85. Mar 21st 2008: If you're not Jewish!
Borders Bookstore, Palo Alto, CA

(Ed: Marcus du Sautoy, in his book "Symmetry". ) I owe my marriage to Shani to knowning about palindromes. When I was a young post-doc, I was looking for a flat in Jerusalem, but getting nowhere because I wasn't Jewish. For weeks I searched for somewhere to stay. I finally struck lucky when a woman poked her head round the door I'd just knocked on, looked me up and down and barked, 'So do you know what a palindrome is?'. If you're not Jewish, then being an intellectual seemed to be the next best thing. I passed the initiation rite and got the spare room. My third flatmate became my wife.

84. Sep 19th 2007: 4 Wives Too Many ...
Hong Kong, China

Conversation from Hong Kong, "Damn! They are killing the wrong gender you know..", click here

83. Mar 26th 2007: The Happiness Sequel ..
Keplers Bookstore, Menlo Park, CA

(Ed: Continuuing on the hapiness theme, I chanced upon Daniel Gilbert's book, "Stumbling on Happiness" on the weekend.) From the foreword to the book, "Stumbling on Happiness is a book about a very simple but powerful idea. What distinguishes us as human beings from other animals is our ability to predict the future--or rather, our interest in predicting the future. We spend a great deal of our waking life imagining what it would be like to be this way or that way, or to do this or that, or taste or buy or experience some state or feeling or thing. We do that for good reasons: it is what allows us to shape our life. And it is by trying to exert some control over our futures that we attempt to be happy. But by any objective measure, we are really bad at that predictive function. We're terrible at knowing how we will feel a day or a month or year from now, and even worse at knowing what will and will not bring us that cherished happiness. Gilbert sets out to figure what that's so: why we are so terrible at something that would seem to be so extraordinarily important? In making his case, Gilbert walks us through a series of fascinating--and in some ways troubling--facts about the way our minds work."

(Ed - An excerpt which I found fascinating follows) Why do you close your eyes when you want to visualize an object, or jam your fingers in your ears when you want to remember the melody of a certain song? You do these things because your brain must use its visual and auditory cortices to execute acts of visual and auditory imagination, and if these areas are already busy doing their primary jobs - namely, seeing and hearing things in the real world -- then they are not available for acts of imagination. You cannot easily imagine a penguin when you are busy inspecting an ostrich because vision is already using the parts of your brain that imagination needs. Put differently, when we ask our brains to look at a real object and an imaginary object at the same time, our brains typically grant the first request and turn down the second. If the brain didn't have this Reality First policy, you'd drive right through a red light if you just happened to be thinking of a green one. The policy that makes it difficult to imagine penguins when we are looking at ostriches (aka access to the visual cortex) also makes it difficult to imagine lust when we are feeling disgust, affection when we are feeling anger, or hunger when we are feeling full; (Ed: and may I add, love two people at the same time, or love someone when we have lingering feelings for another?) aka. Future events may request access to emotional areas of our brains, but current events almost always get the right of way.

Both the sensory (visual for example) and emotional systems enforce this (i.e. Reality First) policy, and yet, we seem to recognize when the sensory systems are turning down imagination's requests but fail to recognize when the emotional system is doing the same. One of the hallmark's of a visual experience is that we can almost always tell when it is the product of a real or imagined object. We understand this, and thus we never become confused and mistakenly conclude that the large bird with the long neck that we are currently seeing, is infact the ostrich that we are trying to imagine. But not so with emotional experience. For example, people who lived in cities that happened to be having nice weather that day imagined their lives, they reported that their lives were relatively happy; but when people who lived in cities that happened to be having bad weather that day imagined their lives, they reported that their lives were relatively unhappy. Their brains enforced the Reality First policy and insisted on reacting to real weather instead of imaginary lives. But apparently, these people didn't know their brains were doing this and thus they mistook reality-induced feelings for imagination induced feelings.

82. Mar 19th 2007: Can't Get No Satisfaction? aka. What Makes Us Happy?
Tokyo, Japan

(Ed: Gleaned from the Scientific American and Prevention Magazine. Sources are here and here )
"Happiness, like baking, is something I've always been good at. And that puzzles me: I don't live in a glass house by the sea, I'm not rich or beautiful, I've endured grief and battled depression. It's true that I've been lucky in love--I have a great husband. But I came to him happy. Yet some people who seem to have all the raw materials for happiness--looks, money, success, and love--seem perpetually glum. So what is it that really makes us happy?"

Happiness is better equated with satisfaction than pleasure, says Emory University psychiatrist Gregory Berns in Satisfaction (Henry Holt, 2005), because the pursuit of pleasure lands us on a never-ending hedonic treadmill that paradoxically leads to misery. "Satisfaction is an emotion that captures the uniquely human need to impart meaning to one's activities," Berns concludes. "While you might find pleasure by happenstance--winning the lottery, possessing the genes for a sunny temperament, or having the luck not to live in poverty (none of which make you happier over the long hual) --satisfaction can arise only by the conscious decision to do something. And this makes all the difference in the world, because it is only your own actions for which you may take responsibility and credit."

Three Roads to Happiness When positive psychologists talk about happiness, what they mean is a sense of deep contentment. There are three routes to achieving it, Seligman, has found, and the most satisfied people pursue all three. One is the pleasant life : full of pleasure, joy, and good times. The second is the engaged life , in which you lose yourself to some passion or activity. And the third is the meaningful life : It may not have many high moments or blissful immersions, but it is packed with purpose.

One way to see what makes people happy is to see what happy people are like. When researchers looked at the 24 character strengths shared by volunteers who scored high on measures of happiness (including creativity, curiosity, bravery, and kindness, gratitude, hope, and zest), one floated to the top: the ability to love and be loved. But love doesn't necessarily mean romance. "We're talking about close relationships with other people-- friends, parents, children. Humans are social creatures, and when we're engaged with our fellows, we are happiest.

81. Feb 28th 2007: The Bitch in the House
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA

Hazel McClay, in her essay, "A Man in the Heart", from the book, "The Bitch in the House".
You fall in love with somebody for big reasons, but they manifest themselves in the small things, and pretty soon you cant tell if you love the quirks because the're his, or you love him because of his quirks. Of course, Charlie was smart, sensitive, and funny enough to make me laugh out loud a dozen times a day. Less generic was his fascination with humanity.

Charlie keeps a pair of binoculars on his desk so he can watch the folks who come and go on the city street below his office window. If we go to a restaurant, he takes the seat against the wall so he can track everyone in the room. And he's forever striking up conversations with strangers. Some of these strangers are delightful; some are crazy. Sometimes I wish Charlie would act a little more like most people--- that is he could ignore the delivery guy, or the little old lady in the cracker aisle, and we could get on with our day. But getting people stories is Charlie's day. It's one of the things he lives for. And I love to watch as he draws out these strangers' stories, as they bloom under the warmth of Charlie's kind attention. That's just one of his quirks I fell in love with. Eventually to my great good luck, Charlie fell in love with me, too. I brought him home, introduced him to my family, my friends. "He's a keeper", everyone said, a thing no one had ever said to me before. "He's perfect for you".

There's only one things missing. I'll give you one guess. This man has never wrapped me in his arms, never covered my mouth with his and kissed me until I gasped for breath. "You're like brother and sister", my friends say, and sometime's even though it's intended as a compliment, of sorts, it gives me pause. Can a couple be too harmonious? Too best of friends. We are a lot alike. But most couples do'nt aspire to be like siblings, and we are no exception. Driving together the other day, he turned to me. "I don't want to be like brother and sister," he said. "Neither do I," I said.

80. Feb 18th 2007: How to get a British Visa in 3 easy steps!
Los Angeles, CA

(Ed: An excerpt of our conversation that took place when we went to get a British visa at the Los Angeles consulate. The conversation is pretty much factual, though slightly embellished for your enjoyment. Lady at counter is (LY), Two Indian guys from Cisco Systems are (G1) and (G2). Note: Dangerous stunt follows; could backfine; not to be attempted without some discretion!..)

LY: Hey. So you are the Cisco guys from San Francisco?
G1: Yes. We are.
LY: Why are you going to the UK?
G2: We are attending a friend's wedding.
(Random conversation, and after looking at the application).
LY: You are single?
G2: (Attempts to play verbally) Yes. A man can afford to be single till he's 60, you know :-)
LY: Do you intend to marry, settle down or buy property in the UK?
G1: (smartly sensing her mood) Its a wedding. We'll be looking!
G2: (Points to G1) - He's gonna hit on them British chicks, you know.
(Grins broadly)
LY: You are from India?
G1: Yes.
G2: (Intended to say, but G1 answers first) Yes. You know from that exotic land from the other side of the planet.
LY: You guys believe in arranged marriage?
G2: Well. Not really. But we are from the younger generation. We believe in True Love!(Ed: True Tender Love has a more wicked ring to it)!
LY: I hear that they are still pretty common in India.
G2: Well. Yes. Come to India! We will set you up!
(Breaks out into laughter; more random conversation).
LY: Okay. So come at 2 'o' clock to pick up your visas.
G2: (Trying for sympathy). You think we could get the visas earlier? That way we could catch an earlier flight back and get back to work.
G1: (Forgetting to play along). No. We are not gonna work today.
G2: (thinking: Dude, please please play along with da sympathy card!)
LY: (Being generous and providing empathy) Oh you dont want to get back to work today, its a very nice day!
G2: Yes. We will probably go shopping in Los Angeles.
LY: Okay. In which case come back in an hour. I will give you your visas.
G2: (Trying to continue the conversation..) Okay. One hour?
G1: (Playing for time).. May be we will hang out and catch breakfast.
G2: (Appearing a touch sad). Yeah. Maybe we'll just kill an hour..
LY: Guys, if you wait a couple minutes, I will print your visas right away!
G2: (With sincere and honest appreciation) You know, we gotta tell you this; we never had a better service at any consulate uptil now.
LY: Oh thank you! and Welcome to the United Kingdom.

79. Jan 9th 2007: Spunk and Bite: aka. the Art of Writing
Kepler's Bookstore, Menlo Park, CA

Arthur Plotnik in his book, "Spunk & Bite: A writer's guide to punchier, more engaging language & style"
(Ed: An excerpt from an introduction to the book) - When too tightly leashed, writing chokes and loses its vitality. Although the rules of composition popularized in William Strunk and E.B. White's, Elements of Style have been de riguer for decades, they wont exactly set your writing free. To the rescue comes Spunk & Bite, a guide to bold and radiant language and style. The secret is to embrace those qualities that composition rulebooks sidestep - among them, surprise, personality, engagement, edge and fearlessness.
(Ed - Plotnik writes in his chapter on the use of surprise in writing) --- "Readers love surprise. They love it when a sentence heads one way and jerks another. They love the boing of a jack-in-the-box word. They adore images that trot by like a unicorn in pajamas. Why does surprise please us? Think of it as a survival mechanism: Unexpected stimuli exercise the neurons, keeeping brains alert to danger, prey and available taxis. In fact, a recent study suggests that brains prefer surprise to the expected. Is there a syntax of surprise, a formula for working it into our locutions? Yes and no. Surprise is like one of its vehicles: humor. Try to parse it, and it's hasta la vista, bubela .

78. Dec 16th 2006:"The Placebo Paradox"
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA

Michael Clark, in his book of collections of logic and mathematical paradoxes, "Paradoxes from A to Z",
Although it may be true that this pill will cure me, and also true that it will cure me only because I believe it will, I cannot believe that it will cure me only because I believe it will.
(Ed: Clark explains the paradox as follows..) A placebo is effective if it makes me better simply because I believe it will. But if I realize it is a placebo, I can no longer believe that it will work because of any of its pharmaceutical properties. If my belief that I will get better makes me better, then it is the belief, not the pill, that cures me. The pill drops out of the picture. If a placebo works, it works via a false belief that it has intrinsice therapeutic properties. Realizing how it is supposed to work defeats the object of taking the placebo. So I can say, 'The pill will cure him just because he believes it will', but I cannot sincerly say, 'The pill will cure me just because I believe it will'. Though I can, of course, realize later that I have benefited from a placebo effect, and so say that the pill cured me simply because I believed it would. (Ed: This book is a great collection of paradoxes. The writing style is pretty academic and terse and usually takes a couple reads to understand any paradox. I would rate the terseness at 7/10 on the (abstruse) Tarjan/Immanuel Kant scale!)

77. Nov 15th 2006:"Life in short just wants to be"
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA

Bill Bryson, in his wonderfully written book, "A Short History of Nearly Everything" -- Like most things that thrive in harsh environments, lichens are slow-growing. It may take a lichen more than half a century to attain the dimensions of a shirt button. Those the size of dinner plates, writes David Attenborough, are therefore “likely to be hundreds if not thousands of years old.” It would be hard to imagine a less fulfilling existence. “They simply exist,” Attenborough adds, “testifying to the moving fact that life even at its simplest level occurs, apparently, just for its own sake.” It is easy too overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of all the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours – arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment’s additional existence. Life, in short, just wants to be. But – and here’s an interesting point – for the most part it doesn’t want to be much.

76. Nov 14th 2006:"How much fun it was to write in passive voice"
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA

John Vorhaus in his book "The Comic Toolbox": And then one day I discovered how much fun it was to write in the passive voice, I knew it was wrong: Strunk and White had told me it was wrong. But I could'nt help myself. The words just came spilling out onto the page:
"The room was walked into by a man by whom strong, handsome features were had. A woman was met by him. The bed was lain upon by her. Then the bed was lain upon by him. Clothing was removed from them both. Sex was had. Climax was acheved. Afterward, cigarettes were smoked by them. Suddenly, the door was opened by the husband of the woman by whom the bed was lain upon. Some screams were screamed and angry words exchanged. Jealousy was felt by the man by whom the gun was held. Firing of the gun was done by him. The flying of bullets took place. Impact was felt by bodies. Remorse was then felt by the man by whom the gun was held. The gun was turned upon himself." ... And the rest, as they say, is forensics.

75. Oct 29th 2006:"To anyone interested in understanding the modern world's problems"
Coupa Cafe, Palo Alto, CA

Jared Diamond in "Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed" : "To anyone interested in understanding the modern world's problems, it's a dramatic challenge to understand the 120-mile long border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the two nations dividing the large Carribean island of Hispaniola that lies southeast of Florida. From an airplane flying high overhead, the border looks like a sharp line with bends, cut arbitrarily across the island by a knife, and abruptly dividing a darker and greener landscape east of the line (the Dominican side) from a paler and browner landscape west of the line (the Haitian side). On the ground, one can stand on the border at many places, face east, and look into pine forest, then turn around, face west, and see nothing except fields almost deviod of trees.
The contrast visible at the border exemplifies a difference between the two countries as a whole. The question that all visitors ask themselves is whether there is any hope for the country, and the usual answer is "no". The Dominican republic (on the other hand) is also a developing country sharing Haiti's problem, but it is more developed, its problems less acute, and per capita income is five times higher.. The differences that exist (despite obvious similarities) become even more striking when one reflects that Haiti used to be much richer and more powerful than its neighbour.".. What caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin, and what can we learn from some of their fates? Why do some societies, but not others, blunder into self-destruction?.. Jared Diamond takes a peek...

74. Oct 21th 2006:"Something that no normal person would do"
Borders Book Store, University Ave, Palo Alto, CA

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, "Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking". (Ed: The author is mentioning an exchange between two actors in a class on (extempore) improvised comedy.)

A: I am having trouble with my leg.
B: I'm afraid I'll have to amputate
A: You can't do that doctor
B: Why not?
A: Because, I am rather attached to it.
B: (Losing heart) Come on man.
A: I' got this growth on my arm too, Doctor.

The two actors involved in this scene became quickly frustrated. They couldnt keep the scene going. Actor A made a joke, and a rather clever one, ("I'm rather attached to it") - but the scene itself wasn't funny. So Johnstone, stopped them and pointed out the problem. Actor A had violated the rule of agreement. His partner had made a suggestion, and he had turned it down. He had said, "You can't do that, Doctor." So the two started again, only this time with a renewed committment to agreeing.

A: Augh!
B: Whatever is it, man?
A: It's my leg, Doctor.
B: This looks nasty. I shall have to amputate.
A: It's the one you amputated last time, Doctor.
B: You mean you've gotten a pain in your wooden leg?
A: Yes, Doctor.
B: You know what this means?
A: Not woodword, Doctor!
B: Yes. We'll have to remove it before it spreads to the rest of you.
A: Collapses in his chair.
B: By God!, it's spreading to the rest of the furniture.

Here are the same two people, with the same level of skill, playing exactly thesame roles, and beginning almost exactly the same way. This is because good improvisers, accept all offers made - which is something no normal person would do.

73. Oct 16th 2006:"Adversity annealed him, It gave him endless energy"
Borders Book Store, University Ave, Palo Alto, CA

Laurence Gonzales, in his book, "Deep Survival": Certainly my father's survival did not end with his falling from the sky. (Ed: the author is describing his father's B-17 warplane crashing in world war II). I watched it take shape, even as it shaped me and my world. It began there, a man with broken legs and broken arms and broken feet and ribs .. He picked himself up and stove endlessly to grasp the world in which he found himself. I saw him rise from the grave and earn a Ph.D, find a job at a prestigious medical school, publish scientific papers, send platoons of new doctors out the door to heal, and in his spare time, learn to become an excellent potter, to paint and draw and sing and play piano, carve sculptures out of wood, build model planes, tinker together our first stereo set, and drive his noisy family all over the continent in a 1956 Volkswagen bus looking for adventure. I saw him constantly and hungrily grappling with his world, trying everything, sampling everything, tasting the world, to understand, to feed his insatiable curiosity, even as he sat in darkness and peered through an electron microscope at the inner secrets of a cell. ... He reminded me of the great Santini, who told his son, "Eat Life, or Life will eat you". In this Zen fashion, my father would say, when I did something inexplicably wild, "Okay, but if you break your leg, dont come running to me". .. Adversity annealed him. It gave him endless energy. He taught me the first rule of survival: to believe that anything is possible.

72. Oct 12rd 2006: Dave Brubeck: Time Out
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA

Liner notes from the CD, "The Dave Brubeck Quartet": "Should some cool-minded Martian come to earth and check on the state of our music, he (Ed: or she!) might play through 10,000 jazz records before they found one that wasn't in common 4/4 time. Considering the emancipation of jazz in other ways, this is a sobering thought... and an astonishing one. The New Orleans pioneers soon broke free of the tyranny imposed by the easy brass key of B-flat. ... Dave Brubeck, pioneer in so many other fields, is really the first to explore the uncharted seas of compound time. Dave has gone further, finding still some more exotic time signatures, and even laying one rhythm in counterpoint over another. The outcome of his experiments is this album... "Blue Ronde A La Turk" plunges straight into the most jazz-remote time-signature, 9/8, grouped not in the usual form (3-3-3) but 2-2-2-3. "Take Five" is a Desmond composition in 5/4, one of the most defiant time-signatures in all music, for the performer and listener alike."

71. Oct 3rd 2006: World Music Playlist '06
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA,

(Ed: The following is the track listing for the world music presentation for '06. The complete powerpoint presentation (~1 Mbytes) is available here . The presentation has a couple extra notes/lyrics/translations in the speaker notes section, but google will probably help you find the lyrics/translations for any song faster. Enjoy.)

1	Carribean Calypso/Salsa 	Vamos Al Caribe 	Traditional (Spanish), 2005
2	Portugese Fado 			Transperante 		Mariza (Portuguese), 2005 
3	Brazilian Jazz Mix		Voyeur 			Gal Costa (Portuguese), 2005 
4	Tanzanian/Kenyan Folk 		Malaika 		Miriam Makeba (Swahili), 2006
5	Jewish Folk 			Naci El Alamo 		Yasmin Levy (Ladino), 2005 
6	Indian Alternative		Kandisa 		Indian Ocean (Aramaic), 2003
7	British Parody 			Every Sperm is Sacred 	Monty Python (English), 1989 
8	Polish Klezmer 			Time 			Kroke (Instrumental), 2000 
9	Mexican Mariachi		La Frontera 		Lhasa (Spanish), 2004 
10	Carribean Soca 			Voices from the Ghetto 	Singing Sandra (English), 1999 
11	American Folk 			Aquella Noche 		Tish Hinojosa (Spanish), 2001 ('91)
12	Irish Traditional 		Daily Growing 		Altan (English),  2002 
13	Ghana Traditional 		Tue Tue 		Rosas/Gomez (Mix/None), 2003 
14	Balkan Modern 			American Dreamers 	Goran Bregovic (English), 2001 

Some Bonus Tracks:

15	Japanese/Thai Alternative      Dao Ruang Dao Roi        Blue Asia, 2005 
16	Mexican/American Instrumental  Jennette                 Flaco Jiminez/Ry Cooder, 1993 

70. Sep 6th 2006: A Patriarchical Monarchy for Japan? Two wrongs make a ...(ouch wrong saying!)
University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA,

cnn.com reports in 'Japan's princess has a boy'
"Japan's Princess Kiko has given birth to a son, likely postponing a long-running debate over whether Japanese law should be changed to allow women to succeed to the throne, the imperial palace announced Wednesday... The birth was cause for rejoicing in Japan, and media outlets broadcast continuing coverage about the event. Reigning empresses have been rare in Japan, usually serving as stand-ins for a few years until a suitable male could be installed. The last reigning empress was Gosakuramachi, who assumed the throne in 1763, according to AP. Debate over the succession law was divisive and emotional. Some conservatives proposed a revival of concubines to produce imperial heirs, and others argued that allowing a woman on the throne would destroy a precious Japanese tradition." (Ed: Why should one of the world's most technologically 'advanced' countries have a monarchy? Worse still a patriarchical monarchy? De-meaning and utterly self de-grading.)

69. July 14th 2006: An Email from Bombay
University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA,

(Ed: Excerpt of Email Received after the Bombay Bomb Blasts. It does take a little factual licence, but captures the sentiment quite accurately)
Dear Terrorist,
We are still addressing you as Dear, in hope that you might realise the stuff we are made of. Even if you are not reading this, we don't care. Time and again you tried to disturb us and disrupt our life, killing innocent civilians by planting bombs in trains, buses and cars. You have tried hard in past, so far on seven occasions, to bring death and destruction, cause panic and fear, and create communal disharmony; but everytime you were disgustingly unsuccessful.
On the last few occassions when you struck (including the 7 deadly blasts in a single day killing over 250 people and injuring 500+ in 1993), we went to work next day in full strength. Fathom this: Within 3 hours of the blasts, long disciplined queues of blood donating volunteers were seen outside various hospitals, where most of the injured were admitted. By 12 midnight after the blasts at 6.30 pm, all the hospitals had to issue a notification that blood banks were full and they didn't require any more blood at that stage. All people, more than 2 million who were stranded on roads due to your blasts, were reached home by every means possible, govt buses ran extra trips, some taxis ran free, and some auto rikshas did not charge anybody, private car-owners dropped people at their destinations, and the needy person was served free food by the people on roads from nearby households. All of this happened before mid-night on the day of the blast.
The city has simply dusted itself off and moved on-perhaps with greater vigour, but with sorrow in the hearts.
With Love,
From the people of Mumbai (Bombay)
July 12, 2006

68. June 8th 2006: The fear of getting involved
University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA,

Raywat Deonandan, in his essay, "The false war between civilizations", --- About 20 years ago, I was in my mid teens and became vaguely aware of the way grown men are perceived and expected to act. One day, while riding the Toronto subway, I saw a woman and her small blond-haired son, about 7 years old, rushing to try to get into the subway car. Because of the boy's dawdling, he barely made it onto the car before the doors closed, but his mother was left behind on the platform. As the subway trundled along, the boy stood alone in terror, tears beginning to pool in the corners of his eyes. Now, our car was populated entirely by men, and while I felt that one of us should do something, there was all about us a palpable fear of "getting involved". See, at 16 even I was cognizant of society's judgement of strange men who approach children on subway cars. Finally, a rough young Arab-looking man 20-something and bedecked in leather, beckoned the boy over to him. "Do you know where you are going?", he asked in a Middle-Eastern accent... Out of curiousity and concern, I followed the pair as they exited together at the next stop. I saw them wait on the platform for the next subway car, from which the boy's mother emerged, snatching the boy without so much as a tender look for her child or a word of thanks for the youth who had protected him.. I learned several things from that small vignette of city life.. But as this episode in the subway 20 years ago taught me, not all of our civilization's tenets are necessarily the most important ones, not if we can't even find the moral strength to help a lost child.

67. May 6th 2006: Tango with Carmen
Arriyaga Alumni Center, Stanford Dance Marathon, Stanford, CA,

(Ed - The Tango is not always an easy dance to master, and Opera music is not always easy to appreciate. However they sometimes can form a sensual combination. Ever tried the Tango to the "Habanera from the Opera Carmen"? It seems to be one of Richard Powers' favorites, played at the Dance Marathon. The Austin Chronicle has the following to say about this beautiful song) "Even if you've never experienced an opera, you will have heard at least two of the songs in Carmen. One, the Habanera, is Carmen's sultry taunt to the men that would woo her: "Love is a bird that will never be tamed," she sings. Men that express their desires for her don't get her; it's the silent ones she craves. And if she does crave you, beware. Being a gypsy, Carmen's life is fraught with danger and mysticism -- and knives. Shaham makes this seductive song the embodiment of a gypsy girl whose life revolves around covert thieving and overt sexuality. She is perfect as this lusty, lovely anti-heroine: a girl you'd hate to love, but won't forget."

(Ed - For those inclined to music theory, the Wikipedia puts it in more formal terms) "Its melody, among the most famous in the Western musical tradition, is based on a descending chromatic scale followed by variants of the same phrase in first the minor and then the major key" (Sheet music image courtesy from the Wikipedia) (Ed - On another note, the Tango is also equally enjoyable in a completely different and funny way, to the Pink Panther theme music, but that is another topic... ;))

66. Mar 28 2006: Voices from the Ghetto
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA,

(Ed: What do you call a soca song, "Voices from the Ghetto" from the album "Praises for my Blessings", by Singing Sandra, with a beat so happy that it wants to make you dance, and lyrics so sad (written by Christopher Grant) that its tragic?)
Here's a review from the Trinidad Express, -- "To define what took place at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, at the weekend as a mere show would be an injustice to the night's featured artiste, Singing Sandra." The night of course belonged to Sandra, who delivered what can only be described as an outstanding presentation that had folks singing, dancing and at one point invading the stage to hug and kiss her. Near the end of the concert as Sandra sang "Voices From The Ghetto," while sitting on the steps of the stage, dozens of patrons left their seats and approached the stage to greet her. The police attempted to stop them, but Sandra instructed them to allow the people to approach her as they were her "brothers and sisters from the ghetto. (Ed: An excerpt from the song follows),

and everyday is a hustle,
arguments are settled with muscle,
till you are 6 ft deep and 3ft wide,
children, your life keeps on drifting,
is something they are smoking and sniffing,
maybe they are trying to forget,
this life of misery and regret,
no one to come to their rescue,
troubled voices from the ghetto.
crying, crying, crying,
voices from the ghetto.

65. Mar 27 2006: "The harshest sound"
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA,

Rikky Rooksby, in his book, "Chord Master", -- "It's one of the great paradoxes of music that the semitone (Ed: a semitone corresponds to the interval sounded by striking two adjacent keys on a piano keyboard, e.g. one white key and its neighbouring black key, or two white keys where there is no intermediate black key - source Wikipedia), one of the most dissonant sounds (Ed: if the sounds are a semitone apart and played simultaneously then they are dissonant i.e. they sound harsh to the ear), has a role in some of the most beautiful chords."

64. Mar 25 2006: "Look at the hands from the trains"
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA,

Suketu Mehta, in this book, "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found" -- I mention to Girish a statistic I'd read about the "super-dense crush load" of the trains being ten people per square yard. He stretches out his arm, says, "One yard," and makes a calculation. In 1990 according to the government, the number of passengers carries in a nine-car train during rush hour in Bombay was 3,408. By the end of the century, it had gone up to 4500. Asad bin Saif works in an institute for secularism, moving tirelessly among the slums, cataloging numberless communal flare-ups and riots. Asad, of all people has seen humanity at its worst. I asked him if he feels pessimistic about the human race. "Not at all," he responsed. "Look at the hands from the trains."
If you are late for work in the morning in Bombay, and you reach the station just as the train is leaving the platform, you can run up to the packed compartments and find many hands stretching out to grab you on board, unfolding outward from the train like petals. As you run alongside the train, you will be picked up and some tiny space will be made for your feet on the edge of the open doorway. The rest is up to you... But consider what has happened. Your fellow passengers, already packed tighter than cattle are legally allowed to be, their shirts already drenched in sweat in the badly ventilated compartment, having stood like this for hours, retain an empathy for you, know that your boss might yell at you or cut your pay if you miss this train, and will make space where none exists to take one more person with them. All they know is that you're trying to get to the city of gold, and that's enough. Come on board they say. We'll adjust.

63. Mar 05 2006: The wrong camera, the wrong lens, and the wrong film
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA,

An excerpt on the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for photography, from the book, "The Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographs" (Ed - The authors writing in bringing out the moment is admirable)
The countryside along the highway from Los Angeles to Portland is a traveller's delight. Some of the scenery, especially further north, is lovely if you are an outdoor lover on a fishing trip, but truckers have their eyes focussed on the center with occasional reference to highway route numbers and miles travelled. (snip) On Sunday, May 3 1953, Walter and Virginia Schau were out to try their luck on the opening day of the fishing season. Bud Overby and Hank Baum, trucking partners, were pushing for Portland with a load of radishes, carrots and the season's first watermelon. (snip) As they rolled onto the Pitt River Bridge, a forty foot high structure that carried traffic over Lake Shasta, the truck suddenly lost its steering, swerved and hit the curb of the bridge; accompanied by the sound of screeching and tearing metal, the truck tore through the guardrail and bounced over the side of the bridge. (snip) By some miracle, the wheels of the cab became entangled under the trailer, and the cab and its occupants were suspended in space, swaying ever so slightly. One motorist had a length of marine line, and Walter called down to the drivers, "We have some rope. We will throw it down to you and try to haul you out..." (snip)
During the course of the rescue, Virginia Schau grabbed her Brownie camera from the back of the car. She recalled that the film had been in the camera, for more than a year, but she knew there were frames still unexposed. She ran to a knoll across the bridge and made pictures of the rescue. A professional photographer would say that it was the wrong camera, the wrong lens, and the wrong film, but these same photographers would also admit the importance of being at the right place at the right time --- with any camera. The photo was so dramatic that it won the Pulitzer prize. In addition, it was the first Pulitzer awarded to a woman; it would be another 32 years before the award was given to a female professional.

62. Feb 26th 2006: The Trouble with Testosterone
Borders Bookstore, Palo Alto, CA,

Robert Sapolsky in his essay (and eponymously titled book), The Trouble with Testosterone: Will Boys just be Boys?
"Face it, we all do it. We all believe in certain stereotypes about certain minorities. The stereotypes are typically perjorative and usually fake. But every now and then, they are true. I write apologetically as a member of a minority about which the stereotypes are indeed true. I am male. We males account for less than 50 percent of the popolation, yet we generate an incredibly disproportionate percentage of the violence. Whether it is something as primal as having an ax fight in an Amazanonian clearing or as detached as using computer guided aircraft to strafe a village, something as condemned as assualting a cripple or as glorified as killing someone wearing the wrong uniform, if it is violent, males excel at it. Why should that be? We think that we all know the answer .... -- something or other comes out of the testes that helps to make males such aggresive pains in the ass. That something or other is testosterone ...
What evidence links testosterone to aggression? ... The proof comes with the knife, in what is euphemistically known as a 'subtraction' experiment. Remove the source of testosterone in species after species,and levels of aggression typically plummet. Re-instate normal testosterone levels afterward and aggression returns... The subtraction and replacement paradigm, offers pretty damning proof: this hormone is involved. Differences in levels of aggression among normal individuals are probably driven by differences in levels of testosterone. But this turns out to be wrong... Testosterone isnt causing aggression, it's exaggerating the agression that is already there.."

61. Feb 18th 2006: "He's young but he's daily growing"
Borders Bookstore, Palo Alto, CA,

The lyrics of the song by Altan, 'Daily Growing' in their album Blue Idol, a traditional Irish folk song are quite exceptional --- A daughter, 24 years old, is married to a boy of 14. Probably considered 'paedophilia' by certain modern standards; this offers a glimpse into the simplicity of ancient accepted cultural practice. And in keeping with the Irish genre, they pack off the hero in tragic style... Oh! and BTW, the music is truly a treat... Here is an observation from a reviewer, Jerome Clark at Amazon.com --
"Even by the standards Altan has set for itself, however, Blue Idol is exceptional. The opener, "Daily Growing" (often recorded as "The Trees They Do Grow High"), is something of a folk standard -- I first heard it on a Judy Collins album in the 1960s, and Collins was hardly the first revival singer to pick it up -- but Altan's version is such a perfect wedding of the erotic and the tragic that it draws the listener in, takes the breath away, and commands the ear and the heart."

60. Jan 29th 2006: "Why should love..?"
Memorial Auditorium, Stanford, CA,

Chava Albertstein, the Israeli Diva, during her concert at Stanford introducing one of her songs about peace, "Loving your country is a natural thing, ..... but why should love stop at the Border?"

59. Jan 15th 2006: "So long as you put your hat on"
Palo Alto, CA,

Lyrics from Goran Bregovich's and Johny Depp's song "Arizona Dreams", from the movie, "American Dreamers", from the music album, "Ederlezi".
"For 15 years, he'd smooth down the road between Mexico and Arizona, and every morning he'd be out there looking for footprints in the dirt. But my father always said that work was like a hat you put on your head. And even without pants, you didn't have to be ashamed of your ass; so long as you put your hat on."

58. Dec 9th 2005: Dancing the One-Step
Roble, Stanford, CA,

Richard Powers (during Jammix, the monthly dance mix) announcing the One Step, "If you can walk, join us for the One-Step"

57. Dec 6th 2005: Christina Rosenthal
Palo Alto, CA

The opening lines from Jeffrey Archer's touching story, "Christina Rosenthal", from his book, "A Twist in the Tale"
The Rabbi knew that he couldnt hope to begin on his sermon until he'd read the letter. He had been sitting at this desk in front of a blank sheet of paper for over an hour, and still counld'nt come up with a first sentence. Lately he had been unable to concentrate on a task he carried out every Friday evening for the last thirty years. They must have realized by now that he was no longer up to it. He took the letter out of the envelope and slowly unfolded the pages. .....
My dear father --- "Jew Boy!, Jew Boy!, Jew Boy!" were the first words I heard her say as I ran past her on the first lap of the race. She was standing behind the railing at the beginning of the home straight, hands cupped around her lips to be sure, I couldnt miss her chant".

56. Dec 3rd 2005: Facing Future: Somewhere over the rainbow
Palo Alto, CA

A reader's review of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's album, "Facing Future, and his amazing song, "Somewhere, over the rainbow"
"I read up on IZ, and learned IZ called his producer and said there was a song he had to record. He showed up at the studio at midnight with his ukulele -- and, in 5 minutes, created "Over The Rainbow/Wonderful World." In 1996, National Public Radio did a piece on IZ and played 'Over the Rainbow.' Listeners called in; sales shot up.... The following year, when IZ died, it was clear that he was the Bob Marley of Hawaii. His casket lay in state at the Capitol, and 10,000 fans came to say goodbye. The next day, friends paddled a double-hulled voyaging canoe into Makua Bay, where IZ and his friends had camped out and played music over the years.... There was thunderous cheering as IZ's ashes were poured into the water. It continued for an hour. To be with IZ one last time, family members and friends ran into the ocean. And the music continued into the night.
It still does.

55. Nov 30th 2005: Quote on Fear
Palo Alto, CA

"Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends", by Shirley Maclaine

54. Nov 29th 2005: Unweaving the Rainbow: Richard Dawkins
Palo Alto, CA

The opening paragraph from Richard Dawkin's amazing book, "Unweaving the Rainbow"
We are going to die .... and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness that are here"

53. Oct 30th 2005: Lhasa: The Living Road
Palo Alto, CA

A review on the music CD, "The Living Road" by singer Lhasa from Plume Noire
"If Bjork were to record a mariachi album, it might sound like Lhasa's latest release, The Living Road. In the realm inhabited by the Icelandic goddess, Lila Downs and Manu Chao lives Lhasa, who embodies a musical fusion of culture. Dramatic and atmospheric, there's an otherworldly charm to The Living Road. Singing in Spanish, French and Portuguese, Lhasa becomes the transmitter of culture. Whereas Lila Downs does her mix of jazz with traditional Mexican music and is a more of an ethnographer, Lhasa's goal is not one specific geographic region, but rather on finding the connection between languages and sounds for a cohesive album"

52. Oct 29th 2005: Humility, Guitar & Humility
Palo Alto, CA

At some point when learning to play the guitar, one eventually hopes to strum along to some amazing tunes --- say John Denver, the Beetles, that old Hindi classic, or other. Perhaps one day you will write your own tunes? You hope that the first song you master will be something cool, maybe 'supercool' (to borrow from the California vernacular). And then you realize, you have just mastered chords G, C and D7. Aha. A moment of realization! Now you can play, (hold your breath and take a large hit to the ego) --- "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" :)

51. Oct 28th 2005: Greener Cards, Food for Thought
Palo Alto, CA

Some factoids from the greenercars website ---,
"A gallon of gasoline weighs just over 6 pounds. When burned, the carbon in it combines with oxygen from the air to produce about 19 pounds of CO2. But counting the energy that went into making and distributing the fuel, the total global warming impact is equivalent to 28 pounds of CO2 emissions per gallon."

50. Oct 27th 2005: Sound of the World, 2005
Palo Alto, CA

Liner Notes from the CD, "Sound of the World, 2005" ---,
"Most of the 33 songs from 28 different countries defy categorization - they dont belong to a particular genre. As each track starts, you cant immediately guess what will happen next. Contributing to that sense of unpredictability are the arrangements - the way the instruments and voices relate to each other, enabling the singers to jump the language fence that so often forms an invisible barrier to music not sung in English. Compared to musicians who sing to an audience that speaks the same language, the artists here face a bigger challenge, needing to beguile us with irrestible and unforgettable melodies, and to present them in arresting frameworks."

49. July 13th 2005: New Diet
El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA

Advertisement at a bike shop, the "Bike Connection"
"Have you tried the new low car diet"?

48. July 10th 2005: Don't Touch Me Tomato
Palo Alto, CA

Notes from, "Putumayo presents Calypso" ---,
The lyrics are of central importance in Calypso, and for years the genre has served as an oral newspaper and editorial page where singers have been free to comment humorously on local events. .. The 'double-entendre' approach was developed in part because calypso has for many decades challenged the limits of free speech. For the common man, Calypso was relied upon as a voice to criticize corruption and political incompetence.
For example, "Touch me Tomato" (Ed. by Bahamian singer and pianist George Symonette) is a classic Jamaician mento that typifies the saucy double-entendres that are common in Carribean music. On the surface the lyrics are a perfectly harmless plea from a fruit and vegetable vendor pleading with his customer to be more careful with him produce. It doesn't take much imagination to ascribe the lyrics an entirely different meaning altogether.

47. July 4th 2005: Calvin's take on Television Soaps
Bay Leaf Cafe, CA

(Ed - Excerpt from Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is watching a soap on TV where a Guy and Gal embrace each other and speak...)

Guy: Oh Mary, you look so ravishing in that skimpy negligee!
Gal: Mmm ... Darling don't you wish we were married?
Guy: But we are, or did you mean to each other?
Guy: I have got to have you! Let's murder our spouses!
Gal: Murder?! .. You sick animal! I love it when you talk that way! Come here!
Calvin: Sometimes I think, I learn more when I stay at home from school.

46. June 27th 2005: Unisex Pronouns! aka 'Women are Men'
Los Altos, CA

Excerpt from a legal document that I had the opportunity to sign ...,
"Clause 21: Gender: Use of the masculine pronoun shall be deemed to include usage of the feminine pronoun where appropriate."

45. June 4th 2005: Testosterone and Life Expectency
Palo Alto, CA

John Gribbin and Jeremy Cherfas, in their book "The Mating Game",
"The extra genetic material might help to explain why females are more rugged than males, and less prone to ailments of one kind or another. Although some 120 males are conceived for every 100 females, just before birth the ratio has been reduced to 110:100 by the male's extra vulnerability to miscarriages, many caused by chromosomal abnormalities. In terms of live births males outnumber females by only 106 to 100, and the extra vulnerability of males continues throughout life so that by age seventy the ratio at conception is reversed and there are 120 women for every 100 men". ... Women in spite of the rigours of childbearing, have a greater life expectency than men, and it has been suggested that this could be due to their extra genetic material.
(Ed - This view is incorrect and the authors explain ..), The pashas of the Ottoman empire helped us understand this point. They used eunuchs to guard their harems, and the eunuch enjoyed a longer lifespan than comparable servants who had not been castrated. More evidence on this point comes from the lunatic asylums of America. Until recently it was accepted practice in some parts of the US, to castrate certain inmates. These unfortunate inmates on an average lived 14 years longer than their intact fellows. And neutered male cats live longer than intact toms. Something about testosterone, the male hormone, shortens the male's life .. This is a complicated web we must untangle."

44. June 2nd 2005: No Voting System is Fair
Bay Leaf Cafe, Palo Alto, CA

In 1951, Kenneth Arrow, ... [offered] ... a convincing demonstration that any conceivable democratic voting system can yield undemocratic results, subsequently called in folklore as Arrow's Impossibility Theorem.

One year later, Paul Samuelson ... put it this way: "The search of the great minds of recorded history for the perfect democracy, it turns out, is the search for a chimera, for logical self-contradiction. New scholars all over the world-in mathematics, politics, philosophy, and economics-are trying to salvage what can be salvaged from Arrow's devastating discovery that is to mathematical politics what Kurt Godel's 1931 impossibility-of-proving-consistency theorem is to mathematical logic." (Source from a posting by John Conover, at this site.)

43. May 30th 2005: Dominant Genes and Six Fingers
Los Altos, CA

The "Cartoon guide to Genetics" mentions the following strange fact that the gene for six fingers called polydactyly in the research community, is a dominant gene. That leads to the following natural question..

Question - If six fingers is a dominant human trait why do we have only five?

Van Hoeck, a scientist answers -- "Look in any high school biology book for what is known as Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. These two scientists (separately) said that gene frequencies do not change much unless something in the environment selects them over other genes. In other words, unless 6 fingers somehow becomes an advantage, and five-fingered people have less of an advantage, the frequency of six fingered people in the population will not necessarily increase. This is the same reason that recessive traits don't disappear from the population. Also, six fingers is not considered attractive and they may not get as many mates. Also, more people are born with six fingers than you might imagine but just have them amputated shortly after birth"
(Ed - Of course what does this say about us humans and our random and mostly ridiculous social biases? To a neutral alien observor, a 6 fingered/toed human would perhaps appear more endowed, and we "normal" 5 fingered beings would be considered handicapped. Heck, they would definitely make great guitarists!) (Source from Newton BBS, at here.)

42. May 29th 2005: Douglas Adams and Life
Books Inc., Stanford Shopping Ctr., Stanford, CA

(Ed - First the context. This is the 42nd posting on the blog and the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy has just been made into a movie. So I am thinking, what better way to celebrate it than a Douglas Adams quote on life?) ---

"There are some oddities in the perspective with which we see the world. The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas-covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be, but we have done various things over intellectual history to slowly correct some of our misapprehensions." (Ed - Readers unfamiliar with Douglas Adams, should read this .)

41. May 27th 2005: Calcutta: Every city has its song ...
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA

Came across this random old Bollywood song which I found quite amusing and nice. The lyrics in Hindi are, "Eent ki Dukki, Pan ka Ekka, Kahi Joker, Kahi Satta Hai, Suno ji yeh Calcutta hai". This roughly translates to almost meaningless but cute lyrics --- "The two of diamonds, the ace of hearts, there's a joker somewhere, there's a seven somewhere, Oh listen, this is Calcutta".. (Ed - Yes and for those of you wondering, it rhymes and sounds quite nice in Hindi. Listen to a 30 second real audio sample here. )

40. May 12th 2005: Vanity for the hoi polloi ...
Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA

Poster at some quaint collectibles shop at Fisherman's Wharf, in the city by the bay, "My boyfriend's tall, dark and handsome. ... When it's dark, he's tall and handsome."

39. May 5th 2005: The coffee enema
Borders, Palo Alto, CA

Overheard at Borders Bookstore on University Avenue, "We fall ill because of the various toxins which are collected over time in the body. You can have a coffee enema to cleanse the body of these toxins. Unlike when ingested orally, caffeine in this form does not drug the body and can cleanse the body". (Ed - No Comment! :)
For a really cool site maintained by an eponymous and anonymous Berkeley chick, "Eve. S. Dropper", on conversations overheard from in and around the Berkeley area, click here.

38. April 25th 2005: Fellini in New York
Tower Records, Los Altos, CA

Charlie Gillett's comments on Chava Albertstein, the Israeli singer's song, `Fellini in New York', from her album, "End of the Holiday". (Ed: One of those amazing mellow moving songs which somehow sound better when sung in Hebrew and with Chava's voice ...)
"But to these ears her recent records are better than ever, especially the touching "Fellini in New York" in which she realizes, as she sees the name of the famous Italian film director Federico Fellini in a newspaper headline, that the only reason that the paper would mention him is because he died." (The 'End of the Holiday' CD image is obtained from the Jewish Week website whose copyright policy allows a single electronic copy to be used for non-commercial use.)

37. April 16th 2005: Sui Vesan's Makiovienka
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA

Charlie Gilett, in his comments, from the collection "World Music 2003" - "Slovakian songstress Sui Vesan is fiercely determined to make music according to rules of her own devising, singing half of her songs in a language she made up in order to express what could not be said with existing words. Of all the songs I have played in the world service in the past eighteen months, her "Makovienka" has elicited the most letters and emails from listeners desperate to hear it again and own it for themselves. When Sui came to play live on my Radio London programme, she brought pieces of wood and dried rushes to get noises out of her guitar that her fingers could not find. A true original." (Note, the world 2003 CD image is obtained from the NPR website whose copyright policy allows one to copy a limited amount of content for non-commercial use.)

36. April 12th 2005: Shredder9
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA

Shredder9 gets personal! Actual message from Shredder, on losing a game ---
"you lucky, lucky*!&#?%, I will get you next time. I resign" (Ed: Shredder is one of the world's best chess programs. Of course I was playing it in a reduced strength mode).

35. April 10th 2005: North Indian Classical Music
Town and Country Center, Sunnyvale, CA

Excerpt from the book, "The Rough Guide to World Music: Volume 2". The editor is introducing a chaper on North Indian Classical music, written by Robert Maycock and Ken Hunt. ---
"In August 1971, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan were among the gala attractions of the Concert for Bangladesh, held in New York to raise money for the stricken nation. Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan were to perform a jugalbandi (duet), and according to Indian classical practice, they began tuning up on stage. As the musicians finished, they were greeted with a ripple of clapping which swelled into full-scale applause. Good-naturedly, but with an edge, Shankar observed "if you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more". The story has been repeated enough times to have become a mantra, but the moral remains: dont travel in Indian music reading a western map. Robert Maycock and Ken Hunt get out the compass." (Quotation, Image courtesy roughguides.com. Note that the copyright notice at roughguides.com allows the use of brief passages in reviews where the source is acknowledged.)

34. April 9th 2005: The Music of Portugal
Home Sweet Home, Palo Alto, CA

World Music Recommendation -- ..
"The Rough Guide: The Music of Portugal", available - here. (Ed: This is a great introductory CD to the music of Portugal, mainly Fado , which originated as the music of the working class in Portugal. Charlie Gillett writes, "Everyone has their own way of dealing with the blues. In Spain they sing flamenco, in Argentina they sing tangos, in Greece they sing rembetika, in America they sing the blues and in Portugal they sing fados” Like the best soul or blues music, fado really excels when it is performed by someone who can release pure feeling from all artificial fetters and ego-driven pretensions, allowing it the freedom to roam, and allow it to be raw, emotional and just a little dangerous" . Add this song (real audio file), Oica La O Senhor Vinho, from singer Mariza, (released after this CD was compiled), and you have an amazing sampler.

33. March 4th 2005: Sunny Radio
In the Jetta, Palo Alto, CA

Channel Recommendation -- ..
"XM Radio 24" - Sunny. (Ed: For those lucky enough to discover XM satellite radio, this is a great commercial free, radio channel.) The image is courtesy xmradio.com, whose copyright allows the use of one copy of the content.

32. February 24th 2005: The Great Wall of China
Los Altos, CA

Steven Dutch's, notes on the Cosmos ... (Ed - Steve Dutch is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and he comments on popular myths and misconceptions)
One persistent myth is that the Great Wall of China is the only human structure that would be visible from the Moon. Although it's impressively long, the Great Wall is no wider than a typical two-lane road. Any major interstate highway is both wider and longer than the Great Wall, not to mention straighter and more contrasting with its surroundings. Interstate highways should be easier to see from the Moon than the Great Wall. However, neither would be visible to the unaided eye or even a fairly large telescope.

31. February 14th 2005, Valentine's Day: Stock Options and Sex
Kepler's Books, Menlo Park, CA

The opening line in Beth Walker's book, "An Employee's Guide to Stock Options" (Ed - Amongst the more interesting analogies, I have come across)..
"Why do so many smart and successful professionals make such expensive mistakes when it comes to handling their stock option compensation? Because a stock option is just like sex. Everybody wants some, everybody claims to know how to do it, and everybody makes a mistake the first time he or she tries it."

30. February 8th 2005: Fairness
Books Inc., Stanford Shopping Center, CA.

Comments from Matt Ridley in his book, "The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture" (Ed - aka nothing seems to be 'ideal', not even a pure meritrocracy. Note that the author tends to use his adjectives pretty freely... )
"Ironically, the more egalitarian a society is, the more innate factors will matter...
Is the world more fair when all bright kids, even those from the slums, get places at the best universities, and so get the best jobs? Is it fair to the stupid ones to get left behind? The message of the notorious book 'The Bell Curve' was exactly this: that a meritrocracy is not fair."

29. January 27th 2005: Snail Mail Spam
Los Altos, CA

Did you know this existed? and it only takes a few minutes, saves you time and spares the environment ...
Relief from unsolicited mail, pre-approved credit card offers, spam, & direct marketing. It's on the FTC site so it cant be fake... Click here.
(Also relief from pre approved credit cards is now available online at optoutprescreen.com

28. December 30th 2004: Amazing Chess Problem
Bombay, India

One of the most beautiful chess problems, which was first mentioned by Frederic Friedel (amongst my favourite chess authors) in Chessbase in January 2004. The original problem is by, A. A. Troitzky,

White to play and win
A. A. Troitzky, Nowoje Wremja 1897

Frederick Friedel writes (Ed- or should we say teases) , "The very tempting 1.Bc6 and 2.Qg2 mate unfortunately fails to 1...Rb1+ and 2...Rxh1. But anything else seems to lose quickly to Black's permanent threat 1...g2. If you do not break out in a delighted smile when you find the solution don't bother to write to us." The solution can be found at the chessbase site. (Ed - Friedel does not mention another (perhaps obvious) continuation in the solution given. The solution which covers the alternate move by black is mentioned here.)

27. November 24th 2004: Another Parking Notice
Dyer St, Union City, CA

Parking Notice - outside Chili's in Union City ...
"Parking Only, 10 minute limit. All others will be crushed and melted".

26. November 15th 2004: World Music for children .... and adults
Tower Records, Los Altos, CA

CD Recommendation -- ..
"World Party" - Music for Little People. (Ed: Actually meant to be filed under children's music, but is actually for all ages. This compilation is a hidden gem and does not fall under the traditional genre of 'party' music.)

25. October 29th 2004: Raunchy Cookie
Chef Sue's, Los Altos, CA

Fortune cookies get slightly raunchy and suggestive! --- ..
"You have an unusual equipment for success, use it properly ".

24. October 24th 2004: Parking Notice
North Beach, San Francisco, CA

Cute Humour --- Poster outside an Italian restaurant in San Francisco ...
"Parking for Italians Only. All others will be towed".

23. October 23rd 2004: You should not disturb hibernating artic squirrels
Borders, Palo Alto, CA

Joao Magueijo in, "Faster than the Speed of Light". (Ed: That free flowing and lucid writing style...)
After much hit and miss, Alan and Henry discovered a possible way out. They found that in some particle models the universe would "supercool". This does not derive from the Californian vernacular but merely means that as you drop the temperature of very pure liquid water, it may remain liquid well below the freezing point. In fact it is even possible to supercool water to below minus 30 degrees centigrade. The supercooled liquid is extremely unstable, and the tiniest nudge causes an explosion of ice crystals. One may find supercool water and other fluids in nature. For instance, the blood of hibernating artic squirrels may supercool to minus 3 degrees, when it would normally congeal. The supercool blood still flows since it remains liquid, but the slighest disturbance will cause it to freeze, killing the squirrel: therefore you should not disturb hibernating artic squirrels.

22. October 23rd 2004: More ridiculous Jesus thinking
Driving past University Ave, East Palo Alto, CA.

Placard held by a family in the Community Church ..
"Jesus is the future". (Ed: How about, "progressive thinking" is the future? ..)

21. October 3rd 2004: Notice on a Tip Box
Mountain View, CA

Notice on a Tip box, in a Cafe in Mountain View, California ...
"If you are afraid of change, leave it here"

20. October 2nd 2004: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy...
Borders, Union Square, San Francisco, CA

Douglas Adams in the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy", (Ed: That interesting mix of subtle and direct humour...)
Quote 1: "The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For Instance, the first phase is characterized by the questioin, How can we eat?, the second by the question, Why do we eat?, and the third by the question, Where shall we have lunch? "

Quote 2: There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

19. September 24th 2004: Happy Flintoff
Los Altos, CA

Amit Varma in his Blog, "Shiny, Happy Flintoff" (Ed: The reference is to Andrew Flintoff, a cricketeer from England. But the point is more general.)
"When 2004 is done and dusted, one enduring cricketing image from the year will stand out for me: Andrew Flintoff smiling. Smiling after being out for 99; smiling after being hit on the body by a short ball; smiling after a catch is dropped off his bowling; and smiling after hitting one of those sixes that, in their exuberance, are quite of a piece with that smile of his. Flintoff plays his cricket with a delight that is, like delight always is, infectious. The man enjoys playing; but does his enjoyment help him become a better cricketer? And does it help his team become a better side? I believe it does.".

18. September 17th 2004: Parody Sticker
Central Expwy, Sunnyvale, CA

Parody Car Bumper Sticker of the Day -- "Only Ctrl+S Saves!"

17. September 12th 2004: Fermat's Last Theorem
Books Inc., Stanford Shopping Ctr., CA

Just when you think you really have understood computer science,...
Simon Singh in his book, "Fermat's Enigma"
"Curiously if Fermat's last theorem turned out to be undecidable then this would imply that it must be true. The reason is as follows -
. The theorem says that there are no whole number solutions to the equation

x^n + y^n = z^n, for n greater than 2

If the last theorem were in fact false then it would be possible to prove this by identifying a solution (a counterexample). Then the last theorem would be decidable. Being false would be inconsistent with being undecidable. However if the last theorem were true there would not necessarily be such an unequivocable way of proving i.e. it could be undecidable. In conclusion Fermats last theorem might be true but there may be no way of proving it." (Ed: Of course a proof that the theorem is true was found, but the interesting fact is the sentence about the nature of undecidable statements. More on this later)

16. August 14th 2004: Nice Guys Finish First
Borders, Palo Alto, CA

Richard Dawkins in his book, "The Selfish Gene" commenting on a game theory strategy for a version of the "Prisoner's Dilemma" game from the chapter, Nice guys finish first.
"... It is possible to be even more forgiving than `Tit for Tat'. `Tit for Two Tats', allows its opponents two defections in a row before it eventually retailiates. This might seem overtly saintly and magnanimous. Nevertheless Axelrod worked out that, if only someone had submitted `Tit for Two Tats', it would have won the tournament. This is because it is so good at avoiding runs of mutual recrimination. So we have identified two characteristics of winning strategies:
niceness and forgiveness. This almost utopian-sounding conclusion- that niceness and forgiveness pay - came as a surprise to many of the experts, who had tried to be too cunning by submitting subtly nasty strategies..."

15. July 23rd 2004: Oh!, So Refreshing World View
Coupa Cafe, Palo Alto, CA

Tony Karon, in his article in Time Magazine, "Where do France's Jews belong?" available here. (Ed: Always nice to see the oh so refreshing and fearless, world view...)
"... As a Jew who actually likes living in the Diaspora and sees no reason for immigrating to Israel, I'm made uncomfortable by comments such as Merridor's and Sharon's. My Uncle Adam and his family live in Paris, and have no desire or intention to leave. My cousin Cathy and her children live in Israel, and they, too, have no intention of leaving. I have family in South Africa, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Mexico, Poland and Scotland, ...
.... `Go back to Israel' was a message I heard occasionally growing up, both from Zionist emissaries promoting immigration and from rightwing anti-Semites hostile to my anti-apartheid views, which they somehow mistook to be uniquely Jewish. Unlike Sharon, I can't accept that fighting anti-Semitism in France is futile, because I believe that a Jew's place is anywhere he or she chooses to live.

14. June 10th 2004: Michael Slater
Happy Donuts, Los Altos, CA

Christian Ryan on Michael Slater's retirement - ( Opening Batsman and Cricketeer from Australia, for folks who think cricket is a chirping insect... )
... His truest believers remember him for upper-cutting Phil De Freitas's first ball of the 1994-95 Ashes series to the third-man fence. Before the over was over, he'd done it again. "The first over of a Test is usually like Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture ," noted John Harms, who writes a bit like Slater used to bat and was drinking beer on the Gabba hill that morning. "On this occasion it was more like If You're Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands ."

13. February 2004: The Deadly Chess Sins
Border's Palo Alto, CA

Jonathan Rowson, in The Seven Deadly Chess Sins - (commenting on a position where white had isolated doubled pawns on the a file)
Quote - If you look at just the a pawns you won't see their value. You need to see the a pawns as part of white's position. You can only make sense of the merits of a pawn structure with reference to the pieces. The a pawns are not weak because black has no means of showing they are. Black may point to them and say, "Look! Weak pawns, doubled and isolated!" But this is like pointing to a mole on Cindy Crawford's face and saying, "Look! Black spot. Obvious and protruding!"

12. June 30th 2004: Stuck on Spacebars
Stanford, CA

(Email, received)

11. July 2002: Michael Newdow
Berkeley, CA

In support of Michael Newdow...
Flashback 1002...
Sara : Daddy Daddy, my school teacher says that the earth is round.
Daddy : No young lady. 99.9% of the people say that the earth is flat. Hence the earth is flat. Tomorrow all of us parents will march to the school lawn and proclaim that the earth is flat.

Present Day 2002....
Sandhya : Senator Senator, the 9th circuit court of appeals in Berkeley says, that it is incorrect to impose, "In God we trust" in the pledge.
Senator : What? I believe in "God". (If possible a narrow minded version of "God". Hey we even got this phrase inserted in 1956 during the communist witch hunt). But I will go one step further, and impose it on everybody (freedom be damned). Today 99 of us will march to the lawns of the US Capitol and proclaim ... blah blah ...

Fast Forward 3002 ...
Sadia : Mommy Mommy, what is "far ahead of one's time?"
Mommy : Honey, let me give you an example. In ancient times, there was once a school teacher in 1002 and a judge in 2002 who...

10. February 23rd 2002: Excerpt on Ohno
Stanford, CA

Robert Sullivan on Ohno, in the Salt Lake Winter Olympics available here. (Ed: A bit lofty on the praise, but makes an important point)
Quote - "But before the Games, no matter what we read, few of us knew Ohno. Now, we feel, we know him like a brother/son/pal. It's because of that 1,000-meter race last week, when the great sprawling crash in the last lap took everyone out, Ohno included, and allowed Steven Bradbury of Australia to cruise home free. Everything Ohno did and has done after falling has revealed him as a great athlete and wonderful competitor and sportsman."

First, he lunged for the line, and grabbed the silver. Then, he had no complaints. "That's short track." Third, he congratulated Bradbury as the rightful winner. Fourth, he taped up his stitched-up leg . treated in the interim by none other than Eric Heiden, living speed skate legend and this year's team doctor . and proved that even this slacker generation can spit nails and get back on the track. Fifth, he smiled and kept smiling. Sixth, he was . very evidently and very consistently . completely genuine. This guy is Favre, he's Agassi, he's Tiger, he's Namath. This guy's the goods.

09. January 2002: Playing Blind Chess
Keplers Bookstore, Menlo Park, CA

Funny one on playing simultaneous chess matches. Quote from Tim Krabbe , (Ed - Tim Krabbe maintains an eclectic chess collection; a must read for any chess enthusiast) - "...It made me think of a story. A grandmaster once played a 10-board blind simul somewhere. Knowing the ropes of blind simuls, he varied his games right from the start, maybe opening two with 1.e4, two with 1.d4, one with 1.b3, and so on. To his suprise, all of his opponents played 1...b6. On the second move, five of them played 2...Bb7, and the other five 2...Ba6. On the third, three of the five players who had played 2...Bb7 now played 3...Bc8 and the other two played 3...Ba6, while three of the five who had played 2...Ba6 now played 3...Bb7, and the other two 3...Bc8. On move 4, the grandmaster saw bishops everywhere. After move 5, he excused himself ....."

08. September 7th 2001 : Evangelism at Stanford
Gates Bldg., Stanford, CA

My reaction to a poster in the Computer Science Dept., by an evangelisitic religious group at Stanford. "One Lord, One Faith, One Saviour". They forgot to add - "and one amazingly narrow mind."

07. August 20th 2001 : The Serious Side
Gates Bldg., Stanford, CA

My raves on feminism and rants about organized religion, cults, and the monarchy. Available here

06. July 21st 2001: Fibonacci numbers in nature
Math & CS Library, Stanford, CA

Did you know - "An iris has 3 petals, a primrose 5, a delphinium 8, ragwort 13, an aster 21, a daisy 34, and michaelmas daisies 55 or 89 petals -- all Fibonacci numbers."

05. July 6th 2001: John Lennon
Tressider Unioun, Stanford, CA

"Life is about what happens to you when you are busy making other plans." - John Lennon.

04. June 24th 2001: Sound Advice
Aptos, CA

"Shit Happens" - Advice from a mechanic in a car repair shop in Aptos, CA, during car trouble, enroute a hike to the Nisene Marks State Park.

03. May 2001: Beautiful Samarkand Font
Gates Bldg, Stanford, CA

Saw a very beautiful font, which was English written in a Devanagari format. An example is shown to the left and below. Addendum - April 27th 2005; Apparently this font is called the Samarkand font. The example image below is copyrighted by Celia Martin and was borrowed from here.)

02. March 2001: no capital letters
Mountain View, CA

sometimes sentences are better without a capital in the beginning. there was a female character in one novel i read who used to do that.

01. February 2001: Italics
Mountain View, CA

Ever noticed how things looked better in italics.