by "ladies' movement" and "ladies' rights."
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Remembering NASA's Space-Shuttle program, 10 years after Atlantis made the final Shuttle landing in FL.
- Oh, what a big surprise! The GOP threatens filibuster on the supposedly-bipartisan infrastructure bill.
- Hard-hit Dutch town left with $0.5 billion flood-damage bill.
- Women's soccer: Sweden stuns US women 3-0 in their Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening match.
- A new era of Olympics activism: Despite threats of punishment, many athletes take knee in Tokyo. [Photo]
- Milwaukee wins its first NBA championship in 50 years by beating Phoenix in Games 3-6 of the finals series.
(4) Tonight's IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Mr. Momin Quddus (MSEE, PE) talked at 6:00 PM PDT under the title "EV Technology and Its Implications on Climate Change," a talk arranged by our sister BuenaVentura Section and co-sponsored by IEEE CCS. At its peak, the session had ~30 participants.
California will phase out gasoline-powered cars by 2035, joining 15 countries that have built a roadmap to boost technical innovation toward a zero-emission transportation and develop regulations to accelerate the transition from fossil fuel vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs). From a sustainable engineering perspective, an electric vehicle will emit less greenhouse gas at the car/truck level but the benefit on climate change involves a large array of additional factors.
In the first part of his talk, Mr. Quddus presented an overview of the EV technology, including types of battery and considerations of charging, range, and efficiency. He reviewed the power trains of the currently-used internal combustion engine (ICE) vs. existing and emerging EV options. Internal combustion engines are complicated and have many moving parts subject to inefficiencies, wear, and tear. The electric power train is much simpler and more efficient (Tesla claims an efficiency of 97%, vs. ICE's ~35%).
In the second part of his talk, Mr. Quddus discussed the future of EVs and their implication in slowing down global warming and climate change. EVs offer only marginal benefits if the electric energy they need is generated from coal and other fossil fuels. However, as we move toward greater use of renewable energy, the benefits of EVs will become more pronounced, constituting a main tool in our fight against climate change. He concluded by touching upon financial markets' interest in EVs.
[IEEE BVS Web site] [IEEE BVS event page] [IEEE CCS event page] [IEEE CCS Technical Talks page]

2021/07/20 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Men's & women's beach sports clothing: Sexualization of women athletes Cover image of Ted Chiang's 'Exhalation: Stories' Coffee mug with the message 'Be nice to nurses'
Cartoon: Vaccine hesitancy continues despite the surge of hospitalizations and deaths among the unvaccinated Cartoon: 'Who is putting math books in the horror section?' Cartoon: Horses playing humanshoe on the prairie (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Sexualization of women athletes: Look at the normal men's wear. Then, take a look at Norwegian women's beach-handball team wearing clothing which brought them threats of fines, for covering too much! Spectators for women's beach sports are predominantly men [Top center] Ted Chiang's Exhalation: Stories (see the last item below). [Top right] Gift coffee-mug: All the nurses I know are wonderful people; be nice to them! [Bottom row] Cartoons of the day: Vaccine hesitancy continues, despite the fact that some 99% of new COVID-19 hospitalizations & deaths involve unvaccinated people; Teacher complaining about someone having moved math books to the horror section; Horses playing humanshoe on the prairie.
(2) Iran has become the Middle East's Mexico: Fleeing the Taliban, large caravans of Afghans travel ~1500 km across Iran to seek asylum in Turkey. Other reports indicate that Turkey has deployed 20,000 soldiers to secure its 500-km border with Iran. [Video]
(3) Hubble Space Telescope's main computer failed after 31 years of flawless service: The orbiting lab has successfully switched to a back-up computer and is now being calibrated to resume normal observations.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Learning from the events of Jan. 6, Gen. Milley blockaded Washington to keep the Nazis out on Jan. 20.
- Iran's security forces fire live ammunition and tear-gas at those complaining about water shortages.
- Anyone discussing vaccines in public or on social media should disclose his/her own vaccination status.
- The Spring 2021 issue of UCSB College of Engineering's Convergence magazine focuses on DEI efforts.
(5) A critique of director Asghar Farhadi's realism: Farhadi is skillful in using cinematic techniques to paint images of individual fruit trees, including those on the verge of death due to lack of water or proper care, without giving us a glimpse of the orchard or the shortcomings of its keepers. [Facebook post, in Persian]
(6) Book review: Chiang, Ted, Exhalation: Stories, unabridged 11-hour audiobook, read by Edoardo Ballerini, Dominic Hoffman, and Amy Landon, Random House Audio, 2019.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Ted Chiang is a sci-fi short-story specialist who hasn't bothered to write a novel (yet). This second collection of short stories from Chiang contains two new and seven re-published tales, with notes on them. From the 1001-nights-style opening story to the existential crisis, resulting from knowing your own fate and that of the universe, pondered in the final story, Chiang impresses with his terse writing, scientific knowledge, and philosophical dexterity.
A list of the nine stories follows.
- "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate": Time-traveling Baghdadi fabric-seller considers his past mistakes.
- "Exhalation": The "great lung of the world," the source of all nourishment, and, thus, life, is gradually failing.
- "What's Expected of Us": Gadget flashing a light a second before you press a button undermines free will.
- "The Lifecycle of Software Objects": Novella-length scientist's log about the development of a robot species.
- "Darcy's Patent Automatic Nanny": Excerpts from a museum-exhibit machine that models ideal parenting.
- "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling": What happens when digital memory is inserted into human lifelog.
- "The Great Silence": Puerto Rican rainforest parrot, whose species is near-extinct, narrates a painful story.
- "Omphalos" (named after the omphalos hypothesis): The dilemma faced by a creationist archaeologist.
- "Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom": Alternate universes make us re-examine ideas of choice and free will.

2021/07/19 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Grainy old photo showing Naser al-Din Shah Qajar on his first European trip, with Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati by his side Gifts for writers: T-shirts, with interesting messages Persian poetry: Calligraphic rendering of verses from Mowlavi/Rumi
The 'big three' of US women's soccer team will try to add an Olympic gold medal to their team's World Cup honors Cover image of Lisa Randall's book, 'Knocking on Heaven's Door' Do you remember Zoom meetings in the 1970s? Here's an image to refresh your memory! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] This grainy old photo shows Naser al-Din Shah Qajar on his first European trip, with Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati by his side. (PhotoShopping Ahmad Jannati into all sorts of images is Iran's equivalent to putting Bernie Sanders within various photos in the US.) [Top center] Gifts for writers: T-shirts, with interesting messages. [Top right] Persian poetry: Calligraphic rendering of verses from Mowlavi/Rumi. [Bottom left] American women at the Tokyo Olympics: There are high hopes for the gymnastics team. The "big three" of the women's soccer team (Megan Rapinoe, 36; Carli Lloyd, 39; Alex Morgan, 32) will try to add an Olympic gold medal to their team's World Cup honors, perhaps in what will be their last group appearance in the Olympics. [Bottom center] Lisa Randall's book, Knocking on Heaven's Door (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Do you remember Zoom meetings in the 1970s? Here's an image to refresh your memory!
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Statement condemning Islamic Republic of Iran's 3 decades of assassination & kidnapping operations.
- Instead of sending badly-needed water to the city of Ahwaz, Iran's mullahs dispatched military units!
- Seattle leads the US in "brain gain": Adds tech jobs faster than any other big US market over 5 years.
- "History of Women's Movements": A free on-line course, now in its first week. [Info & registration]
- Facebook memory from July 19, 2013: Does the number pi hold all the secrets of our universe? Not really!
- Facebook memory from July 19, 2010: A couple of beautiful Persian couplets from Abou-Saeid Abolkheir.
(3) Book review: Randall, Lisa, Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World, unabridged 14-hour audiobook, read by Carrington MacDuffie, Tantor Audio, 2011. [My 4-star review of this book on [GoodReads]
Lisa Randall, a most-cited and influential theoretical physicists, is Frank J. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University, where she studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology, that is, a wide range from the tiniest to the largest objects in the universe. In this book, Randall provides an overview of new developments in our understanding of the world's makeup, and the fundamental forces that govern its operation, along with an impassioned argument for the importance of science.
A question of interest to both scientists and lay people is how we decide which problems to study, given our limited human and financial resources. Was building the largest machine in history, Europe's Large Hadron Collider, worth the effort and cost? Randall answers this question with an emphatic "yes," while lamenting the US Congress killing the even larger science project, the Superconducting Super Collider, of which only a huge vacant tunnel remains in Texas.
Factors such as risk, creativity, uncertainty, beauty, and truth play important roles in science, as they do in other human endeavors. In conversations with Chef David Chang, forecaster Nate Silver, and screenwriter Scott Derickson, Randall explores overlaps between science and other domains of inventive and creative work.
I have read/heard other expositions of the matter, antimatter, and dark-matter before, without really developing an understanding of them. While Randall's treatment has been hailed as one of the best, I still have trouble with these notions, and with the arbitrary and inconsistent terminology used to describe them. Let me end my review by quoting from a Facebook post of mine, dated June 15, 2021:
"There's a joke about not trusting atoms, because they make up everything! Physicists are no better in this regard. To me, physics terminology is arbitrary and inconsistent."
"What is dark matter? It's matter we do not see, but which is necessary to balance our gravitational equations! If only 15 lbs of my mass consisted of dark matter, I'd look fabulous!"
"What's antimatter? It's something that interacts with matter, annihilating both participants and releasing energy. I don't understand this, but, in this case, nomenclature isn't the problem."
"We have proton and antiproton; neutron and antineutron. So, one would guess that antimatter counterpart to electron would be antielectron. It isn't: Physicists prefer positron, so named because it has a positive charge. But, then, why isn't electron called negatron? Don't ask me! Is there such a thing as antiphoton? No, photon's antiparticle is the photon itself!"
"Particle names (fermions, quarks, leptons, gluons, bosons, ...) and forces that act on them (weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, ...) aren't any better in terms of understanding what's going on!"
Clearly, I still have a lot of work to do in this domain!

2021/07/18 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of a book about Trump's last year in office: 'I Alone Can Fix It' Cover image of a book about Trump's last year in office: 'Landslide' Cover image of a book about Trump's last year in office: 'Frankly We Did Win This Election'
Additional postage-stamp designs from graphic artist Morteza Azarkheil Forough Farrokhzad postage-stamp design from graphic artist Morteza Azarkheil A number of paper-currency designs from graphic artist Morteza Azarkheil (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Three accounts of Trump's last year in office: I Alone Can Fix It, by Carole Leonnig & Philip Rucker; Landslide, by Michael Wolff; Frankly We Did Win This Election, by Michael C. Bender. Published snippets from the books are extremely tantalizing! I am considering whether I should spend time reading one, two, or three more books on Trump (I have read a dozen or so already). [Bottom row] Clarification: The postage stamp design, featuring Professor Maryam Mirzakhani, which I shared on Wednesday 2021/07/14, is artwork and not a real stamp. It is most-definitely not an official stamp of Iran, given Professor Mirzakhani's uncovered hair in the image! These additional postage-stamp designs and a number of paper-currency designs are from Morteza Azarkheil's Instagram page.
(2) UC Regents have a plan for automatic tuition increases of 0.5-2.0%, plus inflation, for the next 4 years: There is a chance that the state will offer to buy out the proposed increases in an effort to keep tuition stable.
(3) Fiesta (Santa Barbara Old Spanish Days) returns to in-person events: I look forward to music/dance performances, food courts, and other festivities during August 4-8, 2021. [Web site, with schedule]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- General Mark Milley may have prevented a war with Iran during the final days of Trump's presidency.
- Multiple young men, protesting water shortage in southern Iran, are shot to death by security forces.
- Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's maneuvering to install Ebrahim Raisi as President is seen as his downfall.
- Trumpists murder people with impunity: One-fifth of US COVID-19 cases this week were in Florida.
- The European Central Bank starts work on creating a digital version of the euro.
- Religious extremism is in decline: And those holding power are running scared, in the US and in Iran.
- Drawing skills: Wonderful 3D effects, created by pencil/pen drawing.
- Fantastic music: This cartoonish classical-music performance requires lots of hard work and extreme skill!
- Math puzzle: If a + b = 1 and a^2 + b^2 = 2, compute a^4 + b^4. [Solution]
- Bounce-juggling: One of the most-skillful jugglers I have ever seen! [3-minute video]
- Artisans in Tabriz, Iran, weave a carpet celebrating the Tokyo Olympics, with free digital versions as apps.
(5) A slice of the people's history of Iran: Having inexplicably found in a trash can near his house a large number of identity documents, all belonging to young women born in 1942, Najaf Shokri initiated a project to collect the women's faces (stripped of all identifying information) into a photo album. Here is the result.
(6) The grand-challenge problem "P =? NP" turns 50: The celebrated Cook-Levin Theorem introduced the notion of P vs. NP in the third STOC meeting in 1971 and gave rise to rigorous study of complexity theory. In this STOC-2021 special session, Stephen A. Cook and Lenoid A. Levin give fascinating historical back stories to their transformative work, and Richard M. Karp talks about how he proved an initial set of 21 fundamental problems to be NP-complete. Fascinating! [100-minute video]
(7) Kudos to Asghar Farhadi for his film "A Hero" winning Cannes Film Festival's Grand Prize, jointly with Juho Kuosmanen's "Compartment No. 6." Shame on Asghar Farhadi for dodging questions about his relationship with the brutal Iranian regime and collaboration with people tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, claiming that he is not political. These two statements and associated debates are spreading on social media like wildfire!

2021/07/17 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fitting design: Book-shaped library bench in Alexandria, Egypt Snacks for a summer afternoon: Vegetables and fruits Political humor: Cheerful French tourists visit the Bastille in 1789
'Currency and Digital Cash: History & New Trends' plus two opinions on the MeToo movement (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Fitting design: Library bench in Alexandria, Egypt. [Top center] Snacks for a summer afternoon: Vegetables and fruits. [Top right] Political humor: Cheerful French tourists visit the Bastille in 1789. [Bottom left & center] "Currency and Digital Cash: History & New Trends" (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Assessing the #MeToo movement (see the next item below).
(2) Opposing opinions on the #MeToo movement: Arguing in Newsweek on-line, Kat Rosenfeld defends her thesis that #MeToo has gone too far in demonizing men, while Jill Filipovic focuses on the movement's positive effects on women. I endorse the second opinion, as I see nothing wrong with a little bit of demonization for a sex that has continuously demonized women for centuries.
(3) ACM 2020 Turing Lecture: Professors Alfred Aho and Jeffrey Ullman will speak under the title "Abstractions, Their Algorithms, and Their Compilers." Thursday, July 22, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT. [Register]
(4) Leaked Kremlin documents: Putin and top aides agreed a Trump White House would help secure Moscow's strategic objectives, among them "social turmoil" in the US and a weakening of its negotiating position. Russia's three spy agencies were ordered to find practical ways to support Trump.
(5) Many people of Iranian origins, some prominent Iranian-Americans in particular, have failed to condemn Iran's Islamic regime for its plot to kidnap journalist Masih Alinejad and to take her back to Iran for a show-trial and, likely, execution (as it did to another journalist, Ruhollah Zam). They cite excuses such as being apolitical or disliking some aspect of Ms. Alinejad's activities or politics. To these people I say: Freedom of non-violent speech should be defended, regardless of the speaker's identity. [A related Facebook post, in Persian]
(6) "Currency and Digital Cash: History & New Trends" (special focus on bitcoin and blockchain): Today we held the first of two gatherings of the Class of 1968, Tehran University College of Engineering (Fanni'68), in which Drs. Sirous Yasseri and Behrooz Parhami present an overview and history of money as a social construct, from before ancient gold coins to emerging digital currencies (in Persian). Today's meeting was held in loving memory of our recently-departed classmate and friend, Hamid Khan-Afshar. The second meeting will be on Saturday, July 24, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT (9:30 PM Iran time). [Zoom link]
BP began today's presentation by reviewing the history of money from ~10,000 years ago, when cattle served as money, to today's common coin/paper money and the emerging digital or virtual currencies. He emphasized that money, one of the greatest human inventions that makes the world go around, is a completely made-up thing, now that the Gold Standard is no longer in effect. We trust a materially-worthless paper and assign value to it because we are assured that we can exchange it for goods of our choosing whenever we want. For digital currency, not issued by a government or central bank, that trust must be built in a way different from the authority or word of a trusted source.
SY continued the discussion by defining centralized and distributed ledgers and the implementation of the latter in bitcoin's blockchain protocol. Bitcoin's blockchain contains a record of all past transactions, with participants known as "bitcoin miners" helping maintain the distributed ledger and earning a reward, in the form of bitcoins, when they "win" the race to consolidate and certify a block of new transactions. Transactions carry no names but are recorded with participants' public crypto keys. Once a block has been certified and added to the blockchain, changing it is nearly impossible, because a majority of the 13,000 or so nodes currently part of the bitcoin network must agree to any changes.
Next week, SY will begin by reviewing a history of Bitcoin and why it was created, following up with more detail on blockchain and its applications. BP will cover computational and, thus, energy requirements of bitcoin mining and the types of hardware used, proceeding to environmental impacts of bitcoin mining and ethical implications of untraceable financial transactions.

2021/07/16 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: The Beatles' 'Abby Road' will be re-released as 'Appy Road' Meme: Iran's new president has said that he will help facilitate the return of Iranians abroad to their homeland Cartoon: Kevin McCarthy summoned by Trump over January 6 Commission
Before and after photos showing flood devastation in Germany California drought is getting more serious by the day: Before and after photos U. Toronto Zoom talk by Dr. Farangis Ghaderi on the poetry of Kurdish women (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Cartoon: The Beatles' "Abby Road" album will be re-released as "Appy Road." [Top center] Meme of the day: Iran's new president has said that he will help facilitate the return of Iranians abroad to their homeland. He wanted to begin with journalist Masih Alinejad, but the US blocked his efforts! [Top right] Cartoon: Kevin McCarthy summoned by Trump over January 6 Commission. [Bottom left] Before and after photos showing flood devastation in Germany. [Bottom center] California drought is getting more serious by the day: Wish we could bring over some of the rain from western Europe, which is killing people there. [Bottom right] Zoom talk by Dr. Farangis Ghaderi on the poetry of Kurdish women (see the last item below).
(2) FBI inconsistencies: The Bureau did a remarkable job in defusing the covert plot by Iran to kidnap exiled journalist Masih Alinejad, yet, by mishandling the Larry Nassar case, it allowed the doctor who operated in plain sight to continue his sexual abuse of dozens more gymnasts.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Over 120 dead in western Europe after record rainfall. [CNN report]
- COVID-19 misinformation is killing people: When are we going to prosecute the culprits?
- We have already paid reparations: Yes, to white enslavers for their "loss of services."
- Angela Merkel is currently visiting the White House for the last time during her chancellorship term.
- Imagine going into a hospital for something else and getting a kidney transplant by mistake!
- U. California mandates COVID-19 vaccination for everyone on campus, unless an exemption is granted.
- Classical music: Kourosh Zolani arranged and plays santour on Isaac Albeniz's "Asturias." [5-minute video]
- My Facebook post from July 16, 2020, which is even more poignant today! [Image]
(4) "The Unsung Poetry of Kurdish Women": This was the title of today's U. Toronto Zoom lecture by Dr. Farangis Ghaderi (Associate Research Fellow in Kurdish Studies, U. Exeter), which had ~50 attendees.
Kurdish literary traditions can be lumped into three groups, based on the dialect of Kurdish used:
- Gorani, 15th-19th centuries, supported by the Persian Empire.
- Kurmanji, 16th-20th centuries, supported by the Ottoman Empire.
- Sorani, 18th century to present, supported by the Ottoman Empire.
Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Kurdish language became a stateless language, with its speakers divided among several existing and newly-formed countries. Iraq became the only country where Kurdish cultural activities were allowed (to some extent).
In studying Kurdish literature, we have a number of challenges related to the political situation in the region. In Turkey, for example, the government destroyed much Kurdish literature and Kurds themselves eradicated some sources, out of fear. Discovery of new sources over the past decade has brought Kurdish literature, particularly the works of women, to life.
Before the 19th century, much of women's literary works were oral. Since then, a number of literary figures have emerged. Some key names follow:
- Mah Seref Xanim Masture Erdalan [1805-1848], wrote mostly in Persian. An example in Gorani was shown.
- Zeynab Xan [1900-1963], focused on Kurdish nationalism & women's rights.
- Friste Koye (Xedice Mustefa Hewezi) [1926-2015].
- Mesxell (Samiye Sakir) [1941-]
Women poets, sometimes writing under pseudonyms, were routinely dismissed by the male-dominated literary scene. Since the 1990s, with the establishment of the Avesta publishing house in Turkey, Kurdish women's voices have been amplified.
My question: I gather from your presentation, that Kurdish women poets' influence has been more limited compared with, say, Iranian female poets. Even in Iran, we see that literary figures, calling themselves "intellectuals," dismiss women's contributions by claiming that Persian literature "is masculine," pointing to Sa'adi, Hafez, Mowlavi, ignoring the fact that there is no female Sa'adi, Hafez, or Mowlavi, precisely because they were not allowed to flourish by being part of the literary scene, benefiting from resources and mingling with other literati. Do you think there is any hope of getting out of this chicken-and-egg cycle?
Following are a few screenshots of the speaker's slides, with images of people and poems.
[Screenshots 1 & 2] [Screenshots 3 & 4] [Screenshots 5 & 6] [Screenshots 7 & 8]

2021/07/15 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme of the day: If you are buying smart water for $5 a bottle, it's not working! Cover story in the latest issue of Time magazine: 'It's O.K. Not to Be O.K.' Masih Alinejad, a brave woman who fights the Iranian regime and its agents/apologists in the West
Jeffrey Epstein's address books have hundreds of names in them: Both the 2004 version and the newly-discovered 1997 version Persian poetry: Verses from Ferdowsi that have assumed the status of a proverb UCSB GRIT talk by Dr. B. S. Manjunath on computer vision and deep learning (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Meme of the day: If you are buying smart water for $5 a bottle, it's not working! [Top center] Cover images and story in the latest issue of Time magazine: "It's O.K. to Not Be O.K." [Top right] Journalist Masih Alinejad, whose planned abduction by Iranian agents has made big news (see the next item below). [Bottom left] Jeffrey Epstein's address books contain 100s of names: The previous 2004 "little black book" has been augmented with a recently-discovered 1997 version. [Bottom center] Persian poetry: Verses from Ferdowsi that have assumed the status of a proverb. [Bottom right] UCSB GRIT talk by Dr. B. S. Manjunath on computer vision and deep learning (see the last item below).
(2) How a skinny female reporter makes hundreds of fat-cats shake with fear: Khamenei and Saudi Arabia's MBS both hate exposure of their crimes so much that they imprison and execute dissenters, going as far as kidnapping opposition reporters in other countries. More power to Masih Alinejad, a brave woman who fights the Iranian regime and its agents/apologists in the West! [News update: Interesting new details about Masih Alinejad's planned abduction case have emerged. Four other people, three in Canada and one in the UK, were also targeted by the same group of four Iranian agents, which hired private detectives to follow the five victims. A California-based woman has also been charged for her role in financing the group's operations.]
(3) Iran wages sophisticated cyber attack: Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps hackers posed as UK-based academic, after taking over a real school Web site, communicating with American and British targets.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Taliban seize control of two border crossings between Afghanistan and Iran. [IranWire story]
- World-record data transmission speed: Japan achieves 319 Tb/s over 3001 km, with 4-core optical fiber.
- The pop-culture film "Legally Blonde," that empowered girls & shaped Reese Witherspoon's career, turns 20.
- "From Rabia to Simin: Women in Farsi Poetry": On-line event, in Persian, Mon. 2021/07/26, 7:00 PM PDT.
(5) "Computer Vision and Deep Learning: Facts and Myths": This was the title of yesterday's UCSB GRIT talk by Dr. B. S. Manjunath, Distinguished Professor and Chair of UCSB's ECE Department.
Images are everywhere and we benefit from and enjoy watching them. However, once we have seen an image, it is very difficult to find it again, because images and videos are either not annotated or poorly annotated. Dr. Manjunath began by outlining a number of applications, spanning earth, ocean-bed, and atmospheric features (such as methane gas emission). He then moved to brain imaging and lung X-rays (important for COVID-19 diagnosis and assessment) as examples of medical applications that have advanced greatly in recent years.
Application of deep-learning methods have increased analysis and prediction accuracies over human-based processing, which is limited and not scalable. The down side of using AI for classification is the vulnerability of deep-learning algorithms to adversarial manipulation, so that the image of an aircraft carrier, for example, may be classified as a dog. This is done by manipulating image features (based on inside information about how the algorithm works) in a way that the changes are not perceivable to humans but that they lead the AI algorithm to a judgement error.

2021/07/14 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Postage stamp design, by graphic designer Morteza Azarkheil, honoring Iranian-American mathematician, Professor Maryam Mirzakhani Miss Iran 1967 finalists on the cover of a magazine, more than a decade before the Islamic Revolution Another 'Hello Fresh' meal, prepared by my daughter: Corn chowder
Cartoon: The king had a heated argument with the moat contractor Cartoon: At the Oxymoron Museum Cartoon: Librarian trying to make herself more-relevant to library patrons (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Postage stamp design, by graphic designer Morteza Azarkheil, honoring Iranian-American Fields-Medal-winning mathematician, Professor Maryam Mirzakhani, 1977-2017, who passed away 4 years ago, today. [Top center] Miss Iran 1967 finalists on the cover of a magazine, more than a decade before the Islamic Revolution. [Top right] Another "Hello Fresh" meal, prepared by my daughter. [Bottom left] Cartoon: The king had a heated argument with the moat contractor. [Bottom center] Cartoon: At the Oxymoron Museum. [Bottom right] Cartoon: Librarian trying to make herself more-relevant to library patrons.
(2) Tourism in Iran: A couple of days ago, I watched a video post advocating the expansion of tourism in Iran, citing the example of UAE, which earns more money from Tourism than Iran does from oil. I commented that tourism in Iran is a theoretical discussion that does not match the realities of Islamic Iran. Very few tourists travel for their love of history and geography. Suppose an ordinary tourist visits Iran's historic sites and explores its natural beauty during the day. What would s/he do at night in terms of entertainment and cultural pursuits? If s/he visits one of Iran's beautiful seashores and craves a swim, what then? [Persian postt]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Donald Trump's pro-terror words on Fox News are put on a video of actual January 6, 2021, events.
- Cal State U. campuses will supply incoming students with iPads in an effort to close the digital divide.
- Borowitz Report (humor): Neighbors see Trump waiting by mailbox for reinstatement notice.
- The account of Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) frozen by YouTube after posting Trump video.
- Huge spill in LA's largest sewage treatment plant closes miles of beaches in Southern California.
- Former President Barack Obama continues the tradition of sharing his summer reading list.
- Walking a dog in public is against the law in Iran: A man doing so is roughed up by Tehran's security forces.
- Mimicking nature: Modeling of a lightneing srike as finding the shortest path in a random maze.
- Creating beautiful art by drawing symmetric patterns.
- Persian music: A wonderful performance of the oldie song "Simin Bari." [3-minute video]
- Facebook memories from July 13 of years past: World Cup 2014, and me on a UCSB Beach in 2011.
(4) Misogyny among Iranian intellectuals: "I don't believe in women's intellect and have no hope for them. Women writers destroy the mind. ... Their bodies are more memorable than their reputes. ... Persian prose has always been masculine." ~ Yadollah Royaee, Iranian poet, in a 1993 interview
[I was unable to find this interview on-line, but commenters on this tweet seem to accept the quote as true.]
(5) "Islam is the religion of peace and compassion": Not this version of it, that sentences a woman to 40 lashes in a field "trial" because she talked to a man on the phone. Two Taliban men administer the punishment on the spot as the woman wails, while other men look on and film the savagery.
(6) Iranian kidnappers in the US: Four Iranians are charged with plotting to kidnap, and take back to Iran, exiled journalist Masih Alinejad, who has been critical of the Iranian regime's misogyny & human-rights abuses.
(7) Math paradox: The zeta function is defined as ζ(s) = Σ 1/(n^s). The divergent harmonic series is ζ(1). Given that 1/sqrt(1) + 1/sqrt(2) + 1/sqrt(3) + ... > 1/1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + ... , why is ζ(1/2) = –1.46...?
(8) Math puzzle: We drill a hole of unknown radius through the center of a sphere of unknown radius. The length of the created cylindrical hole is 6 cm. What is the volume remaining of the sphere? [Image]

2021/07/13 (Tuesday): Clearing my backlog of book reviews by offering three reviews today.
Cover image of the book 'Beauty: A Very Short Introduction' Cover image of the book 'Hooked--Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit our Addictions' Cover image of the book 'Reconstruction: A Very Short Introduction'
(1) Book review: Scruton, Roger, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, unabridged audiobook, read by Chris MacDonnell, Tantor Audio, 2019. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I have read a dozen or so titles in Oxford's delightful "Very Short Introduction" series of books and have learned a great deal from them. True to form, this one did not disappoint. Its subject matter is more slippery than most, as evidenced by the existence of many philosophical treatises on the topic, beginning with Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). [Full text]
A key challenge is reconciling complementary or even contradictory notions of beauty. Beauty sometimes means fitting in nicely. It could also mean standing out. For certain objects, beauty is related to functionality. In art, the notion of function does not exist. In mathematics, a beautiful proof may have one or more of the properties of succinctness, delight, surprise, insight, and generalizability to other domains. When we judge the beauty of a potential mate, our assessment, programmed into us by evolution, is based on reproductive fitness.
Of course, a single book, let alone a very short introduction, cannot be expected to contain all there is to say about beauty. Scruton provides an excellent summary for those with a casual interest in the topic and a good starting point for those who want to dig deeper.
(2) Book review: Moss, Michael, Hooked—Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit our Addictions, unabridged 9-hour audiobook, read by Scott Brick, Random House Audio, 2021.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I learned about this wonderful book via a UCLA Semel Institute webinar, held on June 24, 2021, in which Moss, a former NYT investigative reporter, carried on a conversation with David Heber, MD, Director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. Webinar link (60-minute video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7-NY1g8ulk
Even though the food industry isn't quite in the same category of evilness as the tobacco industry that actively worked to take advantage of, and strengthen, the addictive feature of their products, they are still doing our society a disservice by exploiting our attraction to sugary foods to maximize their profits, thereby causing and intensifying the obesity epidemic.
The situation, which was alarming before the COVID-19 pandemic, has gotten much worse over the past year. Sales of junk food have skyrocketed, as we moved toward buying, and keeping handy, comfort foods. Some 2/3 of food items in a supermarket is estimated to contain added sugar, thus serving as trigger foods for over-eating. Unlike many other ingredients, there is no recommended daily allowance for sugar on food packages. Food labels are better than having nothing, but the food industry makes them so complicated and misleading (there are 60+ names for sugar) that they have lost much of their usefulness.
Alongside eating junk food, often rapidly and in isolation, we have lost the art of mindful eating: Cooking and eating food at home, with family and friends. Our preference for speed and convenience has allowed the food industry to bombard us with food that needs little or no prep time and that we can eat with one hand (such as while driving or working).
The trend toward sugary fast-foods began in early 20th century, but it accelerated in the 1960s and 1970s. To reverse these trends, we need to go back to our natural rhythm dictated by our biological clocks: Eat at normal times, snack less, get enough sleep, and generally lead a balanced life.
(3) Book review: Guelzo, Allen C., Reconstruction: A Very Short Introduction, unabridged 5-hour audiobook, read by Bob Souer, Tantor Audio, 2020. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is the second book in Oxford's delightful "Very Short Introduction" series that I have perused in recent weeks (the other one was on beauty). Based on the experience of reading a dozen or so titles, I consider the series as providing excellent summaries for those with a casual interest in learning a new topic and a good starting point for those who want to dig deeper.
In the US, "Reconstruction" refers to a series of programs aimed at reuniting the nation politically, after the Civil War. This book covers aspects of the program spanning the period 1865-1877 in seven chapters, sandwiched between an introduction and an epilogue. The chapters are entitled "Vengeance" (1865), "Alienation" (1865-1867), "Arrogance" (1967-1968), "Resistance" (1868-1869), "Distraction" (1869-1872), "Law" (1866-1876), and "Dissention" (1872-1877).
Unfortunately, Reconstruction achieved just a few of its lofty goals, among them two amendments to the US Constitution (14th, citizenship and equal protection for former slaves; 15th, voting rights for African-Americans), the election of the first African-American to the US Congress, and avoidance of a new civil-war outbreak. What Reconstruction couldn't accomplish came to pass nearly a century later during the 1950s-1960s Civil Rights Movement.

2021/07/12 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Statue of Parvin E'tesami, in her house in Tabriz, Iran Talk on money, bitcoin, and blockchain 'Liberated Woman, statue, depicting Tahereh Qurrat al-Ayn, in Baku, Aerbaijan
Facebook AI goofs again in removing a harmless comment of mine on a friend's post Math surprise: Did you know that 0^0 is greater than 0^1? Cartoon of the day: Summer reading selections for your dogs and cats (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Statue of Parvin E'tesami, in her house in Tabriz, Iran. [Top center] Talk on money, bitcoin, and blockchain (see Item 2 below). [Top right] "Liberated Woman" statue in Baku, Aerbaijan (see Item 3 below). [Bottom left] Facebook AI goofs again: My harmless comment on a friend's post about electricity shortages in Iran was deemed to go "against community standards" and removed, with the notification of removal sent to me more than a day later! [Bottom center] Math surprise: Did you know that 0^0 is greater than 0^1? [Bottom right] Cartoon of the day: Summer reading selections for your pets.
(2) "Digital Currency: History, Technologies & Social Impact": In the next two gatherings of the Class of 1968, Tehran University College of Engineering (Fanni'68), Drs. Sirous Yasseri and Behrooz Parhami will present an overview and history of money as a social construct, from before ancient gold coins to emerging digital currencies (in Persian). Saturdays, July 17 & 24, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT (9:30 PM Iran time). [Zoom link]
(3) Iranian literary treasures are appreciated and honored in other countries: The latest example is Tahereh Qurrat al-Ayn, the poet, scholar, and women's-rights advocate who was executed in Iran in 1852, because her belief in Babism was deemed heretical. This beautiful statue of Tahereh by Fuad Abdurahmanov is entitled "Liberated Woman." It is on display at a metro station in Baku, Azerbaijan.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hyperinflation has caused an economic crisis in Lebanon: More than 75% of people can't afford food.
- Bashar Assad's war crimes documented: A disturbing 13-minute report by CBS News' "60 Minutes."
- How the ruling "fundamentalists" in Iran ignore corruption of the insiders. [5-minute video, in Persian]
- Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's maneuvering to install Ebrahim Raisi as President is seen as his downfall.
- Religious extremism is in decline: And those holding power are running scared, in the US and in Iran.
- Quote: "Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it." ~ P. J. O'Rourke
- The music man, playing spaghetti-Western movie themes and Elvis. [3-minute video]
- Persian poetry recitation by Ms. Baran Nikrah: Unrealized dreams. [1-minute video]
- Persian music: A friend of hospitalized late film director Abbas Kiarostami plays music and sings for him.
(5) Iran's and North Korea's identical playbooks: When economic conditions become intolerable, as is currently the case in both countries, government officials are blamed and purged to protect the top guy.
(6) World's oldest work of art (believed to be by Neanderthals): The carved toe bone of a prehistoric deer, estimated to be 51,000 years old, was unearthed in a cave in the Harz Mountains of central Germany.
(7) The ugly side of Euro 2020: The three England players who missed PKs, leading to Italy prevailing 3-2 in the shootout at the end of the 1-1 tie match, were all black. The ensuing racist abuse of these players has been condemned by England's Football Association. And here are British soccer fans attacking Italian fans.
(8) This 60-minute film traces the history of Iran's reform movement: From its birth in 1980 under the oxymoronic slogan "religious democracy" to its recent demise resulting from losing all positions of power. Manoto TV is hardly an objective source, but, as far as I can tell, the film's descriptions of events are accurate.
(9) Final thought for the day: The mullahs threaten, jail, and kill their political opponents inside Iran, or force them into exile, where they are subjected to smearing and other forms of abuse by their external agents.

2021/07/11 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Beautiful, drought-tolerant landscaping at two hotels along Calle Real in Goleta New Town Calle Real Center in Goleta, California, consists of a half-mile stretch of retail stores and restaurants Two 'Hello Fresh' meals prepared by my daughter
Dr. Talinn Grigor's talk on the Persian revival: Batch 1 of screenshots Dr. Talinn Grigor's talk on the Persian revival: Batch 2 of screenshots Dr. Talinn Grigor's talk on the Persian revival: Batch 3 of screenshots (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Calle Real Center in Goleta, California, consists of a half-mile stretch of retail stores and restaurants. The two hotels at the east end of the stretch have beautiful, drought-tolerant landscaping. [Top right] My daughter made two vegetarian "Hello Fresh" meals on Friday: I helped with chopping and mincing (two more photos). [Bottom row] Talk on the Persian revival (see the last item below).
(2) Persian music: "Delaviz-tarin" ("The Most Delightful"); music by Mohammad Sarir, poem by Fereidoon Moshiri, vocals by Mohammad Reza Sadeghi. [10-minute video]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Mitch McConnell plays dumb: Says he's perplexed by COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy!
- Major blast in northern Tehran's Mellat Park: Cause and casualties are unknown at this time.
- Facebook memory from July 9, 2018: Family trip to Cambria, California. [Photos]
- Facebook memory from July 10, 2015: Tabrizi carpet pattern made of stones in Tabriz, Iran.
- Facebook memory from July 11, 2011: US women team's goalie, Hope Solo, saves a penalty kick. [Photos]
- Facebook memory from July 11, 2017: Looking back in time, in a single photo.
(4) Facebook memory from July 11, 2019: Let's not sugar-coat the allegations against Jeffrey Epstein. A 14-year-old girl isn't an "underage woman" or "woman on the younger side." She is a child. You can't have sex with a child. The proper expression is "raping a child."
(5) International soccer (Copa America): In the title match, Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 on a minute-22 goal by Di Maria resulting from Brazil's defensive mistake. [9-minute highlights]
(6) International soccer (Euro 2020; Italy over England on PKs): Fully one year later than originally scheduled, England and Italy met at London's Wembley Stadium. England took an early lead on a minute-2 goal by Luke Shaw. Italy had chances, but it could not penetrate England's packed defense before halftime. Italy kept knocking, until Leonardo Bonucci evened up the score during a skirmish in front of England's goal in minute 67. Italy continued to exert pressure with superb ball control, but England recovered and generated opportunities of its own, keeping the score at 1-1 after 90 minutes. England was dominant in the second 15-minute period of extra time, but the match ended 1-1. Going into penalty-kicks, the Italian goalie's superb record of goal-keeping seemed to favor Italy. This is exactly what happened. Italy won 3-2 due to a miss by England and 2 saves by its goalie. [screenshots] [10-minute video highlights]
(7) "The Persian Revival: The Imperialism of the Copy in Iranian and Parsi Architecture": This was the title of Saturday's Farhang Foundation book talk, featuring Dr. Talinn Grigor, Art History Professor and Program Chair at UC Davis. The book by the same title was released this week by Penn State University Press.
By showing a large collection of ancient and modern images, Dr. Grigor outlined how European imperialism and colonialist attitudes toward Iran created a backlash in the form of a revival of ancient forms and patterns in architecture. Some examples are depicted in edited/cropped screenshots above. This revival was also noticeable among the Parsis in India, who traveled to Iran to sketch historic sites for their buildings.
Dr. Grigor's book can be purchased through Farhang Foundation's Web site at 30% discount. I will post a link to the recorded version of this wonderful talk when it becomes available.

2021/07/09 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The 9/11 Teardrop Memorial in New Jersey is 100 feet tall Per-capita electricity usage in world countries, 2020 'The Last Supper': Painted with realistic skin tones and hair for the Middle-Easterners depicted
ASEE's ECSJ Division: Name and objections ASEE's ECSJ Division: Dtatement on DEI Cartoon: Bravery of dogs on leash (1) Images of the day: [Top left] I had never heard of this monument: The 9/11 Teardrop Memorial in New Jersey is 100 feet tall. [Top center] Per-capita electricity consumption in the world (2020): The US is near the top of the range, at 10-15 MWh. Iran is above average, at 4-8 MWh. On this interactive map, you can see consumption trends from 1985 to 2020 and more detail about each country. [Top right] "The Last Supper": Painted with realistic skin tones and hair for the Middle-Easterners it depicts. [Bottom left & center] ASEE's new ECSJ Division (see the next item below). [Bottom right] Cartoon of the day: Bravery of dogs on leash.
(2) ASEE's ECSJ Division will be up and running soon: The Equity, Culture, and Social Justice Division of American Society for Engineering Education is on the verge of being formed, with its officers elected in late July, during ASEE's Annual Conference. I was part this group as a member of Bylaws Committee, which worked tirelessly over the past several months to craft the Division's operating document. The Bylaws Committee is particularly proud of ECSJ's Statement on Diversity, Equity, & Inclusiveness (images above).
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Four million have died from the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. The 1918 Spanish Flu killed 7.7 million.
- Teaching Excellence Hub: The new IEEE Web site offers resources that help with university-level teaching.
- Iranian officials brazenly deny that women are roughed up on the streets for their "disapproved" clothing.
- Math puzzle: The gold rose ratio is g = (1 + sqrt(13))/2. Show that (g^9 – 651)/(g^3 – 3) is an integer.
- A classic 1998 World-Cup qualification soccer match: Iran v. Australia in Melbourne. [20-minute video]
- Guitar music: "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits, performed by 40 Fingers Guitar Quartet. [5-minute video]
- Smoothies for me and the kids: Bananas, pineapple, nectarines, hemp seeds, and almond milk. [Photo]
(4) Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei is the new head of Iran's judiciary: It seems like every torturer, butcher, and executioner will eventually become Iran's Chief Justice!
(5) Nobel Laureate has a few regrets, but they are not too few to mention: Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work done decades earlier would have liked to become a stand-up comic.
(6) New FL law offers buy-one-get-one-free tuition for STEM majors: It states that "undergraduate students who are enrolled in one of eight programs selected by the Board of Governors and have completed 60 credit hours within two years will receive a tuition and fee waiver for every upper-division course they enroll in."
(7) The hostage-taking mullahs: The 52 diplomats taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran were released in January 1981, minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th US president. In the 40 years between that moment and the swearing-in of Joe Biden as the 46th US president, many foreign nationals have been imprisoned in Iran under fabricated charges of spying and acting against Iran's national security. The mullahs have developed the sophistication not to call them hostages any more, but they are hostages indeed, often swapped with Iranians imprisoned in the West or used as pawns in political negotiations.
(8) Final thought for the day: "The most-effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history." ~ George Orwell

2021/07/08 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Newsweek magazine's predictions on who will replace Trump on social media as the new MAGA leader Mathematical functions in the animal kingdom! Stanford University book talk by Kai Bird
Wonders of nature: Spiral and fractal patterns inside a purple cabbage Harvesting dates in southern Iran (4 photos) Roses from my four rose bushes: The pink ones are fragrant (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Who will replace Trump on social media as the new MAGA leader? Newsweek magazine has some predictions. [Top center] Math functions in the animal kingdom! [Top right] Book talk by Kai Bird (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Wonders of nature: Spiral and fractal patterns inside a purple cabbage. [Bottom center] Harvesting dates in southern Iran. [Bottom right] Roses from my four rose bushes.
(2) RIP: Dr. Ali-Mohammad Ranjbar, Sharif University of Technology's old-time & popular Professor of Electrical Engineering, former SUT President, and Iran's former Deputy-Minister of Energy, passes away in Tehran.
(3) Iran apologizes to Palestinians (humor): The billboard digital clock in Tehran that counts down the time remaining to the destruction of Israel has stopped due to a rotating power outage. We are sorry for the disruption delaying the destruction of the Zionist regime.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- An unholy alliance: "Iran's Revolutionary Guards have our backs on the border." ~ Taliban commander
- As US forces leave, armed Afghan women take to the streets in show of defiance against the Taliban.
- Ivanka Trump may be indicted next: She benefited from the same arrangements as CFO Allen Weisselberg.
- Iran is moving towards being ruled by a homogenous group of sanctioned individuals. [IranWire story]
- Facebook memory from July 8, 2014: Soccer anyone? [See more]
- Facebook memory from July 8, 2011: The beautiful poetry of Tahereh Ghor'ratol-eyn. [See more]
(5) "President Carter's Handling of the Iranian Revolution and Hostage Crisis": This was the title of today's book talk by Kai Bird (Director, Leon Levy Center for Biography, City University of New York), under the aegis of Stanford's Iranian Studies Program.
The hostage crisis was a turning point for both Iran and the US. Iran became increasingly isolated, and is still paying for its actions today, while the rise of Ronald Reagan, in part facilitated by his "toughness" being viewed as the reason for the hostages' release right after he was sworn in as President, may have put the US on its current path toward chaos and political dysfunction.
There is a general view, particularly among Iranians in diaspora, that Carter's handling of Iran and the Islamic Revolution was a failure. But things were indeed very complicated at the time and no easy solution was imminent. Up to a few weeks before Khomeini's return to Iran, Zbigniew Brzezinski was pushing for a coup (option C) to reinstate the Shah to power. He was delusional and acting based on bad intelligence. Ambassador Sullivan was blunt in dismissing this option.
No one in the Carter administration truly understood the Khomeini phenomenon or knew his vision for Iran. The thought was that after Khomeini came to power, nationalists would rule the country. After decades of iron-fisted rule by the Shah, the Iranian society at the time was running on gossip and conspiracy theories, so there was little the Shah could do to reassure Iranians that he would pay more attention to freedoms and human rights.
Regarding the treatment of the Shah himself, there were several players in the Carter administration who constantly argued that the US should grant asylum to the Shah, if only to send a message to US allies around the world. But Carter didn't buy the argument, in part because he worried that Iranians might react harshly, perhaps even take hostages. The hostage crisis could have been avoided by shutting down the Tehran Embassy, if the US had been more realistic and had better intelligence.

2021/07/06 (Tuesday): For today, I offer two timely memes and a book review.
Meme: Climate-change deniers aren't all ignorant. The denial campaign is bankrolled by right-wing capitlaists who know better Silent fireworks, an idea whose time has come: I for one enjoy the stunning patterns and colors, not the sounds Cover image for Jacob Goldstein's book, 'Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing'
Book review: Goldstein, Jacob, Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by the author, Hachette Audio, 2020. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The discussion of money and its underpinnings is a lot deeper than most people realize. Goldstein reviews the history of this made-up thing that makes the world go around, from its earliest forms in human pre-history up to and including cryptocurrencies that are poised to dominate the 21st century.
In the beginning, humans bartered, exchanging a chicken for some wheat, say. The trouble with bartering is that the needs of the two parties engaged in it must coincide in time and space. Money is a collection of agreed-upon valuable tokens that everyone recognizes and honors. These tokens can be viewed as storing value for later use. Returning to the example above, I can exchange my chicken for tokens, which I can then use at a different time and place to acquire wheat.
A fundamental requirement for money to work is trust: Assurance that the gold/silver coins of yore were actually worth the advertised amount or that the physically worthless paper or digital money of today will actually buy you something when needed. Early on, this trust came from guarantees provided by a king or emperor. At times during the course of human history, people were forced to accept money under death threats. But, nowadays, trust is voluntarily offered in return for convenience.
Let me begin with the gold-coin example. Silver or any other valuable commodity, such as salt, works as well. A trusted authority (king, government, bank, ...) mints gold coins of a certain weight to represent a value. Such a coin isn't just a store of value that allows trade, but it also forms a unit of measurement for value. Item X has a value of m coins and item Y is valued at n coins. Among problems encountered during the use of gold coins was crooks shaving a miniscule, undetectable amount from a large number of coins and selling the resulting gold dust to make illicit gains. Another problem was that the worth of gold being different around the world led to people taking gold coins from England, say, and melting them for the gold somewhere else.
The convenience of paper money (voucher) as an economic tool was recognized by the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan in the 1200s. The paper money was a promissory note for a certain amount of gold. The holder of paper money was guaranteed that s/he could exchange it for the promised amount of gold when desired. Because gold is valuable everywhere, the notes form a kind of international currency. From early on, the possibility of abuse was recognized. Whenever the issuer of paper money experiences a resource shortage (such as equipment needed to conduct a war), it can print money, and there is no way to check.
The possibility of printing more money for the currency issuer's gain led to the establishment of "the Gold Standard," which allowed different countries to trust each other when exchanging paper money. If the United States, e.g., keeps enough gold on hand to be able to exchange every issued dollar with the equivalent amount of gold, then dollar becomes a trusted currency. To print more dollars, the US must acquire more gold. If the British government promises 4 times as much gold for its pound, then each British pound would be worth 4 US dollars.
The direct link between paper money and gold, or other valuable commodities, was soon broken. One reason was that the Gold Standard required more gold than existed in the entire world, if economies were to continue to expand. Another reason was that it was viewed as needlessly restrictive. The temptation to print more money to get out of tight economic spots is a key reason for international conflict. The euro, Europe's common currency, was intended to remove unhealthy competition, but, as evident from the events of the early 2010s, it created Europe's debt crisis and associated perilous problems.
Now, if paper money works, given trust in it, the trust can be created in many different ways. A well-known and financially healthy corporation, for example, can print its own money, and this is exactly what corporate bonds are. Bond buyers assume some risk, but they are more than rewarded by an appropriate compensation, known as interest.
One source of financial instability in the world is the mixing of the two functions of banks as stores of values and as lenders. You deposit your money with the bank and receive interest in return. The interest rate is normally positive, but it can be negative as well, if the service of keeping your money in a safe place is of sufficient value to you. Trouble arises when the bank turns around and lends your deposited money to earn some interest of its own. So, your money is no longer physically in the bank. If many customers simultaneously demand their deposits back, the bank may not be able to honor all the requests. When a bank fails, depositors rush to get their funds, which is known as a "bank run." Governments insure deposits to prevent a small number of failing banks to produce economic melt-down through bank runs everywhere.
In continuing my discussion with digital currency, I am skipping a lot of other details, such as mutual funds and asset-backed securities. In late 20th century, use of paper money was gradually replaced by electronic transactions through debit cards, credit cards, electronic fund transfers, and the like. So, you could own $100,000 without ever touching paper money. Of course, there was one group of individuals who still preferred paper money, particularly $100 bills: Criminals! This is why there are more $100 bills in circulation than there are $1 bills!
Digital currency does away with paper money altogether. The money you own is represented by digital codes stored on computers. As long as you trust the operators of the computers, you can sleep comfortably, knowing that your money is safe. But what if you can't trust anyone? This dilemma was solved by the inventor of Bitcoin and is being used by other so-called "cryptocurrencies." A record of who owns what is maintained collectively on a large number of computers, so that one or a small number of corrupt computer operators cannot affect your ownership claims. In fact, as long as a majority of the operators can be trusted, your money will be safe. If there are a million computers, say, then at least half-a-million machine operators must collude in order to disrupt the system, a near impossibility.
The mechanism used for storing the common record of values and transactions securely is known as "blockchain": A distributed ledger that is nearly impossible to manipulate by adversaries. This impossibility claim is, of course, based on our current knowledge and capabilities in the domain of cryptography. There is a chance that we are being too optimistic, given that stranger things have happened in the digital world!
I highly recommend this well-written and clearly-presented book. As in many other domains, today's world citizens cannot be passive users of money, digital or otherwise, without knowing at least a little bit about what's under the hood.

2021/07/05 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
IEEE Spectrum magazine's cover image for July 2021 Meme of the day: Just to set the record straight! Cover image for the book 'The Inequality Machine'
Traditional breakfast, Iranian style. Pyramids of Giza Iran's amazing architecture: Haj Shahbaz-Khan Mosque, in the western city of Kermanshah. (1) Images of the day: [Top left] IEEE Spectrum magazine's cover for July 2021 (see the next item below). [Top center] Just to set the record straight! [Top right] Cover image for the book The Inequality Machine (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Traditional breakfast, Iranian style. [Bottom center] The Pyramids of Giza. [Bottom right] Iran's amazing architecture: Haj Shahbaz-Khan Mosque, in the western city of Kermanshah.
(2) IEEE Spectrum magazine's cover story for July 2021: It wasn't long ago that we got excited about the arrival of billion-transistor memory chips. Later, processor chips also crossed the billion-transistor barrier, mostly thanks to huge amounts of on-chip cache memory. Now, we have crossed the trillion-transistor barrier. Cerebras's wafer-size chip, containing 850K cores & 40 GB of on-chip memory, boasts 2.6 trillion transistors.
(3) Book review: Tough, Paul, The Inequality Machine: How College Divides Us, unabridged 13-hour audiobook, read by the author, HMH Adult Audio, 2019. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
As is the case for many books of nonfiction about a social problem, there is too much repetition and too many examples. Each example, about how a young man or woman from an economically-disadvantaged group or with a troubled family background ultimately excelled because of mentoring and other interventions, is valuable and inspiring. But presenting too many such examples dilutes, and distracts the reader from, the book's main message, which I would summarize thus:
College education is supposed to be an equality and social-mobility machine, allowing first-generation students and other disadvantaged groups to move up socioeconomically. Elite private colleges and state institutions offer grants and loans to such students so that they can attend. However, admission does not equal success. High drop-out rates betray the achievement of this noble goal and leads to widening rather than narrowing of the economic gap. Period.
In many parts of the book, results from extensive studies are reported that clearly show the ill effects of how our system of higher education is structured and how it operates. The "admissions industrial complex" serves the interest of colleges, not students. Many colleges now have "admissions managers," whose goal is to steer the admissions process to meet the dual goals of increasing revenues (admit more rich kids who pay the full tuition) and improving prestige (earning higher rankings, which, among other things, requires admitting a diverse group of students). Along with admissions management, colleges resort to financial-aid optimization, often through the services of external quants. It turns out that offering small financial-aid packages to rich students has a major effect on their accepting the admission offer. So, rather than aid packages being awarded based on need or merit, they are used as tools to maximize the college's own well-being.
Standardized tests, which supposedly create opportunities for students stuck in low-quality educational systems of poor neighborhoods to get admission into elite colleges, actually do the opposite. Study after study has shown that standardized test results do not correlate well with academic performance. This is why colleges increasingly go the test-optional way.
Paul Tough does an excellent job in exposing the flaws in our college admissions and educational systems. Reading this book is a must for everyone who cares about the future of higher education in our country. University faculty, administrators, and even students will immensely benefit from this book.

2021/07/04 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy birthday, America! Cartoon: 'Nothing is as it seems, my son.' The world has an average of 422 trees per person
Cover image and author of the book, 'Iranian Literature after the Islamic Revolution' Math puzzle: What it the ratio w/v? I had a wonderful late lunch with the kids at Shalhoob's Funk Zone Patio, near Santa Barbara's waterfront (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy birthday, America (see the next item below). [Top center] Cartoon of the day: "Nothing is as it seems, my son." [Top right] The world has an average of 422 trees per person: Canada has by far the most. Other sources I consulted put Russia on par with Greenland. [Bottom left] Book introduction: Professor Laetitia Nanquette of Australia's UNSW, who is French and speaks Persian fluently, has published Iranian Literature after the Islamic Revolution: Production and Circulation in Iran and the World. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: What it the ratio w/v? [Bottom right] On Saturday, I had a wonderful lunch with the kids at Shalhoob's Funk Zone Patio, near Santa Barbara's waterfront. We set out to go to Lucky Penny, where Mezcal Martini was playing Latin-flavored jazz live, but the wait was too long, so we changed our plans.
(2) Happy 4th of July! On this day, we Americans celebrate the freedoms that our founders struggled to secure and other generations since then sacrificed to maintain. We do not celebrate our flag, but the ideals that are behind it. We do not celebrate our military might, except as it is used to safeguard our freedoms and help others protect theirs. There is a reason that Lady Liberty is holding a torch and not a gun! These photos, from July-4th postings of years past, convey the message that celebrating America requires celebrating immigrants.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Eleven members of the armed militia group "Rise of the Moors" arrested after armed stand-off near Boston.
- The grand finale of New York City's July 4th fireworks spectacular. [3-minute video]
- Tropical storm Elsa is headed to Florida (Tuesday) and South Carolina (Wednesday). [Map]
- One of my favorite songs: "Africa" by Toto, performed by 40 Fingers Guitar Quartet.
- A library in Iran has an exterior wall covered with bookcases, filled with realistic-looking wooden books.
- Facebook memory from July 4, 2010: My Persian poem advocating unity & equality.
(4) If you are looking for a turning point in US history that led to the current chaos and political dysfunction, look no further than the unfinished presidency of Jimmy Carter and the rise of Ronald Reagan: "President Carter's Handling of the Iranian Revolution and Hostage Crisis," book talk by Kai Bird (Director @Leon Levy Center for Biography, City University of New York), Thursday, July 8, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT. [Registration]
(5) How the mish-mash of 15 electrical plug-and-socket standards came about: IEEE Spectrum (July 2021) contains an interesting review of electrical history and the attendant plug-and-socket standards. [Image]
(6) Math puzzle (repost): A 100-seat passenger plane is fully booked, with the 100 passengers standing in line to board it. The first passenger loses his boarding pass, so he takes a random seat. Each subsequent passenger either sits in the assigned seat or (if the assigned seat is already occupied) takes a random seat from among those available. What is the probability that the last passenger will sit in his/her assigned seat?
(7) Bill Cosby's Trump-like behavior: Instead of showing humility and contrition after being released from prison on a technicality, he emerges swinging on this 4th of July, attacking Howard University over Phylicia Rashad reprimand and blaming "mainstream media" for the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

2021/07/03 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Highest-resolution atomic image ever captured (magnification factor of 100 million) Weather forecast in Santa Barbara and Ventura areas, as we enter the July-4th (BBQ) weekend Topological materials (image from IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of July 2021)
My departed friend Hamid Khan-Afshar, in 5-decades-old photos: Batch 1 My departed friend Hamid Khan-Afshar, in 5-decades-old photos: Batch 2 My departed friend Hamid Khan-Afshar, in 5-decades-old photos: Batch 3 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Highest-resolution atomic image ever captured: This is a sample of praseodymium orthoscandate (PrScO3) crystal, captured at a magnification factor of 100 million by Cornell University researchers. [Top center] Weather forecast in Santa Barbara and Ventura areas, as we enter the July-4th (BBQ) weekend. [Top right] Topological materials: Discovery of topological insulators led to the award of the 2016 Nobel Prize in physics. Now, researchers are using topological materials in building ultralow-energy transistors, cancer-scanning lasers, and free-space communication beyond 5G. The figure shows tantalum, a topological material that generates tremendous current, shown as small arrows, upon illumination (source: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of July 2021). [Bottom row] My departed friend Hamid Khan-Afshar, in 5-decades-old photos (see the next item below).
(2) Zoom meeting of the 1968 graduates of Tehran University's College of Engineering (Fanni'68) honoring our departed friend, Hamid Khan-Afshar [1945-2021; 1324-1400, in Persian calendar]:
Some 45 people attended and ~20 friends and family members spoke about Hamid's many virtues: Honesty; Kindness; Charity; Friendship; Steadfastness; Knowledge. Many of those who spoke also related personal memories and experiences with Hamid, bringing tears to our eyes and smiles to our lips. RIP!
[Five-minute video celebrating Hamid's life] [Recorded Zoom event; Passcode NHq9Pt^r]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Powerful landslide in Japan crushes buildings and carries the debris: At least 2 dead, 19 missing.
- JPL's backup plans: If needed, the Curiosity Mars Rover can rip its own threads off to stay mobile.
- Patriots skip fireworks in the middle of a severe draught, with a heat wave to boot.
- Four ways to secure blockchains: Three of them don't require the energy budget of Argentina! [Table]
- Recycling tip: Keeping cans uncrushed makes it easier for equipment that sort material by size/composition.
(4) A new data breach affecting University of California: Following the Accellion data breach of Dec. 2020, regarding which UC was extremely slow in informing those affected, another (unnamed) UC contractor was discovered to have stored personal information on UC employees, after the end of its contract period. UC Office of President reports this to us as if it bears no responsibility, given that the breaches were through outside contractors. However, UC is ultimately responsible for any harm to its employees and students as a result of its data storage and handling policies. The buck stops with UC administration!
(5) Tehran and Women: A conversation on Instagram, in Persian, between Masserat Amir-Ebrahimi (researcher, sociologist, and urban geography specialist) and Guiti Etemad (urban planner, university professor, and consulting engineer), Sunday, July 4, 2021, 7:00 PM Iran time (7:30 AM PDT).

2021/07/02 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Title slide for my presentation on 'Women in Science and Engineering: A Tale of Two Countries' Investigation of voter fraud at UCSB dorms reveals no wrongdoing Infinity coffee table: Brilliant design, by Logan Wilson
Cartoon: 'How was your vacation?' 'I'm analyzing it now.' Cartoon: With help from a human, robot proves that he's not a robot Cartoon: Pandora's inbox. (1) Images of the day: [Top left] This 15-minute video contains my practice run for a forthcoming talk at ASEE's Annual Conference (Session T359B, focused on "Special Topics: Conscious Considerations," held on Tuesday, July 27, beginning with my talk at 11:30 AM PDT). The talk and the paper are entitled "Women in Science and Engineering: A Tale of Two Countries." [Top center] Santa Barbara Republicans follow the GOP playbook: And they get the same result; no voter fraud! [Top right] Infinity coffee table: Brilliant design, by Logan Wilson. Not quite sure how it bears weight. [Bottom row] Cartoons for the digital age.
(2) History of Evangelicalism: A very informative 23-minute presentation by Phil Vischer. Evangelicalism began by honoring the Bible, while ditching the anti-modernism and anti-science attitudes of fundamentalism. It lost its way when politics and racism were mixed in.
(3) A new supercomputer enters the scene: The June 2021 edition of Top500 list of world's most-powerful supercomputers contains The Perlmutter, installed at US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley Lab, debuting at #5, with a performance of ~65 petaflops. The Perlmutter also ranked #6 on the Green500 list of energy-efficient supercomputers, offering a computing power of more than 25 gigaflops/watt.
(4) "Deep Learning for AI": Article in the July 2021 issue of Communications of the ACM by the 2018 Turing Award honorees Yoshua Benigo, Yann Lecun, and Geoffrey Hinton, based on their Turing Lecture.
(5) "The Persian Revival: The Imperialism of the Copy in Iranian and Parsi Architecture": Farhang Foundation free event, featuring Dr. Talinn Grigor, Saturday, July 10, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT. [Register]
(6) Conference in celebration of Iranian director Bahram Beyzaie: An English panel on Thursday, July 29, 2021, 10:00-11:30 AM PDT (Abbas Milani, Negar Mottahedeh, Saeed Talajooy) and a Persian panel on Friday, July 30 (Sahand Abidi, Hamid Amjad, Jalalaeh Amouzgar, Amir Siadat, Mandana Zandian) will be devoted to discussing the works of Beyzaie. Both panels with be from 10:00 to 11:30 AM PDT. The panels will be preceded by pre-recorded presentations on YouTube.
(7) "UCSB Reads 2022": Here is our short-list of five books (in alphabetical order). I'd be delighted to hear your opinions on the five titles. The selection committee will be voting on the top choice on August 23.
(8) Welcome to the city of pits: Tehran is the city of luxury residential towers, lining narrow streets in the affluent northern suburbs. However, there are also many pits, dug by greedy developers, who then ran out of money or encountered other problems. [Blog post in Persian]
(9) Logical puzzle: Consider a string formed from the letters A, B, and C. The string is called j-complete if it contains no repetitions of length-j substrings but that extending the string by any letter would lead to the repetition of a length-j substring. For example, the string AABBCCBACA is 2-complete, because it has no repeated length-2 substrings, but adding any letter to the end of the string would produce a repetition (if you add A, the substring AA will be repeated; adding B causes a repetition of AB; extending the string with C leads to the repetition of AC). Can you find a shorter 2-complete string formed from the letters A, B, and C?

2021/07/01 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos I took during my 7/01 walk on State Street, in downtown Santa Barbara: Batch 4 Photos I took during my 7/01 walk on State Street, in downtown Santa Barbara: Batch 15 Photos I took during my 7/01 walk on State Street, in downtown Santa Barbara: Batch 14 (1) Images of the day: Photos I took during my 7/01 walk on State Street, in downtown Santa Barbara: Sculptures greeting shoppers at La Arcada Plaza, miscellaneous sights and signs, and a Montecito Bank & Trust branch, which reminded me of majestic bank buildings in the 1960s Tehran, near the city center.
(2) A setback for the #MeToo movement: Pennsylvania's Supreme Court rules that the prosecutor who charged Bill Cosby was bound by a predecessor's promise not to charge him, ordering his immediate release from prison. The ruling says nothing about Cosby's guilt or innocence, although Cosby was quick to claim vindication in a post-release interview.
(3) Phylicia Rashad, recently appointed as a dean at Howard University, reportedly celebrated Bill Cosby's release from prison: Now, a number of students and alumni want her gone.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump Organization and its CFO indicted on tax fraud charges by New York grand jury.
- First it was Jewish space-lasers starting wildfires. Now, it is blaming the Jews for the pandemic.
- Mike Pence aide exploded after she read his June 2020 WSJ op-ed praising Trump's COVID-19 response.
- House Minority Leader McCarthy threatens GOP members who agree to serve on the 1/06 Commission.
(5) The UNC Chapel Hills hiring case that made national headlines: Award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir ("UCSB Reads" selection for 2021) was denied a tenured appointment as Professor of Journalism. After a wave of objections to the questionable decision at the national level, the UNC Board of Trustees took up her appointment case and approved hiring her with tenure.
(6) "Disease, Society, and the Economy: The Long View": This was the title of UCSB GRIT talk of 6/30 by Dr. Javier A. Birchenall (Economics Department). The current pandemic teaches us five lessons from an economic history perspective. It is noteworthy that COVID-19 is not the first pandemic, or the first disease with profound economic effects.
Lesson 1: Good health is economically valuable.
Lesson 2: We expect a social and not just an individual response to disease. Disease gives rise to "social barriers" that reduce social and economic interaction.
Lesson 3: "Social barriers" take many forms, including caste stratification, legal quarantines, urban zoning, silent trade & peripheral markets, and high-altitude settlements.
Lesson 4: Social distance has long-term economic and social costs.
Lesson 5: Under uncertainty (e.g., asymptomatic transmission), society regulates disease using a "better safe than sorry" approach.
Details and mathematical models for the lessons above are found in Professor Birchenall's papers:
"A Theory of Disease and Development: Productivity, Exchange, and Social Segregation"
"Plague and Prejudice: Disease Beliefs and Social Exclusion"

2021/06/29 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pictorial Facebook memories from June 29 of years past Heat wave: Temperatures in the US northwest and western Canada go as high as 116 F (map) More on the Florida condo-tower collapse: Reactions to my posts (1) Images of the day: [Left] Pictorial Pictorial Facebook memories from June 29 of years past: Fake magazine cover, my son's culinary creation, and a memorable trip to Taiwan. [Center] Heat wave: Temps in US NW and western Canada rise to 116 F. [Right] More on the Florida condo-tower collapse (see the last item below).
(2) The closest thing to a Persian restaurant in my area: Luna Grill advertises itself as offering Mediterranean, but does have chicken & koobideh kabobs on its menu. Tonight, I took out a family meal for four. I snapped the food photo after some of the food had been consumed, so the portion was indeed large enough for 4 people.
(3) Fake title: Iran's new President Ebrahim Raisi is addressed by the religious title "Ayatollah," but his path from junior cleric to "mojtahed" (independent religious thinker) is unclear, given that he has held government positions for decades, spending only brief time periods at religious schools and seminaries.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US Pacific Northwest heat wave linked to dozens of deaths and a sharp rise in emergency-room visits.
- Iran's former Intelligence Minister: Israeli infiltration is so deep that all officials should fear for their lives.
- Facebook takes down fake-news pages sponsored by Iran, a major source of organized disinformation.
- Amid sanctions and general economic misery, Iran is experiencing a millionaire boom.
- Math problem: Prove that there exist irrational numbers x and y so that x^y is rational.
- Imaginative photography: Mixing nearby and distant objects to create the illusion of different scales.
- Dramatic archaeological discoveries in Egypt unearth burial grounds untouched since antiquity.
(5) Reactions to my post from yesterday: I had complained about the slow rescue pace at the Florida condo-tower collapse site. In 5.5 days, 11 bodies have been recovered, that is, 2 bodies per day. I had advocated more risk-taking, so as to save a few lives, even if that would mean losing a few lives in the process. The alternative would be to lose all 140 persons who are unaccounted for.
Dozens of comments on my tweet raised some interesting issues. One set of comments suggested that even though 11 bodies have been positively identified, numerous body parts were found, which are awaiting identification (via DNA or other methods).
Others suggested that through the use of sonar and scanning methods, rescue teams know everyone to be dead. However, because family members of the mostly-Jewish building occupants are adamant that bodies be recovered intact to allow proper Jewish burials, faster recovery is infeasible. In my humble opinion, rescue workers should be driven by their professional responsibility to save lives, rather than by religious preferences of the community.
Hoping for a quick closure to this tragedy and rigorous study of its causes, which could threaten other area structures, particularly if the assertion that sinking ground is responsible for the collapse proves correct.

2021/06/28 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Nightmare scenario: Trump's future cabinet members A quick way to add pizzaz to leftovers (with fried potato slices at the bottom of the pot) A few cartoons to bring a smile to your face, as you start a new week and its battles (1) Images of the day: [Left] Nightmare scenario: Trump's future cabinet members (see the next item below). [Center] A quick way to add pizzaz to leftovers: I had some adas-polo (lentil-rice) from my mom. I sliced one potato and fried the slices at the bottom of the pot before adding the rice, thus getting a yummy tag-dig. [Right] A few cartoons to bring a smile to your face, as you start a new week and its battles.
(2) Nightmare scenario: Scarier that the thought of Donald Trump being re-elected in 2024 is imagining who will run the country, as he tweets and peddles conspiracy theories. All his semi-qualified lackeys have put distance between themselves and 45 (Mike Pence, Bill Barr, the generals, even Jared & Ivanka). Imagine Mike Flynn as Secretary of Defense, Steve Bannon as Secretary of State, Steve Miller at Homeland Security, Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General, the Pillow Guy at Treasury, and Roger Stone as Chief of Staff!
(3) When a building turns into a pile of rubble and 150+ are missing, stating that the death toll stands at 9 is very dishonest: Reporters & officials are morally obligated to provide a realistic assessment of casualties, even if they have to guess. Looking at photos and videos of the site, my estimate is that at least 100 are dead.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- To those suffering an extreme heat wave in northwestern United States: Please stay safe. And hydrated!
- The US conducts airstrikes on Iran-backed militias near Iraq-Syria border in response to drone attacks.
- Highway 101 car rollover causes hours-long traffic delays on the Santa-Barbara-to-Ventura artery.
- Discovery of "Dragon Man" in China may push out Neanderthals as closest relatives of modern humans.
- Computer scientist Alan Turing appears on new 50-pounds bank notes in the UK.
- Persian music: Wonderful voice and a beautiful, though quite sad, song. [3-minute video]
- New scientific result: If E = mC^2 (Einstein) and A^2 + B^2 = C^2 (Pythagoras), then E = m(A^2 + B^2).
- GPS voice to life-raft occupant: "In 1500 miles, float left, and your destination will be on your right."
- Sunday's brunch with the kids at a Mexican restaurant with patio dining in Goleta's Magnolia Center.
(5) Photos from Sunday afternoon: Walking about a nearly-dry Devereux Slough, where magnificent birds that used to wade in shallow waters walk on a dry bed, and where people have to stay at least 6 feet apart from other people, but less than 6 feet away from their dogs!
(6) Oh, the irony: Child of privilege Tucker Carlson calls Gen. Mark Milley, who has served stints in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a number of other deployments in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, "a pig" and "stupid."
(7) Mike Pence & Bill Barr have political ambitions that they know will be ill-served by supporting Trump's lies: So, please take their mild jabs at Trump with a grain of salt. Mike Pence says he is proud of what he and Trump accomplished over four years, with January 6 being the sole point of disagreement between them. Pence was just as dismissive of the seriousness of the pandemic and as anti-science as Trump. Bill Barr says Trump's election-fraud claims are "all bullsh*t," but he did launch inquiries into these and other matters to appease his boss. Previously, Barr had helped Trump escape Mueller Report's damning conclusions with minimal damage.
(8) Final thought for the day: As an engineer, I have a problem with the super-slow pace of rescue efforts in the South Florida condo-tower collapse. It is often repeated, and taken for granted, that the slow pace is necessary to avoid disturbing the rubble and thus causing a collapse of possible air pockets holding survivors. When there are 140 people missing and only 11 bodies have been recovered, this argument does not hold water, especially nearly a week after the collapse, when chances of having survivors is rapidly diminishing. One has to take risks in this context to increase the likelihood of saving some lives, even if there is also some chance of losing a few lives as a result. The alternative is losing all 140 people who are unaccounted for.

2021/06/27 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of Simon Baron-Cohen's 'Pattern Seekers' Food for thought: Use of passive constructs such as 'violence against women' hides the perpetrators Aerial photo of UCLA in 1929 (1) Images of the day: [Left] Cover image of Simon Baron-Cohen's Pattern Seekers (see the last item below). [Center] Food for thought: Use of passive constructs such as "violence against women" hides the perpetrators, as if violence happens to women out of the blue; no one's doing it! [Right] Historic photo: UCLA in 1929.
(2) Graduation speech delivered to empty seats: A former NRA President was duped into believing that he was at a rehearsal for a graduation speech he was invited to deliver. But each of the 3000+ empty seats represented a school mass-shooting victim who will never graduate!
(3) Supreme Leader Khamenei is vaccinated: The official story says that he is getting the Iranian Barekat vaccine, but no one believes him. A pharmaceutical company run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards is selling the domestically-produced vaccine for 200,000 tomans a pop, and the Godfather needs to boost sales.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Many Former associates, including Ivanka & Jared, are distancing themselves from Donald Trump.
- Chess grandmaster Anna Muzychuk would rather lose two world titles than play in Saudi Arabia.
- How culture alienates us from nature, other people, work, and ourselves. [Video] [w/ Persian subtitles]
- First cartoon of the day: How to win a presidential election. [Image]
- Second cartoon of the day: How to win a presidential election. [Image]
- The Seekers, much older and wiser, perform the hit song "I'll Never Find Another You" [1964 version]
(5) Iran's Supreme Leader got his vaccine in private from two attending physicians: Here's how ordinary old people are treated when they go to get their allotted vaccines. [Tweet, with video clip]
(6) Farzaneh Fasihi is the 2nd Iranian Olympian woman to ever compete in 100-meter dash: Her predecessor, Simin Safamehr, competed in 1964. This is a positive development, but look at her restrictive clothing!
(7) Book review: Baron-Cohen, Simon, The Pattern Seekers: How Autism Drives Human Invention, unabridged 6-hour audiobook, read by Jonathan Cowley, Tantor Audio, 2020.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
It's difficult to take the brother of the comic-actor who plays "Borat" seriously, but Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University is a serious, indeed distinguished, psychologist. In this book, Baron-Cohen argues that autism has played a key role in human progress for many millennia, because the same genes that cause autism enable pattern-seeking that is a crucial element of invention and innovation.
Around 85,000 years ago, hominids developed the brain power to use if-and-then logic, which vastly increased their inventiveness. For example, agriculture took root when our ancestors noticed that if a seed falls in moist soil, and the sun shines on it, then the seed will sprout. Once something like basic agriculture was invented, a refinement mechanism took over and allowed even greater successes. For example, adding "and I water it when there is no rain" led to better results, as did "and I remove weeds."
On the positive side, this book instills in us greater appreciation for our autistic fellow human-beings and impresses the point that it is indeed in our self-interest to provide greater opportunities for them to contribute. On the negative side, there are too many examples and repetitions. Baron-Cohen jokes that his editor forced him to elaborate when he said that the book's main message can be summarized in three words: If-and-then! Still, there is a lot of space between 3 words and 60,000 words, which is my estimated word-count for a 6-hour audiobook!
I also have some apprehensions about the book's framework. Giving if-and-then logic prominence isn't technically defensible. What about if-or-then logic, as in: If it does not rain for a long time or strong winds blow, then there is a high danger of wildfires. In fact, various combinations of "and" & "or" may be used, a la propositional-logic. Using "and" limits us to a set of conditions that must all be present for something to happen. Using "or" allows us to specify possible substitution of one condition for another one. Certainly, observing that either of two conditions will cause something to happen isn't less important than recognizing that the conjunction of two conditions is required for some result.
Simon Baron-Cohen has book talk on YouTube.

2021/06/26 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Status of human/women's rights in Iran: Photo of Narges Mohammadi Time magazine cover: The wars over teaching US history Fanni classmates Zoom conversation with Dr. Babak Amir Khosravi (1) Images of the day: [Left] Roundtable on the status of human/women's rights in Iran (see the last item below). [Center] The wars over teaching US history: It all boils down to whether we want to show our kids a sanitized version of America's past, emphasizing heroes who won our independence and abolished slavery, or talk also about those who owned and abused slaves, resisted the efforts to free them, and fed race-based phobias to curtail equal rights in practice, after they were forced to accept equality as the law of the land. [Right] Fanni classmates Zoom conversation (see the next item below).
(2) Fanni classmates meeting: Dr. Babak Amir Khosravi, Fanni graduate and former member of the Toudeh (communist) Party, talked with Mohammad Amini about his political memoir ("Zendeguinameh-ye Siasi," Nashr-e Baran, 2020), as part of the gatherings of Tehran U. College of Engineering's Class of 1968 (Fanni '68).
The focus of this second installment of the conversation was on the role played by the Toudeh Party in the overthrow of the popular Mossadeq government in the 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup that reinstated the Shah to power, and similar activities in the events leading to and immediately after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. As a puppet of the former Soviet Union, the Toudeh Party was viewed by most Iranians as traitorous and anti-democracy. In his book, Amir Khosravi criticizes Toudeh Party's and his own actions over the years, purporting to be a changed man. However, in today's conversation, he seemed defensive, rather than reflective or repentant. I had to leave the meeting at 11:00, before it ended.
(3) Voices of Women for Change observes International Day Against Torture: Today's roundtable on the Violations of Women's Rights in Iran, and on the Status of Imprisoned Women Activists, featured Narges Mohammadi, Dr. Mansour Farhang, Tara Sepehri Far, and Alice Dahle. The meeting was conducted in Persian and English, with running translations provided by the moderator, Ms. Taraneh Roosta of Voices of Women for Change. The meeting has been recorded. I will post a link to the recording when it is available.
By my rough count, ~2/3 of the 53 attendees were women (incomplete and ambiguous names make it impossible to say for sure). I hope that men start getting more involved in issues affecting women, which are inseparable from human/civil rights. https://www.voicesofwomenforchange.org
- Narges Mohammadi, a prominent human/women's rights activist in Iran, began by giving a report on her own status and the statuses of other women political prisoners. She was released from her 23-year prison term early, but was sentenced again on new charges; she did not show up in court, which she considered illegitimate. Women political detainees are systematically subjected to various forms of violence in Iranian prisons, intended to humiliate them and break their resistance. The Islamic regime considers itself more vulnerable to women activists and thus has chosen to treat them more harshly than men. In Ms. Mohammadi's view, the best way to achieve our goals in the arena of human rights is to strengthen our civic structures with support from local and international organizations.
- Dr. Mansour Farhang (Bennington College) affirmed Ms. Mohammadi's assertion that the regime feels threatened by women activists. Their treatment of women is rooted in backward traditions and superstitions of the Arabian Peninsula from some 1400 years ago. Modern women's independence and freedom is at odds with their value system. Iranian women's movement is unprecedented in the history of the Islamic world, thus presenting Iran's Islamic rulers with difficult challenges. Interestingly, the notion of gender equality did not form a part of the demands for democracy and political freedoms before the Islamic Revolution. The current women's movement in Iran serves as inspiration and model for women's movements throughout the world. Even though the Iranian regime seems to have no shame, it does spend a lot of effort and money on publicity in the West to distort the truth and mislead the world on the nature of its human-rights violations. We should all contact our representatives and news outlets with specific information about rights violations. Many progressives in the US are fully aware of the Iranian regime's violations of human rights, but because they are against intervention and a possible war, they shy away from criticizing or acting in other ways.
- Tara Sepehri Far of Human Rights Watch was asked to address solution methods for current challenges, which we all know too well. She praised Narges Mohammadi for her courage of speaking out, even as she is facing prosecution in Iran. The Iranian regime seems to have developed some sort of immunity to criticism. Individual action against such a regime will have very limited impact. We need to organize efforts at the international level, within social and academic groups, in an effort to break down the regime's immunity. Setting up and supporting grass-root groups focused on civic and democratic processes in Iran should be given high proiority. While starting with small steps is useful, we should not lose sight of the complexity of the process of building an opposition infrastructure, without endangering the safety of the participants. Not everyone can be as brave and selfless as Narges Mohammadi. We should focus on one corner of the problem and do what we can to help, rather then feel powerless by the immensity of what the world faces in terms of misery and social injustice.
- Alice Dahle of Amnesty International outlined some of the organization's international efforts in support of human-rights activists, including a major campaign to provide needed medications for Ms. Mohammadi while she was in prison. Women's rights issues in Iran should be treated as human-rights rather then political problems. Unfortunately, US politicians view everything from a political lens, so it is difficult to move them into action, despite the fact that Amnesty International does have a presence in the US Congress. It is also hard to convince the American public that we should care about human rights in Iran or Afghanistan, say, because they are mostly concerned with sociopolitical problems at the local level.

2021/06/25 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Michael Moss's 'Hooked' Michael Moss, the author of 'Hooked' Success rates for Santa Barbara School District's graduates in meeting UC/CSU eligibility requirements (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] On food industry's deception & profiteering (see the last item below). [Right] Success rates for Santa Barbara School District's graduates in meeting UC/CSU eligibility requirements: Low-income, Black, and Hispanic success rates are comparable, indicating economic, not academic, challenges.
(2) Partial collapse of a condo tower near Miami: One person is confirmed dead and 99 are still missing. A high death toll is expected. Let's see if the developer faces any criminal charges.
[Update: Surveillance video shows the collapse of a 12-story condo building in Florida: The collapse occurred around 1:30 AM, when people were asleep, so most of the 99 missing persons are likely dead.]
(3) Moving to become a Third-World country: As if the collapse of high-rise condo building in Florida wasn't enough, we have news that life expectancy in the US dropped by 1.8 years, between 2018 to 2020. The drop for African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans was 3.3 and 3.9 years, respectively.
(4) Our military is in good hands: I remember being impressed by Gen. James Mattis's memoir, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead (My 4-star review), in which he opines that any leader, or any person for that matter, must learn from books: "If you haven't read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate." When Gen. Mark Milley was chosen by Trump to lead the US military, I was skeptical. But his eloquent defense, during a Congressional testimony, of why military personnel must be exposed to different ideas reflecting the diversity of the nation they serve, I was awestruck! I need no further evidence that Milley is an honorable man than Tucker Carlson calling him "a pig" and "stupid"!
(5) "Hooked—Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit our Addictions": This was the title of a book interview, featuring former NYT investigative reporter Michael Moss, in conversation with David Heber, MD, Director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, as part of UCLA Semel Institute webinar series.
Even though the food industry isn't quite in the same category of evilness as the tobacco industry that actively worked to take advantage of, and extend, the addictive feature of their products, they are still doing our society a disservice by exploiting our attraction to sugary foods to maximize their profits, thereby causing and intensifying the obesity epidemic.
The situation, which was alarming before the pandemic, has gotten much worse over the past year. Sale of junk food has skyrocketed, as we moved toward buying, and keeping handy, comfort foods. Some 2/3 of food items in a supermarket is estimated to contain added sugar, thus serving as trigger foods for over-eating. Unlike many other ingredients, there is no recommended daily allowance for sugar on food packages. Food labels are better than having nothing, but the food industry makes them so complicated and deceiving (there are 60+ names for sugar) that they have lost much of their usefulness.
Alongside eating junk food, often rapidly and in isolation, we have lost the art of mindful eating: Cooking and eating food at home, with family and friends. Our preference for speed and convenience has allowed the food industry to bombard us with food that needs little or no prep time and that we can eat with one hand (such as while driving or working).
Even though the trend toward sugary fast-foods began in early 20th century, the trend accelerated in the 1960s and 1970s. To reverse these trends, we need to go back to our natural rhythm dictated by our biological clocks: Eat at normal times, snack less, get enough sleep, and generally lead a balanced life. [60-minute recording]

2021/06/24 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Geographic visualization: Iran is as big as these 15 European countries combined A couple of selfies of me at Goleta's Coal Oil Point Beach Cover image of Maureen Dowd's 'The Year of Voting Dangerously'
Cartoon: A previously unknown type of dinosaur, the Thesaurus! J. R. R. Tolkien's letter to a potential German publisher of his work Message on a T-shirt used for marketing by AAAS: In-Cl-U-Si-O-N Is Elemental (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Geographic visualization: Iran is as big as 15 European countries combined. [Top center] On the healing effects of a long walk: I was writing a research paper at home on Wednesday 6/23 afternoon, when I noticed I wasn't making good progress. A walk to, and relaxation at, my favorite beach spot fixed the problem. It was quite windy near the beach, but very pleasant nonetheless. [Top right] Cover image of Maureen Dowd's The Year of Voting Dangerously (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Cartoon of the day: A previously unknown type of dinosaur, the Thesaurus! [Bottom center] J. R. R. Tolkien's "polite" letter to a potential German publisher of his work, after he was asked racist questions. [Bottom right] Message on a T-shirt used for marketing by American Association for the Advancement of Science: In-Cl-U-Si-O-N Is Elemental.
(2) The Republicans are working hard to return to power, which is natural for a sidelined party. However, they seem to want power for the sake of power. They are not offering any policy specifications, international or domestic, and no legislation that they intend to pass. This is unacceptable!
(3) Ebrahim Raisi's communication problem: Iran's new president is already the butt of jokes about the way he speaks in incomplete, nonsensical sentences and how he butchers the Persian language. His formal education is only to grade 6, having studied at the school for clerics in Qom after that. [18-minute video, in Persian]
(4) Where are Ivanka and Jared? Why aren't they on the scene to support Donald in his post-presidency political quest? During the past four years, they were both senior advisors to 45, which means they influenced his decisions. Jared, in particular, had a broad portfolio that ranged from economic initiatives and pandemic management to Middle East peace and other international responsibilities typically given to cabinet members. Hope they are not allowed to wash their hands off in the wake of a disastrous presidency and the damage it did to our political institutions, as if they had no role in it!
(5) Book review: Dowd, Maureen, The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics, unabridged 12-hour audiobook, read by Elisabeth Rodgers, Hachette Audio, 2016.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The 2016 US presidential election was unique in that it featured two candidates with the highest recorded unfavorability ratings. Most voters ended up voting against Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, as opposed to voting for their choice. Hillary Clinton was perceived as not being transparent and as flip-flopping on issues out of expediency, although her problems with dodging sensitive issues paled in comparison with her opponent's overt dishonesty.
This book is assembled from New York Times columns of Maureen Dowd [1952-], each one preceded by its original publication date. The columns are well-written and absorbing, but they contain a great deal of redundancy, when read together. The writing style is incisive and wryly humorous, while packing much info.
The 2016 election and its candidates have been analyzed to death in numerous books. I have read more than my share of such books. Yet, Dowd brings a number of fresh viewpoints and scoops to the topic. Dowd's long history in Washington and her vast network of connections show in direct quotes of politicians about their friends and foes. She is equally tough on Trump and Clinton, citing the former's media manipulation for his victory and blaming the latter's sense of entitlement and cold demeanor for her loss. Dowd intersperses her critiques of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with barbs about other recent presidents, from Nixon to Bill Clinton and the Bushes.
Regarding Hillary Clinton, Dowd quotes an unnamed White House aide as saying, "Hillary, though a Methodist, thinks of herself like an Episcopal bishop who deserves to live at the level of her wealthy parishioners, in return for devoting her life to God and good works." Dowd also points out a number of her contradictions, such as running as a feminist while slinging mud at women who accused her husband of sexual misconduct and abuse of power. Other Clinton trouble spots are her shadiness and lack of judgement, as in using a private e-mail server to shield her e-mails from public scrutiny.
Dowd also dishes out much dirt on Donald Trump, despite the fact that she has known him for a long time, with their phone friendship going as far back as Trump's first-time toying with the idea of presidency in 1999, when Bush ran against Gore. Even a long-time friend finds it difficult to explain Trump's outrageous comments, his doubling-down on untenable positions, pretending that he did not really mean what he said, and admitting in the final stage that he indeed meant every word! Even a Republican cannot overlook Trump's thin skin, narcissism, misogyny, and nativist tendencies.
Dowd confirms previous accounts that the 2016 presidential campaign lacked substance, with discussions degenerating into looks and body parts, instead of focusing on economic and foreign policies; offensive nicknames in lieu of honoring other candidates' service. This is a most-informative and fun book, despite the fact that I do not consider her dissing both 2016 candidates, and all former presidents, "fair" treatment. For example, beating up on the Obama administration for its "fault" of preferring to be right than to win with the same intensity as the despicable behavior of Trump and his cronies is grossly unfair.

2021/06/23 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Simple math puzzle, involsing a square partitioned into four rectangles with integer side lengths Graphical Facebook memories from June 23 of years past Cover image of Orhan Pamuk's 'A Strangeness in My Mind' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Simple math puzzle: What is the side length of the outer square, if e, f, g, and h are known to be integers? [Center] Facebook memories from June 23 of years past: Including the Taiwanese putting children and nature (instead of dead or living politicians) on one of their bills and an amazing tree on the NCKU campus. [Right] Cover image of Orhan Pamuk's A Strangeness in My Mind (see the last item below).
(2) Persian political humor: Presidential elections in Iran are likened to finding a husband for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's daughter every four years. He doesn't really want to marry his precious daughter off.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The first capitol rioter to be sentenced gets a slap on the wrist (probation): Her lawyers are celebrating.
- Three dozen news Web sites linked to Iran's disinformation effort taken down by the US.
- Four-day work week may boost productivity: But why not mandate vacation time instead?
- Fun fact: There are exactly 10! seconds in 6 weeks.
- I am writing my oughtobiography: It's a book about all the things I need to do before I die.
- Many examples of interesting 3D sidewalk art.
- She was asking for it (comedy): What happens if we interpret what people wear as what they're asking for!
(4) Book review: Pamuk, Orhan (translated by Ekin Oklap), A Strangeness in My Mind: A Novel, unabridged 22-hour audiobook, read by John Lee, Random House Audio, 2015.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book, by a Nobel Laureate and best-selling author, is the life story of its protagonist, Mavlut Karatas, over more than four decades, beginning in 1969, told from different perspectives. To me, the story and its events sounded familiar, as if the coming-of-age of an Iranian village boy is being told: Same aspirations, same limitations, same heartbreaks.
Following in his father's footsteps as a young boy, Mavlut sells boza, a traditional, mildly alcoholic Turkish drink, and yogurt on the streets of Istanbul, while living on the desolate hills just outside the fast-developing megapolis. Boza is perhaps a metaphor for old traditions that are on their way out. Like other protagonists in Pamuk's books, Mevlut is caught between Turkish traditions and modern culture, befitting Pamuk's Nobel Prize in Literature citation, honoring a writer "Who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."
At one point, Mevlut, who is viewed as a simpleton with a heart of gold by people around him, spends three years writing love-letters, with passages copied from a how-to book, to a girl he had seen only once. He ends up eloping with the girl's less-attractive sister by mistake, but grows to love and cherish his wife. As he stumbles toward middle age, working at a series of dead-end jobs, he carries a strangeness in his mind that makes him feel different from everyone else.
I had always wanted to peruse a book by Orhan Pamuk to see for myself what all the fuss was about. I was greatly impressed with the rich character development and the many historical and cultural asides!

2021/06/22 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Remembering my departed friend, Hamid Khan-Afshar: Batch 1 of photos Remembering my departed friend, Hamid Khan-Afshar: Batch 2 of photos Remembering my departed friend, Hamid Khan-Afshar: Batch 3 of photos
Capturing the descent of a small plane, as it approaches the Santa Barbara Airport for landing Face masks on many shapes and colors Image of Earth, without its oceans and atmposphere (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Remembering my departed friend, Hamid Khan-Afshar: Photos from our college days, 50th graduation anniversary celebration, my visits to his family in Palo Alto, CA, and his family's visits to Santa Barbara, CA. [Bottom left] Capturing the descent of a small plane, as it approaches the Santa Barbara Airport. [Bottom center] Quote of the day: "We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin." ~ Andre Berthiaume [Bottom right] Earth, without its oceans and atmposphere. Here is a video showing the Earth's oceans drained.
(2) Creative ways to encourage vaccinations until full vaccine approval: Rhodes College plans to charge $1500 Health & Safety Fee for unvaccinated students to cover the costs of mandatory COVID-19 testing.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Democracy on the brink: "Meet the Press" provides a timeline of Trump's efforts to overturn the election.
- Our thin-skinned former president wanted his Department of Justice to stop 'SNL' from making fun of him!
- The normal pattern of brutal post-election suppression of protests returns in Iran.
- How evolution made us thirsty: Humans are more dependent on water than most other mammals.
(4) Visibility isn't always a good thing for women in science: Being forced to parent a young child while on Zoom makes one particular UCSF professor feel exposed. Women scientiests' concerns about being judged on how they are seen, instead of what they have achieved, is not conducive to professional advancement.
(5) On-line art gallery: Dutch sculptor Anton Bakker, whose exhibition at NY's National Museum of Mathematics got cancelled, "installed" his mathematically-inspired works virtually at various famous world sites.
(6) Ebrahim Raisi: The pliant president of Iran, who will help anoint the son of Ali Khamenei, 82, as the next Supreme Leader of an Iranian Caliphate, or someone who harbors ambitions of replacing Khamenei?
(7) "Existence of Electromagnetic-Hydrodynamic Waves": Title of Hannes Alfven's half-page 1942 paper in the journal Nature, known as the shortest paper to directly lead to a Nobel Prize (1970, Physics).
(8) Narges Mohammadi, on a brutal executioner and violator of human rights becoming Iran's president: The government in Iran has announced Mr. Ebrahim Raisi as the elected President after engineering and derailing the election process from its natural course. As a human rights and peace advocate, who has lost everything in the past years, I don't accept Mr. Raisi's presidency because he has committed some of the most serious human rights violations in the past 42 years. Although the previous elections have not been free or fair either, the presidency of a person who must be first and foremost accountable for and responsive to the Iranian justice seekers is not acceptable. We seek justice for the victims of killings, executions, imprisonments, tortures, poverty and misery, about whom Mr. Raisi must be held responsible before being allowed to be a President. As a human rights activist, I want to know which countries, governments, or international organizations who speak of human rights can congratulate Mr. Raisi's Presidency. [In Persian]

2021/06/20 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
I dedicate this Persian couplet to Hamid Khan-Afshar and his loved ones Are we sincere when we recite Sa'adi's poem about all humans being of one essence and soul? Pictorial Facebook memories from June 20 of prior years
Happy Fathers' Day to all dads and father-like mentors, past, present, and future! (Photo of cake) Fathers' Day brunch with my kids, my mom, and my visiting sister & her family Wearing my T-shirt: Pround scientist, but prouder dad! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Hamid Khan-Afshar and my Persian couplet dedicated to him & his loved ones (see the next item below). [Top center] Facebook memory from June 20, 2020: Are we sincere when we recite Sa'adi's poem about all humans being of one essence and soul? [Top right] Pictorial Facebook memories from June 20 of prior years: The amazing nature and memorial for the victims of the Isla Vista mass shooting. [Bottom row] Happy Fathers' Day to all fathers and father-like mentors! (See the last item below)
(2) RIP Hamid Khan-Afshar: An old-time friend, who was like a brother to me, has passed away after a long battle with cancer. May his soul rest in peace and may memories of his kindness of heart and generosity of spirit help his wife Farah, his daughters Shadi & Sanaz, and his many friends cope with this great loss.
(3) In 30 years, I've moved from being a moderate Democrat to an ultra-liberal socialist, without changing a single position. [Credit: Kelly Beld Hicklin]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- In a major cyber-attack, hackers tried to poison California's water supply.
- UCSB summer 2021 GRIT talks: Ground-breaking Research Innovative Technology. [Schedule]
- Math puzzle: In this diagram, with 4 circles of equal size, find the length x.
- Kurdish music: Song & dance by the wonderful Rastak Ensemble, specializing in regional music of Iran.
- Facebook memory from June 20, 2013: A beautiful Persian poem from Shoorideh Shirazi.
- Facebook memory from June 20, 2010, for Fathers' Day: Persian poem by Mohammad-Hossein Shahriar.
(5) At the end of the 2021 Fathers' Day: I reiterate my warmest regards and congratulations to all caring fathers among you, as well as those mothers who have had to also act as fathers at times. I, for one, am grateful for celebrating another Fathers' Day with all three of my children by my side.
Sepehr is starting a Master's degree program in education, which will allow him to pursue teaching, one of his passions and strengths. Sepand is pretty much settled up in the SF Bay Area at Apple Computer, after earning a master's degree in computer engineering and stints at three tech positions. Sepideh is about to earn her Master's degree in computer science, which, together with her BS degree in neuroscience, will allow her to pursue research in health informatics. Feeling pride in my children's accomplishments!

2021/06/19 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's new president, shown with Supreme Leader Khamenei Cartoon: Those who voted in Iran must remember the day after the election! Sculpture carved in a mountain: The Abode of the Gods, Poroy, Peru
Even after it has been established, social justice, like democracy, needs to be nurtured and upheld Pictorial Facebook memories from June 19 of years past Why are we negotiating with the Taliban who have committed atrocities? (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Ali Khamenei & Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's new president (see the last item below). [Top center] Cartoon of the day: Iranian voters, on the day they cast their vote and the day after the election! [Top right] Mountain sculpture: Abode of the Gods, Poroy (Peru's "Mount Rushmore"). [Bottom left] Even after it has been established, social justice, like democracy, needs to be nurtured and upheld, or it will perish. [Bottom center] Pictorial Facebook memories from June 19 of years past: Turing's Centenary was in 2012. [Bottom right] Some of the Taliban's atrocities (see the next item below).
(2) Negotiations are conducted to reach a middle ground with an adversary: What middle ground do we envisage with the Taliban, who execute/flog women in public, bomb/burn girls' schools, and think that a girl aspiring to get an education for herself and other girls deserves a bullet in the head?
(3) Observance of Int'l Day Against Torture, by Voices of Women for Change: Roundtable on the Violations of Women's Rights in Iran, and on the Status of Imprisoned Women Activists, featuring Narges Mohammadi, Alice Dahle, Tara Sepehri Far, and Mansour Farhang. Saturday, June 26, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Today's date, 19, in math: 4! – 3! + 2! – 1! For tomorrow, just add + 0! at the end.
- Iranian regime: Now that the election is over, stay at home for a while; don't make us shoot you! [Image]
- Borowitz Report (humor): Ted Cruz calls Obamacare a Democratic plot to keep people alive so they can vote.
- A jazzy classic, performed by David A. Stewart and Candy Dulfer: "Lily Was Here"
- Another beautiful performance by Santana (featuring Mana): "Corazon Espinado"
- Facebook memory from June 19, 2013: We have been "negotiating" with the Taliban for at least 8 years.
(5) UCSB summer cinema under the stars is back: The free single/double-header events (Thursday evenings, beginning at 8:30 PM; gates open at 7:00) will be held at the West Wind Drive-in near Goleta Beach.
July 01: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
July 08: The Goonies / Stand by Me
July 15: Clueless
July 22: The Never-Ending Story
July 29: Men in Black / Galaxy Quest
August 05: Rush Hour
August 12: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure / Wayne's World
(6) Ebrahim Raisi, a Khamenei stooge, elected as Iran's president with 62% of the vote: The turnout was a record-low 49% and the votes cast included 13% invalid ballots, likely blank or protest votes. Raisi played a prominent role in the mass execution of political prisoners in the 1980s, earning the "hanging judge" nickname and endearing himself to both the former and current Supreme Leaders. Bashar Assad and Hamas leadership welcomed Raisi's election, while Amnesty International described his victory as "a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran." Having a criminal president, who is sanctioned and under investigation for his crimes in multiple countries, is grim news for the people of Iran, but at least it removes the facade of "moderates" behind whom the Supreme Leader could hide. It is Khamenei's show now, having practically achieved the elimination of presidency in favor of a clerk-like "prime minister" figure that he has long favored.

2021/06/17 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today's family get-together for lunch at Santa Barbara Hilton Recreating a photo from May 2018 during today's extended-family gathering in Santa Barbara Miscellaneous photos from today's family gathering in Santa Barbara (1) Images of the day: [Left] Today's family get-together for lunch at Santa Barbara Hilton (1-minute video). [Center] Recreating a group photo from May 2018: We took advantage of the entire extended family gathering in Santa Barbara to recreate a wedding photo to see how everyone has changed over the past three years. [Right] Miscellaneous photos from today's family gathering in Santa Barbara.
(2) The US House of Representatives designates June 19 ("Juneteenth") as a new federal holiday: There were only 14 opposers, all Republicans. The US Senate passes the bill unanimously.
(3) The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) survives a third challenge at the US Supreme Court: A case brought by the Trump administration and several Republican-led states is rejected. If only the Republicans spent as much time and effort on legislation to help their constituents as they do trying to take stuff away from the 99% and giving benefits to the 1%!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The GOP vowed to make Obama a one-term president: It now aims to make Biden a half-term president!
- Panoramic virtual-reality photo of Mars, with 1.2 billion pixels.
- This chicken crossed the road to show off her soccer skills! [Short video]
- It had been ages since I rode in the same car with my three kids: Today's photo in the car.
- Facebook memories from June 17 of years past: (1) Iran & Afghanistan; (2) Move-in & Fathers' Day.
(5) Easing of COVID-19 restrictions doesn't mean the pandemic is over. It just means they will have room for you in the ICU. Choose wisely, especially if you are not vaccinated!
(6) "Hooked—Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit our Addictions": In this UCLA Semel Institute webinar, Pulitzer-Prize-winning former NYT investigative reporter Michael Moss talks about his book by the same title. Thursday, June 24, 2021, 5:00 PM PDT. [Registration link]
(7) Final thought for the day: There's a joke about not trusting atoms, because they make up everything! Physicists are no better in this regard. To me, physics terminology is arbitrary and inconsistent.
What is dark matter? It's matter we do not see, but which is necessary to balance our gravitational equations! If only 15 lbs of my mass consisted of dark matter, I'd look fabulous!
What's antimatter? It's something that interacts with matter, annihilating both participants and releasing energy. I don't understand this, but, in this case, nomenclature isn't the problem.
We have proton and antiproton; neutron and antineutron. So, one would guess that antimatter counterpart to electron would be antielectron. It isn't: Physicists prefer positron, so named because it has a positive charge. But, then, why isn't electron called negatron? Don't ask me! Is there such a thing as antiphoton? No, photon's antiparticle is the photon itself!
Particle names (fermions, quarks, leptons, gluons, bosons, ...) and forces that act on them (weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, ...) aren't any better in terms of understanding what's going on!

2021/06/16 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pictorial Facebook memories from June 16 of years past: Celebrations, sightseeing, and Iranian vs. European diplomats Math puzzle: There are three squares in this diagram. The smallest square has area 1. What are the areas of the other two squares? IEEE CCS technical talk by Mr. Momin Quddus (1) Images of the day: [Left] Facebook memories from June 16 of years past: Celebrations, sightseeing, and Iranian vs. European diplomats. (To my children, who think I tell "dad jokes": Please note the fortune cookie's message!) [Center] Math puzzle: There are 3 squares in this diagram. If the area of the smallest square is 1, find the areas of the other two squares. [Right] IEEE CCS technical talk (see the last item below).
(2) A soccer star's economic power: Cristiano Ronaldo pushing away two bottles of Coke during an interview, grabbing a water bottle instead, reportedly wiped ~$4 billion off Coca-Cola's market value!
(3) UCSB's virtual commencement ceremony for 2020 & 2021: Chancellor Henry Yang's remarks begin at the 22:30 mark of this 47-minute video. Oprah Winfrey's keynote address begins at the 30:00 mark.
(5) The circus and its clowns: Iran's presidential election, which was already a contest between seven candidates hand-picked by the the Supreme Leader and his cronies, has taken an absurd turn. Two of the candidates, including the last remaining "reformist" option, have withdrawn at the last minute, all but ensuring the election of Khamanei's favorite candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, nicknamed "The Executioner of Tehran" for his role in the mass execution of political prisoners in the 1980s.
(6) Generating video from a single image: U. Washington researchers have invented a method to generate a video loop from a single image by predicting the motion that was occurring when the image was captured.
(7) New alternative facts: Blaming the January 6 riot on Antifa and BLM didn't work, so now government agents are said to have helped organize it. You can't make this stuff up!
(8) Tonight's IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Mr. Momin Quddus (MSEE, PE) talked at 6:30 PM PDT under the title "Bitcoin, Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, in Simple Terms," a talk he generously agreed to repeat for our section, having previously offered it to our sister BuenaVentura Section. We are bombarded daily with information about bitcoin, a special kind of cryptocurrency, and blockchain, hyped as a cure-all for everything that ails our society. So, it is particularly timely to become acquainted with these notions and be able to separate hype from facts.
Public opinion on cryptocurrency is divided. A small group of people with a deep understanding of the topic believe in this form of currency and are passionate about what it represents. Then there's the rest of us, who feel that it is a cryptic topic, true to the name (the skeptics and the curious). Mr. Quddus attempted to bridge the gap between these communities. He explained the origins of cryptocurrency and what it means to society in general in the near future. He also briefly discussed cryptocurrency investment opportunities of various kinds.
Even though businesses and even governments are getting involved with cryptocurrency, in the end, such currencies are not intended to replace normal world currencies such as dollar or euro. Ironically, cryptocurrency provides both transparency (in the sense that everyone can see the transactions and nothing is hidden from anyone) and anonymity (currency is tied to digital wallets, rather than personal identities). Digital wallets can be transferred between individuals, such as at the time of the owner's death. There have been instances when someone has lost a digital wallet, thus losing the assets in it. However, anonymity seems to be going away, as evidenced by the US government tracing ransomware payments and recovering the money paid.
[Recording of the lecture (72-minute video)] [IEEE CCS event page] [IEEE CCS Technical Talks page]

2021/06/15 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzle: What is the shortest distance from A to B on the outside of the box? Street vendor of fresh eggs in Iran (undated B&W photo) Chart showing the distribution of repunit primes (1) Images of the day: [Left] Math puzzle: What is the shortest distance from A to B on the outside of the box? [Center] Street vendor of fresh eggs in Iran (undated photo). [Right] Repunit primes (see the last item below)
(2) Iran's election charade: These presidential candidates are having some post-debate fun, after being at each others' throats for the duration of the debate. Perhaps they are making fun of the gullible Iranian voters!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Americans lost to COVID-19 over 15 months: 600,000 (40,000/mo; ~1300/day; ~56/hour; ~1/minute)
- Al Qaeda isn't happy to have been demoted to a second-rank threat, behind domestic US terrorists!
- Heightened fire danger may lead to preventive electric-power shutoffs in the Santa Batbata area.
- Science is weird: To detect or measure the tiniest particles, we need the biggest instruments!
- If truth is beauty, as claimed by Keats, how do you explain ugly truths?
- I may have shared this surprising identity before: 21^2 + 22^2 + 23^2 + 24^2 = 25^2 + 26^2 + 27^2
- Pictorial Facebook memories from June 15 of years past: Fathers' Day gifts, my 1960s artwork, food.
(4) "UCSB Reads 2022" short-list selected: Even though both of my pitched books (Weapons of Math Destruction and The Pattern Seekers) have been eliminated, I am excited to start reading books 1 and 3-5.
- Exhalation: Stories, by Ted Chiang (2019)
- Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (2020)
- The Friend: A Novel, by Sigrid Nunez (2018)
- The Inequality Machine: How College Divides Us, by Paul Tough (2021) [Title & date of paperback edition]
- The Undocumented Americans, by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (2020)
(5) Repunit primes: Prime numbers provide endless puzzles and interesting discoveries. Let's begin with this question: Can a number whose decimal representation consists of repetitions of the same digit (a repdigit number) be a prime? In other words, is the number ddd...dd, where d is a decimal digit, ever a prime? Given that such a number is divisible by d, only for d = 1 can the number possibly be a prime. Numbers whose decimal representations consist exclusively of the digit 1 are repunit numbers. The (n + 1)-digit repunit number R(n) equals (10^(n + 1) – 1)/9. It's easy to see that R(n) can be a prime only if n + 1 is a prime; for n + 1 = jk, the number R(n) will be divisible by (10^k – 1)/9. The first repunit prime is 11, corresponding to n = 1. Then, we run out of luck, as: R(2) = 111 = 3 × 37; R(4) = 11,111 = 41 × 271; R(6) = 1,111,111 = 239 × 4649; ... We don't hit other primes, until we get to n = 18, 22, 316, 1030. Despite the fact that we know of only 5 examples, it is conjectured that there are infinitely many repunit primes. The diagram, which plots the first 5 repunit primes and two "probable primes," shows the intuition behind the conjecture. (Note: Please correct "verses" to "versus" in the diagram.)
Fun fact: So, we don't have any prime numbers with decimal reprsentations consisting of the digit 9 only. But the prime number 10^6400 – 10^6352 – 1, discovered by Harvey Dubner in 1991, comes close. Of its 6400 digits, 6399 are 9s and one is 8.

2021/06/13 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mount Recyclemore: Sculpture made of e-waste, located on Sandy Acres in Cornwall, UK Statue of Alan Turing, a brilliant British mathematician A few photos from Saturday's family gathering at my sister's (1) Images of the day: [Left] Mount Recyclemore: Located on Sandy Acres in Cornwall, UK, the sculpture made of e-waste is meant to send a message to G7 summit attendees meeting nearby. [Center] Statue of Alan Turing, a brilliant British mathematician (see the last item below). [Right] A few photos from Saturday's family gathering at my sister's, where my nephew, his wife, and his two sons were visiting.
(2) How Christians can read the same Bible, pray to the same God, but vote for different parties: An enlightening review of Democratic and Republican politics in the South. [15-minute video]
(3) Since when has bipartisanship become important to the Republicans and a couple of Democrats? Where were these people when massive tax-cut-for-the-1% was passed with no Democratic vote? Don't tell me bipartisanship becomes important only when bills to help the 99% are discussed!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Netanyahu is finally out: Like Trump, he question the election result and says he'll be back!
- Judge upholds Houston Methodist Hospital's mandate that all employees be vaccinated for COVID-19.
- One of the best musicals ever? Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In the Heights" movie comes out to rave reviews.
- COVID-19 led to children returning to live with their parents and celebrities re-uniting with their exes!
- Facebook memory from June 13, 2019: Children do not recognize racial differences. [Photos]
- Facebook memory from June 13, 2010: A dozen technical books by my late father, Salem Parhami. [Photo]
(5) "Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy": Why were so many of Broadway's hit musicals written by Jews? Were Jews particularly talented musically or did they gravitate to the one place where Jewish immigrants were welcome and could contribute? [83-minute video]
(6) To MAGA folk: You were so busy worrying about socialism taking away your freedom that you didn't notice crony capitalism stealing your pension, sending your job overseas, taking away your health care, shrinking your educational opportunities, and burdening you with debt!
(7) An AR-15 bullet does so much more damage to the body than a handgun bullet: This "60 Minutes" report explains the "inner explosion" caused by a tumbling bullet vs. a straight-through one. #BanAssaultWeapons
(8) Of interest to haters: Alan Turing, who helped found modern computer science and also saved an estimated 14-21 million lives by his work on breaking Germans' secret communications codes during World War II, was driven to suicide after he was forced to undergo chemical castration as a punishment for his homosexuality. The British government has since apologized for its actions and has done everything to honor the brilliant scientist. Association for Computing Machinery, a leading professional society in computer science, has named its most-prestigious technical award, often referred to as the Nobel Prize of Computing, after Turing.

2021/06/12 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Persepolis, as it stood 2500 years ago in central Iran, and its ruins today For book lovers: Running out of places to keep books at home? Here are some steps you can take! Cover image of David Harvey's 'A Brief History of Neoliberalism' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Persepolis, as it stood 2500 years ago in central Iran, and its ruins today. [Center] For book lovers: Running out of places to keep books at home? Here are some steps you can take! [Right] Cover image of A Brief History of Neoliberalism (see the last item below).
(2) Trump's DoJ obtained phone & e-mail records of several Democratic congressional leaders and their families under the guise of probing leaks: The investigations revealed no wrong-doing, yet Apple was prevented by a gag order from informing those whose records were subpoenaed. This Executive Branch over-reach, about which more information is expected soon, makes Nixon's "enemies list" look like child play!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The case for prosecuting Trump: It may seem awkward, but it's necessary for preserving democracy.
- The real story of how Mossad agents stole thousands of documents about Iran's nuclear program.
- Oregon House of Representatives expels the republican who plotted Capitol incursion by the vote 59-1.
- Jeffrey Epstein maintained dossiers of damaging info on his victims to keep them quiet via blackmailing.
- Jeffrey Toobin's return to CNN is awkward: CNN should hold itself to the same standards it uses for others.
- The GOP kills the "The Paycheck Fairness Act," a bill targeting pay inequality between men and women.
(4) Book review: Harvey, David, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, unabridged audiobook, read by Clive Chafer, Oxford University Press, 2007. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at City University New York, presents brief, yet all-encompassing and highly-readable overview of the political-economy doctrine known as neoliberalism. Harvey isn't a dispassionate observer, but definitely takes sides in condemning neoliberalism as a source of what ails today's world.
Liberalism and conservatism are the two poles in today's American and world politics. Liberals promote individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, free enterprise, and respect for behavior or opinions different from one's own, while conservatives favor free enterprise, private ownership, and traditional values (including religious beliefs), often opposing change and innovation. Note that free enterprise is a hallmark of both liberalism and conservatism. "Neoliberalism is distinct from liberalism insofar as it does not advocate laissez-faire economic policy but instead is highly constructivist and advocates a strong state to bring about market-like reforms in every aspect of society" [Wikipedia]. We also have neoconservatism, which is a different beast!
Neoliberals maintain that a free market can provide a level of prosperity and progress that is unachievable by planning, so the government's role must be severely limited. Regulations, price controls, trade barriers, and collective bargaining are to be avoided at all cost. Everything, even public services, should be privatized. Neoliberalism doesn't consist only of economic imperatives, but includes a moral component, which is the primary source of its dangers.
Key terms for neoliberals are "individualism" and "personal responsibility." If you are unemployed, homeless, uninsured, or lack higher education, there must be something wrong with you. Structural unemployment does not exist. Housing, healthcare, and education are not rights, but privileges that must be earned. Once the tenets of neoliberalism were formulated by European liberal scholars in the 1930s, it found promoters and supporters among the wealthy.
Roots of neoliberalism in the US can be traced back to the late-1970s (the Carter administration), when deregulation trends began. It is somewhat ironic that the most-prominent icons of neoliberalism, that is, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Alan Greenspan, are also heroes of conservatism. Among Democratic politicians, Bill Clinton is said to have been a neoliberal, who negotiated NAFTA and pursued aggressive deregulation, although he ditched some aspects of the ideology, where it overlapped with neoconservatism.
Small government is one of the lures of neoliberalism, but it does not materialize in practice, given that the government always bails out rich, powerful institutions when they get in trouble. So personal responsibility is preached for individuals, whereas speculation and reckless corporate behavior is tolerated or even rewarded. It is for these reasons that some former cheerleaders of neoliberalism are now sounding the alarm on worsening economic conditions and deterioration of social justice.

2021/06/11 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The Boroumand sisters of Iran: All four are artists (Marzieh, Ehteram, Razieh, Tahereh) Math puzzle: What is tan(α) in the quarter-circle diagram shown? Cover image of the book 'A Mind at Play' about the life of Claude Shannon (1) Images of the day: [Left] The Boroumand sisters of Iran: All four are artists (Marzieh, Ehteram, Razieh, Tahereh). [Center] Math puzzle: What is tan(α) in the quarter-circle diagram shown? [Right]
(2) Each year, between 375 and 450 Iranian women are killed by their kin, based on family "honor" and other misguided notions: Here is the latest victim, a woman set on fire by her fiance in Saqqez, Kurdistan Province. COVID-related mental-health problems have played a role in Iran's rising femicide rate.
(3) "Human: The World Within": This is the title of a Netflix docuseries, whose six 52-minute episodes are entitled "React," "Pulse," "Fuel," "Defend," "Sense," and "Birth."
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Nigeria's government bans Twitter, after the social-media giant banned its president for violating rules.
- National Geographic adds a fifth ocean: The Southern Ocean is the body of water encircling Antarctica.
- Iranian film director, playwright, and comedian Parviz Kardan [1937-2021] passed away in Los Angeles.
- Zahid Quraishi, the first Muslim-American federal judge in US history, confirmed by the Senate.
- Facebook memory from June 11, 2016: My message on the occasion of my daughter's college graduation.
- Facebook memory from June 11, 2013: The puzzle of women supporting Iran's misogynistic regime.
- Facebook memory from June 11, 2011: On 1D, 2D, 4D, 8D numbers (real, complex, quaternion, octonion).
(5) Book review: Soni, Jimmy and Rob Goodman, A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, Unabridged audiobook, read by Jonathan Yen, Tantor Audio, 2017.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I read a 1938 Trans. AIEE paper based on Claude Shannon's MIT master's thesis, "A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits," when I was writing my own MS thesis at Oregon State University in the spring of 1970. I remember being awed by its importance and brilliance, and feeling unsure about my own contributions! I went on to publish my thesis in IEEE Trans. Computers (Vol. 21, April 1972), motivated, in part, by Shannon's publication of his master's research.
Claude Shannon [1916-2001] began as a small-town Michigan boy and garnered recognition as the father of information theory, having started the field with A Mathematical Theory of Communication. The book chronicles the development of this seminal work, Shannon's most-important technical contribution, and describes the relationship of the oft-reclusive Shannon with his contemporary scientists/engineers such as Vannevar Bush, Albert Einstein, Kurt Godel, Irwin M. Jacobs, Thomas Kailath, Leonard Kleinrock, Lawrence Roberts, Alan Turing, and John von Neumann.
Shannon's talents and skills were honed in two of the world's most-prestigious institutions, MIT and the "idea factory" of Bell Labs. He wrote his seminal work on communication at the age of 32, gaining enough fame and prestige to become one of those scientists/engineers who can work on any problem they desire, setting their own agendas and not having to worry about what superiors wanted from or thought of them. Late in life, he became afflicted with Alzheimer's and was confined to a nursing home.
Much of the book's focus is on Shannon's personality quirks and playfulness, including his interests in tinkering, unicycling, juggling, chess, and roulette, for which he had built a wearable computer to help him improve his odds of winning. I highly recommend this well-researched and nicely-written book.

2021/06/09 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian women shown at ballot boxes Cover images for the books 'Mine!' and 'Weapons of Math Destruction' Cover image for the book 'The Pattern Seekers' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Politics and Iranian women (see the next item below). [Center & Right] Cover images of the books I pitched for the "UCSB Reads 2022" Program (see the last item below).
(2) "Women and Electoral Campaigns in Iran": This was the title of today's Zoom event with 33 attendees, featuring Professors Mona Tajali (Agnes Scott College) and Homa Hoodfar (Concordia U.). The two speakers outlined the history of women's participation in the political process, as voters and candidates, and described the ups and downs in this domain, as conservatives and reformists alternated in taking power. Unfortunately, both speakers painted an overly rosy picture of women's participation and political empowerment. Having 6% women among members of parliament (0% in both the Assembly of Experts and Council of Guardians) is hardly a cause for celebration. From time to time, an Iranian official or religious leader opines that women do not need their husband's permission to go outside the home, as if this is a major gift to women!
I continue this report with my own observations. Iranian women have more than the government/regime to worry about. Patriarchy is woven into the country's culture. This is why having a few token women in various official positions and in the Majlis actually harms women's rights, in my humble opinion. The token women allow the men in power to boast about giving positions to women who are capable. But these women aren't the most-capable or most-educated samples of Iranian women and they are, by and large, powerless in effecting change. When the regime's view of women is worse than that of the patriarchal society at large, tokenism turns into a weapon for the regime to further oppress non-conforming women.
(3) My book pitches for the "UCSB Reads 2022" Program: UCSB has kicked off its book selection process for campus and community reading in 2022. During today's meeting of the committee in charge of the selection process, I pitched two books. I learned after the meeting that my first pitch does not qualify, because one of the authors, a UCLA Professor, also has a UCSB Bren School affiliation. So, I added a third book, moving my second choice to #1.
Introducing myself: This is my second year on the "UCSB Reads" Committee. During 2020 and 2021, I tied the UCSB Reads selection to my engineering courses. This was easier for the climate-change book! I am a professor of electrical and computer engineering, specializing in computer hardware & architecture. That's my day job, about which I have written several books. Personally, I am an avid reader (mostly nonfiction), with 275 book reviews on GoodReads; I am also passionate about gender equality and racial justice, regarding which I post on Facebook & Twitter. I co-chair an allies group of UCSB faculty/staff, Men Advocating for Gender Equity (MAGE).
My first pitch: Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives (2021, 336 pages), by Michael A. Heller (Professor of real-estate law at Columbia U., author of The Gridlock Economy, and James Salzman (Professor of environmental law at UCLA, author of Drinking Water: A History, both wonderful speakers.
Ownership is one of the central notions of human societies. A good chunk of court cases and international conflicts is triggered by what we own or think we own as individuals, societal groups, and countries. Walls, barbed wires, and locks are visible artifacts of ownership. Ironically, who owns what isn't as straightforward as we might think! And this book explains why.
This is a great time to re-examine age-old concepts of ownership. We now own fairly new things, such as ideas, passwords, and data. We have also started moving toward a shared-everything economy, abandoning some forms of ownership for convenience and social good (sharing scooters/bikes, renting textbooks).
Let me end my first pitch with two quotes about this book from prominent Pulitzer-Prize-winning reviewers:
"... guide[s] you through the confusing maze of ownership disputes that bedevil our daily lives."
"... one of those rare and treasured books that make you feel smarter and change the way you see the world."
My second pitch: Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (2016, 259 pages), by Cathy O'Neil. The buzzword "big data" is everywhere and it is often pitched as wonderful and empowering. We are also bombarded on a daily basis with how "AI: artificial intelligence" and "machine learning" will solve all of our problems. Increasingly, machines are used to make decisions (or help us make decisions) on whether someone is hired, gets a bank loan, is eligible for parole, and other life-altering events.
Weapons of Math Destruction, which ties together many contemporary issues about the dangers of data accumulation and surveillance, is a necessary book for all of us, as we deal with the marketing of our private data, whether stolen or obtained consensually via obscure user-agreements. We just had the UC data breach, and we read daily about hacking and ransomware.
The only reason I am pitching Weapons of Math Destruction second is that it's a few years old (2016). The author, Cathy O'Neil, runs the mathbabe.org blog and is a seasoned speaker. The 86-minute documentary film "Coded Bias" is based on this book. There are newer books warning us about the dangers of data concentration. For example, there's the 2019 book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, which I like even more, but it is nearly 700 pages long. O'Neil's book is highly accessible and at 259 pages, not daunting to the casual reader.
My third pitch: The Pattern Seekers: How Autism Drives Human Invention (2020, 270 pages). It's difficult to take the brother of the comic-actor who plays "Borat" seriously, but Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University is a genuine, indeed distinguished, psychologist. In this book, Baron-Cohen argues that autism has played a key role in human progress for many millennia, because the same genes that cause autism enable pattern-seeking, a crucial element of invention and innovation.
Around 85,000 years ago, hominids developed the brain power to use if-and-then logic, which vastly increased their inventiveness. As a case in point, agriculture took root when our ancestors noticed that if a seed falls in moist soil and the sun shines on it, then the seed will sprout. Once something like basic agriculture was invented, a refinement mechanism took over and allowed even greater achievements. For example, adding "and I water it when there is no rain" led to better results, as did "and I remove weeds."
This book instills in us greater appreciation for our autistic fellow human-beings and impresses the point that it is indeed in our self-interest to ensure expanded opportunities for them to contribute. [45-minute book talk]

2021/06/08 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Colors of nature: Tomato varieties from around the world and potato varieties that grow in Peru Artist at work in Esfahan's copper market, built in Iran's Safavid era, some 400 years ago How Persian has influenced Arabic: Exerpt from a 1945 article by Saeed Nafisi
S. B. Divya, an engineer moonlighting as sci-fi writer Inspirations for the QR code (image from IEEE Spectrum magazine, June 2021 issue) This nameless woman on Twitter claims she can 'make all your dreams come true.' No subtlety at all! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Colors of nature: Tomato varieties from around the world and potato varieties that grow in Peru. [Top center] Iranian arts and crafts: Artist at work in Esfahan's copper market, built in the Safavid era, some 400 years ago. [Top right] How Persian has influenced Arabic: Much has been written about Arabic's impact on Persian. In reality, the impact goes both ways, as seen in this excerpt from a 1945 article by Saeed Nafisi (1895-1966). [Bottom left] Engineers have a habit of turning sci-fi ideas into reality: S. B. Divya, an engineer moonlighting as sci-fi writer, turns the flow in the other direction. [Bottom center] Inspirations for the QR code: According to its inventors, the QR (quick-response) code's design was inspired by skyscrapers and the game of Go. Invented in 1994, the code is finding widespread applications in our modern society, because it overcomes limitations of UPC (universal product code). (Source: IEEE Spectrum magazine, June 2021 issue) [Bottom right] This nameless woman on Twitter claims she can "make all your dreams come true." No subtlety!
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Death toll still rising: At least 62 have died in the head-on collision of two trains in Pakistan.
- Global organized-crime sting results in hundreds of arrests around the world.
- A team of US federal agents has successfully recovered part of the ransom paid by Colonial Pipeline.
- Police in London, Ontario, Canada: The truck attack that killed a Muslim family was planned.
- Massive network failure affects Amazon, Reddit, Twitter, and Twitch.
- When COVID-19 stay-at-home orders went into effect in various US states (March & April 2020). [Chart]
- In two days, four women have been murdered by their kin in the Iranian provinces of Ilam & Kermanshah.
- USA wins the Concacaf Nations Cup by beating Mexico 3-2 in a wild extra-time final match. [Highlights]
- Life imitates art: "Contagion" is a 2011 virus thriller predicting the COVID-19 pandemic. [5-minute video]
- A challenge for some: How do you convey to others that you're vaccinated and not a maskless jerk?
(3) Bipartisan US Senate report points to security & intelligence failures as leading to Jan. 6 insurrection: Actually, lies and incitement led to the event. The said failures allowed it to succeed, at least in part.
(4) "Women and Elections in Iran: Does it Matter?" Zoom event, featuring Profs. Homa Hoodfar (Concordia U.) and Mona Tajali (Agnes Scott College), Wednesday, June 9, 2021, 1:00 PM PDT. [Free Registration]
(5) How can Republicans simultaneously hold these two beliefs? (1) China intentionally created a dangerous, airborne virus that has killed 600,000 Americans. (2) I refuse to wear a mask.
(6) "Shannon Meets Coronavirus": Subtitle of the article "Infectious Disease Transmission via Aerosol Propagation from a Molecular Communication Perspective," in IEEE Communications magazine, June 2021.

2021/06/07 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of IEEE Spectrum magazine's June 2021 issue Kudos to Vogue for putting Malala, instead of the typical supermodel, on its cover! Cover image of IEEE Computer magazine's May 2021 issue (computing for autonomy)
Memories: Images from my June 7 Facebook posts of years past Cartoon: Senator Joe Manchin preserves the filibuster Photos from my Sunday, June 6, walk in Goleta's Girsh Park (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Vaccines go electric: This is the theme of IEEE Spectrum magazine's cover story for June 2021, featuring Inovio's Senior VP of R&D Kate Broderick, who works on electroporation, a method to sneak a DNA vaccine into cells. [Top center] Kudos to Vogue for putting Malala, instead of the typical supermodel, on its cover! [Top right] Computing requirements for autonomy: autonomous systems require responsiveness under heavy computational load, low power consumption, and resilience. The cover feature of IEEE Computer magazine's May 2021 issue deals with notions that facilitate the attainment of the three key properties above. [Bottom left] Memories: Images from my June 7 Facebook posts of years past. The young woman is vocalist Elnaz Abedini. [Bottom center] Cartoon: Senator Joe Manchin preserves the filibuster. [Bottom right] My Sunday, June 6, walk in Goleta: As I passed through Girsh park, I was delighted to see that people have returned to the basketball courts, where I ran into my son, shooting hoops. Many planes taking off and landing also beckoned a gradual return to normal, after 15 months of near-total isolation.
(2) A federal judge declares California's ban on assault weapons unconstitutional: This case will likely open the floodgates of challenges to state gun laws, with most cases likely ending up at the US Supreme Court.
(3) On Iran's June 18 presidential election: Here is a report on the first televised debate among Iran's seven presidential candidates, five of whom are Khamenei stooges and two "moderates" with no realistic chance of being elected. They tear into each other and criticize Rouhani & his government, two weeks before voting.
(4) The next world region(s) for perpetual global conflicts: The Middle East has seen many hard & soft wars over oil. There is general agreement that within a few decades, water will replace oil as a precious world commodity, over which international and regional wars may be waged.
In the case of Iran, there are ongoing border disputes over water with several neighbors. Kaveh Madani, an environmental-policy and water-resources-management specialist, has predicted that Iran (which he characterizes at a water-bankrupt nation) will face internal strife among its provinces or even among neighboring townships and villages, over water rights.
So, where are water-rich areas in the world where Middle-East-like conflicts are likely to materialize? According to WorldAtlas, the top 15 countries in terms of renewable freshwater resources are (most to least): Brazil, Russia, USA, Canada, China, Colombia, EU (listed as a country), Indonesia, Peru, India, Congo, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nigeria. The amount of freshwater in these countries ranges from ~1 to ~8 km^3.
Consider first the three perennial powers: Russia, USA (which may be considered as a single block with Canada, much like the EU), China. Russia and USA are oil-rich and will keep their powerful positions when water replaces oil as the most-important commodity. China will rise, because it has more water than oil. Being close to, and able to influence, nearby water-rich countries is also a plus for China.
Setting aside India and EU, which will likely need their water resources internally, three world areas emerge as possible exporters of water and thus subject to foreign interference: Latin America (Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela), Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar), and Central Africa (Congo, Nigeria). Of these regions, Latin America has more entries near the top of the list and, hence, a most-likely trouble spot.
[P. H. Gleick, "Water and Conflict," International Security, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 79-112, 1993]
[Kaveh Madani's 17-minute TEDx talk, "Water: Think Again" (2015)]

2021/06/06 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Excavated Stadium of Magnesia in western Turkey: Before and after Excavated Stadium of Magnesia in western Turkey: A different view Garah Ban Village (population ~122) is an important tourist site of Iran's Kermanshah Province
Colosseum-like 1800-year-old stadium, unearthed in western Turkey: Aerial view of the site Colosseum-like 1800-year-old stadium, unearthed in western Turkey: Close-up of one section Wonders of the world: Kalkata, an Italian village located on top of a volcanic cliff in North Lazio (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Excavated Stadium of Magnesia in western Turkey: It was used for running, boxing, horse-racing, and gladiator competitions 2000+ years ago. [Top right] The tiny Iranian village of Garah Ban (population ~122) known for its high-quality rose-water, is a shrine to Ahl-e haqq ("People of Truth," a sect derived from Shi'i Islam) and an important tourist site of the western province of Kermanshah. [Bottom left & center] This Colosseum-like 1800-year-old stadium, unearthed in western Turkey, is relatively well-preserved. [Bottom right] Wonders of the world: Kalkata is an Italian village located on top of a volcanic cliff in North Lazio. Its history goes back more than 3000 years, starting with the Etruscan-Faliscan civilization. The village has multi-story residences both above and below the ground.
(2) Mass shooting at _______ in ______ leaves __ dead and __ injured: My template for reporting on mass shootings, to save on the amount of daily work. This morning, it's: "graduation party," "Florida," "3," "6"
(3) Senator Joe Manchin is set to vote against the Democrats' election-overhaul bill: Great! Let hypocrite Democrats be exposed just like the Republicans by having their votes become parts of their political legacies.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Days in 2021 so far: 157; Mass-shootings in 2021 so far: 250
- Donald Trump Jr.'s Instagram post is seen as a veiled death threat against Dr. Anthony Fauci.
- I Am Not Your Asian Stereotype: In this 10-minute TEDx talk, Canwen Xu discusses her dual itentity.
- Beethoven's life story, sung to his Fifth Symphony (with Persian subtitles). [1-minute video]
- Math challenge: Prove that sin(10 degrees) is irrational. [Hint: Use the rational root theorem]
- Replicas of Noah's ark: Several replicas exist around the world and they are being used as museums.
(5) Spooky: Magnitude-5.3 quake rattled much of Southern California on Saturday 6/05 morning. There have been ~600 shakers in the area over the past couple of days, with only a handful registering above 4.0.
(6) Notable women in STEM: IEEE Mildred Dresselhaus Medal recipient Kristina Johnson has big plans as President of Ohio State University. Before her current position, she was the first female dean of engineering at Duke University, the first female provost at Johns Hopkins University, and the first woman to receive the John Fritz Medal from the American Association of Engineering Societies.
(7) An impossible deadline to meet: In a 3-page letter published in a tweet, Marjorie Taylor Greene has given President Biden until June 31, 2021, to investigate Dr. Anthony Fauci's lies about the origins of coronavirus. I guess the extra day in June is meant to make up for the elimination of January 6 from GOP's memory!
(8) Is confidential cloud computing an oxymoron? It had better not be! We rely more and more on cloud resources, so achieving data privacy and confidentiality in the cloud is important to the future of computing. In "Toward Confidential Cloud Computing" (CACM, June 2021; reprinted from ACM Quueue), Mark Russinovich and others discuss some of the hardware and software requirements for achieving this goal.

2021/06/05 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Zoom gathering, with a talk about matching subjects and verbs in Persian Math puzzle: What is the ratio of the area of the outer hexagon to the area of the inner hexagon? A donut glossary and a historical chart for cookies (1) Images of the day: [Left] Zoom gathering, with a talk about matching subjects and verbs in Persian (see the last item below). [Center] Math puzzle: What is the ratio of the area of the outer hexagon to the area of the inner hexagon? [Right] Do you know your donuts & cookies? A donut glossary & a historical chart for cookies.
(2) Mistreatment of people of Afghan origins in Iran: If you want to see apartheid in the Middle East, look no further than Iran, where the jobs you can hold are determined by your ethnicity, religion, and gender. The story of an Afghan young man, a student at Sharif University of Technology, who achieved first rank in Iran's Math Olympiad, but who is not allowed to hold a teaching job. [FB post in Persian]
(3) To former VP Mike Pence: You can't be proud both of what you did on January 6 and what your boss & you did in the lead-up to January 6! You have ruined your political career by your actions and inaction. [Cartoon]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Venus exploration on the horizon: NASA is planning two missions between 2028 and 2030 to study Venus.
- EU to facilitate post-pandemic life with a digital ID wallet: An app to hold credentials & personal records.
- UCSB's on-line commencement, Sat., June 12, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT. Oprah will be the keynote speaker.
- Explain this magic trick: Content of a smaller glass fills two bigger glasses, with some of it left over.
- The adjective for metal is metallic, but not for iron, . . . which is ironic.
- Cartoon caption of the day: Store clerk to buyer: "Two Math for Dummies at $16.99 each. That'll be $50."
- Joke: To help me decide whether I should become an athlete or a criminal, I made a list of pros and cons.
- Quotable: "When you betray someone, you also betray yourself." ~ Nobel Laureate Isaac B. Singer
- Quotable: "Much of pain that we deal with are really only thoughts." ~ Anonymous
- Facebook memory from June 5, 2012: My 4-star review of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion.
(5) Arts & culture return to the White House: The Bidens will be hosting the 2021 Kennedy Center honorees (Dick Van Dyke, Joan Baez, Debbie Allen, Midori, and Garth Brooks) at the White House.
(6) "Matching of Subjects and Verbs in Persian": This was the title of today's talk by Kazem Kardavani, as part of the gatherings of Tehran University College of Engineering's Class of 1968 (Fanni '68).
According to Persian grammar, when a singular/plural subject is animate, the verb should match it ("daanesh-aamoozaan aamadand"; plural subject, plural verb), but for plural inanimate subjects, singular form of the verb should be used ("barnaameh-haa-ye mokhtalefi ejraa shod"; plural subject, singular verb). There are certain exceptions, however, which make the discussion complicated. For example, a writer may personify inanimate subjects for emphasis or literary effect ("mowj-haa ghorridand"; "the waves roared"). This is a long story, and there is much disagreement on proper usage. To make things even more complicated, poets and literary writers tend to break linguistic molds, earning praise instead of condemnation! [Images and Persian abstract]

2021/06/04 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Abarkuh Cypress, the oldest tree in Iran, located in Yazd, is thought to be 4500 years old A large number of electric cars being charged in 1917 Painting by my artist friend, Kamran Khavarani, cropped into square format (1) Images of the day: [Left] Abarkuh Cypress, the oldest tree in Iran, is thought to be 4500 years old. The tree does not appear on the list of world's oldest trees with verified ages. It does appear, however, as the third entry among old trees of the world with estimated ages. [Center] The oil lobby killed the electric car more than a century ago (photo from 1917). The powerful lobby is still continuing to oppose efforts to phase out fossil fuels. [Right] Painting by my artist friend, Kamran Khavarani, cropped into square format.
(2) Senior capstone project presentations: Today, I spent much of my time watching year-end presentations in computer engineering (AM) and EE/ME (PM). Click on links for descriptions, team members, and demos.
(3) Supersonic passenger jets are coming back: Nearly two decades after Concorde's retirement, Boom Supersonic is receiving orders for its Overture aircraft flying twice as fast as current passenger planes.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Race is a relatively new notion: How the invention of "whiteness" in the 17th century reshaped our world.
- Movies are back: Looking forward to watching some new movies in theaters this summer!
- Comedian Trevor Noah's 20-minute compilation of Fox News hypocrisy.
- A documentary about Ebrahim Raisi, the front-runner in Iran's presidential election.
- Cartoon of the day: Republicans want to move past January 6, 2021, and onto November 3, 2020! [Image]
- Baby names becoming less popular over the past few years: Karen, Donald, Alexa. Easy to guess why!
- Sayeh Eghtesadinia, researcher, literary critic, and editor, featured as an "inspiring Iranian."
- Persian music: Shahkar Bineshpajooh's concert. [Part 1, 38 minutes] [Part 2, 56 minutes]
- Facebook memory from June 4, 2016: My 5-star review of Shaun Nichols's Free Will and Determinism.
- Facebook memory from June 4, 2011: My 5-star review of Lynn Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves.
(5) "The Clash of Ideologies on Persian Twitter": This is the title of a 22-page working paper by Pooya Azadi of Stanford U. and Mohsen B. Mesgaran of UC Davis, who aim to "provide a data-driven analysis of the Persian Twittersphere from a political perspective to demonstrate how the balance of power in the battle of ideas and ideologies has evolved over time, both in numeric terms and qualitatively."
(6) US housing market's death spiral: A normal housing market is driven by a large number of trade-ups (as incomes and family sizes grow) and trade-downs (empty-nesters, cash-out for supplementing income in retirement). When prices go up while incomes stagnate, people cannot afford to trade up, so they spend money on renovations and expansions. Dearth of trade-ups also makes trading down difficult. With supply dwindling, prices rise further due to competition among buyers, thus worsening the problem. [CA housing price chart]
(7) Final thought for the day: Now that I have been through an actual plague, I totally understand why Italian Renaissance paintings are full of naked fat people laying on couches.

2021/06/03 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Walking along Santa Barbara's Modoc Road: A brand new bike path Cartoon: 'Understanding Computers for Dummies' and 'Understanding Dummies for Computers'! Walking along Santa Barbara's Modoc Road: An architecturally interesting site
Walking today on the side streets of Santa Barbara, between Mission Street and downtown: Batch 1 of photos Throwback Thursday: Two photos from ~70 years ago Walking today on the side streets of Santa Barbara, between Mission Street and downtown: Batch 2 of photos (1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] Walking along Santa Barbara's Modoc Road on Wednesday 6/02: Before a dinner meeting at Meet Up Restaurant, I walked a couple of miles along Modoc Road, where I discovered a beautiful, almost-completed bike path. I was also impressed by the Emanuel Lutheran Church. [Top center] Cartoon of the day: Understanding Computers for Dummies and Understanding Dummies for Computers! [Bottom left & right] Walking today on the side streets of Santa Barbara, between Mission Street and downtown. [Bottom center] Throwback Thursday: Two photos from ~70 years ago. Four uncles, an aunt, and a couple of cousins appear in the photos, alongside my parents and me. The chadors remain a mystery!
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Justice served after 5 years: Notorious California child sex-abuser found guilty on 52 counts.
- Facebook memory from June 2, 2020: Main Kurdish dialects are Kurmanji, Sorani, & Pehlewani (Xwarig).
- Facebook memory from June 2, 2019: Graffiti on wall along Tehran's Vali-asr Street. [Photo]
- Facebook memory from June 2, 2017: "Behind the Veil: Women's Rights in Iran," a conversation at UCLA.
- Facebook memory from June 2, 2015: Women with & without the hijab coexisted peacefully in 1970s Iran.
- Facebook memory from June 2, 2011: My 5-star review of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea.
- Facebook memory from June 3, 2015: My 4-star review of David Sedaris's Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls.
- Facebook memory from June 3, 2015: My 4-star review of David Sedaris's Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.
- Facebook memory from June 3, 2014: My 3-star review of Steven Colbert's America Again.
- Facebook memory from June 3, 2011: My 5-star review of M. Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success.
(3) IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Mr. Momin Quddus (MSEE, PE) will talk under the title "Bitcoin, Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, in Simple Terms," on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, 6:30 PM. [Free registration]
(4) Force of nature: This 2020 landslide in Norway took eight houses into the sea. Watch, in particular, the journey of the big 2-storey white house, as it ends up in the water, pretty much intact. [2-minute video]
(5) Iran's largest warship, built by Britain in 1977, burns and sinks in Gulf of Oman: A day of firefighting efforts could not save the vessel. Twenty of the 400 sailors on board were injured. Cause of the fire is unknown.
(6) Bye-bye Bibi: It appears likely that the Israeli parliament will approve a proposed coalition government, thus ending Netanyahu's long reign after today's vote.
(7) COVID-19 vaccinations at UCSB: In today's meeting of the UCSB Faculty Legislature, it was revealed that 64% of our current students are fully vaccinated; another 8% have gotten the first dose.
(8) This morning, I received word that Facebook has removed the following post of mine, because "it goes against community standards": Seems like Facebook's AI cannot distinguish between anti-Semitic remarks and reporting on such remarks. To Facebook's credit, the post was reinstated minutes after I disputed the decision.
[My Facebook post of May 24, 2021] "Hitler was right": These words, or variations thereof, were tweeted 17,000 times during May 7-14, 2021. [Washington Post]

2021/06/01 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Language instruction in ancient Egypt Cartoons: Ikea water, and cat & mouse, 6-rounds vs. 9-lives Cartoon: To mock a killing bird (1) Cartoons of the day: [Left] Language instruction in ancient Egypt. "It's eye before flea, except after sea." [Center] Ikea water, and cat telling a mouse pointing a pistol at her: "Six rounds. Nine lives. You do the math." [Right] To mock a killing bird: "Oh sure—grab a defenseless fish while he isn't looking. Big tough guy!"
(2) Iran Darroudi is proud of her career as a world-renowned painter: Upon her birth, her dad asked her mom whether all the pain was worthwhile for such an ugly baby. This comment was ingrained in the family's psyche, making the vast success of this remarkable woman even sweeter. [Persian tweet, with video clip]
(3) Blame income & wealth gaps, not other poor people: Poor Americans are being persuaded to hate other poor people (undocumented immigrants, manual laborers in Asia) for causing their problems. The real cause is right here among documented Americans; the rich, many of whom don't even work for a living, and CEOs, who on average make 265 times as much as those working for them. The US has the highest CEO/worker wage ratio is the world. Politicians, who have basically ignored a 10-fold increase in CEO pay over the past four decades, ring alarm bells for measly increases in the minimum wage!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- America's Afghan allies are worried about their fates after US forces depart.
- Drone operation around UCSB campus: UCSB is adjacent to Santa Barbara Airport, so restrictions apply.
- Hoping that someday we'll care about known soldiers as much as we say we do about unknown ones.
- One more cartoon: Iran's Guardians Council starts the presidential race. [Image]
- Let p(x) be a polynomial with integer coefficients. If p(0) = 17 and p(n) = n^2 for some integer n, what is n?
- Facebook memory from June 1, 2011: Human beings are wired for optimism. [Facebook essay]
(5) Telling it like it is: Mostafa Tajzadeh, one of the disqualified candidates in Iran's presidential election, says that one cannot run a country by having a Supreme Leader who issues unrealistic guidelines for the government, without being accountable for the resulting failures. [5-minute video]
(6) State of UCSB's College of Engineering: During this morning's annual college-wide faculty meeting, Dean Rod Alferness and Associate Dean Glenn Beltz presented information about the state of the College and important events over the past two years (the annual meeting was cancelled last year). Despite challenges in the past 1.5 years, the College is healthy in terms of student recruitment, faculty hiring (including improved diversity in both domains), research funding & contributions, and student/faculty awards & honors. [Images]
(7) Today's political puzzle: Why did the Republicans who claimed Antifa and the radical left were behind the January 6 Capitol riot not want an independent commission to confirm their theory?
(8) Disappointment, without action to remove its cause, means nothing: Just as Republican Senator Susan Collins once went ahead and voted with her GOP peers, despite expressing "disappointment" with the process, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is also doing nothing after being "disappointed" with the GOP for its defeat of the proposal for an independent commission to investigate the roots of the 1/06 insurrection.

2021/05/31 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
On this US Memorial Day, we honor the memory of those who fell to protect our freedom: Meme On this US Memorial Day, we honor the memory of those who fell to protect our freedom: Mourning spouse Cover image of Trevor Noah's 'Born a Crime' (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] On this US Memorial Day, we honor the memory of those who fell to protect our freedom: Behind each loss or injury is a person, with interests/aspirations; a loved one to many. Kissing and hugging the flag and wrapping our misguided policies in it are cheap. Doing something tangible for our veterans, including attending to their health-care needs & protecting them from predatory private colleges that mislead them and milk their educational benefits, would be priceless. [Right] Cover image of Trevor Noah's memoir, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (see the last item below).
(2) Quote of the day: "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." ~ Mark Twain
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Inverted democracy in the US (Senate vote on the 1/06 Commission): Yea 54. Nay 35. The nays have it!
- The Texas voting-restrictions bill fails, for now, as Democratic legislators stage a walk-out.
- Happy birthday to Nasrin Sotoudeh, a free-thinker & equality-seeker, who is again behind bars on her BD!
- The largest chalk-art project in Santa Barbara I Madonnari Festival's 35-year history is on KEYT's patio.
- Facebook memory from May 30, 2011: Persian poem commemorating the first Parhami Family Reunion.
- Facebook memory from May 30, 2010: On-line source for creating Persian texts in the Nastaliq script.
(4) Book review: Noah, Trevor, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, One World, 2016.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Trevor Noah is one of the smartest comedians around. His sociopolitical commentaries, though framed as comedy routines, contain many astute observations. So, I looked forward to reading this memoir, whose title alludes to Trevor's mixed-race parents (his dad, Robert, of Swiss-German ancestry; his mom, Patricia, a South-African Xhosa). And I wasn't disappointed.
This story of survival is as much about Trevor as Patricia. Some have characterized Trevor's book as a love letter to his mother, a courageous and resourceful woman, who defied social norms to secure an education and shape a career for herself. It is a nuanced account of growing up in South Africa in the apartheid era, where each person was assigned a race label that determined his/her rights and privileges. The writing is at once powerful, honest, and witty.
Trevor's mother, a religious woman, went to three different churches on Sundays. He and his mother once escaped Zulu men, intent on inflicting harm, by outrunning them. Noah's father was pretty much absent from his life, as he was growing up. But Noah remembers his interactions with his dad fondly, characterizing him as fun, kind, and a source of comfort. By contrast, his stepfather was an epitome of fear and abuse, who eventually shot his mother in the head.
When Trevor, his black mother, and his white dad ventured outside, Patricia would wear a maid's uniform to justify her presence, without getting in trouble. Despite his fond memories of his dad, Trevor was raised and influenced by women: Mom, grandmother, and aunts. Having grown up poor and always going hungry, Patricia had developed skills to keep her children well-fed. Trevor was a naughty boy who always got in trouble, so much so that he was given the nickname "Terror," which sounded like "Trevor." He once caused a house to burn down. When Trevor was 24, his mom told him to go look for his dad.
Romantically, Trevor, quite shy with girls, had at least two heartbreaks. His first girlfriend left him for another man. Later, Trevor hesitated to act with another girl he liked, before she moved away. In time, he learned that being rejected is better than regretting inaction later. Despite being colored, Trevor got opportunities to hang out with white kids, but to no avail, because, even though he was their intellectual peer, he couldn't keep up with them in terms of spending.
Trevor later tried music, DJ-ing in particular, to earn a living. He was also part of a dance group (formed to teach dance moves for the unusual music he played), which included a guy named "Hitler." When his group performed at a Jewish school, Noah realized that putting the spotlight on his friend and shouting "Go Hitler," with their hands pumping in the air, wasn't a smart idea.
Not surprisingly, Noah eventually ended up in jail, where he found out that just pretending to be tough wasn't enough. He tried to ask friends, rather than his mother, for help, but it was his mother who eventually bailed him out. She was the epitome of unconditional love.
Racism was everywhere in Trevor's life. He navigated this racist world by using his knowledge of languages and his education. He credits his mom for guiding him through his life and instilling in him a sense of humor that helped him rise from a hustler to a rich, successful TV performer in the US. Five-star ratings are rare on Amazon.com, especially ones based on 34,000+ customer reviews, but this is just what Born a Crime has garnered. Well deserved, indeed!

2021/05/29 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Image (likely staged or manipulated): Three women, being pulled with a chain Santa Barbara Airport's terminal building Persian translations of nine literary classics: About to be distributed, according to Maryam Raeesdana
Today's lunch: Mini-pizzas, made on halved pita breads and barbari slices, with salad I can't breathe: Words uttered during brutal arrest of an 18-year-old rapper in Borazjan, Iran Images from history of coffee in the East (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Chained women: This photo is likely staged or manipulated. But in backward patriarchal societies, the chains are there, even if they don't take physical forms. [Top center] Expansion of air travel: Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) announces the addition of direct flights to Chicago. The number of flights has picked up markedly. During my Friday afternoon walk in the vicinity of SBA, I was surprised to see one landing every 2-3 minutes. [Top right] Persian translations of nine literary classics: About to be distributed, according to Maryam Raeesdana, who translated one of the volumes (Twain's The Prince and the Pauper). [Bottom left] Lunch today: Mini-pizzas, made on halved pita breads and barbari slices, with salad. Pizza toppings are green bell peppers and seasoned ground turkey. Your place was empty! [Bottom center] Brutal arrest of an 18-year-old rapper in Borazjan, Iran: Pushed to the ground with a knee on her neck, she kept saying she couldn't breathe. [Bottom right] History of coffee in the East (see the last item below).
(2) Don't tell me the Second Amendment was meant to enable this monstrosity: The San Jose mass-shooter had an arsenal of weapons, 22,000 rounds of ammunition, and multiple gasoline canisters at his home.
(3) President Rouhani was complicit in the regime's crimes. Had no post-nuclear-deal plans. Surrendered to the Revolutionary guards. Allowed Qasem Soleimani to run unchecked. Couldn't end the decade-long house arrests. No progress on citizens' rights. Only saved his own brother from going to jail. [Persian tweet]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Cartoon caption of the day (General, chiding Alexa after nuclear launch): "No, Alexa ... I said order LUNCH!"
- Facebook memory from May 29, 2019: In condemning terrorism & murder, there should be no ifs or buts.
- Facebook memory from May 29, 2018: Appreciate those who rekindle your inner spirit.
- Facebook memory from May 29, 2016: Family reunion. One of the things we did before the pandemic!
(5) Math puzzle: All roots of the partially-specified 29th-degree polynomial x^29 – 29x^28 + ... + ax – 1 are real and positive. What is the value of the coefficient a?
(6) History of coffee: Before Starbucks coffee shops spread like wildfire in the West, coffee houses provided spaces for intellectual discourse and outlets for artists, craftsmen, poets, and performers in the East, as far back as the early-1600s. Before then, clerics had vilified coffee, equating its intoxicating properties with hashish and alcohol. Interestingly, the Yemeni port of Mocha was a focal point for the 15th-century coffee trade, receiving its supplies from the Ethiopian highlands. For details and image descriptions, see Neha Vermani's informative article "Spilling the Beans: The Islamic History of Coffee."

2021/05/28 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of Bill Nye's 2015 book, 'Unstoppable' Iran's presidents and current presidential candidates Disqualified Iranian presidential candidate, Mostafa Tajzadeh, and his family (1) Images of the day: [Left] Bill Nye's 2015 book, Unstoppable (see the last item below). [Center] Only one former president of Iran is free to appear on state-controlled media: That's the Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei. Will Hassan Rouhani be murdered like Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, join Abolhassan Banisadr as a fugitive, or sit quietly in a heavily-guarded house? Each of the seven candidates for the upcoming election hope to have better fates! [Right] Disqualified Iranian presidential candidate, Mostafa Tajzadeh: You can put me in solitary confinement again, carry out the sentences of my wife and daughter, and re-arrest my other daughter, but you can't take away our dreams! (Tajzadeh is a deputy to President Rouhani, whose administration's governing & human-rights records are quite grim. It seems that even mild criticism from an insider, loyal to the Islamic form of government, is not tolerated by the Supreme Leader and his cronies.)
(2) The Republicans block the establishment of an independent 1/06 Commission: They almost did the same with the 9/11 Commission, and would have succeeded, were it not for the efforts of victims' families.
(3) Joke of the day in Iran: America is so backward! A month after their election, they still didn't know who the next president was. We Iranians know our next president a month before the election!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Syrian President Bashar Assad has been re-elected with 95% of the vote: Let's see if Iran's Raisi can top this!
- Ranger stumbles upon major pre-historic fossil discovery, one of the largest in California history.
- Young female rapper brutally arrested in Borazjan, Iran: Shades of George Floyd, but with no protests!
- The Swan Project: Inspired by Yo Yo Ma, 24 cellists create this 5-minute international performance.
- Persian music: Solo tar performance of a patriotic song, with the ruins of Persepolis in the background.
(5) Dr. Leah Stokes on PBS: On the eve of three monumental developments involving the fossil fuel industry, my UCSB colleague is interviewed about the significance of the new legal verdicts and shareholder revolts.
- A Dutch court rules that Shell must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions at least 45% by 2030.
- An Australian court rules that the government must consider climate impacts in project approvals.
- Shareholders rebuke Exxon & Chevron, for dragging their feet on climate-change action.
(6) Book review: Nye, Bill, Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World, unabridged audiobook, read by the author, Macmillan Audio, 2015. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Bill Nye ("The Science Guy") is best known for his 1990s PBS children's science series and advocacy of STEM education. I was hesitant at first to peruse yet another book on climate change, but I ended up learning much from Nye's take on the crisis, which comes with a great deal of scientific information, peppered with his trademark humor. Before bringing his attention to climate change, Nye had written a book about evolution (Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation), another sphere of political bickering and science-bashing.
Nye was trained as an engineer, so his brand of science comes with a thirst for tinkering. Nye's own home is a kind of laboratory, where he experiments with various approaches to becoming "greener." Describing his efforts in this area as "keeping up with the Joneses," referring to one of his neighbors who is also a green-home freak, Nye tells us about renewable energy options and how to reduce our footprint on Earth, without forgoing the spoils of technology.
The "Unstoppable" of the title refers both to the irreversible nature of global warming (a term that has been superseded by the broader "climate change" that's harder to mock by bringing a snowball on the US Senate floor) and the endless talents of innovators, entrepreneurs, engineers, and hard-workers among us. We need not accept that half of our energy is consumed by transportation and that two-thirds of the energy we put in our cars goes to waste through tailpipes.
Writing in his usual upbeat style, Nye strikes hopeful notes, while acknowledging that the problems are serious and in part irreversible. He also does a wonderful job of debunking some of the most-persistent myths about climate change. The book's 35 chapters deal with various sources of renewable energy, energy-storage options, the future of transportation, opportunities for us to become a new "Greatest Generation," political battles, and dealing with climate-change deniers.

2021/05/27 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Tehran nostalgia: The 1400-seat Radio City Cinema built in 1958 Cover image of 'Dark Matter,' a sci-fi novel by Blakd Crouch Photographing seabirds as they flew overhead during my afternoon stroll on Wednesday, May 26 (1) Images of the day: [Left] Tehran nostalgia: The 1400-seat Radio City Cinema, designed by modernist architect Heydar Ghiai-Chamlou, was built in 1958 on Pahlavi (later, Vali Asr) Avenue, between Takht-e Jamshid Street and Elizabeth II Blvd. It offered the ultimate luxury for its day, and was a prominent meeting place for youth and intellectuals. Because of large glass windows in front, one could see the waiting area and the spiral staircase leading to the balcony section from outside. [Center] Cover image of Dark Matter, a sci-fi novel by Blake Crouch (see the last item below). [Right] Photographing seabirds as they flew overhead during my afternoon stroll along the southern edge of UCSB (on Wednesday, May 26). I have quite a few photos of only the beautiful blue sky, having missed the fast-flying birds during many attempts.
(2) World Music Institute webinar: Las Cafeteras, a celebrated Chicano band out of East LA known for their blend of joyous, multi-faceted music and incisive social consciousness, were joined by Juan Dies, a fellow musician and educator from the ensemble Sones De Mexico, to talk about their music and social activism. I particularly like the band's renditions of "La Bamba" (almost mandatory for a Chicano band) and "Georgia."
(3) "Feminism and Islam" webinar: Brooklyn Institute for Social Research hosts a free on-line event on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, 3:30 PM PDT, which appears to be an introduction to a 4-week course costing $315.
(4) Book review: Crouch, Blake, Dark Matter: A Novel, unabridged audiobook, read by Jon Lindstrom, Random House Audio, 2016. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This best-selling novel is based on parallel universes in which multiple versions of the same individual may exist. Normally, each version is unaware of the other versions, much like a fish in water being unaware of the sky, the hills, and the trees. As you might imagine, crazy things can happen if the multiple versions are allowed to interact. I have read and reviewed Crouch's later novel, Recursion (2019), a time-travel story in which intermixing of memories from multiple "timelines" (dubbed by the media as "False Memory Syndrome") drives people mad, as they experience memories of lives they have never lived.
Jason Desson, a former research scientist, who has settled into an unexceptional college-teaching job in Chicago, is abducted one night and injected with something; he wakes up in a world different from the one in which he was happily married to Daniela and adored their son, Charlie. The rest of the story is about Jason trying to get back to his family, a task made extremely difficult by adversaries and human limitations.
A complementary thread in the story is humans wondering about roads not taken and ramifications of decisions made at key junctures in their lives. For example, Daniela sets aside her ambitions as an artist to form a family with Jason and to take care of their son, Charlie. Jason himself is a brilliant scientist in the alternate world to which he is taken, raising doubts about his decision to abandon a promising research career in favor of a low-stakes teaching job.
Unfortunately, I can't say much more, without spoiling the plot and its many twists. Like any complex plot, designed to intrigue and captivate, this one has holes in it too. Sci-fi writers have a much more difficult task selling plot absurdities to me, a scientist/engineer, but I must say that I was engrossed. Regardless of the science veneer, the story is about a decent man who is wronged and tries valiantly to get his rights back. Dark Matter is a well-written, nail-biting, and cringe-inducing sci-fi story!
P.S.: Crouch is said to have started working on a screenplay to adapt Dark Matter into a feature film (or perhaps a TV series) for Sony Pictures. He talks about his book in this 9-minute video.

2021/05/26 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
'Visions of Equity': Cover image of Time magazine's issue of May 24/31, 2021 Cartoon: Cows in Greece say mu. A father who killed his 'deviant' son, has confessed to murdering his daughter & son-in-law as well
Last night's gathering with three college buddies and their spouses: Photos 3 & 4 Last night's gathering with three college buddies and their spouses: Photo 1 Women in Kabul, Afghanistan, 1972 vs. 2013 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] "Visions of Equity": This is the title of Time magazine's cover feature in the issue of May 24/31, 2021. Long and short essays, spanning a total of 35 pages, examine various aspects of the equity challenge and paths to their solutions. [Top center] Cartoon of the day: Cows in Greece. [Top right] Grim humor: A father who killed his 'deviant' son, has confessed to murdering his daughter & son-in-law as well. Authorities plan to link the killing of a number of Iranian protesters and dissidents to this man! [Bottom left & center] Last night's gathering with three college buddies and their spouses. [Bottom right] Kabul, Afghanistan, 1972 vs. 2013: Hoping for the best, particularly for Afghan women, as the Taliban regain political power.
(2) Facebook memories from May 25: Mourning vs. celebration of life, 2020; Dedication to front-line workers for their love & caring, 2020; Talented Iranian actresses, Taraneh Alidoosti & Golshifteh Farahani, 2016.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- At least eight victims and the gunman are dead in mass shooting at San Jose rail yard.
- A man and a woman arrested in Sweden: The Iranian terror suspects are refugees with fake nationalities.
- Dr. Esmaeil Khoei, Iranian intellectual & poet who lived in exile for 30 years, dead at 82. [4-minute video]
- Taliban-like school officials in Florida: Yearbook photos of 80 girls deemed "immodest" were PhotoShopped.
- Cartoon caption: Broom to book: "Relax buddy ... They invented the vacuum cleaner, yet I'm still here."
- Test your math skills with Greek numerals: IV + MMXIX / DCLXXIII × VII
- A tough math puzzle: Is ((1987^2)!)/((1987!)^1988) an integer? [Credit: @SyberMath]
- Dancing around the world. [3-minute video]
- Nine minutes of pure joy: Anneleen Lenaerts plays "The Moldau" (by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana).
- Classical music: Jackie Evancho performs "Lovers" in concert. [5-minute video]
- Persian poetry: A verse by Mir Valehi Qomi that has been elevated to the status of a proverb. [Image]
- Persian music: Pejman Hadadi on tombak and Masoud Rezaei on setar, performing "Cold Autumn."
(4) [Humor] Iran news: To avoid waste of precious resources, the Guardians Council has chosen the next president and directed the Interior Ministry to donate the cost of running an actual election to charity.
(5) Air piracy: Belarus is being condemned and faces economic sanctions for forcing down a passenger plane, by using a fighter jet, in order to arrest an opposition journalist.
(6) Presidential election farce in Iran: The Islamic Republic's Guardians Council disqualifies most presidential candidates, approving a list of seven that excludes former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani, and allies of the outgoing President Hassan Rouhani.
(6) Santa Barbara's I Madonnari 2021 virtual street-painting festival: Artists will be at work as in Memorial Day weekends of years past, but instead of us being able to visit them at the old Santa Barbara Mission, we can tune in by watching feeds from the participants' driveways. [#imadonnari]

2021/05/24 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
St. Michael's Church in the student town of Isla Vista, adjacent to UCSB, photographed on Friday, May 21, 2021 Meme: Anything war can do peace can do better Cover image of Abbas Amanat's 'Iran: A Modern History' (1) Images of the day: [Left] St. Michael's/Mike's Church in the student town of Isla Vista, adjacent to UCSB, photographed on Friday, May 21, 2021. [Center] Meme of the day: Anything war can do peace can do better. [Right] Cover image of Abbas Amanat's Iran: A Modern History (see the last item below).
(2) Recorded deaths in Iran (2018-2020): There are gaps in the data, but the exponential growth due to COVID-19 is evident on the right. The November 2019 peak (coinciding with political unrest & street protests) begs an explanation from the authorities and investigation by international human-rights organizations.
(3) Bob Dylan turns 80 today: He boasts 10 Grammys, 1 Oscar, and a Nobel Prize for creating new poetic expressions in his songs. His songs have been recorded more than 6000 times, including "All Along the Watchtower" (Jimi Hendrix), "Mr. Tambourine Man" (The Byrds), and "Make You Feel My Love" (Adele).
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Belarus sends a fighter jet to force a passenger plane to land, in order to arrest an opposition journalist.
- Sasha Johnson, UK Black-Lives-Matter activist, is in critical condition, after being shot in the head.
- The phrase "Hitler was right," or variations thereof, were tweeted 17,000 times in the week May 7-14.
- The sole survivor of a cable-car crash in Italy is a 5-year-old boy who lost his entire family in the crash.
- Johnny Cash's first wife was black: She was portrayed in the movie "Walk the Line" by a white actress.
(5) Book review: Amanat, Abbas, Iran: A Modern History, unabridged audiobook, read by Derek Perkins, Tantor Audio, 2018. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This isn't a history book in the usual sense of the term. Amanat augments historical facts and chronology with cultural and sociological observations to tell us the complex story of a nation that has survived for millennia, despite multiple invasions, occupations, revolutions, civil wars, coups, and inept rulers. The book covers the last 500 years of Iran's history, with emphasis on the 20th century, in four parts, sandwiched between an introduction and an epilogue.
Part 1. Early modern era, Safavid Empire to the end of the 18th century (1501-1797)
Part 2. Qajar Dynasty, encounters with the European powers, to the Constitutional Revolution (1797-1911)
Part 3. World War I to the end of the Pahlavi era (1914-1977)
Part 4. Shaping of the Islamic Revolution during its first phase (1977-1989)
In fact, the second half of the book perhaps contains too much in way of details of events that may be deemed less important from a historical perspective, even when literature, arts, and culture are blended in. This is an all-too-common occurrence in contemporary historical accounts, given that there are a lot more documents and testimonials describing recent events: Sort of like the drunk looking for his lost keys under a lamp-post, because the lighting is better there!
The book isn't for the faint-hearted. About 42 hours long in its audio version, it is roughly four times as long as the average 11-hour (100,000-word) audiobook. The narrator, Derek Perkins, is a seasoned, award-winning performer, but he fails in his attempts to pronounce names of Persian individuals and geographic locations. This is a minor nuisance, however. I recommend the (audio)book highly.

2021/05/23 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Feta cheese, herbs, cucumbers, along with tea and fresh-baked bread Dr. Arzoo Osanloo's award-winning book, 'Forgiveness Work: Mercy, Law, and Victims' Rights in Iran' Hotel in southern Iran, with rooms built of large industrial plastic pipes (1) Images of the day: [Left] To die for: Feta cheese, herbs, cucumbers, along with tea and fresh-baked bread. [Center] Book introduction: Dr. Arzoo Osanloo's book, Forgiveness Work: Mercy, Law, and Victims' Rights in Iran, is the winner of Law and Society Association's 2021 Herbert Jacob Book Prize for new, outstanding work in law and society scholarship. [Right] Iran's "pipe hotel" near the world's largest gas field: Located in Asalouyeh Village of Bushehr Province, southern Iran, Pasarland Hotel's rooms are built of large industrial plastic pipes.
(2) "Plurals in Persian: Mistakes, Disorder, and Consequences": This was the title of yesterday's talk by Kazem Kardavani, as part of the gatherings of Tehran University College of Engineering's Class of 1968 (Fanni '68). Mr. Kardavani began by making it clear that he is neither anti-Arab nor anti-Arabic, but he despises those who needlessly, and often improperly, Arabicize Persian. He presented many examples of both properly-used and improper Arabic plurals within Persian. In many cases, an accepted Arabic word can be pluralized with the Persian suffixes "ha" (inanimate nouns) and "an" (for animate nouns), although "ha" can be used for animate subjects as well. Note that English too has borrowed a large number of words from other languages, using its own rules for constructing plurals and other compound forms. Mr. Kardavani also referred to an important recent Persian language dictionary, the 8-volume Farhang-e Bozorg-e Sokhan (by Dr. Hassan Anvari).
[Recording of the talk (link forthcoming)] [Images and Persian abstract]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Cable-car plummets in northern Italy, landing in an inaccessible wooded area and killing at least 13.
- Hail, freezing rain, and gale-force winds kill 21 ultra-marathon runners in northwestern China.
- Facebook memory from May 23, 2019: Recent history of Iran played out on the cover of Time magazine.
- Bitcoin loses 50% of its value: Correction in the cryptocurrency's price may not be over.
(4) Ten days of mild, sunny weather ahead in Goleta: Other than continued absence of rain, air quality (52, moderate) is the only point of concern. There are no fires nearby, as far as I can tell. The poor air quality could be due to lingering smoke & ash from #LomaFire of a couple of days ago. [10-day forecast]
(5) The Persian heritage of Barbara Pravi, hailed as the new Edith Piaf: She participated in the Eurovision competition under the flag of France. [Story starts at the 6:30 mark of this 12-minute video]
(6) Roya Hakakian "nearly" thanks Donald Trump for his extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric that inspired her to write A Beginner's Guide to America: For the Immigrant and the Curious in defense of immigration!
(7) Republicans and science: Is climate change a genuine threat to humanity? "I don't know, I'm not a scientist!" Do you agree that a fetus turns into a baby at 24 weeks? "Yeah, may be even at 6 weeks!"
(8) Tulsa race massacre's 100th anniversary: Dubbed "The Negro Wall Street," the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was the richest black neighborhood in America, until a white mob burned it down in an act of hatred and jealousy on Memorial Day in 1921. Suspected mass graves in the area are being excavated for clearing up the story once and for all, perhaps even identifying the dead through genealogical/DNA matching. [CBS "60 Minutes" story, aired on Sunday, May 23, 2021; 13-minute video]

2021/05/21 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The four main kinds of bread used in Iran: Barbari, lavash, sangak, and taftoon Math puzzle involving a pentagon with known side lengths Screenshots from a Zoom talk by singer/visual-artist Azam Ali (1) Images of the day: [Left] The four main kinds of bread used in Iran: Barbari, lavash, sangak, and taftoon. [Center] Math puzzle: Side lengths of a pentagon are given and one of the angles is 90 degrees. What is the radius of the circle? [Right] Today's Zoom talk by singer/visual-artist Azam Ali (see the last item below).
(2) IEEE Computer Society's Distinguished Lecturer webinars: I will be offering an international webinar under the title "Eight Key Ideas in Computer Architecture from Eight Decades of Innovation" on September 30, 2021, 11:00 AM EDT (8:00 AM PDT). Here is a complete list of all webinars scheduled thus far.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump Justice Department seized phone & e-mail records of three Washington Post and a CNN reporter.
- How to bring the GOP on board re January 6 comission: Name it "How Benghazi Led to the Capitol Riot."
- The fast-moving #LomaFire, now under control, burned Thursday night on TV Hill, overlooking SB Harbor.
- El Salvador horror story: Eight pits full of murdered women (40, so far) found in ex-cop's backyard.
- US Library of Congress offers free access to its on-line treasury of handwritten & other rare Persian books.
- Iranian women continue their brave acts of civil disobedience: A woman dances on a street in Tehran.
- Persian music: "Beyond the Quarantine," a musical collaboration of Tehran Philharmonic Orchestra.
(4) Consequences of incompetence: Jared Kushner's Middle East fantasy, which he grandiosely called "The Abraham Accords" as he congratulated himself in a Wall Street Journal piece two months ago, finally explodes. He viewed the bloody, decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine as a mere "real estate dispute."
(5) Persian comedy skit: Making fun of an Iranian mullah who said my wife is exclusively mine and should not speak more than five words on the phone to another man: (Hello) Yes ... (Is your husband home?) No ... (When will he back?) I don't know ... (hangs up).
(6) UCLA/Farhang-Foundation event: Entitled "Azam Ali: An Allegory of Belief, Truth, Power, and Resistance Art," today's talk consisted of a 50-minute presentation by singer/visual-artist Azam Ali and ~30 minutes of moderated Q&A. Music by Azam Ali and her band "Niyaz" is available on YouTube.
Ms. Ali spoke of the three phases of her life as an immigrant, which have shaped her identity. She was only 4 when she was taken from Iran to India, later moving to the US. The three phases are disconnection, assimilation, and reclamation. Her artistic path in the male-dominated, hyper-sexualized music industry was further complicated by her Middle-Eastern origins.
Ms. Ali showed one of the first music videos she made and an example of her recent work, which involved multiple projectors to create the background.
Recording of this interesting event will be made available at a later time.

2021/05/20 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Dr. Farinaz Koushanfar, speaker at last evening's IEEE CCS technical meeting Stanford U. webinar by Dr. Mohammad Reza Farzanegan: GDP variations, 1970-1988 Stanford U. webinar by Dr. Mohammad Reza Farzanegan: The speaker (1) Images of the day: [Left] Dr. Farinaz Koushanfar, yesterday's IEEE CCS speaker (see the next item below). [Center & Right] Today's Stanford U. webinar by Dr. Mohammad Reza Farzanegan (see the last item below).
(2) IEEE Central Coast Section Zoom technical talk: Dr. Farinaz Koushanfar (Professor of ECE and Henry Booker Faculty Scholar, UCSD) spoke last evening under the title "Machine Learning on Encrypted Data: Hardware to the Rescue." Dr. Koushanfar's research addresses aspects of efficient computing and embedded systems, with a focus on system and device security, safe AI, privacy-preserving computing, as well as real-time/energy-efficient AI under resource constraints, design automation, and reconfigurable computing. Professor Koushanfar has been widely honored for her research, mentorship, teaching, and outreach activities. [Read more]
(3) Anti-Israel sentiments diverted to anti-Semitism: Statement by Iranian-American Jewish Federation of Los Angeles about pro-Palestinian protesters attacking & injuring three Iranian-American Jews at a restaurant.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Israel-Hamas cease-fire: Hamas fired 4000 rockets at Israel, which in turn demolished buildings in Gaza.
- Capitol rioter's lawyer says other rioters fell for Trump's big lie owing to their limited mental capacity!
- Rusting oil-storage tanker off the coast of Yemen threatens a humanitarian and environmental disaster.
- Michelle Obama's Secret-Service agent says she felt helpless in protecting her from racist attacks.
- Humor: Bill introduced by the GOP to make January a 30-day month; Jan. 6 to be removed from all records.
- Puzzle: Two sides of a triangle are 181 & 180 and its area is 1710. What is the length of the third side?
- Throwback Thursday: Photo of me taken by my uncle Mashallah more than six decades ago (1950s).
(5) "The Economic Cost of the Islamic Revolution and War for Iran": This was the title of a Stanford University webinar by Dr. Mohammad Reza Farzanegan (Phillipps U. Marburg, Germany). Constructing a synthetic Iran as a weighted average of other MENA/OPEC countries not undergoing revolutions or wars, Dr. Fazanegan's study estimates that, as a result of the 1979 revolution and the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, Iran's per-capita GDP plunged by $3150 (constant 2010 US dollars), a 40% loss in relative terms. Country weights were chosen to best match Iran's economic parameters just before the Islamic Revolution. There are many other elements of loss, such as life expectancy, income equality, and satisfaction with life, that are not considered in this study. Use of alternate weights and sensitivity studies have confirmed the robustness of the study's conclusions.
The Q&A period brought many comments and questions about whether the model used in this study does, or can be used to, differentiate between the economic effects on regional, urban/rural, and gender grounds. How much of the drop is due to brain drain? What have been the impacts of corruption and economic sanctions?
My question (unanswered due to lack of time): I read many years ago (the source escapes me) that the Iranian economy was due for a collapse, even in the absence of the Islamic Revolution. Am I correct to deduce that your study contradicts this assessment? After submitting this question, I realized that Dr. Farzanegan's model actually confirms the assessment, at least in part. His synthetic-Iran GDP curve plunges by ~$2700 (from $10,000 to $7300) in the decade between 1977 and 1987. The Revolution and war weren't the sole source of the fateful plunge, but they more than doubled its extent.
[Dr. Farzanegan's 2020 paper in Defense and Peace Economics (Taylor & Francis), key source for this talk.]

2021/05/18 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Ninety years later: Women physicists include a single man in their group photo to make a point Two mind-blowing math identities and a math puzzle Same guys, same car, fifty years later!
A historical monument in Sri Lanka: The Sigiriya fortress complex Persian calligraphy: This sample has been written with a ball-point pen, which is quite an accomplishment! Cover image of Jane Goodall's 'Reasons for Hope' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Ninety years later: Women physicists include a single man in their group photo to make a point. [Top center] Two mind-blowing math identities and a math puzzle asking for the sum of the angles alpha and beta, without using trigonometry. [Top right] Same guys, same car, fifty years later! [Bottom left] A historical monument in Sri Lanka: The Sigiriya fortress complex includes remnants of a ruined palace, surrounded by an extensive network of fortifications, gardens, ponds, canals, alleys, and fountains. [Bottom center] Persian calligraphy: This sample has been written with a ball-point pen, which is quite an accomplishment! [Bottom right] Cover image of Jane Goodall's Reasons for Hope (see the last item below).
(2) New York AG's office has informed the Trump Organization that their investigation is no longer purely civil but has moved into a criminal phase, in collaboration with the Manhattan DA's office.
(3) World Music Institute free concert: Las Cafeteras, a celebrated Chicano band out of East LA known for their blend of joyous, multi-faceted music and incisive social consciousness, will be joined by Juan Dies, a fellow musician and educator from the ensemble Sones De Mexico. Thursday, May 27, 2021, 3:00 PM PDT. [Register]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Bill Gates wanted a Nobel Prize badly: He allegedly viewed Jeffrey Epstein as his ticket to getting the Prize.
- Iran's presidential candidates promise to fix all: But they've been in various positions of power for decades!
- Persian music: Link to singer Sonbol Taefi's music on Spotify.
- Quote: "... ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." ~ James Baldwin
(5) Book review: Goodall, Jane (with Phillip Berman), Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey, unabridged audiobook, read by the author, Hachette Audio, 1999. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book is a combination of Goodall's autobiography and her philosophy of life/work. The autobiographical part is well-known and is covered in multiple books by Goodall and others. I have previously consulted Jane Goodall: Animal Scientist (by Katherine Krohn) and Jane Goodall: Finding Hope in the Wilds of Africa (by Diana Briscoe) to learn about her life, in connection with my review of Harvest for Hope. Highlights of her life include yearning to travel to Africa, training to become a secretary, going to visit a friend in Africa, getting to work for the famous anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey as an assistant, and studying chimpanzees in the wild.
What's new in this volume is Goodall laying out her reasons for hope that we will prevail, despite what appear to be insurmountable challenges, both within and without our human selves. Goodall presents four reasons for being hopeful about the future of our planet and of humanity.
- The endless energy & commitment of our youth
- The extraordinary human brain
- The amazing resilience of nature
- The indomitable human spirit
More recently, Goodall has added the global reach & power of social media as a fifth important reason for hope.

2021/05/17 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Diego Frazzo Turkato, 12, weeps at his music teacher's funeral, playing a favorite song that saved him from poverty and despair Calendar Daily Puzzles for May 16 and 17 Human/women's-rights activists Nasrin Sotoudeh, Loujain Hathloul, and Saba Kord Afshari (with her mom) (1) Images of the day: [Left] Twelve-year-old Diego Frazzo Turkato weeps at his music teacher's funeral, playing a favorite song of the teacher who saved him from poverty and despair. [Center] Calendar-Page Daily Puzzles for May 16 and 17. [Right] Hats off to women fighting misogyny and human-rights abuses worldwide: Nasrin Sotoudeh and Loujain Hathloul are prominent imprisoned human/women's rights activists in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Saba Kord Afshari goes on hunger strike in prison to save her mother from imprisonment and other pressures typically exerted on family members of political prisoners in Iran.
(2) "Picture a Scientist": A feature-length documentary chronicling the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists. A biologist, a chemist, and a geologist lead us on a journey deep into their own experiences in the sciences, overcoming brutal harassment, institutional discrimination, and years of subtle slights to revolutionize the culture of science. From cramped laboratories to spectacular field stations, we also encounter scientific luminaries who provide new perspectives on how to make science itself more diverse, equitable, and open to all. [Directed by Ian Cheney and Sharon Shattuck; 97 minutes; 2020]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Sightings of UFOs in the US airspace more or less confirmed. [14-minute segment on CBS "60 Minutes"]
- Bill Gates allegedly asked women out at Microsoft and his foundation while married to Melinda.
- The Capitol riot was an insurrection: It wasn't a "love-fest," where people kissed and hugged the police!
- Apparently, learning about slavery (racism education) is "un-American," whereas slavery itself wasn't!
- Sure-fire test to tell whether a mask-less person is vaccinated: Ask him/her who won the 2020 election!
- Combined cooking/language instruction: How to cook crack and clean a crab. Step 1: Use commas!
- A vast collection of music files and audiobooks from Iran's Center for Children & Youth is available for free.
- Persian dance: Melieka Fathi Dance Company, presented by Farhang Foundation. [x-minute video]
- Word puzzle: Arrange the letters of "BEST RATING" into two 5-letter words that are synonyms.
(4) 'Plurals in Persian: Mistakes, Disorder, and Consequences": This will be the title of a talk by Kazem Kardavani on Saturday, May 22, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT, as part of the meetings of Tehran U. College of Engineering's Class of 1968 (Fanni '68). Anyone interested in attending please message me for the Zoom link.
(5) Iran unveils a 0.5 petaflops supercomputer: Installed at Tehran's Amirkabir University, the Simorgh supercomputer will be upgraded to 1 petaflops in two months.
(6) I posted this comment on a Facebook statement (attributed to Noam Chomsky) which claimed Israel isn't defending itself but is committing murder, because the population it attacks with its sophisticated air force and navy does not have an air force or a navy: This statement is extremely misleading. ISIS did not have an air force or a navy. Neither did Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Hamas has provably fired missiles at Israel from schools, medical clinics, and other non-military sites, using mobile missile launchers. I am not trying to justify all actions of the Israeli military, but misleading statements do not help in this conflict. This story is from 2014.

2021/05/16 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Seasons of a tree: The same tree photographed in spring and summer Fun summation identities and a geometric puzzle Seasons of a tree: The same tree photographed in fall and winter
World map centered at the North Pole NASA maps of the two hemispheres, focused on the North and South Poles World map centered at the South Pole (1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] Seasons of a tree: The same tree photographed in spring, summer, fall, and winter. [Top center] Fun summation identities (credit: Andrzej Kukla, @mathinity) and a geometric puzzle: Try your math skills by proving the identities. In the diagram with two squares and two triangles, find the area of the triangle at the top. [Bottom row] World maps, centered at or focused on North & South Poles: Change of perspective is often helpful. Here's a NASA site, with potentially hours of fun for map enthusiasts.
(2) A car that went over the cliffs yesterday, landing on the beach near our house: The driver was unhurt and reportedly ran away after the plunge. The car was hoisted with a crane and taken away this morning.
(3) Digital Slavery: To celebrate its 75th anniversary, IEEE Computer Society ran a Member Essay Contest with prizes of $1000, $500, and $250. Winning essays will be published. Submission deadline for short (500-650 words) essays that delve into the impacts of technology on society was 2021/05/14. You can read my entry, submitted on 2021/05/08, below. I will share with you the results, when known.
Digital Slavery: The Dark Side of Ubiquitous Connectivity and Big Data
For centuries, scientists, technologists, and other thinkers have worried about abuses of technology to inflict harm by fighting deadlier wars, crushing citizens' demands for civil liberties, and shutting people out of the democratic process. More recently, abusing data for political manipulation and illicit financial gain has been added to the old concerns, as aptly discussed in two recent books, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (my review on GoodReads) and Weapons of Math Destruction (my review on GoodReads).
Big data, and the abuses it engenders, are front-and-center in our social discourse. Major news outlets and tech magazines run regular features on cyber-security, or lack thereof, identity theft, bias in machine-learning algorithms, and other artifacts of our digital society. Even though there is a dearth of action plans, and political will, to address the resulting problems, we can take comfort in the fact that we at least know the challenges and, in time, will be able to devise strategies to deal with them.
This brings me to an even more-serious problem, which is, for the most part, invisible, even to us computer scientists and engineers. Let me call it "digital slavery." Just as owners of African slaves 150-400 years ago controlled the lives of their workers and strived to keep them dependent on their masters for food and shelter, so too "digital masters" try to make us dependent on services they offer. These services may not be as essential to us as food and shelter were to physical slaves, but, through a combination of advertising and coercion, we are led to believe that we can't live without them.
Let me cite an example. Big-data hoarders try to convince us that giving them access to our location information carries major benefits for us. They tell us that if we share our location with them, their apps can suggest nearby restaurants that we like, share points of interest, or direct us to the least-expensive gas station. They sell our data to businesses that happen to be nearby, while pretending that they are offering us a service we could not live without.
At a macro level, our location data over the course of a month or a year reveals much about where we work, shop, dine, bank, get haircuts, and so on. Besides merchants looking to make a buck by selling us what we might need, there are predatory businesses that plot to sell us things we might not need, but that earn them high profits. One example is payday loans, which are loans with short terms, perhaps just a few days, until the date of the borrower's next paycheck. The loans carry astronomical interest rates, as high as 500% annually. Many people taking out payday loans are not able to pay them back on time, so the short-term loan turns into long-term debt that keeps on growing exponentially.
Degree or certificate programs of for-profit colleges constitute another example. People who are jobless or who have fallen on hard times are easy targets for overblown promises of lucrative jobs once they enroll, aided by government grants and/or loans. Very often, graduates of such programs cannot find jobs that pay well, getting themselves into deeper holes after exhausting their resources and being burdened with new debt.
Of course, the same technologies that allow the targeting of vulnerable individuals can also help protect them against predators. Information abounds on-line about predatory businesses, but most victims of such businesses do not possess the know-how or time and other resources to avail themselves of such information. In an alarming case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, inequities continue to grow and the digital divide widens, as predators use their greater digital skills and resources to control their digital slaves.
Let's strive to abolish digital slavery by building broad and well-fortified bridges across the digital divide!

2021/05/15 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Kailasa temple in Maharashtra, India Mourning a loss: A classroom in the Afghan girls' school where 85 were killed by a car-bomb Zhaotong City: The narrowest city in the world, built along the sheer cliffs of the Guanhe River Gorge in China
Church of San Giovanni Battista, Mogno, Switzerland (1996): Designed by architect Mario Botta A couple of slefies I took on the Elwood Bluffs during my walk today Wildflowers photographed on the Ellwood Bluffs and Ellwood Butterfly Grove (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Kailasa temple in Maharashtra, India: Carved out of a single rock, this largest monolithic structure in the world was built in the 8th century during the reign of the Rashtrakuta king Krishna I. [Top center] Mourning a loss for Afghanistan and the world: A classroom in the girls' school where 85 were killed by a car-bomb. [Top right] The narrowest city in the world: Built along the sheer cliffs of the Guanhe River Gorge in China's Hunnan Province, Zhaotong City is interconnected mostly by bicycle and scooter roads, with a single tiny pedestrian/bike bridge spanning the river. Not surprisingly, the river is the main mode of transportation for people and goods. [Bottom left] Church of San Giovanni Battista, Mogno, Switzerland (1996): Designed by architect Mario Botta, the durable, rocky building replaced the hamlet's 17th-century church, which was flattened by an avalanche in 1986. [Bottom center & right] My walk on the Ellwood Bluffs & Butterfly Grove: After a few days of shorter or no walks, due to a combination of paper submission/revision deadlines and less-than-perfect weather, today I decided to take a very long walk. Here are a couple of selfies and some of the wildflowers I encountered on the Bluffs and at the Grove on this beautiful, sunny day.
(2) ADL reports anti-Semitic incidents at anti-Israel events in Europe: It goes without saying that anti-Semitism is detestable, regardless of one's political views on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- China lands its Zhurong rover on Mars: Makes history by becoming the second nation with a Mars rover.
- Campus by the Sea: UC Santa Barbara in the 1960s, a 19-minute historical tour.
- "The Unsung Poetry of Kurdish Women": Talk by Prof. Farangis Ghaderi, Fri. July 16, 2021, 1:00 PM PDT.
- Are you brave enough to try this ride in China? [3-minute video]
- Persian music: A nice rendition of Mohammad Nouri's signature song "Iran, Iran." [4-minute video]
- Persian music: A famous kids-TV-series theme, performed with humorous lyrics and voice impressions.
- Iranian regional music: A southeastern song played with bagpipes (different from the Scottish version).
(4) Our brain views well-designed, properly-used tools as body extensions, not regular objects: An article in Neuroscience confirms the theory that the human brain handles tools differently from other objects. If you grab a fork by the prongs, however, it becomes just an object, not a body extension. This difference in processing explains why/how proficient use of hand-held tools distinguishes us from our closest relatives among primates.
(5) Things are slowly getting back to normal: Before going on my walk this afternoon, I had lunch with the kids at Mesa Berger in Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace. All the restaurants in the area were jam-packed. After my return, I relaxed at a Starbucks coffee shop, doing some light work (making up for several super-busy days) and listening to the wonderful music of David Tovar. In this video, Tovar plays Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."

2021/05/14 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iran's history: Arg-e Bam (Bam Citadel), located in the city of Bam, Kerman Province, southeastern Iran Ardeshir Papakan Palace: Located in the old town of Firuzabad, Iran, the palace of King Ardashir I Turkey's history: The cave residences of Cappadocia, some of which have been turned into a cave hotel
Cartoon: The beheading of a gay Iranian young man by his family Cartoon: The little drummer boy, with his Energizer batteries taken out! Cartoon: Khamenei will be getting a new shield in Iran's June presidential election (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Iran's history: Arg-e Bam (Bam Citadel), located in the city of Bam, Kerman Province, Iran, dates back to at least the Achaemenide Empire (~2500 years ago). [Top center] Ardeshir Papakan Palace: Located in the old town of Firuzabad, Iran, the palace of King Ardashir I, the founder of the Sasanid Empire, was built opposite Ardashir Khureh, the city he had founded. [Top right] Turkey's history: The cave residences of Cappadocia, some of which have been turned into a cave hotel. [Bottom left] IranWire.com cartoon: The beheading of a gay Iranian young man by his family. [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: The little drummer boy, with his Energizer batteries taken out! [Bottom right] Iranwire.com cartoon: Khamenei will be getting a new shield in Iran's June presidential election.
(2) Netanyahu and Trump enabled the current hate campaign in Israel and Palestine: By indulging religious zealots in Israel and crushing all Palestinian hopes for a two-state solution, the hate-mongering pals stoked the flames of violence that erupted a couple of weeks ago. Now, Netanyahu, who was on his way out, is using the violence as a pretext to staying in power and Trumpists are blaming Biden for his complacency. [Map]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Scientists predict a COVID-19 surge in winter, with possible lockdown and travel restrictions. [Newsweek]
- Talk about projection! Trump calls Liz Cheney a 'bitter, horrible human' after her ouster as a GOP leader.
- Facebook memory from May 14, 2010: A puzzle involving a hiker's ascent and his descent the next day.
- Facebook memory from May 14, 2012: Iran, the land of inverted words. [In English and Persian]
- Selected verses from Azeri poet Shahriar's ghazal #129 on ganjoor.net. [Tweet, with the two verses]
(4) Ferdowsi Day Celebration: Tonight's highly informative and enjoyable 2.5-hour event was attended by ~125 participants on Zoom, plus additional attendees through YouTube Live. [Recording] [Event page]
Dr. Afshin Sepehri served as moderator and provided helpful commentaries before and after each speaker.
Ms. Mahnaz Dinyari welcomed the attendees on behalf of the event's sponsor, California Zoroastrian Center, and closed the meeting at the end.
Panelists/speakers included Dr. Mohammad-Reza Chaichi (Cal Poly Pomona), Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak (U. Maryland & UCLA), Gordafarid (epic-poetry reciter), and Dr. Khodadad Kaviani (Central Washington U., music composer). A number of film clips (including one about the design and construction of Ferdowsi's magnificent tomb) were shown and a music ensemble played several pieces, combined with poetry recitation.
A common theme stressed by multiple speakers is Shahnameh being more than stories of epic battles and historical intrigue; it is a book of wisdom, which advises us to be ethical and kind. Ferdowsi is often referred to by the title "hakim" ("polymath"), rather than poet. Some 130 Persian proverbs are derived from Shahnameh. Ferdowsi and his Shahnameh played key roles in preserving the Persian language and culture, leading Iranians to cultural victories amid repeated battleground defeats.
Shahnameh emphasizes "kherad" ("wisdom"). Unlike Mowlavi/Rumi, Ferdowsi did not write about religion, but he did borrow from Avesta and offered advice very similar to Mowlavi's. He also provided the inspiration for Sa'adi's famed "bani-adam a'zaa-ye yek peikarand" ("human beings are members of a whole") poem. Even amid descriptions of battle scenes, Ferdowsi dispenses advice on how to live and how to treat others.
One reason for the outsize influence of Shahnameh, even among people who are illiterate, is the role played by epic-poetry reciters ("nagh'als"). Gordafarid, one of the very few female epic-poetry reciters, read and interpreted the story of Tahmineh's love for Rostam, to introduce the audience to the lesser-known love stories in Shahnameh. Rostam encountered Tahmineh and made love to her, without the two being married. This interpretation is consistent with other passages in Shahnameh, where Sohrab does not know who his father is. There are versions of Shahnameh, however, where verses have been added to the effect of Rostam asking Tahmineh's father for his daughter's hand in mariage.

2021/05/13 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iran's Kurdistan: Images of Dalahoo, a historically-signficant region near Kermanshah: Photo 1 Iran's Kurdistan: Images of Dalahoo, a historically-signficant region near Kermanshah: Photo 3 Iran's Kurdistan: Images of Dalahoo, a historically-signficant region near Kermanshah: Photo 4
Sea glass of many colors Cover image of the May 2021 issue of 'IEEE Computing Edge' Heaven on Earth: Himalayan Valley of Flowers (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Iran's Kurdistan: Images of Dalahoo, a historically-signficant region near the western city of Kermanshah, and a song by that name, performed by Hossein Safamanesh (more photos). [Bottom left] Sea glass of many colors. [Bottom center] The May 2021 issue of IEEE Computing Edge reports on the article described in the next item below. [Bottom right] Paradise: Himalayan Valley of Flowers.
(2) Automatic kinship analysis: Algorithmic face recognition is already old news! Now, researchers are working on identifying people in photos who have kin relationships. Claimed applications include forensic investigations, family photo-album organization, social-media analysis, and missing-person cases.
S. Wang, Z. Ding, and Y. Fu, "Cross-Generation Kinship Verification with Sparse Discriminative Metric," IEEE Trans. Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence, Vol. 41, No. 11, pp. 2783-2790, 2019.
(3) Elon Musk and Tesla come to their senses: "Cryptocurrencey is a good idea ... but this cannot come at a great cost to the environment ... Tesla will not be selling any Bitcoin ... We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use < 1% of Bitcoin's energy/transaction."
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump's Pentagon chief: The President told me to pull out all the stops to protect January 6 protesters.
- A former federal prosecutor says Donald Trump may be about to face some serious legal heat.
- Actress Phylicia Rashad named Dean of College of Fine Arts at Howard University.
- Math puzzle: If n is a positive integer, show that n + 3 and n^2 + 3 cannot both be perfect cubes.
(5) U. Chicago study of 10,000+ tech workers who went remote: Total hours worked increased by ~30%, including an 18% rise in working after business hours. Productivity fell by ~20%. Time spent on coordination activities and meetings increased, but uninterrupted work hours shrank considerably. Employees also spent less time networking, and received less coaching and one-on-one time with supervisors.
(6) Final thought for the day: If you want to condemn violence in Israel and Palestine, don't forget Iran as financial and military supporter of Hamas and other Islamic militants, by giving them tons of cash and replacing the stones they used to throw at Israelis with missiles. [Persian Facebook post by Mehrnoush Mousavi]

2021/05/12 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Monument in memory of Michelle Obama's ancestor, Melvinia Shields, who was born a slave five generations ago Persian love couplets from Ghaa'aani and Haatef Esfahaani Our just-installed neighborhood mini-libarary
Conversation with Roya Hakakian about her memoir, 'Journey from the Land of No' Today, I had 8 hours of non-stop meetings, webinars, and office hours: The signs made for me by my daughter came in handy! Conversation with Patrisse Cullor about her memoir, 'When They Call You a Terrorist' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Monument in memory of Michelle Obama's ancestor, Melvinia Shields, who was born a slave five generations ago: Yes, we have come a long way in achieving racial equity, but we still have a lot further to go! [Top center] Persian love poetry: The top couplet is from Ghaa'aani; the bottom one is from Haatef Esfahaani. [Top right] Thanks to the efforts of some of my neighbors, we now have a neighborhood mini-library in our housing complex. [Bottom left] Conversation with Roya Hakakian about her memoir, Journey from the Land of No (see the last item below). [Bottom center] Today, I had 8 hours of non-stop office hours, meetings, and webinars: The signs made for me by my daughter came in handy! [Bottom right] Conversation with Patrisse Cullor about her memoir, When They Call You a Terrorist (see the next item below).
(2) "When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir": This was the title of a book conversation with Patrisse Cullors, culminating the "UCSB Reads 2021" program. The book had been chosen as a vehicle for campus and community discussion on issues of race and bias. Various panels and other meetings were held earlier this year and instructors were encouraged to incorporate the book into their syllabi, where appropriate. Deliberations for choosing a book for "UCSB Reads 2022" program are already underway.
I used the book in my ECE 254B course on parallel processing during winter 2021, where students were asked, in connection with their research papers dealing with the immense computational requirements of machine-learning, to provide commentaries on direct and indirect effects of ML/AI on humans: Fairness, bias, and security/reliability/safety. [My 5-star review of the book on GoodReads]
Ms. Cullors began with an opening statement, in which she acknowledged those who contributed to her passion for social justice. She then answered questions about particular events in the book. Among the topics discussed were challenges Ms. Cullor faced in school, her relationship with her brothers, who were very protective of her, her coming-out experience, police abuse of disabled blacks, and the future of the BLM movement.
(3) Happy International Nurses Day! Always important and worthy of celebration, the May 12 occasion, marking the anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth, has gained greater significance since 2020, as nurses' selfless service has helped us deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Hats off to you all!
(4) "Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran": This was the title of today's Stanford University conversation with Roya Hakakian about her 2004 memoir (by the same title), which contains not only her own experiences in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran, but also those of her father.
Hakakian began by stating that her own brush with anti-Semitism pales in comparison with her father's, who was barred from attending school on rainy days, because the rain could spread the filth of a non-Muslim to Muslims. Despite horrific tales of anti-Semitism, there are also heartwarming stories of friendships between Jews and non-Jews. When older Jews received or observed unjust treatment, they would not speak up, advising others around them to keep quiet as well and let the incident pass. This hush-hush attitude was bothersome to younger Jews.
Hakakian attended a Jewish school for girls, which had always been run by Jewish administrators. One day, a veiled Muslim woman showed up as the new principal, instituting an hour-long daily session about morality and religion, during which she spoke with a monotone, boring voice. The new principal would ask students whether religion should be something that children inherit from their parents or a matter of their own choosing, hinting at the desirability of the girls accepting Islam.
When Hakakian and a group of friends were arrested for political activism, they were let go, rather than be jailed. In this instance the stereotypical image of Jews as being interested only in money and education was actually helpful to them! In the years after the Revolution, when the Iran-Iraq war broke out, people were so busy managing their daily lives (acquiring war-time food and fuel rations), that everything else, including relations between people of different faiths, took a back seat.
The word "no" in the book's title signifies the life of a girl in Iran. Hakakian mentioned that it was rare for her to hear "yes" regarding anything she wanted to do. Other women memoirists have also written about immediate responses like "girls can't do that" or "girls shouldn't do that" to whatever they aspired to do. I look forward to reading Hakakian's latest book, A Beginner's Guide to America: For the Immigrant and the Curious.
My comment, which Hakakian let go with a chuckle: Jews' experiences in post-revolutionary Iran were shaped by their expectations. Older Jews were just happy they were allowed to live. Young Jews were more idealistic and couldn't stomach discrimination. This leaves middle-aged Jews like me, who were caught between the previous two groups!

2021/05/11 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
I am excited about the book I bought from Ikea! (A large pile of Scrabble tiles) Cartoon: The very first senior moment in recorded history occurred for a dinosaur couple who missed Noah's boat Woman drawing a rectangle on her body, a la M. C. Escher (1) Images of the day: [Left] I am excited about the book I bought from Ikea! [Center] Cartoon of the day: The very first senior moment in recorded history occurred for a dinosaur couple who missed Noah's boat. [Right] Channeling M. C. Escher: Wonderful photo from 3cm's Facebook page.
(2) An explosive mix of gun culture and toxic masculinity: Six adults and the gunman die in mass-shooting by a boyfriend of one of the victims. Thoughts and prayers, with no meaningful action, once again!
(3) Techno-racism: Last night's episode of "United Shades of America" on CNN was about racism embedded in technology and lack of representation in STEM, or how "Jim Code" has replaced "Jim Crow."
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Death toll in Afghanistan's car-bomb attack on a girls' school rises from 55 to 85.
- Another "Schrodinger's Cat" cartoon? That joke's been done to death. Or has it? [Credit: Bizarro.com]
- Ferdowsi Day Celebration: Live on Zoom and YouTube. Friday, May 14, 2021, beginning at 6:00 PM PDT.
- A beautiful Eastern melody: Lola Astanova plays Esin Engin's "Lovebird." [4-minute video]
- Persian music: A nice arrangement and rendition of the old song "Dokhtar-e Kowli" ("Gypsy Girl").
(5) Did some weeding this afternoon: Had to stop after much heavy-duty pulling of tree-size weeds, leaving the rest of the work for another day. I am pretty sure that if I try to plant trees, they won't grow to twice the height of my patio's enclosing wall, as some of the weeds did on their own! The flowers in these photos are from my rose bushes, which I trimmed. Not too long ago, I weeded both of my patios completely in one afternoon. Alas, my energy and flexibility have declined.
(6) Purging Liz Cheney is political suicide for the GOP: Republicans are already in the minority, so to win presidential elections, they need support from the entire party, plus a good chunk of independent voters. Cutting off the likes of Liz Cheney, and their supporters, is tantamount to political suicide at the national level, although they probably think it will help them in local, state-level politics.
(7) I condemn violence against the Palestinians: But, unlike those showing just this one side of the story, I'd like to share with you ADL's statement highlighting Israel's right to defend itself against missile attacks.
(8) Not all Trump supporters are crooks, but quite a few crooks support Trump: "Students for Trump" founder sentenced to jail for posing as a lawyer. At 25, he claimed to have 10+ years of experience working in law!
(9) Iran's continued mistreatment of women activists: Saba Kord Afshari and her mother, kept in separate prisons and not allowed to meet, threaten hunger strike in support of abused families of political prisoners.

2021/05/09 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A few examples of the many messages of love going around today: Happy Mothers' Day! Book intro: Elaheh Kheirandish's 'Baghdad and Isfahan: A Dialogue of Two Cities in an Age of Science, ca. 750-1750' Cover image of Masih Alinejad's 'The Wind in My Hair' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Happy Mothers' Day! Here are a couple of verses from Parvin E'tessami's beautiful poem entitled "The Story of Love," dedicated to all mothers, as we honor them on this special day. [Center] Book introduction: Elaheh Kheirandish's Baghdad and Isfahan: A Dialogue of Two Cities in an Age of Science, ca. 750-1750. [Right] Masih Alinejad's The Wind in My Hair (see the last item below).
(2) Surprise visit to my mom: I showed up unannounced, with Rusty's pepperoni pizza (my mom's favorite kind) to celebrate Mothers' Day with her. She didn't expect a visit, because we had had lunch yesterday, in a joint celebration of my daughter's birthday and Mothers' Day at Nikka Fish Market & Grill. [Photos]
(3) Quote of the day: "The problem is not people being uneducated. The problem is that people are educated just enough to believe what they have been taught, and not educated enough to question anything from what they have been taught." ~ Anonymous
(4) Book review: Alinejad, Masih (with Kambiz Forouhar), The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran, unabridged audiobook, read by Linda Henning, Hachette Audio, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads] Read 2021/05/01-07
From the tiny village of Qomi Kola (or Ghomikola) with a few hundreds of residents in Iran's Mazandaran Province to the bustle of the megapolis that is New York City, Alinejad's life has been lined with adventure, norm-breaking, and courage in the face of repressive authority. This book, Alinejad's fifth (after Tahasson, Taj-e Khar, I Am Free, and Gharar-e Sabz), is an autobiography which covers the whole gamut, from her humble beginnings as a village girl to one of the best-known Iranian journalists and women's-rights activists. She knew little English when she first moved to the West, but that didn't stop her from speaking and writing passionately about the plight of Iranian women.
Alinejad's youth in Qomi Kola, growing up in a religiously conservative family, held the beginnings of her rebellion. Faced with pronouncements such as "girls can't/shouldn't do that," she always found a way to do just what she wanted to do, and often got in trouble for it. She was arrested for being a member of a political group, got pregnant before her official wedding ceremony (although, she was legally married at the time), and never really accepted the hijab her family and society forced on her. She and her husband moved to Tehran, where he unceremoniously divorced her, because he was in love with another woman, and denied her custody of their son.
As a single woman, with limited visitation rights to her son, Alinejad worked at a variety of jobs, eventually landing a position with a reformist newspaper and became famous for her interviews with members of parliament and other regime officials, exposing hypocrisy and corruption. She gained a large number of enemies as a result, but also found allies who would feed her information they would not dare expose themselves. Alinejad was essentially playing with fire, and was told so by powerful men and Iran's security apparatus in no uncertain terms. Repeated court summons and interrogations ensued.
When, in the wake of Iran's contested 2009 presidential election, conflict between conservatives and reformists intensified, Alinejad found herself out of a job. Throughout her ordeals, her brother Ali was supportive, but her parents kept their distance because of her "shaming the family." Ali eventually paid a high price for his support (recently, after this book's publication, he was arrested and jailed). Meanwhile, Alinejad conducted a large set of interviews with families of those killed in the street protests that ensued after the fraudulent 2009 presidential election, meticulously archiving her material.
Alinejad ended up in the West, having traveled with a single suitcase, with no prospects of returning to Iran or seeing her family, including her son, she began using her sources to do on-line posts about the events in Iran. After her former husband remarried and didn't want anything to do with their son, she managed to arrange his transportation to England, where they were reunited. But things didn't get any easier. She would still be threatened by Iranian authorities, who leveled false accusations and published defamatory "exposes" against her. She was later affected by Trump's travel ban against Muslims, crushing her hopes of bringing her son from England to the US or even visiting him there, for fear of not being able to return to the US.
The book's title is a reference to Iranian women's yearning to walk freely, with the wind in their hairs, in the face of mandatory hijab laws that force them to wear inconvenient and restricting coverings, even in Iran's scorching summer heat. Faced with a brutal crackdown by the "morality police," who stop them and rough them up, women rebel in various small ways, such as defiantly leaving some of their hair out of the covering, removing their scarves when it is safe to do so (such as during hikes and other nature trips), and turning the restrictive clothing into fashion statements, with color and style. As New York Times put it in the title of its review of this book, Alinejad is "The Woman Whose Hair Frightens Iran."
Alinejad has made it clear on many occasions that she isn't against the hijab per se, only against it being compulsory. She wants to be able to walk freely with her mother, a veiled woman, in the West, without her mother enduring scornful looks, and walk together on the streets of Iran, without Alinejad herself being arrested. She has some very harsh words for Women politicians in Europe, who advertise themselves as feminists, yet meekly wear headscarves and baggy dresses to appease the mullahs during their visits to Iran. She doesn't buy their explanations that they do so to respect Iranian traditions (hijab isn't an Iranian tradition, but a religious imposition) and that they do not want to meddle in a country's internal affairs (when tourists and visiting politicians are forced to wear hijabs, the issue in no longer merely internal to Iran).
After remarrying and gaining two foster-kids, Alinejad continued her relentless campaign against misogynistic laws in Iran and discriminatory practices worldwide. She founded the Facebook page "My Stealthy Freedom," where women post hijab-less photos and share stories of abuse and discrimination in Iran. She also initiated a number of other campaigns, including "White Wednesdays," encouraging and supporting women who take their headscarves off, or wear white scarves (not condoned by the Iranian government, which wants women to wear only dark colors), in protest.
I met Alinejad in person when she attended a UCLA Q&A session on April 12, 2015, and had been following her work even before then.

2021/05/08 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Marvels of the world: Dar Al Hajar, Yemen. Beauty amid a humanitarian crisis! World War I ambulance (circa 1917) The amazing nature teaches us how to overcome the sternest obstacles.
Diverse, colorful tomatoes! Figure defining h-index, from a paper of mine Figures from my paper, 'Women in Science and Engineering: A Tale of Two Countries' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Marvels of the world: Dar Al Hajar, Yemen. Beauty amid a humanitarian crisis! [Top center] World War I ambulance (circa 1917). [Top right] The amazing nature teaches us how to overcome the sternest obstacles. [Bottom left] Diverse, colorful tomatoes! [Bottom center] Figure defining h-index, from a paper of mine on research qualilty and impact (see the next item below). [Bottom right] Two figures from a forthcoming paper of mine on women in science and engineering (see the last item below).
(2) Gay Iranian young man murdered: His brother and cousins committed the murder under the guise of protecting the family "honor." Such killings are sanctioned by the government and the perpetrators often escape with a slap on the wrist.
(3) Car bombing near Afghan school kills 55, mostly girls, and injures scores of others: Yeah, let's negotiate peace with these cold-blooded murderers and leave Afghan girls and women to fend for themselves.
(4) On disinformation: The terms "misinformation" and "disinformation" have come to the forefront in this age of fake news on social media and elsewhere. In truth, the two terms have been around since the dawn of mass communication. Misinformation is the spreading of false information, regardless of motivation. Examples include false rumors, insults, and pranks.
Disinformation is a special category of misinformation that is deliberately deceptive, with examples including malicious hoaxes, spear-phishing (highly-targeted phishing schemes), and computational propaganda.
In the old days, propaganda was synonymous with public relations and was not viewed as a pejorative term. Adding "computational" to the already-negatively-perceived "propaganda" implies devious, data-driven manipulation for political and other unsavory purposes.
(5) "Women in Science and Engineering: A Tale of Two Countries": After much delay in the reviewing process due to COVID-19 and related complications, my paper named above (where the two countries of the title are the US and Iran) has been accepted for presentation at the 2021 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference, July 26-29. And, no, the paper's introduction does not begin with "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, ..."!
Here is the final version of the paper. Any comments/suggestions will be warmly welcome. This version was prepared based on constructive comments in two reviewing rounds and will appear in the ASEE Conference Proceedings as is, except possibly for formatting changes. I am excited about presenting this paper and look forward to publishing it in journal form.
Abstract: Despite poor retention and advancement prospects, as well as female-unfriendly workplaces and corporate policies, women continue to flock to and excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. In this paper, using data and narratives from the United States and Iran as examples, I identify roadblocks to the engagement of women in STEM careers. Using the two countries with which I am most familiar as examples is instructive, because this side-by-side comparison shows that undesirable outcomes in the domain of women in STEM fields can and do occur for vastly different reasons, which I discuss.
Keywords: education; equal opportunity; gender equity; labor laws; misogyny; sexism; women's rights; workforce diversity

2021/05/07 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A few image reposts from prior years: Good & evil, teach & learn, me & you, optical illusion! As Iran negotiates with the US in Europe, its state-TV broadcasts a video of a fake attack on the US Capitol Humorous Persian epic poetry: Zanboornameh
Racism exemplified: Taking the Middle-Easterner, dark-skinned Jesus and turning him into a white European Cover image of IEEE Spectrum magazine for May 2021: Building an AI that Feels (1) Images of the day: [Top left] A few image reposts from prior years: Good & evil, teach & learn, me & you, optical illusion! [Top center] As Iran negotiates with the US in Europe, its state-TV broadcasts a video of a fake attack on the US Capitol. [Top right] Humorous Persian epic poetry: Zanboornameh (see the next item below). [Bottom left & center] Racism exemplified: Taking the Middle-Easterner, kind-to-outcasts Jesus (imagined in the left-hand image) and turning him into a white European, who condemns sinners. [Bottom right] Cover image of IEEE Spectrum for May 2021 (see the last item below).
(2) The situation in India is dire and is getting worse: I have decided to offer a second donation, this time through Direct Relief International, which has a superb record of relief work and has linked up with several local nonprofits to provide critical items, such as oxygen, to India. Please help if you can!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Liz Cheney persists: Women will defeat Trumpism, just as they will defeat extremist Islam in Iran!
- Wide gap remains between the US and Iran, as indirect nuclear-deal talks resume in Vienna.
- Iran's expanding censorship: A draft bill proposes a broad ban on Western media in Iran.
- Glimpses of the central part of UCSB campus under COVID: Details in the 3-minute video's narration.
(4) Math puzzle: Let letters of the alphabet stand for decimal digits, not necessarily distinct. Two brothers have ages ab and cd. After 11 years, their ages will be ef and gh, respectively. The four-digit numbers abcd and efgh are both perfect squares. How old are the two brothers?
(5) "Fair Recommendations with Biased Data": Speaking this afternoon as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series of UCSB's Center for Responsible Machine Learning, Cornell University Professor Thorsten Joachims discussed new machine-learning algorithms that directly address both endogenous and exogenous unfairness.
What a recommendation system does is to allocate exposure based on merit. But when merit scores are fairly close, a small difference, obtained by seemingly unbiased criteria, may be amplified by giving the lower-ranking item (artist, applicant, ...) almost no exposure. Consider the case of job applicants, for example. A slight preference of employers for male candidates (built into the ranking algorithm) may place all female applicants way down on the ranked list, thereby giving them almost no exposure, owing to users seldom looking beyond the few top-ranked items.
One possible solution is to not always put the highest-scoring entity at the top of the list but come up with a probabilistic scheme in which a lower-ranked item, which has a smaller probability of being relevant, still gets a chance to appear near the top in proportion to its relevance probability. The problem is quite challenging, as there is a trade-off between merit-based and fairness-based ranking strategies, often requiring compromises.
[Flyer and a few slides] [66-minute video recording]
(9) IEEE Spectrum magazine's May 2021 issue: Entitled "Building an AI that Feels," this month's cover feature is built on the premise that AI systems with emotional intelligence could learn faster and be more helpful. One of the questions asked is this: "If an AI agent was motivated by fear, curiosity, or delight, how would that change the technology and its capabilities?"

2021/05/06 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Throwback Thursday: With my family, at an event of the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran Throwback Thursday: Googoosh wearing a 1974 Asian Games T-shirt Throwback Thursday: A family photo from 1974
Throwback Thursday: A family photo from the early 1960s Throwback Thursday: With college buddies, during a mid-1960s field trip and a mid-1970s get-together Cover image of J. D. Vance's 'Hillbilly Elegy' (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Throwback Thursday: Mid-1970s, around the time the Asian Games were held in Tehran, shortly after I had returned home from the US. [Bottom left & center] Throwback Thursday (continued): More photos from the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, with family members and college buddies. [Bottom right] Cover image of J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy (see the last item below).
(2) The aftermath of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's leaked interview: Iran's Revolutionary Guards intelligence agents raid President Rouhani's and FM Zarif's offices in search of evidence of wrongdoing.
(3) Criminals like Donald Trump survive and prosper because of people like William Barr: Every time Trump was about to go down, someone like Barr saved his behind, and was then discarded like a soiled toilet tissue. And others do not seem to learn from the process. There seems to be an endless supply of such power-hungry people, who would do anything to be in the spotlight for a brief time period. Sessions, Kelly, McMaster, even Pence, are all examples of stepping stones Trump has used on his path to political power.
(4) Book review: Vance, J. D., Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, unabridged audiobook, read by the author, Audible.com, 2016. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This best-selling memoir is written by a 31-year-old, who, by his own admission, has accomplished nothing extraordinary in life. He leads a happy, ordinary life. But this is quite extraordinary, given where and how he grew up. His family, with origins in the greater Appalachia, described itself as hillbillies. Fighting between his parents, and between his mom and various other husbands/boyfriends, was a common occurrence; scary at first, but observed with curiosity, as time went by. In fact, most couples in the neighborhood had violent fights that could be heard by neighbors. Stability and love were provided by Vance's grandparents, imperfect people themselves, but Vance credits his grandmother's tough love as a pillar of his success.
Vance's diagnosis, that his family and other hillbillies are responsible for their own misfortunes through the encouragement of social rot, did not sit well with many critics and social activists. He cites examples from personal experience, such as his observations as a grocery store cashier who could not afford to own a cell phone, while observing many welfare recipients talking on cell phones. He resented having to struggle, acting responsibly while holding a job, as others around him benefited from poor behavior. Of course, the other side of the story is that a few individuals pulling themselves up by their bootstraps aren't enough to change the region's economy for the better, especially when all such successful people move out and settle in other areas.
Vance maintains that stopping at skin color misses some fine distinctions arising from ethnicity, such as his identification with the millions of working-class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degrees and view poverty as a family tradition that goes back many generations. Respecting the dead, to the point of standing at attention whenever a funeral motorcade passed by, was another tradition defining "the hill people," as was a large family composed of extended network of kin (grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins).
Vance studied at Ohio State University and later graduated from Yale Law School, admitting that, given the availability of scholarships and other types of financial aid, poor students can attend elite colleges at substantially lower out-of-pocket cost than what local or state schools would charge. He was also lucky to encounter caring mentors who helped him every step of the way through his studies and finding employment. It is unclear why Vance approves of this kind of assistance to a select few, but not of other kinds of investments in poor communities.
Netflix and director Ron Howard made Hillbilly Elegy into a 2020 film by the same title. The film's critical reviews were lukewarm, but Actress Glenn Close won a couple of awards for her performance, with actress Amy Adams's performance also deemed praiseworthy. Here is an NPR interview with author J. D. Vance.

2021/05/05 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The real Iran? Not! (Two stylish women on a Tehran street) Iran's food and confectionary map, listed by province Yours truly, wearing a T-shirt with John Lewis's words: 'Get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble' (1) Images of the day: [Left] The real Iran? Not really! This photo was posted by a Facebook user purporting to show "The Real Iran," as opposed to depictions by prejudiced Westerners. I commented: "This isn't the real Iran. Such a scene may be seen on a particular street, in the capital city of Tehran, for a short period of time needed to do a photo shoot, when the morality police ('gasht-e ershad') isn't nearby. This is as much of a misrepresentation as those of prejudiced Westerners." [Center] Iranian cuisine: My carpet map of Iran was a hit, so, let me present Iran's map of common foods and confectionary, listed by province. Someone should augment this map with images of the items named! As usual, please don't take the selections too seriously. For example, listing "fast food" for Tehran is likely meant to be humorous. Also, "baghali ghatogh" is missing for the Caspian coast (food photos and receipes). [Right] Anti-racism (see the next item below).
(2) What does it mean to be anti-racist? This was the topic of a DEI workshop I attended yesterday. The workshop, led by Senior DEI Trainer Rebecca Ritarita Refuerzo, began by reviewing the notions of implicit bias and White Privilege. The latter are subjects of separate workshops that some participants had attended prior to coming to this one.
Racism is a prejudice against someone or a group of people based on race. Race is a sociopolitical construct; it's not biological. We are socialized into dividing people by race and, hence, into racist behavior. In the US, "White" is a self-ascribed category to create "us" versus "them." Racism is more than racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Stated as an equation, Racism = Racial prejudice + Power. Also, racism is more than individual acts. It requires an established power structure to support it and also depends on the silence of those around the offender.
The aim of anti-racism is to rectify the current and historical imbalance that has only favored White immigrants. So, we can't talk about anti-racism without also talking about the rise of the modern White Supremacy movement. Anti-racism isn't about who you are. It's not passive. It's about what you do to dismantle systems/structures/institutions that are racist, have been maintained by White Supremacy, and have caused discrimination, injustice, and inequity. Anything that isn't anti-racist is racist.
In formulating a personal action plan, don't fall into the trap of "But I am only one person"! Start with your sphere of influence, such as your classroom. Be an accomplice or co-conspirator. As the late John Lewis was fond of saying, "Get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble." Also, focus on a particular problem and develop an action plan for it. Saying that discrimination, hatred (and, in its extreme form, genocide), and exclusion have existed throughout human history and still exist worldwide, makes you feel incapacitated to act. Sometimes, the mention of the global scope of the problem may be a diversionary reaction. Take one piece of the problem, say, race-based discrimination in the US, or in California, or in Santa Barbara, and act upon it. Reparations constitute one form of doing something to help reduce or eliminate discrimination. Affirmative action is another form. One objection raised against affirmative action programs is that they are tantamount to "reverse discrimination." There is a workshop dealing with this objection and how to confront it.
My own goal in attending this and similar workshops is to learn the main concepts and the terminology used to define and delineate problems, so as to enable understanding and participation. In the domain of social justice, my focus is on injustices and barriers erected against women in academia, particularly in STEM fields. I have chosen to focus on this area owing to the benefits of specialization. I can read extensively in this one area, become familiar with problems and solution methods, and have facts and figures at my fingertips, as I participate in programs and discussions within my time budget. So, I will likely not become as active in the domain of racism, but I do want to learn about systemic racism and what is being done about it.
Here is a dilemma I face, as I embark on the path of educating myself about racism and anti-racism. As a first-generation Iranian-American, I come from the land of Aryans: What can be "Whiter" than this? Yet, for all practical purposes, I am (and am viewed/treated as) a colored person in the US. This categorization as "other" intensified in the decade following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but it is still very much a problem. So, I am not sure whether my actions should be in the domain of using my "White Privilege," thus acting as an ally, or to participate as a victim of racism.

2021/05/04 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Proper punctuation saves lives: 'Let's eat grandma' vs. 'Let's eat, grandma'! Meme: Natural exercise and tanning, at no cost, for anyone willing to move from his/her privileged position Cartoon: Lady Liberty emerges from hiding!
Types of scientific paper: Open-access (Batch 1) Types of scientific paper: Open-access: Paid-subscription Types of scientific paper: Open-access (Batch 2) (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Language tip of the day: Proper punctuation saves lives: "Let's eat grandma" vs. "Let's eat, grandma"! [Top center] Meme of the day: Natural exercise and tanning, at no cost, for anyone willing to abandon his/her privileged position. [Top right] Cartoon of the day: Lady Liberty emerges from hiding! [Bottom row] Types of paper (science humor): Open-access and paid-subscription versions.
(2) Math puzzle: Find four integers such that the sum of every two and the sum of all four are perfect squares. Of course, (0, 0, 0, 0) is an answer, as is (0, 0, 0, n^2) for any n. See if you can do it without repetition. [This is Puzzle #188 in Henry Ernest Dudeney's 536 Puzzles and Curious Problems, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967]
(3) Iran's FM Javad Zarif apologizes to the country's Supreme Leader: Khamenei lambasted him for speaking of internal rifts within the regime and for criticizing the late General Qassem Soleimani. Earlier, President Rouhani had put some distance between himself and Zarif, saying that he spoke for himself, not for the administration. Zarif's apology to the Supreme Leader was direct and extensive. Coming less than two weeks before the presidential elections, the incident has humiliated Zarif and his allies. Khamenei's henchmen and media goons, who were always suspicious of Zarif, at times calling him an American spy, are having a field day.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Mexico City's subway overpass collapses, killing at least 23 and injuring scores more.
- The Amazon has flipped from helpful consumer to major producer of greenhouse gases.
- Serious comedy: Apple vs. Facebook in the domain of data privacy and tracking users' on-line behavior.
- May the fourth be with you! [Credit: Tweet by Neil deGrasse Tyson]
- America has a forced-marriage epidemic: The new film "Knots" documents misogynistic coercion stories.
- Quote of the day: "Get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble." ~ The late Congressman John Lewis
(5) "Fair Recommendations with Biased Data": Speaking as a Distinguished Lecturer for UCSB's Center for Responsible Machine Learning, Dr. Thorsten Joachims (Cornell U.) will discuss machine learning algorithms that directly address both endogenous and exogenous unfairness. Friday, May 7, 2021, 1:00 PM PDT. [Register]
(6) Technical talk of IEEE Central Coast Section (over Zoom): Dr. Farinaz Koushanfar (ECE Dept., UCSD) will talk on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, 5:30 PM PDT, under the title "Machine Learning on Encrypted Data: Hardware to the Rescue." [Link for free registration]
(7) Comedy to make you weep: A couple on Iranian TV say they married each other, sight unseen. The woman sees no need to meet a man before marrying him, because, actually, the uglier a man, the better. [Video]
(8) Morality police withdraw from Iran's streets: They will remain less visible until after the election, a couple of weeks hence. Internet restrictions will also be eased during this period. The pattern's clear: Iran's presidents alternate between hardliners and reformists. When a reformist is elected, citizens dance on the streets for the relative easing of restrictions & prospects of improving international relations. When a hardliner is elected, they go into defensive mode, hoping for his removal in 4 or 8 years. Iranians have very short memories! [Photos]

2021/05/03 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
World Press Freedom Day: Logo World Press Freedom Day: World map Cover image of Cathy O'Neil's 'Weapons of Math Destruction'
Photos from my walk of Sunday 5/2 in Isla Vista: Batch 1 Photos from my walk of Sunday 5/2 in Isla Vista: Batch 3 Photos from my walk of Sunday 5/2 in Isla Vista: Batch 2 (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Happy World Press Freedom Day! Freedom of the Press is synonymous with the contentment and achievement of a country's citizens. The map shows the extent of press freedom in world's countries, with darker colors representing less freedom. [Top right] Cathy O'Neil's Weapons of Math Destruction (see the last item below). [Bottom row] Photos from my walk of Sunday 5/2 in Isla Vista.
(2) International Teachers' Day is on October 5: In Iran, teachers are celebrated on May 2 (Ordibehesht 12), coinciding with the anniversary of the passing of Ayatollah Morteza Mottahari (in 1979). I appreciate my former students sending me thank-you messages on May 2, but choosing religion-specific dates for such honors is against my beliefs. I observe secular, international occasions.
(3) Misogyny of the great Persian poets: Recently, I participated in an on-line discussion about whether Persian literature is misogynistic. The discussion was triggered by a woman speaker citing verses from Sa'adi Shirazi and Rahi Moayyeri in this 6-minute video clip. Read the rest of the discussion on my post of the video clip.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Humanitarian crisis: India's second wave of COVID-19 infections shows no signs of slowing down.
- One of wold's biggest child-sex Web sites, with more than 400,000 members, taken down in Germany.
- The Borowitz Report (Humor): Thousands of presidential fact-checkers laid off in Biden's first 100 days.
- Hey, single men & women! Bill & Melinda Gates will be on the market. They're splitting after 27 years.
(5) Book review: O'Neil, Cathy, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, unabridged audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2016.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The main points of this book have already been made numerous times and by many authors: That big data, and its use in machine-learning algorithms, amplify existing societal biases and hide them under many layers of complexity, so that we can't even examine, much less eradicate, them.
O'Neil, a mathematician-turned-data-scientist, points to the fact that algorithms used to rate or score various things are for the most part unregulated and uncontestable. They work well for their users, businesses which aim to maximize their profits, but at a substantial cost to those who are unfairly given low scores on life-altering outcomes, such as employment offers, job performance reviews, securing a mortgage loan, admission to dream colleges, or parole eligibility on the basis of recidivism risks.
When accurate data is used for social or business decisions, such as setting insurance premiums (e.g., speeding tickets, drunk-driving records, accidents, and so on), one can't argue against the value and fairness of the decisions. However, often group or geographical-area characteristics, are used instead of, or in addition to, pertinent data, leading to reinforcement of biases that make the poor poorer and the rich richer.
People are categorized on the basis of highly-inaccurate data purchased from data peddlers, which are merged with massive, publicly-available databases to construct detailed profiles on individuals. A striking example is payday lenders or for-profit colleges targeting vulnerable individuals (on the basis of behavioral patterns, such as where they shop) to encourage them to take out loans with exorbitant interest rates or to present them with college options they have never had, paid for with government grants and loans. Another example is police departments' use of predictive policing, a self-reinforcing practice, given that patrolling poor neighborhoods is likely to result in a larger number of arrests per dollar spent.
As I wrote at the beginning of my review, alarm bells in this area have been sounded by many authors and researchers. I still recommend this book highly because of its accessibility and the many excellent examples it gathers in one place.
Here's a 67-minute recent book talk by author Cathy O'Neil. And here's a shorter version of O'Neil's pitch in a 13-minute TED talk, where she says "algorithms are opinions embedded in code."
Note added on August 21, 2021: The documentary "Coded Bias" (available on Netflix) is based on this book.

2021/05/01 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy International Workers' Day! Math puzzle from the mathematics calendar page for May 1, 2021 Entering the Asian-American and Pacific-Islander Heritage Month
A dangerous winding road between Amol and Larijan, near Nandal Village, in Iran's Mazandaran province My workstation & Zoom background at home Beijing's Forbidden City, as seen from the air (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Today is International Workers' Day or May Day (see the next item below). [Top center] Math puzzle from the mathematics calendar page for May 1 (consider this a hint; solution due to Dr. Johar M. Ashfaque). [Top right] Entering the Asian-American and Pacific-Islander Heritage Month (see the last item below). [Bottom left] A dangerous winding road between Amol and Larijan, near Nandal Village, in Iran's Mazandaran province. [Bottom center] My workstation & Zoom background at home: I took these photos to submit for a survey of UCSB faculty members about their teaching experiences over the past year, conducted by the student publication The Bottom Line. [Bottom right] Beijing's Forbidden City, as seen from the air.
(2) Happy International Workers' Day! Today is "Labor Day" in most countries of the world (the US Labor Day is on the first Monday of September). Many people associate May Day with communism, but it has come to signify workers' rights in countries with many different political systems.
According to Wikipedia, "1 May was chosen to be International Workers' Day to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago ... [which, over multiple days] led to the deaths of 7 police officers and at least 38 civilians; 60 police officers were injured, as were 115 civilians. Hundreds of labour leaders and sympathizers were later rounded-up and 4 were executed by hanging. ... [Later] in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the state militia fired on a crowd of strikers killing 7, including a schoolboy and a man feeding chickens in his yard."
Let us celebrate the contributions of workers to our country's progress and prosperity. The stock market did not build this country, workers did!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Settling a lawsuit, Newsmax apologizes to Dominion Voting Systems for false election-fraud allegations.
- With the US running out of adults eager to be vaccinated, COVID-19 herd immunity may be out of reach.
- Many men who pay for sex as sugar daddies convince themselves that they are paying for other things.
- Family-values crusader Josh Duggar faces charges of child pornography.
- One hundred days of Biden scandals: How media conservatives have been freaking out! [3-minute video]
- Lost another member of the Fanni Class of 1968: Hamid Mishkanian. May he rest in peace! [Images]
(4) A popular post of mine from a week ago: The carpet map of Iran, which I posted on April 24, 2021, turned out to be extremely popular, to the extent that 273 people have shared it thus far. Many of those who shared the image apparently didn't like it much, as the number of "likes" is only 71.
(5) May is the Asian-American and Pacific-Islander Heritage Month: Given recent incidents of hate and violence inflicted on this group of our fellow-Americans, let's make it clear during the month of May, and always, that no one is more American than others. Having arrived in this land of opportunity from diverse backgrounds and at different times, we all own this unique melting-pot.

2021/04/30 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
New Yorker cartoon of the day: Costco dental floss A few of my drawings from the late 1960s Cartoon: 'About your cat, Mr. Schrodinger--I have good news and bad news.'
Devereux Slough, on a beautiful mid-spring afternoon Photos from Coal Oil Point Beach in Goleta Photo from Goleta's Coal Oil Point Beach, looking north (1) Images of the day: [Top left] New Yorker cartoon of the day: Costco dental floss. [Top center] A few of my drawings from the late 1960s: I have no idea why I drew cigarettes or a cocktail. I was never fond of either. I do remember that the calendar page was a real one I had on my desk. [Top right] Bonus cartoon of the day: "Mr. Schrodinger—I have good news and bad news." [Bottom row] A beautiful afternoon in Goleta, California: Thursday, at the Devereux Slough, which was nearly dry, and Coal Oil Point Beach, where surf was up.
(2) IEEE Computer Society Member Essay Contest: In honor of the society turning 75, members are challenged to submit a short (500-650 words) essay that delves into the impacts technology has had on society. Deadline: May 14, 2021. Prizes: $1000, $500, $250.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Stampede at a religious celebration in Israel kills at least 45, injuring dozens more.
- A dire humanitarian crisis calls out to us: Please help India's fight against COVID-19. [Donate via UNICEF]
- Joe Biden's first 100 days in office: 100 million fully-[[vaccinated Americans
- Political humor: "Rudy who? I don't know any such person. You should ask my attorney." ~ Donald Trump
- Carol Mann's blog entry: "What Are Iran and Pakistan Doing in UN's Commission on the Status Women?"
(4) On-line sources of Persian poetry with English translations: I first posted this information on April 30, 2015; reposting as a reminder of the wealth of information available in this regard. I have removed from the original list several sites that have since disappeared or turned into money-making enterprises (a couple of them with malicious content). Please drop me a line if you know of other useful sites.
There are numerous sites where one can find the works of Persian poets in Persian; ganjoor.net, my favorite, is both comprehensive and keyword-searchable. There are also sites specifically devoted to Hafez and Mowlavi/Rumi, among others.
I have also found many sources for translated poems, without the original Persian versions. In fact, in many cases, particularly with the works of Mowlavi/Rumi, it is extremely difficult to relate the purported translations to the original poems. I suspect (and others have pointed this out as well) that in many cases, English verses attributed to Rumi aren't actual translations of his poems, but verses written by others in his style or following his philosophy. Hence, my interest in combined Persian/English sources, where the authenticity of translations is readily verifiable by a Persian-speaker.
The gold standard of translated Persian poems is Edward FitzGerald's translation of Khayyam's Rubaiyat. Various PDF and on-line versions are available, the legality of which I don't know (unfortunately, most are without the Persian originals); Gutenberg Project's site offers a free and legal English-only version.
Here are some bilingual sources as starters.
[Hafez, "Divan"]   [Hafez on Love]   [Mowlavi/Rumi: Zara Houshmand's translations]
[Various: Modern Persian poetry]   [Various: "Persian Poetry in English" on FB]

2021/04/29 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Walking in SB downtown on Tuesday, April 27, 2021: Batch 2 of photos Walking in SB downtown on Tuesday, April 27, 2021: Batch 1 of photos Walking in SB downtown on Tuesday, April 27, 2021: Batch 3 of photos
Anoushka Shankar's April 29, 2021, webinar Quotes of the day: Reposted from April 29, 2018 (Buddha & Anonymous) The US stock market continues to set new records under Joe Biden (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Walking in SB downtown on Tuesday, April 27, 2021: A beautiful, warm, sunny day, with isolated cloud patches forming interesting patterns overhead. One of the photos shows the back side of the majestic Arlington Theater, not often seen in photographs. Another one shows the Trinity Episcopal Church at 1500 State Street. The SB Transit Center, where MTD bus lines originate & end, has resumed its operation, with some restrictions. [Bottom left] Anoushka Shankar's April 29, 2021, webinar (see the next item below). [Bottom center] Quotes of the day: Reposted from April 29, 2018. [Bottom right] The stock market continues to soar: I, for one, do not believe that a rising stock market is an indication of economic progress and national well-being. Many Americans continue to struggle, holding multiple jobs and living paycheck-to-paycheck, as the stock market continues to set new records. However, since Donald Trump had said that the election of Joe Biden would lead to a stock market crash, I am sharing this chart with you.
(2) Anoushka Shankar's Zoom webinar: Being watched by a sold-out audience from 28 countries, Shankar talked with her friend Priya Darshini about her music, collaborations, feminism, and a host of other topics. She was asked about, and elaborated upon, getting pushback for playing a classical Indian instrument, while wearing jeans and speaking with an American accent.
A couple of music videos from YouTube were played in between talk segments. A powerful musical piece, "Sister Susannah," highlighted a man's expectations of obedience and "knowing her place" from his wife. She will have her first live show in more than a year on May 30, 2021, in London.
My question, which went unanswered amid a sea of other questions: I know your dad collaborated with the Beatles. Have you had any musical interactions with members of the Beatles?
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A page from the book Great Women in Mathematics: The late Professor Maryam Mirzakhani. [Image]
- A classic math puzzle: Which is larger, e^π or π^e?
- A curious mathematical fact: 6! × 7! = 10!
- A triangle with side lengths π (3.14), e (2.71), and the Golden Ratio (1.61) is almost a right triangle!
(4) Digital romance from the 1800s: Ventura College's Theater Arts Department live-streams its staged reading of "Ada and the Engine," by Lauren Gunderson, the story of Ada Byron Lovelace, world's first "programmer," and her relationship with Charles Babbage. Friday 4/30 & Saturday 5/1, 7:30 PM PDT.
(5) Key points from today's meeting of UCSB's Faculty Legislature, including budget and UCOP data breach: Academic Senate Awards (Faculty Research Lecturer—Richard Mayer, Psych & Brain Sciences) ... [Read more]

2021/04/28 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Puzzle involving a square, a couple of known lengths, and a bisected angle Puzzle: What equality is being graphically illustrated here? Puzzle: Find the area of the circle, assuming that the green triangle is equilateral (1) Math puzzles: [Left] In the square ABCD, the points E and F are chosen, with the lengths BE and DF as shown and with the two angles EAF and DAF equal. What is the length of AE? [Center] What equality is being graphically illustrated here? [Right] Find the area of the circle, assuming that the green triangle is equilateral.
(2) Another 10 days of gorgeous, late-spring weather on the way in my neck of the woods: It seems, however, that after April showers not happening, May flowers may be endangered too! [10-day weather forecast]
(3) Iran and Saudi Arabia can't see eye to eye on most issues: But when it comes to misogyny and abuses of human/women's rights, they are very much on the same page. [Poster]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Apple to invest more than $1 billion to build its first East-Coast campus in North Carolina.
- Rudy Giuliani in legal crosshairs: His residence & office were searched and an indictment appears eminent!
- IRGC commander confirms Iran's military presence in Yemen, to the chagrin of politicians denying it!
- My 2014 prediction of what happened with regard to rampant racism under Trump's presidency. [FB post]
- For x, y, z > 0, what is the minimum of the expression (x^2 + x + 1)(y^2 + y + 1)(z^2 + z + 1)/(xyz)?
- In the triangle ABC, the altitude AD splits BC into lengths of 2 & 7, and tan A = 18. Find the triangle's area.
(5) Most universities will require faculty, staff, and students to be vaccinated for fall in-person re-opening: They will be able to do this only if vaccine approvals move from "emergency-use authorization" to "FDA approval."
(6) MBC Persia offers a positive step in Persian comedy: In this stand-up routine, Sina Valiollah talks about Iranians' exaggerated sense of self-worth and some idiotic pronouncements from Iranian officials.
(7) Are we close to bridging classical and quantum computing? Researchers at China's Tsinghua U., UK's U. Southampton, and South Africa's U. Witswaterand, who have used mirrors to generate a light beam with multiple, classical entanglements, believe so.
(8) A worthy successor to "death panels," "taking your guns," and "Shari'a Law": As Americans overwhelmingly support action on climate change, the conservatives/Fox-News axis has pulled another rabbit out of their hat of lies to oppose Biden's plans. They claim that Biden will take away their beef and will impose a "burger ban"!
(9) Final thought for the day: Saying that student debt should not be forgiven because it would be unfair to those who have already paid off their debt is like saying we should not treat COVID-19 patients because it would be unfair to those who have already died.

2021/04/27 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Children today are shocked to learn that their grandmothers looked like this in the 1970s! Tah-chin (rice layered with chicken, flavored with yogurt and saffron), courtesy of my mom, plus salad Chloe Zhao and Frances McDormand, after receiving their Oscars (1) Images of the day: [Left] Children today are shocked to learn that their grandmothers looked like this in the 1970s! [Center] Persian cuisine: Tah-chin (rice layered with chicken, flavored with yogurt and saffron), courtesy of my mom, plus salad. (Recipe) [Right] Full list of Academy Awards nominees and winners: The unconventional, but praiseworthy, 93rd Oscars crowned the first woman of color, Chloe Zhao, as Best Director and the refreshingly unglamorous Frances McDormand as Best Actress. The Best Motion Picture Oscar completed the hat-trick of top honors for "Nomadland."
(2) Former politician and CNN commentator Rick Santorum's White-Supremacist rant: "We birthed a nation from nothing ... There isn't much Native American culture in American culture."
(3) IEEE Student Chapter at UCSB presents a technical talk: Professor Li-C. Wang (ECE, UCSB) will talk about "Machine Learning in Test Data Analytics" (Monday, May 3, 2021, 6:30 PM PDT).
(4) Another step in Iran's #MeToo movement: A young woman accuses a prominent Iranian artist of asking for sexual favors in return for helping her break into the music business.
(5) Iran adds an extra year of prison term on new charges against UK-Iranian dual-citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: As the mullahs negotiate with the West on a new nuclear deal and lifting of economic sanctions, they didn't want a valuable hostage to go free prematurely! Shame on the UK for tolerating such a bullying move!
(6) The origin of the term "tree hugger": "The first tree huggers were 294 men and 69 women belonging to the Bishnois branch of Hinduism, who, in 1730, died while trying to protect the trees in their village from being turned into the raw material for building a palace." The tribe, which sacrificed lives to save their trees, now lives in a wooded oasis amid a desert landscape.
(7) A graduation ceremony in Afghanistan: Honorees sing about having Persian roots and boast about their affection for great Iranian poets. Iranian culture is being protected outside Iran's borders! [1-minute video]
(8) Director of Iran's Research Center on Women and Families: "If women accept male authority, they won't face violence." This new research finding will no doubt revolutionize social norms across the globe!
(9) Iran gains a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women: Voting was done in secret, but journalist Masih Alinejad has crunched the numbers, concluding that at least four Western democracies voted in favor of Iran. Which countries think that putting the fox in charge of the hen-house is a good idea? Shame on them!

2021/04/25 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Flowers and landscaping plants (1) My walk of a few days ago in Goleta's Patterson area: I walked along Lassen Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood which has lush landscaping, with many colorful flowers, drought-tolerant plants, and fruit trees.
(2) Severe shortage of beef and chicken meat in Iran: Supreme Leader Khamenei has opined that people should consider seafood. Reminds me of Marie-Antoinette's rumored pronouncement, "Let them eat cake!"
(3) Archaeologists may have discovered the missing link to the origins of the alphabet: A 3500-year-old pottery fragment unearthed at Tel Lachish in Israel holds the oldest securely-dated alphabetic inscription.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Don't miss tomorrow night's Pink Moon (8:32 PM PDT), when the moon is closest to Earth.
- India's daily COVID-19 infections surpass 350k: Oxygen on black market; hospitals/morgues overwhelmed.
- Iran, which treats women as in this video, now has a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women!
- Humor: Delete your Facebook account and enjoy life to the fullest in person. 1-minute video]
- Persian music: "Esfahan-e Kohan" ("Ancient Esfahan"), a wonderful piece played on tar and tombak.
- Persian music: Farhang Foundation premiers Ava Choir's performance of a special spring medley.
(5) Law Professor Philippe Sands on "Fareed Zakaria GPS": The word "genocide" did not exist before 1944, so the mass-killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks should not be called genocide. Really, we need a word to exist, before we can call out an abhorrent behavior? What if the word "Holocaust' did not exist in Hitler's time?
(6) Iran's "Cultural Revolution" of four decades ago: The Islamic regime that assumed power after the 1979 Revolution hated communists and communism, but this hatred didn't stop it from emulating Mao's "Cultural Revolution," a misguided program that set the country back by years, if not decades, owing to the closure of Iranian universities for three full years, dismissal of some 40,000 students, and ousting of around 7000 faculty members. [The last two numbers have been cited from this Facebook post; I could not verify them independently. Both numbers were definitely in the thousands.]
(7) Repression of students and academics in Iran: A 118-page Amnesty Int'l report, entitled "Silenced, Expelled, Imprisoned" (2014), reviews the higher-education scene in Iran, discussing discrimination based on gender & religion, attacks on academic freedom, and the legal framework, ending with some recommendations.
(8) Iran's FM Javad Zarif grows a spine on his way out: After lying through his teeth and being a regime apologist for 8 years, he criticizes General Qasem Soleimani's preference for militarism over diplomacy.

2021/04/24 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Electric cars of more than a century ago (photo from 1916) Carpet map of Iran: Shown are typical carpet design patterns for different provinces Math problem: Solve for x (1) Images of the day: [Left] Electric cars: Before the modern renaissance, the heyday of electric vehicles was more than a century ago. This 1916 photo shows four Beardsley electric cars with their all-women occupants in front of Hotel Virginia in Long Beach, California. The demise of EVs was aided in part by Cadillac's introduction of the electric starter in 1912, which quickly replaced the troublesome and dangerous hand-crank starters on gasoline-engine cars. [Center] Carpet map of Iran: Shown are typical carpet design patterns for different provinces. [Right] Math problem: Solve for x (try to solve on your own, before looking at the solution in red).
(2) Scientific misconduct: Scientist, whose research dismisses the evidence that COVID-19 is an airborne infection, is exposed in a conflict-of-interest case. He has links to co-founders of the 'herd immunity' Great Barrington Declaration and several members of the WHO committee that funded the research show up as co-authors of the published work.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Biden is the first US President to recognize Ottoman Empire's massacre of Armenians as genocide.
- Indonesian navy submarine sinks, killing all 53 on board.
- With the new arrivals, there are now 11 humans aboard the International Space Station. [Video]
- Oprah Winfrey to deliver a keynote at UCSB's virtual commencement ceremonies on June 12.
- Woman demonstrates exquisite soccer skills. [2-minute video]
- Chess puzzle: How many moves are needed for a knight to visit every one of the other 63 squares?
- Quote: "It's an old habit with theologians to beat the living with the bones of the dead." ~ Robert G. Ingersoll
- UCSB's West Campus Beach: Cloudy and a tad windy, but an otherwise pleasant Saturday. [Video]
(4) Ridiculous and sad: Iran has been selected as a member of UN's Commission on the Status of Women. Saudi Arabia had a seat on the Commission before Iran. Once the Taliban take over in Afghanistan, after the US departs, Afghanistan will be added to the Commission! Sadly, only the third statement above is speculative.
(5) Economic sanctions are God-sent for some Iranians: Much of Iran's exports go through third countries, with the exporter, multiple middle persons (often other Iranians), and the receipient of goods all making fortunes. The same goes for imports. In particular, military and oil-industry spare parts are bought by certain dealers in Europe, sent to UAE or other countries in the region, and then sold to Iran at a final price that is at least 3 times what the original buyer paid for them. In each such purchase, there are officials within the Iranian government, who get their cuts to approve the deal. This is why there is serious pushback to Iran resuming talks with the West and the prospects of the sanctions being removed.

2021/04/23 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Technical talk on quantum computing by Dr. Yufei Ding (CS, UCSB) 'The Canticle of the Birds' panel, sponsored by Georgetown University Roundtable discussion on women in science, UCSB College of Creative Studies (1) Images of the day: [Left] Thursday's technical talk on quantum computing (see the next item below). [Center] Persian poetry: The Canticle of the Birds panel, sponsored by Georgetown U. (see Item 3 below). [Right] Thurdsay's roundtable discussion on women in science (see the last item below).
(2) "Quantum Computing Engineering: Challenges and Opportunities": Speaking under the auspices of UCSB's Institute for Energy Efficiency on Thursday 4/22, Dr. Yufei Ding (CS, UCSB) discussed certain algorithmic and reliability aspects of quantum computing.
The second quantum revolution, the transition from quantum theory to quantum engineering, promises to make quantum computing practical. Dr. Ding reviewed the challenges and research opportunities in the state-of-the-art quantum computing engineering technology stacks, including quantum computing devices, peripheral control hardware architecture, compiler design/optimization, and programming language design.
Dr. Ding then introduced her recent work on efficient qubit mapping, superconducting quantum processor architecture design, and quantum program assertions in tackling some of these challenges.
(3) The Canticle of the Birds (Manteq-ol-Tayr): The venerated book of poetry by the 12th-century Persian poet Farid al-Din Attar (whose title is sometimes translated as Conference of the Birds) was the focus of today's Georgetown University Persian panel, led by Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak (U. Maryland) and featuring distinguished panelists Dr. Leili Anvar (Institut National des Langues et Civilsations Orientales), Dr. Michael A. Barry (Princeton U.), and Ms. Wendy Jehlen (Artistic Director and Founder, ANIKAYA).
Dr. Anvar presented a summary and analysis of the book, noting that its entire structure is based on one verse in the Quran, "Of God we are and to Him we shall return." The birds plan to establish a kingdom, led by simurgh (believed to be the source/mother of all creation) as queen. The birds are metaphors for human souls and simurgh stands for God. The longest sub-story within the story is 500 verses long and describes the quest of Sheikh San'an, who goes from Mecca to Rome, falls in love with a Christian girl, but eventually returns to Mecca, an allusion to coming from God, exploring life and love through beauty, and returning to Him (which is essentially the plot of the entire story too).
Dr. Barry described imagery inspired by Attar's work and similar Sufi poetry. Persian poetry peaked during the 12th and 13th centuries. In later centuries, painting and other visualizations became the dominant art form, usually illustrating the works of poets who came before. Dr. Barry showed a large collection of visual art based on the poetry of Attar, Hafiz, Mowlavi/Rumi, and other great poets. This talk of Dr. Barry at the MET captures many of the images that he showed today.
Ms. Jehlen, who has choreographed dance performances based on Attar's work, showed clips from her dance routines, some of which I found on YouTube and Vimeo to share in this report.
(4) "CCS Lounge: Women in Science": This was the title of a roundtable discussion, sponsored by UCSB's College of Creative Studies, held at 4:30 yesterday afternoon. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Amber Kaplan ('06, CCS Biology), Chief Scientific Officer, Karma Biotechnologies. The panelists, listed below, discussed a wealth of experiences as women in STEM, including their paths to specializations & careers, life-work balance, roles as mentors/mentees, choosing role models, approach to communication, and navigating male-dominated fields in terms of actions and personal style.
- Dr. Alyssa Larson ('08, CCS Chemistry and Biochemistry) - Senior Associate, RA Capital Management
- Professor Kathy Foltz - UCSB Professor; Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology; CCS faculty
- Dr. Milan Minsky ('99, PhD, UCSB College of Engineering, EE) - Co-Founder & VP Product, Leela AI
- Professor Susannah Scott - UCSB Professor of Sustainable Catalytic Processing; Chemistry & Biochemistry
- Lia Yeh ('20, CCS Physics/Computing) - PhD student; Computer Science, Oxford University
My question: Given that the number of women in any particular STEM discipline is rather small, campus- or profession-wide support groups might assume greater importance. Do such groups exist and are they effective?

2021/04/22 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Earth Day's 51st edition: Me in my special T-shirt for the day (Photo 1) Earth Day logo Earth Day's 51st edition: Me in my special T-shirt for the day (Photo 2)
Definitely worth preserving: Beautiful green hills Akram Pedramnia's webinar on translating 'Ulysses': Book covers Akram Pedramnia's webinar on translating 'Ulysses': The translator (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Today we celebrate the 51st edition of Earth Day (see the next item below). [Bottom left] Aren't these beautiful green hills worth preserving? (Credit: Antonio Antoplano on Instagram) [Bottom center & right] Akram Pedramnia's webinar on translating Ulysses (see the last item below).
(2) Happy Earth Day: Ready to celebrate the 51st edition of Earth Day, an annual observation that was born in Santa Barbara in 1970 out of concerns for the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, gas-guzzling sedans with V8 engines that roamed the streets, and smoke and sludge from unregulated industries. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson led a bipartisan effort (unimaginable today) to create Earth Day, which led to the establishment of EPA and the passage of Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Earth Day, the Musical: Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and friends have fun discussing a non-existent musical.
- How many T-rex dinosaurs existed before being wiped out? Smithsonian Magazine's answer is 2.5 billion.
- Veteran translator Parnaz Azima shares her stories of censorship before & after Iran's Islamic Revolution.
- King of comedy: John Cleese talks to Bill Maher about age, political correctness, and religious fanaticism.
- Persian music: Ziba Shirazi sings "Bahar O Eid," accompanied by Hamed Poursaee & Vandad Massahzadeh.
- Throwback Thursday: Field trip to southern Iran, Tehran University's College of Engineering (1967). [Photo]
(5) Lampshade technology: Iranian state-TV's use of lampshades to cover up "improperly-dressed" women, and other "innovative" censorship methods. (Persian comedy routine by Sina Valiollah)
(4) "Translating Ulysses Into Persian: A Century of Censorship": This was the title of a Stanford U. webinar by Iranian-Canadian author and translator Akram Pedramnia, among whose credits are publication of three novels in Persian and translations of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night (2009), Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (2013), and James Joyce's Ulysses (2019), with the last item receiving a Literature Ireland Translation Grant.
Translating a work that employs inventive literary techniques is an already arduous task. Negotiating with a system of imposed censorship makes the process significantly more challenging. Pedramnia began by presenting a large number of examples from English terms and idioms that are very difficult to capture in Persian. In some cases, equivalent terms don't exist; in others, the terms that do exist do not carry the same emotional and cultural significance.
Pedramnia then discussed the challenges of translating modernist works, like Lolita, Tender is the Night, and Ulysses, under a system of imposed censorship. Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance does not let descriptions of sexual acts, notions related to the LGBTQ community, or certain political statements appear in published work. Besides official censorship, there is social censorship (readers' biases and preferences), and censorship by conservative forces, who might confiscate books after they have been published or unleash negative reviews in government-controlled media.
Removing entire chapters to appease the censors isn't an option, if translation is to be authentic. Pedramnia briefly discussed the methods she employs to evade these problems.
[P.S.: The e-book of the first volume (episodes 1-6) is available for free download at Pedramnia's site]

2021/04/21 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Tonight's IEEE Central Coast Section Zoom technical talk: Flyer Tonight's IEEE Central Coast Section Zoom technical talk: Two slides Ancient wonders of archaeology, art history & architecture: Tea glass holder, from 1890 (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Tonight's IEEE Central Coast Section Zoom technical talk (see the last item below). [Right] Historical treasure: Tea glass holder, from 1890 (credit: Oana Loana).
(2) History of the US National Academy of Engineering: Lee Edson's The Making of NAE: The First 25 Years, a freely-available on-line book, reviews NAE's history, from its formation in 1964 to 1989.
(3) Math puzzle: Let f(x) be the sum of the squares of the digits of x. Let f^1(x) = f(x) and define f^n(x) = f(f^(n – 1)(x)). What is f^100000(2)? [f^n(x) is essentially n applications of the function f to x]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Amnesty Int'l: Top executioners in 2020: China 1000s; Iran 246+; Egypt 107+; Iraq 45+; Saudi Arabia 27.
- Ending illegal immigration nearly impossible: Some 49% of US farmworkers are undocumented.
- A musician who thinks #NoMeansNo does not apply to Iranians: Women are teaching him a lesson.
- Memories: Images from April 21 of prior years. Love turns thorns into flowers. So do sliced-bread pizzas!
(5) Tonight's IEEE Central Coast Section Zoom technical talk: Dr. Ramtin Pedarsani (Assistant Profesor of ECE, UCSB) spoke at 6:30 this evening under the title "Efficient Transportation in the Face of a Pandemic." Dr. Pedarsani has research interests in machine learning, optimization, coding & information theory, applied probability, and intelligent transportation systems. Before joining UCSB in 2016, he was a postdoctoral scholar in the EECS Department at UC Berkeley, where he obtained his PhD in 2015. He received his MSc degree from EPFL in 2011 and his BSc degree from University of Tehran in 2009. He is the recipient of the Communications Society and Information Theory Society Joint Paper Award in 2020, the best paper award in from IEEE International Conference on Communications in 2014, and the NSF CISE Research Initiation Initiative award in 2017. [Speaker's home page]
COVID-19 has led to many deaths, short- & long-term health challenges, economic disruption, and a host of other social ills. That's the half-empty-glass part of the picture. The half-full-glass part is that it has also challenged researchers and healthcare professionals to come up with ways of managing pandemics and their various impacts. Just at UCSB, many research programs have been initiated to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and to prepare for and tackle possible future pandemics. Tonight, Dr. Pedarsani focused on some challenges arising from people becoming more hesitant to use public transport post-COVID.
Dr. Pedarsani began by noting that while many countries are in a reopening stage, some effects of the pandemic on people's behavior are expected to last much longer, including in the choice between different modes of transportation. Experts predict delayed recovery of public transport options, as many try to avoid crowded places. In turn, significant increases in traffic congestion are expected, due to preference for private cars or taxis over riskier and more crowded options such as the railway. In his work, Dr. Pedarsani has proposed to use financial incentives to set the trade-off between risk of infection and congestion to achieve safe and efficient transportation networks. To render this framework useful in various cities and times of the day without much designer effort, the model also includes a data-driven approach to learning human preferences about transport options. [IEEE CCS event page] [IEEE CCS Technical Talks page]

2021/04/20 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The Rose Garden at Santa Barbara Mission: Batch 2 of photos The Rose Garden at Santa Barbara Mission: Batch 1 of photos The Rose Garden at Santa Barbara Mission: Batch 3 of photos (1) My walk on a gorgeous Tuesday: I walked northward on Mission Street, from State Street to Laguna Street, proceeding to the Rose Garden at Santa Barbara Mission, and back. The Rose Garden contains 1500 rose plants of different varieties. Even though it has no picnic tables, the Rose Garden is a favorite picnic destination.
(2) The man who slapped a mullah's face in Iran was identified in less than 24 hours: But those who sprayed acid on women's faces are still walking free after many years.
(3) Misogyny, racism, and ignorance, all in a single package: Ali Motahari, a so-called reformist candidate for Iran's presidency, defends compulsory hijab laws by saying, "It is God's will for Iranian young men to get aroused by seeing a woman's arm. This is good. Western men not getting aroused by hijab-less women is a kind of sickness. That is why Western women increasingly seek African men."
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US is by far the worst among wealthy countries in the number of civilians killed by the police. [Chart]
- Despite universal availability of vaccines in the US, a fifth of seniors remain unvaccinated. [Chart]
- Peace on Earth: Four-sided pole in front of a residence on Santa Barbara's Mission Street. [Photo]
- Four members of UCSB Engineering are honored with Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring awards.
- How they feed ~30,000 people each evening in Abu Dhabi's big mosque during the month of Ramadan.
- Logic puzzle: In a hand of n cards, 14 are red-suited, 11 aren't hearts, and 9 aren't diamonds. Find n.
(5) On-line IEEE talk: "Bitcoin, Blockchain & Cryptocurrency in Simple Terms," by Mr. Momin Quddus, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, 6:30 PM PDT. [Event flyer] [WebEx event: 130 975 5575, Password: Entrepreneurship, Link]
(6) European soccer is being Americanized: Some of the richest, most-powerful soccer clubs have agreed to join a breakaway European Super-League, being financed by the investment bank JP Morgan and the clubs' American owners. The clubs have been threatened with expulsion from domestic leagues and other penalties.
(7) Jane Fonda, on life's third act: Over the past century, some three decades have been added to our life expectancy, providing ample time for a third act, after youth (Act 1) and middle age (Act 2). We used to think of life as an arch. We improve during our youth, peak at middle age, and, then, it's downhill from there. While this may be true physically, in spiritual terms, life should be viewed as a staircase, with continual improvement all the way to the end. [Fonda's 11-minute TEDxWomen talk]
(8) Today's heartwarming video: A home-bound family (due to being afflicted with COVID-19) gets a street-level birthday celebration for one of its members from friends and neighbors in the city of Rasht, Iran.
(9) Former police officer Derek Chauvin convicted on all three charges against him: Now, let's go back to our lives, instead of analyzing the verdict to death, as we did with the prosecution and defense statements!

2021/04/19 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Hijab-less young women shows the cover of an Iranian textbook on which she had appeared with a compulsory hijab Selected verses from a beautiful poem by Parvin E'tesami Panel discussion on 'Middle Eastern and South Asian Diaspora Communities in the US' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Compulsory hijab: Forcing something on people is wrong and often unsuccessful. This young women shows the cover of an Iranian textbook on which she had appeared with a compulsory hijab. [Center] Persian poetry: Selected verses from a beautiful poem by Parvin E'tesami, in which she addresses a king, counting his misdeeds and telling him (in the final verse), "If you cause hardship to your subjects, you will suffer hardship, as the universe's justice system commits no wrong and makes no mistake." [Right] Panel discussion on "Middle Eastern and South Asian Diaspora Communities in the US" (see the last item below).
(2) Members of the Iranian women's swim team were all smiles in this pre-Islamic-Revolution photo: Now, women can't compete in swimming events and must be covered from head to toe when venturing outdoors.
(3) No means no, in every language: Confessions and a non-apology statement by Mohsen Namjoo, a singer accused of sexual misconduct, have reinvigorated women's efforts in Iran and Afghanistan to fight the notion that women are owned by men and that a woman's "no" really means "yes." #MeToo #NoMeansNo
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A Wright-Brothers moment on Mars: NASA Ingenuity drone proves the feasibility of extraterrestrial flight.
- As UC applications soar to record levels, California community colleges see drops in their fall enrollments.
- Good news for elephants: 3D-printed ivory-like material can replace real ivory for nearly all uses.
- Censoring female referee's legs led to more than 100 cuts in Iran's TV coverage of a British soccer match!
(5) "Middle Eastern and South Asian Diaspora Communities in the US": This was the title of today's Zoom panel discussion in English, sponsored by Cal State University Northridge. The alternate title "An Overview on the Middle Eastern Diaspora in the US: Challenges & Opportunities for Integration" appeared on the event's flyer. The 2-hour session, moderated by Dr. Nayereh Tohidi and Dr. Khanum Sheikh (both of Cal State U. Northridge), attracted 180 attendees. Brief summaries of the panelist's comments follow.
- Nahla Kayali (Founder and Executive Director, Access California Services): Speaking under the title "Preserving Dignity, Enriching Lives: The Arab American Communities," Ms. Kayali, who came to the US as a Palestinian refugee, began by relating some of her own experiences, which included going through a divorce with three children and needing advice and support from people who understood her background and culture. Arab-Americans speak one language, but they come from 22 different countries. So, the group is very diverse, but nearly all members belong to economically-disadvantaged groups. Services they need include finding affordable housing, securing employment, and advice on the college admissions process.
- Dr. Ali Akbar Mahdi (Sociology Lecturer, Cal State U. Northridge): Speaking under the title "Iranian Americans and the Experience of Discrimination," Dr. Mahdi began by defining discrimination and dividing the incidents into real (complaints filed, court cases pursued) and perceived. In addition to active racism, there is aversive racism, which is when, for example, someone does not shop at a particular business owing to racist tendencies: there is no conflict, grievance, or documented complaint, so this type of racism is difficult to quantify. One aspect of the challenge faced by Iranian-Americans is that they perceive themselves as "whites," and they are deemed to be white in the context of programs such as affirmative action, whereas they are viewed by a large segment of the American society as "colored." Additionally, as Muslims (predominantly) and "terrorists" (a characterization arising from the hostage crisis), they face added challenges.
- Bilal H. Kazmi (elder-care specialist): Speaking under the title "Civic, Healthcare, and Immigration Rights: South Asian American Experiences," Mr. Kazmi discussed various aspects of social integration, access to resources (such as healthcare), and food security for the diverse South-Asian-American communities, estimated to include 40+ million people, some 10% of whom live below the poverty line. The latter percentage is higher for certain groups, such as Pakistani-Americans. Discrimination against this group, particularly in the realm of immigration policies, is rampant. The group spans a broad range in terms of immigration status, which includes undocumented immigrants. The community experienced an increase in domestic violence under the Trump administration. The COVID-19 pandemic also disproportionally affected them.
- Dr. Ayca Altintig (Finance Assistant Professor, Claremont Graduate U.): Speaking under the title "Turkish-American Experiences in Civic Engagement," Dr. Altintig began by observing that the Turkish-American community is relatively young and, until recently, fairly homogeneous. Many of its members come to the US for studies and decide to stay. Turkish-Americans tend to be educated and well-off. Turkish women have been quite active ever since the battle for their country's independence after World War I. In the recent US elections, quite a few Turkish women ran for local offices. Some affluent Turkish-Americans help with donations, but getting the community at large involved in social programs is difficult, given internal fragmentation and lack of trust between various groups. They shy away from political activism due to their upbringing. Dr. Altintig is active in programs that help immigrants in their professional lives and also use story-telling to connect and develop a sense of community.
A lively Q&A period ensued. I asked the following two questions, which were tackled by multiple panelists:
- The brain drain problem for Iran and Turkey are quite similar (I suspect that other communities discussed here have similar problems). Is Turkey doing something to reverse the trend? I know that Iran pays lip service to re-absorbing the brains that fled, but there is little concrete action to accommodate them.
- It seems that both Iranian-Americans and Turkish-Americans shy away from political activism due to their upbringing and past experiences. Fragmentation into different political factions seems to be another commonality. Are Arab-Americans and South-Asian-Americans similarly divided and politics-shy?

2021/04/18 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine cover: The pandemic may have made the climate-change problem a little bit less daunting Mowlana Jalal al-Din Rumi: Zoom talk by Dr. Fatemeh Keshavarz Nature's art: The 'eyes,' known as lenticels, allow gas exchange between the tree and the atmosphere
Cover image of Steven Strogatz's book, 'Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus' T-shirt bearing Maxwell's Equations as God's words! f22-210417-tah-dig-matzos-adas-polo (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The pandemic brought many changes to our lives: Education and healthcare are being transformed and the challenging climate-change problem may have gotten a little bit less daunting. [Top center] Friday, April 16, Zoom talk on Mowlavi/Rumi (see the next item below). [Top right] Nature's art: The "eyes" (lenticels) allow gas exchange between the tree and the atmosphere. [Bottom left & center] Book talk by Dr. Steven Strogatz (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Matzo tah-dig (crispy pot-bottom) for adas-polo, or rice with lentils: My mom's way of using leftover matzos after Passover!
(2) Mowlana Jalal al-Din Rumi [1207-1273]: Mowlavi/Rumi and his poetry were subjects of Friday afternoon's Persian Zoom talk by Dr. Fatemeh Keshavarz (U. Maryland). After spending about 40 minutes on biographical information, description of his main works (Masnavi and Divan-e Shams, as his formal books, and Fihi Ma Fih, a collection of Mowlavi's spoken words in plain or colloquial language, compiled by others), and his significance in the history of literature, Dr. Keshavarz recited examples of Mowlavi's poems, elaborating on their meanings and philosophical/spiritual significance.
Mowlavi was a positive, joyful person. He saw love as the ultimate source of happiness and, having been exposed during his life to many different groups of people, faiths, and cultures, he believed in their commonalities and minimized their differences. In Mowlavi's view, each person embodies good and bad (Moses and Pharaoh, in his words) and one has to learn to live with the two.
My question: Many English statements (quotes and such) are attributed to Mowlavi. In most cases, when I try to identify the original poem by substituting possible Persian words for English words in the text and doing Google searches, I fail to find anything. It seems that we are fed many made-up statements attributed to Mowlavi, which aren't his. Do you have a sense about how to identify fakes? Dr. Keshavarz agreed that this is a challenge. She is involved in a project to improve Ganjoor (a comprehensive database of Persian poetry) in order to facilitate searches of this kind, but forgery will remain a problem.
(3) Yesterday in National Math Festival: Black children and excellence in mathematics.  *Mathematics—It is in my DNA!  *Tick Tock Banneker Clock  *Counting on Katherine, Dorothy, Mary, and More!  *Dr. Granville, Mathematician & Computer Scientist  *Raye Montague: The Girl with a Mind for Math  *Women Who Count
(4) Book talk at National Math Festival: Dr. Steven Strogatz, who believes calculus to be the greatest discovery of humankind, talked under the title "Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus." None of the achievements of modern science and technology would have been possible without calculus. Calculus can also be daunting to many people. Hence, this book. How did an archaic branch of math that grew out of geometry help modernize the world? Strogatz provided some very interesting examples from his book and referred to Herman Wouk's The Language God Talks (using a statement about calculus by Richard Feynman, whom Wouk, a liberal-arts person, interviewed). Calculus isn't just about describing objects (curves and shapes). It also helps us deal with how things change, which is the domain of differential equations. Combined with probability and statistics, calculus has produced many of today's key R&D areas, such as machine learning.

2021/04/17 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for 'IEEE Computer' magazine, issue of April 2021 Dining by the Persian Gulf in Bushehr, southern Iran Cartoon: Spiderman in middle-age wants to be drawn the way he looked in his youth!
Lucky 15-year-old takes a photo with 4 generations of women before her Today's Distinguished Lecture by NSF CISE Director Margaret Martonosi Cover image of Barbara K. Lipska's book, 'The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] IEEE Computer magazine, issue of April 2021: The cover feature deals with major breakthroughs in computing applications. [Top center] Dining on the shore of the Persian Gulf in Bushehr, southern Iran. [Top right] Cartoon of the day: Spiderman in middle-age wants to be drawn the way he looked in his youth! [Bottom left] Generations: Lucky 15-year-old takes a photo with 4 generations of women before her. [Bottom center] Today's Zoom-based Distinguished Lecture by NSF CISE Director (see the next item below). [Bottom right] About Barbara Lipska's book, The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind (see the last item below).
(2) Today's Distinguished Lecture by Margaret Martonosi: Speaking via Zoom to 46 UCSB faculty members and other researchers, Dr. Martonosi described NSF Computing and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Division's programs and activities, elaborating on various initiatives and seeking input about future directions.
(3) Cyber-insecurity: Russian agents spent months with access to the most-sensitive US commercial and government computer systems through the SolarWinds hack.
(4) Book review: Lipska, Dr. Barbara K. (with Elaine McArdle), The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery, unabridged audiobook, read by Emma Powell, HighBridge Audio, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book reminded me of My Stroke of Insight, brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor's detailed description of what she learned about human brain from her own debilitating stroke. I reviewed the latter book in early October 2014 and uploaded my 4-star review to Goodreads on April 4, 2021.
The Polish-born Lipska worked on rats at the National Institute of Mental Health to develop the neonatal hippocampal lesion model of schizophrenia, aka the Lipska model. She was also in charge of NIMH's "brain bank," which collects and preserves brain-tissue samples from deceased persons, with and without a history of mental illnesses, as resources for researchers. Two bouts of cancer in middle age did not deter Lipska, a fitness enthusiast, from completing a number of Ironman races.
The following passage from the book has been quoted as her most-cogent reconstruction of what she went through: "My hypervigilance—my body constantly on high alert, and the sense I have that I'm participating in every event with my whole being—is possibly being triggered by stress or anxiety. That anxiety, in turn, gives rise to more stress and anxiety. Making it worse, I have the vague feeling that I'm not in control of myself or the world around me anymore. That loss of control makes me angry. My extreme reaction to sensory overload is common in people with brain trauma, autism, and many other brain conditions. Normally, the brain is able to sort through the sensory information that comes at it and prioritize what's important and what can be ignored. When this filter mechanism doesn't work, the brain can become overwhelmed by all the information it's trying to process, like a computer bombarded by data. The brain can no longer distinguish between what it's safe to ignore, like the sounds of distant traffic or the sensation of wind on your face as you walk along, versus what is important, like the honking of the car that's about to hit you."
Patients with brain cancer rarely survive. Lipska not only recovered from metastatic cancer in her frontal lobe, but was able to return to her research and athletic training. Studying the ordeal through her knowledge of neuroscience, allowed her to trace the ways in which her brain was damaged, triggering behavioral and cognitive changes, which were evident to those around her but not to Lipska herself. She also mapped changes in her brain during treatment.
I learned a lot from this book about both cancerous tumors in the brain and certain kinds of mental illness that have very similar symptoms. My only complaint about this otherwise-excellent book is that it contains too much repetition and belaboring of minor points. It could have been made much shorter and a lot easier on the reader/listener by removing repetitions and redundancies in prose.
Here's a short NPR interview with Lipska. [6-minute audio file]

2021/04/15 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
California 1944 relief map from Muir Way Iran 1957 relief map from Muir Way Chip layout for NVIDIA A100 Tensor Core GPU
Side streets of downtown Santa Barbara: Houses and a church Ten-day weather forecast for Goleta: A full week of sunshine ahead Side streets of downtown Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Public Market (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] California 1944 and Iran 1957 relief maps: You can find many more vintage relief maps on Muir Way. [Top right] Another supercomputer-level microchip: "NVIDIA A100 Tensor Core GPU: Performance and Innovation," IEEE Micro, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 29-35, March-April 2021. [Bottom left & right] Side streets of downtown Santa Barbara: If you deviate a bit from the main artery, State Street, you run into some interesting houses and other examples of wonderful architecture. I took these photos during a walk on Wednesday 2021/04/14. [Bottom center] Mixed feelings: Happy for having a full week of sunshine ahead, but worried about the prospects of drought with what is so far the driest year in decades.
(2) IEEE Central Coast Section Zoom technical talk: Dr. Ramtin Pedarsani will talk under the title "Efficient Transportation in the Face of a Pandemic" (Wednesday, April 21, 2021, 6:30 PM PDT). [Free registration]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- New US sanctions on Russia: Putin must be miserable over his failure to change the US election outcome!
- A sexually-harassed government worker hits her boss with a mop, leading to his firing. [#MeToo in China]
- Iran's tourist sites: A hotel in the city of Kashan, with old-style architecture and an underground section.
- Math problem (not really a puzzle): Solve for x. cuberoot(x) + cuberoot(x – 16) = cuberoot(x – 8)
- Persian music: Talented artists pay tribute to the late singer Viguen Derderian via a medley of his songs.
- Kurdish music: "I am a Kurdish girl," performed by Russian Kurd singer Zara. [4-minute video]
- Kurdish music: "Haal," composed and played on santur by Siavash Kamkar (other credits on the video).
- Farhad Fakhreddini's 6 decades of music: His themes for movies and TV serials are particularly well-known.
(4) At least 8 dead from mass-shooting in FedEx facility: The sad thing is that we sort of expect these mass-shooting events and move on quickly to the next news item. Shame on NRA stooges in Congress!
(5) What about this legislation to help bring the Republicans around on sensible gun laws? The Second Amendment isn't just for the rich. Every US citizen, who passes background and mental-health checks, is entitled to own a gun. If s/he can't afford to buy one, the government will subsidize the purchase.
(6) Math puzzle: We have a set S with an odd number of elements. Which is larger: The number of subsets of S with an odd number of elements or the number of subsets with an even number of elements?
(7) Still more hypocrisy: The folks who claim they want the government out of our private affairs are passing anti-transgender laws that would require genital inspection of athletes!
(8) Virtual forums, such as Clubhouse, are God-given gifts to Iran's powerful: Many of these fake champions of the people, such as Motahhari, Zarif, or Ranfsanjani's daughter, wouldn't dare speak at in-person forums.

2021/04/14 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover of Newsweek magazine about why we can't end our endless wars 'Mom, Where Are the Girls?' is the title of an editorial in the April 2021 issue of 'IEEE Computing Edge' Calculating the length of a year, the time for one revolution of planet Earth around the Sun (1) Images of the day: [Left] Why we can't end our endless wars: Great contemplation, but many years too late! [Center] "Mom, Where Are the Girls?" is the title of an editorial by Ipek Ozkaya in the April 2021 issue of IEEE Computing Edge. Here is the first page of the 3-page editorial. I will add a link if I find the item on-line. [Right] Calculating the length of a year, the time for one revolution of planet Earth around the Sun.
(2) A brazen burglary in my neighborhood: Indo China Market was broken into overnight by five men, who smashed its glass windows, taking away a safe and cash from a register within a couple of minutes. Police is studying surveillance videos from the store and nearby businesses in the Target Shopping Plaza. It is unclear at this point whether the theft has racially motivated.
(3) DEI efforts assume urgency in light of new incidents of racial violence: UCSB, under the leadership of its newly-appointed Vice-Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Belinda Robnett, is putting in place comprehensive campus-wide initiatives such as diversity education programs and bystander intervention workshops. Activities in broad areas affecting faculty, staff, and students are planned.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US Senator John Cornyn (R) asks whether Biden is "really in charge," given that he doesn't tweet a lot!
- Friend charged for the murder of Kristin Smart, a Cal Poly SLO student who went missing 25 years ago.
- Gretchen Carlson blasts Fox News for defending Tucker Carlson's White-Supremacist talking points.
- Bears repeating: COVID-19 pandemic --> Epidemic of loss of women in STEM [NYT report]
- Cops shouldn't kill innocent people: They aren't supposed to kill guilty people either!
- If pregnancy is God's will, as some conservatives assert, then ED must also be His will to prevent pregnancy.
(5) Political humor: There are always stealth "elements" in Iran who scheme to commit illegal acts (such as arrest/torture/murder of political opponents) to make regime officials look bad.
(6) Fourteen-centuries-old mentality: My heading may be an insult to many who lived 14 centuries ago. Iranian state-TV cuts off parts of a soccer match between Manchester United and Spurs more than 100 times, because of a woman assistant referee wearing shorts!
(7) UCSB offers free Identity Protection Workshops to faculty, staff, and students: Thanks a lot! After allowing wholesale theft of our data from UC's central databases, now the administration sort of implies that we are at fault and in need of becoming more knowledgeable about identity theft!
(8) Village alleys named after beloved books: The village of Rasoul Abad, in Iran's Hamedan Province, has chosen to name its alleys after literary masterpieces, rather than religious figures, warriors, or martyrs.

2021/04/13 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photo taken in Sansum Clinic's parking lot, when I took my mom for an eye-doctor visit Cartoon: Educational innovation to make kids pay attention in class. Cover image for the book 'Death to the Dictator'(1) Images of the day: [Left] Sign of the times: Photo taken in Sansum Clinic's parking lot, when I took my mom for an eye-doctor visit. [Center] Cartoon of the day: Teacher's educational innovation to make kids pay attention in class. [Right] Cover image for the book Death to the Dictator (see the last item below).
(2) The Canticle of the Birds ("Manteq-ol-Tayr"): Persian panel led by Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak (U. Maryland) and featuring Dr. Leili Anvar (Inst. Nat'l Langues et Civilsations Orientales), Dr. Michael A. Barry (Princeton U.), and Ms. Wendy Jehlen (Artistic Dir. & Founder, ANIKAYA). Friday, April 23, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT. [Register]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- GOP Senator John Cornyn asks whether Biden is "really in charge," given that he doesn't tweet a lot!
- Iran says it will enrich uranium to the highest level, after alleged Israeli attack on Natanz nuclear facility.
- A new rendition of the oldie Persian song "Yaarom Bia" (while sounding weird at first, it grows on you).
- Humor: What Iran's schools might look like upon re-opening after COVID-19 is brought under control.
(4) Book review: Moqadam, Afsaneh, Death to the Dictator! A Young Man Casts a Vote in Iran's 2009 Election and Pays a Devastating Price, unabridged audiobook, read by Johnny Heller, Tantor Audio, 2010.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
To vote or not to vote, that is the question faced by many Iranians ever since the Islamic form of government took hold in 1979. Many voters boycott the sham elections in which only candidates that pass the ideological and loyalty filters of Iran's Guardians Council are allowed to compete. So, the people's choice is always between bad and worse. Others argue that some level of choice is better than no choice at all, thus urging voters to go to the polls and elect "reformist" candidates promising to improve the system from within.
It is in this context that the fact-based story's protagonist, Mohsen Abbaspour (which is a pseudonym, as is the author's name, because of the danger of what s/he reveals), decides to cast a vote for the reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, running as part of the "Green Movement" against the incumbent Mahmoud Ahamadinejad in 2009. Amid accusations of widespread election fraud (a stolen or "engineered" election), Ahmadinejad declares himself the clear winner almost immediately after the polls close.
Mohsen and many other people take to the streets, chanting "Death to the Dictator!" and "Where Is My Vote?" Hooligans and plainclothes security forces, with help from rooftop sharpshooters, attack the crowd, chasing them on the streets, beating them, destroying their property, and marking their homes for retaliation. Many protesters die and an even larger number are arrested. Eventually, Ahmadinejad falls out of favor with Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei and others who committed fraud on his behalf to allow a calamitous presidency to continue for a second 4-year term.
Immediately after the protests, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, his wife, and Mehdi Karroubi (another "Green Movement" candidate), are placed under house arrests, without trials or even clearly-enunciated charges. These house arrests continue to this date, some 12 years later. Mohsen is caught up in a series of events that upend his life and those of his family. The book's writing is problematic, but the story it tells is compelling.

2021/04/12 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos I took during my afternoon walk atop the bluffs at UCSB's West Campus Beach: Music's in the air IBM Power10 processor: Microarchitecture Photos I took during my afternoon walk atop the bluffs at UCSB's West Campus Beach: Wildflowers (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Music's in the air, and wildflowers everywhere: Photos I took during my afternoon walk atop the bluffs at UCSB's West Campus Beach. [Center] IBM Power10 processor architecture: Described in the March-April 2021 Issue of IEEE Micro magazine (Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 7-14), the 16-core chip has been significantly enhanced over its Power9 predecessor. The inclusion of an all-new matrix math-engine has led to 10x-20x performance gain for matrix-intensive computations.
(2) "Middle Eastern and South Asian Diaspora Communities in the US": Zoom panel discussion in English, sponsored by Cal State University Northridge, Monday, April 19, 2021, 2:00-4:00 PM PDT. [Register]
(3) Quote of the day: "Is it too modern to notice that there is nothing [in the Ten Commandments] about the protection of children from cruelty, nothing about rape, nothing about slavery, and nothing about genocide?" ~ Christopher Hitchens
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Explosion at Natanz nuclear enrichment facility may cloud Bidens diplomatic outreach to Iran.
- Business leaders discuss plans for reacting to GOP's voter-suppression laws.
- A most-important lesson from COVID-19: Health and politics do not mix!
- Some HS seniors lost more than time: Facing uncertainty, they were on track to college before COVID-19.
- Which one of these two is a child-sex-trafficker? State your choice and I will guess your party affiliation.
- Talk: Nezami's Khosrow & Shirin (Parinoush Saniee), Tue. 2021/04/13, 4:30 PM PDT (Zoom; PW=kanoon)
- Talk: Mowlana Jalal al-Din Rumi (Fatemeh Keshavarz), Fri. 2021/04/16, 4:30 PM PDT (Zoom; PW=kanoon)
(5) For the first time in history, Americans who indicate they belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque are in the minority (47%). [Source: Time magazine, reporting on the results of a Gallup survey]
(6) Advertising: New York Times really wants me as a subscriber! Over the past two months, I have received introductory subscription offers at $1 per week, with a particular deadline. Then, I receive reminders that the offer will expire in 3 days, in 2 days, 1 day. Within a day, the cycle repeats. A new offer, reminders, and so on!
(7) The Republican brand of political terrorism: When the country's affairs run smoothly, the party in power gets the credit and the minority party becomes invisible. To avoid this fate, and to continue to appear in news headlines, GOP members strap political bombs to their waists and threaten to blow things up.
(8) Another historic cabinet nomination by President Biden: Christine Wormuth as Secretary of the Army. She will be the first woman to serve in that position, if confirmed.
(9) Here we go again: Protests and violence erupt in Minneapolis after a young black man is "accidentally" killed by a police officer during a traffic stop, a few miles from where George Floyd was murdered.

2021/04/11 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mississippi: The so-called 'safest US place for an unborn child' is the deadliest place for mothers & delivered children! Anonymous suggestion of a new logo for the Islamic Republic of Iran Mathematical explanation of how a new virus variant might become dominant
Cartoon: A couple of explorers discover the Ottoman Empire Architect Cristina Ventura heads the team which is restoring and repairing Rio de Janeiro's Cristo Redentor The first emoji, face with tongue out (credit: Beeple on Twitter) (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Way to go, Mississippi! The state aspiring to be the "safest place in America for an unborn child" is the deadliest place for mothers and delivered children! [Top center] Anonymous suggestion of a new official logo for the Islamic Republic of Iran. [Top right] How a new virus variant might become dominant (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Cartoon of the day: A couple of explorers discover the Ottoman Empire. [Bottom center] Architect Cristina Ventura heads the team which is restoring and repairing Rio de Janeiro's Cristo Redentor, in preparation for the 125-foot-tall Christ statue's 90th birthday in October 2021. [Bottom right] The first emoji, face with tongue out (credit: Beeple on Twitter).
(2) Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago: For the first time ever, a vast majority of Democrats agree with Donald Trump, as he gives one of his trademark nicknames to Mitch McConnell.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Happy Siblings' Day 2021: Lucky to have (left to right) Mahnaz, Farnaz, and Behnaz in my life! [Photos]
- If only the Brits had shown as much time/space to analyzing Brexit as to the death of a 99-year-old prince!
- Nationwide ground-turkey salmonella contamination alert. [USA Today tweet]
- Piano prodigy: Close your eyes and try to convince yourself that you're hearing a 6-year-old play Chopin.
- Cool stick-figures dance routine. [1-minute video]
- Math calendar-page puzzle for April 10: x + y + z = 30; x^2 + y^2 + z^2 = xy + yz + zx
(4) The old problem of inequity in funding UC campuses rears its ugly head again: Underfunded campuses educate a larger share of needy students, giving rise to allegations of inter-campus racism. "Troubled regents are calling for a closer look at the inequities. State Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside) has asked UC President Michael V. Drake to address the problems."
(5) Mathematical explanation of how a new virus variant might become dominant: The following shows the power of exponential growth. Consider a virus, with its infections doubling (x2) every month. Starting with a single infection, the number f(x) of infections after x months will be: f(x) = 2^x
Consider a new variant of the virus which is 4 times as contagious (x8 per month). If the new variant emerges 10 months after the original virus, the number g(x) of infections after x months will be: g(x) = 8^(x – 10)
The following calculation determines the number x of months leading to g(x) > f(x):
8^(x – 10) > 2^x; (x – 10) log 8 > x log 2; (x – 10)/x > 1/3; 3x – 30 > x; x > 15
So, the new variant that is four times as contagious will become dominant 5 months after it appears. If the number of infections from the original virus is no longer on exponential rise, the new variant will become dominant even more quickly.

2021/04/09 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The good old days: Not a phone in sight; everyone living in the moment Glazed donuts, anyone? Oops, these aren't donuts! Cartoon: 'I'm working from home, but having an issue accessing the network'
The world's largest tree in terms of volume: General Sherman Tree, located in Giant Forest of California's Sequoia National Park Newsweek magazine's cover story: Silicon Vally wants to hack the process of aging Singapore in the evening: 'Gardens by the Bay' in front; Marina Bay Sands resort/casino in the back (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The good old days: Not a phone in sight; everyone living in the moment (credit: Classical Art Memes). [Top center] Glazed donuts, anyone? [Top right] Cartoon of the day: "I'm working from home, but having an issue accessing the network." [Bottom left] The world's largest tree in terms of volume: General Sherman Tree, located in Giant Forest of California's Sequoia National Park, is 83 m (275 ft) tall, 11 m (36 ft) in diameter at the base, and ~2500 years old. [Bottom center] Silicon Valley's next big project: Hacking the process of aging (Newsweek magazine's cover story). [Bottom right] Singapore in the evening: In front are "Gardens by the Bay," consisting of "The Flower Dome" and "Cloud Forest." In the back, is the Marina Bay Sands resort/casino, aka "The Triple Tower," with its SkyPark.
(2) Republican hypocrisy: Are corporations like people? Yes, they can spend money to support political causes and candidates. No, they shouldn't make political statements, such as condemning voting restrictions.
(3) Female profs are falling behind in the pandemic, because they have less time for research: This article includes opinions from a post-doctoral fellow at UCSB and a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and author of Unequal Profession: Race and Gender in Legal Academia.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Let the flippings begin: A Capitol-riot defendant will be cooperating with prosecutors against Proud Boys.
- Throwback Thursday: A 1947 wedding photo of QE II and Prince Philip, who just passed away at 99.
- A 3000-year-old "lost golden city" unearthed in Egypt: This "largest ancient city" is located near Luxor.
- Model train plays classical music: The length of the melody is a Guinness World Record for a model train.
(5) On channeling anti-regime sentiments in Iran: As old-time celebrities pass in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the state-TV barely mentions their passing because they are considered symbols of a decadent past, mourning their deaths becomes an act of defiance. In this Persian essay, Sayeh Eghtesadinia recalls the passing of the popular actor Fardin 21 years ago and how mourners remembered and honored him for days.
(6) Corwin Chair Series Lecture: JoAnn Kuchera-Morin (UCSB Media Arts & Technology Program) spoke under the title "Using the Creative Process as a Computational Framework for Unfolding Complex Systems." Kuchera-Morin's presentation was a tour of a 37-year career encompassing a broad spectrum of compositions and other music-related activities, including the creation of AlloSphere, a research facility in a theatre-like spherical pavilion, used to project computer-generated imagery and sounds. [A few images]
Kuchera-Morin noted that composing music shares many elements with building complex systems, which is what justifies her collaboration with physicists and nanoscientists, and for the AlloSphere facility being housed in UCSB's Nanosystems Institute building. As part of the presentation, Kuchera-Morin played a sample of her last totally-acoustic composition from 1984 and screened a number of other videos depicting her digital-art work since then. [TEDx talk, "Stunning Data Visualization in the AlloSphere"]
Some of Kuchera-Morin's work entails using a visual/audio/interactive computational language, AlloLib, created for the interactive representation of complex information in many fields of research and which allows scientists, engineers, and researchers in other fields to work with their information perceptually and intuitively, as well as technically, the way that artists do.

2021/04/08 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB Academic Senate Townhall on Fall 2021 Instruction: Zoom screenshot UCSB Academic Senate Townhall on Fall 2021 Instruction: A couple of slides Mapping the Islamic World: A virtual exhibition (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] UCSB Academic Senate Townhall on Fall 2021 Instruction (see the next item below). [Right] Mapping the Islamic World: This Stanford U. virtual exhibition explores maps of the Islamic World, focusing on the "Gunpowder Empires" of Ottoman Turkey, Safavid Persia, and Mughal India.
(2) UCSB Academic Senate Townhall on Fall Quarter Instruction: Held via Zoom, today's townhall, with ~220 participants, consisted of one hour of presentations by various campus officials and a second hour of Q&A, led by selected faculty panelists from different academic divisions. Panel members, in order of questioning, were: Greg Mitchell (Theater/Dance); Sathya Gurusw (Physics); Jean Beaman (Political Science); Sabine Fruhstuck (East Asian Studies); Behrooz Parhami (ECE). Besides the presenters below, Jeffrey Stopple (Office of Undergrad Education, L&S) and Renee Bahl (Facilities) helped answer questions.
- Welcome (Henry Yang, Chancellor): UC plans to return to primarily-in-person instruction in fall 2021. Despite the pandemic, we have an amazing incoming freshman class, in terms of both quality and diversity. The June 2021 commencement will be mostly virtual. Our custodial staff has done an amazing job in preparing restrooms and other common spaces for re-opening.
- Faculty Survey Results (Susannah Scott, Divisional Chair, Academic Senate): More than 3/4 of faculty have already been vaccinated. Faculty insist that they and people around them be vaccinated before holding in-person classes. Significant workload increases for instructors will not occur; no one will be required to teach on-line and in-person simultaneously.
- Campus Planning (David Marshall, Executive Vice Chancellor): Classrooms and their ventilation systems have been evaluated. The administration is studying the implications of limiting class size to 100 or class capacity to 50%. Planning is being done in the context of changing local and state conditions.
- Public Health Considerations (Scott Grafton, Campus COVID-19 Coordinator): Emerging real-world data indicates that vaccines are even more effective than the clinical-trial results suggested. There will likely be a spring surge (in cases, not hospitalizations or deaths, if we take data from Israel as basis for comparison). With nearly 400M people vaccinated worldwide, virtually no adverse effects have been observed. Vaccine approvals will soon move from "emergency use" to "permanent." UC is developing an infrastructure to track vaccinations. The pandemic will likely be defeated in 6-8 weeks.
- Modes of Teaching (Lisa Berry, Senior Instructional Consultant, Instructional Development): The default instruction mode will be "in-person" during fall 2021. On-line (synchronous, asynchronous) and mixed-mode instruction are possible, but they require Senate approval if less than 50% of instruction is in-person. Options include "alternating mode" (perhaps one in-person and one on-line lecture per week) and "simultaneous" (course consists of an in-person section and an on-line section, each with its capacity, which students can choose from).
- Faculty Welfare Concerns (Lisa Parks, Chair, Committee on Faculty Welfare, Academic Freedom, and Awards): Faculty have experienced burn-out due to the extra effort they have put in to adapt to on-line instruction. There are some suggestions for a universal one-quarter teaching release to allow faculty to catch up. Face-masks, if required will make teaching quite challenging. Ventilation and air-flow will be an important factor for returning to in-person instruction. We may have to rethink the way we work/live in the wake of the pandemic. Be reminded that there is a process of requesting "reasonable" accommodations.
- Graduate Student Concerns (Tammy Afifi, Chair, Graduate Council): Graduate students have been under enormous stress over the past year. Equity between professors and TAs in the way on-line and in-person instruction are handled is important.
Here are the three questions which I asked. These and other questions and their answers will be compiled into an FAQ section on the UCSB Academic Senate Web site, where a recording of the presentations and Q&As will also be available.
- Flipped classroom might work well (pre-recorded lectures, with optional, live in-class discussion): Do these count as "at least 50% in person" so that no individual authorization is needed?
- Working from home, along with our children and other family members, has led to Internet access problems. In areas where higher grades of service are available at additional cost, these problems can be solved with money. Will the campus help faculty members by reimbursing these costs or help directly by supplying Internet service (as in the case of faculty housing complexes)?
- Classroom availability was a challenge, even before COVID-19. Has the campus taken steps to provide additional classroom space, in the form of tents or temporary buildings, now that we may be having even less space (perhaps due to 50% occupancy)?

2021/04/07 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme in support of the claim that systemic racism does exist in the US Optical illusion: Green dot chasing pink dots Meme on a T-shirt: Explaining algorithm, heuristic, and machine learning (1) Images of the day: [Left] Systemic racism does exist and no amount of denial can erase the truth: This meme says it all! [Center] Optical illusion: Stare at the plus sign in the middle of the image to see a green dot going over all the pink dots. If you try to follow the green dot, it will disappear! [Right] Meme of the day: Explaining algorithm, heuristic, and machine learning. [Bottom left] [Bottom center] [Bottom right]
(2) Another public trial in the media: Criminal trials are serious matters that should be left to the judge, jury, prosecutor, and defense attorney. There is absolutely no need for non-stop visual and print narratives about every detail and for second-guessing the prosecution or defense. This reeks of laziness in reporting. Journalists should focus on the underlying problems that led to this particular prosecution, not the trial itself.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump campaign tricked donors who wanted to make one-time contributions into auto/repeat donations.
- Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe calls for sedition charges (up to 10 years in jail) against Trump.
- Who is Q? An HBO docu-series points to Ron Watkins, an intelligence trainer, but he points to Steve Bannon.
- Asian-American students under stress: They fear for their own safety as well as the safety of their elders.
- SCOTUS rules for Google and against Oracle in copyright fight over the Java programming language.
- Utah passes law that obligates biological fathers to pay for half of out-of-pocket pregnancy & delivery costs.
- The torture and killing of a Baha'i doctor in Iran: Dr. Firouz Naeimi helped eradicate malaria in Hamedan.
- Arabian coins found in Rhode Island may help solve a piracy mystery dating back to the 1600s.
- IEEE CCS is sponsoring a video-essay contest for students in the California Central Coast region.
- For my Persian-speaking readers: Perfectly-good Persian equivalents for commonly-used Arabic words.
(4) Israel confirms its attack on an Iranian ship in the Red Sea: Claims that it was a covert Revolutionary Guards Corps "forward base," officially listed as a merchant ship.
(5) The story of the Iranian diplomat/terrorist in Vienna: Assisted by top-tier Iranian clerics and fake dissidents, he planned to bomb a conference of Iranian dissidents in Paris.
(6) Extreme hypocrisy: Why is requiring vaccine passports an infringement on personal liberties, whereas requiring driver's licenses and concealed-carry permits are okay?
(7) No peace without women's rights: A women's solidarity network demands that there should be no peace with the Taliban without ensuring that women's rights will be honored.
(8) The British/Americans did it: Iranian Revolutionary Guards fund a state-TV series that is a thinly-veiled attack on Javad Zarif and his "spy-infested" Foreign Ministry.

2021/04/06 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today's walk on State Street: Movie theaters Today's walk on State Street: Museums and SBIFF Zoom meeting of Fanni'68 classmates; the lower panel in the image is from Wikipedia (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Today's walk on State Street: Movie theaters in downtown Santa Barbara are either open or eagerly anticipate reopening soon. Museums are slowly reopening and the city's International Film Festival will proceed at drive-ins and via digital streaming. [Right] Zoom meeting of Fanni'68 classmates; the lower panel in the image is from Wikipedia (see the last item below).
(2) Persian poetry: Translation of two verses on old age from Sa'adi. [The original Persian verses]
- Do not expect signs of youth from the old | Once gone by, flowing water will not return to the creek
- Old age and youth follow one another, as night follows day | Day and night passed me, and I did not awaken
(3) "Why We Still Speak Persian in Iran": This was the focus of an April 5, 2021, Persian Zoom session (with 45 participants) of University of Tehran's College of Engineering graduates, Class of 1968 (Fanni '68). The speaker was historian Mohammad Amini, who had previously spoken on contemporary history of Iran. Mr. Amini began working on this subject, en route to writing a magazine article. His notes, now over 700 pages, will soon be turned into a book. [Full recording of the meeting; Passcode i7TKO=3]
Several panelists had been invited to discuss the topic after the main presentation: Daryush Ashouri, Abdollah Kowsari, Jaleh Pirnazar (left the meeting before she could speak), Dr. Bahram Gerami, and Mostafa Jeihooni. My notes below reflect a composite of what was said.
During the Sassanid rule, multiple languages were used in Persia. Pahlavi was the official language. Avestan was used for religious matters. Throughout history, the language of the people was different from the "divani" (governmental or formal) language that one finds on tablets and other historical documents. After Islam, Arabic replaced Pahlavi as the divani language, but the people's versions of Persian persisted in various locations.
The Turkish-speaking Saljuks established a broad empire. Ironically, the Persian language flourished during the Saljuk's rule. Persian had many strengths as a divani language, which caused it to prevail over the languages of all conquering tribes. In fact, two important "books of kings" were written in Persian during the Mongol's rule. Historians have collected three volumes of royal edicts from the Ghaznavid period, in which only three edicts are in the Mongol language, all the rest being in Persian.
Interestingly, Islamic invaders successfully changed languages to Arabic in the westward drive (Syria, North Africa), whereas they were unsuccessful in imposing their language to the east (Persia, Afghanistan). One reason may be the affinity of languages in Syria and North Africa with Arabic due to being from the same root, whereas the Indo-European Persian had a different grammar and its speakers had more difficulty with Arabic constructs and sounds.
Another factor might have been the early translations of Quran and production of interpretive works in Persian, removing Arabic as the sole channel to Islam. Poetry was an important force for the survival of Persian. Older Iranians likely have relatives who could not read or write, but they could recite poetry in Persian.
This discussion, and the related topic of the Persian script, may be continued in future meetings.
My narrative and question: Even though script is only loosely related to language, in that there are many examples of changing the script without changing the language, script and language may be more intimately tied together in the case of Persian. Many Iranians, even those with a low level of literacy, use calligraphic renderings of Persian poetry to adorn their homes. So, I asked the following question: "The Persian language not only survived the Arab invasion but it flourished. The Persian script, however, was changed substantially. Centuries later, modern technology (first printing, then typewriting, and finally computers) and the difficulties caused by the Persian script in adopting these technologies led to a string of proposals over centuries to modernize the Persian script. Very few took these proposals seriously. Why?"

2021/04/05 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The quality of our infrastructure ranks 13th in the world, behind 12 countries, from Singapore to UAE. [Center] Persian calligraphic art by Masoud Ebrahimifar: The word Persian calligraphic art by Masoud Ebrahimifar: The word Tonight's 'Hello Fresh' meal with salad (1) Images of the day: [Left] America's rotting infrastructure: The quality of our infrastructure ranks 13th in the world, behind 12 countries, from Singapore to UAE. [Center] Persian calligraphic art by Masoud Ebrahimifar: The word "Eshgh" ("Love"), twisted out of shape and deprived of its five dots. [Right] Tonight's "Hello Fresh" meal: Yogurt-marinated chicken with garlic sauce, plus pistachio couscous & chili-roasted carrots. My daughter prepared the meal and I supplied the salad.
(2) The US is top-notch in cyberwarfare, but we also live in the glassiest of houses, with our economy totally dependent on the Internet: Former cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs interviewed by Bill Maher.
(3) "I won't hesitate to shoot someone in the head for insulting the Imams": Journalist Masih Alinejad calls for Twitter to ban the Iranian state-TV host who made this DAESH-like statement.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Sanctions hurt the status of US dollar as world's top currency more than they are hurting their targets.
- Putting it in TV parlance: Low ratings led to the cancellation of Seasons 5-8 of the Trump presidency!
- Borowitz Report (humor): Rand Paul claims Biden's infrastructure plan infringes on bridges' right to crumble.
- A wonderful ballet/gymnastics/juggling routine. [4-minute video]
- Notable quote: "If you don't know what dictatorship is, you are probably living under one." ~ Ifnazio Silone
(5) Jordan in turmoil, but not as part of the Arab spring: The escalating unrest, leading to scores of arrests, seems to be the result of infighting within Jordan's royal family, between the descendants of the late King Hussein, from two different wives.
(6) "How China Lends: A Rare Look into 100 Debt Contracts with Foreign Governments": This study by Center for Global Development unveils the terms and conditions of the world's largest creditor using data from 100 official contracts between China and 24 developing countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Oceania. This page contains a good summary of the findings and provides a button for downloading the full 85-page PDF document for those seeking more details.
(7) Trump's fans say that by pursuing the presidency in 2024, Mike Pence is betraying his old boss: This is definitely not as serious a betrayal as Trump supporters calling for Pence's hanging!
(8) "Waiting for Quantum Computing? Try Probabilistic Computing": This is the title of an introductory article by Dr. Kerem Camsari (my ECE UCSB colleague) and Dr. Supriyo Datta (Purdue U.) in the April 2021 issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine. Dr. Camsari gave a talk on this same topic in February 2021 for IEEE Central Coast Section. The authors present much of their content in the form of a fictitious dialog between Salviati and Sagrado, two characters borrowed from Galileo's "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems," to represent a specialist arguing for their world view and an "intelligent layman," that is, the reader (the authors are kind to characterize us as "intelligent" rather than "dummies").

2021/04/04 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Brain-shaped jello, made by my daughter, our family's very own neuroscientist! Meme: Guns don't kill people, people kill people My mom's aash-e reshteh, a traditional staple for the end of Passover, packaged to go (1) Images of the day: [Left] Brain-shaped jello, made by my daughter, our family's very own neuroscientist! [Center] Guns don't kill people, people kill people: I totally agree with this statement, but please hear me out! [Right] My mom's aash-e reshteh, a traditional staple for the end of Passover, packaged to go.
(2) DC car/knife attack: Even though the latest Washington DC cop killer is said to be mentally disturbed, his ties to Louis Farrakhan and Nation of Islam are troubling.
(3) Religious idiocy: An Iranian cleric defends another cleric, who had advised that masking and other COVID-19 provisions don't apply to religious shrines, calling those who say otherwise uninformed and illiterate!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Suez Canal closure: Fourteen ships were stranded in the Canal for 8 years of Egypt-Israel hostilities.
- Pleasure and happiness are polar opposites, in the sense that increasing one diminishes the other.
- Pacific Symphony's Nowruz program, featuring pianist/composer Shardad Rohani and other artists.
- Persian poetry: Houshang Ebtehaj (Sayeh) recites his poem entitled "Time's Playthings Are Human Hearts."
- Quote of the day: "A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there." ~ Anonymous
(5) Massive theft of personal data: A few days after University of California informed its employees of wholesale private data theft by malicious hackers, Health Net sent a similar notice to its members. The commonality in the two cases is that they used the services of Accellion, a data interchange service provider. Many other organizations have likely been affected as well. [Accellion data breach]
There are quite a few unanswered questions. The Health Net data breach occurred on January 25, 2021, so an immediate question is why it took them 2+ months to inform affected customers. Both UC and Health Net tried to downplay the severity of the incident in their notifications by asserting that no data abuse has occurred so far. Apparently, the two organizations do not realize that all it takes for abuse of data is a single leak anytime, anywhere. A person's date-of-birth, Social Security Number, and health records cannot be changed like a password, so the data thief can wait months or even years to begin abusing the stolen data. Providing a temporary service of credit tracking or suggesting that we request a freeze on credit-reporting is a band-aid solution that a sophisticated hacker can out-wait.
Many corporations are abusing our data for profit; others are playing fast-and-loose with our data due to incompetence or for cost-cutting in security services and provisions.
(6) Feeling betrayed: I spent a good chunk of yesterday protecting myself against the massive Accellion data breach affecting University of California and Health Net. I enrolled in a credit tracking service and placed security freezes on new credit with the three major credit-reporting agencies. Neither UC nor Health Net offered anything resembling an apology. Rather, they downplayed the severity of the incident and patted themselves on the back for how wonderfully they are dealing with the incident!

2021/04/03 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Humor: Get your secret Jewish space laser pin now, while supplies last! Digital keepsakes: Photographs of my daughter's school artwork 'Ketab-e Anusi': Cover images for a book (1) Images of the day: [Left] Humor: Get your top-secret Jewish space laser pin now, while supplies last! [Center] Digital keepsakes: We recently ended two days of decluttering to rid our garage of decades of accumulated stuff. Took a carload of paper, cardboard, and other items to the recycling center, set aside three boxes of school textbooks to look through for keeping, sharing, donating, or recycling, and photographed several of my daughter's school artwork. [Right] Book introduction: Ketab-e Anusi: Narratives of the Life of Iranian Jews in the Safavid Era (I grabbed the cover images from an on-line post, with no other information).
(2) It's election time in Iran again: To draw people to the polls, Minister of Communications has promised to remove filtering from Telegram and Twitter. Other reports tell of the promise of COVID-19 vaccination at the polls. Let's see if people of Iran fall for these tricks again!
(3) Auto-brewery syndrome: In 2019, a man was arrested for driving while drunk, but he insisted that he had not had even a single drink. It turned out that he was suffering from a rare condition that occurs when yeast in the gut produces excessive quantities of ethanol. People who have auto-brewery syndrome register abnormally high blood alcohol levels, even if they consume no alcohol.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Train accident in Taiwan: Nearly 50 dead as train derails inside a tunnel.
- Car rams into Washington DC barricade, killing one police officer: Driver also dead.
- NASA's Perseverance Rover discovers weird, as-yet-unidentified rock on Mars.
- Another Republican turns on his party: John Boehner has harsh words for the GOP in his memoir.
- The folk constantly whining about "cancel culture" are calling for a boycott of MLB for supporting voting rights!
- Asian soccer: Iran beats Syria 3-0 in a friendly match held in Tehran. [Highlights]
- Iranian women journalists: Sholeh Shams Shahbaz featured in this April 9, 4:30 PM PDT, Zoom meeting.
- Middle Eastern rock-n-roll: Iranians my age may remember the widely-popular song "Daddy Lolo." [Video]
- Kurdish music: The old Kermanshahi song "Asmar, Asmar," performed in Tehran's Rudaki Hall. [Video]
- Quote of the day: "A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there." ~ Anonymous
(5) Book introduction: Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology is a 1970 book by Nobel Laureate Jacques Monod, interpreting the processes of evolution to show that life is only the result of natural processes by pure chance.
(6) Iran and stories from more than four decades of imprisonment, torture, and death: IranWire report about a virtual gathering on the 43rd anniversary of the formal establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
(7) Double standard: While in Mashhad, Iran, people were prevented from celebrating Sizdah-Beh-Dar in parks and fields owing to the pandemic, the Shrine of Imam Reza was packed with visitors. [Tweet]
(8) Final thought for the day (Balzac, on women): "It is as absurd to pretend that one cannot love the same woman always, as to pretend that a good artist needs several violins to execute a piece of music."

2021/04/02 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme: Building a world that's safe for women will benefit us all! Three extraordinary Iranian architects: Kamran Diba; Hossein Amanat; Hooshang Seyhoon Screenshot: Dariush Ashouri in his April 1 webinar (1) Images of the day: [Left] Building a world that's safe for women will benefit us all! [Center] Three extraordinary Iranian architects and their creations (left to right): Kamran Diba (Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art); Hossein Amanat (Shahyad or Azadi Tower); Hooshang Seyhoon (Tomb of Omar Khayyam). [Right] Dariush Ashouri in his April 1 webinar (see the next item below).
(2) "Solving Some Enigmatic Terms in the Shahnameh": This was the title of an April 1 webinar by Dariush Ashouri, sponsored by Stanford University's Iranian Studies Program. Ashouri [1938-] is a prominent Paris-based Iranian thinker, author, translator, researcher, and public intellectual, who has made significant contributions to Iranian literary studies and the Persian language. [Ashouri's weblog]
In this talk, Ashouri promised to use a holistic approach, drawing on logical analysis, to explain some obscurities found in the old manuscripts of Ferdowsi's Shahnameh. I was very disappointed, when he spent the first 45 minutes of his talk elaborating on the term "khaayeh-keshi" (castration) in animals and humans. The discussion was only minimally related to Shahnameh: Ferdowsi wrote about castrated horses, according to some, which may have been something entirely different.
Several references by Ashouri reeked of old-style patriarchy, which equated male virility with might and supremacy. This isn't the first time that I have been disappointed by what promised to be an enlightening talk turn into a marginal discussion. Ashouri seemed phycially unwell, and old age does take a toll on everyone.
(3) My musings on Iran and China: The just-signed 25-year treaty between Iran and China has caused quite a stir on traditional media outlets and social media. In what follows, I formulate some of my thoughts on what is going on. This is a still-developing process, and my views may change as more information is divulged about the treaty.
- Iran's FM Javad Zarif gave a series of interviews, in which he spoke candidly on what the treaty is about and indicated in no uncertain terms that Khamenei green-lighted the deal and installed his own point-person on the negotiating team.
- This seems to be a "regime deal" which may have been forced on Rouhani's government during its final months in office, so that anything that goes wrong can be blamed on his government, shielding the Supreme Leader from criticism.
- A primary reason for the deal is Iran's shortage of cash to fulfill its obligations in the wake of tight US sanctions. China has apparently provided a cash infusion into the Iranian economy.
- A secondary reason is Iran and China both sending a signal to the US that its interests in the Middle East region are under threat. Similar agreements between China and other countries in the Middle East and Africa reinforce this view.
- According to Zarif, China insists that the terms of the treaty remain secret. This is apparently how China operates, but it is also convenient for Iran, which uses China's demand to resist pressure for transparency from officials and citizens.
- Anti-Iranian-regime forces throughout the world are talking non-stop about this agreement and how it resembles the Torkamanchay Treaty, according to which Iran made major concessions of land and resources to Russia.
- I for one do not subscribe to the view that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. One can have many enemies who are at war with each other. Many of those who knock the agreement are no friends of the Iranian people. The other day, I found my mom in tears from what she had heard on LA-based TV stations about Iran's misery in the wake of the agreement!
- The late Shah also signed long-term agreements, primarily to purchase weapons and technology. Not to mention that early during his reign, he capitulated to British and American interests on oil.
- Iran's market is already filled with junk from many countries, including China, multiple European countries, and the US (via indirect paths, despite sanctiona). Just look at the number of iPhones in people's hands and BMWs in their garages. The new treaty won't affect this situation, especially since China has a lot of trade with the US.
- The treaty may be bad for Iran and it may have been signed from a position of weakness. On the other hand, any sovereign country is entitled to sign treaties with multiple other countries to safeguard its national interests and hedge its economic bets.

2021/04/01 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy April Fool's Day! Happy Sizdah-Bedar, the 13th day of the Persian New Year Cover image for the audiobook 'A Series of Fortunate Events' (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Today is lying day for those in the West (April Fool's Day); tomorrow is lying day for Iranians (Dorough-e Sizdah, a lie for the 13th day of the Persian New Year): Be super-careful. On April 1 and 2, believe nothing and trust no one, just like any other day! [Right] Cover image for the audiobook A Series of Fortunate Events: Chance and the Making of the Planet, Life and You (see the last item below).
(2) Farhang Foundation presents Pacific Symphony's Nowruz Celebration (free on-line event): Shardad Rohani, Sohrab Pournazeri, and other top artists will be guest performers. Sat., April 3, 2021, 7:00 PM PDT.
(3) Farhang Foundation in partnership with the New West Symphony of Southern California presents the "Tour of Iran" virtual concert on Sunday, April 11, 2021. [Info & tickets]
(4) Book review: Carroll, Sean B., A Series of Fortunate Events: Chance and the Making of the Planet, Life and You, unabridged audiobook, read by the author, Audible.com, 2020.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
From the publisher's description: "Like every other species, we humans are here by accident. But it is shocking just how many things—any of which might never have occurred—had to happen in certain ways for any of us to exist. From an extremely improbable asteroid impact, to the wild gyrations of the Ice Age, to invisible accidents in our parents' gonads, we are all here through an astonishing series of fortunate events. And chance continues to reign every day over the razor-thin line between our life and death."
Consider the following thought experiment: Draw a line into the past, listing all your female ancestors, going back, say, 10,000 years (your mother, maternal grandmother, and so on). That's a chain of about 400 generations. Any one of these 400 people could have died as a result of infant mortality, perished by contracting a disease, or been eaten by a wild animal, before she gave birth to the next person on the chain, or could have remained childless into old age. The fact that you exist is a consequence of many chance events all going in your favor. It's even more perilous than this. Go back a lot further, to your chimp or ape ancestors, or consider also male ancestors, whose genes have contributed to you being who you are. The odds against you existing in the present form are mind-boggling. This is the point of the book's title, a wordplay on Daniel Handler's A Series of Unfortunate Events, published under the pen-name Lemony Snicket.
The aforementioned "series of fortunate events" is viewed by some as confirming "that everything happens for a reason." Yet it also gives support to the opposite view, that there is no rhyme or reason to what happens in our world; that we are all products of chance. Here's a compelling example of chance. The sequence KKKYMMKHL is part of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). A chance replacement of the first M with R created KKKYRMKHL, the corresponding part of the HIV virus, which triggered the AIDS pandemic.
Here's another example. How and why did the Antarctic Ocean become so cold? Tectonics (the Indian plate splitting from Madagascar, moving northward, and hitting & merging with Eurasia) did it. And what determined the shape and speed of movement for the plates on Earth's surface? Chance did.
Besides scientists, comedians tend to disbelieve that everything happens for a reason and give chance/randomness its due place. Carroll thinks that it would have been wonderful to bring famous comedians/humorists together to discuss their ideas in this domain. Given the busy schedules of such luminaries, not to mention the fact that some of them are dead, he decided to construct an imaginary discussion, using the spoken and written words of his chosen characters. Here's a sample quote.
Ricky Gervais: "It always comes back to us—why are we here? Well, we just happened to be here, we couldn't choose it. The chance of us being born—that sperm hitting that egg—is 400 trillion to 1. We're not special, we're just lucky; and this is a holiday. We didn't exist for 14 and a half billion years. Then we got 80 or 90 years if we're lucky, and then we'll never exist again. So, we should make the most of it."
I end my review with this summing-up statement from Carroll: "Chance continues to reign every day over the razor-thin line between our life and death."
Here's a presentation by the author about this book (32-minute video).
[P.S.: I had previously reviewed Sean Carroll's The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (2016), giving it 5 stars.]

2021/03/31 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Stand up for science (meme): Earth is not flat; Vaccines work; ... Alfred Vaino Aho and Jeffrey David Ullman recieve the 2020 ACM A. M. Turing Award Alyssa Carson, the 19-year-old astronaut who became the youngest person in history to pass all NASA aerospace tests (1) Images of the day: [Left] Stand up for science: Earth is not flat; Vaccines work; ... [Center] Turing Award winners: Association for Computing Machinery names Alfred Vaino Aho and Jeffrey David Ullman recipients of the 2020 ACM A. M. Turing Award for fundamental algorithms and theory underlying programming language implementation and for synthesizing these results and those of others in their highly influential books, affectionately referred to as the Green-Dragon and Red-Dragon Books. [Right] Women in STEM: Alyssa Carson, the 19-year-old astronaut who became the youngest person in history to pass all NASA aerospace tests and who is now preparing to be the first human to travel to Mars.
(2) The "Final Four" line-ups are set for NCAA basketball tournament. Men: Houston (#2 seed) vs. Baylor (#1); UCLA (#11) vs. Gonzaga (#1). Women: Stanford (#1 seed) vs. S. Carolina (#2); UConn (#1) vs. Arizona (#3).
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Mass shooting comes to our neighborhood: Four killed, two injured, in office-building shooting in Orange.
- The British royals' biggest scandal isn't related to Prince Harry but to Prince Andrew!
- National Math Festival (free on-line event): Fri. 4/16, 10:00 AM, to Sun. 4/18, 1:00 PM PDT. [Register]
- Kurdish music, with the backdrop of Kurdistan's majestic nature. [1-minute video]
- Medley of Persian ("Gol-e Sangam") and Italian ("Caruso") songs, performed by pianist/vocalist Kamyar.
(4) Persian poem from Forough Farrokhzad: The prophets brought with them / into our century their message of ruin / These continual explosions / These poisoned clouds / Are they the echoes of holy verses? / O friend, o brother, o relative / When you reach the moon / Write down the date the flowers were massacred [Persian]
(5) University of California cybersecurity breach: This afternoon, I received an e-mail notice about UC's central employees database at the Office of the President having been hacked. The hackers have contacted some UC employees and published on-line screenshots of personal information. The incident is still being investigated and employees are in the dark regarding exactly what information was stolen. Even though hacking of UC's central database reeks of incompetence at the administration level, employees are urged at the end of the e-mail message to avail themselves of the UC Cyber Security Awareness Fundamentals course, as if we have done something wrong to cause the breach!
(6) Where is the human society headed? In Iran, people routinely film incidents of violence against women by the "Morality" Police, rather than go to their defense. In NYC, a 65-year-old Asian woman was knocked to the ground and kicked in the head multiple times, without any of the men, shown by security cameras to be nearby, intervening or even going to the woman's aid after the assault. This behavior has to change! Even if bystanders are afraid of getting involved physically, they can start screaming and bringing attention to the incident. Most offenders would flee quickly if a large crowd assembles. These bullies are so weak that they pick the most-vulnerable victims who are unlikely to fight back.

2021/03/30 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Digital cameras visit an undeveloped country! Meme: Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi warns Iran's FM Javad Zarif about the secret 25-year deal with China Flowers I photographed on Monday during my walk along Pacific Oaks Road in Goleta
Two legends, a basketball coach and his player, in the late 1960s and the late 2000s Today's Zoom gathering of Fanni'68 classmates We need to be more like New Zealand: Only 26 deaths from COVID-19 in a population of 5 million (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Cartoon: Digital cameras visit an undeveloped country! [Top center] Warning to Iran's FM Javad Zarif: Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi asserts that the secret 25-year deal with China violates Iran's constitutional provisions and is punishable by law. [Top right] Flowers I photographed on Monday during my walk along Pacific Oaks Road in Goleta. [Bottom left] Two legends, a basketball coach and his player, in the late 1960s and the late 2000s. [Bottom center] Today's Zoom gathering of Fanni'68 classmates (see the last item below). [Bottom right] We need to be more like New Zealand: Only 26 deaths from COVID-19 among 5M.
(2) So long, spring break: My brief break is over and UCSB's spring-quarter classes began yesterday. This first week of classes will be quite hectic, given intensive academic advising and organizational workload. I will settle into my usual routine by mid-April and will start the countdown to summer!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Rising COVID-19 cases in 30 states causes CDC head to fight tears, on the expectation of impending doom.
- Mike Pence, who escaped being hung by Trump supporters on January 6, returns to begin his 2024 run.
- Mafia fugitive caught, thanks to police being tipped off by his YouTube cooking show!
- Book intro and quote: Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype
(4) "A Review of Literary Translation over the Past Century and Its Impact on Persian Literature and Language": This was the focus of today's Persian Zoom session (with 45 participants) of University of Tehran's College of Engineering graduates, Class of 1968 (Fanni '68). The speaker was prolific translator of some 85 books, Abdollah Kowsari. I had to leave the session before it ended, in order to attend a scheduled work-related meeting. [Recording of the talk; Passcode 8s5q8XJ&]
After a brief introduction by Ms. Shahrnush Parsipur, Mr. Kowsari began his discussion of contemporary translation into the Persian language, preceding his remarks with a brief history of translations over the past 10-12 centuries (post-Islam Persia). The literary movement in Iran, which includes a proliferation of translated works, began with Qa'em-Maqam Farahani (mid-Nasseri period, early 19th century). Mr. Kowsari then proceeded to name and review the works of some notable translators and how they added to the original sources for Persian readers.
In the 1940s, a new era of translations began. Iranians became more aware of and more knowledgeable about other countries, as foreign travel picked up. The number of people who knew foreign languages grew. During the Qajar period, the few translators were part of the elite/royal class. Members of the middle-class attending universities and the establishment of publication houses, such as Bongah-e Tarjomeh va Nashr-e Ketab, changed the scene.
A successful translator is one who is capable of "creating" in the target language, that is, s/he must be a good writer in Persian. The impact of translated books on Persian literature and language has been immense. They brought us new genres, such as novels, that did not exist in our own literature. Translations also contributed to simplicity and colloquialism in published books. Translators may have contributed more to the development of modern Persian than writers, enriching the language by coining terms upon encountering new concepts.
A couple of times during the talk, Mr. Kowsari recommended, or quoted recommendations by others, to read Tarikh-i Bayhaqi, the 11th-century work of Abul-Fazl Bayhaqi, which has both historical and literary significance. The work has also been published under a number of other names.
There is a Persian-language quarterly journal, Motarjem (Translator), to which Mr. Kowsari is a regular contributor. I have included the cover image for issue 60 of the journal, featuring an interview with Mr. Kowsari.
Questions that I would have asked, had I been able to stay for the discussion period, include the following:
- Impact of translation from other translations (for example, Greek works translated into Persian from French). In machine translation, it is well-known that if you double-translate, such as from English into Persian and back into English, you get funny results. Is there a similar effect for human translators?
- A translation is sometimes praised by saying that it is faithful to the original. Is this faithfulness really required, or can a translator add value through free translation and embellishments? Jorge Luis Borges famously praised a translation of one of his works by saying "the original is unfaithful to the translation"!

2021/03/28 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Math puzzles: Taken from the Mathematics 2021 calendar (#dailymaths), 22 Math puzzles: Taken from the Mathematics 2021 calendar (#dailymaths), 25 Math puzzles: Taken from the Mathematics 2021 calendar (#dailymaths), 26
Last night's Passover celebration with a small family gathering at my mom's: Dinner Last night's Passover celebration with a small family gathering at my mom's: Seder Sunday's walk in the Patterson Avenue area of Goleta (along the Maria Ygnacio Creek) (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Math puzzles: Taken from the Mathematics 2021 calendar (#dailymaths). [Bottom left & center] Saturday night's Passover celebration with a small family gathering at my mom's. [Bottom right] Sunday's walk in the Patterson Avenue area of Goleta: The Maria Ygnacio Creek was completely dry, except for a handful of puddles. Returning home from the walk, I saw this little visitor in my patio.
(2) Math puzzle: Using all the digits 0 through 9, form two 5-digit numbers so that their product is the largest possible. For example, 98,765 x 43,210 = 4,267,635,650, but this isn't the answer.
Challenge question: If the two numbers can have any number of digits (say, 4 & 6 or 3 & 7), can we do better?
(3) Shopping malls must be re-architected: Big anchor stores, food courts, and many other elements no longer make sense and need reexamination. In my area (Santa Barbara, CA), multiple shopping centers have vacant anchor stores and chances of their revival are slim.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Santa Barbara County is now vaccinating those 50 or older: Everyone 16 or older will be eligible in ~2 weeks.
- The container-ship blocking the Suez Canal has been refloated, but reopening the waterway may take days.
- USC to pay $1.2 billion to 1000s of women treated by its campus gynecologist for decades of sex abuse.
- Persian poetry: Parvin E'tesami's poem for her own gravestone. [In her own handwriting]
(5) Comment on Bill Maher's comic rant, poking fun at on-line surveys and customer ratings: I understand the frustration of some individuals who want to buy a product or service and be done with it. This can be likened to citizens who don't want to bother learning about issues and candidates in a political election. We are all better off, however, because of those who care enough to participate, be it in products/services rating or political elections. Wikipedia, one of the most useful sources of information available to us, thrives because of those who put their selfish interests aside and participate in building it up. Political elections are also fraught with risks from those who follow some ideology blindly and don't bother to think. But no one suggests (I hope) that we do away with elections, because some participants are uninformed. With large number of participants, be it in rating systems or elections, the overall or average will prevail, which in most cases, is quite good. Studies have shown that people tend to widely over-estimate or under-estimate the number of jelly-beans in a jar, but if you ask a large number of people and take the average of their guesses, you often come very close to the actual count. This phenomenon is known as "the wisdom of crowds," which is also the title of a book by James Surowiecki. Of course, examples of spectacular failures of crowd intelligence also exist (consider cults or Internet thought-bubbles, for example), but, by and large, collective judgement tends to be spot on.

2021/03/27 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Passover: Spread Happy Passover: Moses with tablets Preparing halegh for Passover (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Moses was several millennia ahead of his time: He was the first person to download files from the cloud to his tablet! Happy Passover to all those who observe this Jewish festival! [Right] The goopy stuff in the food processor and bowl is halegh (a staple of Passover celebration), which I made at my mom's a couple of days ago from ingredients (roasted almonds, roasted walnuts, soaked dates) prepared by her, adding water as needed to get the right texture. Matzos are dipped in the super-sweet halegh and eaten during Passover, typically at breakfast.
(2) "Solving Some Enigmatic Terms in the Shahnameh": Daryoush Ashouri uses a holistic approach, drawing on logical analysis, to explain some obscurities found in the old manuscripts of Ferdowsi's Shahnameh. Thursday, April 1, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT. [Information & registration]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Delusional Trump returns with one of his biggest lies: Capitol intruders were hugging & kissing the cops!
- Tragedy averted: Arrested man in Atlanta grocery had 6 guns and wore body armor.
- With a narrow post-election lead, Netanyahu's party has insufficient support to form a majority coalition.
- The country that drove Alan Turing to suicide for homosexuality is now honoring him with new currency.
- Top-5 highest-paid university execs: USC, U. Chicago, Thomas Jefferson U., Columbia U., Harvard U.
- To get a COVID-19 vaccination appointment, it helps to know a Python programmer.
- No need to be on-line to order food: KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut to start taking orders via texting.
- "Governments should be run like businesses" is misguided: Citizens aren't customers, they're the board!
- Lego Computer-Science Women: Celebrating 1000 (that's 1111101000, in binary) supporters! [Tweet]
- Kayhan Kalhor's "Lost in the Desert Sky" (from Kashan, Iran, in memory of M. R. Shajarian). [SoCal link]
(4) Math puzzles, taken from the Mathematics 2021 calendar (#dailymaths, @GWOMaths):
- Find the sum of the coefficients in the polynomial (x^4 + x^3 – x^2 + x + 1)^3.
- Find the sum of the digits of the number (1,000,003)^3.
(5) The crisis at the US-Mexico border: Yes, we have a serious problem, but the challenge of dealing with thousands of people at our southern border pales in comparison with 545,000 deaths from COVID-19, unemployment and food insecurity for millions of Americans, inadequate health care in the face of a pandemic that is far from being tamed, hate crimes, mass shootings, and voter suppression. Meanwhile, the Republicans have found an issue to whine about, to the detriment of gun control legislation, curing educational disruption at all levels, fixing our rotting infrastructure, controlling runaway healthcare/drug costs, and standing up to multiple countries testing our resolve on the world stage.

2021/03/26 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Screenshot from University of Toronto's Nowruz celebration A few motivational memes Lasagnas from my food prep night on Tuesday
Photo showing the Suez Canal blocked by a container-ship stuck across it Meme: Hatred based on race and other class designations is anti-American (#StopAsianHate) Cover image of Jessica Bennett's 'Feminist Fight Club' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] University of Toronto's Nowruz celebration: Sholeh Wolpe, accompanied by Sahba Motallebi on tar, recited Persian poems from Hafiz, Mowlavi (Rumi), and others, with English translations. [Top center] A few motivational memes: If you figure out the meaning of "Open Structures Processing of Tehran Engineering Company" (logo), the name of the Iranian company that publicized these memes, do let me know! [Top right] Lasagnas from my 3/23 food prep night, when I also made tacos. [Bottom left] The Suez Canal is blocked by a container-ship stuck across it, sending many vessels around Africa: Some 10% of world trade is reportedly affected by the blockage. [Bottom center] Hatred based on race and other class designations is anti-American (#StopAsianHate). [Bottom right] Cover image of Feminist Fight Club (see the last item below).
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump defends Capitol rioters: Says they posed zero threat and are being persecuted by law-enforcement.
- Cartoon of the day: Return to normal? Mass shootings and hate crimes, after a year of COVID-19. [Image]
- In an open letter, Iranian dissidents ask the UN Security Council to come to the aid of Iranian people.
- My older Persian-speaking readers might appreciate this humorous song about the perils of aging!
- CS peddles regression illuminated by statistics as machine learning and the society believes it's AI! [Image]
(3) Book review: Bennett, Jessica, Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace, Harper Wave, 336 pp., 2016. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The cover of this very useful book declares, jokingly, that "Book is 21% more expensive for men." We read on the book's back cover: "In Feminist Fight Club, acclaimed journalist Jessica Bennett blends the personal stories of her real-life fight club with research, statistics, and no-bullsh*t advice for how to combat today's sexism (and come out the other side). Part manual, part manifesto, Bennett offers a new vocabulary for the sexist archtypes women encounter every day—such as the Manterrupter, who talks over female colleagues in meetings; or the Bropropriator, who appropriates their ideas—as well as the self-sabotaging behavior women sometimes exhibit themselves. With original illustrations and fascinating historical research as well as a straightforward assessment of the gender gap that continues to plague the American workforce, Feminist Fight Club offers practical strategies, stealthy hacks, and much-needed camaraderie for women battling their way through the modern workplace."
Feminist Fight Club is full of insights, not just for women, but for us men. Here is one example. Even though impostor syndrome wasn't coined as a term until the 1970s, women have always felt it. Here is another. Like modern sexism, which is often masked as subtle insults or dismissals, "today's sexism is insidious, casual, politically correct, even friendly." As a third example, consider this. Neither diversity-training nor our legal system can deal with the fact that Americans still prefer male leaders, or solve the problem of power-seeking women being perceived as pushy or unlikable.
I consider Bennett's book a must-read for everyone, be they women struggling to make sense of school or workplace sexism, men allies seeking to understand issues so that they can raise awareness and help, and parents of young girls, particularly fathers, who must become aware of sexist attitudes that, among other things, lead to self-sabotaging behavior in some women.

2021/03/25 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Image of the Web page for UCSB ECE 1B, offered during spring 2021 Santa Barbara's 10-day weather forecast Image of the Web page for UCSB ECE 252B, offered during spring 2021 (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Web pages for my spring 2021 courses (see the last two items below). [Center] Greetings from Santa Barbara, California: As this first week of spring (UCSB's spring break) comes to an end, our high temperatures are in the low-60s, warming up to the low-to-mid-70s by Saturday.
(2) Quantum mischief: Quantum experiments that scramble the ordering of causes and their effects are leading physicists to abandon causality altogether. In this strange new world, events can occur in an indefinite causal order, where "A causes B" and "B causes A" can be true simultaneously.
(3) Despicable lies: Social media is flooded with false stories of people dying shortly after COVID-19 vaccine injection. Spreading these kinds of lies is just as murderous as picking up an AR-15 rifle and shooting people.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Unanswered questions remain after Iran's long-delayed report on Ukrainian Airline's Flight 752 crash.
- Khamenei's address signals upcoming Internet restrictions in Iran ahead of the presidential election.
- Instagram psychologist Dr. Honey Mahmoudi is sending gifts to Iran's Sistan & Baluchistan's children.
- For skyscrapers, sky's the limit: Evolution of world's tallest building (167 m in 1901; 1345 m in 2022).
- Persian music: Darya Dadvar's spirited rendition of the old song "Narguess-e Shiraz." [2-minute video]
- Persian music: Rana Mansour's wonderful rendition of the old song "Safar." [5-minute video]
- Iranian regional music: "Rashid Khan," a popular song from northeastern Iran. [4-minute video]
(5) Life story of entertainer Fereydoun Farrokhzad: For some reason, I was never a big fan of this Iranian mega-star. His period of greatest fame coincided with my graduate studies in the US, so I didn't get to see his lavishly-produced Iranian TV shows. I liked a few of his songs, but I didn't find him particularly talented. And his flamboyant style, along with frequent mingling with high-school-age girls, left me cringing. He turned into a pro-monarchy political activist late in life. His 1992 cold-hearted, bloody murder in Europe by agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran turned him from a popular entertainer into some kind of folk hero. [69-minute video]
(6) Power squabble in Iran: Foreign Minister Javad Zarif confirms statements attributed to him about the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 and indicates that he is "frustrated" with the Revolutionary Guards.
(7) My Web page for UCSB ECE 1B: I have set up the Web page for my spring 2021 freshman seminar course, "Ten Puzzling Problems in Computer Engineering." The first lecture, a 65-minute video presentation entitled "Easy, Hard, Impossible," gives you a taste of what the course is about, if you are interested.
(8) My Web page for UCSB ECE 252B: I have set up the Web page for my spring 2021 graduate course, "Advanced Computer Architecture: Computer Arithmetic." An 11-minute introductory video presentation gives you a feel for the course and its requirements, if you are interested.

2021/03/24 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Dutch artist Leon Keer can transform any flat surface into a mind-bending illusion Haji Firooz rears his ugly head again: A racist tradition IEEE History Center webinar: The Telephone Ladies and Bell Systems Spirit of Service During World II (1) Images of the day: [Left] A master of 3D art: Dutch artist Leon Keer can transform any flat surface into a mind-bending illusion. [Center] Time to retire a racist Nowruz tradition (see the next item below). [Right] IEEE History Center webinar (see the last item below).
(2) Haji Firooz rears his ugly head again: Every Nowruz, Iranians and people of Iranian origins argue about the tradition of Haji Firooz, a black-faced man (yes, not a black man, but a white man with blackened face) who appears on the streets and at Nowruz celebration sites and tries to entertain people with his clownish song-and-dance acts. Some people go to great lengths to justify this racist tradition, which many enlightened and younger people seek to abandon. Justifications include framing this black-faced, red-wearing clown as representing ancient Zoroastrian fire-keepers (red = fire; black = soot), the mythical martyr Siavash (siah = black; vash = face), and a bunch of other nonsense requiring tons of glue to connect to Nowruz's noble traditions. None of these narratives explains where the honorific Haji comes from (Iranian slaves often arrived from Africa by way of an Arab country), why Haji Firooz addresses his audience as "my master," or why he acts clownishly. I have condemned this racist tradition every year, for as long as I can remember, and will continue to do so until this stain is erased from the Iranian "culture" and Nowruz "traditions"! [Persian version]
(3) Sophisticated, dangerous ransomware is the new normal: So declares Samuel Greengard, writing in the April 2021 issue of Communications of the ACM under the title "The Worsening State of Ransomware."
The best we can do at this point is to learn how to respond in order to minimize the damage. UCSB's Chief Information Security Officer recommends the following steps to deal with a ransomware attack:
- Remove computer from the network: Unplug cable, turn off Wi-Fi & Bluetooth, or enable airplane mode.
- Unplug any USB storage devices, including attached smartphones, removable disk drives, and thumb drives.
- Call the ETS Service Desk at 805-893-5000 (this is for UCSB; your organization likely has a help number).
(4) "The Telephone Ladies and Bell Systems Spirit of Service During World II": This was the title of today's fascinating webinar by Dr. Mary Ann C. Hellrigel (IEEE History Center Institutional Historian and Archivist). The webinar explored Bell System's responses to increased demand for telephone service during World War II and AT&T's decisions to expand its female labor force. Some background information about the communications scene in the US, beginning with World War I, was provided.
The telephone monopoly was determined to prioritize calls between US troops and their families, giving all else a secondary status. Women played a key role in implementing this service, but, like in all other domains of that period, women were expected to be pretty, pleasant-sounding, well-dressed, and traditional. They were housed in all-women accommodations, with strict rules, to reassure their families.
A recording of the talk will be available from IEEE Foundation soon. [A dozen screenshots from the slides].

2021/03/23 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine cover feature: COVID-19 and xenophobia bring about anti-Asian hate and violence in America New Yorker cartoon: 'I miss indoor dining' Chart: Biden's proposed 28% corporate tax rate in historical context
Transformation of the Loess Plateau in China: Before, arid, 2007 Transformation of the Loess Plateau in China: After, lush, 2019 US soldier in full tactical gear, including helmets and face-mask (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Time magazine cover feature: COVID-19 and xenophobia bring about anti-Asian hate & violence in America. [Top center] New Yorker cartoon: "I miss indoor dining." [Top right] Chill out: If Biden's proposed 28% corporate tax rate is approved, we will still have one of the lowest rates in the US since the Truman administration. [Bottom left & center] Turning arid lands into oases: Transformation of the Loess Plateau in China (arid 2007 vs. lush 2019) has spurred plans for doing the same to the Sinai Desert. [Bottom right] If our troops can wear full tactical gear, including helmets and face-masks, in the desert heat, you can wear a face-mask at an air-conditioned Walmart for 15 minutes.
(2) Quote of the day: "A tree can be tempted out of its winter dormancy by a few hours of southerly sun—the readiness to believe in spring is stronger than sleep or sanity." ~ Amy Leach, Things That Are
(3) A cure for vaccine doubters: To convince Trump supporters to get COVID-19 shots, the syringe should be built to look like a gun, and "elimination of gayness" in current and future generations be listed among the side effects. [Idea credit: Comedian Trevor Noah] [Image]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Ten, including a responding police officer, killed in a mass shooting at a Boulder, Colorado, supermarket.
- Worst Australian floods in 60 years cause evacuation of people from suburbs in Sydney's west.
- The pandemic's aftermath: Telehealth trends brought about by the pandemic are likely here to stay.
- Get ready for the return of 3:00 AM tweets: Or whatever they'll be called on the new Trump platform!
- Persian calligraphy for dentists! [3-minute video]
- Sharif University of Technology Association's Board-of-Directors election results: Women and youth prevail.
- Serious enforcement of masking mandate! [1-minute video]
- Drinking doesn't mix well with driving: But it apparently goes fabulously with painting! [1-minute video]
- Persian music: Street violinist and dancer in Tehran, Iran. [6-minute video]
- Persian fusion music: Bahar Sadeghi and Pentatonix with a wonderful a-cappella performance.
(5) The pandemic has been particularly tough for remote workers who live alone: Be they young single men & women or empty-nest divorced/widowed seniors.
(6) US corporation pay an average of 7.8% in taxes: The 2017 corporate tax cut to 21% was justified by the claim that the then 35% rate was too high. Many argued at the time that corporations don't actually pay at the 35% rate, but at a much lower effective rate. That effective rate has now been cut to less than half, as offshore tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, continue to be used to reduce the tax bills.
(7) "A Panoramic Survey of Natural Language Processing in the Arab World": This is the title of an article in the April 2021 issue of Communications of the ACM, which contains a special section on the Arab World. This article is of particular interest to me, given my own work on Persian-language processing and input/output.

2021/03/21 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Persian New Year (saal-e no mobarak): Today is the first day of the Persian calendar year 1400 In the mood to celebrate: Multiple occasions, including the Persian New Year and four birthdays, on Saturday 3/20 Nowruz message of the Chancellor of Sharif University of Technology (1) Images of the day: [Left] Happy Persian New Year: Today is the first day of the Persian calendar year 1400. Spring 2021 began yesterday, but because we just ended a Persian leap year, the month of Esfand had an extra 30th day, pushing Farvardin 1 to the second day of spring. Last night, Iranians partied like it was 1399! [Center] In the mood to celebrate: Multiple occasions, including the Persian New Year and four birthdays, on Saturday 3/20. The yummy cakes were chosen and brought by my niece from Urth Bakery in Beverly Hills. [Right] Nowruz message of the Chancellor of Sharif University of Technology, Iran (see the next item below).
(2) Turkey officially withdraws from the Istanbul convention on dealing with violence against women: In the US, Republicans would trash similar laws if they were in power. [DW Persian report]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- GOP think: Minority rights in the Senate? Sacred, don't mess with it! Minority rights in society? Whatever!
- Only 29 House Republicans (out of 211) supported the "Violence Against Women" Act.
- #AsianLivesMatter: Awareness of anti-Asian hate rises after the Atlanta shootings.
- The latest European COVID-19 surge brings out the fear of a new surge in the US. [Chart]
- American Avi Wigderson & Hungarian Laszlo Lovasz win the 2021 Abel Prize for work bridging math & CS.
- Sounds of nature: Where does hummingbird's characteristic buzz come from? [8-minute video]
- Nowruz celebration at the old bazaar of Dezful, a city in southern Iran. [3-minute video]
- Deep-fake video technology reaches Iran and is immediately put to good use! [1-minute video]
- Disco music: I've heard this song many times before, but don't remember its name. [Italian version]
- Acclaimed Kurdish musician Ali Akbar Moradi discusses the History of Nowruz. [32-minute video]
(4) Religious prejudice in academia: The Chancellor of Sharif University of Technology ends his Nowruz message to the faculty, students, and SUT's other associates thus: "Hoping to build together under the banner of Islam's teachings a country that is worthy of every Muslim Iranian." Thanks a lot. My hope is for the country to be worthy of, and welcoming to, every Iranian, regardless of religion!
(5) Iran's Y2K problem? A friend sent me this image that shows a computer system using the date 1399/13/01 (first day of the thirteenth month of the year) instea