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Behrooz Parhami – SFHpurple : )

Behrooz Parhami’s Blog & Books Page

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Page last updated on 2021 June 17

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

2021/06/17 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today's family get-together for lunch at Santa Barbara HiltonRecreating a photo from May 2018 during today's extended-family gathering in Santa BarbaraMiscellaneous 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 diplomatsMath 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, UKStatue of Alan Turing, a brilliant British mathematicianA 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 todayFor 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 boxesCover 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 PeruArtist at work in Esfahan's copper market, built in Iran's Safavid era, some 400 years agoHow Persian has influenced Arabic: Exerpt from a 1945 article by Saeed Nafisi
S. B. Divya, an engineer moonlighting as sci-fi writerInspirations 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 issueKudos 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 pastCartoon: Senator Joe Manchin preserves the filibusterPhotos 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 afterExcavated Stadium of Magnesia in western Turkey: A different viewGarah 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 siteColosseum-like 1800-year-old stadium, unearthed in western Turkey: Close-up of one sectionWonders 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 PersianMath 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 oldA large number of electric cars being charged in 1917Painting 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 pathCartoon: '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 photosThrowback Thursday: Two photos from ~70 years agoWalking 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 EgyptCartoons: Ikea water, and cat & mouse, 6-rounds vs. 9-livesCartoon: 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: MemeOn this US Memorial Day, we honor the memory of those who fell to protect our freedom: Mourning spouseCover 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 for help, rather than his mother, 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 chainSanta Barbara Airport's terminal buildingPersian 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 saladI can't breathe: Words uttered during brutal arrest of an 18-year-old rapper in Borazjan, IranImages 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 candidatesDisqualified 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 1958Cover image of 'Dark Matter,' a sci-fi novel by Blakd CrouchPhotographing 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, 2021Cartoon: 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 & 4Last night's gathering with three college buddies and their spouses: Photo 1Women 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, 2021Meme: Anything war can do peace can do betterCover 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 breadDr. 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 taftoonMath puzzle involving a pentagon with known side lengthsScreenshots 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 meetingStanford U. webinar by Dr. Mohammad Reza Farzanegan: GDP variations, 1970-1988Stanford 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. []
(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 pointTwo mind-blowing math identities and a math puzzleSame guys, same car, fifty years later!
A historical monument in Sri Lanka: The Sigiriya fortress complexPersian 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 despairCalendar Daily Puzzles for May 16 and 17Human/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 summerFun summation identities and a geometric puzzleSeasons of a tree: The same tree photographed in fall and winter
World map centered at the North PoleNASA maps of the two hemispheres, focused on the North and South PolesWorld 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, IndiaMourning a loss: A classroom in the Afghan girls' school where 85 were killed by a car-bombZhaotong 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 BottaA couple of slefies I took on the Elwood Bluffs during my walk todayWildflowers 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 IranArdeshir Papakan Palace: Located in the old town of Firuzabad, Iran, the palace of King Ardashir ITurkey'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 familyCartoon: 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 1Iran's Kurdistan: Images of Dalahoo, a historically-signficant region near Kermanshah: Photo 3Iran's Kurdistan: Images of Dalahoo, a historically-signficant region near Kermanshah: Photo 4
Sea glass of many colorsCover 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 (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 agoPersian love couplets from Ghaa'aani and Haatef EsfahaaniOur 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 boatWoman 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 mineFigures 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 CapitolHumorous Persian epic poetry: Zanboornameh
Racism exemplified: Taking the Middle-Easterner, dark-skinned Jesus and turning him into a white EuropeanCover 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 TehranThrowback Thursday: Googoosh wearing a 1974 Asian Games T-shirtThrowback Thursday: A family photo from 1974
Throwback Thursday: A family photo from the early 1960sThrowback Thursday: With college buddies, during a mid-1960s field trip and a mid-1970s get-togetherCover 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 provinceYours 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 positionCartoon: Lady Liberty emerges from hiding!
Types of scientific paper: Open-access (Batch 1)Types of scientific paper: Open-access: Paid-subscriptionTypes 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: LogoWorld Press Freedom Day: World mapCover image of Cathy O'Neil's 'Weapons of Math Destruction'
Photos from my walk of Sunday 5/2 in Isla Vista: Batch 1Photos from my walk of Sunday 5/2 in Isla Vista: Batch 3Photos 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.”

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, 2021Entering the Asian-American and Pacific-Islander Heritage Month
A dangerous winding road between Amol and Larijan, near Nandal Village, in Iran's Mazandaran provinceMy workstation & Zoom background at homeBeijing'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 flossA few of my drawings from the late 1960sCartoon: 'About your cat, Mr. Schrodinger--I have good news and bad news.'
Devereux Slough, on a beautiful mid-spring afternoonPhotos from Coal Oil Point Beach in GoletaPhoto 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 photosWalking in SB downtown on Tuesday, April 27, 2021: Batch 1 of photosWalking in SB downtown on Tuesday, April 27, 2021: Batch 3 of photos
Anoushka Shankar's April 29, 2021, webinarQuotes 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) … []

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 anglePuzzle: 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 saladChloe 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 provincesMath 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 UniversityRoundtable 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 logoEarth Day's 51st edition: Me in my special T-shirt for the day (Photo 2)
Definitely worth preserving: Beautiful green hillsAkram Pedramnia's webinar on translating 'Ulysses': Book coversAkram 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: FlyerTonight's IEEE Central Coast Section Zoom technical talk: Two slidesAncient 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 photosThe Rose Garden at Santa Barbara Mission: Batch 1 of photosThe 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 hijabSelected verses from a beautiful poem by Parvin E'tesamiPanel 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 dauntingMowlana Jalal al-Din Rumi: Zoom talk by Dr. Fatemeh KeshavarzNature'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 2021Dining by the Persian Gulf in Bushehr, southern IranCartoon: 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 herToday's Distinguished Lecture by NSF CISE Director Margaret MartonosiCover 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 WayIran 1957 relief map from Muir WayChip layout for NVIDIA A100 Tensor Core GPU
Side streets of downtown Santa Barbara: Houses and a churchTen-day weather forecast for Goleta: A full week of sunshine aheadSide 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 visitCartoon: 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 airIBM Power10 processor: MicroarchitecturePhotos 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 IranMathematical explanation of how a new virus variant might become dominant
Cartoon: A couple of explorers discover the Ottoman EmpireArchitect Cristina Ventura heads the team which is restoring and repairing Rio de Janeiro's Cristo RedentorThe 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 momentGlazed 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 ParkNewsweek magazine's cover story: Silicon Vally wants to hack the process of agingSingapore 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 screenshotUCSB Academic Senate Townhall on Fall 2021 Instruction: A couple of slidesMapping 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 USOptical illusion: Green dot chasing pink dotsMeme 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 theatersToday's walk on State Street: Museums and SBIFFZoom 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 peopleMy 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 SeyhoonScreenshot: 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 YearCover 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 AwardAlyssa 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 ChinaFlowers 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 2000sToday's Zoom gathering of Fanni'68 classmatesWe 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), 22Math puzzles: Taken from the Mathematics 2021 calendar (#dailymaths), 25Math puzzles: Taken from the Mathematics 2021 calendar (#dailymaths), 26
Last night's Passover celebration with a small family gathering at my mom's: DinnerLast night's Passover celebration with a small family gathering at my mom's: SederSunday'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: SpreadHappy Passover: Moses with tabletsPreparing 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 celebrationA few motivational memesLasagnas from my food prep night on Tuesday
Photo showing the Suez Canal blocked by a container-ship stuck across itMeme: 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 2021Santa Barbara's 10-day weather forecastImage 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 illusionHaji Firooz rears his ugly head again: A racist traditionIEEE 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 AmericaNew 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, 2007Transformation of the Loess Plateau in China: After, lush, 2019US 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 1400In the mood to celebrate: Multiple occasions, including the Persian New Year and four birthdays, on Saturday 3/20Nowruz 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) instead of 1400/01/01 (advancing the year).
(6) Tweet by @DeaconBlues0: “The Atlanta terrorist purchased his gun the same day he murdered 8 people. You cannot register and vote on the same day in Georgia.”
(7) Nowruz greetings from exactly one century ago: Apparently, the year 1299 in the Persian calendar was as bad as the just-ended year 1399, and people were happy to say good-bye to it! [Tweet, with image]
(8) Course grading completed: Today, I finished the evaluation of research papers for my ECE 254B graduate course on parallel processing and the reporting of course grades. The papers dealt with parallel processing in machine learning, with various foci/strategies: Graph neural networks; Analog in-memory computing; Photonic acclerators; Neural networks; Neuromorphic chips; Biological methods.

2021/03/20 (Saturday): I am almost caught up with my backlog of book reviews. Here are a couple more.
Cover image for George D. Moargan's 'Rocket Girl'Cover image for Jane Goodall's 'Harvest for Hope'Cover image of the young-adult book 'Jane Goodall: Animal Scientist'(1) Book review: Morgan, George D. (with Ashley Stroupe) Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s First Female Rocket Scientist, unabridged audiobook, read by Joe Barrett, Tantor Audio, 2021.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book, along with Jane Goodall’s Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating, was among my local public library’s suggested reading list for the 2021 Women’s History Month. Having read at least two similar titles, Hidden Figures and Code Girls, I decided to peruse this title as well.
The book is written by Morgan’s son, who spent countless hours uncovering his mother’s forgotten contributions to America’s early space program and the launching of its first satellite, a program shrouded in secrecy. Raised as a farm girl, Mary Sherman Morgan [1921-2004] attended high school in North Dakota, aspiring to become a chemist, at a time when girls rarely imagined science careers. Morgan ended up collaborating with Wernher von Braun, the father of America’s space program, in troubleshooting failures of early rockets, which blew up on the launch pad; von Braun went on to become a high-profile scientist and a leader in NASA’s manned-space-flight programs, while the farm-girl-turned-rocket-fuel-scientist fell into obscurity.
The story shares some of the elements of Hidden Figures and Code Girls. With many men gone off to fight in World War II, women were given opportunities they might not have had otherwise. Morgan was offered a job, designing explosives for the military, even before getting her chemistry degree. Later, at Rocketdyne division of North American Aviation, she was the only woman among 900 engineers, and she ended up leading the team when her company landed a contract to solve the great fuel challenge. She worked on developing new rocket fuels, including the mixture “Hydyne” (she wanted to name it “Bagel,” to go with LOX, or liquid oxygen).
I am generally suspicious of biographies written by adoring relatives, even more than autobiographies. So, I checked a few other accounts of Morgan’s life and multiple reviews of this book. Several sources agree that George Morgan has embellished the story, detracting from the believability of his narrative. George Morgan himself agrees to having produced a work of creative non-fiction, having had to fill gaps in his knowledge, both due to his mother’s private nature and the secrecy of her work assignments. The events in the book are true, but some details have had to be imagined.
Books of this kind tell us that when given a chance, women tend to rise to the challenge and can become creative researchers, developers, and leaders. It is a shame that such chances were given only when there was a dearth of men to take the assignments. The recent awareness of the need for, and emerging programs focusing on, diversity, equity, and inclusion may remove the handicap afflicting women, but it will take time to overcome many centuries of bias.
(2) Book review: Goodall, Jane (with Gary McAvoy and Gail Hudson), Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating, abridged audiobook, read by Tippi Hedren, Hachette Audio, 2005.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This relatively short audiobook, along with Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s First Female Rocket Scientist, was among my local public library’s suggested reading list for the 2021 Women’s History Month. I simultaneously borrowed two available young-adult audiobooks, Jane Goodall: Animal Scientist (by Katherine Krohn) and Jane Goodall: Finding Hope in the Wilds of Africa (by Diana Briscoe), to get additional biographical information on Goodall [1934-], whose main claim to fame is through her work on chimpanzees in the wild, including communications with and among them.
Goodall grew up loving books about animals and Africa, particularly Hugh Lofting’s The Story of Doctor Dolittle and Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan series. She once sat for five hours in her family’s chicken coop to find out exactly how chickens lay eggs, her absence worrying her parents, who contacted the police. She was trained as a secretary, because her mother convinced her that secretaries can find work anywhere, including in Africa, where Goodall yearned to travel.
At age 23, Goodall went to visit a friend in Kenya, where she was hired by the famous anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey as an assistant. When she was sent to work in Tanzania, her mother had to go along to avoid the impropriety of a woman traveling alone. Goodall eventually studied ethology and earned a PhD from Cambridge University, but a great deal of her important work was done with only a secretarial degree. She found it difficult at times to be taken seriously and be supported in her scientific work. Despite her seminal contributions, Goodall’s life and work haven’t been free of controversies.
Harvest for Hope is different from Goodall’s other publications, which are about animals. Here, Goodall presents a compelling case for sustainable food production and consumption. Hers has a different focus than the typical alarmist book about agro-tech businesses and the damage they do to the environment. Goodall does warn us about the dangers of over-exploiting the land, GMOs, industrial pesticides, restraining and overfeeding cattle, cruelty to animals, and the like, but, the message, by and large, is that of hope: That individuals can make a difference by following simple strategies to effect change and to become healthier people as a result.
Here’s one example cited by Goodall about the importance of consuming local foods. When you sit at a coffee shop in Honolulu, the sugar you put in your coffee may have been grown in a nearby farm, but it got into the packet in your hand by traveling to California for processing and then to New York for additional processing and packaging. The needless 10,000 miles of travel, wasting fuel and other precious resources, is justified in the name of efficiency of scale. Healthier and tastier foods are available from local farmers markets and agricultural co-ops, which must be supported to break the vicious cycle.
We all live hurried lives, making it difficult to follow advice about healthy eating. The key is to do what we can, rather then give up hope because we can’t do it all. Once we get used to the better taste of fresh, locally-grown crops and meat, it will be difficult to go back to food that is optimized for supermarket operations, including unripe, and thus tasteless, fruits and vegetables. One unfortunate consequence of mass-marketing operations is that only apple and other fruit varieties that last well for weeks in transport and warehousing are readily available to us.

2021/03/19 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Sisyphus works from homeCartoon: Sometimes you have no choice but to be a dog person!Cartoon: Escher is befuddled!(1) Cartoons of the day: [Left] Sisyphus works from home. [Center] Sometimes you have no choice but to be a dog person! [Right] Escher was befuddled, as he and another man took the stairs!
(2) #MeToo in Iran: A year after reports that a professor sexually assaulted a female student, a fellow-student pursuing the case faces punishment for insubordination, while the accused is due to return to teaching.
(3) Quote of the day: “Engineers like to solve problems. If there are no problems handily available, they will create their own problems.” ~ Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert” comic strip
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Like black women in America, Asian-American women bear the double burden of sexism and racism.
– A remote desert cave in Israel yields two-dozen Dead Sea Scroll fragments and a 10,000-year-old basket.
– Roya Foundation celebrates Nowruz and the Persian New Year: Sunday, 2021/03/21, 11:00 AM PDT. [Link]
– Ziba Shirazi’s musical love story about Nowruz/Norooz is available for free streaming on-line.
– Persian music: “Showgh-e Bahar” (“The Joy of Spring”), performed by Elnaz Abedini.
– Persian music: “Nowruz Waltz” (performed here by Hooniak Band) is a staple of Nowruz celebrations.
– Rastak Ensemble’s medley of Persian & Iranian regional songs for Nowruz and spring.
– Kurdish music: A sad, but beautiful song, wonderfully performed with vocals and piano. [7-minute video]
(5) “The Telephone Ladies and Bell Systems Spirit of Service During World II”: Dr. Mary Ann C. Hellrigel (IEEE History Center Institutional Historian and Archivist) will explore the 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. [March 24, 2021, 10:00-11:00 AM PDT] [Registeration link]
(6) Nowruz/Norooz prayer: For many years now, an Arabic prayer has been recited at the Spring Equinox to herald the arrival of spring, Nowruz, and the Persian New Year. This is ironic, given that Nowruz traditions pre-date Islam by many centuries. Iran’s Islamic regime is of course delighted and promotes the use of the Arabic prayer, which translates to: Oh turner of hearts and visions; Oh instigator of day and night; Oh deliverer of situations and conditions; Transform our condition to the best of conditions. At least two alternative Persian prayers, in prose and verse, are available. [Arabic and Persian prayers]
(7) Please do not wait until your group is targeted directly: If you are a member of a minority group, speak up against violence and vitriol aimed at the Asian-American community. Much of the anti-Asian violence targets women. This can be due to a combination of racism and misogyny, or it can be racism combined with cowardice, with perpetrators thinking that women are less likely to fight back (although, a 76-year-old Asian woman in San Francisco did send her attacker to the hospital). Nothing is more anti-American than a belief that other races and cultures are inferior to ours.
(8) Final thought for the day: After numerous denials of official anti-Baha’is and anti-Dervishes policies in Iran, leaked government documents shed light on the extent of discrimination and persecution.

2021/03/18 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A few slides from Tim Roughgarden's talk: Set 1Billboard, congratulating the arrival of the year 13,400 in the Iranian calendar, 12,000 years ahead of time!A few slides from Tim Roughgarden's talk: Set 2(1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] A few slides from Tim Roughgarden’s talk (see the last item below). [Center] Iranians have a habit of sending congratulations and good wishes many days ahead of a momentous occasion, calling it “tabrik-e peeshapeesh”: This billboard, congratulating the arrival of the year 13,400 in the Iranian calendar, 12,000 years ahead of time, takes the practice to a whole new level!
(2) University of California reaches 4-year agreement with Elsevier: After losing access to Elsevier journals and other research resources, because of UC standing firm against unreasonable demands from Elsevier during negotiations, UC, which generates nearly 10% of all US research output, looks forward to full access to resources as well as open-access publishing by UC researchers in 2500+ Elsevier journals.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Grieving the Atlanta mass-shootings, Asian-Americans continue to be fearful for their safety. [Photos]
– White cop says that the white man who killed 6 Asian-American women and 2 others “had a bad day.”
– Sounds of driving and working on Mars, recorded by NASA’s Perseverance Rover.
– Objecting to a black high school named after a KKK Grand Wizard isn’t “cancel culture,” it’s sanity!
– Female minister, 28, fights to dismantle the rigid and backward patriarchy in Afghanistan.
– Annual report of the commission to re-examine the Persian script. [Article, in Persian]
(4) “Foundations of Data Science” virtual talk: Tim Roughgarden, Professor of Computer Science and Member of Data Science Institute at Columbia University, gave an enlightening talk this morning under the title “Data-Driven Algorithm Design” (joint work with Rishi Gupta).
Asking an algorithms person about the best algorithm for a particular application is like asking a physician at a party about a cure for stomach-ache. Stomach-aches can have different causes, each demanding its own treatment and specialist. Similarly, there is no “best” algorithm for the traveling-salesperson problem, say, and the choice depends on the application context and the types of instances encountered in that context.
Roughgarden introduced Beyond the Worst-Case Analysis of Algorithms, a book with 30 chapters contributed by different authors, to stress the point that the traditional worst-case analysis of algorithms is not very helpful in choosing algorithms for particular applications. The best algorithm for a computational problem depends on the “relevant inputs” and often defies formal articulation. While there is a large literature on empirical approaches to selecting the best algorithm for a given application domain, there has been surprisingly little theoretical analysis of the problem.
Adopting concepts from statistical and on-line learning theory, Roughgarden discussed methodologies for application-specific algorithm selection and their theoretical underpinnings.
Consider, for example, the problem of finding an independent set in a weighted graph. One heuristic first orders the nodes by their weights and then greedily chooses nodes with larger weights first. Needless to say, the result can be far from optimal, the reason being that the selection of a node of large weight, which may have many neighbors, would rule out the selection of all those neighbors in future steps. Now, suppose the same algorithm is used after adjusting the weight of node x via dividing it by 1 + d(x), where d(x) is the degree of x or the number of its neighbors. So, the same greedy algorithm will now select a lower-weight node, provided it has very few neighbors.
The two algorithms above can be viewed as extreme cases of a more general algorithm that reduces the weight of node x via dividing it by (1 + d(x))^p, where p in [0, 1] is a tunable parameter. Selection of the best algorithm in this class for a particular application domain amounts to choosing the “best” value for p. Within the input space, different values of p may be best for different regions, like the situation for Example 1 (graph coloring), where color-coded regions represent the domain of effectiveness for different algorithms.

2021/03/17 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A slide from IEEE CCS talk by Dr. Behrooz Parhami: 3A slide from IEEE CCS talk by Dr. Behrooz Parhami: 4
A slide from IEEE CCS talk by Dr. Behrooz Parhami: 5A slide from IEEE CCS talk by Dr. Behrooz Parhami: 4
(1) Tonight’s IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Yours truly (Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineeting, UCSB; IEEE Computer Society Distinguished Visitor) spoke under the title “Eight Key Ideas in Computer Architecture from Eight Decades of Innovation.”
We all like to read top-10 lists of universities, cities to live in, travel destinations, historical figures, movies (all-time, or of a particular decade), songs, novels, and so on. On occasion, we disagree with the picks or feel satisfaction that the list-compiler agrees with us on some of the items. When we try to make such lists on our own, the difficulty becomes apparent. This talk is an academic version of such list-making tendencies. I began my efforts with computer architecture, but I plan to compile similar lists for my other areas of research/technical expertise.
Computer architecture became an established discipline when the stored-program concept was incorporated into bare-bones computers of the 1940s. Since then, the field has seen multiple minor and major innovations in each decade. I presented my pick of the most-important innovation in each of the eight decades, from the 1940s to the 2010s, and showed how these ideas, when connected to each other and allowed to interact and cross-fertilize, produced the phenomenal growth of computer performance, now approaching exa-op/s (billion billion operations per second) level, as well as to ultra-low-energy and single-chip systems.
1940s: Stored-program converted calculating machines into powerful computational and inference engines.
1950s: Microprogramming systematized hardware design and showed that HW and SW aren’t that different.
1960s: Parallelism allowed the upward scaling of computational capabilities, with no theoretical upper bound.
1970s: Cache memory allowed the realization of large, low-cost, and ultra-high-speed computer memories.
1980s: Pipelining allowed the attainment of high throughput with modest amounts of time-shared circuitry.
1990s: FPGAs offered the advantages of low cost due to mass production for building limited-volume systems.
2000s: GPUS, a first step in specialization, devoted hardware mostly to computation, not to control overhead.
2010s: Specialization reduced control and programmability overheads in frequently-used computations.
I ended my talk by discussing some of the ideas that are being developed for the 2020s and beyond. Come back in 2040, when the list will turn into a top-10 list!
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero”: Quartet, with one instrument. [3-minute video]
– Music and dancing from Iran’s Kurdistan region. [1-minute video]
– An interesting way to serve a pineapple: I haven’t tried this myself. [2-minute video]
– Spring has arrived in Santa Barbara: Temperatures in the mid- to high-sixties as far as the eyes can see!
(3) I am beginning to feel shame for being an American: I know I will take flack for this statement, but people who call themselves Americans are committing violent acts against Asian-Americans, that is, against other Americans, because of a virus that came here from China! One American killing or hurting another American for a misguided notion of guilt is despicable! Not that killing or hurting non-citizens would be okay, but attacking a fellow-American?
(4) Final thought for the day: Why didn’t anyone intervene? This age-old question raises its ugly head again. Dozens of people must have known about Governor Mario Cuomo’s sexual misconduct which has recently come to light. Why did people around him close their eyes and stayed silent?

2021/03/16 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
In Ventura, California, with two of my sisters and our momFragrance of spring: Jasmines from a plant on my carport's trellisZoom panel discussion on 'Human Rights Violations in Iran'(1) Images of the day: [Left] Wood Ranch BBQ: Spent this afternoon in Ventura, California, with two of my sisters and our mom. [Center] Fragrance of spring: Jasmines from a plant on my carport’s trellis. [Right] Panel discussion on “Human Rights Violations in Iran” (see the last item below).
(2) Chahar-Shanbeh Soori: On the eve of the last Wednesday of the Persian calendar year, Iranians celebrate by lighting bonfires, jumping over the flames, and enjoying fireworks. They also eat a mix of nuts and dried fruits known as “aajeel-e Chahar-Shanbeh Soori.” [Persian-dance video]
(3) Abuse of SUTA’s mailing list: Over the past few days, I have received some three-dozen e-mails regarding the ongoing election of a new aboard of Directors for Sharif University of Technology Association. Almost all of these e-mails come from candidates and SUTA members who endorse or support them. This is an unacceptable use of a mailing list which is aimed for official communications between SUTA and its members. I sent a complaint to SUTA’s Election Board, receiving an explanation that did not satisfy me.
(4) The three strategic mistakes of the Islamic Republic of Iran: According to this speaker (6-minute video, in Persian), who apparently occupied a position of power in post-Islamic-Revolution Iran, three major mistakes put the country on a ruinous path, with consequences that persist today.
– Continuing the Iran-Iraq war after lands initially occupied by Iraq were reclaimed by Iran.
– Multi-year closure of Iranian universities under the “Cultural Revolution” banner.
– Hostage-taking at the US Embassy in Tehran, despite warnings from the regime’s advisors.
I agree with these assessments and would include mandatory hijab laws as a fourth strategic mistake.
(5) “Human Rights Violations in Iran”: This was the focus of today’s Zoom session, in Persian, of University of Tehran’s College of Engineering graduates, Class of 1968 (Fanni ’68). Participants in the panel discussion were Ms. Mehrangiz Kar (attorney and long-time human/women’s-rights activist, both inside Iran and abroad, who served a prison term in Iran), Dr. Ladan Boroumand (historian, specializing in the French and Iranian Revolutions, winner of the 2009 Lech Walesa Prize, and Board-of-Directors member of Abdorrahman Boroumand Center), and Ms. Taraneh Roosta (women’s-rights activist based in California and founder of Voices of Women for Change).
The three panelists talked about their goals and activities, the numerous challenges they face, and the brutal reaction of the Iranian regime, which has caused fear and caution on the part of many activists inside Iran. During Khatami’s presidency, Iran’s political space opened up somewhat, leading to the formation of independent organizations in the domain of human and women’s rights. Later, draconian restrictions were placed on political activists, with the regime and its judiciary accusing them of being agents of foreign governments, using any financial support they received from international human-rights organizations as evidence of acting as paid agents.
Until World War II, individuals weren’t empowered at the world level, the primary actors having been nation-states. After the end of WW II, with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, individuals were empowered to act on the world stage. This change has had a significant impact on the advancement of women’s rights. Unfortunately, international human-rights organizations have not paid enough attention to the plight of Iranian women and other aspects of human rights in Iran.
Whereas the killing of protesters in Myanmar has received widespread attention, the killing of even more Iranian protesters in 2019 barely registered in the West. We need an all-encompassing organization with significant monetary resources and lobbying power to bring Iran’s human-rights violations into the open and advocate for widespread action. Human rights organizations have their hands full with their current agenda, including compilation of lists of those who are killed, executed (often on false drug-related charges), or imprisoned based on made-up accusations.
Here are a set of three questions that I asked of the panelista, as food for thought:
– Some women consider gender segregation (as in women-only parks or women-only taxis) a positive step in the direction of improving women’s safety and prevention of sexual harassment. How do you view these provisions from the standpoint of women’s rights?
– What is your assessment of the impact of political divisions among anti-Islamic-regime Iranians abroad on activism in the domain of women’s rights? In other words, does the conflict/distrust between various opposition groups hamper work on women’s rights, on which all such groups may actually agree?
– A former regime official, whose name I don’t know, has said in a video recording that the Islamic regime committed three strategic mistakes in its early years: Prolonging the Iran-Iraq War; Closing of universities for three years under the banner of “Cultural Revolution”; Hostage-taking at the American Embassy in Tehran. He said nothing about hijab, which is natural for a patriarchal and Islamist (former?) regime official. I think compulsory hijab is probably a bigger mistake. Do you agree?
[The meeting was recorded; I will post a link to the video here when it becomes available.]

2021/03/15 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My Nowruz/Norooz haft-seen spread: Day viewMy traditional Persian poem to celebrate Nowruz/Norooz and the arrival of spring and the Persian New YearMy Nowruz/Norooz haft-seen spread: night view(1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Two views of my haft-seen spread (close-up view of the painted eggs). [Center] Anticipating the arrival of Nowruz/Norooz, spring, and the Persian New Year (see the last item below).
(2) New Yorker cartoon caption of the day: “You wouldn’t think that losing an hour would affect you after losing an entire year, yet here I am (still in bed).”
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– The Oscars continue to have diversity woes: But, in a first, two women were nominated for best-director.
– Trump wanted to make America great again while in office: Instead, he made it great again by leaving!
– “This is a women-only park, not a whore house, so put your hijab on.” ~ ‘Morality patrol’ in Iran [Tweet]
– One of many viral tweets about $1400 stimulus checks: “Me at the Dollar Store: Where are the $2 stuff?”
(4) “Nowruz: The Persian New Year from Myth to History”: This was the title of today’s Georgetown University lecture by Dr. Touraj Daryaee (UC Irvine). Nowruz is a seasonal celebration, initiated within a Zoroastrian society that was predominantly agricultural. It does not have a religious or national significance, although in post-Islamic Persia, some religious elements were merged with age-old traditions, such as placing a Quran on the haft-seen spread. Many Iranians use a book of poetry, however. [Screenshots] [71-minute recording]
Iranian Jews and Zoroastrians celebrate Nowruz as a secular tradition. Both the haft-seen spread and the observance of the 13th day of the New Year are fairly recent additions and do not have old historical roots. Ditto for the practice of eating sabzi-polo-mahi (herb-rice & fish). Rather than dying as a result of falling out of favor with the current regime in Iran, Nowruz and its wonderful traditions are spreading around the world and are being embraced by Many non-Iranians as well.
Here is an interesting question posed in the Q&A period: Recently, we have been talking about the Iranian New Year instead of the Persian New Year. This is understood to have been done for greater inclusivity of ethnic minorities. But then what about Persian-speaking communities outside Iran, who celebrate Nowruz and the Persian New Year, but do not belong to traditional ethnic minorities within the country?
[My observation: Even though Nowruz does not have a national or religious significance, it has been used in recent decades as a tool to oppose political and religious ideologies. This usage can strengthen the age-old tradition, but can also backfire due to it being seen as yet another ideology serving a political movement.]
(5) Welcoming Nowruz/Norooz, the spring, and the Iranian New Year: We have one week left to the first day of spring and the start of the Persian New Year. The change of year (spring equinox or saal-tahveel) actually occurs on Saturday, March 20, 2021, 2:37:28 AM PDT.
For many years now, I have composed a cheerful traditional Persian poem celebrating the arrival of spring and renewal of nature, as well as the Iranian New Year festival. Thw image above shows the 2021 (1400) edition. Initial letters of the poem’s first and second half-verses spell its Persian title, “Saal-e No Mobarak,” which translates to “Happy/Auspicious New Year.” This 2-minute video contains my recitation of the poem.
This year, as in 2020, it was particularly difficult for me to get in the cheerful mood needed to compose the festive poem. I ended up going to my special retreats along the beach and in a nearby nature preserve to focus on beauty and serenity and forget about the pandemic and the nerve-wracking political scene in the US over the past 4-5 years. A rough English translation of the poem follows.
Welcome the greenery, and the luminous flowers     The spring’s arrival, and the buoyancy of lovers
With lips smiling, along hearts chaste and pure     Heavenly voices and tunes, will delight us for sure
It’s time for adventure, time to sing and dance     Time for lasting peace, let’s not give war a chance
The hyacinth’s fragrance is in the spring breeze     The gentle Nowruz rain washes the rocks and trees
May your day be sweet, may love fill your night     May you be endowed, with merriment and delight
For many more of my Nowruz/Norooz poems, and a selction of other poetry, please see my poetry page.

2021/03/14 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A beautiful SoCal afternoon, walking in and around Goleta's Lake Los Carneros Park: Batch 1 of photosA beautiful SoCal afternoon, walking in and around Goleta's Lake Los Carneros Park: Batch 2 of photosA beautiful SoCal afternoon, walking in and around Goleta's Lake Los Carneros Park: Batch 3 of photos(1) Yesterday’s images: A beautiful SoCal afternoon, walking in and around Goleta’s Lake Los Carneros Park.
(2) “Extreme stress testing of online platforms has become its own science”: Or how chaos engineering saved your Netflix. [Article in IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of March 2021]
(3) When does a new century begin? I engaged in a lengthy discussion with a few friends about whether the year 1400 in the Persian calendar, which is coming up on Sunday 3/21, heralds the arrival of the 15th century. I argued that it is not and that the Persian calendar’s 15th century will begin with the year 1401, not next week. Taking the Gregorian calendar, which is more familiar to my non-Iranian readers, the first century consisted of the years 1-100, and the second century began on January 1, 101. We are now in the 21st century, which began in 2001, not in 2000, which was the last year of the 20th century. The confusion arises from the common mistake of equating, say, the 1800s (the years 1800-1899) with the 19th century (the years 1801-1900).
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– In a historic night for women, Beyonce and Taylor Swift broke records in winning Grammy awards.
– A crippling snowstorm closes roads in Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska.
– Dr. Anthony Fauci urges Donald Trump to push COVID-19 vaccine to his followers.
– Recreating photo poses from many years ago: Some adorable examples!
– Persian music: A song that includes all the “corners” (“goosheh-ha”) of the Mahur classical style. [Video]
– Persian classical music: Azadeh Shams plays a piece in Bayat-e Turk on the violin. [Video]
(5) “The Computer Programs of Charles Babbage”: This is the title of an article in IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, January-March 2021 issue (Vol. 43, No. 1, pp. 6-18). [Abstract: The mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage drafted 26 code fragments between 1836 and 1840 for his unfinished “Analytical Engine.” The programs were embedded implicitly in tables representing execution traces. In this article, we explore the programming architecture of Babbage’s mechanical computer, that is, its structure from the point of view of a programmer, based on those 26 coding examples preserved in the Babbage Papers Archive.]

2021/03/12 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Interesting charts that help us visualize the world: Lines of workInteresting charts that help us visualize the world: LanguagesInteresting charts that help us visualize the world: Economy
Interesting charts that help us visualize the world: National debtInteresting charts that help us visualize the world: The ultra-richInteresting charts that help us visualize the world: Brand values(1) Interesting charts that help us visualize the world (top left to bottom right): Lines of work; Languages; Economy; National debt; The ultra-rich; Brand values.
(2) The mysterious Malibu shooter: After a father was killed as he slept beside his children at a popular California campground, a pattern of unexplained attacks began to emerge.
(3) Comedian Bill Maher on the outdated terms “Royalty” and “Your Highness”: If Harry and Meghan really mean what they say, they shouldn’t just “step back” from “royal duties” (whatever that means); they should renounce the archaic and racist institution.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– World’s most-despicable man: Comedian Steve Hofstetters’s revealing 9-minute video about Ted Cruz.
– Comedian Trevor Noah’s take on the despicable practice of trophy hunting. [7-minute video]
– On the news of a forthcoming space hotel: Here is a visualization of what the hotel might look like.
– Women are leading India’s farmer protests. [Photos from Time magazine]
– Russian women unite to fight against domestic violence, which their government won’t address.
– Five COVID-19 vaccines, made in China, India, Russia (2), and South Korea, have been approved in Iran.
– Refurbishing an antique watch: The sheer number of parts makes me nervous as I watch this video!
– A simple math puzzle: Change the location of one of the digits to make this equality satisfied. 34 – 79 = 2
(5) Persian music: This popular oldie song, “Aashegham Man” (“I’m in Love”), was composed by Majid Vafadar, with lyrics by Rahi Moayyeri. Poorandokht Vafadar sings, with Bardiya Sadrenoori on the piano.
(6) Women are taking the brunt of the pandemic: Cover feature and chart from Time magazine, issue of March 15 & 22, show that women’s entry into the workforce regressed beginning in 2008 and took a major hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(7) “Increasing Diversity in Computing: Lessons Learned”: This was the title of a distinguished lecture by Dr. Valerie Taylor, Director of the Mathematics & Computer Science Division at Argonne National Lab, within today’s UCSB CS Summit 2021 program. Dr. Taylor began with presenting data about corporations performing better and earning more profits when they have diverse workforces. So, diversity isn’t just a matter of feeling good about ourselves but has important social and economic consequences. She then proceeded to review four different programs (LEAP Alliance, Academic Careers Workshop, University Awards, and Tapia Conferences), which have been successful in increasing the diversity among CS students and faculty members, emphasizing that her title should really be “Lessons Learned So Far.” [Images]

2021/03/11 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Bird selecting its spot in flight formationPhotos from today's walk along State Street in downtown Santa BarbaraOn State Street in downtown Santa Barbara: The boundary between cloudy and sunny!(1) Images of the day: [Left] Cartoon of the day: Bird selecting its spot in flight formation. [Center] Walking in downtown Santa Barbara: I had an hour or so to kill today, so I walked along State Street, from Mission Street to Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center, and back. The provisions for making State Street more pedestrian- and bike-friendly have become more permanent and restaurant have encroached on the roadway with outdoor seating even more than before, creating a nice atmosphere. Construction projects are continuing, despite the pandemic. [Right] On State Street in downtown Santa Barbara: The boundary between cloudy and sunny!
(2) Tony Bennett’s illness: Compared with his contemporaries, the jovial Bennett was sometimes described as more-accessible than Sinatra and more-sober than Dean Martin! Now, after a lifetime of memorable performances, including recent duets with many top artists, Bennett reveals that he has Alzheimer’s.
(3) Word puzzle: What do the following seven words have in common, other than all being verbs?
Bring; Buy; Catch; Fight; Seek; Teach; Think.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan has 75% (59%) support among Americans (Republicans).
– Trump attacks the GOP, asks for no fund-raising under his name, and directs donors to give to him directly.
– China & Russia sign a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on a lunar research station.
– Tesla, jails, and have been exposed by hackers breaching thousands of security cameras.
– Seventy-five members of “Coding Black Females” join British Computer Society.
– Quote: “Other countries have social safety nets. The US has women.” ~ Jessica Calarco, on the pandemic
– Persian music: A rather unusual, but wonderful, style of playing the tar. [4-minute video]
– Iranian music: Trilingual song in Azeri, Persian, and Kurdish. [4-minute video]
– Medley of famous Iranian regional songs, performed in jest. [2-minute video]
(5) “Data Center Energy Analysis: Past, Present, and Future”: UCSB Institute for Energy Efficiency Zoom talk by Dr. Eric Masanet (UCSB), Thursday, March 18, 2021, 4:00 PM PDT. [Zoom link; Passcode 619630]
(6) Book introduction: A Series of Fortunate Events: Change and the Making of the Planet, Life and You, by Sean B. Carroll, is a small, entertaining book about some very big ideas. 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.” 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.

2021/03/10 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Interesting charts that help us visualize the world: Absolute populationThe Kurdish strudel 'kalaneh' in my freezerInteresting charts that help us visualize the world: Relative population
Cartoon: Stairway to Heaven; Highway to HellCartoon: It was Catholic, not cat-holic!Cartoon: Honoring Iranian women on March 8(1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] Interesting charts that help us visualize the world: Absolute & relative population. [Top center] The Kurdish strudel “kalaneh” from mom, sitting in my freezer: The versions I have seen on-line use thin flat-bread, which is loaded with veggies and then folded or rolled, before grilling. This version, uses ticker dough and is fried in oil. [Bottom row] Cartoons: Stairway to Heaven; Highway to Hell. A few minutes into the meeting, John realized that he had misread the sign. Honoring Iranian women on March 8.
(2) Women in STEM: According to a US National Academies of Sciences report, women faculty in STEM fields are facing additional challenges during the pandemic. [The full PDF report]
(3) On the ex-royals’ interview: I don’t see why the royal family was concerned about the baby’s possibly dark skin tone. I would have thought they’d be praying for the baby to look more like Meghan than Harry!
(4) One-liners: Today’s batch of one-liners shine the spotlight on Iran and its brutal theocratic regime.
– Iran’s Revolutionary Guards run the country: Now, they want to make it official by seizing the presidency.
– Iran’s Supreme Leader and his claim of leading the world’s Muslims dealt a blow by the Pope’s visit to Iraq.
– Iran’s Defense Minister: “We’re ready to raze Tel Aviv & Haifa upon the Supreme Leader’s command.”
– Paris-based Nooshabeh Amiri was uncomfortable and fearful when she interviewed Ayatollah Khomeini.
– No country for minorities: Iran’s ethnic Arabs, Kurds, Baluchis, and Azeris continue to face persecution.
– American porn actress Alexis Texas achieves fame in Iran, breaking viewing records with a music video.
(5) Cartoon caption of the day: “Along with ‘Antimatter’ and ‘Dark Matter,’ we’ve recently discovered ‘Doesn’t Matter,’ which appears to have no effect on the universe whatsoever.”
(6) Virtual talk on “Foundations of Data Science”: Tim Roughgarden will speak about “Data-Driven Algorithm Design” (Thursday, March 18, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT). [Register]
(7) Death tourism: We have all heard about “health tourism,” people traveling to countries where healthcare resources are plentiful and inexpensive. Optional plastic surgery is a prime example. Now, Switzerland, with its liberal assisted-suicide laws, has emerged as a destination for those suffering from terminal diseases and associated debilitating pain to seek what may not be readily available in their own countries. [NPR program]
(8) [Final thought for the day] Puzzling e-mail message from three SUTA election candidates: Writing under the title “SUTA Women for Future,’ three women candidates, whose presence in the previously male-dominated Sharif University of Technology Association is much appreciated, write about working toward peace and transparency. I had heard about infighting within SUTA, so as a first step toward transparency, I would like to ask for a clear explanation of what the infighting, which is unusual in a professional organization, was about and what concrete actions are proposed to end it.

2021/03/09 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Memorable International Women's Day memes from prior yearsCartoon (showing a Zoom meeting): 'Good morning everyone! I brought donuts'Today's Zoom meeting of Fanni '68 classmates on 'Ecology and the Environment'(1) Images of the day: [Left] A day late: Several memorable International Women’s Day memes from prior years (see the next item below). [Center] New Yorker cartoon of the day: “Good morning everyone! I brought donuts.” [Right] Today’s Zoom meeting on “Ecology and the Environment” (see the last item below).
(2) The first post-Trump-era International Women’s Day was spirited and full of hope: Below, I share a few social-media posts by friends and others to honor the March 8, 2021, special occasion. [IWD history]
– All 10 finalists at UCSB’s Grad Slam competition, entailing 3-minute research pitches, were women!
– UCSB Engineering celebrated its women faculty members on the 2021 International Women’s Day.
– Introducing seven novels that explore the lives of women in the Middle East.
– This spirited women’s anthem was dedicated to all imprisoned women’s-rights activists in Iran.
– Journalist Roya Hakakian writes about compulsory hijab law in Iran and its consequences.
– Dr. Shokoufeh Taghi’s article, “Women’s Monthly Cycle: A Stigma, from Religious & Linguistic Viewpoints.”
(3) Oprah’s interview with Meghan & Harry: The royal family was concerned about how dark their baby’s skin might be after birth. Also, no Prince/Princess title and no security protection for the newborn.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– The European Space Agency is making oxygen out of lunar dust, to allow humans to settle on the Moon.
– “Nowruz: The Persian New Year from Myth to History”: Free lecture by Dr. Touraj Daryaee, 2021/03/15.
– Sign of the times: Toy-maker Fisher-Price has introduced a “Work from Home Office” playset! [Image]
– Introducing Ramtin Ghazavi: La Scala’s tenor of Iranian origins, performing here with his son, Davin.
(5) “Ecology and the Environment” (Part 2): This was the title of a Persian presentation in the Zoom gathering of Tehran University’s College of Engineering Class of 1968 (Fanni ’68) by Dr. Jalal Idjadi, Professor at a number of Paris universities. Following last week’s discussion of background concepts, underlying philosophies, existing & emerging problems, and solution strategies at the world level, during today’s session, Dr. Idjadi focused on environmental challenges in Iran.
Important aspects of Iran’s problems in the domain of environment are water management (erecting too many dams, where water resources are very limited, and growing lucrative crops that need a lot of water), building military/commercial roads that disrupt the movement of wildlife, deforestation, and other activities that lead to the extinction of wildlife and native plant species.
I see a number of parallels between the handling of environmental problems and women’s-rights issues in Iran, and stated this view in a question, which, unfortunately, wasn’t properly answered.
In her 2021/03/07 talk entitled “Women in Place: The Politics of Gender Segregation in Iran,” Dr. Nazanin Shahrokni maintained that women’s-rights issues are not addressed by the government, unless they reach crisis level. When this happens, concerns that do not threaten the existence of the regime, such as exercise/recreation spaces for women, are demoted from national to local issues and are solved by building single-gender parks, which constitutes a band-aid solution to a fundamental malady. Other, more serious, issues, such as allowing women to attend sporting events, are elevated to national-security level, and demands by women are treated as attempts to de-stabilize and overthrow the regime.
In environmental demands, too, the seriousness of the problems has led to the regime to throw spying and regime-change charges, prosecuting, and in a number of cases executing, the activists. The regime has significant financial gains from erecting dams, cutting down forests, and other acts of environmental destruction, so, even though there are specialists within the establishment bureaucracy who are aware of the seriousness of the problems and may even have solutions for them, one cannot expect a regime which is struggling to meet its payroll and other obligations, to act on environmental issues.
At the end, Dr. Idjadi came to this same assessment that the only viable solution to Iran’s difficult environmental problems is regime change. Given the deep-rooted corruption and vested economic interests that go against environmental preservation, one cannot expect the current regime to be part of the solution, any more than it can be a force for granting women their due rights.

2021/03/08 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My poem of 2019, honoring International Women's Day and NowruzHappy International Women's Day!Book talk: 'Women in Place': Flyer
Book talk: 'Women in Place': Book cover and authorBook talk: 'Women in Place': 1980s vs. 2000sBook talk: 'Women in Place': Barriers(1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Happy International Women’s Day! This year’s celebration comes after a multi-year slowdown in progress towards achieving full gender-equality. I hope that 2021 proves to be the start of an accelerating phase in women’s-rights gains in the US and around the world, particularly in Iran, where women have been fighting a four-decades-long war against a backward Islamic regime that continues to prosecute women’s-rights activists with false national-security charges. To celebrate this day, I am reposting a Persian poem I wrote in 2019 for joint celebration of IWD and Nowruz. Here’s my recitation of the poem. [Top right & Bottom row] UCLA Bilingual Lecture on Iran, March 7-8, 2021 (see the next item below).
(2) UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Professor Nazanin Shahrokni (London School of Economics and Political Science) gave a virtual book talk, “Women in Place: The Politics of Gender Segregation in Iran,” based on her book by the same title (University of California Press, 2020). Yesterday’s 11:30 AM talk was in Persian. It will be followed by the English version, today 3/08 at 2:00 PM.
The book covers gender-segregation policies from 1979, the onset of the Islamic Republic, to 2013, just before President Rouhani’s first term. Throughout the past 40+ years, Iranian laws and regulations have been in a state of flux. Everything is “until further notice” (“taa ettelaa’e saanavi”). Something that is banned today, may be allowed tomorrow, and again banned the next day. Barriers between men and women, that is, railings in buses, beach walls, and so on, are constant reminders of the presence of the government in people’s daily lives. Erecting barriers were even considered for university classrooms, but the plan was abandoned, because it was opposed by Khomeini himself and were later deemed impractical.
The term “government” is rather fuzzy in the case of Iran, as there are multiple centers of power, each with its own agenda and interests. The Iranian ruling class has alternately restricted or empowered women, according to its own interests. Some of the seemingly women-friendly policies are really male-interest changes in disguise. For example, facilitating women’s participation and attendance at sporting events is driven, in part, by international sporting bodies threatening boycotts, which would disadvantage male athletes and tick-off male sports fans.
Lately, emphasis on punishment to maintain gender segregation has waned, being replaced by a rewards-based system (expanding opportunities for women to participate in single-gender spaces and activities). Many women who opposed gender segregation, now pursue the establishment of single-gender facilities to take care of their daily needs (exercise spaces, participation in sporting events). Some women who were active in their opposition to women not allowed into stadiums now thank the government for allocating small single-gender sections within stadiums to women and urge women attendees to “behave” for fear of this privilege being taken away. Single-gender taxis constitute another example. Dr. Shahrokni confided that she tries not to judge gender segregation as good or bad. There are negative consequences and some positive ones.
Dr. Shahrokni used the term “patriarchal accommodation,” that is, maintaining gender domination, while giving women some freedoms. The pervailing view is the government coming in as a savior, a parent or guardian, to save women form dangers, such as sexual harassment. One should ask why the government does not use its resources to curtail sexual harassment, rather than confront it through gender segregation and use it to justify its segregation policies.
Elsewhere, the government’s accommodations of women’s exercise and development of “women’s parks” are essentially band-aid solutions to problems of its own creation: Lack of exposure to sun (due to veiling) and dearth of space for physical activities (urban sprawl and pollution) giving rise to serious health problems. The relationships between Iran’s government and world organizations (e.g., World Bank, WHO, FIFA) also affect the restrictions on women and easings thereof.
By and large, the government deals with women’s issue [and perhaps with every issue] through crisis management: Only when a problem rises to the level of a crisis will it be dealt with. Occasionally, a local health/civics problem is elevated to a national-security or political status (e.g., women’s attendance at sporting events). When they want to solve a problem, they may downgrade the problem, turning it from a national concern into a local health/civic issue.
As observed by the session’s moderator, and organizer of UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran, Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, Iranian women are tired of a perpetual fight to claim their basic rights, taking steps forward and having to retreat by taking steps back in a prolonged conflict with the Islamic regime. The presence of many women activists in Iranian prisons, and numerous others who are now free, until their next arrest on made-up charges, is an indication of the spirited war being waged by women against the rigid, archaic, and anti-women policies advanced with the pretext of Islam and Islamic traditions. One prominent cleric in Iran has said that women are responsible for their being abused; if they were more obedient, they wouldn’t be harassed! Another one sees women being offered university education as the cause of all social ills!
[Dr. Shahrokni’s focus seemed to be on Tehrani women, who are much better off due to greater educational and professional attainment and being surrounded by a larger fraction of enlightened men. Even among the clerics and their appointed officials, those who “rule” in cities other than Tehran are more powerful and more willing to impose their archaic views on the local population. Remote rural areas are even worse in this respect.
During the Q&A period, I asked the following question: In your opinion, did opening of spaces for women after draconian restrictions come about according to a plan (the Persian saying “beh marg beguir keh be tab raazi besheh”; threaten them with death, so that they are satisfied with a fever) or forced upon the government because opposition was just too strong, that is, a partial surrender by conservatives? Dr. Shahrokni’s answer was that nothing is according to plans. They just propose half-baked ideas and then manage the consequences when international and local opposition arises. For example, segregated buses created a lot of problems in the implementation stage, affecting both men and women, who had to reluctantly adjust to the restrictions as they navigated the resulting conflicts on a daily basis, and bus drivers, who were caught in between.
[This report on Facebook, with a Persian title and abstract]
[Note: I modified this report on March 9, 2021, as a result of feedback kindly provided by Dr. Shahrokni in her comments on my Facebook post. Other than minor clarifications and changes in wording, I have enclosed in square brackets commentaries, assessments, and examples that were not offered directly by Dr. Shahrokni but rather represent my attempt to clarify and elaborate. It is possible that Dr. Shahrokni disagrees, or only partially agrees, with some of my characterizations.]

2021/03/07 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pope Francis meets with Ayatollah Sistani and various Iraqi officialsOklahoma Trump campaign leader, Ralph Shortey, sentenced to 15 years in prison for child-sex trafficking, shown with his pal, Don Jr.'Voices of Women for Change' celebrates International Women's Day
Walking on Upper State Street: Photos of some motels & lodgesWalking on Upper State Street: Photos of some shopping plazasWalking on Upper State Street: Photos of some other businesses(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Pope Francis meets with Ayatollah Sistani and various Iraqi officials, urging coexistence. [Top center] Oklahoma Trump campaign leader, Ralph Shortey, sentenced to 15 years in prison for child-sex trafficking, shown with his pal, Don Jr. [Top right] ‘Voices of Women for Change’ celebrates International Women’s Day (see the last item below). [Bottom row] Walking on State St., between Highway 154 and Las Positas: Yesterday, I went to Uptown Santa Barbara to drop off some charity donations and decided to do my daily walk in that area. This area of State St. is lined with businesses on both sides. We used to shop there many years ago, but strolling allows you to see and discover much more. I photographed some of the lesser-known outfits, including motels/lodges that are far away from the touristy waterfront, smaller plazas, our town’s last remaining major bookstore (Chaucer’s Books), a cannabis dispensary, and a plant nursery.
(2) Twenty-four science myths that have proven impossible to shake off: They include sugar making kids hyperactive (myth #23) and the side of the moon not seen from Earth being dark (myth #7).
(3) The Science of Science (book introduction): Dashun Wang and Albert-Laszlo Barabasi review an emerging interdisciplinary field that uses big-data to unveil the reproducible patterns governing scientific careers and the workings of science. The presentation aims to be helpful to individuals who want to further their careers and to policy-makers who are charged with enhancing the role of science in society. [Cambridge Univ. Press, 2021]
(4) Pre-recorded video lectures are more effective than in-person instruction: A recent study published in Review of Educational Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, analyzed 105 past randomized trials (7776 students in total) that had looked at the effects of videos on learning compared to the effects of other teaching mediums, such as in-person lectures and assigned readings. Findings showed that using video instead of other teaching methods resulted in small improvements in student learning. Using video in addition to other teaching methods resulted in larger improvements.
(5) Planetary dances: The patterns are essentially discrete locations of the straight line connecting two planets, as they rotate around the sun at different angular speeds. Oval orbits have been converted to circular ones, so as to get more regular patterns. [Earth & Mars] [Earth & Saturn] [Mars & Jupiter] [Mars & Venus]
(6) International Women’s Day Celebration: “Voices of Women for Change” sponsored a 3/06 Zoom meeting, with participants Narges Mohammadi (women’s/human-rights activist), Mina Alali (songwriter/vocalist), and Hadi Khorsandi (social satirist). The program began with a 7-minute video dedicated to courageous women of Iran, presenting a vision of Iran in 2030 and honoring imprisoned activists. Narges Mohammadi was awesome; very lucid, spirited, and persuasive in her arguments against solitary confinement (“white torture”). Hadi Khorsandi was rambling/unfocused; rather disappointing. Mina Alali’s performance was wonderful. A recording of this important program (in Persian) is available via the Facebook page of voicesofwomenforchange.org. During the discussion session, I recited my poem of two years ago, honoring Nowruz and International Women’s Day, dedicating it to Narges Mohammadi, whose first name appears in the poem.

2021/03/06 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Persian cuisine: Inside-out eggplant tah-chinSamples of My Qalam Academy vector sheetsA book-lover's paradise: Zhongshuge Bookstore in Dujiangyan, China
Lucky bride and groom: Getting married in the presence is three prior generations!These seven Iranian writers/thinkers were clerics first: Then they saw the light and chose humanismCover image of George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Persian cuisine: Inside-out eggplant tah-chin (11-minute cooking video). [Top center] My Qalam Academy vector sheets (see the next item below). [Top right] A book-lover’s paradise: Zhongshuge Bookstore in Dujiangyan, China. [Bottom left] Lucky bride and groom: Getting married in the presence is three prior generations! [Bottom center] These seven Iranian writers/thinkers were clerics first: Then they saw the light and chose humanism. [Bottom right] George Orwell’s 1984 (see the last item below).
(2) What a wonderful toy to play with! An ad for My Qalam Academy appeared on my Facebook Newsfeed a few days ago. It’s about a product, a set of patterns, that allows you to create calligraphic writing in Thuluth, Diwani, Kufi, and Persian scripts, using popular vector-editing software, such as Adobe Illustrator and PhotoShop. I can imagine myself spending hours adorning my poems and other writings with just the right appearance and proportions. I am holding off, though, until a self-contained product, containing both the fonts and the editing software, appears on the market.
(3) Book review: Orwell, George, Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel, unabridged audiobook, read by Simon Preggle, Blackstone Audio, 2006. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I had read Orwell’s magnum opus twice before, but when an audiobook version of the title became available at my local library while I was waiting for a couple of holds to arrive, I decided to listen to it, write a review, and generally assess the book and its vision with new perspectives I have gained from Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution (and the ensuing dictatorship) as well as 21st-century dictatorial tendencies in the US and around the world.
In the minds of most people, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) go hand in hand. The two dystopian novels describe worlds that are opposites, yet very similar. Orwell’s dystopia describes a future tyrannical system of government that rules by revising history, monitoring everyone’s private thoughts, and punishing noncompliant behavior, rendering most humans into sheepish workers, who can’t even enjoy a love affair without fearing its consequences. Huxley’s dystopia entails a world with a caste system composed of intelligent humans and serf-like beings, with order maintained via government programs for hypnotism and producing test-tube babies. Everyone is content because of a system of drugging and forced promiscuity instilled into all beings from the moment of birth. [My 5-star review of Brave New World on GoodReads]
In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), Neal Postman compares the two books thus: “Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us; Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance; Orwell feared we would become captive culture; but Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. … in Nineteen Eighty-Four people are controlled by inflicting pain; in Brave New World people are controlled by inflicting pleasure.”
There are so many interesting ideas and insights in Nineteen Eighty-Four that it would be hard to summarize them all. People are monitored in their homes, at their workplaces, and on streets using a vast network of “telescreens” and microphones. The language imposed by the Party on society is called “Newspeak” (as opposed to “Oldspeak,” the language before the Revolution). Newspeak is a rare language that instead of expanding, actually shrinks, as concepts are amalgamated and useless nuances are removed to improve efficiency.
Society members are conditioned to be capable of “doublethink,” holding two opposite beliefs at the same time. Nothing is as it seems. The Party runs four ministries. Ministry of Peace is in charge of running a perpetual war. Ministry of Truth fabricates lies and revises history. Starvation is the gift given to people by Ministry of Plenty. Terrorizing and torturing people is in the domain of Ministry of Love.
The re-writing of history, mentioned above, is a nontrivial endeavor requiring the labor of many Party members. If a particular historical event needs to be changed, workers in the Ministry of Truth must work on cross-referencing to ensure that no other event that contradicts the modified event remains on the books. Other memorable terms brought to us by the novel include “Big Brother,” “Thought Police,” and “thoughtcrime.”
Nineteen Eighty-Four has been turned into a 51-minute film, originally broadcast in 1953 on CBS’s Westinghouse Studio One program. There are other adaptations, including a 108-minute 1954 BBC TV movie.

2021/03/05 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of March 2021Calligraphic rendering of a verse by Houshang Ebtehaj, aka H. E. SayehFukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field, the world's largest hydrogen plant and green-energy center
Belated throwback Thursday photosData on University of California's freshman applications, by campusThis image isn't PhotoShopped: It's just upside-down!(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Finding another Earth: Tiny wobbles of distant stars, measured by atomically-precise sensors, could help us detect another life-sustaining planet. (Cover feature of IEEE Spectrum magazine, March 2021) [Top center] Persian poetry: A beautiful poem by Houshang Ebtehaj, aka H. E. Sayeh. [Top right] Japan rising from the ashes of Fukushima: Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field, the world’s largest hydrogen plant and green-energy center, opened in 2020 (photo credit: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of March 2021). [Bottom left] Belated throwback Thursday photos from 1967 & 2017 (see the next item below). [Bottom center] University of California’s freshman applications rise, in spite of the pandemic, while Cal State applications drop by 5%. [Bottom right] This image has not been PhotoShopped: It’s just upside-down!
(2) Belated throwback Thursday: I meant to post the top photo (from 1967) yesterday, but I forgot. It shows me, with a number of my University of Tehran engineering classmates, standing inside an empty pool in our Vanak, Tehran, residence. Among today’s Facebook memories was the bottom photo from 2017. It was taken during a visit, with my daughter, to Santa Monica Pier, California. The two photos were taken 50 years apart.
(3) Celebrating Women’s History Month: If you aren’t familiar with the 140-year-old American Association of University Women, here’s their Web site. And here’s a report, “AAUW Playbook on Best Practices: Gender Equity in Tech.” [Full 36-page PDF report] [One-minute video teaser]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Trump’s State Department appointee arrested by FBI for assaulting police officers during the January 6 riot.
– Pope Francis visits Iraq and is greeted with a line-dance by Iraqi men and women.
– “What Is Mathematics?” is the title of Alec Wilkinson’s wonderful New Yorker essay.
– Plato, quoting Socrates in The Republic: “Mathematicians are people who dream that they are awake.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson: “As the area of our knowledge grows, so too does the perimeter of our ignorance.”
– Persian poetry: Fazel Nazari recites his poem entitled “Any Religion Besides Love Is a Load of Superstition.”
(5) Space hotel is coming: Orbital Assembly, a space construction company, is on track to begin building its first space hotel by 2026. It could take only 1-2 years to assemble the commercial Voyager Station.
(6) Math puzzle: What integer will become 4 times as large if you append a digit 6 to its left compared with appending a digit 6 to its right?
(7) A fun calculus application: The article “How to Fairly Share a Watermelon” (Physic Education, Vol. 56, No. 1, Dec. 2020) uses the equation for an ellipsoid and introduces approximations that allow the sharing of a watermelon among n people, using only tools available in our kitchens, while incurring reasonably small errors.
(8) IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: IEEE Computer Society Distinguished Lecturer Dr. Behrooz Parhami (ECE Dept., UCSB) will speak under the title “Eight Key Ideas in Computer Architecture from Eight Decades of Innovation” (Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 6:30 PM PDT). [Details and free registeration]

2021/03/04 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Landscaping diversity in and around UCSB's West Campus: Batch 1 of photosFour different calligraphic renderings of the Persian word 'eshgh' ('love')Landscaping diversity in and around UCSB's West Campus: Batch 2 of photos(1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Landscaping diversity in and around UCSB’s West Campus. [Center] Four different calligraphic renderings of the Persian word “eshgh” (“love”).
(2) “The Magic of RNA: From CRISPR to Coronavirus Vaccines”: Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series by Nobel Laureate Prof. Tom Cech, U. Colorado Boulder, on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 6:00-7:30 PM PDT. [Register]
(3) Additions to my reading list: My local public library has compiled a list of suggested readings for March, Women’s History Month. I just went through the list, borrowed the first of the following two titles and placed a hold on the second one (will become available in ~2 weeks). Will you be reading anything special this month?
– Krohn, Katherine, Jane Goodall: Animal Scientist
– Morgan, George D., Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s First Female Rocket Scientist
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Hats off to Jane Fonda for her fabulous Golden Globes 2021 Cecil B. DeMille Award acceptance speech.
– Publisher withdraws six “Dr. Seuss” titles because of racist content it characterizes as hurtful and wrong.
– Walking from State Street to Stearns Wharf in Downtown Santa Barbara, CA. [55-minute video]
– Can’t complain about our weather forecast: Three sunny days, 2 cloudy days of, 3 days of rain; Repeat!
– Persian music: Loads of Free music can be found on Ziba Shirazi’s YouTube Channel.
(5) Assad’s financier, Ayatollah Khamenei: All dictators, without exception, like to appear taller than they are, so they avoid being photographed next to tall individuals, or else have the image PhotoShopped/rotated to remove the deficit. This excellent example is from two years ago.
(6) A symbol of the wealth gap in Iran: In the US, country clubs are symbolic establishments where only members of the top 1% are welcome and can afford to frequent. In Iran, luxury restaurants, like this one featuring a retractable roof for outdoor dining on nice sunny days, are springing up, as masses go hungry or have to wait in lines for buying subsidized meat and other food essentials. [6-minute video]
(7) AI software ready to earn college degrees: Tests of an AI software tool for writing passing college papers showed that the task is achievable in 20 minutes. A real human student needs 3 days for the same task. This is both admirable and worrisome, given a rise in securing college papers in exchange for money.
(8) Maybe I am a robot: Recently, I have run into problems trying to prove to Web sites that I am not a robot. They show me a set of images and ask me to identify all images that contain a bicycle, a boat, or some other type of objects. It usually takes me 2-3 tries to pass the test!
(9) Final thought for the day: A smart person will open your mind, a beautiful person will open your eyes, and a kind, loving person will open your heart. You’re lucky if you have found someone who has opened all three!

2021/03/03 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Book Cafe meeting about Nizami GanjaviVerses from a poem by Nizami Ganjavi that have achieved the status of proverbs or adagesA lesser-known female Iranian poet: Jaleh Esfahani, aka Mastaneh
The Roman stadium underneath Piazza Navona in Rome, ItalyKentucky Fried Chicken in Tehran, Iran, 1976Ceramic tile design based on verses describing a polo match in Shahnameh(1) Images of the day: [Top left and center] Book Cafe meeting about Nizami Ganjavi (see the last item below). [Top right] A lesser-known female Iranian poet: Jaleh Esfahani, aka Mastaneh (see the next item below). [Bottom left] The Roman stadium underneath Piazza Navona in Rome, Italy: Built around 80 CE as a gift by Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus to the people of Rome, the stadium had 15,000 to 20,000 seats and was used mostly for athletic contests. [Bottom center] Iran’s history in pictures: Kentucky Fried Chicken in Tehran, 1976. [Bottom right] Ceramic tile design based on verses describing a polo match in Shahnameh: The verses appear on the four edges in this 30-by-30 cm tile (credit: British Museum).
(2) A lesser-known female Iranian poet: Here’s the story of Jaleh Esfahani (aka Mastaneh, 1921-2007), whose poetry mirrored her difficult life. She married a member of the Toudeh (Communist) Party, moved to the Soviet Union to reunite with her husband, returned to Iran, only to be imprisoned, and eventually immigrated to England. [Official bio] [Encyclopedia Iranica] [Article by Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak] [Video story]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Antifa pretending to be Trump supporters? It’s more like Trump supporters dressing up as Antifa!
– President Biden signs executive order to address the chip shortage: Tech industry welcomes the move.
– Strange bedfellows: Russia, China, and Iran are pushing the same kind of coronavirus disinformation.
– The latest banned activity for women in Esfahan, Iran: Rock-climbing on Sefid Kooh.
– A serious challenge for self-driving cars: Object detection in heavy rain.
(4) Nizami Ganjavi’s magnum opus, Panj Ganj (Five Treasures): I chanced upon an event held by Book Cafe (part of IRANSA, the Iranian Student Association of UNSW, Sydney, Australia) dealing with the great Iranian poet Nizami Ganjavi, as the date (Esfand 22, March 12) devoted to honoring his legacy approaches.
Nizami [1141-1209] was as great a Persian poet as the “big four,” that is, Sa’adi, Hafez, Mowlavi (Rumi), and Ferdowsi, yet he is not as revered in Iran. In Azerbaijan, though, he is a folk/national hero, and is celebrated by naming a national museum after him and with a magnificent mausoleum, which in its current form, was erected in 1991. The original tomb in the city of Ganja was destroyed as a result of regional wars between Iran and Russia.
Nizami wrote his poetry in Persian, and Ganja was part of the Persian Empire during Nizami’s life. So, Iranians have a right to claim him as their own. Needless to say, there is a bitter war of words between Iran and Azerbaijan about which country deserves credit for Nizami, just like the parallel war between Iran and Turkey in the case of Mowlavi. It was explained during the session that, in those days, nation-states as we know them today did not exist, so people identified with tribes or cities (Nizami Ganjavi, or Nizami of Ganja; Jalal-ad-Din Balkhi, Jalal-ad-Din of Balkh, a city in today’s Afghnistan). The positive side of these wars is that Azerbaijan and Turkey have done more to celebrate and promote Nizami and Mowlavi, respectively, than Iran’s Islamic government has been willing to do. So, the Persian literary heritage stands to win as a result of Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s claims and the attendant publicity efforts.
The meeting began with Yashar Shoraka presenting a historical perspective and biography of Nizami, as a context for the rest of the discussion. He characterized Nizami as the most-prominent Persian story-telling poet, best known for his historical epic “Khosrow o Shirin” and his Arabic-folk-tale-based “Leyli o Majnun” (a tragedy often likened or compared to “Romeo and Juliet”). These two stories are both parts of his most-famous book, Khamseh or Panj Ganj (Five Treasures). Nizami wasn’t just a poet; he was a philosopher/scientist, who knew a great deal about plants and other mysteries of nature. Nizami was orphaned early and was raised by his maternal uncle, who provided him with an excellent education. He married three times, and suffered great loss when his first wife died (the other two also died prematurely). Some suggest that the physical beauty, mental acuity, and moral strength of Shirin in the “Khosrow o Shirin” epic are based on Nizami’s first wife.
Next, Minoo Eslami provided a summary of “Khosrow o Shirin,” the story of the fun-loving Sassanid prince Khosrow-Parviz, son of Hormizd IV, and his love for his Armenian princess Shirin. When Khosrow meets Shirin, he describes her beauty in several verses. Eventually, Shirin moves to Mada’in, located in present-day Iraq, hoping to become Khosrow’s wife. The Iranian city of Ghasre-Shirin (meaning “Shirin’s Palace”) is where Khosrow built a palace for Shirin. Later, Farhad, an engineer who was contracted by Khosrow to work on a project, enters the scene and falls in love with Shirin. Khosrow is alarmed when he learns of Farhad’s attention to Shirin, and he hatches a plan to tell Farhad that Shirin is dead. Farhad’s love for Shirin is legendary and is often used in poetry and elsewhere as the model for selfless, unconditional love (although Shirin apparently had no feelings for Farhad). Khosrow was eventually killed by his own son and Shirin committed suicide at the scene of his death.
Nizami used metaphors to write about Khosrow’s feelings for, and sexual attraction to, Shirin, often using fruits and plants in lieu of body parts. Actual censorship, or perhaps fear of censorship, may have been at play here. In the novel Censoring an Iranian Love Story (published in English and later translated into Persian), Shahriar Mandanipour alludes to censorship of “Khosrow o Shirin,” as he constructs his own love story between Dara and Sara, writing and crossing out text that would lead to his book never seeing the light of day in the face of censorship.
When I was given a chance to speak, I noted that Persian poems are rich sources of sayings or proverbs. Single verses or half-verses of poems by some of our beloved poets are recited by many Iranians to enrich conversations or to support an argument. I then shared with the group my discovery many years ago (shared in a Facebook post at the time; see the image above) of a single Nizami poem that contains several often-used Persian proverbs, with many people being unaware of the source.

2021/03/02 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Zoom lecture on 'Ecology and the Environment' (Fanni '68)Math puzzle: ABCD is a square of side length 1. What is the measure of the angle AEF? What is the perimeter of the triangle CEF?Schrodinger's plates: The plates are both broken and not broken, until you open the door
Tah-dig (crispy rice at the bottom of the pot) from my mom's adas-polo (rice with lentils)Linguistic roots of the word for 'mother' in Indo-European family of languagesSelfie taken during my walk on Sunday 2/28: No, I didn't rob a bank!(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Zoom lecture on “Ecology and the Environment” (see the last item below). [Top center] Math puzzle: ABCD is a square of side length 1. What is the measure of the angle AEF? What is the perimeter of the triangle CEF? This problem was given to 9th graders in India, so try not to use trigonometry. [Top right] These plates are both broken and not broken, until you open the door! [Bottom left] Tah-dig from adas-polo (see the next item below). [Bottom center] Linguistic roots of “mother” in Indo-European family of languages. [Bottom right] Selfie taken during my walk on Sunday 2/28: No, I didn’t rob a bank!
(2) How grandkids get spoiled: A few days ago, my daughter mentioned that she misses adas-polo (rice with lentils, often also including raisins and dates), which we have not had for a while. During Saturday’s family get-together, I told my mom about this, given that she always asks for dish suggestions for our family gatherings. My expectation was that the next time we gather at her place, she would make the dish. On Sunday, she called to let me know that she had made a large pot of adas-polo for us and that I should go get it while it was hot! The photo shows just the tag-dig (crispy rice at the bottom of the pot).
(3) Trump in his CPAC speech: “Who knows? I may even decide to beat them for the third time!” Yes, you’ll beat them for the third time, like you did the second time, that is, lose and send your goons to the Capitol!
(4) Vaccination good news: Merck has been recruited to help mass-produce the J&J single-dose vaccine: There will be enough vaccines for all US adults by the end of May, two months ahead of the previous target.
(5) Mass-casualty accident in Southern California: Head-on crash of a semitruck and an SUV, inexplicably loaded with 25 adults and children, results in at least 13 deaths.
(6) The FBI appears to be in good hands: I caught part of the Congressional testimony of FBI’s Director, Christopher Wray, this morning. I was impressed by his thoughtful and direct answers.
(7) “Ecology and the Environment”: This was the title of a Persian presentation in the Zoom gathering of Tehran University’s College of Engineering Class of 1968 (Fanni ’68) by Dr. Jalal Idjadi, Professor at a number of Paris universities. Today, he discussed background concepts, underlying philosophies, existing & emerging problems, and solution strategies at the world level. Next week, he will focus on environmental challenges in Iran. Thirteen of these screenshots (#2-#14) are from his slides. The last one (#15), from a Facebook post of mine, shows the plastics crisis.
During the lively Q&A period, I suggested that poverty and wealth/income gap is a key factor to be dealt with before other considerations and mitigation measures. One reason for the meteoric rise of plastics consumption is that it allows for making cheap products, so that even low-income families can buy toys for their children and various household items for their homes. Clean-air laws in rich industrialized countries has led to profiteers shipping old gas-guzzling cars to poor countries, where they continue their polluting lives. Focus on recycling has caused some poor communities in Third-World countries making a living by extracting material from discarded items (e.g., electronics), which exposes them to hazardous materials. The plastic shopping bags, which we pooh-pooh, are useful tools for the homeless and those living in rural areas, as they can fix roof leaks and other problems using the bags. No mitigation measure will be successful as long as the wealth & income gaps continue to grow.

2021/03/01 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Women's History Month begins todaySignificant birthdays, from a binary perspectiveEggs for this year's Nowruz haft-seen spread and for Easter
Iraq's Central Bank, by architect Zaha HadidZaha Hadid (1950-2016), architect extraordinaireSouks Department Store in Beirut, by architect Zaha Hadid(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Women’s empowerment: Women’s History month (March) has begun and International Women’s Day (March 8) is around the corner. There will be many special events about women’s rights around the world, and about Iran’s women’s movement, in particular. I will post details of such events, as I learn about them. [Top center] Significant birthdays in binary: We tend to attach more importance to birthdays at ages that are multiples of 10. Writing in CACM, issue of March 2021, Joel C. Adams observes that birthday bit-boundaries (ages at which an additional bit becomes necessary) coincide nicely with stages of life. [Top right] Eggs for this year’s Nowruz and Easter. [Bottom left & right] Two architectural creations by Zaha Hadid: Iraq’s Central Bank and Beirut’s Souks Department Store. [Bottom center] Zaha Hadid (1950-2016), architect extraordinaire: For consistently creating awe-inspiring structures in concrete, steel, and glass, Hadid received the highest honors from civic, academic, and professional institutions worldwide. Her practice remains one of the world’s most-inventive architectural studios.
(2) Researchers have solved a decades-old problem on a D-Wave quantum computer 3 million times faster than on a classical computer, using a method known as quantum-annealing.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– The global mass of human-made plastic is twice the mass of terrestrial and marine animals combined.
– Narges Mohammadi speaks (in Persian) about made-up charges and official violence against her in Iran.
– Voices of Women for Change presents Int’l Women’s Day Celebration: Sat. March 6, 2021, 11:00 AM PST.
– Social media etiquette: Never post a graphical comment so large that it overshadows the original post!
– Iranian Aabgoosht (meat-and-veggies stew), prepared in a traditional way, in ceramic pots on open fire.
– Iranian regional music: From Tehran, the Istgah Orchestra performs “Dokhtar-e Boyer-Ahmadi.”
(4) The fearlessness of Iranian women in fighting patriarchy and religious dogma: Azam Jangravi was part of an intense movement to defy Iran’s compulsory hijab law and had to pay a high price by fleeing to Canada.
(5) UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran: Professor Nazanin Shahrokhi of London School of Economics and Political Science will give a virtual book talk, “Women in Place: The Politics of Gender Segregation in Iran,” based on her book by the same title (University of California Press, 2020). Sunday, March 7, 2021, 11:30 AM PST (in Persian), register here. Monday, March 8, 2021, 2:00 PM PST (in English), register here.
(6) A final thought, on this first day of Women’s History Month: “At a NASA Earth meeting 10 years ago, a white male post-doc interrupted me to tell me that I didn’t understand human drivers of fire, that I def needed to read McCarty et al. Looked him in the eye, pulled my long hair back so he could read my name tag. ‘I’m McCarty et al.’ ” ~ Dr. Jessica McCarty, on sexism and mansplaining

2021/02/28 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The programming language Pascal turns 50: CACM feature article by Pascal's designer Niklaus WirthCover image of the March 2021 issue of Communications of the ACMEdmund M. Clark (1945-2020) dead at 75 from complications of COVID-19
Tahirih's most-famous poemScreenshot of Sholeh Wolpe speakingA poem by Forough Farrokhzad(1) Images of the day: [Top left] The programming language Pascal turns 50: Communications of the ACM, issue of March 2021, contains a feature article by Pascal’s designer, computer scientist Niklaus Wirth, who reflects on its origin, spread, and future. [Top center] Cover feature of Communications of the ACM, March 2021 issue: In “The Decline of Computers as a General-Purpose Technology,” authors Neil C. Thompson and Svenja Spanuth argue that “technological and economic forces are now pushing computing away from being general-purpose and toward specialization.” [Top right] Edmund M. Clark (1945-2020) dead at 75 from complications of COVID-19: He won the 2008 ACM Turing Award for his work on model-checking, a discipline that has as its goal the formal verification that a system’s behavior matches its specification and, thus, that it operates dependably. [Bottom row] Images from a fascinating and well-attended talk by Sholeh Wolpe (see the last item below).
(2) Massacre in Iran: Once again, the Iranian regime is killing protesters and cutting off Internet access to cover up its cruelty, this time in Sistan & Baluchistan, a most-oppressed region of the country, both politically and economically. And the world yawns! [Tweet in English] [Tweet in Persian]
(3) “Shame, Stigma and Sin: From Tahirih, to Forough, to Us”: This was the title of Friday afternoon’s presentation by Sholeh Wolpe (Writer-in-Residence, UC Irvine). I found the presentation enlightening and very well-organized. Unfortunately, I missed the Q&A period due to other commitments.
The first name in the title is Tahirih Qurrat al-‘Ayn [1817-1852], who was an early follower of the Bab and influencer in the formation of the Baha’i faith. The second name is Forough Farrokhzad [1934-1967], who is viewed not just as a brilliant contemporary woman poet but a brilliant poet, period! The “Us” of the title represents Iranian women poets, in the homeland or in diaspora, who have flourished in recent decades, thanks in part to the trailblazers and norm-shatterers Tahirih and Forough. Wolpe urges us to discard the term “poetess,” or “shae’reh” in Persian, because most women poets find it condescending and insulting.
Tahirih and Forough share a great deal in common, even though they lived more than a century apart. Tahirih was 36 (35?) when she was executed through suffocation for her beliefs and daring statements. Forough was also “suffocated” by attempts at silencing her. She died in an auto accident at age 32. Both women lost custody of their children because they were considered unfit mothers. Tahirih’s unveiling in a public gathering was viewed, not as an act of liberation, but as an orgy; something a whore would do in front of men. Both Tahirih and Forough understood that in order to rebuild something, you have to destroy the old system and build up on its ashes.
When Reza Shah prohibited Iranian women from being veiled in public places, the patriarchal system replaced the veiling of the body by veiling of language and expression. This went on until Forough appeared on the scene. Forough’s first poem was indeed published because a magazine publisher found it bold and “scandalous,” and she faced immediate backlash for her work. Women had no business being sensual and writing about their feelings and desires. Today’s Iranian women poets continue in that tradition and they are building something beautiful on the ashes of the old patriarchy.
Wolpe displayed English translations (many of them her own) of works by Tahirih, Forough, and selected other women poets. I captured some of these in these screenshots. I will include a link to the recorded version of the talk, if and when I get the information.

2021/02/27 (Saturday): Trying to make a dent in my backlog of book reviews by offering two reviews.
Cover image of Barack Obama's 'A Promised Land'Barack Obama and Donald TrumpCover image for Bob Woodward's 'Rage'
(1) Book review: Obama, Barack, A Promised Land, unabridged audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2020. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Former President Obama began writing this book immediately after he left office, planning to finish it in a year. Things became complicated and the book grew to two volumes, the first one taking almost four years to finish. Prior to this one, Obama had published Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (2004), The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (2006), Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama’s Plan to Renew America’s Promise (2008), and Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters (a children’s book, 2010).
The first one-third of A Promised Land deals with Obama’s presidential campaign. The remaining two-thirds covers most of his first term in the White House. This well-written, thoughtful, poetic, and engaging book is a refreshing reminder of a time when presidential decisions were made after careful deliberation, rather than conceived in the wee hours of the morning, announced via tweets, many in all caps, and justified by aides in a scramble later during the day.
Obama tells us about the stress on his marriage, brought about by his political ambitions, beginning with when he floated the possibility of running for presidency: “God Barack … when will it ever be enough?” Michelle eventually went along reluctantly and was even encouraging and complimentary when things went well.
Obama exhibits awareness of his tendency to provide too much detail in his explanations (being professorial), which bores most people to death. Rather than simply explaining what he did in a particular situation, he provides a historical background, factors that went into the decision, what each advisor suggested, and how the clashing views were reconciled. I happen to like this style, preferring to be bored with too much detail over being left in the dark!
The list of topics covered in the book is long: The elimination of Osama bin Laden, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, intervention in Libya, relations with European allies, the threat of North Korea, nuclear deal with Iran, the puzzle of China, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its cast of unsavory characters, the Arab Spring, and extensive discussion of the runaway financial system and recovery from the 2007-2008 financial meltdown.
On race relations and racial bias, Obama is highly reflective, demonstrating that he understands the deep fissure and why problems will persist for some time. Birtherism, racial insults against him and Michelle, and racism disguised as policy disagreements do bother him, but, in the final analysis, the hope generated by his presidency among blacks and other colored people, children in particular, seem to have made it all worthwhile.
Some topics receive less attention than they deserve: Serious escalation of drone strikes in Pakistan, increased deportations from the US, why his outreach to Republicans and other opponents did not bear fruit, and the tensions between youthful dynamism and experienced caution within his inner-circle of advisors.
Let me end my review with a poignant quote from this wonderful book of contemporary history, which has my highest recommendation: “I’ve often been asked about this personality trait—my ability to maintain composure in the middle of crisis. Sometimes I’ll say that it’s just a matter of temperament, or a consequence of being raised in Hawaii, since it’s hard to get stressed when it’s eighty degrees and sunny and you’re five minutes from the beach. If I’m talking to a group of young people, I’ll describe how over time I’ve trained myself to take the long view, about how important it is to stay focused on your goals rather than getting hung up on the daily ups and downs.”
(2) Book review: Woodward, Bob, Rage, unabridged audiobook, read by Robert Petkoff, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2020. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Much of this book is based on information provided by Donald Trump himself during interviews with Woodward, with parts of the interview sessions recorded on tape. One wonders why Trump agreed to provide such unprecedented access to Woodward, given his record of writings about former presidents and about Trump himself (Fear: Trump in the White House, 2018; My 4-star review of Fear). He could have been following the advertising maxim that no publicity is bad publicity. Or, perhaps, it was a gamble, with possible gains deemed more significant than losses from a negative assessment that he could dismiss as “fake news,” much like other negative media coverage.
As in his previous books, Woodward’s meticulous research is evident in this book. In addition to Trump himself, Woodward talked extensively with other individuals, in and out of the White House. The writing style is a bit disjointed, with facts and statements strung together, without providing fillers that would smooth the transitions. The title “Rage” seems to have come about from Trump’s admission (boast?) that he is good at bringing rage out, seeming to thrive equally on adulation by fans and loathing by opponents.
Woodward devotes much attention on the coronavirus and its impact on Trump’s legacy. He tells Trump that his presidency will be judged by how he handles the pandemic, but Trump keeps shifting the focus to economy, particularly the stock market surge and favorable unemployment stats. Woodward’s attempts to make Trump own the pandemic, and acknowledge that he was given early and repeated warnings that it would be his toughest national-security challenge, go nowhere.
In several passages, Woodward reminds Trump that they are both privileged individuals, having been raised by well-to-do families. Trump never acknowledges that he has enjoyed privilege, seeming to think that his wealth and stature result only from his genius and hard work. Likewise, he doesn’t give anyone in his administration any credit, claiming that all the main ideas are his, and his alone. Economists, healthcare professionals, and pandemic specialists don’t know what they are doing, soldiers killed in action are “suckers” and “losers,” and the generals are all “pussies.”
Woodward does not try to guide Trump toward incriminating statements. He just provides enough rope for Trump to hang himself, which he does with a barrage of thoughtless, heartless, and contradictory pronouncements. The only direct conclusion drawn by Woodward is reflected in his final statement that Trump is the wrong man for the job.
Woodward has included audio snippets of his interviews with Trump (always taped with his awareness and permission) at the end of the audiobook. Even though the information from these snippets is included in the book, hearing Trump’s tone of voice, which at times indicates frustration and anger, provides valuable information about the former President’s state of mind.

2021/02/26 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My refreshing walk on a beautiful Southern-California afternoon: Photo 1My refreshing walk on a beautiful Southern-California afternoon: Photo 4My refreshing walk on a beautiful Southern-California afternoon: Photo 2
Secret message on Perseverance Rover's parachute revealedMy beach photo made into a posterPizza rolls made with lavash bread, and three pita-bread pizzas(1) Images of the day: [Top row] My refreshing walk on a beautiful Southern-California afternoon: I walked north from UCSB West Campus along Ellwood Beach, returning via the Elwood bluffs and UCSB North Campus Open Space. [Bottom left] Secret message on Perseverance Rover’s parachute revealed: A puzzle-lover among the designers placed in binary code the message “DARE MIGHTY THINGS” and the GPS coordinates of the mission’s headquarters at JPL in Pasadena, California, on the parachute.[Bottom center] My beach photo made into a poster: I had been wanting to replace a faded poster in our living room for some time. My daughter suggested using one of my photos and did the research about the best poster supplier. A few days ago, the 28″-by-40″ poster arrived and is now hanging above the sofa in the living room. [Bottom right] Pizza rolls: Having been reminded by Facebook this morning about pizza rolls I had made with lavash bread a few years ago, I decided to make some for dinner tonight. Recipe: Just put standard pizza ingredients on a sheet of lavash bread and roll it before baking. I also made three pita-bread pizzas.
(2) Shameless hypocrisy & sexism: The same Republicans who approved of Trump’s mean tweets, or pretended they had not seen them, attacked a female Biden cabinet nominee because of her “mean tweets”!
(3) “Gender Trends in Computer Science Authorship”: This is the title of an article by Lucy Lu Wang, Gabriel Stanovsky, Luca Weihs, and Oren Etzioni, published in the March 2021 issue of Communications of the ACM.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Saudi Prince MBS personally approved the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi: What a surprise!
– Imagine preying on those looking for debt relief: Talk of student-loan forgiveness has mobilized scammers.
– Animated video of the forthcoming UCSB classroom building, located to the south of Powell Library.
– It was inevitable: Tah-dig art by Varta Melon is an episode of the #FarhangFlavor series on Iranian cuisine.
– Persian-themed clothing designs based on traditional and ancient tile patterns.
(5) Former US gymnastics coach commits suicide after being charged with two dozen cases of sexual abuse and human trafficking: This sounds sexist, but young girl gymnasts should not be trusted to male coaches and doctors, until an infrastructure of supervision and accountability has been put in place.
(6) Economist Tom Friedman’s excellent questions (paraphrased): Trump wants to come back? To do what? What does he want power for? To do healthcare? To do infrastructure? He could have done those over the past four years! What are his plans? What are the Republican Party’s plans? Power for the sake of power?
(7) Women in STEM: Cecilia Metra (Professor, U. Bologna, specializing in dependable computing) is featured in this 11th installment of the interview series “Prominent Women in Computing.”
(8) Women in IT: In the article “Educational Interventions and Female Enrollment in IT Degrees,” authors Andreea Molnar, Therese Keane, and Rosemary Stockdale report on a comprehensive study of female students enrolled in Australia’s information-technology degrees.

2021/02/25 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Roundtable discussion, '500 Years Later: Recontextualizing Tenochtitlan'Webinar: 'Britain and the Abdication of Reza Shah'Webinar: 'Perpetual Computing: Technologies for Banishing Batteries'(1) Today’s images, left to right, pertain to three meeting reports appearing below.
(2) Roundtable discussion, “500 Years Later: Recontextualizing Tenochtitlan”: Exactly 500 years ago, a smallpox epidemic raged in the Aztec Empire, as its capital city of Tenochtitlan was under siege by Hernan Cortes and the Spanish conquistadores. A year-long lecture series, focusing on the period between the two pandemics and culminating in an art exhibition by artist Sandy Rodriguez, titled “Amid a Pandemic, After the War: 500 Years Later,” is being sponsored by UCSB’s Art, Design & Architecture Museum.
Today’s roundtable discussion, featuring Maestra Celia Herrera Rodriguez from UCSB’s Las Maestras Center, Professors Allison Caplan and Maria Lumbreras (UCSB History of Art & Architecture Dept.), and Felicia Rhapsody Lopez from UC-Merced, kicked off the aforementioned series of six lectures on our historical understanding of the Spanish invasion of the Americas, the resilience and resistance of Indigenous people despite the forces of colonialism, and the impact of these events on our contemporary society.
On August 13, 1521, after two years of massacres, a smallpox epidemic, political betrayal & manipulation, and a two-month siege, the capital city Tenochtitlan of the Aztec Empire surrendered to Hernan Cortes and the Spanish conquistadores. The legacy of this invasion still reverberates throughout the Americas, 500 years later. Looking back at the developments of 500 years ago and the five centuries of subsequent events in the Americas can teach us a lot about our past heritage and future outlook.
(3) “Britain and the Abdication of Reza Shah”: This was the title of today’s webinar, in which Shaul Bakhash (Emeritus History Prof., George Mason U.) spoke under the auspices of Stanford U.’s Iranian Studies Program.
Before World War II, Iran was practically a colony of Britain, though not in the same way as other colonized countries in Africa and elsewhere. Monarchs, up to and including Reza Shah (reigned: 1925-1941), would not so much drink water without Britain’s permission, but there was also nominally-functioning government which did not take direct orders from Britain.
Then, Germans started to gain a foothold in Iran, making Britain, and to some extent the Soviet Union, nervous. Britain worried about Germany’s new-found status as Iran’s largest trading partner and its information-gathering operations within Iran, along with possible sabotage in oil facilities as hostilities grew. USSR worried about the status of the Caucuses and other territories that neighbored a Germany-aligned country, given its long border with Iran.
Reza Shah followed the British instructions of reducing the number of Germans in Iran and closing the German embassy, along with those of a few other countries. However, they thought Reza Shah was slow/reluctant in carrying out the orders. Within Britain, the prevailing view was that Reza Shah should be forced out, not harmed personally. So, they started an intense anti-Shah information campaign, using BBC’s Persian Service, broadcast from England and Delhi, taking advantage of the Shah’s unpopularity due to poor economic conditions and tax burdens on all societal classes.
The idea of a military coup was entertained as plan B, in case Reza Shah did not abdicate voluntarily. They also toyed with the notion of supporting someone other than Crown Prince Mohammad Reza, perhaps Prince Hassan Qajar. Anglo-Soviet forces entered Iran in 1941, with the expectation that Reza Shah, along with all his other sons, would depart promptly, leaving the throne to his eldest son Mohammad Reza (reigned: 1941-1979). Among the imposed conditions were the return of property obtained by Reza Shah (through coercing owners to sell or by outright confiscation) to rightful owners.
Reza Shah was dissuaded from abdicating then, but within a month he did leave, so as not to jeopardize his son’s chances of ruling. He died in Johannesburg, South Africa, two years later. According to Professor Bakhash, PM Mohammad Ali Foroughi played a key role in the transition and served both Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah faithfully. The Islamic clerics’ role in this particular period of Iran’s history was negligible.
(4) “Perpetual Computing: Technologies for Banishing Batteries”: This was the title of today’s Zoom talk by Dr. Joshua R. Smith, Milton & Delia Zeutschel Professor, Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle. The talk was sponsored by UCSB’s Institute for Energy Efficiency.
Batteries are the last source of bulk and weight in electronic devices and the final barrier to building ant-size robots and grain-size cameras to explore the human body. A key idea is to move all energy-intensive tasks from the mobile end-point to a base-station where power is more plentiful. Many R&D projects are underway to do away with batteries altogether. The needed power to run ultra-low-power electronics can come from a variety of sources, a few of which were outlined by Dr. Smith.
– Backscatter: Instead of generating light or radio signals for communication, which consumes a lot of power, one can reflect existing light or radio waves by tilting a reflector, requiring much less energy. Dr. Smith showed an example of a battery-free camera based on backscatter. The camera can transmit fewer high-quality images (over time) or more-numerous low-quality ones, depending on need, with the same small power source.
– Wireless ambient radio power: A TV or cell tower near a university campus can provide 10s to 100s of microwatts of harvestable power around the campus. This amount of power is sufficient for running many low-power devices. Dr. Smith showed an example battery-free phone, which uses analog amplitude backscatter.
– Near-field wireless power transfer: Use of smaller batteries, that can be charged wirelessly, may be a viable alternative to battery-free operation when more power is required. Dr. Smith has founded WIBOTIC, a company that aims to build robots receiving their energy wirelessly (e.g., small Mars rovers that get charged by a larger base station having many solar cells).

2021/02/24 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Silky Sicilian Penne: Yesterday, I tried my hand at this vegetarian pasta dish from Hello FreshUCSB's North Campus Open Space on a pleasant late-February afternoon (two photos)Rakib-Khaneh Building, Isfahan, Iran, dating back to the Safavid era
Triple-decker bus: Berlin, Germany, 1926Cartoon (at a construction site): 'Escher! Get your ass up here'Joking around with Mowlavi (Rumi): I wrote these verses in 1984, inspired by the Mowlavi poem that follows it(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Silky Sicilian Penne: Yesterday, I tried my hand at this vegetarian pasta dish from Hello Fresh. Fresh ingredients are delivered in pre-measured quantities, along with cooking instructions. I made three smaller meals out of a package intended for two. [Top center] UCSB’s North Campus Open Space on a pleasant late-February afternoon. [Top right] Rakib-Khaneh Building, Isfahan, Iran: This is where Shah Abbas (Safavid Dynasty) kept the royal family’s harness and riding equipment. After falling into disrepair, it was restored during the Qajar Dynasty and is currently a museum of fine arts. [Bottom left] Triple-decker bus: Berlin, Germany, 1926. (Update: I have learned that this is a fake photo, an edited version of the photo of a double-decker bus.) [Bottom center] Cartoon: “Escher! Get your ass up here.” [Bottom right] Joking around with Mowlavi (Rumi): I wrote these verses in 1984, inspired by the Mowlavi poem that follows it.
(2) Debunking the myth that Apple software is practically hacker-proof: Sophisticated hackers have stealthily snuck sleeper malware into nearly 30,000 Macs. There is no such thing as hacker-proof software!
(3) One reason for disorder in Persian script: Sayeh Eghtesadinia views opposition to Iran’s Language Academy (its perceived illegitimacy) a main reason for the ensuing chaos in Persian script.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– At least 80 people have died from Texas storm: The full toll many not become known for months.
– Senator Ron Johnson apparently had a fun day at the Capitol on January 6, with the mostly-jovial crowd!
– An interactive 360-degree view of Mars surface constructed from images sent by the Perseverance Rover.
– Iranian Students of California “Doornavazi” Music Festival: Sat. 2/27, 4:00 PM, to Sun. 2/28, 6:00 PM.
– Quote: “Love is like an hourglass with the heart filling up as the brain empties.” ~ Jules Renard, French writer
– Carole King sings “So Far Away”: BBC in Concert, February 10, 1971 (look for a very young James Taylor).
(5) “The Botany of Desire”: This fascinating PBS feature documentary considers the relationships of humans with plants, using four common species (apples, tulips, marijuana, potatoes). [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]
(6) Logical puzzle: A teacher divides her students into k groups of various sizes to work on different projects on Monday and into k + 1 groups on Tuesday. Show that there are at least two students who belong to smaller groups on Tuesday than on Monday.
(7) Book review: Gabbay, Tom, The Tehran Conviction, William Morrow, 2009. I reviewed this third book in Gabbay’s “Jack Teller” series (reminiscent of Jack Ryan in Tom Clancy’s early spy thrillers) on February 22, 2013. I uploaded my 4-star review to GoodReads on February 22, 2021, for the record.
(8) Course review: McWhorter, Prof. John, The Story of Human Language, 2004. I reviewed this 6-DVD course (in The Teaching Company’s “Great Courses” series) on August 2, 2015. I uploaded my review to GoodReads on February 22, 2021, for the record. The book is full of interesting and enlightening facts about the nature of languages. For example, here is a snippet from my summary for Lecture 36: “Words have peculiar histories and tracing their roots and variations tells us a lot about how languages develop, change, and intermix. Examples of word transformations include ‘alone’ (all one) and ‘good-bye’ (God be with you).”

2021/02/23 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Sepandarmazgan: Design 1Happy Sepandarmazgan: Design 2Astronomer Cecilia Payne
Talk by Dr. Valerie E. Taylor of Argonne National Lab: Slides, Batch 1Cartoon: A Republican Senator in Texas (denying the freezing cold)Talk by Dr. Valerie E. Taylor of Argonne National Lab: Slides, Batch 2(1) Images of the day: [Top left and center] Today is Sepandarmazgan, the Iranian day of love with Zoroastrian roots: According to Wikipedia, the deity Spandarmad protected the Earth and the “good, chaste and beneficent wife who loves her husband” (yes, Zoroastrians were patriarchal and misogynistic as well). The festival used to be dedicated to women, and men would make them “liberal presents.” [Top Right] Astronomer Cecilia Payne (see the last item below). [Bottom left & right] Technical talk by Dr. Valerie E. Taylor of Argonne National Lab (see the last item below). [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: A Republican Senator in Texas.
(2) “Energy-Efficiency Tradeoffs for Parallel Scientific Applications”: This was the title of last night’s talk by Dr. Valerie E. Taylor (Argonne Nat’l Lab), sponsored by IEEE Santa Clara Valley Section.
Dr. Taylor began by reviewing the energy consumption landscape among Top500 & Green500 supercomputers. We are now looking at tens of gigaFLOPS performance per watt of power. With application-level tuning, we can achieve up to 10% energy efficiency while sacrificing under 1% in speed and up to 14% energy savings with 5.5% slowdown. The tuning is aided by the use of some 39 hardware counters to instrument applications, in order to determine what needs to be done to reduce energy.
In answer to my question about whether loop unrolling, which is used to improve performance, also helps with energy efficiency, Dr. Taylor replied that it does. When significant reduction in computation time is achieved, even if it is accompanied by some increase in power consumption, the product of the the two, which represents energy, can and does go down significantly.
(3) Google fires a second AI-ethics researcher: Margaret Mitchell had become critical of Google executives, including AI division head Jeff Dean and CEO Sundar Pichai, and she had used an automated script to look through her emails in order to find evidence of discrimination against her coworker Timnit Gebru. Google accused her of downloading “confidential business-sensitive documents and private data of other employees.”
(4) Academic misconduct: David Cox, IBM Director of MIT-IBM-Watson AI Lab, found his name on two papers with which he had no connection. Whatever the authors’ intentions, such as increasing the odds of the papers being accepted for publication, such a despicable action is a no-no in academia. Some journals and conferences have adopted the practice of contacting all the listed authors to ensure that they are aware of the submission and their co-authorship status. This practice must be adopted universally.
(5) The story of Cecilia Payne [1900-1979]: The brilliant scientist who discovered that the most-abundant atom in the universe is hydrogen, completed her studies at Cambridge, but was not awarded a degree because she was a woman. She attended Cambridge on a scholarship, given that her mother would not spend any money on her education.
Leaving Britain, she moved to the US, began working at Harvard, and eventually earned a doctorate from Radcliffe College, writing “the most-brilliant PhD thesis in astronomy” (per Otto Strauve). Another discovery of hers about the Sun’s composition is credited to fellow-astronomer Henry Norris Russell, who told her not to publish her results four years earlier.
As the first woman to be promoted to full-professorship at Harvard, Payne broke the glass ceiling and served as a role model for many women scientists.
Imagine how many more women scientists we would have and how many women’s names would be mentioned in science books alongside Newton, Darwin, and Einstein if women were not held back by short-sighted and insecure men!

2021/02/22 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei: 'Hijab is a requirement even for animated characters'Humorous Persian poem I wrote shortly after Iran's Islamic RevolutionImages related to the UCLA webinar 'Jews and the American West'(1) Images of the day: [Left] Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei: “Hijab is a requirement even for animated characters.” [Center] Persian poetry: I wrote this humorous poem on May 10, 1979, in the early days of the post-Islamic-Revolution Iran. Older Iranians might recognize the characters Ebrahim Yazdi, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, Abolhassan Banisadr, Abbas Amir-Entezam, and Dariush Forouhar in the poem. All were killed, exiled, or sidelined soon after the Revolution. [Right] UCLA webinar “Jews and the American West” (see the last item below). [Top left] [Top center] [Top right] [Bottom left] [Bottom center] [Bottom right]
(2) Hypocrisy: The same Republicans who claimed COVID-19 deaths were being overblown to hurt Donald Trump are now calling for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s head for under-reporting the deaths!
(3) Did you say green energy is fragile, Mr. Tucker Carlson? Take a look at ISS. It has been in outer space, where the temperature is –270 C (–455 F), for 23 years, without experiencing a significant power outage!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– “QAnon’s Corrosive Impact on the US”: CBS News “60 Minutes” 14-minute story.
– A despicable new way to force female sports officials out in Iran: Threats to publish their private photos!
– Andre Hossein’s “Sheherazade”: Dedicated to front-line health workers by an all-women Iranian orchestra.
– Persian music: Elnaz Abedini’s wonderful rendition of “Gol-e Goldun,” with piano accompaniment by Arnika.
(5) Global weirding: An excellent explanation of global weirding (extreme weather events becoming more intense and more frequent), a direct result of unprecedented warming in the Arctic region. Texas has an unusual cold spell every decade or so, each time officials promising investigations and action!
(6) How many of the 0.5 million US deaths from COVID-19 were preventable? I hope Trump is asked this question repeatedly, by every reporter, once he emerges from hiding at Mar-a-Lago.
(7) Linux on Mars: NASA’s Perseverance Rover and its Ingenuity drone helicopter use Linux and custom-built NASA software based on JPL’s open-source F’ framework, which facilitates rapid development of embedded applications. This is the first time open-source software has been used for all aspects of a space mission.
(8) “Jews and the American West”: This webinar was part of a UCLA series exploring discrimination, bias, and race relations in Jewish studies. Panelists Sarah Imhoff (Indiana U.) and David S. Koffman (York U.) presented ideas from their books:
Imhoff: Masculinity and the Making of American Judaism [Link]
Koffman: No Better Home? Jews, Canada, and the Sense of Belonging [Link]
Koffman: The Jews’ Indian: Colonialism, Pluralism and Belonging in America [Link]
The discussion, moderated by Caroline Luce (UCLA), explored Jews’ relationship to the physical and discursive landscapes of the American west. How did the American colonial project shape Jewish ideas about masculinity, morality, and violence? How has the figure of the Jewish frontiersman been used to advance ideologies of belonging, both in the US and around the world? Using historical materials drawn from their research, Imhoff and Koffman considered western Jewish subjectivity and the place of “the frontier” in American Jewish history.
One of the interesting phenomena discussed was American Jews paying lip service to “back to the land” ideology of those moving to the American West, viewed as the essence of Americanness, while being hesitant to practice what they preached. Movement to the American West and Zionism shared in common the notion of “muscular Jewishness.” But while American Jews supported the formation of Israel, very few of them moved there to help develop the fledgling country. From my personal experience, this attitude is still prevalent: I know many Jews who praise Israel and the Israeli lifestyle, while lacking any personal interest to follow the “next year in Jerusalem” mantra of their religious prayers.
Another interesting fact I learned from this webinar is that “Office (now Bureau) of Indian Affairs” was part of the War Department from its inception in 1824 to 1849, when it was moved to the then newly-formed Department of the Interior.
A recording of this fascinating webinar will be uploaded to Alan D. Leve Center’s YouTube page within a week.

2021/02/21 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The Metric System prefixes, from yotta (10^-24) to yocto (10^24)The beautiful nature of Talesh region, Guilan Province, Iran(1) Images of the day: [Left] The Metric System prefixes (see the next item below). [Right] The beautiful nature of Talesh region, Guilan Province, Iran.
(2) The Metric System prefixes, from yotta (10^–24) to yocto (10^24): Computer engineers are going through prefixes at the top of the scale, necessitating the use of a new one every decade or so. Shortly before 2010, we built petaFLOPS supercomputers, capable of executing 10^15 floating-point operations per second. Now, we are on the verge of achiving exascale, or 10^18 FLOPS, computing capability. Once exaFLOPS computing power is at hand, we will start working on zetascale, or 10^21 FLOPS, systems, and a decade later, we will have our eyes on yottaFLOPS, or 10^24 FLOPS, capability. At that point, we have to expand this table with additional prefixes! At the other extreme of the scale, we computer engineers have a bit more time. We are already done with microelectronics and are focusing on nanoelectronics. An atom’s size in on the order of 10^–10 meters, so even picoelectronics would be a stretch, let alone femtoelectronics and beyond. Smaller numbers do exist in nature. For example, Planck length is a bit more than 10^–35 m and Planck time is around 10^–43 s.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Imagine looking out of an airplane window and seeing this: United Airlines jet loses engine parts in flight.
– Behnam Mahjoubi’s wife, mother, & sister mourn his death under torture in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison.
– NASA’s Perseverance Rover continues to send back images from Mars. [Images]
– Iranians living abroad: Overall distribution, plus detailed stats for the Americas and Europe. [Charts]
– Shardad Rohani is featured in this wonderful performance of Persian music by Vancouver Opera Orchestra.
(4) Sara Khatun, an ancient Jewish holy place in Iran: Pir-e Bakran, a small city located 30 km southwest of Isfahan, is named after Muhammad ibn Bakra, a Sufi saint and mystic. A stone dating to 500 BC was discovered in Pir-e Bakran’s Jewish cemetery in 1948, suggesting that Jews have lived in the area for at least 2500 years. The holiest shrine of the Jews is also located in this city. The 1400-years-old shrine is known as Astar Khatun, Sara Khatun, Setareh Khatun, or Sarah Bat-Asher. Both Jews and Muslims pray there, sometimes together and at other times, separately. [12-minute video]
(5) In Iran, husbands own their wives (part 2): A husband’s permission is needed for a married woman to work outside the home, study, travel abroad, or undergo surgery. The husband also has the final word on housing, wealth-sharing, birth control, number of children, divorce, and custody of children. These provisions can be overwritten at the time of marriage, if both parties agree to it and put the terms in the marriage contract. Women often do not take advantage of these rights and find themselves trapped when issues arise after marriage (such as multiple women athletes not allowed by their husbands to travel abroad for international tournaments). Recently, Hoda Amid and her attorney Najmeh Vahedi were sentenced to a total of 15 years in prison, plus professional sanctions, for offering educational workshops that made women aware of their rights and taught them how to claim these rights at the time of marriage. They are accused of cooperating with the US against Iranian family and women’s affairs. [In Persian, with photos]

2021/02/20 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
An early image sent back from Mars by NASA's Perseverance RoverCartoon: 'Masks are still tyranny! (My face is just cold)'
Webinar on social decision-making: Screenshot 2Webinar on social decision-making: Screenshot 1Webinar on social decision-making: Screenshot 3(1) Images of the day: [Top left] The government can’t do anything right: Except that it just landed the SUV-size Perseverance Rover (nick-named “Percy”) on Mars, ~200 million km away from Earth, after it traveled for seven months through space, to look for signs of ancient life on the red planet. [Top right] Cartoon of the day: “Masks are still tyranny! (My face is just cold).” [Bottom row] Screenshots from the February 19 Zoom-based webinar, “Social Decision-Making: Insights from Decision Neuroscience” (see the last item below).
(2) One of the many unique features of NASA’s Perseverance Rover: The Mars exploration vehicle has a drone helicopter (Ingenuity), which will be the first thing to fly outside our Earth.
(3) I had my second dose of COVID-19 vaccine early Friday afternoon: So far, all is well and normal, as evident from this photo. I will let you know if something bad happens!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Trump refuses to meet with Nikki Haley at Mar-a-Lago, after she criticized him for the January 6 DC riot.
– Ted Cruise: Carnival offering for leaving senior citizens in the snow and having fun on a luxury cruise ship.
– Shoshana Zuboff: Two-hour talk in Berlin, with Q&A, entitled “Surveillance Capitalism and Democracy.”
– Farhang Foundation’s 12th Annual Celebration of Nowruz (virtual event), Sat. 2021/03/20, 6:00 PM PDT.
(5) “Social Decision-Making: Insights from Decision Neuroscience”: This was the title of a fascinating on-line lecture by Professor A. G. Sanfy (Radboud U. Nijmegen, the Netherlands) early Friday morning; more-reasonable time for most of the 200+ attendees in Europe and elsewhere!
Our lives consist of a constant stream of decisions and choices, from the mundane to the highly consequential. The standard approach to experimentally examining decision-making has been to examine choices with clearly-defined probabilities and outcomes (e.g., a 50-50 gamble vs. winning/losing half of the same amount of money for sure; risk aversion, loss aversion), however it is an open question as to whether decision models describing these situations can be extended to choices that must be made by assessing the intentions and preferences of both oneself and of another social partner.
The latter class of social decision-making offers a useful approach to examine more complex forms of decisions, which may in fact better approximate many real-life choices. In particular, these social interactive scenarios reveal motivations other than economic gain that appear to guide our decisions in a systematic fashion. Examples are drawn from studies that use economic games in conjunction with functional neuroimaging and computational modelling to observe how players decide in real, consequential, social contexts.
Social factors that affect our decision-making include notions of fairness, cooperation, competition, trust, reciprocity, revenge, and spite. The first of these factors was discussed in some detail through the famous experiment of giving a sum of money to one player and asking him/her to share part of the money with a second player. If the second player accepts the offer, both get to keep their shares. Otherwise, neither one gets any money. Rejecting an offer because we deem it unfair doesn’t make economic sense. In fact, children (in an experiment that replaces money with candy) would happily accept even a small offer of candy. But, as we grow older, we become a lot more sensitive to unfairness.

2021/02/18 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB North Campus Open Space: Photo 1UCSB North Campus Open Space: Photo 2UCSB North Campus Open Space: Photo 3(1) Another windy, but otherwise pleasant, Wednesday afternoon at UCSB’s North Campus Open Space: My heart goes out to fellow-Americans, suffering from inclement weather in the Midwest and on the East Coast.
(2) IEEE Central Coast Section Student Video Contest, “Adapting to the Hybrid Virtual World”: Register for submitting 2-minute video essays by March 20, 2021, 10:00 PM PDT (submission deadline May 2). Cash prizes of $300, $200, and $100 for the top-3 selections, with possible $50 awards for honorable mentions.
(3) University of California updates its library search function: A replacement for the previous catalog search software system, Melvyl, will allow seamless searching and borrowing from all 10 campus libraries. The new system will go live on July 27, 2021.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– NASA’s Perseverance Rover successfully landed on Mars.
– Our apologies to Mexico: When we send our vacationing Senators there, we don’t send the best & brightest!
– The tree that bears 40 different kinds of fruit. [1-minute video]
– If science is a liberal conspiracy, then liberals sure make better conspiracy theories than conservatives!
(5) In Iran, husbands own their wives: Samira Zargari, head coach of women’s alpine ski team could not accompany the team to a tournament in Italy, because her husband didn’t give her permission to travel!
(6) Iranian mullahs are cutting to the chase: They no longer pretend to support democracy, not even its Islamic variety. One cleric has said that Iran doesn’t need a president who has a plan or an agenda. “We need an executive who obeys and carries out the Leader’s commands” (I saw a video of the said cleric, but I can no longer find it on-line; perhaps the regime has silenced him to keep appearances). Meanwhile, the regime wants to show broad participation, to boast about its popularity. So, token moderate candidates may be allowed to run, provided they have no chance of winning. The regime also plans to reduce the number of conservative candidates, to prevent vote-splitting. Yet another “engineered” election.
(7) How the heart became a symbol of love: “You can have a heart, and you can lose it. You can leave it in San Francisco. Or, you can suffer from heartache, and you might get a toothache from all the sentimental heart-shaped candies that emerge each February. That’s an awful lot of emotion for an organ that is, essentially, a big muscle. Over the years, the heart has gone from being the body’s nerve center, to the symbolic home of the soul, and to a biomechanical marvel. Its journey tells us a little about the way we view the world and our place in it.” [Source: Discover magazine] []
(8) Final thought for the day: Maybe in lieu of a border wall, Texas should have been building a modern electrical grid and connecting it to neighboring states and, perhaps, to Mexico.

2021/02/17 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of 'IEEE Spectrum' magazine, issue of February 2021You can see, and perhaps recognize, the face in this image by squinting your eyesImage of the first page of an article on SETI in 'IEEE Spectrum' magazine, issue of February 2021
Park-bench design for avid book readersImages of Godzilla, Rodan, Mitch McConnell, and Donald TrumpHey, President Biden is carrying files and papers: I had forgotten that presidents do that!(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Cover of the February 2021 issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine: From today’s controlling hands and fingers to tomorrow’s restoring the sense of touch. [Top center] You can see, and perhaps recognize, the face in this image by squinting your eyes. [Top right] Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: The SETI project is still going strong (image of the first page of an article in IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of February 2021). [Bottom left] Park-bench design for avid book readers. [Bottom center] Bring out the popcorn: The fight scene between the film’s two scary and hated monsters is starting! [Bottom right] Hey, President Biden is carrying files and papers: I had forgotten that presidents do that!
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with Iraq’s Ayatollah Sistani in March. [Source: IranWire]
– Young boy’s violin performance of the Hungarian “Chardash”: Wonderful!
– Trump is in mourning: His rabid supporter Rush Limbaugh dies at 70. The world has a bit less hate today.
– I am surprised that no conspiracy theory has sprung up yet that the Clintons had Rush Limbaugh killed!
(3) Texas mayor, who called residents “lazy,” “weak,” and “socialist” when they complained about power outages and having no heat in their homes amid freezing cold, quits his post: He told his constituents, “the strong will survive and the weak will perish.” He perished!
(4) US storms and cold spells have killed 20, left many without electricity (particularly in Texas), and delayed the distribution and administration of vaccines.
(5) Tonight’s IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Dr. Kerem Camsari (ECE Dept., UCSB) spoke under the title “Understanding Quantum Computing Through Negative Probabilities.” Eighteen Section members and guests attended this enlightening talk.
Dr. Camsari began by lowering expectations about the term “Understanding” in his title, quoting physicist Richard Feynman who famously said “nobody understands quantum mechanics.” Despite this tongue-in-cheek statement, Feynman provided one of the clearest conceptual pictures of quantum behavior in terms of a path formulation of quantum mechanics.
Dr. Camsari’s approach is to try to understand the quantum universe by starting from a probabilistic world. As Feynman observed some 40 years ago, the main difference between a probabilistic world and a quantum world can be traced to the idea that probabilities need to be generalized to involve negative (or even complex) values. An outcome with negative probability cancels a similar one with positive probability, unlike in the case of normal probabilities, which always add up. The latter property allows us to do approximate computations by ignoring outcomes with very low probabilities.
After presenting certain applications that can be handled by probabilistic computing, which is more-easily realizable than quantum computing, Dr. Camsari proceeded to show how the difference above can be related to the recent groundbreaking demonstration of quantum advantage in engineered quantum computers and discussed some recent developments of probabilistic computing that can help accelerate the solution of computationally-hard problems. [Some screenshots]

2021/02/16 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Images related to the BBC Persian report on the Unicode ConsortiumTweet responding to an Iranian cleric who declared that he is dying from women's bike-riding, which is an insult to GodCartoon: New seat design for Iranian women who ride bikes
Circular Sudoku: Discover the rules and solve itMath problem: Find the area and the perimeter of the shaded region in the figure formed by a half-circleMissing 'R': Department of Corrections is in need of correction!(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Images for the BBC Persian report on the Unicode Consortium (see the last item below). [Top center] Tweet responding to an Iranian cleric who declared that he is dying from women’s bike-riding, which is an insult to God: Sister, please pedal a bit harder to finish this guy off! [Top right] Cartoon of the day: New seat design for Iranian women who ride bikes. [Bottom left] Circular Sudoku: Discover the rules and solve it. [Bottom center] Puzzle: Find the perimeter and area of the shaded region in the figure, assuming that the half-circle has diameter d. [Bottom right] Department of Corrections is in need of correction!
(2) Congressional Republicans are a special breed: GOP governors, mayors, and other local Republican officials increasingly support President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.
(3) Torture in Iranian prisons: Behnam Mahjoubi, a young Iranian dissident Sufi, who was tortured in prison, dies in a Tehran hospital while shackled to his bed. [In Persian: Tweet 1; Tweet 2]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Dr. Anthony Fauci wins $1M prize from a private Israeli foundation for “courageously defending science.”
– So many different kinds of kebob that even the chef needs labels on the skewers to introduce them all.
– Golnoush Khaleghi, Iranian musician and music researcher, dead at 80 in Washington DC.
– Persian music: Sample work by Golnoush Khaleghi, conducting an orchestra named in honor of her dad.
(5) The disappearing flu: Masking, social-distancing, and school/business closures have reduced the number of regular flu cases to ~1% of last year. While this reduction isn’t sustainable, COVID-19 does carry lessons for dealing with the mighty flu.
(6) John Oliver warns us about the next vicious pandemic in this fact-filled 20-minute video: Rather than forget about COVID-19 once things go back to normal, we really must remember the way we feel now and invest in health initiatives accordingly.
(7) Is Persian script’s fate in the hands of technocrats? Not really! This BBC Persian report sensationalizes the role of the Unicode Consortium, elevating it to the level of a language academy, whereas it is merely a technical body for setting standards on how to represent letters, digits, and other symbols in binary format in such a way that different computers have a consistent view and interpretation of each language. The rules of forming symbols, using punctuation marks, and other details of languages and associated scripts continue to be set by the users of each language and cultural academies, not by technocrats within the Unicode Consortium.
[Related article by D. Ashouri: “A Look at the History of the Persian Language and Script in Modern Times”]

2021/02/15 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Presidents' Day: On this day, we celebrate caring and competent individuals who have served in our country's highest officeMeme: Unity without principles makes no senseWebinar: Book talk on the politics of history in Saudi Arabia
Image of the Web page for the UCSB graduate course ECE 252BDueling-giants meme: Apple and FacebookImage of the Web page for the UCSB graduate course ECE 1B(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Presidents’ Day: On this day, we celebrate caring and competent individuals who have served in our country’s highest office. (P.S.: I am listening to the audio version of Obama’s latest book, A Promised Land, which I will review in due course.) [Top center] Unity without principles makes no sense: The Republicans, with their total disregard of the US Constitution and political decorum, just made it more difficult for President Biden to pursue his unity agenda. [Top right] Webinar: Book talk on the politics of history in Saudi Arabia (see the last item below). [Bottom left & right] My spring quarter 2021 courses: I have updated the Web pages for my graduate course on computer arithmetic (ECE 252B) and computer engineering freshman seminar (ECE 1B). [Bottom center] Dueling giants: Apple and Facebook.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Cold snap in the US: Oklahoma activates National Guard as low temperatures set 100-year record.
– Texas administers rolling blackouts after 30 GW of production capacity is knocked off-line by freezing cold.
– Social media app Parler re-launches using independent technology, wows not to facilitate crime.
Wall Street Journal urges Republicans to ditch Trump: Asserts he won’t win another national election.
– Melania Trump’s Valentine’s Day tweet is conspicuously missing any mention of her husband.
– “Social Motivations in Choice: Insights from Decision Neuroscience”: Webinar, 2021/02/19, 7:10 AM PST.
(3) “Archive Wars: The Politics of History in Saudi Arabia”: This was the title of today’s book talk by Professor Rosie Bsheer (History Department, Harvard U.), whose teaching and research interests center on Arab intellectual and social movements, petro-capitalism & state formation, and the production of historical knowledge & commemorative spaces. The event was sponsored by Northwestern University. Moderator Rebecca Johnson and two discussants, Safa Al-Saeedi and Hazal Ozdemir, posed a series of questions, amplifying and challenging the points made by the speaker.
Saudi Arabia is often viewed by Orientalists as a historyless country, which is a source of Islamist movements and is in turn threatened by those movements. The country’s development plan required secularization of the post-Gulf-War Saudi state and the construction of a history in the form of a national archive, which isn’t publicly accessible and is a source of endless conflicts between entities which want to house and control it. Reordering of urban spaces in Riyadh and Mecca, which transformed these two cities into world centers for commercial mega-projects and the global fashion industry, was part of this synthesized or imagined history in the service of state-building, which obliterated thousand-year-old topographies.
Controlling knowledge production in order to shape the historical record according to plans of the Saudi state is being confronted by researchers such as Professor Bsheer, who try to expose such efforts and document alternate histories that are being erased in favor of the official narrative. A striking example is the reshaping of the Ottoman history to fit the state narrative about the formation and subsequent development of the Saudi kingdom. Ironically, similar efforts are underway in Saudi Arabia’s arch-enemy Iran, except that in Iran’s case the task is rendered more difficult by the sheer amount of history to re-write!
My question (which went unanswered): You mentioned aggressive secularization and modernization in post-Gulf-War Saudi Arabia. Where are the external manifestations of these efforts? Buildings alone do not bring about modernity. Allowing women to drive only recently, public beheadings, and imprisonment of women activists are indicative of failure in moving toward secularization and continuing to have religion and religious authorities fully in charge.

2021/02/14 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Valentine's Day: Photos of me and my kidsValentine's Day special: My daughter's bouquet of chicken nuggetsHero vs. zero: Goodman and McConnell
Trees I photographed during my long afternoon walk in Isla Vista and UCSB West Campus: Batch 2Trees I photographed during my long afternoon walk in Isla Vista and UCSB West Campus: Batch 1Trees I photographed during my long afternoon walk in Isla Vista and UCSB West Campus: Batch 3(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Valentine’s Day: May my beloveds, family members and friends, stay healthy and recognize the vast power of love, especially in these days of anguish and uncertainly. I love you all! [Top center] Valentine’s Day special: My daughter’s bouquet of chicken nuggets. [Top right] Hero vs. zero: The hero helped save the lives of US legislators and their staffers. The zero hid behind the US Constitution, which he trampled on numerous occasions during the Obama and Trump administrations. [Bottom row] During today’s invigorating walk on a windy, but otherwise pleasant, afternoon, I paid attention to the trees along my path in Isla Vista and UCSB West Campus, focusing on how each tree has its individual personality, much like a human.
(2) Sci-Tech Oscar: The 2021 award goes to three computer-science PhD graduates of Germany’s Saarland U. (Sven Woop, Carsten Benthin, Ingo Wald) for co-developing or doing research on the Intel Embree Ray Tracing Library, used to maximize photorealism in virtual game environments and animated films.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Trump’s defense lawyers lied when they claimed he was immediately horrified by the Capitol attack.
– The pay gap between male and female scientists is widening in North America.
– Ancient beer factory, dating back ~5000 years, unearthed in Abydos, Egypt.
– Virtual guided tour of Jerusalem’s Old City and Bethlehem: Monday, February 22, 2021, 12:00-3:00 PM PST.
– Persian music: A wonderful jazzy performance of the popular oldie song “Simin Bari.” [4-minute video]
– Classical Persian music: Solmaz Badri performs in Female Voice of Iran concert. [36-minute video]
(4) Islamic justice: Fariborz Kalantari, the reporter who exposed deep corruption of an Iranian official, has been sentenced to 3 years in prison, while the corrupt official got 2 years!
(5) Solarwinds: How Russian spies carried out a sophisticated cyberattack against the US, as our President was preoccupied with contesting the election outcome and blaming China for the attack. [14-minute video]
(6) Germany-based Iranian artist Tina Amy performs a Persian song, “Ghazale 24,” featuring a Sa’adi poem, and an English song, “Starlight,” she wrote in Turkey, on her grueling immigration journey to Germany.

2021/02/13 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Things checked off my to-do list: Valentine's Day flowers & balloon-heartThings checked off my to-do list: HaircutI had decided to wait for the day after Valentine's Day to buy discounted chocolates, but this box was too tempting!
Commemorating the 29th anniversary of my dad's passing: English poemMemories from February 13 of years pastCommemorating the 29th anniversary of my dad's passing: Persian poem(1) Images of the day: [Top row] Things checked off my to-do list: Taking mom for her first vaccine shot. Valentine’s Day flowers & balloon-heart. Haircut. I had decided to wait for the day after Valentine’s Day to buy discounted chocolates, but this box, seen at Costco, was too tempting! [Bottom left & right] Commemorating my dad’s 29th anniversary of passing: Under normal conditions, we would have visited the Santa Barbara Cemetery this weekend to honor the memory of my dad, who passed away in 1992 at age 70. The English and Persian poems are from last year, which I recited at today’s small family gathering, with the numbers updated to 99 and 29 for this year. [Bottom center] Memories from February 13 of years past.
(2) Key observation of the day: The First Amendment protects citizens from government’s over-reach. It does not protect government officials from consequences of their words and actions.
(3) The Black Renaissance: A special Time magazine feature (issue of February 15-22, 2021) characterizes An American Marriage by Tayari Jones as “an intimate, bruising account of a couple who fall out of love.” I read the book in 2018, giving it 3 stars in my GoodReads review.
(4) Trump’s legal problems are just beginning: His celebration of impeachment acquittal will be short-lived.
(5) Street view of 1940s New York: During 1939-1941, the Works Progress Administration collaborated with New York City Tax Department to collect photographs of most buildings in NYC’s 5 boroughs. In 2018, NYC Municipal Archives completed the digitization and tagging of these photos. This Web site places them on a map, where every clickable dot represents a building photo.
(6) How dreams protect our brains: Before the relatively recent electrification of the world, our ancestors spent half of their time in the dark. During this darkness period, the visual cortex could lose territory to other senses that aren’t disadvantaged by lack of light. The “defensive activation theory” suggests that dream-sleep exists to keep neurons in the visual cortex active, to prevent a takeover by the neighboring senses. Fascinating!
(7) A new marketing scam: “The product is free. You just pay for shipping.” The latter charge is the sum of the real shipping cost, the cost of the product, and a profit margin!
(8) Punish click-baiters: If the headline doesn’t provide the most-important fact of the story, don’t read the rest. Here is an example. “Bill Cosby’s Net Worth Left His Family Stunned.” The most-important fact here is Cosby’s net worth. Is it too large to believe? Too small? It isn’t uncommon for click-baiters to bury that most-important fact amidst many pages of text, if they even disclose it, forcing you to go through a lot of material and, of course, many ads!

2021/02/12 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Chinese New Year: Here comes the year of the ox!Some of the burgers offered by Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, ArizonaNewsweek magazime cover: The long-term cost of COVID-19 in dementia and other brain disorders
(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Chinese/Lunar New Year 4719: Please welcome the year of the ox! [Top center] “Taste to die for”: This is the motto of Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Arizona. Its Quadruple-Bypass Burger has 8000 calories, with four half-pound patties and buns fried in lard. Instead of a salad bar, the joint has a lard-fries bar. Needless to say that they don’t put lettuce on their burgers and they don’t serve Diet Coke! [Top right] The long-term cost of COVID-19 in dementia and other brain disorders is featured in Newsweek magazine. [Bottom row] Sample poems of Forough Farrokhzad (see the last item below).
(2) Roots of misogyny in Iran: This iconic 1979 photo by Abbas Attar shows that Iran’s misogynistic laws were predictable by observing those who took to the streets in support of an Islamic form of government.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– White supremacy & misogyny: Nine far-right insurrectionists have a history of violence against women.
– For Valentine’s Day, I’m going to do nothing. But the next day, I’ll go shopping for discounted chocolates.
– Memory from February 12, 2014: “Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.” ~ Edgar Cayee
– The knowledge in your mind can be acquired by anyone, but the song in your heart is yours alone. [Goethe]
(4) “Forough Farrokhzad, Modernity and Madness”: This was the title of a webinar held today, 54 years after Forough Farrokhzad’s passing at age 32 in a car accident. Dr. Leila Rahimi Bahmany (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main; author of Mirrors of Entrapment and Emancipation: Forugh Farrokhzad and Sylvia Plath) spoke on the brilliant and troubled poet’s body of work, entrapped in the crossroad of tradition and modernity, with conflicting cultural images of womanhood and motherhood. An audience of 250+ attended this webinar.
“Poetry inserts a fracture, a duality and insanity in the structure of Farrokhzad’s subjectivity, and poetry is the very same space where she confronts her insanity. Farrokhzad textualizes her madness. She addresses it by its name. Through projecting her madness into her text, and thereby exteriorizing it, Farrokhzad ultimately manages to move beyond it through the very act of writing.”
The main part of Dr. Rahimi Bahmani’s talk concerned the following four categories of madness and their manifestations in the poetry of Forough Farrokhzad:
– Love-madness: Personified by Ophelia in “Hamlet” and Majnoon in classical Persian literature.
– Poetic madness: Madness & creativity seem linked, particularly in artists, musicians, writers.
– Mad double: Farrokhzad sometimes refers to herself in the second or third person, the double.
– Madness as a social stigma: Deeming women mad leads naturally to alleging lack of intellect.
I have attended multiple lectures/webinars on Forough Farrokhzad. It seems that every time I listen to or read research reports about Farrokhzad, I learn several new things about this extraordinary, trailblazing poet, who singlehandedly stood against patriarchy and misogyny prevalent in her time, when other women succumbed to social pressures.
The images are screenshots from the webinar, augmented with two photos from an Internet image search.

2021/02/11 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iran's architectural marvels: Feen Garden/Bath-house, Kashan (16th century)February 11 is the UN-designated International Day of Women and Girls in SciencePortraits of Khomein and Khamenei, Islamic Republic of Iran's first and second Supreme Leaders(1) Images of the day: [Left] Iran’s architectural marvels: Feen Garden/Bath-house, Kashan (16th century). [Center] Today is the 2021 International Day of Women and Girls in Science: The United Nations designated this day in 2015 to celebrate the critical role women and girls have in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The day also serves to encourage women and girls to enter STEM-related fields. In a tweet, UN Women thanked in particular those working in the health and social sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. [Right] Today is the 42nd anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution (see the last item below).
(2) China is gaining influence in Latin America: Nearly all countries in the region have signed up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China and Brazil, the region’s largest economy, have $100 billion in bilateral trade.
(3) Quote of the day on spineless, immoral Republican Senators: “I love the fact that the entire moral fate of the country depends on finding just 17 honest Republicans. It’s like some impossible task from a fairytale.” ~ (((Jennifer Mendelsohn))), sharing a text she received from her brother
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Saudis try to rebrand for the Biden era by releasing from jail women’s-rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul.
– How diverse groups, from businesses to labor, formed an ad-hoc coalition to safeguard the 2020 election.
– Pile-up on icy road: Massive crash on Texas interstate highway 35, involving 100 cars, kills at least 5.
– On philosophy: “To do is to be.” ~ Nietzsche | “To be is to do.” ~ Kant | “Do be do be do.” ~ Sinatra
(5) Today’s Google doodle: The image celebrates the talented and prolific Mexican composer Maria Grever, best known in the US for her oft-performed song “What a Difference a Day Makes.”
(6) Fact-checking Islamic Republic of Iran’s founder on this 42nd anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution: IranWire has published a series of reports, each one assessing the extent to which Khomeini and his successor have delivered on their pre-Revolution promises. Spoiler alert: They were all lies!
– We respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
– No more poverty after the Revolution
– We will reverse Shah’s stifling of economic growth
– No more torture after the Revolution
– Laws will protect the rights of women and minorities
Here are a couple more, not discussed by IranWire:
– Clerics will act as observers, not as government officials
– The Islamic economy will be free from corruption

2021/02/10 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The birds of UCSB's North Campus Open Space, photographed early this afternoon: Photo 2The birds of UCSB's North Campus Open Space, photographed early this afternoon: Photo 3The birds of UCSB's North Campus Open Space, photographed early this afternoon: Photo 1(1) Images of the day: The birds of UCSB’s North Campus Open Space, photographed early this afternoon.
(2) Theory vs. practice: In this video montage, Ayatollah Khamenei is shown talking about how “Islamic etiquette” is lacking on social media, where people curse and insult others. Then, he is shown cursing and using vile language in his own speeches!
(3) Cartoon version of a video I had posted before: Recitation of a humorous political poem in Perabic (Persianized Arabic). It would have been rather difficult to understand without the subtitles.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Georgia finds Trump’s comment “I just want to find 11,780 votes” criminal and opens an investigation.
– Fossil fuel subsidies amount to 1/16 of the global GDP, or $5 trillion. [Source: E&T magazine, Nov. 2020]
– You want rib-eye steak? Natural or 3D-printed? Get ready for questions like this at the restaurant!
– Singaporean math professor lectures for 2 hours and is horrified to learn he was muted the whole time!
– This viral image is digital art, not “the clearest picture of the Sun by NASA,” as many have claimed.
– Title song from “Phantom of the Opera”: Sarah Brightman and Antonio Banderas (a surprise for me) sing.
(5) Dealing with sparse data faster and using less energy through in-memory computation: Washington State University researchers have used ReRAM (resistive random-access memory) to avoid memory accesses when multiplying by or adding 0s. In simulation experiments, the new chip design operated three times faster and with 11 times greater energy-efficiency than GPUs.
(6) TurboVax: Difficulties faced by many New Yorkers in securing COVID-19 vaccination appointments has led to do-it-yourself Web sites for aggregating availability data in one convenient place.
(7) A new robbery scheme in Iran (with lessons for us in the West): A group of thieves ring your doorbell, with only one of them appearing in front of the peep-hole or camera. That person calls you by name and indicates that s/he has found some of your documents on the street. If you are naive enough to open the door, the group forces its way in and robs you at gun- or knife-point. Where do they get your name? From lists sold on the black market by Snap (Iran’s version of Uber) drivers or delivery companies.
[P.S.: To make things worse, doorbell security cameras are easily hacked.]
(8) Set up, setup, set-up: Errors such as “I want to setup my app” tick me off. “Setup” (noun) refers to an arrangement, not the act of preparing for something, which is “set up” (phrasal verb). The hyphenated form is sometimes used in lieu of the preferred single word. But there are instances where “set-up” is both clearer and more appropriate, as in “the set-up process.” Other examples in this category include “pickup,” “makeup,” “getaway” (“I want to get away”), and “login” (“my login name” vs. “I have to log in”).

2021/02/09 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
QAnon logo over the Capitol BuildingZoom meeting of Fanni '68 classmates: Alternate-history chart for IranPersian humor: Secret meeting between Putin and Ghalibaf(1) Images of the day: [Left] After four years of demagoguery: A country that prided itself of leadership in science & technology now leads the world in superstition & conspiracy theories! [Center] Zoom meeting of Fanni ’68 classmates: Alternate-history tree (see the last item below). [Right] Persian Humor: Putin and Ghalibaf in a secret meeting. (This is a play on words. “Putin” means “boot”; “Ghalibaf” (name of Iran’s parliament leader, who recently traveled to Russia and was reportedly snubbed by Putin) means “carpet weaver.”)
(2) Will Iranian women be better off if they are allowed to run for presidency? In October 2020, Iran’s Guardian Council reversed course and declared that women will be able to run for presidency in 2021. Some women’s-rights advocates welcomed the change of heart, but is this really an advance?
The reversal gives the Iranian regime a pass with regards to gender equity, without changing anything for women. Iran’s president has essentially devolved into a powerless clerk who must carry out the wishes of the Supreme Leader, and is relentlessly attacked by the country’s government-controlled media for the slightest disagreement with the Leader, so it makes very little difference if the clerk is a man or a woman. The Supreme Leader, who wields the real power, will be a man for eternity.
Candidates for presidency and other elected offices are screened by the all-male Guardian Council, so any woman passing the screening process will certainly not be a champion of women’s rights. There are quite a few “conservative” women in Iran’s parliament and other political centers who endorse wholeheartedly the country’s patriarchal system, and the misogynistic attitudes and laws that hold it up.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– The 2nd impeachment trial of Donald Trump is underway, after clearing the constitutionality hurdle. [Video]
– Only one in twelve citizens of the world live in full-democracies, according to the 2020 Democracy Index.
– Taking a cue from Donald Trump: Kansas City won Super Bowl LV. #StopTheSteal
– Kansas City management to NFL score-keeper: I just want you to find us 23 points!
– Remote learning isn’t new: In the 1937 polio epidemic, radio instruction was tried. [Story]
(4) View from Australia: Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News enabled the lying, corrupt Donald Trump and his loony extreme-right supporters in the US, is doing the same through the lie-spreading Sky News in Australia.
(5) “Mohammad Mosaddeq’s Report Card”: This is the title of a series of presentations by Mr. Mohammad Amini in the Zoom gathering of Tehran University’s College of Engineering Class of 1968 (Fanni ’68). Today’s Zoom session had 46 participants.
In last week’s Part 2 of the discussion, Mr. Amini covered Mosaddeq and the Iranian civil society (his respect for and insistence on the rule of law). This week’s discussion focused on the events leading to Mosaddeq’s ouster as a result of the CIA-backed coup of 1953. This coup is one of the most-extensively debated events in modern Iranian history, with its proponents and opponents engaging in passionate, and sometimes bitter/violent, debate.
Next Tuesday, February 16, the series will conclude with a free discussion on all the topics covered in Parts 1-3.
I asked the following question: Has anyone written fictional or analytical accounts of how Iran’s history would have unfolded had Mosaddeq prevailed over the Shah in 1953 or the Shah had prevailed over Khomeini in 1979? The speaker dismissed this question, but Wikipedia has an article on “Alternate history” (althist), with intriguing examples.
Here is a paragraph from the article, focusing on alternate historical accounts written over the past century:
“A number of alternate history stories and novels appeared in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (see, for example, Charles Petrie’s If: A Jacobite Fantasy [1926]). In 1931, British historian Sir John Squire collected a series of essays from some of the leading historians of the period for his anthology If It Had Happened Otherwise. In this work, scholars from major universities (as well as important non-academic authors) turned their attention to such questions as ‘If the Moors in Spain Had Won’ and ‘If Louis XVI Had Had an Atom of Firmness’. The essays range from serious scholarly efforts to Hendrik Willem van Loon’s fanciful and satiric portrayal of an independent 20th century Dutch city state on the island of Manhattan. Among the authors included were Hilaire Belloc, Andre Maurois, and Winston Churchill.”

2021/02/08 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Heart-shaped printed circuit: University of California loves technology!Perfect example of White Privilege: Cutting off water to a black inmate and providing organic food to a white prisoner (meme)Cover image of Carlo Rovelli's 'The Order of Time'(1) Images of the day: [Left] University of California loves technology! [Center] Perfect example of White Privilege: Cutting off water to a black inmate and providing organic food to a white prisoner arrested for the January 6 DC riot. [Right] Cover image of Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time (see the last item below).
(2) Persian music: Faramarz Aslani collaborates with a group of people young and old, including several celebrities, to perform his signature song “Ageh Yeh Rooz.” [3-minute video]
(3) Himalayan glacier breaks, likely due to climate change: Eighteen confirmed dead and 200+ missing (many of them likely dead) due to the resulting avalanche in India.
(4) Book review: Rovelli, Carlo, The Order of Time, translated from the 2017 Italian original by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre, Riverhead Books, 2018. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I am determined to find out what time is! So, after reading a number of books on the nature of time and our brain’s perception of it, I picked up this book at my daughter’s recommendation! Rovelli’s popular-science writings include his wonderful Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, which garnered in my GoodReads review (rated 5 stars, posted in 2017). He does not disappoint in this concise book. Also, kudos to the translators for creating a highly-readable English edition.
A theoretical physicist known as one of the founders of loop quantum gravity, Rovelli also has deep interests in history and philosophy of science. His clear and scientifically-solid explanations have been likened to those of Stephen Hawking. Rovelli was born in Italy, lives in France, and is a US citizen.
Rovelli has indicated in an interview published in Physics World (2018) that his interest in time arises from the fact that “the basic equations of quantum gravity can be written without a time variable, and I wanted to fully understand what this means.” He then goes on to state that: “Most mistakes about the nature of time, and much of the confusion, come from taking the full package of properties we attribute to time as forming a unique bundle that either is there or not. Now we understand that many properties we attribute to time come from approximations and simplifications.” Rovelli believes that the mysteries of time will not be solved by physicists alone and that neuroscientists will have a part to play.
The book’s title comes from the only surviving fragment of writing by Greek philosopher Anaximander who lived 26 centuries ago: “Things are transformed one into another according to necessity, and render justice to one another according to the order of time.” Everything else we know about Anaximander comes from second-hand accounts of his ideas, including his belief that Earth floated in space. The order of time is what we denote by t in various physical equations, but what does t mean if time passes at different speeds, depending on our position and speed? From this genesis, the book unfolds in three parts.
The first part, entitled “The Crumbling of Time,” covers the more-or-less familiar topics of time dilation, the arrow of time, relativity, synchronization, and Planck time, the smallest-possible length of time, 10^(–44) s. Through this first part, we see our notion of time crumble, like a snowflake that melts in your hand as you study it. We come to understand that “Physics does not describe how things evolve ‘in time’ but how things evolve in their own times, and how ‘times’ evolve relative to each other.” We also learn that heat “traveling” in one direction, from warmer bodies to colder ones, is the only thing that distinguishes the past from the future. All other laws of physics are essentially reversible. In every instance when the past and the future are distinguishable, heat is involved. Clausius quantified this irreversible progress of heat in only one direction as entropy.
In the book’s second part, Rovelli imagines a world without time, a notion entertained by those working on quantum gravity. To begin with, the world is made up of events, not things. Things, as we perceive them, are merely more-durable events. A stone, for example, is a long-lasting event, but it eventually turns into dust. We may ask about where the stone will be next week, but the question doesn’t make sense for a short-lived kiss. A thing is nothing but a complex vibration of quantum fields, a temporary interaction of forces, a process that keeps its shape for a while. Thinking of the world as a collection of events “allows us to better grasp, comprehend, and describe it. It is the only way that is compatible with relativity.”
In the highly-speculative third part, Rovelli wonders about human perception of time-flow in a timeless world, essentially undoing the crumbling act of the first part and suggesting that time is a human-made notion through which we make sense of our world; time does not exist independent of our life experiences. It is our memory that creates time and our time ends when we leave this world. “We see just a tiny window of the vast electromagnetic spectrum. We do not see the atomic structure of matter, nor do we see the curvature of space.” Our vision of the world is blurred, but that’s actually an advantage, not a handicap. We create tools, such as time, to help us survive in the face of uncertainty and incomplete knowledge.

2021/02/07 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Magazine cover: Popular ScienceMagazine cover: TimeMagazine cover: Elle
Magazine cover: Entertainment WeeklyCartoon: On concerts by 1960s rock-n-roll bandsSuper Bowl snacks: Check!(1) Images of the day: [Top row & Bottom left] A few magazine-covers for this week. [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: On concerts by 1960s rock-n-roll bands. [Bottom right] Snacks for Super Bowl LV!
(2) God’s mood has improved substantially: No longer will he kick you out of heaven for eating an apple. Now you can gobble up billions and he won’t mind. At worst, he will kick you out of Iran and into Canada!
(3) Perceptual-shift art: This art installation by Michael Murphy looks like a drawing from a distance, but it is actually composed of 2300 wooden balls of various sizes, hung in front of a blank canvas. Brilliant!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Avalanche kills 4 skiers in Utah’s Salt Lake Valley: Four injured skiers were rescued by helicopter.
– More than $519 Cost to US taxpayers for Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the election result.
– A fraternity at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo was vandalized with swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti.
– Eleven-year-old piano prodigy Davin Ghazavi performes two pieces by Frederic Chopin.
– Memory from Feb. 7, 2018: A lively Irish tune, performed at UCSB Music Bowl during a noon mini-concert.
Two-minute sample from Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film “Dreams,” featuring paintings by Vincent van Gogh.
(5) The two Alis: Ali Khamenei and Ali Ansarian, one is Iran’s Supreme Leader and benefits from the most-advanced health care in a fully-equipped private clinic within his residence and has likely already received two doses of a Western vaccine; the other was an ordinary citizen, a soccer star, who died of COVID-19 due to a ban on importing Western vaccines. Ordinary mortals are advised to use the healing powers of dead imams or superstitious alternative remedies such as violet oil or camel urine, while clerics and regime officials frequent clinics in Europe for the most basic care. [Facebook post, in Persian]
(6) A few black-cat analogies (from Wikipedia):
– Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat.
– Metaphysics is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there.
– Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there, and shouting “I found it!”
– Science is like being in a dark room looking for a black cat while using a flashlight.
(7) “Jews and the American West: Violence, Race, and Masculinity”: This webinar about American Jewish history (Monday, February 22, 2021, 12:00 PM) brings together David S. Koffman (York U.), author of The Jews’ Indian, and Sarah Imhoff (Indiana U.), author of Masculinity and the Making of American Judaism.
(8) One hundred Kurdish activists have been arrested in Iran: Among them is the 17-year-old poet from Marivan, Arezoo Mostafaei. [Masih Alinejad’s tweet, in Persian] [#Free100KurdishActivists]
(9) A first at the Super Bowl: The one-sided 31-9 victory of Tampa Bay over KC was watchable, but not fun. However, Amanda Gorman’s poetry recitation in honor of front-line healthcare workers, 25,000 of whom were in the stands, thanks to NFL paying for their trips, was magnificent!

2021/02/06 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
International combo meal: Pasta, salad, and barbari breadCover image of Newsweek magazineHuge mug provides my daily exercise as I lift it repeatedly to sip tea or coffee
Flyer for Panel 2 on 'Why Women Write'Screenshot from a dance video shown during Panel 2 on 'Why Women Write'Iran's architecture: The Borujerdi House is a historic-house/museum in Kashan, Iran(1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] Food and drink: The international combo meal consists of pasta, salad, and Iranian-style barbari bread. The large green mug, shown for comparison alongside a venti Starbucks mug, is part of the birthday gifts I received from my children. Lifting it many times during the day to sip tea or coffee provides my daily exercise! [Top center] Cover image of Newsweek magazine. [Bottom left & center] Panel 2 on “Why Women Write” (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Iran’s architecture: The Borujerdi House is a historic-house/museum in Kashan, Iran. It was built in 1857 by architect Ustad Ali Maryam for the bride of Borujerdi, a wealthy merchant. The bride came from the affluent Tabatabaei family, for whom the architect had built the nearby Tabatabaei House several years earlier.
(2) Quote of the day: “Thank you.” ~ Two-word response from Screen Actors Guild to Donald Trump’s letter of resignation ahead of a disciplinary hearing over his role in the January 6, 2021, DC riot
(3) “Why Women Write” (Panel 2): Hosted by PhD scholars Nasim Basiri (Oregon State U.) and Ozlem Has (U. Copenhagen), this second event in the series featured five participants. [Panel 1: Recording; My FB post]
As in the first panel, I was awestruck by the depth and passion with which the panelists expressed their thoughts and experiences. In my notes, I was able to capture only some of the poignant observations from each panelist, which I share with you in the following. Fortunately, the event has been recorded and the full 2-hour session is available on-line. [Panel 2: Recording; Event page; My FB post; My tweet]
Neeti Singh (mystic, poet, researcher, translator): Dr. N. Singh (PhD in English, classical vocalist) is an Associate Professor of English with The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Gujarat, India, according to her LinkedIn page. Dr. N. Singh was brought up in a culture where good women were quiet women, the quieter the better. Her latest books include a translation (The Punjabi, Sufi and Udhrite Semiotic of Baba Bulleh Shah’s Verse) and a book about a woman sold into a brothel at a very young age, luckily escaping with help from a client (Peero: Maverick Bhakta and First Woman Poet of Punjab).
Katia D. Ulysse (fiction writer, educator): We learn from Ms. Ulysse’s Web site that she didn’t speak English when she left Haiti and came to the US. She loves Maya Angelou’s quote, “There’s no greater agony than bearing within you an untold story.” Ms. Ulysse shared the results of her own inquiry from other women writers about why they write. She quoted from the many eloquent responses she received. One thread through the responses was survival and maintenance of the sisterhood.
Savita Singh (political theorist, feminist poet): Dr. S. Singh (PhD 1990, McGill U.) is a Professor at Delhi’s School of Gender and Development, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Delhi, according to her on-line resume. She lectured at UCSB in 2019. She maintains that women write, because we wonder about ourselves from an early age. Writing opens women up to others, in defiance to patriarchy, which wants to keep them hidden. Dr. S. Singh’s writings are political. They are not meant to be personally liberating, but liberating for all women. Her first important poem was a feminist manifesto entitled “Whose Woman Am I?”. In the course of her presentation, Dr. S. Singh read her poem entitled “Unattended Things.”
Nasrin Parvaz (author in exile): According to Ms. Parvaz’s Web site, her women’s-rights activism in Iran led to her arrest and a death sentence in 1982 (later commuted to a 10-year prison term). She fled Iran in 1993 and sought asylum in England. In prison, Ms. Parvaz communicated with other women prisoners via secret letters, which if discovered, would have led to severe punishment in the form of additional torture. She tried to publish her memoir, but publishers dismissed it as “unrelatable” for Western readers. Women throughout the world take care of too many other people to attend to their own ambitions and needs. The publishing world is male-dominated and women have a hard time making headway. A current project of Ms. Parvaz is trying to save the lives of 16 young men sentenced to death for political activism in Iran.
Saghi Ghahraman (poet in exile): A graduate of University of Tabriz, Iran, Ms. Ghahraman is based in Toronto, Canada, according to her LinkedIn page. Her interview as a gay activist got the Iranian paper Shargh banned in 2007. She was raised to become a writer, her parents never mentioning any other calling. Women with non-traditional gender identities are condemned for skirting social roles and wifely duties. She has received many threats from the Iranian community throughout the world, which consider her identity and activism shameful. One of the screenshots included in this post is from a dance based on a poem by Ms. Ghahraman.
During the Q&A segment of the panel, each participant was asked to read selections from her poetry or writings. Here is a question of mine (typed as a comment on the Facebook Live page, which apparently went unnoticed): I am interested in knowing how being involved in formal education (as in university level) changes the experience and activities of a writer. In other words, does the responsibility of teaching the younger generation place constraints on what you can and cannot do as a poet/writer?

2021/02/05 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Underage street vendor in Iran, trying to keep warmCartoon: The modern-day Insolventian Man is no Vitruvian Man!Veresk railroad bridge in northern Iran
(1) Images of the day: [Top left] A child street-vendor in Iran trying to keep warm, as she awaits customers: An oil-rich Islamic Republic going on its 43rd year of existence, with its officials living in mansions and luxury condo-towers, has not been able to ensure that its children go to school, rather than be forced to peddle on the city streets to help their families survive. Eternal shame on Khamenei and his highly inept and corrupt cronies! [Top center] You have heard of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, his concept of the ideal human-body proportions: Here is the modern-day Insolventian Man! [Top right] Veresk railroad bridge in northern Iran: Designed and built in 1934-1935 by Italians, the masonry-arch bridge is part of the south-north trans-Iranian railway connecting the Persian-Gulf port Bandar-e Shahpour (now Bandar-e Emam Khomeini) to the Caspian-Sea port Bandar-e Shah (now Bandar-e Torkaman). [Bottom row] A few magazine covers this week.
(2) Attributed to Plato: If someone’s love is in your heart, don’t take it too seriously, as the heart’s function is to love, like the eye’s function is to see. If you ever love someone with your mind, you have found true love.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– The most-damning Trump tweet about the DC riot of January 6, sent after the Capitol siege.
– President Biden recommends that former President Trump not receive classified briefings.
– Christopher Plummer, classically-trained actor who also did the musical “The Sound of Music,” dead at 91.
– Student tries to contact his on-line instructor via e-mail, only to discover he has been dead since 2019.
– Neural Networks: A 19-minute intro to one of the most-popular tools/algorithms for machine learning.
– A 2000-year-old Buddhist religious/educational site discovered under a cattle-grazing plot in Pakistan.
(4) Robo-race-car crash blamed on NaN: In the IEEE Floating-Point Standard, NaN (short for “not a number”) is used as a special code when a computation produces an unrepresentable result or as a stand-in for an unknown value. Floating-point computation errors have been known to lead to problems, including the explosion of an Ariane 5 rocket in 1996, but this appears to be the first such incident blamed on NaNs.
(5) Gender Gap in STEM: Much has been written about the STEM gender gap, its causes, and remedies. A just-published article based on a Spanish study focuses on young girls’ self-perception and test-anxiety in math. Until families equip girls to be self-confident and free from belief in gender stereotypes, the substantial gap in STEM achievement and skills will remain a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Ayuso, N., et al., “Gender Gap in STEM: A Cross-Sectional Study of Primary School Students’ Self-Perception and Test Anxiety in Mathematics,” IEEE Trans. Education, Vol. 64, No. 1, pp. 40-49, February 2021. [Image]

2021/02/04 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Last year, Franklin Graham, who worshipped a foul-mouthed, 'pussy-grabbing' President, was 'offended by Super Bowl's halftime show, featuring J. Lo and ShakiraPhoto posted by Nyshawana Francis-Thompson, Ed.D., of her daughter joining Madam VP Harris during her swearing-in ceremonySpring is already in the air: Wednesday, February 3, afternoon in Goleta's Camino Real Commercial Center(1) Images of the day: [Left] Last year, Franklin Graham, who worshipped a foul-mouthed, ‘pussy-grabbing’ President, was “offended” by Super Bowl’s halftime show, performed by two talented & energetic middle-aged Latina moms. Nary a word, though, about scantily-clad, young, white cheerleaders who perform at virtually every football game! [Center] Little girl inspired: Photo posted on LinkedIn by Nyshawana Francis-Thompson, Ed.D., of her daughter joining Madam VP Kamala Harris during her swearing-in ceremony. [Right] Spring is already in the air: Wed. afternoon, February 3, in Goleta’s “New Town” (Camino Real Commercial Center).
(2) Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering: The 2021 edition of the Prize has been awarded to UCSB’s Shuji Nakamura and other scientists/engineers responsible for the development of LED lighting.
(3) Today Facebook turns 17: The social-media company has more than 9000 patents that helped create its targeted content and thus the fake-news and echo-chamber problems. Recent patents acquired by Facebook are aimed at rectifying these problems. [Source: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of February 2021]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– On its 17th birthday, Facebook has a lot to celebrate and much to worry about. [Newsweek chart]
– Smartmatic USA joins Dominion in suing Trump lawyers and cronies for baseless election-fraud claims.
– Conservatives are back at the drawing board, trying to figure out how they were taken for a ride by Trump.
– Health-care workers’ parallel pandemic: As vaccinations ramp up, many on the frontlines burn out! [NYT]
– QOP or GOPQ: Fitting new names for the US Republican Party. [Credit: CNN’s Don Lemon]
– What would you do if you found a crocodile swimming in your pool? [5-minute video]
– Persian music: Pop singer Viguen in his youth, when movies and lip-syncing were still in primitive forms.
(5) Persian warrior women: The new “Wonder Woman” films, one taking place in Europe during WWI and one 70 years later in Washington DC, have their roots in the Amazons of 2000 years ago, who maintained an idyllic all-female existence in the area now known as Turkey. Warrior women existed in many ancient cultures, including Greek, Egyptian, and Persian empires. The word “Amazon” is believed to have Persian roots.
(6) Film and TV awards are likely not front and center for most of us right now: But the Golden Globes are around the corner (February 28) and the Oscars aren’t far behind (April 25).
(7) Women’s Day in Iran: The Islamic Republic of Iran has ignored March 8 (Int’l Women’s Day) and has instead promoted Fatima’s birthday as an Islamic Women’s/Mothers’ Day. Fatima does not represent modern, liberated women. She is a symbol of the oppressed and of child marriage. [Facebook post, in Persian]
(8) Teen’s tribute to loved ones killed by COVID-19: Sixteen-year-old Hannah Ernst drew a portrait of her grandfather, which went viral, generating requests for her to draw other people who were lost to the virus.

2021/02/02 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Life is so unfair ...Iranians' attitude toward religion, death penalty, etc.Screenshot from today's Zoom discussion on Mohammad Mosaddeq's report card(1) Images of the day: [Left] Cartoon of the day: Life is so unfair … [Center] Iranians’ attitudes toward religion, death penalty, etc.: I found the data about religion surprising. About 1/3 of Iranians self-identify as Shi’ite Muslims. [Right] Zoom discussion on “Mohammad Mosaddeq’s Report Card” (see the last item below).
(2) Math puzzles: I previously introduced a puzzle asking for the construction of the shortest network of walkways to connect four houses located at the vertices of a square. We need to be able to walk from any house to any other house, but the walking distance is unimportant. Repeat the puzzle with five houses located at the vertices of a regular pentagon. Then do it with six houses located at the vertices of a regular hexagon. [These and similar problems are discussed in an article by Puzzle-master Martin J. Gardner et al.]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Two FBI agents killed and three injured when serving a child-pornography warrant in South Florida.
– Good news for Iran: The journal Lancet reports that the Russian COVID-19 vaccine is 91.6% effective.
– Unusual discovery: Purple-colored wool fabric dating back to 1000 BCE unearthed in Israel.
– About time: Disney to remove colonialist depiction of indigenous Africans in its Jungle-Cruise ride.
– Old Persian poem by humorist Hadi Khorsandi, for the anniversary of Khomeini’s return to Iran. [Image]
(4) “Mohammad Mosaddeq’s Report Card”: This is the title of a series of presentations by Mr. Mohammad Amini in the Zoom gathering of Tehran University’s College of Engineering Class of 1968 (Fanni ’68). Today’s Zoom session had 47 participants.
In last week’s Part 1 of the discussion, Mr. Amini covered the nationalization of Iran’s oil Industry.
Recording of last week’s session (Video, passcode = ?hq4Jy$S).
Last week’s Facebook post, for details and sources.
This week’s discussion focused on Mosaddeq and Iranian civil society, that is, his respect for and insistence on the rule of law. Laws in Iran have seldom been honored. This is quite evident in the case of the current regime, which doesn’t even follow the laws of its own making! Even the Constitutional Revolution failed to make the king or his appointees respect laws. The 27-month term of Mosaddeq as PM was a rare exception. Not one newspaper was closed or censored by Mosaddeq’s administration. The century-old civic entity in Iran, the Iranian Bar Association, assumed independence from the government under Mosaddeq.
Next Tuesday, February 9, the discussion will turn to events leading to the 1953 CIA coup, with the series concluding on 2/16 with a free discussion on all the topics covered in Parts 1-3.
Mr. Mohammad Amini teaches on-line classes about Iran’s modern history on Sundays 1:00 PM PST. Much of what he teaches is available on-line via YouTube and Ketab Corporation’s Web site.

2021/02/01 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCLA panel discussion on 'Socio-Economic Development Strategies and Challenges in Iran': mapUCLA panel discussion on 'Socio-Economic Development Strategies and Challenges in Iran': flyerUCLA panel discussion on 'Socio-Economic Development Strategies and Challenges in Iran': book(1) Today’s event in the UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran: In a panel discussion on “Socio-Economic Development Strategies and Challenges in Iran,” diverse views from an urban planner, an international studies expert, and a sociologist were brought to bear. The organizer of the lecture series, Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, introduced the panelists briefly, before handing the control over to panelist/moderator Dr. Kevan Harris.
Dr. Azam Khatam (The City Institute, York U.) spoke about her experience on governing Tehran through speculative real-estate Market. She noted that more than 80% of residential units in Tehran have been built over the past 3.5 decades (since 1986). In the 50-year period 1966-2016, Tehran’s population grew more than threefold, from 2.7M to 8.7M, while the built-up area increased fivefold, from 140 to 700 km^2, much of the new development coming in the northern and western parts of the city. Municipalities were required to self-rule fiscally, so laws and regulations were relaxed to allow income-generating development. The result was a predictably chaotic expansion.
Dr. Kaveh Ehsani (International Studies, DePaul U.) focused on large-scale projects that are typically imposed on localities by central planners, often with good intentions, but without integrating views from local stakeholders. An example of such disastrous plans was the Khuzestan sugar-cane agri-business, which was ill-suited to local resources and land-use patterns. Infrastructure projects can be quite transformative, but they often do not deliver what they promise. Put another way, the planning theories learned in the West by some of the Iranian regime’s technocrats do not translate to viable development plans, with failure often blamed on ungrateful and “backward” critics.
Dr. Kevan Harris (Sociology, UCLA) began by citing results from a 2016 Iran social survey, which was administered through phone interviews in Persian, Turkish, and Kurdish languages, with the aim of accurate categorization of various ethnicities, going beyond naive clustering by language or other pre-conceived notions. Open-ended questions allowed self-identification with multiple ethnic groups. This kind of self-identification had been lacking in previous surveys across MENA and the Caucasus. Whereas more than 3/4 of the respondents specified an ethnic category in response to an open-ended question, the rest replied with “I don’t know.” Detailed reports and methods can be found at kevanharris.com/publications.
(2) The Republicans are divided: One group wants to accept Biden’s election win, and work to make him a failed one-term President. A larger group wants to overturn the election results (as in Myanmar) and bring Trump back to the White House.
(3) Disputing an electoral victory: Aung San Suu Kyi detained as the military seizes control in Myanmar.
(4) How language and grammar get in the way of deep thinking: Languages are wonderful tools for informal communication among humans. But human languages were developed when we knew little about the universe and its laws. Take the words “past,” “present,” and “future,” for instance. These three notions and their clear separations, came about before we knew about Einstein’s idea that there is no objective universal present. Special relativity tells us that my present may be your past and someone else’s future. Likewise, philosophical discussions are sometimes doomed by our inability to formulate precise ideas with fuzzy linguistic tools.

2021/01/31 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Two math puzzles that ask about the shortest road between two cities near a riverPersian poetry: Selected verses from a beautiful Hafez ghazalLiterary puzzles: Identify the first halves of these second half-verses(1) Images of the day: [Left] Math puzzles: Consider two cities near a straight-line river of constant width 50 meters. In Puzzle 1, the two cities are on the same side of the river and we want to build the shortest road between them that passes by the river. In Puzzle 2, the two cities are on opposite sides of the river and we want to build the shortest road between them that includes a 50-meter bridge over the river. [Center] Persian poetry: Selected verses from a beautiful Hafez ghazal. [Right] Persian poetry (literary puzzles): These are second halves of verses by Iranian poets that have assumed the status of maxims/proverbs. Can you supply the first half and identify the poet in each case?
(2) The politicization of CEOs: “For decades, American CEOs studiously avoided wading into controversial issues of the day. There was no possible upside, only risk. But the apolitical CEO is one of the many norms shattered by President Donald Trump. The 45th President has made it acceptable—and now necessary—for corporate leaders to be more outspoken.” ~ Eben Shapiro, writing in Time magazine, issue of Feb. 1 & 8, 2021
(3) Where’s Mike Pence? Trump insurrectionists wanted to hang him and put a bullet through Nancy Pelosi’s head. Pence went to Trump and kissed up to him, before disappearing somewhere in Indiana.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s wife has made a movie about a greedy hedge-fund manager!
– Amassing biological data: BGI doing COVID-19 tests on DNA samples is sending genetic data to China.
– I really care, don’t U? Dr. Jill Biden to play a role in reuniting separated immigrant kids with their parents.
– Sound advice: If you love to hear birds sing, do not put a cage inside your house, plant a tree outside.
(5) Short memory: All the Senators calling for bipartisanship now were unilaterally killing the proposals for COVID-19 relief, when they held the majority just two weeks ago!
(6) Trump’s legal team disintegrates: In a serious case of disagreement over whether to use the defense that it is illegal to convict a President when he is no longer in office or hang on to the discredited election-fraud claims, nearly all attorneys who were to represent Trump in his second impeachment trial have left his legal team.
(7) Book introduction: Shahin of Shiraz: Jewish Sufi Poet of the Time of Hafiz describes the life and works of a contemporary of Hafiz and other great Persian poets of the early-to-mid-1300s. He wrote masnavis (a type of long, romantic/spiritual epic poetry) in Persian, but used the Hebrew script. [Front & back covers]
(8) Math puzzle: I previously posed a puzzle involving the construction of paths with minimal total length to connect four houses located on the vertices of a square. Now, do the puzzle for five houses at the vertices of a regular pentagon. Repeat for a hexagon and six houses. [Reference]

2021/01/30 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Magazine covers this week: NewsweekMagazine covers this week: TimeMagazine covers this week: People
Taliban: The US was negotiating with this kind of barbaric and misogynistic extremists in Afghanistan under Trump.Cartoon: Robin Hood asks for money back from the poor, because the rich are really getting pissed offA small family gathering at my mom's, for an early birthday celebration(1) Images of the day: [Top left and center] Newsweek and Time feature President Joe Biden and his agenda on their covers this week. [Top right] Many Iranians believe that all misfortunes are due to British conspiracies: It seems that mandatory hijab is one such conspiracy! [Bottom left] The US was negotiating with this kind of barbaric and misogynistic extremists in Afghanistan under Trump. [Bottom center] Robin Hood, to the poor who received money from him: “Look, I’m going to have to ask for the money back—the rich are really getting pissed off.” [Bottom right] A small family gathering at my mom’s, for an early birthday celebration.
(2) Iranian activists are roughed up and get old in prisons: Saba Kord Afshari, 20, who is serving a 24-year sentence, was recently beaten and transferred to a prison, where she is kept with violent criminals.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Former KGB agent claims that USSR/Russia cultivated Trump as an asset for 40 years.
– Major collapse closes CA Hwy 1 near Big Sur: This scenic stretch of road does not seem to be sustainable.
– Trevor Noah and his guest explain to ordinary folk what happened in the stock market with GameStop.
– Clever designs: A dining set that doesn’t take up much space when not in use. [Photos]
(4) “Why Women Write”: This was the title of a 2-hour panel discussion this morning, hosted by PhD scholars Ozlem Has (U. Copenhagen) and Nasim Basiri (Oregon State U.) and featuring five panelists with diverse backgrounds and experiences.
I watched the panel on Facebook Live for the most part and found the experience much more enjoyable than watching via Zoom. Near the end of the session, I went to Zoom for offering a comment and participating in the discussion. I was awestruck by the depth and passion with which the panelists expressed their thoughts and experiences. Much of what was shared was eye-opening for me, despite my background and longstanding interest in feminist causes. In my notes, I was able to capture only some of the poignant observations from each panelist, which I share with you in the following. Fortunately, the full 2-hour event has been recorded.
Anjali Purohit (artist, poet, writer, curator): For ages, Indian women were not educated, but this doesn’t mean they did not write. They “wrote” through songs and story-telling. In the context of the Indian culture, many women are isolated at home, and “writing” constitutes a way for them to connect with the world in general, and with other women in particular. On her Web site, Ms. Purohit characterizes her work as “quiet and ruminative, … about life, human character, circumstance and relationships that often pass beyond the well defined into intangible realms. Much of her work (both in her writing and her art) is obsessed with a longstanding but fatal love affair she has had with her city that often breaks her heart.”
Jasmin Darznik (NYT best-selling author and literature teacher for 12 years): I write because I must. It’s a matter of survival. I come from a family of “characters,” so reading and, later, writing shaped and defined my life. Even now that their writings have taken the archival form, as opposed to songs and oral tales, women writers are still ignored and their works do not receive due respect. Dysfunctional narratives are those which are difficult to ignore, yet one cannot do an adequate job of describing them, so they are written about repeatedly. As someone coming from an Iranian background, I found our history filled with dysfunctional narratives that compel us to write. A good example is the tragic and mysterious death of the legendary poet Forough Farrokhzad, the subject of my book, Song of a Captive Bird: A Novel.
Nooshan Shekarabi (poet): I am a poet by accident; my background is in political science, the subject of much of my early writings and my current line of work. I began by journaling, because, as a young person, I lacked self-confidence and felt that no one would be interested in my thoughts. Writing is the best way of expressing love (for oneself or others), feelings, and anxieties, without being judged, at least in the first draft! Because I teach political science, over the past four years, I’ve had to hold my tongue a lot, so writing provides a space where I can express myself freely. Here is Ms. Shekarabi’s Web page at Santiago Canyon College.
Usha Akela (author): Do women write for reasons different than men, and do they write differently from men? As a women poet, I know that it is important for me to name my experience (confessional, more than autobiographical) and share my stories. Writing is my way of breathing. Ms. Akela, author of three books of poetry (some samples), ended her presentation by reading a poem, “She is Speaking,” she dedicated to Kamala Harris. Ms. Akela’s next book will be a collection of poems about “Women’s Role in Patriarchy.” Ms. Akela’s thoughts and works are featured on her Facebook page, with all of the posts being public.
Shokufeh Kavani (translator, visual artist): In the post-revolutionary Iran, one had to obtain many books through the black market, as quite a few books were prohibited. As a woman, I had to deal with compulsory hijab laws and with my opinions being dismissed by men in power. When I heard/read female voices, from noteworthy poets and writers, it shaped my perspective and work. I lived for a while as a student in southern Iran, where people are quite conservative, yet the area has a very high rate of incest! Despite strict censorship, sometimes things fall through the cracks and books like Shahrnush Parsipur’s Women Without Men: A Novella, viewed as scandalous by the male guard, get published. Here is Ms. Kavani’s Wikipedia page.
Q&A period: A question that was addressed at the end is whether it is appropriate to call a woman poet a “poetess.” Most of the panelists who commented had no problem with the term, emphasizing that coming to terms with one’s own identity and ideas is more important than the term used. I tend to think that using terms such as “poetess” and “actress” is harmful. Afterall, we don’t speak of “technicianesses,” “teacheresses,” and “doctoresses,” given that men and women technicians, teachers, and doctors perform the same work! Why make an exception for a few lines of work?

2021/01/29 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Persian cuisine: Tah-dig (crispy rice) with ghormeh-sabzi stewDonald Knuth, on the need for a change on how computer science history is reportedT-shirt message reading: 'Science: Because figuring things out is better than making stuff up'(1) Images of the day: [Left] Persian cuisine: Having seen and been impressed by her brother’s tah-dig (crispy rice) creation, my daughter decided to submit her own entry in the family tag-dig competition. [Center] Donald Knuth, on the need for a change on how computer science history is reported (see the next item below). [Right] Science: Because figuring things out is better than making stuff up.
(2) We need better historical accounts in computer science: In a now-classic 2014 lecture, leading computer scientist Donald Knuth complained that computer science historians do a disservice to the discipline by omitting technical details from their stories. He praised math historians for their dedication to including formulas and other technical matter in their writings. In its February 2021 issue, Communications of the ACM has reprinted a summary of that talk to re-open the discussion of this important topic.
(3) Conspiracy theories: Iranians see the hands of the British behind every misfortune. Now, right-wing Americans are trying to beat Iranians to become the kings of conspiracy theorists!
(4) Science and scientists will be leading the way again, not anti-science conspiracy theorists: “Science will always guide my administration.” ~ Tweet by US President Joe Biden
(5) “Namaaz” or “Niaaz” (the story of a popular Persian song): The late Shah’s secret police reportedly summoned those involved in producing the song “Namaaz” (daily prayers) and ordered them to change the lyrics, because likening the beloved to Islamic prayers had offended the clerics in Qom. Not everyone agreed with the mandated change of “Namaaz” to “Niaaz” (need, craving), but the change was made and the song began a second parallel path to fame.
(6) Math puzzle: Four cities are located at the corners of a square with side length of d miles. How should we connect the four cities with a network of roads, such that the total length of the roads, and thus construction cost, is minimized, while allowing us to go from any city to any other city (travel distance is unimportant).
(7) Automation in action: The new parking system at UCSB requires temporary-permit buyers to enter a license-plate number. The parking attendant then simply drives by parked cars, aiming a camera at them, instead of having to get out of his/her cart to inspect the displayed permits one vehicle at a time.
(8) Summary of a cybersecurity bulletin from University of California administration: In a momentous week in cybersecurity, international law enforcement officials took down two significant criminal enterprises: the Emotet botnet and the NetWalker ransomware ring. Emotet had more than a million PCs harnessed for malicious purposes, and Netwalker extorted more than $27 million from its victims, including the University of California.
Cyberspace is safer, but Netwalker represented only a small part of the active ransomware threat, and other botnets grow daily. Vigilance against phishing and regular backups are the best defenses against an increasingly sophisticated threat.

2021/01/28 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Engineering marvels in Iran: 5000 years of taming water, wind, earth, and fireCartoon: Trump entertaining friends at Mar-a-LagoCover image of Ali M. Ansari's 'Iran, Islam, and Democracy'(1) Images of the day: [Left] Engineering marvels in Iran: 5000 years of taming water, wind, earth, and fire (3-minute teaser, narrated in English; 28-minute low-quality videos, Part 1 and Part 2, narrated in Persian). [Center] New Yorker cartoon: Trump entertaining friends at Mar-a-Lago. [Right] Professor Ali M. Ansari’s talk about his book, Iran, Islam, and Democracy: The Politics of Managing Change (see the last item below).
(2) Institutionalized sexism in Hollywood: Actress Carey Mulligan is alarmed by a major publication’s review of her new film, “Promising Young Woman,” which questions whether she was attractive enough for the role.
(3) Welfare for ordinary people, bad; corporate welfare, good: To protect wealthy hedge funds from losing money on short positions targeting companies on the verge of failure, trading restrictions were put in place for the little guys, whose stock purchases had caused a sharp rise in stock prices. So, little investors trying to make money according to established rules of trading are being penalized to protect big money. Shameful!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– USA is catching up with the rest of the world, where networks of right-wing extremists have been growing.
– Republicans moved to post-Trump era for a week, before getting scared and rushing back to the Godfather.
– We got rid of the anti-education Betsy DeVos: Now, GOP gives the QAnon Rep. a seat on education panel!
– An organizer of the “Stop the Steal” rally with ties to Trump arrested for his role in the January 6 DC riot.
(5) Book talk: Professor Ali M. Ansari (U. St. Andrews) spoke this morning under the title “Iran, Islam, and Democracy: The Politics of Managing Change” based on the 2019 third edition of his book bearing the same title. Professor Ansari maintains that the founder of the Islamic Republic was really Rafsanjani, not Khomeini. The Islamic Revolution changed much less in Iran than the Constitutional Revolution. Rafsanjani ensured that the mercantile class continued to amass capital and dominate the power structure. At first, the prime-minister position was eliminated to give the president more power. Later, power moved almost entirely to the Supreme Leader, with the president given even less authority than a PM. I tend to agree with the centrality of Rafsanjani, given that he was the main reason of Khamenei rising to the Supreme-Leader position. Ironically, Khamenei was quick in sidelining his former ally and, eventually, removing him from all positions of power.
I asked the following question: You mentioned that the position of president was first given more power, later becoming even less than a PM. What do you think of the recent calls for making the president still less influential: Some clerics are calling for a young revolutionary being put in that position to essentially serve as a clerk who carries out the Supreme Leader’s directives.
The response to my question was only partial: One idea being floated by conservatives is to eliminate the position of the president altogether and establish a parliamentary system much like Britain’s. The Parliament would then elect a PM who would act much like an executive officer.

2021/01/27 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day: Let's remember the atrocities and renew our 'never again' pledge!Colorful flowers, shot during my long walk in Goleta yesterdayProtest sign: 'The rise of women does not mean the fall of men
Cover image of the February 2021 issue of 'Communications of the ACM'Math puzzle that involves dividing a circular disk into sections with straight linesFine example of Europe's historical architecture: Schwerin Castle in Germany, completed in 1857(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day: Let’s remember the atrocities and renew our “never again” pledge! This UN-designated day commemorates the genocide that led to the death of 6 million Jews, 1 million Gypsies, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. [Top center] Photos from my long walk yesterday, taking advantage of the last sunny day in Santa Barbara before 3-4 days of heavy rain. [Top right] Encountered this photo among my memories from the 2017 Women’s March and decided to share it as an apt reminder. [Bottom left] Cover image of the February 2021 issue of CACM (see the last item below). [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Consider 2 points on the perimeter of a circular disk and connect them together, thus forming 2 regions within the disk. Now take 3 points and connect them pairwise, to get 4 regions. With 4 points, we get 8 regions. With 5 points, 16 regions. How many regions will we get with 6 points? (Answer) [Bottom right] Fine example of Europe’s historical architecture: Schwerin Castle in Germany, completed in 1857.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Let’s recognize that hate never disappears. It changes form and may go into hiding for a while.
– Only in the US Senate can a trial take place with co-conspirators of the accused being part of the jury.
– Things are beginning to move on the climate front: The US Federal Reserve creates a climate committee.
– Second Capitol police officer commits suicide in the aftermath of the January 6 DC riot.
– One more Bernie meme, good for a smile: Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens … Bernie in mittens
– Memory from January 27, 2016 [Video]: I miss UCSB’s Wed. 12:00-1:00 PM musical mini-concerts!
(3) The changing nature of citations: Citations in current academic literature are like references to a point in space: A particular journal, article, section, page. The on-line version of such a reference is a URL. However, unlike print literature, on-line documents tend to change over time, sometimes disappearing altogether. Authors have developed the habit of mentioning the date on which the on-line document was accessed, so if the document contains a “last-modified” date within it, the reader can tell whether or not it’s the same version that was cited. This is a coarse binary mechanism. In his February 2021 column in Communications of the ACM, Vint Cerf floats the idea of adding a time dimension to on-line references, suggesting that documents be organized and stored in a way that any of their past versions can be reconstructed by taking the current version along with a record of edits. This is an idea worth pursuing.
(4) Noteworthy content from Communications of the ACM, February 2021 issue:
– Let’s not dumb down the history of computer science: Donald Knuth’s suggestion that historians of computer science follow math historians and include a lot more technical detail in their writings. [Interview]
– AZERTY is a layout for French keyboards, which has only recently been standardized: Previous designs varied and did not include important symbols needed for writing in French. [4-minute video intro]
– A review of the semantic web field: Brief video introduction to the timely survey/tutorial article.

2021/01/26 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of the Persian-language book 'Sowdaagari baa Taarikh'Cover image of the Persian-language book 'Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq: Aasib-Shanasi-ye Yek Shekast'Iran's regional fashions: Woman and girl from Lahijan, Guilan Province(1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Persian-language books chosen for discussion with my old classmates (see the last item below). [Right] Iran’s regional fashions: Woman and girl from Lahijan, Guilan Province.
(2) Book talk: Professor Abbas Amanat (Yale U.) will speak on Sat., March 13, 2021, 2:00 PM PST, under the title “Kings and Clerics in Modern Iranian Society” (Sponsored by USC’s Iranian Studies Initiative). [Register]
(3) Book talk: Professor Ali Ansari (U. St. Andrews) will speak on Thursday, January 28, 2021, 10:00 AM PST, under the title “Iran, Islam, and Democracy: The Politics of Managing Change.” [Info]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– SCOTUS dismisses emoluments lawsuits against Trump: Another case of different laws for the powerful!
– Dominion Voting Systems sues Rudy Giuliani, seeking $1.3 billion over false election fraud claims.
– Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene supported the assassination of top Democrats on social media.
– Californians flee en-masse, as heavy rains threaten them with flash-floods and mudslides.
(5) Book interview: Author Lisa Selin Davis talked about her first non-fiction book, Tomboy: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different, in a program sponsored by The Friends of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior at UCLA. The book is a tour-de-force of gender roles, gender stereotyping, and difficulties faced by girls who don’t quite fit the “model” most people have of girls and girly behavior. This “virtual book launch” provides much useful information about the book and the author.
(6) “Mohammad Mossadeq’s Report Card”: This is the title of a series of presentations by Mr. Mohammad Amini in the Zoom gathering of Tehran University’s College of Engineering Class of 1968 (Fanni ’68). With 50 participants, today’s meeting was the most popular among the ones I have attended.
Discussion on the brief 27-month term of Mosaddeq as Iran’s prime-minister is based on the first book below, which is a response to the second book, purporting to analyze the reasons for PM Mohammad Mosaddeq’s failure as a political leader. Items [3] and [4], distributed to meeting attendees a day before the event, contain additional pertinent information. The additional reference Khaab-e Ashofteh-ye Naft (Vol. 2, by Mohammad Ali Movahhed) was recommended by the speaker.
The discussion will be conducted in three parts:
Week 1. Nationalization of Iran’s oil industry (today)
Week 2. Mosaddeq and Iran’s civil society (Tuesday 2/02)
Week 3. Events leading to 1953 CIA coup (Tuesday 2/09)
A free-discussion session spanning all the topics above is planned for Tuesday 2/16.
[1] Amini, Mohammad, Sowdaagari baa Taarikh (Deception with History), Ketab Corp., 2012.
[2] Mirfetros, Ali, Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq: Aasib-Shanasi-ye Yek Shekast (Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq: Pathology of a Failure), Ketab Corp., 2008. [Preface & contents]
[3] Amini, Mohammad, “Striving to Right Some Wrongs” (in Persian).
[4] Amini, Mohammad, “The 1953 Coup, According to Its Organizers” (in Persian).

2021/01/25 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
ForWomen were front and center at the Biden/Harris inaugurationMeme about celebrating the life of baseball legend Hank Aaron
Yesterday's walk on the beach: Batch 1 of photosPuzzle about putting a band around the EarthYesterday's walk on the beach: Batch 2 of photos(1) Images of the day: [Top left] For hard-core Sudoku fans: Five overlapping puzzles. [Top center] Women were front and center at the Biden/Harris inauguration. [Top right] We just celebrated the life of baseball legend Hank Aaron: Let us remember that he paid a high price for his greatness, facing terror and hate, both when he broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record and when he backed Obama. [Bottom left & right] Yesterday’s walk on the beach: Rocks exposed during super-low tide on UCSB West Campus Beach. A couple of small caves under the bluffs on the Isla Vista Beach. Surfers enjoying the windy conditions. Seabirds feasting on creatures left on shore by the super-low tide. [Bottom center] Math puzzle: Consider the Earth to be a perfect sphere. We put a band around the Equator, then remove the band, add 10 meters to its length and put it around the Earth again, ensuring that the band stays the same distance from the Earth’s surface everywhere. What is that distance? Now, if we pull the elongated band in one direction, so that it touches the Earth’s surface everywhere, except near the point A where it is being pulled, what is the distance of A from Earth?
(2) As Dr. Deborah Birx goes on her redemption tour, claiming that she constantly entertained the idea of resigning, let’s not forget how she praised Trump’s leadership and his ability to interpret/integrate data.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Trump will likely find that courts and creditors will be much harsher on him that his political opponents.
– COVID-19 cases surge among Capitol police officers and National Guard members on duty in DC.
– Trump campaign funded the DC rally that sparked the Capitol riot to the tune of $2.7 million.
– US military gets a black eye: Nearly 1 in 5 charged in the Capitol riot are current or former soldiers.
– Biden moving forward with plans, shelved by Trump, to place an image of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.
– Memory from January 25, 2015: Good old days, before family gatherings became Zoom events. [Photo]
(4) Book, book talk, and book review: I previously posted about Dr. John Ghazvinian’s talk on his new book, America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present (see my 1/21 blog entry). Publication of Dr. Abbas Milani’s review of the book in New York Times prompted this trilingual Facebook post by a friend living in Mexico.
(5) Math puzzle: We have two large barrels, one containing wine and the other water. We take a cup of wine and put it in the barrel holding water. Next, we take a cup of the mixed liquid and put it back in the wine barrel. Which barrel contains more impurity (more of the other liquid)?
(6) Toward a Digital Bill of Rights: Professor Ramesh Srinivasan (UCLA) leads a discussion, sponsored by UCSB’s Center for Information Technology and Society. The Zoom meeting was held on Jan. 7, 2021.

2021/01/24 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of Elizabeth Gilbert's 'City of Girls'Cover image of Gina Rippon's 'Gender and Our Brain'Cover image of Dan Brown's 'Origin'(1) Book review: Gilbert, Elizabeth, City of Girls: A Novel, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Blair Brown, Penguin Audio, 2019. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I have previously read and reviewed two books by Elizabeth Gilbert: The Signature of All Things (5 stars) and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (4 stars). Gilbert’s character development in City of Girls isn’t as good as in Signature of All Things. The fictional story begins in the late-1930s New York City and proceeds to include the start and end of World War II and beyond. Intermixing real events with the fictional narrative constitutes part of the book’s charm.
The narrative consists of 90-something, self-centered, entitled, Vassar-dropout Vivien Morris telling her life story to Angela, the daughter of one of her great loves, presumably to provide her with a picture of how her father lived, but including little about his life! Vivien is at the center of the narrative throughout the book!
The story begins in Vivien’s late teens, when she moves to NYC and, without much delay, begins having sex with young and old men, while using her sewing skills to prepare or repair costumes for a run-down, low-budget theater company, specializing in stereotypical plays that feature dancers and showgirls, without significant storylines. The theater’s owner is an aunt, who acts as Vivien’s caretaker.
The first part of the book, describing Vivien in her 20s, is quite detailed in its description of theater life in, and other aspects of, NYC and, later, her sexual episodes with servicemen passing through. In a way, Vivien is ahead of her time, living the sexual liberation of the 1960s during 1940s. Vivien leaves NYC following a sexual scandal and later returns to run a bridal boutique.
Reviews of this novel on Amazon.com are mixed, with 1- and 2-star reviews deeming the novel poorly-written and a waste of time, alongside a larger number of 5-star reviews characterizing it as fun, delicious, and captivating. I find myself somewhere in between these two extremes, perhaps because I began listening to the audiobook with much-higher hopes.
(2) Book review: Rippon, Gina, Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds, unabridged audiobook, read by Hannah Curtis, Random House Audio, 2019.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Men and women have male and female bodies, but the physical differences do not mean that they have different brains as well. For decades, scientists used the weight/size differences between male and female brains to argue about gender-related differences in mental abilities, extrapolating from the smaller brain sizes in other mammals relative to humans.
Rippon, Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Neuroimaging at Aston University, makes a compelling case that any gender-related brain differences result from social constructs and ingrained beliefs about gender roles, beginning with toy choices and continuing on to career paths, not due to a fixed biological blueprint.
A famous neuroscience experiment showed that the brains of London taxi drivers exhibited differences with other people’s brains, because their job entailed memorizing massive amounts of information about roads and neighborhoods. Similar variations can be caused by years of gender-stereotypical activity and social-messaging about what men and women can or cannot do. It is hard to believe that such stereotypes persist, as women enter many different professions and win Nobel Prizes!
Decades ago, scientists believed that human brain is developed in childhood and becomes fixed for life before adulthood. Now, we know that brain continues to evolve and re-wire itself according to our experiences. With either theory, there is no surprise that female brain develops differently, both as a result of stereotyping in rearing & education (what Rippon calls “pinkification”) and because of societal pressures on adhering to stereotypical gender roles later on.
When it comes to the brain, size matters much less than wiring. If physical size mattered, then, at 2/3 the size of men’s, the pumping ability of women’s hearts would have been woefully deficient. Yet we know that women actually live longer than men! In ages when societal leadership required physical strength, men naturally held an advantage, hence the emergence of patriarchy. Now, leadership requires brains, not muscles, so thinking of women as inferior in mental capacities is particularly dangerous. Even the belief, turned into conventional wisdom, that in early human societies, men hunted and women stayed in the caves, is being questioned by the discovery of skeletons of women hunters.
According to Rippon, “We find that from an early age babies are searching for social messages in the outside world. If these junior ‘gender detectives’ are exposed to messages that, for example, boys play with Lego and are good at science and systems, whereas girls want to be princesses and are good at caring and empathy, then this can divert their developing brains down different pathways, arriving at different educational, occupational and social destinations.”
So, to recap, male and female brains are different, but almost all of the difference can be traced to social conditioning that takes our brains along different developmental paths, in the same way that the brains of London taxi drivers develop differently because of the kinds of information they have to store and process. Case closed, thanks to Professor Gina Rippon!
(3) Book review: Brown, Dan, Origin: A Novel, unabridged audiobook, read by Paul Michael, Random House Audio, 2017. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This novel is the fifth in Dan Brown’s “Robert Langdon” Series, beginning with Angels & Demons, and continuing with Da Vinci Code (his most-famous), The Lost Symbol, and Inferno. Christianity and history are the main themes in these books. The sixth novel may appear soon, given the four-year spacing of the titles in the series since 2000!
Langdon, a professor of symbology at Harvard University, is good as solving puzzles and deciphering codes, an ability that features prominently in Brown’s novels. Actor Tom Hanks, who played Langdon in three movies, is indelibly linked with the protagonist in Brown’s novels. Somehow, a beautiful woman is always part of the plot, with events putting Langdon and the woman in a position to flee evil characters and solving the mystery at the last possible moment!
Origin links a scientist/futurist/atheist, Edmond Kirsch, with Spain’s royal family, an aging monarch, his charismatic heir Julian (engaged to stunningly beautiful Ambra Vidal), and Bishop Antonio Valdespino. Kirsch starts to reveal a truth he has discovered about the origin and destiny of humans that would make world religions obsolete. Religious leaders are understandably not pleased, a fact that creates the tensions and conflicts forming the novel’s plot.
I find Brown’s writing in this novel quite absorbing and references to history and culture informative. The story unfolds mostly in Spain, so asides about Barcelona’s architectural marvels, particularly the works of Antonio Gaudi (such as La Sagrada Familia temple and Casa Mila), are everywhere. Equally prevalent are high-tech themes: An AI assistant (Winston), virtual reality, quantum computing, and a Tesla self-driving car.
Reviews of Brown’s latest novel are mostly positive, although some critics have characterized the writing and plot devices as tired and the story-telling as less than engaging. I for one enjoyed the book and recommend it to mystery fans.

2021/01/23 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Another Goleta restaurant bites the dust: Beachside Bar-Cafe, on the sand beach next to Goleta Pier, has closed permanentlyColoring activity: The bull has left the China shop!Shrif University of Technology Association's Zoom talk by Dr. Cumrun Vafa(1) Images of the day: [Left] Another Goleta restaurant bites the dust: Beachside Bar-Cafe, on the sand beach next to Goleta Pier, has closed permanently. Located within walking distance of campus, it was one of the most-scenic local restaurants and a favorite spot for us to entertain UCSB visitors. [Center] Coloring activity: The bull has left the China shop! [Right] Sharif Univ. of Technology Association’s Zoom talk (see the last item below).
(2) The worst-ever President on trial: Trump may again escape punishment by the US Senate, with help from his cronies who find it hard to admit their own guilt, but the rioters he threw under the bus to save himself are pointing fingers at him in their criminal proceedings.
(3) We need more “losers” like Bernie Sanders: He puts his meme on $45 sweatshirts, which sell out quickly. He then donates the entire proceeds to Meals on Wheels. Hats off to you, Sir!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Twitter suspends Ayatollah Khamenei’s account after he posted threats of assassination against Trump.
– UC as an engine of growth: Univ. of California generates $82 billion in economic output for California.
– Dr. Ahamad Karimi-Hakkak’s Persian translation of Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb.”
– These are a few of my favorite memes: “The Sound of Music” meets Bernie Sanders!
– A short history of frozen desserts: The famous Akbar Mashti ice cream, featuring rose-water and saffron.
– Iranian music and architecture: Entry gates to buildings, old and new. -minute video]
(5) Larry King is live no more: The famous interviewer, dead in Los Angeles at 87, talked to nearly every noteworthy celebrity. His own life was very colorful, having married eight times (to seven women), undergoing quintuple bypass surgery, being convicted of fraud, and admitting to never preparing for his interviews (including not reading books by authors he talked to).
(6) SUTA Zoom technical talk: Dr. Cumrun Vafa (string-theorist, Harvard U. Physics Department) presented an engaging talk under the title “Puzzles to Unravel the Universe,” based on his 2020 book of the same title, which emerged from a puzzle-based course he has been teaching at Harvard. The book’s Persian translation will soon be made available in Iran free of charge.
Dr. Vafa posed a sequence of very interesting puzzle-like problems that help us understand the universe and its physical laws. The problems illustrated symmetry and symmetry-breaking, conservation laws, the power of continuity, unreasonable power of simple mathematics, power of mathematical abstraction, and duality.
This 59-minute YouTube video contains the same ideas presented in today’s lecture. I will pose some of the puzzles over the next few days, giving credit in each case to Dr. Vafa.
I end this report with a puzzle. True of false: Around any circle on Earth (such as the Equator), where the temperature varies, we can always find two diametrically opposite points with the same temperature.

2021/01/22 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Wednesday 1/20 afternoon, on the majestic Elwood bluffs in Santa Barbara: Photo 3Wednesday 1/20 afternoon, on the majestic Elwood bluffs in Santa Barbara: Photo 2Wednesday 1/20 afternoon, on the majestic Elwood bluffs in Santa Barbara: Photo 4
Vice-President Kamala Harris on the cover of VoguePhoto of a tea-house in the Iran of 1971, the day before the Ali-Frazier boxing matchMeme: Quote from imprisoned Iranian human-rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh, on absence of justice(1) Images of the day: [Top row] Wednesday 1/20 afternoon, on the majestic Elwood bluffs in Santa Barbara. [Bottom left] Pretty faces get magazine covers, but in today’s America, accomplished women can also get them. [Bottom center] Photo of a tea-house in the Iran of 1971: The sign on the wall reads: “Tomorrow at 5:00 AM, kalleh-pacheh (lamb head and hoof soup); 6:00 AM, boxing match between Muhammad Ali Clay and Joe Frazier; Free tea & hookah if Muhammad Ali wins.” [Bottom right] Quote from imprisoned Iranian human-rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh: “In Iran we are always prisoners. You might think I’m exaggerating but when our main concern is the absence of justice in our socity, being imprisoned or not does not make any difference.”
(2) The Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump is really a trial of the Republican Party: Trump himself is much less relevant today. The outcome of the trial will show whether Republicans still view their party as Trump’s party, showing no remorse over their support of Trump’s carnage.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– In his final days as President, Trump and a Justice Department lawyer plotted to oust acting AG.
– “What Were We Thinking?”: NPR podcast featuring Carlos Lozada discussin the legacy of the Trump era.
– Monuments and historical statues/paintings say goodbye and good riddance! [2-minute video]
– Ban Iran’s Supreme Leader from Twitter: He tweets, while preventing 83 million Iranians from doing so!
– Environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s parting shot, as Trump leaves the White House for the last time.
– Persian music: A spirited instrumental version of Naser Cheshmazar’s “Hamzaboonam Bash.” [Video]
(4) UCSB scientists detect J0313-1806, the furthest quasar discovered to date: A supermassive black hole, millions to billions of times the size of our Sun, is at the center of every galaxy. Some of these black holes are particularly active, whipping up stars, dust, and gas into glowing accretion disks emitting powerful radiation into the cosmos, as they gobble up matter around them. The sheer size of quasars makes them the most-distant observable objects. J0313-1808 was formed less than 700 million years after the Big Bang.
(5) UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran: “Socio-Economic Development Strategies and Challenges in Iran,” a Zoom panel discussion, in English, featuring Azam Khatam (York U.), Kaveh Ehsani (DePaul U.), and Kevan Harris (UCLA), Monday, February 1, 2021, 3:00-5:00 PM PST. [Register]
(6) Book interview: Lisa Selin Davis will talk about her first non-fiction book, Tomboy: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different. Tuesday, January 26, 2022, 5:00-6:15 PM PST. [Register]
(7) “Why Women Write”: This is the title of a panel discussion, hosted by PhD scholars Ozlem Has (U. Copenhagen) and Nasim Basiri (Oregon State U) and featuring Anjali Purohit (artist, poet, writer, curator), Jasmin Darznik (NYT best-selling author), Nooshan Shekarabi (poet), Usha Akela (author), and Shokufeh Kavani (translator, visual artist). Saturday, January 30, 2021, 9:00-11:30 AM PST.

2021/01/21 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Nurses: Angels that save lives on a daily basisA quick method to solve quadratic equationsA very alive man, posing in front of a billboard that honors him as a martyr of the Iran-Iraq war
Gravity energy storage: Alternatives to batteries for energy storage are being tried by many start-upsToday's Stanford University book talkBiden, shown behind his Oval Office desk, after inauguration ceremonies(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Angels, saving lives on a daily basis: Thank you. [Top center] A quick method to solve quadratic equations: Given the equation x^2 – 2bx + c, we need to find two numbers that add to 2b and whose product is c. Let’s call the two numbers b – u and b + u. We must have (b + u)(b – u) = b^2 – u^2 = c, leading to u = sqrt(b^2 – c). [Top right] The living martyr: London based Iraj Zarei travels to Iran and finds out that he is commemorated as a martyr of the Iran-Iraq war on a billboard! [Bottom left] Gravity energy storage: Alternatives to batteries for energy storage are being tried by many start-ups. This 110-meter-high, six-armed crane in Switzerland is intended to demonstrate that renewable energy can be stored by raising heavy weights and dispatched by releasing them. (Credit: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of January 2021) [Bottom center] Today’s Stanford University book talk (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Biden began work yesterday on his agenda of restoring Americans’ and world’s confidence in the US government.
(2) Iranian-born scholar Kaveh Afrasiabi arrested: He is accused of being an unregistered Iranian agent who was paid to lobby US lawmakers and write newspaper columns favorable to the Islamic regime.
(3) Book talk: “America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present” was the title of today’s 10:00 AM PST talk by Dr. John Ghazvinian (U. Penn), based on his 2021 book of the same title. The talk was perhaps the most enlightening book talk I have ever attended.
We are so consumed by questions about what went wrong between Iran and the US (CIA’s 1953 coup; Iranian extremists’ 1979 hostage-taking), that we fail to ask the question of what went right in the first place, before the tensions over the past seven decades. If we go back to the 1720s, we note that there were many mentions of Persia in American newspapers. A sizable fraction of contents in the newspapers of the early 1700s was about Iran.
The US was overwhelmingly pro-Persia, as Persia faced regional conflicts. The conflict with Afghanistan was, mistakenly, viewed as the work of the Ottoman Empire, both countries being Sunni Muslim. At the time, the Ottoman Empire was threatening Europe. It was the classic case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” mindset. The US viewed the conflict not as one between two sects of Islam, but as Muslims vs. Persians. It helped that Persia was described in glowing terms in the Bible.
The very first Christian missionary to go to Iran described it as Edenic. Later, as Russia and Britain began interfering in Persia’s affairs, it was natural for Iran to look to America for support. So, Persia viewed America as a better version of the imperialistic Europe and America viewed Iran as a better version of a threatening Islam!
When America looked at the Middle East in the 1970s, it saw Arab countries, inflicted with extremism, and the seemingly-insoluble Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and just beyond them, this peaceful paradise called Iran! Earlier, in trade/navigation negotiations of the 1850s, Iran demanded protection from the US (against Britain and Russia, that were increasingly cooperating against Persia) as a pre-condition.
The legitimacy of Iranian rulers after the Islamic Revolution rested in great part on their anti-Americanism. However, the revolutionary fervor was already weakening within a decade, but the US essentially shot itself in the foot by not taking advantage of rapprochement possibilities, pursuing idealistic policies instead.
Well, now that Arabs and Israelis are seemingly uniting against Iran, perhaps Iran might again be motivated to approach the US for protection. Don’t hold your breath, though!
I asked two questions:
– It seems that the “idealistic” characterization of each side by the other is still prevalent between the people, though not between the governments. Do you agree? Dr. Ghazvinian answered yes-and-no. In each country, people who oppose their government’s policies are very likely to have a positive view of the other country, and just the opposite for government cronies.
– Wasn’t one the most-important incentives for the US to support Iran the Soviet plan to gain access to southern oceans via Iran or at least building an oil pipeline to the south? This question went unanswered due to time running out.

2021/01/20 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The US Capitol building on inauguration dayIn lieu of a huge crowd, the DC National Mall was filled with 200,000 US, state, and territory flagsThe Biden/Harris team at Lincolm Memorial, commemorating the 400,000 victims of COVID-19
Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and their spouses at the Capitol for inaugurationInauguration stage at the US CapitolTrump leaving the White House for the last time
Lady Gaga greets former President Obama at the 2021 inaugurationAmanda Gorman, the youngest poet-laureate ever at a presidential inaugurationBernie Sanders at inauguration carrying a mysterious envolope(1) Turning the page at the end of a horror-filled chapter in US history: The Biden/Harris inauguration was non-traditional in many respects. In lieu of a huge crowd, the DC National Mall was filled with 200,000 US, state, and territory flags. On the eve of their inauguration, the Biden/Harris team commemorated the 400,000 US deaths from COVID-19 at Lincoln Memorial. Yet, Biden’s and Harris’s messages in their inaugural speeches represented a return to normalcy, respect for traditions, and governing as servants, not as masters. Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet-laureate ever, was very impressive, but there are some lingering questions. Did Mike Pence close his eyes during Lady Gaga’s performance? Did Bernie Sanders make it to the post office?
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Twenty-two-year-old Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s stirring inauguration poem. [6-minute video]
– There is a new @WhiteHouse Twitter account: The previous administration’s archived as @WhiteHouse45.
– We remember the 400,000 US deaths from COVID-19, at least half of which were preventable.
– Mexico is reportedly worried, because it has just a few hours to pay for the wall!
– We ordered Indian food last night in honor of the incoming Vice-President Kamala Harris! [Photo]
– Kurdish music: Kurds are fond of dancing and much of their music has a lively dance beat. [Video]
(3) This evening’s IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Dr. Misha Sra (John and Eileen Gerngross Assistant Professor, Computer Science Department, UCSB) spoke under the title “Perceptual Engineering.”
Perceptual (or perception) engineering encompasses:
– Technology development motivated by models of perception and cognition of biological systems.
– Technology development for analysis and understanding of human perception/cognition processes.
The web digitized information while social media digitized people and relationships. Technology and global events are now transforming not only the nature of work but also where it is done and when. We are likely to continue living in both our physical and digital worlds (even more so because of COVID-19) leading to the question: how can both worlds become more integrated to help shape our future hybrid lives? Dr. Sra presented work from her Perceptual Engineering lab that explores how we might design our hybrid lives with spatial computing technologies, sensor data, and AI algorithms.
Like any area of advanced technology, ethical challenges loom around every corner on Dr. Sra’s work. For example, deep-fake videos enabled by research in perceptual engineering are seen as inherently evil, because we have seen them used maliciously. However, there are a large number of benevolent uses for the same technology, and perception manipulation more generally (say, in education), that Dr. Sra outlined in her talk. Ethical considerations of this line of research tie nicely into topics discussed in our December 2020 talk by Dr. Jessica Santana.
A lively Q&A period followed, during which issues such as requirements for experimenting with human subjects, the “arms race” between faking schemes and the corresponding detection algorithms, the Turing test, and living in the Matrix were raised.
[Images] [Speaker’s home page] [IEEE CCS event page] [IEEE CCS Technical Talks page]

2021/01/18 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme: Quotation 1 from Dr. Martin Luther KingImages about Martin Luther King Jr. DayMeme: Quotation 1 from Dr. Martin Luther King
View of Zayandeh-Rud River from the special Royal Arch of Esfahan's Khaju BridgeAyatollah Khamenei's handwritten reply to a follower, inquiring about Baha'isCover image of Juhood academic journal, published by Duke University(1) Images of the day: [Top row] Happy MLK Day! Let us celebrate the fact that our difficult transition from darkness to light nearly coincides with the day we remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the man who constantly preached love and non-violence. [Bottom left] Iran’s architecture: View of Zayandeh-Rud River from the special Royal Arch of Esfahan’s Khaju Bridge. [Bottom center] Brain diarrhea from the leader of 80 million Iranians: Ayatollah Khamenei’s handwritten reply to a follower, advising him/her that Baha’is are filthy, devious, unscrupulous, and corrupt and that the devout should avoid any contact with them. [Bottom right] Cover image of Juhood academic journal, published by Duke University (see the last item below).
(2) Data scientist Rebekah Jones arrested: She’s accused of illegally accessing private data. She claims she is targeted because she refused to falsify data to show that Florida is ready for lifting COVID-19 restrictions.
(3) Ari Melber’s special report on Trump’s many calls for violence, way before he was elected in 2016 and repeatedly since then: You can’t forego justice for illegal acts, calling instead for unity.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– On his final two days, our President worries about issues that are important to you and me … Not!
– Trump to fly to Florida on Air Force One after an 8:00 AM ceremony on Wednesday, January 20.
– Video footage from inside the US Capitol insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021: “Deplorables” is too mild a term!
– Political humor: Arrested January 6 rioters have been told that their legal fees will be paid by Mexico!
– Perfect use of coronavirus relief funds: Sizable loans totaling more than $850K to five anti-vaccine groups!
– Angelique Kidjo’s song honoring Nasrin Sotoudeh will compete for an Oscar in the original-song category.
– The “Coup 53” documentary, which was shelved for 4 months due to legal challenges, is available again.
– Some say soccer (football) is for men: Celine Dept demonstrates why they are so very wrong!
(5) “Antifa led the Capitol insurrection” didn’t stick, because of all the video evidence and confessions: Now, Trumpists allege that Democrats paid the rioters to make Trump look bad!
(6) An unfortunate name for an academic journal: Duke University’s Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs is named “Juhood.” The journal explains its name thus: Juhood is the namesake of an Arabic word meaning “make every conceivable effort; to do one’s utmost.” The word is from the same root as “jihad,” which would have been a more appropriate name for the journal, but was perhaps skipped over, owing to its negative connotation in the West. Looking at the journal’s cover was a jarring experience for me: The word “Juhood” is an offensive Persian term for “Jew,” bearing the same connotation as the now-admonished “Nigger” in English. The composite form “Juhood-koshi” (literally “Jew-killing”) is comparable to lynching. I hope the journal’s founders consider changing its name, given that it is aimed at a region of the world that includes Iran and other Persian-speaking communities.

2021/01/17 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Comparing three Presidents with regard to fitness: 44Comparing three Presidents with regard to fitness: 45Comparing three Presidents with regard to fitness: 46
Adam Jentleson, interviewed about his bookCover image of Adam Jentleson's book, 'Kill Switch'Heather McGhee, interviewing Adam Jentleson about his book(1) Images of the day: [Top row] Comparing three Presidents with regard to fitness: The significant external differences between 45 and his predecessor & successor are far less than internal ones, in domains such as mental acuity, literacy, compassion, and respectability! (P.S.: I couldn’t find a photo of Trump in water or biking, for better comparison.) [Bottom row] Book interview (see the last item below).
(2) People making millions a year are mad about the proposal to allow some folk earn ~ $31K/yr, if they take no time off whatsoever ($15/hour minimum wage x 40 hours/week x 52 weeks/year).
(3) Meme from Trumpists: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” ~ Jonathan Swift [Meme, in Persian]
Question: Can we use the same quote about Obama or Biden? Please advise!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– A look at what happened during the siege of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. [“60 Minutes” report]
– Talk about impeachment, and the Far-Right points to the need for unity. Here’s how they’re unifying us!
– Quote: “Some people are like photographs: the more you blow them up the fuzzier they get.” ~ Anonymous
– Millions of Evangelicals prayed for Trump’s electoral victory: I guess God isn’t very pleased with them!
(5) Until a few days ago, my hope was that the Biden/Harris team would unite the country: Now I see nothing among Trump supporters and most Republicans that I would want to unite with!
(6) Iranian regional music from the Caspian coast: Performance to honor prolific author/translator/activist Mahmoud Etemadzadeh [1915-2006], aka M. E. Beh-Azin, on his birthday. [7-minute video]
(7) Book interview: Adam Jentleson’s Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy discusses, among other things, how the filibuster began as a tool of Southern Senators upholding slavery, later becoming a mechanism to block civil-rights legislation. Of course, the structure of the Senate, giving the same representation to smaller slave-holding states as populous northern states, held the beginnings of this undemocratic process.
Dr. Heather McGhee, herself an author (Sum of Us) and political commentator, interviewed Jentleson.
Most people don’t know that fillibuster is a relatively recent development. For most of its life, the Senate has been governed by majority rule. Reforming the Senate by removing its current super-majority rule is a prerequisite to all other reforms. [NPR podcast about the book]

2021/01/16 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon from this week's Santa Barbara Independent: 'Don't shoot if you see the white of their skin'T-shirt for those who trust in science: F Au C I (Fluorine, Gold, Carbon, Iodine)Webinar on history of Iranian women's poetry(1) Images of the day: [Left] Cartoon from S. B. Independent. [Center] T-shirt for those who trust in science: F Au C I (Fluorine, Gold, Carbon, Iodine). [Right] Webinar on Iranian women’s poetry (see the last item below).
(2) Zoom event on “Violence and Society”: This morning’s interesting panel, moderated by PhD scholars Ozlem Has and Nasim Basiri, featured Parthasarathi Muthukaruppan (Ass’t Prof. of Cultural Studies, EFL), Fred Petrosian (journalist/researcher), and Junaid Ahmad (Director, Center for Islam and Decoloniality). [Report]
(3) Farhang Foundation Persian-poetry event: Bearing the title “Attar: The Unending Thirst,” this morning’s free live event featured Sholeh Wolpe (author of The Conference of the Birds), Fahad Siadat, and Andre Megerdichian. A recording of the event will become available on farhang.org/attar. [Report]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Colleges rescind honorary degrees they awarded to Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani.
– Military veterans are helping in the DC clean-up effort, after the January 6, 2021, riot.
– Bill Maher makes Kellyanne Conway uncomfortable by listing insults that Trump has hurled at him.
– Foreign companies are using preferential electricity rates in Iran to run bitcoin farms, causing blackouts.
(5) A History of Iranian Women’s Poetry: Dr. Rohangiz (Ruhangiz) Karachi, Emerita Professor of Persian literature, presented an engrossing review of 1000 years of women contributing to Persian poetry, despite facing obstacles, being ignored, suffering insults, and enduring ridicule. Around 110 viewers participated in this webinar, sponsored by University of Toronto on Friday, January 15, 2021.
Dr. Karachi is a researcher of Persian literature and is also an influential poet. She has published one poetry collection, with the second volume expected soon. During the Q&A period, Dr. Karachi mentioned that she has not included poems for children or song lyrics in the scope of her historical work.
The written history of Iranian literature includes sparse mention of the best women poets, whereas mediocre male poets are routinely included. Over the centuries, women’s poetry has gone through many phases, beginning with love poems and moving increasingly toward social and political issues of the day.
During Iran’s constitutional revolution, issues of gender equity were raised and poems assumed social and cultural tones. However, equity remained at the level of talk, with discriminatory laws continued to be passed. Dr. Karachi maintains that Forough Farrokhzad is perhaps the best woman poet of all time.
One attendee objected to separate studies and discussion of women’s poetry, asserting that poetry is poetry and should not be divided into men’s and women’s genres. In the Q&A period, I pointed out that this view is misguided, much like what we are facing in the US, where talking about the problems and rights of blacks and colored people raises the objection that we are all humans and there is no need to raise divisive issues; yes, we are all humans, but we can’t erase the effects of 400 years of oppression and mistreatment by simply declaring that “all lives matter.”

2021/01/15 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Tonight's sunset, shot from UCSB's North Campus Open Space: Batch 1 of photosTonight's sunset, shot from UCSB's North Campus Open Space: Batch 3 of photosTonight's sunset, shot from UCSB's North Campus Open Space: Batch 2 of photos(1) Tonight’s sunset, shot from UCSB’s North Campus Open Space: The combination of orange sky and its reflection in water is magical at sunset.
(2) This former Evangelical Christian has a point: Our problem is religious fanaticism, not political extremism. Without support from Evangelicals, who want to build a Christian version of Iran, Trump couldn’t do much.
(3) Right-wing activists received large bitcoin payments from a foreign account a month before the capitol riot: Twenty-two virtual wallets received $0.5M worth of bitcoin transfers on December 8, 2020.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– On Trump being depicted by some Capitol rioters as Captain America. [Jake Tapper tweet]
– Please explain why during the DC riot, the President wasn’t evacuated to a secure location but the VP was.
– Borowitz Report (humor): Major spray-tan corporations break ties with Trump.
– Is anyone really surprised that Donald Trump tried to force himself on America after she said no?
– Obituary of Sensei Steven Ken Ota [1948-2020] in Santa Barbara Independent. [Link]
– Having fun with music: Dancing violin maestros play “Salsa de la Luna.”
– Persian poetry: Recitation of a poem by Mahdi Hakimi in praise of the city and people of Yazd, Iran.
(5) Stanford U. publishes a new constitution for transition to a democratic Iran, written by Mohammad Reza Shajarian and others. Many have criticized using the late maestro’s popularity to sell a half-baked document that leaves a lot of things unspecified or puts lipstick on existing pigs. [24-page document, in Persian]
(6) Book talk: “America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present” is the title of a talk by Dr. John Ghazvinian (U. Penn), based on his 2021 book by the same title. Thursday, January 21, 2021, 10:00 AM PST.
(7) The need for men’s participation in combatting violence against women: Panel discussion, in Persian, featuring Shahin Navaie, Elaheh Amani, Shahrzad Roshdi, and Behrang Zandi. [85-minute video]
(8) Jared Kushner & Ivanka Trump wouldn’t let the Secret Service use any one of their six bathrooms, so the Secret Service had to rent a nearby apartment at $3000/mo just for the bathrooms.
(9) Why we can’t go back in time: Frenchman Lazare Carnot had a passion for the great Persian poet Sa’adi Shirazi. He named his son after the poet. Sadi Carnot wrote a misguided treatise on how steam engines worked, committing many basic errors, but getting the essential fact right that the source of energy is a drop in temperature (much like falling-water produces energy). The fact that heat “travels” in one direction, from warmer bodies to colder ones, is the only thing that distinguishes the past from the future. All other laws of physics are essentially reversible. In every instance when the past and the future are distinguishable, heat is involved. Clausius quantified this irreversible progress of heat in only one direction as entropy. [Ideas from Carlo Rovelli’s wonderful book, The Order of Time, which I will review here shortly.]

2021/01/14 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: 'This is not who we are'Cover image of the book 'Then the Fish Swallowed Him'My profile on IEEE Computer Society's Distinguished Visitors Program Web site(1) Images of the day: [Left] New Yorker cartoon: “This is not who we are.” [Center] Talk by Amir Ahmadi Arian (see the last item below). [Right] For IEEE entities interested in having invited speakers, with their travel expenses paid by IEEE Computer Society: Here is my profile and list of lectures within IEEE Computer Society’s Distinguished Visitors Program. Three lectures are listed for now, but I may add more later.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Right-wing activists received large bitcoin payments from a foreign account a month before the capitol riot.
– Trump takes his frustrations out on Rudi Giuliani and refuses to pay him for his legal work.
– Different lessons can be drawn from an experience: Be like a needy crippled fox or a generous mighty lion.
– Persian/Azeri song, fused with Arabic-style dancing. [3-minute video]
(3) Highlights from today’s meeting of UCSB Faculty Legislature:
– Governor proposes a 3.9% increase to UC budget, with the expectation that resident tuition/fees remain flat.
– Campus COVID-19 free testing programs are in place and vaccination on healthcare workers has begun.
– UCSB’s response team is being led by Stuart Feinstein (MCDB) and Laura Polito, MD.
– SB County has reduced the priority vaccination age from 75 to 65, but vaccine availability is a different story.
– UCSB has lost two staff members, but no faculty members that we know of, to COVID-19.
– UC and Cal State campuses expect to return to in-person instruction in fall 2021.
– Our WASC accreditation will run out in 2023, and preparations to have it renewed are beginning.
– Proposal for a bioengineering PhD program (with possible future formation of an academic unit) approved.
(4) Book talk: In today’s Stanford University webinar, Amir Ahmadi Arian discussed the back-story of his first novel in English, Then the Fish Swallowed Him (HarperCollins, 2020). The critically-acclaimed author’s novel is about a disturbing, yet interdependent, relationship between an apolitical bus driver, who suddenly becomes an activist, and his interrogator at the notorious Evin Prison. The story’s idea was born in 2004, when Tehran bus drivers went on strike and the city came to a standstill. The protagonist, Yunus, is put in jail and the bulk of the story happens in the Evin Prison.
Examining “prison novels,” Ahmadi Arian realized that there wasn’t much about the experience of solitary confinement, perhaps because the isolated environment doesn’t provide much to write about. So, he talked to a few friends who had been kept in solitary confinement and realized that the relationship of the prisoner with their interrogators is the only thing that happens and one can write about (besides self-reflection and self-blame). Many prisoners found it difficult to talk about their experiences, but about half-dozen did, giving the author a window into their experiences.
Prison stories that deal with an interrogator character tend to present him as pure evil, and the author wanted to transcend this good-evil dichotomy. So, he focused on the system of interrogation, which is a kind of bureaucracy, with a hierarchy of interrogators and many internal rules, so that if you remove one interrogator and replace him with another, very little changes.
The title’s “the Fish Swallowed Him” results from comparing the protagonist to Yunus the Prophet, with the belly of the fish/whale being the prison system and solitary confinement.

2021/01/13 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Surfing on Goleta's Coal Oil Point Sand Beach: Monday, January 11, 2021.Bazaar spice shop in Tabriz, IranSunset on Goleta's Coal Oil Point Sand Beach: Monday, January 11, 2021.(1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Surf and sunset on Goleta’s Coal Oil Point Sand Beach: Photographed on Monday, January 11, 2021. [Center] Bazaar spice shop in Tabriz, Iran.
(2) Citing the First Amendment, the Liar-in-Chief and his enablers cry foul over social-media bans: The US Constitution’s First Amendment says nothing about your right to advance conspiracy theories and have them published or spread. Its full text follows. It only says that laws curtailing free speech should not be passed (it’s about Congress and not citizens or private companies).
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” [Image]
(3) Trump has been impeached for the second time: After all their tough talk about law & order and being outraged by the mob attack on the US Capitol, only 10 Republicans voted for impeachment!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Congresswoman Sherrill reports colleagues to cops, because they led rioters on Jan. 5th Capitol tours.
– Nike and other companies pledge not to support US lawmakers who voted to decertify election results.
– Mike Pompeo cancels his final trip to Europe, after EU and Luxembourg officials refused to meet him.
– Governor Gavin Newsom rejects tuition increases for University of California and Cal State University.
– Women political prisoners in Iran: A Persian report on why there are so many and how they are treated.
(5) “Social Justice Advocacy and the Culture of Outrage”: This was the title of today’s Pacific Views Lecture, sponsored by the UCSB Library. Professor Tania Israel (Feminist Studies, UCSB) spoke. A key take-away from the data she presented is that the divide between various political factions (left vs. right) isn’t as large as either side thinks. For example, only 1/3 of Trump supporters believe that the mob attacking the US Capitol represents their views, whereas some 3/4 of liberals think that the mob was representative of Trump voters.
Another observation is that you can’t really change someone’s views by presenting arguments that make sense to you. The primary method to engage in conversations about differences is to show readiness to listen: listen to understand & learn, not to respond. Social media, acting as echo chambers, are part of the problem. We have to mind the language we use on our social-media posts. In addition to the divide between left and right, there is a divide between those heavily engaged in political & social causes and the majority of Americans who are disengaged from political activity. There is a bigger divide between activists and those who choose to remain silent than there is between left and right!
Professor Israel’s Web site offers resources about strategies for effective engagement, both with those who are our polar opposites as well as those who are on our side, but disagree in details or favor different strategies for acting. Professor Israel’s book, Beyond Your Bubble, and the flowchart seen in this image (one that will resolve all political conflict in our country!) are examples.

2021/01/12 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Unemployed liars, who may want to erase their association with Trump from their resumesIEEE Women in Engineering affinity groups see significant worldwide growth in 2020Turkey sandwiches, with preparation steps shown(1) Images of the day: [Left] Unemployed liars, who may want to erase their association with Trump from their resumes. [Center] IEEE Women in Engineering affinity groups see significant worldwide growth in 2020. [Right] Turkey sandwiches from a couple of days ago, with preparation steps shown (see the last item below).
(2) “History of Bab and Baha’i movements”: This was the title of a presentation by Mr. Ala Alizadeh in the Zoom gathering of Tehran University’s College of Engineering Class of 1968 (Fanni ’68).
In 1844, Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi [1819-1850], began a movement by claiming that he was the promised redeemer (Mahdi) of Islam and took the title “Bab” (“the gate” in Arabic). Followers of Bab were armed and were seen as threats by Iran’s government, which executed him in 1850.
Thirteen years after Bab’s execution, one of his followers, Bahaullah (Mirza Husayn-Ali Nuri, 1817-1892), founded the Baha’i faith as fulfillment of Bab’s prophecy. Followers of Bahaullah are known as Baha’is; little trace of Babism, as a separate faith, has remained in the world. Abdul-Baha [1844-1921], the son of Bahaullah, succeeded him as the faith’s leader.
Even though the originators of the Baha’i faith were Muslims, the faith isn’t considered a branch of Islam. Islamic leaders, who consider Muhammad to be God’s last prophet, view the Baha’i faith as illegitimate and its teachings as blasphemous. This is why Baha’is are mistreated in today’s Islamic Iran. Their treatment was much better during the Pahlavi dynasty, particularly during the reign of its second king, but even then, Islamic clerics were quite influential and applied pressure for the exclusion of Baha’is from holding public office or other positions where they could influence the society.
Bahaullah was expelled from Iran, first to Iraq, then to Turkey (Ottoman Empire), and, from there, to Israel, and was buried in Acre, Israel, in 1892. This is the main reason for the administrative center of the faith being located in Israel. The Iranian government often arrests Baha’is and, among the accusations it levels at them, cites spying for Israel.
Even though the Baha’i faith began in Iran, most followers of the faith live in other countries. Population figures from 2010 include: India 1.9M; USA 510K; Kenya 420K; Vietnam 390K; Congo 280K; Philippines $280K; Iran 250K. The figure for Baha’is in Iran must be taken with a grain of salt, given that openly admitting to being a Baha’i is quite dangerous. Many Baha’is left Iran after the Islamic Revolution, but, again, reliable figures for the number who departed Iran do not exist.
[Recording of the event: 154-minute video; start at the 00:23:00 mark; the passcode is: 0dE!G.+2]
A reliable info/news source on the Baha’is is bahai.org/, which also has a Persian site, bahai.org/fa/. Baha’is in the US also have a Web site, bahai.us/. A couple of YouTube videos summarize the origins and teachings of the Baha’i faith. [Part 1, Origins & The Bab (20 minutes); Part 2, Bahaullah & His Teachings (24 minutes)]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Trump claims he did nothing wrong. Pence indicates that he won’t invoke the 25th Amendment.
– Mitch McConnell and several other Republicans reportedly approve of impeaching Trump.
– Anti-Nazis on-line: Amateur sleuths who work tirelessly to expose Nazis and other right-wing extremists.
– Borowitz Report (humor): Fauci says immunity from Trump requires two doses of impeachment!
(4) Final thought for the day: I posted a photo of a mortadella sandwich with Barbari bread a few days ago, which generated some excitement but also produced complaints about showing only the completed sandwich and not all of its ingredients. In the words of one friend, “I want some naked pictures”! So, tonight’s sandwiches are presented in a reverse strip-tease format. The bread is Costco’s artisan rolls (look like ciabatta bread, but the texture is a bit different). Other ingredients are thin turkey slices, savory cheddar cheese, broccoli sprouts, dill pickles, tomatoes, and mayo/mustard.

2021/01/11 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Just out: MAGA 'Capitol Invasion' Lego blocks set!Commemorating victims of Baha'is' persecution in IranGroup set up at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace as part of the well-funded effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom(1) Images of the day: [Left] Just out: MAGA “Capitol Invasion” Lego-blocks set! [Center] Commemorating victims of Baha’is’ persecution in Iran (see the last item below). [Right] A well-funded campaign to recall California’s Governor Gavin Newsom: An Irvine company (a possible shell, to avoid disclosing the donors) has contributed $0.5M to the recall effort. I took this photo on Sunday 1/10 in Goleta’s Camino Real Marketplace.
(2) For my Persian-speaking readers: A brave soul addresses Supreme Leader Khamenei, chiding him for not being accountable to people and endangering the lives of 80 million Iranians by his unilateral decision to ban the import of COVID-19 vaccines from the West. [13-minute video]
(3) Los Angeles hospitals are in dire straits: A niece of mine, who is a nurse, posted a frightening Facebook status on what she and her colleagues are facing at the Cedar Sinai Hospital. Here’s a report from LA Times.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Info sought on 10 men captured in these images during the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol.
– As if six deaths weren’t enough, the January 6 DC insurrection may turn into a super-spreader event.
– I’m not an Arnold Schwarzenegger fan, but his message about the Jan. 6 DC riot in this video is spot-on.
– Time to re-examine some older conspiracy theories: The myth of the Rothschilds. [English] [Persian]
– Iranians can dance: And they do it with gusto! Unknown location and cast.
– Iranian cuisine: This restaurant tray of rice and meat dishes is prepared for a party of 6-8! [Video]
(5) Upcoming IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Professor Misha Sra (Department of Computer Science, UCSB) will speak on Zoom under the title “Perceptual Engineering” (Wednesday, January 20, 2021, 6:30 PM PST). You don’t have to be an IEEE member to attend. Details and registration link.
(6) Zoom event on “Violence and Society”: Moderated by PhD scholars Ozlem Has and Nasim Basiri and featuring panelists Parthasarathi Muthukaruppan (Ass’t Prof. of Cultural Studies, EFL), Fred Petrosian (journalist & researcher), and Junaid Ahmad (Dir. Center for Islam and Decoloniality). Sat., Jan. 16, 2021, 9:00 AM PST.
(7) Final thought for the day (On the plight of Iranian Baha’is): A forthcoming Zoom presentation on the history of the Baha’i faith produced misgivings among a group of my friends, who feared that the discussion might deteriorate into a shouting match. I, for one, am eager to learn about the history of the Baha’i faith, given the shame I feel for not speaking up much sooner in defense of this persecuted religious minority by Iranian mullahs and their goons. Fear was one reason. My own unsteady status as a member of another religious minority in Iran was another. After leaving Iran, I became more aware of the intensity and all-encompassing nature of the persecution and the fear component was removed. Hence, my current activism to expose the Iranian regime’s shameful treatment of the Baha’is. [In Persian]

2021/01/10 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Architects are turning drab apartment buildings into sights to behold: Example 1Architects are turning drab apartment buildings into sights to behold: Example 2Architects are turning drab apartment buildings into sights to behold: Example 3
Architects are turning drab apartment buildings into sights to behold: Example 1Twitter parodies multiply, after Donald Trump, aka John Barron, is banned from the platformCover image of Shoshana Zuboff's 'The Age of Surveillance Capitalism'(1) Images of the day: [Top row & Bottom left] Architects turn drab apartment buildings into sights to behold. [Bottom center] Twitter parodies multiply, after Donald Trump, aka John Barron, is banned from the platform. [Bottom right] Cover image of Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (see the last item below).
(2) Persian poetry and music: Artists from several countries perform a song based on Sa’adi’s famous poem.
Opening verse: Human beings are members of a whole | In creation of one essence and soul [In Persian]
(3) Trump supporters planned the Capitol siege on-line, in plain sight: Exchanging messages on public forums, they talked about what to bring, how to storm the building, and what to use to handcuff lawmakers. Researchers catalogued the chatter and knew pretty much what would transpire. Many of the participants said they were following Trump’s orders. With all the advance information, why the Capitol police was unprepared remains a mystery. US intelligence agencies must be in disarray not to be able to connect these very obvious dots! Trump supporters are already planning the next event.
(4) Book review: Zuboff, Shoshana, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, MP3 audiobook, read by Nicol Zanzarella, Hachette Audio, 2019.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Industrial capitalism is based on controlling labor and consumer goods to amass capital. In information capitalism, knowledge of behaviors and thoughts is exploited for profit. Data required for gaining such knowledge are obtained via surveillance, often without consent, hence the alternative term “surveillance capitalism.” Zuboff, Professor Emerita of Harvard Business School, is highly qualified to survey this domain and set up a framework, including the required terminology, needed for defining the problems and thinking about solution methods.
Going from exploiting behavioral data to trying to control behaviors, for even greater financial gain under the guise of improving efficiency and productivity, is a rather small step, leading to political or technological dictatorships. In essence, today’s focus on predicting human behavior, as done with recommender systems, will give way to more or less deterministic behavior that is even easier to exploit.
Zuboff takes us through the slow but steady process of tech companies like Google and Facebook exerting ever-greater control over our behavioral data, in part by obfuscating their data collection and sharing policies and partly by cozying up to politicians and social-media influencers to have us believe that massive data collection is in our best interests or that it is inevitable in today’s information-based society.
Zuboff draws parallels between surveillance capitalism’s instrumentarianism (means of collecting data) to ideas advanced by Hana Arendt in The Origin of Totalitarianism. Even though she points out the distinction between state-run totalitarianism and business-run instrumentarianism, in terms of both objectives and means, the distinction is quickly disappearing, as illustrated in the case of the Chinese government and its giant tech companies such as Huawei, or Iran’s throttling access to the Internet and running social-media surveillance.
Unfortunately, in the US, overzealous deregulation led to tech companies being tasked with self-regulation. Examples of disastrous consequences abound, from Facebook running behavioral experiments involving human subjects, without the required checks and balances which are the norms for such experiments, Google using its StreetView program to gather extremely private information by raising its cameras to peer into people’s homes, and certain models of Rumba robotic vacuum-cleaners generating and transmitting floorplan maps, as they crisscross the rooms of people’s houses.
Facebook, Google, Apple, and others also set surveillance-friendly default privacy settings and make it as difficult as possible to change those settings. Privacy-policy disclosures have become so long and convoluted that barely anyone reads them before clicking on the “agree” button, and even if one reads the agreements, opting out is often not a practical alternative. One ally for tech companies’ obfuscation strategies is the “division of knowledge” counterpart to yesterday’s “division of labor,” that is, ensuring that no-one has a full picture of exactly what goes on in a complex information system.
A major take-away from this book is that self-regulation doesn’t work for such powerful tech companies. There are some whistle-blowers around, but they are few and far in between. The “division of knowledge” paradigm ensures that no one has the ability to connect the dots. Errors and biases exposed in facial recognition systems constitute the tip of the iceberg of potential abuse and unethical data-exploitation.
The threat of terrorism led to the installation of more surveillance cameras and to citizens coming to accept these cameras as necessary for safety. Other surveillance tools are often justified similarly or by resorting to the notions of efficiency and convenience. Whether this book mobilizes the masses to demand transparency or leads to tech companies digging in and improving their obfuscation strategies remains to be seen.

2021/01/09 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Finest sample of Persian love poetry, by M. ZavarehRemembering the devastating mud-flow in Montecito, just to the south of Santa Barbara: Photos from January 9, 2018My message to fellow Iranian-Americans
Cartoon: Khamenei gets vaccinated himself, while banning the purchase of American and British vaccinesDonald J. Trump on the cover of Newsweek magazine: He is no longer just a joke; he is a serious threat!Cartoon: Lady Liberty to Trump: 'Enough is enough!'(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Fine sample of Persian love poetry, by M. Zavareh. [Top center] Remembering the devastating mud-flow in Montecito, just to the south of Santa Barbara: Photos from January 9, 2018. [Top right] My message to fellow Iranian-Americans. [Bottom left] Khamenei has banned Iran’s purchase of American and British COVID-19 vaccines, after reportedly being vaccinated himself. [Bottom center] Donald J. Trump on the cover of Newsweek magazine: He is no longer just a joke; he is a serious threat! [Bottom right] Lady Liberty to Trump: “Enough is enough!”
(2) It’s safe to say that DJT’s dream of having his face added to Mount Rushmore has gone down the drain: Legislation is being proposed to prevent his name from ever appearing on a federal building or property.
(3) Police officers in front of the US Capitol were seen wrestling with the mob of Trump supporters: Where were their batons? Tasers? Rubber bullets?
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Some pro-Trump insurrectionists talked about wanting to hang Mike Pence at the US Capitol. [Reuters]
– Rebuttal to those who say what happened on Jan. 6 did not represent America: It actually did! [NYT video]
– A giant step backward in gender equity: All 140,000 US jobs lost in December were women’s.
– Masih Alinejad calls on Twitter to ban Khamanei’s account until Iran restores Internet access to its citizens.
– Musical prodigy plays her new trumpet after losing hers when she fled political unrest in Venezuela.
(5) Iran’s Conspiracy-Theorist-in-Chief: Khamenei issues order to ban the purchase of American and British COVID-19 vaccines. This order endangers the lives of Iranians, including front-line medical personnel, 3000 of whom have fled Iran in recent months. It is also a dog-whistle to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps smugglers to flood the black market with imported vaccines, selling them to the rich at many times the actual price.
[The photo in this Facebook post shows Kamenei’s son, who recently visited Britain for medical treatment.]
(6) Tweet from actress Pin Young: My tenant who rents my guest house told his friends to break into my house. They broke a bunch of shit but thankfully weren’t successful in occupying it, and I got out in time. His lease is up on January 20th anyway, so should I let him finish up his lease or kick him out now?
(7) A final thought: Cabinet secretaries opting to resign two weeks before Inauguration Day are likely doing it not out of disgust but to protect themselves against having to participate in invoking the 25th Amendment.

2021/01/08 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Lighting a candle on the first anniversary of the downing of Flight PS752 by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards CorpsCartoon: IRGC general 'honoring' his Flight PS752 victimsT-shirt for everyone who's flabbergasted by years of lies and stupid pronouncements
Statue of beloved Persian poet/mystic Mowlavi (Rumi) in Buca, Izmir, TurkeyMark Zuckerberg explains why Facebook has blocked Trump from postingStatue of Achaemenid Emperor Cyrus the Great in Tajikistan's capital city, Doshanbeh(1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Today is the first anniversary of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp, as it took off from Tehran Airport: All 176 civilians on board, mostly Iranians living in or heading to Canada, were killed. So many promising lives lost to the cruelty and paranoia of a despised autocratic regime (cartoon of an IRGC general “honoring” his victims is from IranWire). [Top right] T-shirt for everyone who’s flabbergasted by years of lies and stupid pronouncements. [Bottom left] Statue of beloved Persian poet/mystic Mowlavi (Rumi) in Buca, Izmir, Turkey. [Bottom center] Mark Zuckerberg explains why Facebook has blocked Trump from posting on its platform. [Bottom right] Statue of Achaemenid Emperor Cyrus the Great in Tajikistan’s capital city, Doshanbeh.
(2) A history of the Internet, from the mouth of one of its pioneers and influencers: Dr. Vinton Cerf, an early networking innovator at UCLA and the current Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, is interviewed by Jessica Bell in this 33-minute ACM ByteCast.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– After Twitter’s permanent ban, Trump tried and failed to tweet from other accounts under his control.
– Boeing to pay $2.5 billion in fines for criminal charges resulting from two crashes of its 737 MAX jetliner.
– Nasrin Sotoudeh is on a 3-day medical leave from prison, where she is serving a 33-year sentence.
– Persian music: Dissident Narges Mohammadi sings a protest song to commemorate Flight PS752 victims.
– Precision Kurdish dancing in Turkey. [1-minute video]
– Walking this afternoon on a most-scenic part of the UCSB campus. [3-minute narrated video]
– American College of Tehran [1929-1932]: History and memorial album of what later became Alborz HS.
(4) Glimpses of the command center for the January 6, 2021, DC riot: The commanders seem to be enjoying themselves, sheltered in the White House, while urging their followers to “fight.”
(5) In case you’re worried about a madman with nuclear codes: Fortunately, the President having “his fingers on the nuclear button” is a figure of speech. There are safeguards in place, and a few other people must go along for actual launch of nuclear weapons. The military is bound to obey the Commander-in-Chief, but they also take an oath to the US Constitution, so they can neutralize the madman by disobeying his command. The military is more likely to obey if enemy missiles approaching the US are detected. In other cases, with no imminent threat, they will take time to reflect and consult.
(6) Final thought for the day: We have a new example of “White Privilege”: The ability to storm the US Capitol building, while carrying guns, without being called a terrorist.

2021/01/07 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
US Capitol steps, during the BLM protests and yesterday's MAGA mob assaultA very fine MAGA person, with his 'Camp Auschwitz: Work Brings Freedom' sweatshirt at the US Capitol!Names of terrorists who stormed and took over the US Capitol are being released one by one(1) Images of the day: [Left] Washington, DC, security, during the BLM protests and yesterday’s MAGA mob assault. [Center] Here’s a gift to Jewish supporters of our treasonous President: A “very fine” MAGA person, with his “Camp Auschwitz: Work Brings Freedom” sweatshirt at the US Capitol! [Right] Names of terrorists who stormed and took over the US Capitol are being released one by one: They are giving interviews and post social-media messages, indicating that they take pride in what they did. Not a single one of the identified terrorists is an Antifa member, as claimed by Trump supporters and right-wing media.
(2) Americans should stop subsidizing the posh lifestyles of super-spreading preachers: If Jesus can protect them and their flock against COVID-19, he can surely provide them with funding as well!
(3) The forgotten first wife of Albert Einstein: Mileva Maric was a brilliant physicist too, and there are indications that she influenced her husband’s work. Yet, very little has been written about her.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
Four dead in DC terrorist attack on the US Capitol: One from gunshot, three from medical emergencies.
– Twitter & Facebook locked Donald Trump’s account and warned about a possible permanent suspension.
– New idea for a TV series: “Duck Dynasty Goes to Washington”
– A hopeful note: James Corden of “The Late Show” reflects on yesterday’s events in Washington, DC.
– Persian music: A touching vocal-piano rendition of “Ashegh Shodam Man.” [Video]
– Persian music: Young Iranians performing memorable songs from their parents’ generation. [Video]
(5) Trump on the Charlottesville mob, 2017: “Very fine people on both sides.” Trump to the Washington DC, mob, 2021: “We love you. You are very special.” [Climbing walls: Tehran, 1979, vs. Washington DC, 2021]
(6) Here we go (as predicted by many): Some Trump supporters suggest that it was a leftist mob, bearing false flags, that attacked the US Capitol, causing 4 deaths and extensive property damage.
(7) Lindsey Graham on Trump: “He is a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” (2015).
“I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office” (2016).
“What concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label the guy some kind of kook, not fit to be President” (2017).
“Trump and I have had a hell of a journey, but enough is enough” (2021).
What will shameless Lindsey Graham say in 2022, 2023, and beyond?
(8) Reaching out to my students in these difficult times: Here’s a message I have sent to my students at UCSB.
We are all experiencing difficulties, as we work to fulfill our educational missions and goals, while facing a vicious pandemic. Our task may have gotten harder by political unrest unfolding in the United States, which may signal at least a few weeks of turmoil. You can reach me via e-mail or Zoom office hours, as always. Given the unprecedented challenges in front of us, I am providing you with my cell phone number. Please feel free to reach out to me with any academic or personal problems. Remember that we are in this together. Stay well!

2021/01/06 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Georgia's electoral history: ChartsCandidates in Georgia Senate runoff racesGeorgia's red and blue counties during the 2021 Senate runoff races
Guns drawn inside the US Capitol BuildingMob member inside the US Capitol Building carrying a 'Trump is My President' flag(1) Georgia takes another step in the direction of turning blue: In the US Senate runoff races, both Democratic challengers prevailed over Republican incumbents (Raphael Warnock’s win over Kelly Loeffler has been declared, while Jon Ossof leads David Perdue by 0.4 point and is expected to pull off a victory). While these results give the Democrats theoretical control over the Senate, the 50-50 composition is highly fragile. However, even this shaky control makes a big difference, when bills are actually brought to the floor for discussion and positions of all Senators on various issues become known. Mitch McConnell shielded Republican Senators from embarrassment by disallowing certain sensitive issues to even be discussed.
[Addendum: A mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol; lawmakers were asked to shelter in place.]
(2) “Social Justice Advocacy and the Culture of Outrage”: The next Pacific Views Lecture, sponsored by the UCSB Library, will feature Professor Tania Israel (Feminist Studies, UCSB): Wed., Jan. 13, 2021, 4:00 PM PST.
(3) “In Solidarity: Then the Fish Swallowed Him”: Amir Ahmadi Arian will discuss his first novel in English, Then the Fish Swallowed Him, published by HarperCollins in 2020. The critically-acclaimed author’s novel tells the story of a disturbing, yet interdependent, relationship between an apolitical bus driver, who suddenly becomes an activist, and his interrogator at Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison. Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, 10:00 AM PST.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Does the thought of Trump running in 2024 scare you? How about Iran’s Ahmadinejad making a comeback?
– Iran’s parliament to discuss a bill that would mandate the elimination of Israel by 2041.
– MacArthur Fellow Ta-Nehisi Coates to speak for UCSB Arts & Lectures: Tue., Jan. 12, 2021, 5:00 PM PST.
– Beautiful voice: Indonesian young woman Ikka Zepthia’s cover of “I Will Always Love You.” [Video]
– Historic photo of musical collaborators in Iran. [Photo, with legend in Persian]
– Persian music: French singer Charlotte Bozzi and Arash Fouladvand perform “Aghrab-e Zolf-e Kajet.”
(5) Spreading COVID-19 misinformation is apparently good business: Several fake-news and conspiracy-theory media outlets received pandemic-relief aid from the US government.
(6) Medical debate of the day: Save the second vaccine doses for those who have received their first doses or use them to vaccinate others? (Or, which is better: x vaccinations at ~95% effectiveness or 2x at ~85%?)
(7) Lawyers used to pride themselves on the number of cases they had won: Not any more! They are marching behind Trump, filing frivolous lawsuits with no chance of winning, just to please their King (or to avoid his ire)!
(8) “A History of Iranian Women’s Poetry”: A lecture by Dr. Ruhangiz Karachi, presented by University of Toronto, Friday, January 15, 2021, 1:00 PM PST.
(9) General Qasem Soleimani of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps was untouchable while alive: A year after being assassinated, his corrupt practices begin to emerge, implicating other Islamic Republic officials as well.

2021/01/05 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Republican Senators who plan to object to Joe Biden's electoral victory on January 6A love couplet by the Azeri poet ShahriarSquare image of round-table on 'Data Abuse & Tech Divide: Ethical Considerations, Social Impacts, and Policies'(1) Images of the day: [Left] GOP Senators who plan to object to Joe Biden’s electoral victory on January 6. [Center] Memory from January 4, 2015: A love couplet by the beloved Azeri poet Mohammad-Hossein Shahriar. [Right] Round-table discussion on data abuse and tech divide (see the next-to-the-last item below).
(2) Women in STEM receive some overdue recognition during 2020: For example, NASA named an under-construction telescope after Vera Rubin and the successor to Hubble Space Telescope after Nancy Grace Roman.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Donald Trump may be planning a trip to Scotland the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration.
– Los Angeles County orders ambulance crews to conserve oxygen, as area hospitals face shortages.
– Russian hackers viewed some of Microsoft’s source code.
– Proud Boys leader arrested in Washington, DC, for torching a Black-Lives-Matter banner.
– New-Year’s-Day car collision in Fresno County, California, kills 9, including 7 children, ages 6-15.
– Memory from Jan. 4, 2018: “Having been bitten by a snake makes you fear a black-and-white twine.”
(4) Round-table on “Data Abuse & Tech Divide: Ethical Considerations, Social Impacts, and Policies”: In this morning’s Zoom gathering of Tehran University’s College of Engineering Class of 1968 (Fanni ’68), Professor Sirous Yasseri and I led a round-table discussion on certain ethical and social aspects of high tech.
Key subareas in the domain of data abuse include hazards of big data, surveillance economy, consumer protection (laws), ethics of tech (AI, ML), fake news/reviews, and digital slavery. Subareas in the domain of tech divide include fair access to info tech, tech haves & have-nots, public infrastructure, tech literacy (techeracy), digital natives/immigrants, and digital dark ages. Today’s round-table was the fourth and final installment in this discussion, which took the form of lectures in the first three parts.
Here are a set of questions that will allow you to think about the challenging issues involved:
Q1. If Russia can hack the biggest tech companies and “secure” government sites, is any data really secure?
Q2. What is Section 230 (1996 law) and why many believe that its outdated provisions should be revised?
Q3. Is Julian Assange a hero or a villain? Tensions between personal freedoms/responsibilities & social order.
Q4. Banks routinely pay fines, but continue to misbehave. Will privacy violations really stop with fines?
Q5. Should access to the Internet & digital-literacy education be declared basic rights and thus subsidized?
Q6. How do we impress the fact that info tech isn’t really neutral and comes with a vast potential for abuse?
Q7. Given info-tech’s global reach, is it advisable to have different national laws or do we need a global law?
Q8. With expanding use of AI, do we need machine-abuse laws or can we apply existing laws to such cases?
(5) Today’s discussion of abuses by powerful tech companies reminded me of my 20-year-old “letter to the editor” about how greed influences the computer industry (from IEEE Computer magazine, April 2000).

2021/01/03 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The first beautiful sunrise of 2021, as seen from my bedroom window early this morningCartoon: Wildlife evolving with technology'End of an Error': Special T-shirts for January 20, 2021, are here!(1) Images of the day: [Left] The first beautiful sunrise of 2021 in Goleta, California, as seen from my bedroom window early this morning. [Center] Cartoon of the day: Wildlife evolving with technology (barcode giving way to QR code). [Right] “End of an Error”: Special T-shirts for January 20, 2021, are here!
(2) Extortion: Georgia’s Secretary of State releases parts of his 1-hour phone conversation with Donald Trump in which he is threatened by Trump and asked to find enough votes for him to overturn the election result.
(3) Trump secretly wants the two incumbent Republican Georgia Senators to lose to their Democratic challengers: Their win would signal that there is something wrong with Trump, who lost in Georgia.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Trump’s threatening/bullying 62-minute call to Georgia’s Secretary of State: Full recording.
– Long-time journalist Larry King, 87, has been hospitalized with COVID-19.
– Quote: “Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
– Memory from January 3, 2016: Apt substitutes for Persian karaoke music.
– Beautiful Azeri love song: Duet by old-time singers Aref and Yaghoub Zoroofchi.
(5) Donald Trump will go down in history as the worst US President ever: Mike Pence will go along with him as the least-consequential VP; as some Trump supporters put it, a “glorified letter-opener.”
(6) We are so Northern-Hemisphere-focused that we forget about people down-under, who don’t dream of a white Christmas, but head to the beaches this time of year.
(7) Chicken nuggets, prepared without killing any chickens: Cultured meat, already approved for use in Singapore will revolutionize the food industry and help solve world-hunger and climate-change problems. Other than sparing animals’ lives and eliminating animal cruelty in meat production facilities, production of cultured meat uses less energy and prevents diseases transmitted via animals.
(8) What is Section 230? A law enacted in 1996 has shaped the Internet, causing lies, libel, and bullying to go unpunished. The law essentially says that Internet platforms are not liable for what users post. People’s lives have been ruined by this shortsighted law. Examples of those suffering as a result of Section 230 can be found in this 13-minute segment of CBS “60 Minutes” program. One woman was accused, in some 70 posted videos, as being a murderer responsible for spreading COVID-19. A father was unsuccessful in removing the video of his daughter’s murder from YouTube.
(9) Final thought for the day: “It does not take a majority to prevail … but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” ~ Samuel Adams

2021/01/02 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
IEEE Spectrum magazine's annual technology review issue, January 2021, strikes an optimistic chordCover image of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 'Skin in the Game'Image of the first page of the Web site 'The PrimePages'(1) Images of the day: [Left] IEEE Spectrum magazine’s annual technology review issue, January 2021, strikes an optimistic chord. [Center] Cover image of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life (see the last item below). [Right] The largest known prime number, discovered in 2018, is the Mersenne prime 2^82,589,933 – 1, possibly the 51st one, with 24,862,048 digits.
(2) Cultural backwardness: In Iran, a woman raising kids by herself isn’t called “single mom” or “head of household”; She is deemed an unsupervised woman (zan-e bi sarparast)!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Trump to Kushner over increased COVID-19 testing: “I’m going to lose, and it’s going to be your fault.”
– Trump supporters call Mike Pence a “glorified envelope-opener” after he challenges their lawsuit.
– The Russian hack of US government agencies and big businesses is much more serious than thought.
– Mexicans are tired of a double-surge: COVID-19 cases and American tourists fleeing lockdowns.
– Alien technology visited Earth in 2017: Thus claims Harvard theoretical physicist Avi Loeb in his new book.
– Iranians don’t let rain or snow stop them from broiling kebobs! [Tweet, with photo]
– Persian music: A wonderful piece played on tar and tombak, in honor of the late tar maestro Jalil Shahnaz.
(4) Book review: Taleb, Nassim Nicholas, Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life, Random House, 2018. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I received this book as a gift in appreciation of a technical talk I gave to Sharif University of Technology Association’s Seattle Chapter. Having previously read and reviewed Taleb’s opus, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, I really looked forward to reading this new volume, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Skin in the Game can be viewed as a continuation, or elaboration upon certain aspects, of Taleb’s The Black Swan and Antifragile. My assessment of The Black Swan was very-positive for the most part, but I also leveled some criticism at Taleb’s bashing of scientists and the scientific establishment.
[Facebook note, dated October 30, 2011] [My 5-star review on GoodReads]
I have not read Antifragile, subtitled Things that Gain from Disorder, in full, but have pursued excerpts of, information about, and discussions on it. The notion of antifragility is different from robustness, so there are three kinds of nations, societies, businesses, or even individuals: fragile, robust, and antifragile. Size creates efficiencies (in companies or countries) but also increases fragility. Risk must be visible. Failure, and learning from it, is crucial. I heard Taleb give a talk entitled “Lessons for Volatile Times” as part of UCSB’s Arts & Lectures Program in October 2013, where he argued that the opposite of fragile isn’t resilient or robust; the latter indicate the absence of fragility, not its opposite. What we deem resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better as it faces challenges or abuse. Certain natural and human-made systems thrive from adversity, variations, and uncertainty. Trying to impose order on these systems (such as attempts at controlling economic swings and cycles) is detrimental to their health.
In Skin in the Game, Taleb continues his attacks on various groups, essentially portraying everyone but himself as a know-nothing pretender. These criticisms, which are for the most part unjustified and/or too harsh, can be ignored by the reader, in favor of the book’s main message, which is solid. Specifically, Taleb states that the book is about four topics:
– Uncertainty and the reliability of knowledge (“BS detection”)
– Symmetry in human affairs (fairness, justice, responsibility, reciprocity)
– Information-sharing in transactions (for open and honest deals)
– Rationality in complex systems and in the real world
A primary example of desirable symmetry is an investor both benefitting from good decisions and suffering personal losses from bad ones. Investing with other people’s money, raking bonuses when all goes well and suffering no consequences when disaster strikes, a norm in today’s US financial industry, is clearly both asymmetric and unbecoming. So, it makes sense to demand that investors have skin in the game.
The poster child of this kind of asymmetry is former US Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin, who earned $120 million from Citibank in the decade leading to the crash of 2008. Rubin got to keep all that money and paid no penalties, once Citibank nearly collapsed, before it was bailed out. The likes of Rubin boast about their competence when investment values soar and blame uncertainty when they collapse!
The same kind of asymmetry is seen today in politicians starting wars or making policy decisions with immediate benefits to their supporters, leaving the calamitous consequences for their successors to handle. Another example of asymmetry is seen in the observation that because of trade deals with the Middle East, New Zealand produces halal lamb almost exclusively (98%), even though it also exports meat to other regions of the world. Succumbing to the will of a minority and opting for one kind of meat, rather than two separate production lines, makes economic sense for the producers but leaves buyers paying a higher price. Selling a car which you know to be defective to an unsuspecting buyer is an example of informational asymmetry.
The preceding paragraphs convey the gist of Skin in the Game. As is fashionable in today’s publishing scene, authors continue to beat a dead horse, presenting an unseemly number of instances and case studies. If you prefer to see a lot of examples and details, then, by all means, read this wonderful book. If you don’t want to put so much skin in the game, listening to Taleb’s 61-minute talk at Google is an excellent alternative.

2021/01/01 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy New Year, design 2Happy New Year, design 1Cover image of Eric H. Cline's course 'History of Ancient Israel'(1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] My New-Year 2021 puzzle: Every year, as a new year number emerges, I try to form the numbers 0, 1, 2, 3, … by putting math symbols (including parentheses) between its digits. In the case of 2021, I have been able to do this for numbers up to 27. The first few appear below as hints and the rest are left to you as puzzles! 0 = 2 + 0 – 2 * 1; 1 = 2 + 0 – 2 + 1; 2 = 2 * 0 + 2 * 1; 3 = 2 * 0 + 2 + 1. [Right] Eric H. Cline’s course History of Ancient Israel (see the last item below).
(2) Gone are the days when we learned about the outcome of a US presidential election in early November and then relaxed until January 20: We now have to worry about every step of the way, including the ex-president actually moving out!
(3) COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID … That’s all they talk about. And, believe me, after November 4, there will be no mention of COVID: Well Trump sure isn’t talking about it, but everyone else is!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– US Congress overrides Trump’s veto of the defense authorization bill, a first during his presidency.
– Math lesson for Trump followers, who keep pointing out that their King got 74M votes: 81M > 74M
– Argentinian women celebrate the passage of a law that allows legal, safe, and free abortions.
– Vocal academy student Tori Matthieu does a fine job of performing Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.” [Video]
(5) Course review: Cline, Professor Eric H. (George Washington University), A History of Ancient Israel: From the Patriarchs Through the Romans, MP3 audio-course in “The Modern Scholars” series, Recorded Books, 2008.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The relatively small piece of land constituting today’s Israel gets more than its share of news coverage and heated discussion. This is in part due to the long-running conflict between Israelis on one side and Palestinians & their Arab/Iranian backers on the other, and partly due to the region’s significance to followers of Abrahamic religions forming slightly more than half of the world’s population.
This history course covers a tad over two millennia, from ~2000 BCE (the time of Abraham) to early days of Christianity. It is based on stories in the Hebrew Bible, which are corroborated, or at least not contradicted, by archaeological evidence. Where there is no direct historical evidence, consistency with existing records of movements, life-styles, and conflicts were sought.
An example of the rigor with which history is presented in this course is Cline’s presentation of Exodus. According to the Hebrew Bible, Exodus occurred around 1450 BCE. Some scholars cite dates as late as 1250 BCE, given better match to written records and archaeological evidence. A compromise view is that Exodus wasn’t a single mass-migration event, but a gradual flight that took place over the course of two centuries.
Similarly, the number “600,000 military-age males” cited in the Hebrew Bible for the size of Exodus (that is, around 3 million people in all) is deemed vastly off-base, perhaps by a factor of 100. Such a large group of people, marching 10-across would form a line of 200-300 km, which means crossing the red sea on foot would have taken weeks!
Historians generally discount the Hebrew Bible as a book describing actual people and events, but rather view it as a record of myths based on some facts and real people. Cline demonstrates that there is a good match between the Hebrew Bible and historical artifacts and writings, beginning with ~700 BCE. This history is still unfolding, as new evidence and counter-evidence is discovered on a regular basis. For example, the first extra-Biblical mentions of the House of David, within inscriptions uncovered in northern Israel in the 1990s, led to revisions to the history of Kings David and Solomon.
The land we now call Israel has seen many occupiers over its long history, including the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Fatimids, Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, Egyptians, Mamelukes, Islamists and others. Details about where the Lost Tribes ended up, how the two major rebellions of Israelites unfolded, and many other gaps in the region’s history are subjects of heated disputes. This course provides a solid foundation upon which to build further knowledge and to follow various historical debates.

Blog Entries for 2020

2020/12/31 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Rope with knots, tied to make a heart shapeCover image for the Persian-languare book 'A Woman's Vital Signs' My unusual sandwich for lunch: Italian beef mortadella, with Iranian barbari bread
Sunset at UCSB's North Campus Open Space: Photos, Batch 1Holiday spirit at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace: Community Christmas treeSunset at UCSB's North Campus Open Space: Photos, Batch 2(1) Images of the day: [Top left] As we end of a very challenging year, may the coming weeks and months bring you the joys of normalcy, and the ability to untie the tough knots created by a dysfunctional, swamp-enabled presidency. [Top center] A Woman’s Vital Signs (see the next item below). [Top right] My unusual sandwich for lunch: Italian beef mortadella, with Iranian barbari bread. Highly recommended, freshly-baked or at least toasted! [Bottom left & right] UCSB’s North Campus Open Space, this evening, on my return path from an afternoon walk (video). [Bottom center] Holiday spirit at Goleta’s Camino Real Marketplace.
(2) Book review: Ronaghi, Mahnaz, Ladan Niknam, and Farzaneh Karampour, Alaa’em-e Hayaati-ye Yek Zan (In Persian), Ghoghnoos Publications, 2000. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Farzaneh Karampour [1954-] is a civil engineer by training, who started to write seriously beginning in 1996. I couldn’t find much information on-line about the first two authors, other than a mention that Mahnaz Ronaghi is a university instructor and literary critic and that Ladan Niknam is a writer/poet.
The novel is in Persian, with the English translation of its title being A Woman’s Vital Signs. The three authors coordinated with each other to write separate parts of the book, each part essentially telling the same story from the vantage point of a different protagonist.
Set in a hospital in Tehran, Iran, the novel depicts the lives of three dedicated nurses, as they go through their daily routines and interact with other staff at the hospital. Besides professional lives and relationships of the three nurse characters, we also learn about their personal lives, including emotional baggages they carry.
The three stories overlap substantially, giving the reader a chance to see each character from her own perspective as well as how she is seen/understood by the other two characters. The writing style and quality are uneven in the three parts, hence my 3-star rating is a generous average.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Dr. Fauci is hopeful that vaccines will bring us normalcy by fall 2021, but warns of a dark winter ahead.
– Christmas music: Better late than never … “Santa Baby” with Persian lyrics.
– Three minutes of mesmerizing music: “Libertango”
– “Archive Wars: The Politics of History in Saudi Arabia”: Free lecture, Mon. 2021/02/21, 10:00 AM PST.
(4) Final thought for the day, month, year, and decade: Happy New Year to my dear family and friends! Those who grew up in Iran view 20 as a sign of perfection (20 is the highest grade one can get in school, much like 100 in the West, and is also Persian slang for “perfect”). Unfortunately, the year 2020 was anything but doubly-perfect! Still, we learned a lot about what matters most from the horrible year we are putting behind. Hope that my motherland, Iran, and my adopted homeland, the United States of America, leave the chaos and bitterness of recent years behind and enter a gentler, less-hostile world. Let us remember that the source of our happiness is inside us and that we can make our world brighter by giving more and expecting less. Instead of going for big resolutions that are difficult to keep, I resolve to take small steps to improve myself and my surroundings. May you be empowered to take steps to reach your dreams in 2021! [Video]

2020/12/30 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Typical medical-clinic waiting room these days!Stealing the SunSelfie, with my T-shirt bearing images of the first four women US Supreme Court Justices
Goleta's Devereux Slough looked wonderful on Tuesday 12/29, following Monday's heavy rainfallTuesday afternoon's super-low tide brought many explorers and treasure-hunters to UCSB's West Campus BeachThe surf was pretty good too on the afternoon of Tuesday 2020/12/29(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Typical medical-clinic waiting room these days! [Top center] Stealing the Sun! [Top right] This T-shirt of mine celebrating women is already outdated: The text under the images, which reads “The Supremes,” has faded and the recently-added fifth woman US Supreme-Court Justice is missing from it. [Bottom left] Goleta’s Devereux Slough, which was nearly dry over the past weekend, looked wonderful on Tuesday, following Monday’s heavy rainfall. [Bottom center] Tuesday afternoon’s super-low tide brought many explorers and treasure-hunters to UCSB’s West Campus Beach. [Bottom right] The surf was pretty good too!
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Trump’s granting of pardons to war criminals violates international law, according to UN.
– What’s the longest distance you can walk on dry land (no water crossings, except where there are bridges)?
– Boston Dynamics robots put on their dance moves! [3-minute video]
– Resting places of Iran’s scientific and literary treasures outside Iran’s borders. [14-minute video]
– Traveling Iran by train: DW documentary, narrated in English. [42-minute video]
– Iran demographics: Useful info, such as population, age structure, sex ratio, and life expectancy.
– Recitation of humorous Persian poetry, filled with political jabs: Unknown poet and venue. [5-minute video]
– Children sing in honor of the late maestro Mohammad Reza Shajarian. [2-minute video]
– Kurdish music and dancing: Uncredited performers at an unknown location. [1-minute video]
– Multi-lingual musical medley: An enjoyable 6-minute video, which includes a few Persian songs.
(3) Americans’ most-admired persons: In the Gallup poll for 2020, Donald Trump overtakes Barack Obama as the most-admired man. Michelle Obama maintains her top position, followed by Kamala Harris.
(4) Mourning the loss of Iran’s cultural sites: In its hay days, Tehran’s Laleh Zaar Street was the home of numerous cinemas, playhouses, and night clubs. Very few of the sites, representing a mix of treasured and decadent culture, have survived.
(5) Medical encyclopedia in verse: This book was compiled, corrected, and published by the late Dr. Barat Zanjani (1924-2020) in 1987. It was written in 978 CE, more than 10 centuries ago, and is known in the West as Encyclopaedia Meysari. Here is an analysis and critique of the book.

2020/12/29 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Persian poetry: Remembering Forough Farrokhzad {1934-1967) on her birthday, 12/29, with a short love poemCircle of humans around the image of a tree, drawn on a beachCartoon: The Trumps play Monopoly (from 'The New Yorker')
My winter 2021 UCSB grad course on parallel processing: Top of the Web pageMy winter 2021 UCSB grad course on parallel processing: Research section of the Web pageMy fall 2020 UCSB grad course on fault-tolerant computing: Top of the Web page(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Persian poetry: Remembering Forough Farrokhzad {1934-1967) on her birthday, 12/29, with a short love poem. [Top center] We are one with all living beings; indeed, with all of nature (see the last item below). [Top right] The Trumps play Monopoly: “Let’s give everyone a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card before we begin—just in case” (The New Yorker). [Bottom left & center] My winter 2021 UCSB grad course on parallel processing (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Fall quarter 2020 is now in the history books: A few days ago, I finished the grading for my fall 2020 graduate course on fault-tolerant computing.
(2) Trumpists are throwing the GOP under the bus to save their King: The same GOP which enabled every single one of his vile actions, approved his judicial nominees, and saved him from being removed from office by conducting a sham Senate trial.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– From alt-right to witch-hunt: Alphabetical list of 32 words and phrases that characterized the Trump era.
– This single GIF image aptly summarizes the Trump presidency.
– Young woman talks about those imprisoned for studying or teaching at Baha’is underground university.
– Weight-gain saving time is ending: Remember to set your scale back 10 lbs. after the holidays!
– Memory from December 28, 2014: Iranian regional music from the Caspian-Sea coast. [Video]
– My attempt, four decades ago, at writing humorous Persian poetry. [Recitation video] [Text]
(4) Another international honor for Nasrin Sotoudeh: The brave attorney and human-rights activist has served significant jail time in Iran for speaking out against unjust laws and for defending other activists. In a Persian recorded message, Sotoudeh has thanked the American Bar Association for awarding her (along with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and Billie Jean King) an Eleanor Roosevelt Prize for global human-rights advancement.
(5) Getting ready for winter 2021 quarter: I will be teaching a graduate course on parallel processing, with asynchronous, recorded lectures, assessed via homework assignments (40%) and a research paper (60%). Yesterday, I spent much of my time updating the course Web page with new research topics, bearing the theme “parallel processing for machine learning with emerging technologies.”
Given demonstrated bias and unfairness in machine-learning algorithms, I will tie the research component of the course to the “UCSB Reads 2021” theme of racial justice. As part of their participation, students will get free copies of the UCSB Reads selection, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. [Review]

2020/12/27 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Young girl holding up a sign reading 'I'm hungry'This famed triangular building in Ahvaz, Iran, has a long historyAn undated photo of my paternal grandmother, Sorahi(1) Images of the day: [Left] People all around you may be hungry: They likely won’t announce their hunger by holding up a sign, but data shows one in four Americans facing food insecurity today. Even before COVID-19, nearly 11% of Americans went hungry (source: NPR). Please donate generously to the charity of your choice! [Center] This beautiful triangular building in Ahvaz, Iran, has a very long history (see the next item below). [Right] An undated photo of my paternal grandmother, Sorahi (Serah in Hebrew; Older family members referred to her as Amneh Serah): She is shown doing exercises from an adult education textbook. Today is the anniversary of her passing.
(2) Beautiful architecture: This 1929 triangular building in Ahvaz, Iran, was designed by French architect Andre Godard (an avid fan of Middle-Eastern art, who also designed Hafiz’s tomb in Shiraz) to house the central branch of National Bank in the city. It later housed the provincial government offices. When the allies occupied Ahvaz, the building constituted their command center. It changed occupants several other times, until it became the Medical College of Jondi Shapur University in 1958. Various sections of Jondi Shapur University occupied it until 1971, when College of Literature and Foreign Languages moved in. The building has been undergoing renovations since 2010, when the latter college moved out. A more complete history, in Persian, can be found on this tourism Web page.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Trump’s bluff on vetoing the stimulus & government spending bill was called: He signed the bill as is.
– The Nashville, Tennessee, explosion was likely a suicide attack aimed at destroying AT&T’s Internet hub.
– A parked box-truck in Lebanon, near Nashville, is being investigated as possibly containing explosives.
– Avalanches on mountain range to the north of Tehran, Iran, a popular getaway for hikers and skiers, kill 12.
– Memories, from December 27, 2014. [Facebook post] [Tweet]
(4) The six misconceptions about heuristics: Gerd Gigerenzer has asserted that heuristics and their aims are different from what many people believe. We don’t use heuristics merely for lack of better alternatives. They are integral parts of our lives and decision-making processes. Here are the six key misconceptions:
– People use heuristics only because they have limited cognitive capacities.
– Limited congnitive capacities are always bad.
– Heuristics lead to second-best outcomes whereas optimizing leads to best outcomes.
– Labels such as availability and representativeness “explain” behavior.
– Everything except optimization and logic is a heuristic.
– More information is always better.
Reference: Gigerenzer, Gerd, “Heuristics,” Chapter 2 in Heuristics and the Law, G. Gigerenzer & C. Engel (eds.), MIT Press, 2006, pp. 17-44. [Link]
(5) Final thought for the day: “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.” ~ Albert Einstein

2020/12/26 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Charles Kushner is one of the criminals pardoned by Trump: TweetCharles Kushner is one of the criminals pardoned by Trump: MemeCover image for 'Algorithms to Live By'(1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Charles Kushner is one of the criminals pardoned by Trump: There are also four war criminals and a host of former partners in crime, who could potentially incriminate Trump, if they turned on him to seek leniency. [Right] Cover image for Algorithms to Live By (see the last item below).
(2) Example of Trump’s priorities and worries amid a pandemic: He criticizes fashion magazines for not giving Melania any cover shoots during his presidency! [Well, I view this as yet another example of Trump ruining the lives of his family members and other people around him, as he promotes himself!]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Happy Kwanzaa (Swahili for “first fruits of the harvest”), the holiday that celebrates the African diaspora!
– With 331,000 US deaths from COVID-19, one in 1000 of 330M Americans have died of the disease.
– Nashville terror attack was apparently intended to create chaos and fear, not human casualties.
– Nicole Wallace calls out Chris Christie for making a political calculation to get the Trump stink off him.
– Today is the third anniversary of Vida Movahed taking off her headscarf in public to spark a movement.
(4) Book review: Christian, Brian and Tom Griffiths, Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Scinece of Human Decisions, Picador, 2016. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book is about how computer science theories can help us in our daily decision-making. Brian Christian, who comes from a computer science background, is the author of The Most Human Human and has had writings published in several noteworthy venues. Tom Griffiths, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at UC Berkeley, is a widely-honored author of 200+ scientific papers. The book has been praised not just for connecting computer science algorithms to decision-making in daily-life and management contexts but also as an accessible (non-mathematical) primer on algorithms and a philosophical treatise on computational and decision-making processes.
The book consists of 11 chapters, or main ideas, sandwiched between an insightful introduction and an enlightening conclusion, titled “Computational Kindness,” which is followed by 52 pages of notes, 20 pages of references, and a 13-page index. I will list and briefly discuss the 11 chapters at the end of my review. Computational kindness means avoiding burdening yourself or others with unneeded computation, such as presenting or considering too many options.
Many of us have come to think of computers as cold, mechanical devices performing straightforward computations. We are thus rather surprised at the suggestion that computer science may hold life lessons for us. Modern computers are far from drudgery and answer-finding based on exhaustive calculations. They routinely use chance, latency-accuracy trade-offs, and approximations in rendering decisions. So, computers have moved in the direction of mimicking human brain’s heuristic decision-making, the subject of behavioral economics and modern neuroscientific theories (see, e.g., my review of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow). https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2111105026 Uncertainty, time-constraints, incomplete information, and a rapidly-changing environment present us with the most-challenging instances of
problems studied by mathematicians and computer scientists. Rather than discard the hard-won insights from tackling such problems, we should use them as valuable tools for managing our lives. One key lesson is that considering ALL of our options may be debilitating. We should be prepared to accept a mess, not take along everything we might possibly need on trips, make random choices on occasion, relax, bide our time, backtrack, and forgive! This may sound like an oxymoron, but seeming irrational is one of the hallmarks of rational decision-making!
1. Optimal stopping: Consider a hiring process whereby you interview applicants one by one, making a yes/no decision for each. You can’t go back to hire a person you previously rejected. How many people would you interview? You probably don’t want to hire the first person. You don’t want to hire the last person either. The first few interviews give you an idea of the strength of the pool of applicants, allowing you to make a hiring decision soon thereafter. Sure, your decision is likely non-optimal, but nothing in real life is! It turns out that rejecting the first 1/e = 37% of applicants is your best bet.
2. Explore/Exploit: We are often faced with a choice between exploring (say, going to a new restaurant) and exploiting (choosing a restaurant we already know and like). Each choice offers some benefits, making the decision difficult.
3. Sorting: Keeping things sorted makes life easier, but sorting has a non-trivial overhead, regardless of what algorithm you use.
4. Caching: Our memory capacity is quite limited, so we better keep only the very useful information there, which means making extensive use of notes and files. We also need strategies for evicting previously-stored information to make room for new, more useful, items.
5. Scheduling: Important questions in trying to make the best use of your time during the day include how to prevent a lower-priority task from blocking a higher-priority one and how to avoid thrashing (being left with scattered chunks of time that are unsuitable for doing important tasks).
6. Bayes’s rule: We have prior probability information for various events. When a new event occurs, it may change our view of other events’ probabilities. Three basic probability distributions (additive, Erlang; multiplicative, power-law; average, normal) are introduced and explained in elegant, non-mathematical terms.
7. Overfitting: Models should be kept as simple as possible (a simple model is more likely to be correct).
8. Relaxation: It’s okay to set aside strict rules once in while in order to keep moving. Many real-life optimization problems are NP-hard, so insisting on finding optimal solutions would be debilitating.
9. Randomness: To create beauty and get out of tight spots in optimization schemes, randomness is essential. We have evolved, in part, as a result of chance and many difficult problems become easy with appropriate use of randomness.
10. Networking: Many ideas of networking, such as acknowledgments, handshaking, and congestion control find applications in our everyday life.
11. Game theory: This field is full of gems with important practical applications. Ideas such as “the prisoners’ dilemma,” Nash equilibria, dominant strategies, and “tragedy of the commons” are prominent examples.
The moral of the story is that there are deep parallels between problems that we encounter in our daily lives and problems that are studied by mathematicians and computer scientists. We tend to think of rational action as exhaustively evaluating our options and seeking an optimal solution. Real rational action many not consist of considering all options or finding exact, optimal solutions. We make concessions in the interest of solving problems in a timely manner.
If you are a computer scientist, this book gives you fresh ideas about how to use your CS knowledge to improve your life. If you are not, then this book will motivate you to study or take a course in algorithms.

2020/12/25 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos of my daughter paddle-boarding yesterday on UCSB West Campus BeachPrior Christmas Days at local Chinese eateries: This year, we had to settle for take-out!Photos of the gorgeous sunset on Christmas Eve 2020(1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] On Christmas Eve, my daughter went paddle-boarding on UCSB West Campus Beach near our house. I accompanied her, to walk a bit and snap some photos of her and the sunset. [Center] Prior Christmas Days at local Chinese eateries: This year, we had to settle for take-out!
(2) Home-organizing project: The kids and I have begun the long process of organizing, reducing, and simplifying our overflowing kitchen cupboards. We tackled the challenging spice/tea rack on 12/24, getting rid of old stuff, merging, and putting bagged items into labeled jars or other containers. [Photo]
(3) Life as a professor amid COVID-19: This is the title of an article in the December 2020 issue of IEEE Computer magazine. Professor Jay Liebowitz (Seton Hall U.) shares his experiences and some insights.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– At $30 million, an 1830 edition of The Book of Mormon is deemed the most-expensive book in the world.
– Prominent Iranian-American journalist Homa Sarshar writes about her battle with COVID-19.
– Santa Barbara Piano Boys (Zeyn & Rhyan Schweyk @SBPianoBoys) play “Silent Night” with variations.
– Iranian regional music: “Ra’ana” from Guilan Province, set on the green mountains of the Caspian coast.
(5) The end of efficiency: Much of economics as a field of study, and of economic policies, is based on maximizing efficiency (read short-term profits/benefits). One thing we (re)learned from the COVID-19 experience is that resilience and sustainability (read long-term societal well-being) are more important than efficiency. I had previously posted about ideas of computer scientist Moshe Vardi in this area. Today, I came across an essay by Robert Skidelsky making the same point that efficiency is over-rated and that in future we must learn to focus on resilience and sustainability.
(6) Plagiarism detection presents a data-search challenge: This is the topic of an article in the December 2020 issue of IEEE Computer magazine. Easy access to billions of documents on the Internet has made plagiarism a snap and difficult to detect. Professor Preeti Chauhan (VP, Technical Activities, IEEE Reliability Society) describes plagiarism-detection tools, why the task is made difficult by poor paraphrasing and “rogeting” (copying text and replacing some words by synonyms), and plagiarism prevention via increased awareness.
(7) The ethics of stockpiling digital vulnerabilities for “benevolent” use: US National Security Agency discovered a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows, which it hid from everyone, including Microsoft. Information about the vulnerability and how to exploit it was stolen from NSA and offered for sale in the open market, finding its way to the North Korean government. It didn’t take long for the WannaCry ransomware attack to be launched across Europe. Among organizations affected was Britain’s National Health Service, which experienced blockage in doctors gaining access to patients’ files. Is it ethical for NSA and similar organizations to stockpile vulnerabilities in the same way that militaries stockpile weapons? This is a complex question whose answer depends on our ethical standards and their underlying assumptions. [CACM article]

2020/12/24 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy holidays! May you have a merry Christmas and a joyous and bright New Year!Televangelist Joel Osteen's mansion in Houston, TexasAnonymous architect's design for Trump Presidential Library(1) Images of the day: [Left] Happy holidays! May you have a merry, COVID-free Christmas and a joyous and bright New Year alongside your loved ones! [Center] This is Joel Osteen’s mansion in Houston, Texas: He is the famed televangelist who doesn’t pay taxes, received $4+ million in PPE aid, and bought a new private jet. Meanwhile, US Congress argued for months about whether $600 is too much for you. [Right] Twitter users are talking about where Trump should build his Presidential Library: Moscow and North Korea are two suggestions! There is also a fake Trump Library Web site. I don’t know how long it will last, but it is well worth a visit.
(2) “UCSB Reads 2021” event: Sameer Pandya, Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies at U. California, Santa Barbara, will discuss his recent novel, Members Only, which engages with issues of racial politics and campus culture and considers the nature of brownness. Monday, January 25, 2021, 4:00 PM PST.
(3) Joke of the day: Older man to young woman at the bar: “Where have you been all my life?”
Woman to man: “For the first two-thirds, I wasn’t born yet.”
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Navy vet gave CPR to a man who died of COVID-19 on United flight to LAX.
– Christmas music: “Jingle Bells,” played Persian style! [Video]
– Christmas music: Lois Mahalia performs “It’s Christmas Once Again in Santa Barbara.” [Video]
– Persian poetry: Hila Sedighi recites her poem about being worried-sick for Iran.
(5) Nurses in overwhelmed Los Angeles ICUs experience fear and despair: Meanwhile, Trump is pardoning convicted criminals, going on vacation, and tweeting about everything but the plight of front-line workers & families losing loved ones.
(6) Iran-backed militias attack the US Embassy in Baghdad with rockets: As in prior “retaliations,” the attacks seem to have been designed to avoid casualties. Trump warns of a military response if Americans are killed.
(7) Women in STEM: “The best piece of advice I would give to a young person just starting out in their career is that your career is a marathon, not a sprint. You will have big hills, flat plains and valleys. You will have jobs along the way that will be stepping stones to something bigger and better as well as those jobs that may feel like you are taking a step backwards.” ~ Trish Damkroger, Intel’s VP and GM of High-Performance Computing
(8) Memory from Dec. 24, 2013: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” ~ Pope Francis
(9) It feels like I am in a sci-fi horror movie: I seem to have escaped monster T (Trump losing the election), when monster M attacks me (Moscow Mitch refusing to provide sufficient pandemic relief). Suddenly, T emerges from its hiding place and attacks M. I watch with delight, as the two monsters fight. [Image]

2020/12/23 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fake Wikipedia entry for Donald TrumpCover feature of CACM's January 2021 issue: Does Facebook use sensitive data for advertising purposes?Many diets allow cheat days: Better make sure you understand what cheat day means!
The blue-green color of robin eggs provides just the right amount of light absorption for optimal temperatureA kingfisher diving into a hole in the ice at 100 km/hrThe kingfisher emerging from the hole in the ice with its catch(1) Images of the day: [Top left] This Wikipedia entry for Donald Trump is fake, but it isn’t far off the mark. [Top center] Cover feature of CACM‘s January 2021 issue (see the last item below). [Top right] Many diets allow cheat days: Make sure you understand what it means! [Bottom left] Why robin eggs are blue-green: The color provides just the right amount of light absorption for optimal temperature. [Bottom center & right] Amazing world: A kingfisher dives into a hole in the ice at 100 km/hr and emerges with its catch (credit: Gisela Delpho).
(2) Iranian philanthropist speaks up: Philanthropy should fill gaps left by government services. It is incapable of undoing the effects of mismanaged programs and rampant corruption that have left citizens of our country (with 9% of world’s resources & 1% of its population) in need of basic human needs. [Video in Persian]
(3) “When You Go Away”: Song for Donald Trump, based on the beautiful oldie “If You Go Away,” Rod McKuen’s English adaptation of the 1959 Jacques Brel classic “Ne Me Quitte Pas.”
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Uncertainty and anxiety are feeding grounds for scammers: Please be mindful of COVID-19 vaccine scams!
– Afghan reporter challenges Iran’s FM Javad Zarif and exposes his inconsistencies. [Interview in Persian]
– Sophisticated ant colonies: Uncovering a secret underground megalopolis of ants. [Video]
– Persian music: “Aahoo-ye Faraari” performed by Hooniak Band. [3-minute video]
(5) Pakistani rights activist Karima Baloch, 37, found dead in Toronto: Those who oppose dictatorial regimes or expose human-rights violations aren’t safe anywhere. These regimes have operatives in the West to monitor dissidents and eliminate them when they become too pesky.
(6) Farhang Foundation Persian-poetry event: Bearing the title “Attar: The Unending Thirst,” the free live event will feature Sholeh Wolpe, Fahad Siadat, and Andre Megerdichian
(7) Does Facebook use sensitive data for advertising purposes? You bet it does, although if you asked its management, they would respond with an emphatic “no”! Here is a short snippet from the January 2021 CACM article by Jose Gonzalez Cabanas, Angel Cuevas, Aritz Arrate, and Ruben Cuevas:
“Advertisers configure their ad campaigns through the FB Ads Manager. … [It] offers advertisers a wide range of configuration parameters such as (but not limited to): location (country, region, and so on), demographic parameters (gender, age, among others), behaviors (mobile device, OS and/or Web browser used, and so on), and interests (sports, food). … In parallel, FB assigns to each user a set of ad preferences, that is, a set of intrests, derived from the data and activity of the user on FB.”
One of the article’s authors found out that his interests profile, deduced by FB, included “homosexuality.”

2020/12/22 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy first day of winter: Images I shared yesterdayMy holiday message to Georgians: T-shirt bearing the word 'VOTE'Today's Zoom meeting with Fanni '68 classmates(1) Images of the day: [Left] Happy first day of winter: My memories from December 21 of prior years, shared in a Facebook post yesterday). [Center] My holiday message to Georgians! [Right] Today’s Zoom meeting with Fanni ’68 classmates (see the last item below).
(2) One thing I did on Sunday, during our day-long power outage: The already-tough puzzle, with eight 15-letter entries, was rendered more challenging by the newsweekly somehow leaving out the last row!
(3) Last night’s great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn wasn’t as spectacular in my area as I had hoped: Just after sunset, in the southwestern sky, the larger Jupiter appeared, with Saturn just below it. The two planets pass each other every 20 years, but haven’t been this close, as seen from earth, for 400 years (Galileo’s time), and not visible in the night sky this close for 800 years. You can find lots of images and videos on-line. NASA provides some good background for the celestial event, which will last for a few days (although, the two planets were closest on 12/21).
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– A few of the day’s headlines, presented as images.
– Iran’s FM Javad Zarif uses the offensive Persian term “Johood” to refer to Jews in an interview.
– Borowitz Report (humor): Russian hackers disappointed to find US government already disabled.
– Planes landing more-or-less safely, after developing landing-gear and other problems. [Video]
(5) Discussion on “Data Abuse & Tech Divide: Ethical Considerations, Social Impacts, and Policies”: In this morning’s Zoom gathering of Tehran University’s College of Engineering Class of 1968 (Fanni ’68), Professor Sirous Yasseri and I led a discussion on certain ethical and social aspects of high tech.
Key subareas in the domain of data abuse include hazards of big data, surveillance economy, consumer protection (laws), ethics of tech (AI, ML), fake news/reviews, and digital slavery. Subareas in the domain of tech divide include fair access to info tech, tech haves & have-nots, public infrastructure, tech literacy (techeracy), digital natives/immigrants, and digital dark ages.
Dr. Sirous Yasseri spoke about data abuse and extensive collection of both data and meta-data for commercial gain and government surveillance. It is amazing how much personal information can be gleaned from collecting meta-data, such as who called whom, without examining the contents of calls.
I covered a number of topics, primarily taken from the two books whose covers are seen in one of the images above. I briefly reviewed CCPA, California’s Consumer Privacy Act, and cited the 1909 fantasy short story The Machine Stops, by E. M. Forester (which has been translated into Persian, under the title Machine Mi-Eestad) as an example of how a take-over by machines might unfold.
Next week, Dr. Yasseri will talk about GDPR, General Data Protection Regulation, EU’s version of consumer privacy law. A round-table two weeks from today will conclude this interesting discussion.

2020/12/20 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Birds on a fairly isolated beach near Santa Barbara Harbor's entrance channel'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance': The story'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance': Internet Research Agency ads(1) Images of the day: [Left] A day of pre-Internet existence: We had a scheduled power outage during much of today, owing to local repairs by Southern California Edison. I went to my office to work on evaluating student term-papers, shooting two videos from the east boundary of UCSB campus (video 1) (video 2). In the afternoon, the kids and I had a pizza lunch and went for a refreshing stroll around Santa Barbara Harbor, walking on the breakwater to get to a fairly isolated beach (photo) adjacent to SB Harbor’s entrance channel. [Center & Right] “The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallence” (see the last item below).
(2) The story of an imprisoned murderer who taught himself advanced math: Now he has a paper on continued fractions published in an academic journal, which he co-authored with three number-theorists.
(3) A must-watch CNN report: Entitled “Pandemic: How a Virus Changed the World in 1918,” the documentary film includes the shocking revelation that a political appointee allowing a huge war-related parade to go on, despite advice from medical professionals, contributed to the explosion in the number of cases and deaths.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Mar-a-Lago neighbors don’t want Donald Trump to move into their neighborhood, citing security concerns.
– Jared Kushner formed a shell company to funnel inauguration funds to Trump family members.
– The country least-worried about climate change? Russia! It stands to dominate a warming world.
– Man hacks Donald Trump’s Twitter account by guessing his password: maga2020
(5) Across-party-lines political appointments in US administrations: It is common for US presidents to appoint people from the other party to a few key positions. Former President Obama had an impressively-large number of such appointees. Even Donald Trump has had half-dozen such appointees (three of them still serving), but, curiously, Ivanka Trump is one of them!
(6) America’s unspoken caste system: Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkinson (The Warmth of Other Suns & The Origins of Our Discontents) examines the caste system that has shaped America, and how our lives continue to be defined by a hierarchy of human divisions. Tuesday, January 26, 2021, 5:00 PM PST. [Info]
(7) “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”: The text and images above are adapted from several posts of mine in prior years, one of them showing pro-Trump propaganda on social media by Russia’s Internet Research Agency. Trump won in 2016, thinking the victory signaled his infallibility, much like the wimpy character in the classic western film, who thought he had gunned down a notorious outlaw, whereas a sharpshooter killed Valance before he could draw his gun. If his reluctance to accept defeat isn’t a deliberate scam to extract money from supporters, then it is certainly the case that he thinks he can shoot any outlaw, because he has done it before.

2020/12/19 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Yalda Festival!Rock-balancing art by James BruntCover image of the book 'The President Is Missing'
Cartoon: COVID-19 is not spread by mouths and noses, but by assholes!Cartoon: Either Vladimir's behavior has improved dramatically, or the Naughty and Nice Database has been hackedCartoon: January 20, 2021, at the Oval Office(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Yalda Festival (see the next item below). [Top center] Rock-balancing art by James Brunt. [Top right] The President is Missing: This novel by Bill Clinton & James Patterson has now become a reality. In the face of record number of deaths from COVID-19 and the most-serious-ever cyber-attack on US government agencies and private businesses by Russia, the President is nowhere to be seen or heard! [Bottom left] COVID-19 is not spread by mouths and noses, but, first and foremost, by assholes! [Bottom center] “Either Vladimir’s behavior has improved dramatically, or the Naughty and Nice Database has been hacked” (from The New Yorker). [Bottom right] January 20, 2021, at the Oval Office.
(2) This year’s Yalda-Night/Chelleh/Winter-Solstice is on Sunday, 12/20: The eve of the first day of winter is celebrated by Iranians as the night when forces of evil (darkness) have reached their maximum strength and the Sun begins its offensive, as the days get longer. Yalda night is celebrated with pomegranates, watermelon, persimmons, mixed dried-fruit and nuts, and various other Iranian sweets. [Music: Video 1; Video 2]
Persian-speaking poets have written about this festival, at times likening a loved one’s dark hair or a long period of separation to Yalda. Here’s the English translation of a verse from Sa’adi.
The sight of your face each morning is like Norooz | Any night away from you is the eve of Yalda.
(3) Philanthropic donation by world’s 18th-richest person: The 1-year $6B charity contributions by MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, is considered one of the biggest-ever annual distributions.
(4) We feminists will likely be just as busy under Biden, as we were under Trump: With an articulate, opinionated First Lady (replacing a trophy wife, who has trouble reading even from a teleprompter) and several female cabinet members and other high-level appointees in the new administration, right-wing, misogynist attack dogs are already growling. Tucker Carlson of Fox “News” called Jill Biden “illiterate” (compared to whom, Donald and Melania?) and others have argued that she should drop the “doctor” title because she isn’t a physician! We are ready for the fight. Bring it on!
(5) Challenges of getting enough people vaccinated against COVID-19: Two groups of people are hesitant to get vaccinated. First, we have the anti-vaxxers, who are suspicious of any vaccines that the government promotes. Second, the Black and Brown communities still remember the four-decades-long Tuskegee Experiment, 1932-1972, which infected African-Americans with syphilis, under the guise of providing them with free medical care. In the latter case, the experiment led to an effective cure for syphilis. But, to put salt on the wound, the cure was not administered to those purposely infected. I empathize with the second group and understand their reluctance. Both Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Anthony Fauci have been working to reassure the second group and encourage participation. The action of anti-science people, which endangers all Americans, is inexcusable. Trump has been missing in action and isn’t doing anything to help.

2020/12/18 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian journalist Ruhollah Zam with his younger daughter, shortly before he was executedCover image of Arion Golmakani's 'Solacers' (English)Cover image of Arion Golmakani's 'Alireza' (Persian)(1) Images of the day: [Left] Iranian journalist Ruhollah Zam with his younger daughter, shortly before he was executed (video). [Center & Right] Cover image of Arion Golmakani’s Solacers (see the last item below).
(2) The Russian cyber-attack on US government agencies and private companies was highly sophisticated much more extensive than initially thought. Removing the malware will be difficult and will talk a long time.
(3) Google will regret firing black researcher working on AI ethics: They wanted to have a black woman on their team as a show-off, but weren’t ready to listen to what she had to say!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– It’s that time of the year again, when fake charities spring up or go into overdrive. Be vigilant! [FB post]
– Wage gap and under-representation in higher academic ranks persists for women. [Article]
– Victoria and Albert Museum’s immersive Iran show: 5000 years in 350 objects.
– Stanford Program in Iranian Studies: Web page containing listing and recordings of past talks.
(5) Let’s not relax after Biden/Harris assume office: Republicans will continue their attacks on Biden, his wife, his administration, and the entire Democratic party. Their reaction to the loss in presidential election shows that they don’t need any evidence to launch attacks. If we relax, they may use lies to take control of Congress in 2022, impeding any progress and perhaps even entertaining impeachment (again, they don’t need any evidence to do so). I am not saying that we should anoint Biden king and consider him The Chosen One, as Trump supporters did. But, please, don’t be harsher on Biden/Harris than you were on Trump/Pence! Idealism should take a back seat to pragmatism, if we are to repair the damage done by Trump.
(6) Book review: Golmakani, Arion, Solacers (Alireza, in Persian translation by Shadi Hamedi, RedCornPoopy Books, UK edition, 2014), unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Neil Shah, Tantor Audio, 2017.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
According to the author’s introduction, this isn’t a book about Iran, but about a boy who happened to grow up in Iran. The emotional and physical abuse he suffered could have happened anywhere on the planet Earth. It happened mostly in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran and neighboring locales, beginning in the 1960s. Near the end of the story, Alireza and a friend move to Abadan, the Americanized oil city in southwestern Iran, where they attend high school.
Alireza lives and is treated as an orphan, even though both of his parents are alive. His sadistically abusive father wanted nothing to do with him, even before divorcing his mom and remarrying. His mother, also remarried, was pressured by her new husband, who was initially kind to Alireza, to abandon her son, because he considered it unfair to be burdened with supporting his step-son. As a woman in a traditional (read backward) society, Alireza’s mom didn’t dare to do anything that went against her husband’s desires, and her attempts at extracting child support from her ex were doomed.
Alireza ended up living, in temporary arrangements, with various relatives or acquaintances, pretty much ignored by everyone (save for one aunt) and going hungry most of the time. He scavenged for food, extracted small sums of money from various people, bought scant amounts of food on fraudulent credit, and generally survived to age 11, when he met the lovely Molouk, 10, the first person other than his mom to pay any attention to him. Molouk was one of the handful of solacers who helped Alireza keep going, when he saw no value in life.
By age 17, the self-made Alireza was on his way to realizing his dream of starting a new life in America and forming a family of his own. He adapted to life in the US quickly, especially since he felt no belonging to his harsh homeland. He married twice, fathering four children and adopting two. In an epilogue, Golmakani runs through his life in the United States, including his many successes, even though they did not translate to financial affluence.
This heartbreaking true story is told with painstaking details. The events and locales are rather familiar to older Iranians. Descriptions of public bath-houses, visitations to religious shrines, shopping at small neighborhood grocery stores, going to the movies, and traveling on inter-city buses are superb. Overall, this is a sincere, wonderfully-written, and inspiring book.

2020/12/17 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Beginning the last day of Hanukkah: Anticipating Shab-e Yalda in three days and Christmas Eve in a weekCartoon: Noah has had it with the woodpecker!This guy should update his T-shirt: His hoped-for Trump dynasty has fallen in disgrace!
People, trees, the sun, and the moon: Shot last evening from the Ellwood Bluffs and UCSB West Campus: Batch 2People, trees, the sun, and the moon: Shot last evening from the Ellwood Bluffs and UCSB West Campus: Batch 1People, trees, the sun, and the moon: Shot last evening from the Ellwood Bluffs and UCSB West Campus: Batch 3(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Beginning the last day of Hanukkah: Anticipating Shab-e Yalda (the Iranian Winter-Solstice festival) in three days and Christmas Eve in a week. Happy holidays to all! [Top center] Cartoon of the day: Noah has had it with the woodpecker! [Top right] This guy should update his T-shirt: His hoped-for Trump dynasty has fallen in disgrace! [Bottom row] People, trees, the sun, and the moon: Shot last evening from the Ellwood Bluffs and UCSB West Campus.
(2) Now we see why Moscow Mitch didn’t have the guts to acknowledge Biden’s victory, until the very last possible moment: He will now take fire from Trump for only five weeks!
(3) One reason, other than losing the election, for Donald Trump’s distress and erratic behavior is that he wanted to fire & humiliate FBI Director Chris Wray, but was convinced to back off by White House lawyers.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Trump is eerily quiet on the biggest cyber-attack in US history: Russia’s hacking of multiple US agencies.
– Khamenei supports negotiations with the Biden administration to revive the US-Iran nuclear deal.
– Any PhD student or fresh academic can identify with this young woman’s experience! [Tweet]
– Happy family with the proverbial two children, but of virtual kind! [Tweet]
– Teenage Iranian Instagram star, who created images of celebrity-look-alike zombies, jailed for 10 years.
– Kids having fun at a public piano in London: Boogie-woogie-style performance of “Jingle Bells.” [Video]
– Azeri music: A beautiful song, with Arabic and Persian subtitles. [4-minute video]
– Santa has been reading your posts all year: Most of you will be getting dictionaries or science textbooks!
– Last year’s Christmas light display in Solvang, California, using an army of drones.
– Persian poetry: “Atoorpatgan” (“Azerbaijan”), a patriotic poem composed and recited by Homa Arzhangi.
– Persian music: Song, dance, and other rituals of a traditional Iranian wedding. [Video]
– Kurdish music: An upbeat rendition of “Asmar, Asmar” by the late singer Ramesh (with a touch of comedy).
(5) Atlantic City plans to demolish the former Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino: The chance to push the detonation lever is being auctioned off, with proceeds going to charity.
(6) Attacks on Biden for not including this or that group in his cabinet are misguided: He has already nominated a diverse group of highly-qualified individuals, including a Native-American woman (Deb Haaland) as Interior Secretary and a Black environmentalist (Michael Regan) as Head of EPA. [Meme]
(7) Sharon Nazarian: The Senior VP of International Affairs at Anti-Defamation League, fled Iran with her family after 1979, fearing persecution as Jews. She now works to combat hatred and intolerance.
(8) Stanford University’s Yalda-Night celebration (COVID-19 edition): Saturday, December 19, 2020, 6:00 PM PST. Dr. Abbas Milani will speak in Persian under the title “Saadi, Yalda, & Ancient Iran.” [Registration link]

2020/12/16 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. br />Announcement of my selection as an IEEE Computer Society Distinguished VisitorCartoon: Transitioning to the new year in the age of toilet-paper shortages!(1) Images of the day: [Left] My selection as an IEEE Computer Society Distinguished Visitor for 2021-2023 (see the next item below). [Center] Transitioning to the new year in the age of toilet-paper shortages! [Right] This evening’s IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk by Dr. Jessica Santana (see the last item below).
(2) Proud to be selected as an IEEE Computer Society Distinguished Visitor (2021-2023): During the 3-year period, IEEE CS chapters can invite me to give lectures, with IEEE paying for travel expenses. Any interested IEEE entity should message me to get the name and address of the IEEE person to contact for arrangements.
The Distinguished Visitors Program, established in 1971, serves IEEE Computer Society professionals and student members by identifying recognized authorities in their respective fields who can present engaging, state-of-the-art technical talks. The Distinguished-Visitor title is a lifetime honor, which can be used even after the three-year appointment term.
I have three talks in this program (talk abstracts are ready and will be provided upon request):
Talk 1: “Recursive Synthesis of Digital Circuits”
Talk 2: “Hybrid Digital-Analog Number Representation in Computing and in Nature”
Talk 3: “Linguistic Challenges in Computer Input and Output: The Case of Persian/Arabic”
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Norman Abramson, whose late-1960s ALOHAnet was a precursor to the modern Internet, dead at 88.
– Mayor Pete nominated for Transportation Secretary; Jennifer Granholm tapped for Department of Energy.
– China’s second “Great Wall”: A 1200-mile southern wall is being built between China and Myanmar.
– Misguided proposal: Several U. California chancellors call for tuition increases amid budget crisis.
– The tune “So Long, Farewell” from “The Sound of Music,” adapted for January 20, 2021.
– Memory from Dec. 16, 2015: Hard to believe that Ben Carson was rated a bigger liar than Donald Trump!
(4) Memory from December 16, 2019: Former President Obama believes that women ruling nations could improve just about everything. “If you look at the world and look at the problems, it’s usually old people, usually old men, not getting out of the way.”
(5) This evening’s IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Dr. Jessica Santana (Assistant Professor, Technology Management Program, UCSB) spoke under the title “Using Natural Language Processing to Measure Ethical Convergence in Scientific Discourse.” TMP was formally established within UCSB’s College of Engineering in 2004, following several years of experimentation with mentoring students in the business and management aspects of technology, including how to produce business plans.
While the title represents Dr. Santana’s recent research, she presented in the first half of her talk a general discussion of ethics in science and technology, beginning with the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and proceeding to a number of modern-day versions of the same type of unethical behavior. Examples include the recent dispute at Google over an employee’s publication of an ethics paper that led to her firing and machine-caused discrimination in the criminal justice system.
In the second half of her talk, Dr. Santana outlined the relationship between ethics and innovation. Innovation requires a certain level of boldness, which manifests itself in working at the boundaries (gray areas). Dr. Santana then focused on how codes of ethics in various professions and industry segments emerge from scientific discourse over the boundary work and how natural-language processing can be used to detect contentious issues and the path to common standards.
A Q&A period followed, during which it was emphasized that paying attention to ethics is increasingly necessary, as high-tech implements and highly-complex AI algorithms embedded therein create the risk of ethical violations. Engineering programs are becoming aware of the importance of ethics as part of their curricula. Federal legislation in the US unfortunately lags the norms set by other countries (notably EU) and even some individual states.
[Speaker’s home page] [IEEE CCS event page] [IEEE CCS Technical Talks page] [Slide samples]

2020/12/15 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The origins of the Persian words 'ghoori' (tea-pot) and 'chai' (tea)Stunning road to Mount Fitz Roy, PatagoniaMeme: Our future First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, stands up for women and girls(1) Images of the day: [Left] For my Persian-speaking readers: The origins of the Persian words “ghoori” (tea-pot) and “chai” (tea). [Center] Out of this world: Stunning road to Mount Fitz Roy, Patagonia. [Right] Our future First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, stands up for women and girls.
(2) Hats off to a dedicated and selfless teacher: This young woman, who lives in an Iranian village with no Internet access, climbs a snow-covered mountain to get a signal and connect with her on-line students.
(3) Islamic mob, and liquor: In his book, The English Job, retired UK politician Jack Straw relates that in the siege of UK Embassy in Tehran, everything was broken, except bottles of liquor, which were taken away!
(4) UCSB’s remote-learning survey results (fall 2020): This afternoon, I attended an informative webinar, during which UCSB’s Lisa Berry, Miles Ashlock, and Linda Adler-Kassner reviewed the results of a campus survey on students’ remote-learning experience during fall 2020. Of the 2265 respondents (10%), one-third were navigating GauchoSpace (UCSB’s instructional site) for the first time.
Students crave predictability (weekly pattern), clarity (purpose, expectations, connections), flexibility, and low-stake assessments (frequent, helpful feedback). They prefer real-time meetings for smaller classes, but pre-recorded lectures for larger ones. They are more or less satisfied with instructor and TA communications (but not with peer communications). The results show encouraging improvements over those of spring 2020 quarter.
A number of helpful tips emerged from the survey results:
– Encourage participation in pre-recorded lectures by asking students to pause the video on occasion.
– Choose sections of your lecture where students have to turn on their cameras (warn them in advance).
– Be human, listen and respond, engage students, be blatantly available.
– Don’t hesitate to refer students if you sense that they are in distress.
– Be mindful of struggling first-generation and under-represented students.
– Communicate, preferably at the same time each week, about course status and what’s ahead.
(5) Discussion on “Data Abuse & Tech Divide: Ethical Considerations, Social Impacts, and Policies”: In this morning’s Zoom gathering of Tehran University’s College of Engineering Class of 1968 (Fanni ’68), Professor Sirous Yasseri and I led a discussion, in Persian, on certain ethical and social aspects of high tech.
Key subareas in the domain of data abuse include hazards of big data, surveillance economy, consumer protection (laws), ethics of tech (AI, ML), fake news/reviews, and digital slavery. Subareas in the domain of tech divide include fair access to info tech, tech haves & have-nots, public infrastructure, tech literacy (techeracy), digital natives/immigrants, and digital dark ages.
Due to a mishap in communicating the correct Zoom link to group members, attendance was a tad smaller than expected. The discussion will continue for at least two more sessions on coming Tuesdays. [Images]

2020/12/14 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
T-shirt for those who are thankful for science'Science, Power, and Gender': Iran Academia on-line conference (in Persian), Sunday, December 13, 2020Cover image for Viktor E. Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning'(1) Images of the day: [Left] T-shirt for those who are thankful for science and scientists. [Center] “Science, Power, and Gender”: Iran Academia on-line conference (in Persian), Sunday, December 13, 2020, beginning at 6:00 PM CET (Report: Facebook post, Tweet): Panelist were Azadeh Kian, Saeed Paivandi, Nayereh Tohidi, and Fatemeh Hosseinzadeh. [Right] Cover image for Man’s Search for Meaning (see the last item below).
(2) Math puzzle: We have two containers with capacities a and b liters (a and b are positive integers). Each container can be filled to measure a or b liters of water (assume a b), but it cannot measure smaller amounts. For example, a 3-liter container can be used to measure 3 liters, but it is not marked for measuring 1.5 or 2 liters. We want to measure a volume v of water (v is an integer), assuming we have an unlimited supply of water and a large container of capacity much greater than v that we can use for temporary storage. Present a general algorithm for the task.
[Challenge: For v b, try to do the required measurement without using a third container.]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Electoral College cements Joe Biden’s victory. Attorney General William Barr is fired.
– Trump, Pence, WH officials, SCOTUS, and Congress will get priority access to COVID-19 vaccine.
– US Treasury Department e-mails were monitored by hackers connected to the Russian government.
– Spy novelist John le Carre dead at 89: He wrote 25 novels, many of which were adapted for TV and film.
– The Coup Nazi to Donald Trump: No coup for you!
– Memories from December 14, 2014: Family outings from the good old days! [Photos]
(4) Frankl, Viktor E., Man’s Search for Meaning, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Simon Vance, Blackstone Audio, 1995. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl [1905-1997] was an internationally renowned psychiatrist who endured years of unspeakable horror in Nazi death camps. During, and partly because of, his suffering, Frankl developed logotherapy (which literally means healing through meaning), a fresh approach to psychotherapy built around identifying a purpose in life and then immersively imagining that outcome. The book is considered by many as among the top-10 most-influential books in the US.
In the book’s first part, Frankl describes his observations in concentration camps and the way pressure and uncertainty affected the prisoners’ physical and mental health. Most of us have read multiple accounts of the Holocaust, but learning about the cruelty and slaughter through the eyes of a psychiatrist/neurologist is a different experience. Frankl saw both swine and saints among the prisoners and he saw both sadists and basically-decent men among the prison guards.
Drawing upon his years of first-hand experience as a prisoner and as a doctor, Frankl digs deep into human nature. He recalls little joys amid an ocean of pain, like when the camp’s food server accidentally or intentionally sank the ladle a bit deeper into the pot, bringing up a piece of potato or a few peas with the otherwise watery soup. He describes the stages of grief/coping, from the initial shock of imprisonment, through adaptation, apathy, and hopelessness, to re-entering the world upon liberation, an experience that, like that of a diver suddenly released from his pressure chamber, can be deadly.
Of the Jews who were taken to concentration camps, many gave up hope in the face of morbid conditions, while others survived malnutrition, disease, grueling work, and freezing temperatures. What did the latter group have that the first didn’t? Frankl’s answer is that they had found meaning in their lives, taking the form of work they wanted to accomplish, people they loved, and those whose lives depended on them.
In the book’s second part, Frankl provides a capsule summary of logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy he developed based on his experiences in the death camps. Somewhat oversimplifying, Frankl describes the difference between logotherapy and psychotherapy thus: The latter tries to assign causes to a person’s mental distress by visiting his/her past, while the former simply reveals a menu of options for the patient to choose from. Wikipedia has a nice article on logotherapy.
This important and must-read book was first published in 1946 and in various revised and expanded forms, and with different titles, in 1959, 1962, and 1984.

2020/12/13 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Jacob Hamblin Arch, within Utah's Grand Staircase Escalante National MonumentIranian art: Gorgeous samples of pottery from Soltanabad, ArakTopographic image of the Atlantic Ocean
Photos of birds on a about Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf: Batch 1Santa Barbara downtown on Friday, December 11, 2020, looked like a ghost townPhotos of birds on a about Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf: Batch 2
Photos snapped on Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf on 12/11With my daughter at Santa Barbara's Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center on 12/11Cover feature of this week's 'Santa Barbara Independent'(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Jacob Hamblin Arch of Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. [Top center] Iranian art: Gorgeous samples of pottery from Soltanabad, Arak. [Top right] Topographic image of the Atlantic Ocean. [Middle row] Mid-day Friday, December 11, 2020, in and about an empty Santa Barbara downtown: Or is it ghost town? [Bottom left] Photos snapped on Santa Barbara’s Stearns Wharf on 12/11. [Bottom center] With my daughter at SB’s Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center on 12/11. [Bottom right] Cover feature of this week’s Santa Barbara Independent (see the last item below).
(2) #Texit: A Texas state lawmaker plans to propose a referendum on seceding from the US. While I don’t like the idea of any state disliking the US election result seceding, I may in fact support Texas in such an effort. The GOP obviously does not like the idea of losing Texas’s 38 electoral college votes, which would make it even more difficult for them to win elections. I just have one suggestion for Texas. Oil and cowboys aren’t sufficient to make a happy, healthy, and prosperous country. Florida has the resorts and entertainment any country needs. In order to make Texas and Florida part of a contiguous land mass, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama should be added, to form a new 5-state country.
(3) Dr. Jill Biden … Dr. Jill Biden … Dr. Jill Biden … This is to tick off those who consider the use of a “doctor” title out of bounds for a First Lady, but had no problem with a soft-porn model who faked a college degree.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– California sues Sutter Health System for using monopoly to jack up prices beyond reason.
– Mitch McConnell has prioritized shielding businesses from litigation over protecting families from starvation!
– An interview with the former Shah of Iran, shortly after the Islamic Revolution (when he was in exile).
– Amazing billiards shots: These are so incredible that I suspect video manipulation. [3-minute video]
– Persian music: Darvish Kahn’s wonderful “Reng-e Parichehr & Parizad” (other credits on the video).
(5) Top-10 auto companies by market value, 2000-2020: Tesla did not appear on the list until 2016, but it is now at the top by a wide margin. [3-minute video] (Note: The data for 2020 is already dated.)
(6) Spring 2021 Equinox, or beginning of the Persian New Year 1400 (saal tahvil): Saturday, Esfand 30, 1399, 1:07:27 PM Iran time (March 20, 2021, 2:37:27 AM PDT).
(7) How Saudi nationals mysteriously disappear from the US just before they are arrested for crimes: Do they run some kind of intelligence operation in the US? Here is an eye-opening CBS “60 Minutes” report.
(8) Santa Barbara Independent features Miye Ota: At 102, the former dance instructor, whose husband Sensei Ken died 5 years ago at 92 and whose son Sensei Steve recently lost his battle to cancer at 72, is a force of nature. This week’s Independent features an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir covering events in the aftermath of the December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack, particularly what Japanese-Americans experienced.

2020/12/12 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine's Person of the Year: The team of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris'Los Angeles Times' features UCSB Library's Cylinder Audio ArchiveMeme: Steps of the mission to dumb-down America!
'The Beauty of Boteh' webinar: Screenshot 1Birthday in Iran, 1973: Photo of this unidentified woman appears among other obscure historical photos'The Beauty of Boteh' webinar: Screenshots 2 & 3(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Time magazine’s Person of the Year: Many expected front-line medical workers to be chosen (and, in fact, such a cover appeared on social media and I shared it yesterday). However, the formal choice is the team of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. [Top center] Los Angeles Times features UCSB Library’s Cylinder Audio Archive, a collection of some of the earliest commercial sound recordings held in its Special Research Collections. [Top right] Meme of the day: Steps of the mission to dumb-down America! [Bottom left & right] The beauty of Boteh (see the next item below). [Bottom center] Birthday in Iran, 1973: Photo of this unidentified woman is featured among obscure historical photos on this Web site.
(2) “The Beauty of Boteh: A Textile Journey Across Village & Tribal Rugs”: This was the title of today’s fascinating webinar by Dr. Hadi Maktabi (Instagram @hadimaktabi), hosted by Textile Museum Associates of Southern California. Boteh is a comma-like motif, known in English as paisley, which has adorned Asian textiles for centuries. Today, Dr. Maktabi reviewed the motif’s history, showing numerous examples and focusing on how it began appearing in Persian carpet designs. I captured a few screenshots from the webinar and added a couple of images from public domain. [Hadi Maktabi on Facebook]
(3) Understanding women: “When a woman says ‘what?’ it’s not because she didn’t hear you; it’s her way of giving you a chance to rethink what you said.” ~ Anonymous
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– A Trump boast that’d be truthful, for a change: No president in over a century has executed more people!
– Future fairy-tale ending: “And from that day forward, not everything was about Donald J. Trump.” (NYer)
– Borowitz Report (humor): White House offers curbside pick-up of pardons.
– Humor: English accents from around the world. [1-minute video]
– Iranian cuisine: Making beef-kabobs (kabob-e barg) in a large batch. [1-minte video]
(5) Quote of the day: “Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” ~ Aristotle
(6) Trumpism turns even a tenured economics professor into a cook: Appearing on Fox News, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany cited a tenured professor (Charles J. Cicchetti) that the odds of Biden winning in Wisconsin, after the early Trump lead, were 1 in 10^15. Because Biden won in four such states, the overall odds are 1 in 10^60. The numbers are impressive, but only for those who don’t know much math, including the professor whose sworn affidavit was used by Texas in filing its lawsuit. The calculated odds take the distribution of Trump and Biden voters to be uniform across each state and across small rural and populous urban counties, the former reporting votes early and the latter needing much more time to count.
(7) post: “Science, Power, and Gender”: Iran Academia on-line conference, Sunday, December 13, 2020, beginning at 6:00 PM CET (8:30 PM Iran time; 9:00 AM PST). [On Facebook] [On YouTube]

2020/12/11 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Artist Becca Saladin reimagines history's most-powerful figures: Lincoln & CleopatraLooking west and east on the main bridge at UCSB North Campus Open Space, during my afternoon walk on Monday, 12/07Artist Becca Saladin reimagines history's most-powerful figures: Cyrus & Catherine
My entry for this week's 'New Yorker' cartoon caption contestMoney-laundering for real: A bank in Ahvaz, Iran, after recent floods!Cartoon: In Iran, multi-billion-dollar swindlers walk free, while petty theft is punished by cutting hands(1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] Artist Becca Saladin reimagines history’s most-powerful figures in today’s hairstyles and clothing. [Top center] Looking west and east on the main bridge at UCSB North Campus Open Space, during my afternoon walk on Monday, 12/07. [Bottom left] My entry for this week’s New Yorker cartoon caption contest: At the top of the giant beanstalk, Jack finds the bean counters. [Bottom center] Money-laundering for real: A bank in Ahvaz, Iran, after recent floods! [Bottom right] IranWire cartoon of the day: In Iran, multi-billion-dollar swindlers walk free, while petty theft is punished by cutting hands.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– People eating more cookies while trapped at home has led to supply-chain problems for cookie-makers. (NPR)
– Remember the good old days when Sarah Palin was the scariest thing the Republicans could throw at us?
– Mark Twain: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do, you are misinformed.”
– Grocery store “Jingle Bells”: Cashiers in a German grocery store treat customers to an enchanting version.
– Remember this 1-minute video the next time you decide to call someone “bird-brain”!
– A natural wonder: Koohrang Spring at the base of Iran’s Zardkooh Mountain is the source of Karoun River.
(3) Hypocrisy and literary theft: Iran’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance tweets verses of a poem by Ahmad Shamloo to mourn the deaths of Qasem Soleimani and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. The irony is that Shamloo is a stern critic of the Islamic regime, whose works are banned and whose admirers are harassed. Furthermore, he wrote the poem to mourn the passing of Forough Farrokhzad, a beloved poet who is considered a disgrace by the regime. To add insult to injury, the poem was used without citing Shamloo’s name. And all these acts by someone who is supposedly in charge of the country’s cultural advancement and publishing norms! [Tweet]
(4) On the image of my empty e-mail in-box, posted on 12/06: For those expressing disbelief and/or envy, let me share something I learned a long time ago (the source of the wisdom escapes me).
– A key to productivity is to read each e-mail message only once. When we keep an e-mail message in our in-box for months or even years, chances are that we read it multiple times, each time choosing to deal with it later. This used to be the case with pieces of paper that piled up on our desks. The first time you read an e-mail message, decide how to deal with it: Process/reply right away; Trash; Delete (I have a “Deleted” folder that is distinct from “Trash”; I examine this folder once in a while, as I do with my Spam folder, to see if there is anything that I would like to reconsider), or put it on a to-do list.
– A related wisdom is not to make your in-box your de-facto to-do list, because it’s not structured for this use.
– A cluttered in-box turns into an obstacle, as we tend to become scared of looking at it. I find an in-box with fewer than two-dozen items, whose entries fit on a single screen, manageable.
(5) How a music-performance major became an influential computer scientist: To say that Jennifer Widom’s path to computer science was unusual would be an understatement. In this 36-minute ACM ByteCast, she discusses her journey, leading from trumpet performance to Dean of Engineering at Stanford University.

2020/12/10 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy International Human Rights Day and Hanukkah!Time magazine's Person of the Year: Medical workers (cover image)RIP Amirali Sardar-Afkhami (1929-2020): Iranian architect(1) Images of the day: [Left] Two occasions to celebrate (see the next item below). [Center] Time magazine’s Person of the Year: Medical workers. [Right] RIP Amirali Sardar-Afkhami (1929-2020): The talented architect was best known for designing Tehran’s City Theater and Iran’s new parliament building.
(2) Happy Int’l Human Rights Day and Hanukkah: We used to worry about human rights in Third-World and other developing countries. Now, human rights form a global concern, including in several supposedly advanced industrial countries. Let’s make every day Human Rights Day! It is an interesting coincidence for this year’s Human Rights Day to coincide with the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which signifies light and hope.
(3) Watch and weep: Phoenix hospital sets up beds for COVID-19 patients in a sanitized parking garage. Trump tweets that the photos of patients in the parking garage are fake, unleashing Internet trolls on the hospital staff. What kind of animal brings such attacks on conscientious doctors and nurses who go without sleep to take care of their patients? [CNN video]
(4) This morning’s headlines from Newsweek: I think the disinfected White House must also be deodorized to remove the stench of dishonesty, corruption, and nepotism.
– White House will be thoroughly disinfected in the hours after Trump’s exit
– Newsmax beats Fox News for first time, as CEO says “We’re here to stay”
– Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign theme: “We wuz robbed and we won’t be robbed again”
– Matt Gaetz among dozens of Republicans attending secret party despite COVID surge
(5) A piece of Goleta’s history: “Coal Oil Point, Campbell Ranch, and Devereux School” is the title of a comprehensive article about the area that encompasses UCSB’s West Campus Faculty Housing Complex (where I live) and its natural and man-made surroundings. The article contains quite a few photos and maps.
(6) Academic quote: “I find that the three major administrative problems on a campus are sex for the students, athletics for the alumni, and parking for the faculty.” ~ Clark Kerr, UC Berkeley President, 1958-1967
(7) “The Life of a Data Byte”: The article by Jessie Frazelle, in the December 2020 issue of Communications of the ACM, is summarized in the following timeline of key developments in storage technology.
1951 Uniservo tape drive for Univac 1     1952 IBM 726 tape unit
1956 First magnetic disk: IBM RAMAC, 3.75-MB     1963 DECtape: 3/4″, inexpensive/reliable
1967 Work begins on IBM’s floppy disk     1969 Appolo Guidance Computer’s rope ROM
1977 Datasette: Cheap storage for Commodore PET     1978 LaserDisc for audio & video storage
1979 Seagate Technology founded: Tiny disks     1981 First 3.5″ floppy drive: Sony
1984 Sony’s CD-ROM: 550 MB     1991 SanDisk’s prototype SSD unit for IBM
1994 Zip disk by Iomega: 3.5″, 100 MB     1997 CD-RW (rewritable compact disk)
1999 IBM’s Microdrive: 1″, 170/340 MB     2000 USB flash drives
2005 Perpendicular-magnetic-recording disks     2007 First TB hard disk: Hitachi
2009 Industry working group for NVM formed     Last decade’s developments too numerous to list!

2020/12/09 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos I took during and after yesterday's walk: Giant wavesPhotos I took during and after yesterday's walk: Beautiful cloudsPhotos I took during and after yesterday's walk: Early sunset
Photos I took during and after yesterday's walk: Late sunsetPhotos I took during and after yesterday's walk: ReflectionsPhotos I took during and after yesterday's walk: My Christmas lights(1) Photos I took during and after yesterday’s walk: Waves, clouds, sunset, and my Christmas lights. [Video]
(2) Building spherical reservoirs by the explosion method: Don’t try this at home! First, a near-sphere is built, with a vent opening at the top. Then, the right amount of water is put in the reservoir and the right amount/kind of explosives are hung at the center of it. The explosion forcefully and evenly pushes the water to the sides, which shapes the metal into a sphere. [Video]
(3) A simple math puzzle: Use math symbols between the digits to make valid equalities.
2+2+2 = 6;  3  3  3 = 6;  4  4  4 = 6;  5  5  5 = 6;  6  6  6 = 6;  7  7  7 = 6;  8  8  8 = 6;  9  9  9 = 6
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– The first SCOTUS test: The Supreme Court rejects GOP’s challenge to voting outcome in Pennsylvania.
– A black market for COVID-19 vaccines is inevitable: This is an integral part of capitalism!
– The ‘Fauci effect’: Medical school applications are up 18% this year.
– A timely article by Cansu Canca, entitled “Computing Ethics: Operationalizing AI Ethics Principles” (CACM).
– “Women Leaving Islam”: Documentary sneak preview, Thursday, December 10, 2020, 11:00 AM PST.
– Persian music: Ziba Shirazi performs “Ghesseh-ye Eshgh” (“Love Story”).
– IEEE Computer Society webinar: “Next-Generation Wireless Overview & Outlook” (Mark Goldstein). [Report]
(5) Cartoon caption of the day: “We’ve moved a few things around: Travel books are in the Fantasy section, Politics in in Sci-Fi, and Epidemiology is in Self-Help, Good Luck.”
(6) Installing cronies on his way out: Trump nominates former advisor Kellyanne Conway, along with some two-dozen other supporters, campaign donors, and billionaires to prestigious government positions.
(7) Stanford University’s Iranian Studies Program pays tribute to Maestro Mohammad-Reza Shajarian [1940-2020]: The program will feature some of the foremost masters of classical Iranian music who collaborated with Shajarian or were his students. Thursday, December 10, 2020, 10:00 AM PST. [YouTube] [Facebook Live]
(8) Discussion on black holes (Part 2): We all have heard about black holes, but many of us are at a loss in explaining exactly what they are, how they are formed, and why they are important in the architecture of the cosmos. In yesterday’s Zoom gathering of Tehran University’s College of Engineering Class of 1968 (Fanni ’68), Professor Djamshid Farivar, speaking in Persian, presented Part 2 of his talk about black holes, a topic that has become more current by the award of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics to Roger Penrose (1/2), Reinhard Genzel (1/4), and Andrea Ghez (1/4) for their black-hole-related discoveries.
These images show a visualization of the Big Bang, curvature of spacetime, and a diagram relating to one of my questions. If light bends toward a massive object due to its gravitational pull, then we should see a distant star slightly to the right of its actual position, whereas in a diagram shown by the speaker, it appeared to be slightly to the left. I am awaiting an explanation. [My Facebook post on Part 1]

2020/12/08 (Tuesday): Trying to make a dent in my backlog of book reviews by offering three reviews.
Cover image of Jason O. Gilberts 'The Mueller Report'Cover image of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'We Should All Be Feminists'Cover image for Mark Bauerlein's 'The Digital Divide'(1) Book review: Gilbert, Jason O., The Mueller Report: The Leaked Investigation into President Donald Trump and His Inner Circle of Con Men, Circus Clowns, and Children He Named After Himself, unabridged audiobook, read by Michael Ian Black, James Adomian, and Laura Benanti, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2018.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This fake-news, hilarious version of the serious report, with hypothetical testimonies and news headlines, is structured around real events, but fills in the details of what was said and done based on imagined narratives for comic effect. It is much easier on the reader than the real thing! I tried to read the real published report (The Washington Post, 2019), but got bored pretty quickly, especially since I had heard much of the story on TV news, press reports, and on-line posts.
The book begins with a comical discussion of typefaces considered, expounding upon Making Helvetica Great Again and the Failing Times New Roman! The actual narrative begins with the mysterious Melania T., who speaks with a Slovenian accent, pretending to be the secret leaker. It then proceeds with hilarious interview transcripts, intercepted phone calls, incriminating e-mails and text exchanges, and typo-filled all-caps presidential tweets.
The book is fun to read. It is a sign of utter dysfunction and folly in our political system that the book’s fictional narrative constructed for making the reader smile does not seem too far-fetched at all!
(2) Book review: Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, We Should All Be Feminists, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2017. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This eloquently-argued essay is adapted from the Nigerian author’s 29-minute TED talk bearing the same title. Early in the essay, Adichie relates that when she was 14, a male friend told her that she was a feminist, and he did not mean it as a compliment! Then, after a number of people informed her of the negative baggage that comes with the term, including its origins in foreign cultures and anti-men connotations, she decided to jokingly call herself “a happy African feminist who does not hate men and who likes lip gloss and who wears high heels for herself and not for men”!
Adichie shines a light on outdated notions of gender and gender roles. At one point in human history, physical strength was a necessity for survival and, because men were stronger, they emerged as leaders. In today’s world, leadership requires intelligence, creativity, and courage, attributes that have little to do with gender. Masculinity is a hard, small cage that we put our boys into. We then link masculinity with money and impress upon boys that they have to pay when they go out with a girl, which leads to boys being far more likely to steal money from their parents.
Gender divide and sexual politics harm both women and men. We should do better in educating our girls, and boys, to recognize blatant discrimination, which has marginalized women around the world and has given men fragile egos. Some would say that women being subordinate to men is part of our culture. But culture can change. If gender equality isn’t part of our culture, then we must make it part of our culture. This is the sense in which Adichie believes that we should all be feminists.
(3) Book review: Bauerlein, Mark (editor), The Digital Divide: Arguments for and Against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking, Penguin, 2011. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The term “digital divide” refers to two concepts of inequity in enjoying the benefits of modern information technology. One is inequity in access, which may result from lack of means to buy digital devices or lack of access to high-speed Internet service. Another is inequity in the knowledge to make use of digital resources, such as being aware of privacy laws or proper/safe ways of accessing and using the Internet. Both divides are intimately related to income and wealth gaps.
I picked up this book in order to learn more about the two kinds of divides outlined in the preceding paragraph. Unfortunately, the book does not offer much about the first divide and only a couple of chapters on the second divide. I particularly enjoyed the chapter by Marc Prensky entitled “Digital natives, digital immigrants,” which describes the divide between older people who migrate to the digital world vs. younger people, who are born into the digital world.
Even though the book did not meet my expectations, I still found it quite informative and learned a great deal from it, as it nicely covers the attributes of the on-line world and how going digital is affecting our personal and professional lives. It tackles questions of how our culture is being shaped by everything becoming digital and whether we are becoming stupid as a result.
Following an introductory chapter, the book unfolds in three sections, each with 8-9 essays. Some of the essays are already dated, but the structure and list of topics is still of much value. The essays are excerpted or reprinted from various sources.
Let me end my review by listing the books table-of-contents, because the essay titles are quite descriptive of the book’s scope.
Section One—The Brain, the Senses: Digital natives, digital immigrants / Marc Prensky; Do they really think differently? / Mark Prensky; The internet / Steven Johnson; Learning to think in a digital world / Maryanne Wolf; Learning theory, video games, and popular culture / James Gee; Usability of websites for teenagers / Jakob Nielsen; User skills improving, but only slightly / Jakob Nielsen; Is google making us stupid? / Nicholas Carr; Your brain is evolving right now / Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan
Section Two—Social Life, Personal Life, School: Identity crisis / Sherry Turkle; They call me cyberboy / Douglas Rushkoff; The people’s net / Douglas Rushkoff; Social currency / Douglas Rushkoff; The eight net gen norms / Don Tapscott; Love online / Henry Jenkins; We can’t ignore the influence of digital technologies / Cathy Davidson; Virtual friendship and the new narcissism / Christine Rosen; Activists / John Palfrey and Urs Gasser
Section Three—The Fate of Culture: Nomadicity / Todd Gitlin; What is web 2.0? Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software / Tim O’Reilly; Web squared: Web 2.0 five years on / Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle; Web 2.0: The second generation of the Internet has arrived and it’s worse than you think / Andrew Keen; Wikipedia and beyond: Jimmy Wales’s sprawling vision / Katherine Mangu-Ward; Judgment: Of Molly’s gaze and Taylor’s watch: Why more is less in a split-screen world / Maggie Jackson; A dream come true / Lee Siegel; The end of solitude / William Deresiewicz; Means / Clay Shirky

2020/12/07 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of the December 2020 issue of 'IEEE Spectrum' magazineA selfie I took during a long walk around Goleta, including along the Calle Real commercial centerKid of the Year: Time magazine honors Gitanjali Rao, developer of a mobile device to detect lead in drining water
Just to be sure you don't mix up these three things, as we approach the holidays: Santa, Satan, Santana!Cartoon: Pre-occupation with basic needs makes one lose sight of the importance of freedomTweet: 'Home Alone 2: Lost in New York ... And Georgia. And Wisconsin. And Michigan. And Pennsylvania. And Nevada. And Arizona. ...'(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Hypersonics, the new arms race: The cover feature of IEEE Spectrum magazine’s December 2020 issue is devoted to the quest by big military powers of the world to build missiles that can follow erratic paths at low altitude, while flying at five times the speed of sound, which would make detecting and intercepting them nearly impossible. [Top center] A selfie I took during a long walk around Goleta, including along the Calle Real commercial center. [Top right] Kid of the Year: Time magazine honors Gitanjali Rao, developer of a mobile device to detect lead in drining water. [Bottom left] Just to be sure you don’t mix up these three things, as we approach the holidays: Santa, Satan, Santana! [Bottom center] If you are kept pre-occupied with basic needs, you forget about freedom, which can deliver your basic needs and more! [Bottom right] Tweet of the day: “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York … And Georgia. And Wisconsin. And Michigan. And Pennsylvania. And Nevada. And Arizona. …”
(2) Political humor: After holding a press conference at Four Seasons Landscaping, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani went to a nearby food court to present his legal case!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Way to go Georgia! Thank you for helping remove Trump. Now please do the same with Mitch McConnell!
– Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19.
– Governor Cuomo explains challenges in procuring, transporting, and administering COVID-19 vaccines.
– Unconfirmed reports: Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei hands power to son due to deteriorating health.
– War on attorneys intensifies: Iran’s mullahs create a new office for monitoring lawyers’ personal lives.
– Stories from Iran’s 1981 mass executions: Baha’i doctor Masih Farhangi used to treat his prison guards.
– Iran’s security forces arrest 15-year-old Amir Kaabi, from Khuzestan Province, on unknown charges.
– Memories of Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara, from December 7, 2017. [Photos]
– Indian proverb: “Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount.”
– Bob Dylan sells his entire music catalog of 600+ song to Universal Music. The Beatles sold theirs in 1985.
(4) Former Iranian Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi sentenced to 28 months in prison: Her charges include revealing classified information and documents with the aim of undermining national security, propaganda against the regime, promoting corruption & prostitution, and encouraging individuals to sexual deviancy. The last couple of charges are often leveled against those who promote women’s rights.
(5) Narcissist in need of attention: Donald Trump is reportedly planning a campaign rally at the same time as Joe Biden’s inauguration: I hope the media deny this attention-starved man-child any coverage.
(6) Holocaust education for a country with many deniers: IranWire has launched a series of articles about the Holocaust, antisemitism, and heroes fighting against hatred and prejudice.
(7) How Saudi nationals mysteriously disappear from the US just before they are arrested for crimes: Do they run some kind of intelligence operation in the US? Story on next week’s CBS “60 Minutes.”

2020/12/06 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Ziba Shirazi tells/sings the life story of Mariam Safinia in a two-hour on-line concertScreenshot showing my completely empty e-mail in-box, as of 2020/12/05Cover image of 'The Week,' portraying a would-be dictator and his clownish legal team(1) Images of the day: [Left] Ziba Shirazi tells/sings the life story of Mariam Safinia in an enjoyable two-hour on-line concert. Safinia is Head of the School of Practical Philosophy in Pleasanton, CA, which “offers a journey of self-discovery that guides students towards understanding their own innate wisdom and an appreciation of the underlying unity connecting us all.” [Center] It took me two days, but I have done it again! Last night, my e-mail in-box became empty once again, after deleting spam-like e-mails, responding to about a dozen, and creating to-do-list entries for the rest. [Right] The failed coup: The American democratic infrastructure, including our courts, seem to have held up against a would-be dictator and his clownish legal team.
(2) Ethical wranglings between Google and a fired employee: Timnit Gebru, a co-leader of the Ethical Artificial Intelligence team at Google, says she was fired for sending an email related to the Company’s request that she retract an AI-ethics conference paper she had co-written with six others, including four Google employees.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Countries move to ban sale of gasoline-powered cars & auto companies signal move to electric-only models.
– Columbia U. students threaten to withhold tuition payments next semester due to economic depression.
– Salafi cleric’s comments about the Yarsani minority create tensions in Iran’s Kermanshah Province.
– A melting ice patch in Norway has revealed dozens of arrows, some of which date back 6000 years.
– Footage of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s wedding to his first wife in Cairo (1939) and their return to Tehran.
– Come to think of it, adjusting to the old normal at the end of the new COVID-19 normal won’t be easy!
(4) Producing oxygen on Mars: The Mars mission, launched in July 2020, carries MOXIE, a small box that produces oxygen from atmospheric CO2. The device can produce enough oxygen to support one human being. A much larger version is needed to make liquid-oxygen fuel for a rocket. Future plans include using a device that can split water in underground Martian brine into oxygen and hydrogen.
(5) UCSB Music Department undergraduate student recital: Mezzo-soprano Terra Giddens (a student of Dr. Isabel Bayrakdarian) accompanied by pianist Erik Lawrence presented works by Georges Bizet, Manuel de Falla, Kurt Weill, Hector Berlioz, Stefano Donaudy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Richard Strauss.
(6) Final thought for the day: Immigrants who spread falsehoods undermining our democracy should be deported: I have had it with fellow-Iranian-American immigrants spreading falsehood about the integrity of our 2020 elections. Yes, there were problems that need to be fixed, but just because your moronic candidate didn’t win, you can’t undermine our democracy. Every day, I receive multiple private messages and see Facebook posts that peddle conspiracy theories, essentially repeating, without thinking, debunked ideas from far-right, Neo-Nazi, and other discredited Web sites. Meanwhile, many of those who initiate these conspiracy theories, including Donald Trump, are filling their pockets with contributions and merchandise sales.

2020/12/05 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Webinar on 'Women and Resistance Arts and Literature': Webinar flyerWebinar on 'Women and Resistance Arts and Literature': Poem by Nabina DasWebinar on 'Women and Resistance Arts and Literature': Cover of album by Azam Ali(1) Images related to the webinar “Women and Resistance Arts and Literature” (see the last item below).
(2) Rats abandoning Trump’s sinking ship: Those interviewing for new jobs cite a need for employment and Trump’s erratic behavior. And they just noticed the latter after a full 4-year term?
(3) Iranian women, who are not given the time of day by the Islamic regime, succeed in exile: Refugee Golriz Ghahraman is a member of parliament in New Zealand. [Green Party] [Facebook] [Wikipedia]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris picks three women to senior staff positions.
– Former Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton volunteer to take coronavirus vaccine publicly to prove it’s safe.
– Chang’e 5 Ascent Vehicle lifts off from Moon with lunar samples collected by the Chinese probe.
– The 57-year-old Arecibo Observatory’s iconic radio-telescope, featured in a James Bond movie collapses.
(5) Extremist-Islamic hypocrisy: Masoumeh Ebtekar was one of the student hostage-takers in the US Embassy in Tehran. She is now a high-ranking Iranian official whose son resides in the US with his family. [MSF video]
(6) Free webinar of interest to those who want to learn about 5G/6G wireless technology:
Title: “Next-Generation Wireless Overview & Outlook”
Speaker: Mark Goldstein, President of International Research Center
Details: Wednesday, December 9, 2020, 6:00-8:00 PM PST, via WebEx [Registration link]
(7) “Women and Resistance Arts and Literature”: This was the subject of today’s webinar hosted by PhD scholars Nasim Basiri (Oregon State U.) and Ozlem Has (U. Copenhagen). [Recording of the webinar]
Azam Ali (Ramin Torkian; singer & visual artist) began by outlining her struggles in defining feminism. Becoming an artist was a challenge, because that simply isn’t what nice Iranian girls do, if you ask parents! She has always been interested in breaking barriers and doing things that are outside the norm, which means going head-on against the male-dominated hierarchy in the arts world.
Speaking from India, where it was early Sunday morning, Nabina Das (poet) began by relating some of her family background. The history of India is marred by divisions, particularly after the British departed. She read a poem of hers that addressed these divisions, from a feminist perspective. After showing some of her amateur artwork, she read another poem entitled “My neighbour is a gau-rakshak.”
A third speaker, Attasalina Theresa (singer/songwriter/artist), was added to the previously announced program. She talked a bit about being conflicted between her American identity and her roots. Praising the diversity of the participants, Theresa observed that such varying points of view are keys to making progress.
I submitted a couple of questions/comments, which were addressed by Ali and Das.
Q1: Azam Ali mentioned that she struggles with the definition of feminism. To me, feminism is simply described in four words: “Women are human beings.” In her essay We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie jokes that she began calling herself “a happy African feminist who does not hate men and who likes lip gloss and who wears high heels for herself and not for men” to counteract the cliches that feminists are angry, man-hating, Westernized women, who cannot find husbands!
Q2: Nabina Das spoke of political divisions, which have caused some people to go to sleep in one country and wake up in another. What about religious divisions, which have produced heightened conflicts lately? Do religious divisions place additional burdens on women (beyond their effects on the population in general)? There is also extreme misogyny in certain parts of India. Is there a relationship between religious dogma and the misogyny (particularly rape culture) prevalent in some regions?

2020/12/04 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme: Quote on women's freedom from Simin DaneshvarHistory in pictures: Pyramid structures of the worldOn December 21, 2020, Jupiter and Saturn will align so closely in the night sky that they appear to collide from our vantage point on Earth
Photos I took during my walk in Goleta, CA, in the late afternoon of Wednesday, 2020/12/02: SkyPhotos I took during my walk in Goleta, CA, in the late afternoon of Wednesday, 2020/12/02: SignsPhotos I took during my walk in Goleta, CA, in the late afternoon of Wednesday, 2020/12/02: Sunset(1) Images of the day: [Top left] Quote of the day: “I am a woman and entitled to breathe the same air that enters a man’s lungs. It’s painful that my freedom is taken away, so that he does not commit sins. It’s offensive that he pays more attention to the shape of my body than the contents of my thoughts. It’s regrettable that I have to adjust my clothing according to the weakness of his faith.” ~ Simin Daneshvar [Top center] History in pictures: Pyramid structures of the world. [Top right] A special once-in-800-years holiday gift to us from the cosmos: On December 21, 2020, Jupiter and Saturn will align so closely in the night sky that they appear to collide from our vantage point on Earth. The two planets will create a radiant point of light, often referred to as the “Star of Bethlehem” or the “Christmas Star.” [Bottom row] Photos I took during my walk in Goleta, CA, in the late afternoon of Wednesday, 2020/12/02.
(2) There are signs that multiple legal cases will be brought against Trump, his family, and his administration after January 20, 2021: Once prosecutors are done, it will be sociologists’ turn to figure out why 70+ million Americans wanted four more years of corruption and ineptitude.
(3) Iranian athletes are campaigning to remove the country’s ban on competing against Israelis: While anti-Semitism is on the rise worldwide, Iranians (not the ruling mullahs) accept and even embrace Israel.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Georgia official tells Trump to stop inspiring violence against election workers who are doing their jobs.
– The 2020 Right Livelihood Award goes to 4 champions of human rights, including Iran’s Nasrin Sotoudeh.
– Humor: The WH has suddenly become a very polite place: Everyone is going around saying “pardon me”!
– A real queen’s gambit: An Iranian female chess player describes why she left Iran to play chess in the US.
– Remote work is great and it helps with social & environmental problems, but it’s applicability is limited.
– Memory from Dec. 4, 2011: Director responds to a Khamenei crony likening Iranian cinema to a brothel.
– A new, effective way to fight COVID-19: Satanize (or satanise, if you’re British) your hands! [Photo]
– The soup part of this Azerbaijani dish resembles the Iranian aabgoosht: But so much food for two people!
(5) Artificial intelligence solves 50-year-old grand-challenge science problem: The AI group DeepMind has created AlphaFold, an algorithm that accurately predicts the formation of proteins in hours rather than years. This is thought to be AI’s first major contribution to science.
(6) This is a Soviet-era street joke, which applies to Iran with minimal modifications: A man on his way to work in Tehran bought a Kayhan newspaper every morning, took a quick look at its first page, and disgustedly tossed it into a trash can. One day, the newspaper kiosk owner who had seen this behavior hundreds of times decided to solve the mystery and asked the man what he was looking for in the paper. The man replied that he was looking for an obituary. “But obituaries do not appear on the first page,” said the kiosk owner. The man replied: “The one I am looking for would definitely appear on the first page!”

2020/12/03 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Author Dalia Sofer, who gave a talk about her second novel, 'Man of My Time'Tea bags with distinct brand names and allegedly manufactured in different countries are identical in many respectsMemory from December 3, 2011: My daughter and I after her ballet performance(1) Images of the day: [Left] Book talk by Dalia Sofer (see the last item below). [Center] Manufacturing in today’s world: Sometimes, I get an eerie feeling that products from different brands are really the same, but packaged and labeled differently. Here is evidence in one instance. Tea bags with distinct brand names and allegedly manufactured in different countries are identical with regards to bag shape/size, tab shape/size, and string length. [Right] Memory from December 3, 2011: My daughter and I after her ballet performance.
(2) Undergraduate MIT student pushes the frontiers of graph theory: Ashwin Sah, Portland, Oregon, native who just turned 21, has already published enough important results to qualify for a faculty position. One of his most-striking results is improving the upper bound for two-color Ramsey numbers, a problem that many talented mathematicians have worked on since the introduction of an attack method by Erdos and Szekeres.
(3) Scientists are becoming more politically-engaged: This is a double-edged sword. With political activism comes social awareness, which helps tailor science to people’s needs. On the other hand, there is some danger that the politicization of science will make our society more suspicious of scientists and their recommendations.
(4) Book talk, Man of My Time: Iranian-American author Dalia Sofer, best known for her first novel The Septembers of Shiraz, talked this morning about her new novel. The talk was sponsored by Stanford University’s Program in Iranian Studies. [Cover image and excerpt]
Sofer’s first novel, set during the turbulent days of the Iranian Revolution, chronicled the plight of a wealthy Jewish family whose patriarch was arrested, brutally interrogated, and accused of spying for Israel. It was turned into a film, starring Salma Hayek, Armin Amiri, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Adrien Brody, and Velislav Pavlov.
Sofer’s new book is also receiving critical acclaim. She began her book talk by briefly recounting her life, including how her father turned her passport into a family passport by erasing some information and writing in the new information, along with a new photo, in order to escape Iran. She said that she was conflicted about her first novel, viewing it as turning her grief into a commodity in the American consumer market, trading that grief for money and fame/awards.
Man of My Time is set in Tehran & New York and tells the story of Hamid Mozaffarian, an Iranian alienated from both himself and the world. “After decades of working with ambivalence for the Iranian government, Hamid travels on a diplomatic mission to New York, where he encounters his estranged family and retrieves the ashes of his father. Tucked into a mint tin in Hamid’s pocket, the ashes propel him into an excavation of a lifetime of betrayals, forcing him to confront his past. Exploring variations of loss, Man of My Time is not only about family and memory, but also about the relationship between captor and captive, country and citizen, and individual and history.” [From Sofer’s narrative for her talk]
Asked whether she sees this second book also turned into a movie, Sofer responded that she had a terrible experience with the previous movie and that she would not repeat the same mistake!
Here is a question I asked Sofer, to which she responded with an acknowledgment of the positive impact of her first novel: “You mentioned that you were conflicted about trading your and your family’s grief for money and recognition by writing your first novel. What about the positive side of your first novel, that is, providing many Iranians in exile and their children a window into the mistreatment of people, Jews in particular, in the post-revolutionary Iran. My daughter, born in the US, loved your book.”

2020/12/02 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
RIP, Dr. Mohammad Maleki, 1933-2020: The first President of Tehran University after the Islamic RevolutionPersian poetry: A couple of verses from a Hafez ghazalNeptune's Grotto, a stalactite cave located in the town of Alghero on the island of Sardinia, Italy(1) Images of the day: [Left] RIP, Dr. Mohammad Maleki, 1933-2020: The first President of Tehran University after the Islamic Revolution was jailed both by the Shah’s regime and by the mullahs (an initial death sentence commuted to 10 years jail time). He was a harsh critic of the closure of Iranian universities under the banner of “Cultural Revolution” and remained a staunch critic of the Islamic regime, after retiring from his faculty post. [Center] Persian poetry: A couple of verses from a Hafez ghazal (English translation). [Right] Neptune’s Grotto: Located in the town of Alghero on the island of Sardinia, Italy, this stalactite cave was discovered by local fishermen in the 18th century and has since developed into a popular tourist attraction.
(2) Memory from December 2, 2012: “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘Try to be a little kinder.’” ~ Aldous Huxley, British author (1894-1963)
(3) Memory from December 2, 2017: Any demagogue or despot who ends up destroying a country keeps insisting till his last day that it is moving it toward greatness.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Daily US deaths from COVID-19 are nearing 3000: This is a much more important stat than Dow 30,000!
– The US Justice Department is investigating the White House in a case of bribe-for-pardon.
– Disputing Trump, AG Barr says the Justice Department found no widespread election fraud.
– Historians fear that Trump may destroy records on his way out, so they sue to ensure preservation.
– Memory from December 2, 2014: Kudos to the in-betweeners! [Facebook post]
(5) “The Crisis in Karabagh: Causes and Consequences” [Screenshot]: This was the title of today’s Zoom talk by Anna Ohanyan, Richard B. Finnegan Distinguished Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Stonehill College, and two-time Fulbright Scholar to South Caucasus. I was able to join the webinar, after initially giving up, when technical difficulties from the speaker’s side caused my loss of connection.
Information that I share below comes in part from the speaker, who, understandably, presented a pro-Armenian view, and a New York Times article, which is more balanced.
The territory of (Nagorno-)Karabagh, with majority Armenian and minority Turkish residents, has been in dispute for decades. It had recently been run as a near-independent, democratic, de-facto state (it was pushing for independence from Armenia). The word “Nagorno” derives from the Russian word for “highland,” given that more than half of the 1700-square-miles region is elevated by 3000+ feet above see level.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Armenia prevailed and took control of Karabagh in an early-1990s war. A low-intensity conflict (border skirmishes, with fewer than two-dozen fatalities per year) with Azerbaijan ensued. Recent escalation of hostilities, during which Turkey supported Azerbaijan and Russia remained on the sideline, despite its defense agreement with Armenia, transferred control of the region to Azerbaijan.
Hostilities have now ended due a peace deal brokered by Moscow, with Russian and Turkish peacekeeping forces patrolling the territory, which is salt on the wounds of the area’s Armenian residents, who got just a small fraction of the land they lost returned to them as part of the peace deal. Whether Russia will be willing or able to protect the Armenians returning to their homes in the area remains to be seen.

2020/12/01 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Geometry of Martian dunes: ExplanationGeometry of Martian dunes: PhotoChart showing the rise in the number of multi-authored, multi-national papers and sharp decline in the number of single-authored papers(1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] The eerie geometry of Martian dunes: First observed by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the dunes form a polygonal pattern similar to those seen in some live organisms on Earth. Here is one theory about how the patterns come about. Winds blowing from multiple directions push sand around. During the day, warm air rises up towards the crater’s rim, possibly sweeping sand along with it. At night, cool air moves in the opposite direction, potentially blowing sand, too. Geological features within craters, such as mountains, add turbulence, causing gusts to collide and swirl around. Swept back and forth by these winds and confined to a crater, sand can pile into intersecting ridges oriented in many different directions, resulting in polygonal shapes like those seen in the images. [Right] Single-authored scientific papers are nearly extinct (gray area in chart): Papers authored by multi-national teams are on the rise (orange area).
(2) Will Donald Trump write a memoir? The publishing industry dreads the possibility. For one thing, Trump’s most-ardent fans aren’t book readers. For another, memoirs are filled with exaggerations and wishful pronouncements, even with the most-honest writers.
(3) Everyone was excited about the Iranian calendar date 9/9/99 a couple of days ago: A few centenarians, including the oldest Shi’i cleric in Qom, yawned, because they had seen the special date before!
(4) Black holes: We all have heard about black holes, but many of us are at a loss in explaining exactly what they are, how they are formed, and why they are important in the architecture of the cosmos. In today’s Zoom gathering of Tehran University’s College of Engineering Class of 1968 (Fanni ’68), Professor Djamshid Farivar, speaking in Persian, provided some answers to the questions above, which have become more current by the award of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics to Roger Penrose (1/2), Reinhard Genzel (1/4), and Andrea Ghez (1/4) for their black-hole-related discoveries. [Zoom screenshot]
One of the intereting facts I learned from this talk is an explanation of why nothing can escape a black hole. For a spherical object of mass M and radius R, the escape velocity, the minimal initial speed of an object in order to escape the gravitational pull of the sphere, is given by the formula sqrt(2GM/R), where G = 6.674 x 10^(–11) is Newton’s gravitational constant. The formula is readily obtained by equating the sum of kinetic and potential energies of an object on the sphere’s surface with the corresponding figures at distance h, while letting h tend to infinity. According to this formula, Sun’s escape velocity is 617 km/s. For Earth, it is 11.2 km/s. For a black hole, the mass M is huge and the radius R is tiny, so escape velocity becomes greater than the speed of light, making escape impossible. If Earth were compressed into a globe of radius ~1 cm, it would become a black hole. Sun’s radius must be reduced to ~3 km to turn it into a black hole.
The discussion will continue next Tuesday, December 8, 2020, beginning at 10:00 AM PST.
Here is NASA’s introductory article on black holes, with links to additional information.

2020/11/30 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos from my downtown Santa Barbara walk this afternoon: Batch 1The full moon, shot from my bedroom window at 4:17 this morningPhotos from my downtown Santa Barbara walk this afternoon: Batch 2
Photos from my downtown Santa Barbara walk this afternoon: Batch 3Photos from my downtown Santa Barbara walk this afternoon: Batch 4Photos from my downtown Santa Barbara walk this afternoon: Batch 5(1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] Walking along State Street in Downtown Santa Barbara: In mid-afternoon on this last day of November 2020, I had to do a store pick-up on State & De La Vina Streets. Given the sunny and mild weather, I decided to do my daily walk from there to Stearns Wharf and back (around 7 miles, round trip). Along the way, I shot photos of downtown architecture and various businesses on the almost-deserted street, given the time of day on a weekday. [Top center] The full Moon, shot from my bedroom window at 4:17 this morning: I was hoping to capture the penumbral lunar eclipse, when the edge of Earth’s shadow touches the Moon, but missed it by a couple of hours. [Bottom row] More photos from downtown SB.
(2) Book introduction: Arion Golmakani’s Solacers isn’t a book about Iran, as the author clarifies early on, but about a boy who happened to grow up in Iran. The emotional and physical abuse he suffered could have happened anywhere on the planet Earth. My review of the book will be forthcoming here and on GoodReads.
[Unabridged audiobook, read by Neil Shah, Tantor Audio, 2017]
[Titled Alireza in the Persian translation by Shadi Hamedi, RedCornPoopy Books, UK edition, 2014]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
– Trump lawyer says Krebs should be taken out at dawn and shot for defending election security.
– The universal geometry of geology: A detailed discussion of how nature does geometry.
– Cartoon of the day: Zoom-meeting tip for cat owners. [Image]
– Croatian pianist Maksim Mrvica plays Theme from “Game of Thrones”. Look him up on YouTube!
– Free on-line musical event: Ziba Shirazi tells the life story of Mariam Safinia. [Facebook page]
– Persian music: A performance of the oldie song “Bordi az Yaadam” by Hooshmand Aghili and two women.
(4) Reza Rohani (son of maestro Anoushiravan Rohani) performs a new arrangement of his dad’s beautiful composition “Emshab” (“Tonight”), with vocals by Sara Naeini. [3-minute video]
(5) RIP, Ramesh [1946-2020]: Azar Mohebbi Tehrani, professionally known simply as “Ramesh,” was a popular and influential singer during my youth in Iran (she was a few months older than me). Despite remaining popular after the Islamic Revolution, she chose not to be active on the music scene. [Music samples]
(6) Going back towards the Middle Ages: As the list of civilized countries banning the death penalty expands, Trump’s DoJ rushes to include new execution methods such as firing squads.

2020/11/29 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.