Thursday Dec 25, 2008

The Gibbs

I was reading about the Amistad case on Wikipedia, and noticed the interesting role that Josiah Willard Gibbs Sr., the theologian, had played in finding a Mende speaker. (Gibbs learned how to say numerals one to ten in Mende, shouted it in the New York Harbor, and found someone who understood the numbers.) Gibbs name, of course, made me curious about this relationship to the other Josiah Willard Gibbs, the mathematician and physical chemist, whose theories we constantly apply in chemical thermodynamics. (Josiah Willard Gibbs, Jr. also happens to have been awarded the very first U.S. Ph.D. in engineering, under a dissertation entitledOn the Form of the Teeth of Wheels in Spur Gearing.)

It might be worth mentioning that Wikipedia runs on the MySQL database server, as has already been described in a number of case studies and presentations.

Wednesday Jan 30, 2008

Data History

Meeting in Menlo Park (2006)

I took this picture in 2006 near the Sun MPK Cafeteria.

I find it historically interesting!

Thursday Sep 20, 2007

Zero Degree Turn -- Persian TV mini-Series


Farnaz Fassihi of The Wall Street Journal ("Iranian Unlikely TV Hit"), Washington Post, Nasser Karimi of Associated Press ("Iran's Newest Hero Aids WWII Era Jews"), a certain teenage family member ("Persian Stuff: Zero Degree Turn") and now NPR ("Romance on Iranian TV Crosses Cultures") have all published stories and bits and pieces about "Zero Degree Turn," an Iranian TV mini-series shot in Paris and Budapest.

The mini-series involves a love story between an Iranian-Palestinian Muslim man and a French Jewish woman during World War II. It is based on the true story of an Iranian student-diplomat in Paris who saved some 1,000 French Jews by issuing Iranian passports to them as a means of passage to the safety of neutral Iran.

YouTube seems to have some pieces of some of the episodes. I hear that the theme song of the mini-series has become quite a hit in Iran, and every Monday night people gather to watch it. Here, in the U.S. it broadcasts every Friday night on JJTVN through free satellite connection.

(I also ran into a CNN character and political analysis of the mini-series on YouTube. Unfortunately, it was grossly, almost purposefully, inaccurate. While commenting on the mini-series, the reporters don't even bother with getting any of the characters correctly and blatantly confuse very minor characters for the major ones. However, I am hardly surprised. Much of the mainstream media's bar on accuracy in reporting on Iran remains fixed shamefully low.) 

Saturday Apr 07, 2007

Lessons from the Persian Gulf

Abbas Edalat, professor of computer science and mathematics at Imperial College of London, draws some lessons from a recent incident in the Persian Gulf.

Check out, also, his inaugural lecture which begins with some important historical facts on computational arts and has a wonderful slide on the "failure of floating point computation." He gives an example of a floating point arithmetic failure in the "First Gulf War" to demonstrate the importance of the more exact "real arithmetic" based on Kashani's technique for estimating π.

Friday Mar 30, 2007

The Fear Machine

((بزرگترین گناه ترس است.  (حضرت علی (ع

Thus, writes the national security advisor to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski:

Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.

...The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats. That puts a premium on the presentation of credible scenarios of ever-more-horrifying acts of violence, sometimes even with blueprints for their implementation.

...That America has become insecure and more paranoid is hardly debatable. A recent study reported that in 2003, Congress identified 160 sites as potentially important national targets for would-be terrorists. With lobbyists weighing in, by the end of that year the list had grown to 1,849; by the end of 2004, to 28,360; by 2005, to 77,769. The national database of possible targets now has some 300,000 items in it, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and an Illinois Apple and Pork Festival.

...The entertainment industry has also jumped into the act. Hence the TV serials and films in which the evil characters have recognizable Arab features, sometimes highlighted by religious gestures, that exploit public anxiety and stimulate Islamophobia. Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in newspaper cartoons, have at times been rendered in a manner sadly reminiscent of the Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns. Lately, even some college student organizations have become involved in such propagation, apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.

...A case in point is the reported harassment of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for its attempts to emulate, not very successfully, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Some House Republicans recently described CAIR members as "terrorist apologists" who should not be allowed to use a Capitol meeting room for a panel discussion.

There is more. Read the full text in the online edition of The Washington Post.

[Note: I have puzzled about the changes in Zbigniew Brzezinski's views for some time. He was seen as the hawk in Carter's administration. Among other things, he has been credited by some for inciting Saddam against Iran. Perhaps, his realism has helped him recognize the subtleties of the current conditions much faster than other strategists.]

Monday Jan 22, 2007

Solaris Deskop + Sun-Intel

I don't know what the default Solaris ("Nevada," Solaris 11, build 55+) desktop is made of but whatever it is made of, it looks and works great. I've only begun exploring it, and it is proving very sticky, meaning that once you start working on it, it is hard to let go. In terms of look-and-feel and real-time user-level performance (not to mention other measures), it competes extraordinarily well with the very best Linux desktops I've ever used, including the ones I'm using now. In my environment, i.e. a 2003 two-CPU Gateway desktop located in building 17 of MPK, it is blazingly fast, and it is not even the latest Xeon. Little wonder: Check out the Sun-Intel announcement coming soon here. The WSJ report on the deal, based on analysts' predictions, can be found here. Sun's CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, has just posted about the announcement.

Tuesday Jan 16, 2007

iPhone and History

John Markoff, technology writer for IHT, reviews the business history behind iPhone and what might lie ahead. Markoff draws parallels between the challenges the early Mac faced with those iPhone might face now. He identifies expandability as one of those challenges. (I should note that Steve Jobs gives his defense of iPhone in the interview fragments accompanies in Markoff's article, one well-worth reading in full.)

Wednesday Mar 08, 2006

Nuclear Opinions - or - The High Art of Mocking Morality

Morality used to mean something at the time of the great saviors. Skillful mocking of it has now become high art and fashionable.

Some are advancing "innovative" moral principles, for example:

  • (a) The world is divided into friends and enemies.

  • (b) Whatever my friends do (no matter how wrong), they have done right!

  • (c) Whatever my enemies do (no matter how right), they have done wrong!

  • (d) Apply the above principles where you can, and where you don't apply them, say you couldn't. This includes the paranthesis in items (c) and (b) above.

Opinion journalism more often than not will go astray, and take up this high art.

"This tailor cuts and sews," so goes the Persian saying, with no care whether the coat will fit the poor fellow who would wear it. The opinion journalists (M. Ledeen, etc.), particularly the ones who eagerly beat the drums of confrontation with Iran at every media corner and opportunity they find, will spare no effort to produce unreal accounts of what is at stake.

So, we read Richard Cohen (of Washington Post) enshrine the new policy principles (see above) with his sanctification of "Judicious Double Standards."

Mockery becomes more manifest when the joker imposes his own value system on others and takes no heed of the importance of consistency.

Not only does Cohen ridicule consistency of rules and standards, he also believes Iranian leaders must think they should want nuclear weapons, even if they don't. In fact, all Iranian political leaders (all of whom are elected officials, by the way) have said, on multiple occasions, that nuclear weapons do not fit their national defense doctrine. They have held such weapons to be not only costly and unnecessary but also ineffective and immoral, despite what Cohen would rather have Iranian leaders believe.

But facts and what others say matter little to opinion makers who are bent towards conflict, specially one that promises, if it ever happens, to be far more costly for the future of the West than for what will become of Iran, not in a physical sense, but in a wierd moral sense.

Here, I could choose at random and analyze every sentence in Mr. Cohen's rhetorical column, show its deep injustice and prove it false based on real events and facts but I have a day job to do and need some evenings to spend with my family instead of blogging.

I do have one quick advice for him to improve his rhetoric. The moral principle he should enshrine is not that double standards are good policy and should be defended but that different cases need to be measured according to their context.

However, all measurement, even if sensitive to the context of a case, will eventually require the same moral foundation, compass and measuring stick, and Mr. Cohen seems to posses only one very rusty and biased measuring tool in his toolbox — the one summarized in the first part of this essay.

Charged adjectives and accusations, deployed using the highest rhetorical techniques, may have a university campus quality but they can hardly turn halucinations into reality.

The moral that "whatever my friend does is right" is far lower in its value as a measuring stick and a guiding principle than the golden rule of reciprocity that says "treat others as you would like to be treated yourself" — in other words consistency on a very personal, deep level — "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" (Gospel of Matthew 7:12 of the Christian Bible). (Unfortunately, when I re-examine the situation, I see that even this principle has been misinterpreted by some towards violence.)

What a great guide consistency can be and how far away, from where Mr. Cohen is taking us, it is!

Poor logic and poor facts when combined with good rhetorical skills — not once, but since the time of Alcibiades, have together dragged the great into wars, some ending like Melos, others like Syracuse!




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