Saturday, April 09, 2016

Septembers of Shiraz

 Set in Tehran after the Pahlavi's were toppled by the people's revolution, we are introduced to Issac Amin. He is a non-practicing Jewish jeweler. He comes from humble beginnings; his hard work and passion for jem had brought him riches and fame. On a non-descriptive day he is arrested by the revolutionary guard, and taken to jail in blind folds. In the pages that follow we are told the reactions, and stories of those who are impacted by Isaac's arrest. His wife who tries her best to hold the fort, keep matters in order and her daughter safe, but finds herself ill prepared for both and leans on the housekeeper on many occasions. His daughter who given her young age and due to her mother's shortcomings trys to take matters of rescuing her father and many others in her own hand by stealing documents from her friend's house, whose father works for the revolutionary guard. His housekeeper, and her son; who have been treated and paid fairly over the years, but still question and despise the large income gap between themselves and the Amin family. Isaac's parents, brother and sister who are more concerned with their affairs than Isaac's disappearance. And Issac's son who is studying to become an architect in New York, and seems only concerned about his change in status from a rich to a poor boy who now has to earn his living and his place in society. All this is happening while Issac is given the opportunity to think his life through and put it in perspective in jail. His cell mates and people he comes in contact with during the daily recess are nothing like him. They are communists, or Islamic socialists who were amongst the masses shouting "Down with Shah" not too long ago, but since their ideology differs from the winners are put in jail and made scared of making any claim to the government.
I neither liked the story nor the writing. The story lacked substance. It was washed down to appeal and end quickly. The characters were sloppy. The only thing I sort of liked was the conversations, and events of the jail. The interrogation sessions were descriptive enough to make my hair stand on end. The conversations were interesting because we had pro- & anti- Shah in the same place trying to make sense of it all, and to have them see eye to eye on some matters was a job well done.
The writing was simple, and switched to Farsi in parts of dialogues; this switch made the culture of the characters ambiguous.

Friday, February 19, 2016

How do you socialize?

Around December time frame, my friend and I decided to put our heads, and hearts together to write down all the obstacles to socializing.  We felt since our move to Toronto, many years ago, we still lacked the close, tight knit circle we could call upon to get together, gossip, have fun,  or ask for guidance, or help.  We were wondering why?  Is there something in the climate, literally?  Toronto is too cold.

Since then, I have been thinking and paying attention to hit or miss opportunities to socialize.  Here is my observation so far.

Socialize means different to different people

In my mother tongue we have many different words that describes the action of people getting together not to do business, although it is always a welcome outcome.  Meeting with people is a very important part of my culture, it happens all days of the week, and starts with a phone call, which almost always ends with a date for a meeting, the same day or in a few days.  It's simple, and effortless to get together.  The host then may decide to extend the invitation to other like minded connections, friends, and or family.  Depending on the time and day, these people may or may not show, but it is almost certain that most will show and the event is a go.  No one turns down an invite without a good reason. 

Preparing for the get together itself is extensive.  There's always a host and guest relationship, even if the get together is in a public place.  Most people prefer to have people over  their home, however.  The host always goes beyond the means to put on the best dressed table in front of the guests.  The word "show off" is used often in the after-party conversations; as the party is so extensive that resembles a show of some sort! The guests are there to be entertained and have a good time.  Everyone plays host at some point in time; some do this in a round robin fashion.

Going or throwing a party is a necessity of life in my home town.  Therefore folks prioritize socializing ahead of every other task.

There is a consistency, and in being consistent you get to know the people over time: their name, the name of members of their family, where they are from, what they do, their marital status, their hobbies, their sense of style, and their sense of humor.  The connection is established gradually.

This is not the case in Toronto!  It seems parties thrown by individuals, at least the ones that I have directly and indirectly been part of, is rare.  The more common one is when an organization steps in, and organizes one, every "guest" contributes the fee, and the organization arranges the logistics, entertainment, and food based on the theme.  I have been to a few of these, and felt like I am in one of those lottery ball machines, where people attract or repel after a few minutes of conversation about random topics.  If you are left with one person, there is either an awkward silence, or a series of one way questions on: nationality, marital status, and job, sometimes education.  Conversations are occasionally shallow.  Everyone is aware of all the social biases, there are so many of them; and avoids starting or steering the conversation in that direction.  In this kind of settings I consider myself lucky, if I see the same face twice at the same or follow on parties.

People have busy schedules
I said it is effortless to set a date for a social get together in my home town.  Well, this is not the case in Toronto!  It seems like people need an extra 7 days in a week and an extra 24 hours in a day, to be able to contain their work, life, and social schedule.  It's painful to find a date that works.  It goes back and forth, with email, text, phone call, for weeks, if not months to find a date and time to get together for an hour over coffee in a coffee shop!  I almost feel people are sabotaging themselves and denying themselves of all the fun to be had.

Socializing is not just a past time
It's a fun past time. If you socialize with like minded people you sure experience its impact on your mood.  It reduces stress, because either it distracts or provides a medium to vent.  It creates opportunities to help and be of help at times of need.  I know that I can never have enough friends!

These are my observations so far.  I will come back to it as I gain more insight into the topic using my and those who'd be willing to share experiences with me.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

In 1951, a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital took a specimen for culture from a cervical tumor that belonged to Henrietta Lacks, a then 31-year-old African-American woman, without informing her that he was doing so, or asking her consent, as is now required. While Henrietta died pretty quickly after her diagnosis, her cells stayed alive and continued duplicating, hence they were dubbed immortal. Pretty soon, the cells were commercialized, produced, packaged and shipped to where there was demand. Science had found a reliable supply of human cells that it could use to test, and experiment with. Many of such experiments were conducted on Henrietta's cells, the most significant one: the test to prove the polio vaccine is effective. Although contaminated, being cancerous, they became the center of many more scientific advances. Later on, the cells tested positive for two strains of Human Papilloma Virus, which confirmed the results of Professor Harald zur Hausen research connecting HPV to cervical cancer.
The Lacks family found out about Henrietta's cells, in a casual conversation between one of Henrietta's daughter in laws, who is a patient aid at Baltimore hospital, and her neighbor who is a cancer research scientist. With very limited education, it was very hard for the family to grasp the true meaning of their mother's cells being living.
The book tries to bring these two stories together, and I think while there is good effort made, but the result is not very satisfactory.
While I enjoyed reading about HeLa; learning what they are, their significance to science as well as medical ethics. I felt confused when the author switched to talking about the Lacks'. She kept all the details of her finding them, connecting with them, and befriending in the book. Which made these chapters verbose. The family's hardships after Henrietta's death due to HeLa are truly sad! It deserves to be narrated pure and simple, and not to be murked by the author's pursuit of it.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Nexus, Ramez Naam

It was only a matter of time; I started reading the first of Naam's trilogy, Nexus, couple of months after I finished the last book in the series, Apex! Whereas, I had made up my mind about the main characters' past life, in Nexus I read Naam's version. The most striking difference, was Samantha Cataranes'. I would have never guessed she had such rough childhood, and by nature of living that life she had become a fighter. Of all characters in Naam's book, and Naam is a prolific character creator, Sam is the one I like to follow the most. She is neutral, and has the least to gain from investing in, believing, or promoting the human brain augmentation technology. She is making up her mind, as events unfold, and present her with evidence to take side.

 After reading two of the three books, I still have not made up my mind. That if intervention in evolution is unavoidable; and that, it is only a matter of time that we become one with technology; should we embrace it and make it available to all, regulate it, or squash it?! Naam's Nexus and Apex, doesn't want to, or doesn't know how to take a clear stance on this. What it does take clear stance on is violence is necessary, that many will perish. In the end there doesn't seem to be a clear winner --only a power shift. One thing is very clear, regardless of which category Naam's character fall in: normal-, augmented-, trans-, or post- human, they are all easily manipulated. They can easily become slaves of other's ideas and motives!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

[IBM High Level Assembler Language for z System-HLASM] No Active Using - ASMA307E

If you are here because you have hit ASMA307E error, then I suggest to generate a listing file, by using HLASM option LIST.  Study the section of the assembler source that has been identified as not having "Active Using".  If you don't see a meaningful "Active Loc" then it could be due to discontinuity introduced in your CSECT.  In my case a DSECT caused the section I want addressable to become orphaned, OR it could be due to code_size being greater than 4K between the USING statement and the symbol being addressed.

  • Solution_For_Discontinuity:  Move that section to the CSECT with Using statement, OR insert the CSECT statement before the orphaned section.


  • Solution_For_Code_Size_GT_4K: check out Base Register in assembler (1), (2), and (3) at Jens Elbaek Blog, System Z Assembler

Monday, October 12, 2015

Going from Paris to Ris-Orangis

The best way to get to Ris-Orangis from Paris, is via Taxi I was told .  Not so true.  Firstly, it is costly, especially, if you have to do it every day, back and forth for four days.  Secondly, it is boring.  There is lots to see on and outside of the public transit --and if there is not, one can sleep, read or listen to music.

A 5-days pass for zones 1 - 5 costs 67,40 € (2015, October).  And from anywhere in Paris you can get to Gare Du Nord or Les Halles Stations where you can catch RER D train operated by ROVO South (Sud) to CORBEIL ESSONNES.  I caught this at 7:42 AM and was in Ris - Orangis at 8:20 AM.

There was no cab at the train station, to my surprise.  So, I had to try my French in getting the point across to the attendant at the train ticket station, who kindly made a call on my behalf.  The taxi however arrived in sooner than the expected 15 minutes.  I tried my French again on reserving a taxi for tomorrow but I gathered from what the driver said, I have to call again tomorrow.  By end of the week the attendant at the train ticket station will either avoid me or we become good friends.  I certainly hope for the latter to happen!

Going back to Paris, I took RER D train North (Nord), at 5:31 towards VILLIERS LE BEL GONESSE ARNOUVILLE, operated by VUPE, from ORANGIS BOIS DE L EPINE, a different station that the one I arrived in the morning, and got to Paris around 6:10 PM.

There are many trains going through the same station, but they go one at a time :), so for the information about the next train approaching are on the monitors, this includes time of arrival, and all the stations the train stops.  This is truly a source of reassurance. However, if the system is down,  monitors showing a blue screen, it's best to know the train information, timetable, and operator from a previous time, basically get on the train that arrives at that time, and listen to stop announcements, those French statements starting with: Prochain arret ....., to ensure you are on the right one.

The following two websites are source of reference for planning to visit Paris and/or Paris and the vicinity.
Paris and suburbs:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Ward Islands, Toronto Islands

If you are looking for something to do on any given day, and you happen to be in Toronto, head down to the Toronto Island Ferry port, and get a RT ticket for $7.25 (subject to change, fees are based on 2015) and travel to Ward island. 

The Rectory Cafe
Center Island is a popular destination, and with the Centerville Amusement park, water fountains, and the bicycle and boat rental stores it makes total sense that the line to that island is always the busiest.  But Ward has its own beauty --it's more mature, and more reserved.  You get off the ferry, and there is no sign or anything else to direct you or inhibit you from going in any direction.  But, if I may suggest you may head towards the lake and start walking west toward the Center island.  It's a lovely walk and doesn't take too long.  Along the way, watch for the sign (on your left) for The Rectory Cafe.  Don't think of leaving if you are hungry and there is a line; it's worth the wait, and the staff is quite accommodating and seats hungry clients quickly.  The Salmon and Steak there are cooked to perfection.  In the summer time, when we visited, August 16, there was quite a charming jazz musician singing beautiful tunes.  It was a whole experience.

There is plenty to do after lunch.  Continue with the walk to Center Island and explore the eastern point of the island via a rental boat or a bicycle.

Apex, by Ramez Naam

APEX, independent of what led to it, (events of Nexus and Crux), builds a story based on connection of minds through the NexusOS. Through this soft layer one human mind can feel and see the other's. In addition Nexus OS enhances the natural ability to think, learn, memorize, problem solve, and focus.

It is year 2040, and unrest is a dominant and recurring theme; the government of China, India, and USA are involved in secretly boosting their power position by enhancing NexusOS while publicly denouncing it.

In US, post a series of suspicious deaths of high ranking government officials, leaked government documents show it's involved in crimes post-human's are accused of committing.
In China a post-human, Su-Yong Shu, has been tortured so badly that has led her to create a cloned software that when activated will set the path to destroy all human life on earth.
In India, government officials bribe Chinese scientist to get a hold of part of the AI technology behind Su-Yong Shu.

Where there is evil, there is good. And in this story, the goodness comes into play quite often to defeat the bad. It's the author's belief that only compassion and peace can stop war and devastation.

What stood out for me, were meditation and concentration and how he used them in his story. It inspired me, to think what if? What if peace could be reached in the world if those of us who believed in it meditated?
However, I would have appreciated a bit of out of the box thinking for the governments of the imaginary year of 2040. Intentionally or inadvertently the political part of the story closely follows the happenings of past couple of decades.