Friday, May 22, 2009


Where was I? Where am I?

Poetry for the Kings and Vezirs

Note the Persian Poetry. I think this was at Homayun's or his minister's tomb. Persian was the court and administrative language in large parts of India before English replaced it with the rise of British colonial rule.

Mini domes for the holy book

Stand out the mini domes, where the ghari would read the holy book for the deceased!

Needing attention

Even masonry needs attention ...

He rests

He rests in eternal peace.


They rest in eternal peace.

Delhi, India, November 2007

The word oft-spoken in praise!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Your business card please!

I originally wrote this entry on August 3, 2004.

I've often wondered what sorts of rights U.S. citizenship actually grants me.

Well, in the 2004 Democratic Party primary elections for party nomination to the presidential elections, I finally registered to vote. To my surprise, I discovered that by the time the primaries got to California, the state with the largest electoral votes, the decision had already been made. In other words, the votes in California counted for next to nothing. Three of the five candidates had already been sent to the dust bin of electoral politics before Californians had a chance to vote. All this meant that Californians had a much reduced set of options than people in New Hampshire or Connecticut. (I don't have anything against those two states. I just don't think voters in other states should get a raw deal in a national election because of some strategic setup that multiplies the force of some votes and reduces to nothing the votes of others. Of course, one may also argue that California has a more representative mix of population and should get to vote first in primaries.)

I had had enough of these thoughts.

After all, this was the first time I had registered to vote and maybe I simply didn't comprehend the subtleties of primary elections even if I had lived in the U.S. for the last 25 years of my life.

Then I said to myself, may be it is rights to privacy, to travel and to remain silent for which I should be grateful.

However, reality has proven me off the mark again. In the last 3 years, I have traveled some 15 times out of the country, mostly on business and three times on vacation. My vacations have always included a short visit to Iran, this time to climb the Sabalan mountain.

In all these 15 times but one, my luggage and myself have been made subject to "random" searches. The single exception occurred when no one else was being searched, apparently in the embarrassing aftermath of the Iraq prison fiasco.

I wonder where the "random" in the "random search" comes from.

(Perhaps my sensitivity to all this is because both for my M.S. and Ph.D. dissertation work, I had to learn quite a bit of statistics and write code using various random number generators whose generative behavior I also had to analyze.)

The last time I was subjected to "random" search was yesterday at SFO.

I had just left my family in Salzburg for my daughters' German summer camp, had traveled from Salzburg to Wiesbaden in my brother's car in about 6 hours of non-stop driving, had slept only 4 hours and taken the plane from Frankfurt to SFO.

I was picked out of the line by a female Customs agent and politely (a first, I would say) asked to go to "isle 5" on the far left corner where "random" searches were being performed. Being subjected to a "random" search had begun to infuriate me after it had happened 4 times in a row, but after 15 times in a row, one can only get used to it.

A man from India and another young European man were sent right behind me.

The customs agent examining me on isle 5 asked several questions. I leave it to your imagination to fill in the gaps with my responses.

  • "Where do you work?"
  • "No, I mean which company do you work for?"
  • "What does Sun do?" This question followed by several winks and a "I was just kidding."
  • "Can you please give me one of your business cards?"
  • "Yes, we do ask everyone for their business cards. See, here's one." She showed me one with no e-mail addresses or phone numbers !
  • "Don't get upset. We are just trying to help."
  • "Whose violin is this?"
  • "I don't know anything about violins. Does your daughter hold a first chair in the El Camino Youth Symphony?"

This was just a sample of the questions. The search of my bags uncovered tapes, VCDs, books and other publications in English, Turkish, Chinese, Persian, and German. For example, they included a German book on coaching soccer. (I'm going to be a soccer coach for one of my daughters' teams this fall.)

During the interrogation, when I felt my heart pumping, I tried to calm myself. I obliged and laughed throughout as I made fun of the "randomness" of the search. "You don't need to apologize," I said. "This happens every single time."

In any case, as I surrendered my Sun business card, I wondered, with a certain feeling of company loyalty, whether it was my right to tell them that I did have business cards but that I would refuse to give it to them. I don't particularly like strangers to have my business cards even if they are U.S. Customs agents. I'd like to think that I have a right to give my business card to whomever I wish and only in cases where it is a matter of company business.

I left the airport wondering if the Customs was being used as training ground for interrogators or whether the U.S. Customs had contracted out interrogation. The interrogator this time, unlike all previous times, was quite "professional" and knew what she was doing. In any case, as an ex-journalist, I'd very much like to find out the answers to all these questions but I have a regular job and have no time for such investigations.

I wonder why no newspapers write about the plight of people going through these sorts of interrogation. Perhaps it is all for the good of national security.

In any case, I'd very much like to know what my rights actually are, and what the rights of the Customs agents performing the searches are, or to be more precise, where their rights of search and interrogation of individuals and U.S. citizens end. I have not read any news reports that answer these questions.

Most of this will go silent because it is better to go on than to talk about it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From Salzburg w/ an Unknown Browser

I wrote this entry, originally, on July 8, 2004.

I'm posting this log from the Jugend und Familien Gasthaus in Salzburg. The internet connection is quite fast. The price is prohibitive: 2.65 Euros for 35 minutes ! ! ! It's shocking but it seems to include a home-grown browser (?). As usual, for me, the most important problem is the European key-board althought with a bit of practice, it is easy to get over the change of place between y and z and a few other kezs. The day after tomorrow, I leave my daughter at a language camp and depart for the U.S.

A visit to 'Half the World'

I wrote this entry, originally, on July 17, 2004.

"Isfahan is half the world," says an Isfahani proverb.

On July 12th, we set out to see what that meant. We had been to Isfahan before when Yasmine, my oldest daughter was one year old. Now, nine years later, we wondered if anything had changed. The city was certainly much more crowded, there were many more freeways into and out of the city and several more hotels. (See the last paragraph of this note on what is lacking in terms of hotels and other facilities.)

I drove my father's old BMW from Tehran to Qom to Kashan to Natanz to Isfahan to Mahallat to Abe Gharm to Saveh, and back to Tehran.

With the exception of the Abe Gharm hot water springs and spa, much of the roads between these cities and towns consisted of 3-lane
freeways. None of these freeways were around 10 years ago when Liana and I took a similar excursion with our one-year-old.

Many of the 3-lane roads charge a toll of about $0.25 for sedans. Most of them are funded by companies incorporated for the construction of the freeways or by banks such as Mellat Bank, not to be confused with a Turkish bank of the same name. In many sections, several miles long, we were the only car on the freeway.

In Qom, we visited the shrine of Ma'sumeh, the sister of Imam Reza. The shrine quarters have vastly improved in the last 10 years. Qom is currently the premier center of Shiite learning.

In Kashan, which is famous for its rugs but also has a medical school, we visited the Aga Bozorg school, built during the Qajar period for studies in Islamic jurisprudence. We stayed in Kashan Monday night and had a chance to visit the Bagheh Fin (Fin Garden) before departing for Isfahan. It is in the baths of these gardens that one of Iran's most effective prime ministers, Amir Kabir, was put to death by his erstwhile friend and brother-in-law Naser-edin Shah. Amir Kabir had started sending Iranian students to Germany before his Japanese counterparts thought of the idea. It is said that the Shah's mother, her confidants and the British embassador had something to do with Amir Kabir's murder.

The children, Yasmine and Negin, liked the Fin Gardens in particular. Most of the garden was built between 500 to 200 years ago with some maintenance work continuing. It has flowing waters and fountains from an opulent natural spring on the premises. The waterworks help produce a cool breeze in several sections of the garden, particularly one built by the Safavid about 400 years ago.

Natanz had a beautiful, old masjid going back to the time of the Buyid Dynasty, a fantastically active period in intellectual history of Persia. We had a very nice break there. We were the only ones visiting this old monument. The care taker opened the door of a sufi khanegah built on the side of the masjid. Old, simply decorated Quranic verses in Kufi surrounded the dome.

Isfahan, requires no explanation given the saying of the Isfahanis: "Isfahan, Nisfeh Jahan" (Isfahan is half the world). The proud history of Isfahanis has to do with the influence of the rulers of this city on lands as far away as India, Iraq, Uzbakistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.

The high points for us were the visits to the Naghsheh Jahan square (Meydaneh Imam) and the Khajoo Bridge (Poleh Khajoo).

During the Safavids, Polo was played in the square while the Shah watched or participated. One can still see the polo goal posts on one end of the square.

Wednesday night, many Isfahanis had gathered on that absolutely beautiful bridge, Poleh Khajoo, listening to improvised lyrics song in traditional Persian rythms. Others were taking a stroll through the delicately built caverns of this multi-level bridge. Poleh Khajoo is a bridge built for people to enjoy. Wednesday night, on the way back to the hotel, we had tea on the Choobi Bridge, less than 200 meters away from Khajoo.

The next day, we tried quickly to traverse the road back from Isfahan to Tehran. We had a short dinner stop at Mahallat and spent a night at the Abeh Gharm hot water springs. The private baths there cost $1.25.

The hot water spring baths were wonderful. Of course, the quality of service has a lot to go to reach the Japanese onsans of Izu Hanto but the quality of the mineral water and the heat was superb.

We rushed back through Saveh, where Liana bought a Russian non-alcoholic beer for me at one of our stops. It was absolutely delicious in the hot day. I will write more about this wonderful non-alcoholic beer later.

The trip in and out of Tehran megapolis was by far the most difficult part of the journey. Other than that, I'm happy we returned safe and sound. Now, we need to see whether we can make it to Sabalan Mountain for this weekend.

Before I finish, I should note the down sides of traveling in Iran. With the exception of the Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan and a few others in major cities such as Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz and Tabriz, there are very few really good hotels in Iran. For example, the hotel in Abeh Gharm hot water springs is in need of new carpeting and the chiller kept me awake until 2 am. The management said they are trying to fix it but they also have to change carpets, install new wall papers and do something about an elevator. The Kowsar Hotel in Kashan had huge, beautifully furnished apartments for a very reasonable price but the location of the hotel, its surroundings and office facilities are wanting. While DSL is already available in Tehran and possibly a few other cities, with the exception of one or two hotels in Tehran, my guess is that almost no hotel has fast internet connection today. So, there is a lot of room for improvements in this area. The other downside is traffic within the downtown area of large cities. (Even Abbasi Hotel is really difficult to get to through the traffic on the Chahar-Bagh Blvd.) Despite all this, one thing is guaranteed no matter where you are: good food.

A "cold" summer day

I wrote this entry, originally, on July 11, 2004.

Today was a "cold" summer day in Tehran, where I'm vacationing with my family.

According to the evening news, this was the coldest July 11th in 35 years. My mother believes the precedence must be even farther away in time.

Liana and I were planning to drive the kids in my Dad's old BMW from Tehran to Isfahan through Qom.

We may need to put off that adventure for later when the flood rains subside.

Last day at the India Engineering Center

I wrote this entry, originally, on July 5, 2004.

This is my last day at Sun Microsystems' India Engineering Center (IEC).

The IEC was first established in 1998 but it is still expanding. There's a new first floor addition in the Divyasree Chambers complex, where it is located next to Cisco's offices in Bangalore.

It has been a great visit, and I have met many bright and professional engineers and managers working on all kinds of cool technologies. Of course, my focus has been on the application server and the web server teams. We talked extensively about clustering (including failure detection and replication techniques) and also quite a bit about telecommunications market and applications. It has been a wonderful experience and visit.

During this past weekend in Bangalore, I had a chance to visit the market in city center and also some malls. Of course, there's a great contrast between the two, the main being the distribution and business model. On the one side you have very small businesses and on the other, you have the smoothed-out businesses depending on international distribution channels. I believe, for a long time to come, both will survive and propser.

And yes, last night, as many others, I did watch the Greek victory over Portugal in Euro 2004 final ! ! !

This evening, I leave for Mumbai and then later for Frankfurt, where I'll begin my family vacation.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Taj Mahal, Agra, India (November, 2007)

The prayer platform stretches before the Taj Mahal.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Originally uploaded by M.Mortazavi
On the way to Bangalore, in November 2007, I had a 12 hour stop in London, which was perfect for a visit to the National Gallery.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Oregon Sand

West Coast (2007)
Originally uploaded by M.Mortazavi
In some places on the Oregon coast, the blows of the wind create micro sand storms near the surface.

Atrium, Seattle Library

Here's a view form the atrium in the Seattle library.

We visited it in the July of 2007.

View from the Seattle Library

This was the view from the Seattle city library one morning in July of 2007.

Stones on the Oregon Coast, 2007

West Coast (2007)
Originally uploaded by M.Mortazavi
This picture was taken while we were traveling along the Oregon coastline in the summer of 2007.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lunch with Great Grandma, Tehran, Iran (July 2006)

My daughter, Negin, prepared these dishes for a lunch with her great grandmother.