understanding earthquakes and effects

6 10 2009

Great overview of our progress and current understanding of earthquakes since the 1906 great San Francisco earthquake:


informal settlements in tehran

18 01 2009

[by SR] I am reading a book by a sociology professor about “informal settlements” in Tehran.  It talks about the history and activities of slum dwellers and squatters, hashiehneshinan (حاشیه نشینان), and groups settling in shanty towns (like halabiabad – حلبی آباد) and occupying vacant buildings, and/or informal settlements.  The book is Street Politics: Poor People’s Movements in Iran by Asef Bayat (Columbia University Press, 1997), who interestingly grew up in the informal settlements he writes about.  Read the rest of this entry »

power of incentive

14 11 2008


[By Shideh]    My thoughts on the concept of “incentive”…

What do you think would give Tehranians enough incentives to do what’s good for their city? What would give any person enough incentives to care about her surrounding? To cheat less whether in school or in trade, to respect the rules, to drive properly, to keep her/his street clean, to use public transportation, to turn off the lights when not used, to respect order in lines, to build ethically, and finally to come out in the morning with a smile and a loud “good morning, isn’t it a beautiful day” to the neighbors?




Photo courtesy of Hamed


Why do I see this attitude in some cities, and the opposite in others? Is there something in our genes that make us care and cheat less? Is it cultural, deeply rooted in our training as we grow up and if so, can we change that? Or is it purely a matter of the circumstance? I hear my economist friends talk about the fact that there is little evidence to prove that it is a matter of culture or genes (I’m sure some would disagree). Some believe that most people cheat when they can, any where they can, with any background. What is it then that makes a city like Berlin or Tokyo so clean and progressive in public awareness and that makes Tehran and many other cities (i.e. New York City, Mexico City, Cairo, Istanbul, downtown Los Angeles,… the list goes on forever…) the way they are?

I would argue that “incentive” is the main factor. Incentive is what makes me evaluate the cost/benefits of my actions and make a decision on whether it’s worth perusing and taking the risks.  This automatic cost/benefit analysis that takes place in my head is not only economic (money related).  Much of it has to do with my fear of social embarrassment, punishment of various degrees, and my own social awareness of the influences of my actions on my own future and that of others,…

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a nation’s battle for life

9 11 2008

[By Shideh]   We watched an amazing silent movie last night, produced and directed by Cooper, Schoedsack, and Harrison in 1924, named “Grass.”  I highly recommend it as it is an invaluable record of history and tells us quite a bit about the culture and extreme hardships faced by nomads in Persia for survival. It is as if this documentary is not so much of present, but of an ancient past, an unchanging “forgotten” group of brave people. Since many believe that Arians migrated from east to west as nomadic tribes some 4000-5000 years ago, studying the culture of these remaining nomads might be a guide to a deeper understanding of the sometimes misunderstood behavior/desires of our nation as a whole.



Photo courtesy of IranChamber

“In 1924, neophyte film-makers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack hooked up with journalist and sometime spy Maguerite Harrison and set off to film and adventure.  They found excitement, danger and unparalleled drama in the migration of the Bakhtiari tribe of Persia (now Iran). Twice a year, more than 50,000 people and half a million animals surmounted seemingly impossible obstacles to take their herds to pasture. 

“The filmmakers captured unforgettable images of courage and determination as the Bakhtiari braved the raging and icy waters of the half-mile-wide Karun River. Cooper and Schoedsack almost froze when they filmed the breath-taking, almost unbelievable, sight of an endless river of men, women and children – their feet bare or wrapped in rags – winding up the side of the sheer, snow-covered rock face of the 15,000-foot-high Zardeh Kuh mountain.

“Although many documentary historians consider GRASS second only to NANOOK OF THE NORTH, few people have actually seen this legendary film…” Georgia Brown, Village Voice

tehran vs. tokyo

17 10 2008

[By Shideh]   Tehran mayor, Mr. Qalibaf, has been trying to learn from and collaborate with other big cities in the world to improve Tehran in many ways.  I find his attempts promising and in the right direction: http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=180227


Tehran can learn a great deal from Tokyo in terms of pollution reduction and earthquake safety.  Perhaps Japan is one of the few remaining nations that has not paid much attention to the US attempts to impose international sanctions on Iran – up to debate.  This is a great start for Qalibaf to attract Japanese investment and collaborate with the mayor of Tokyo to improve Tehran’s infrastructure.  However, an important part of the problem in Tehran and Iran in general is not related to technical expertise and lack of knowledge.  The main problem seems to be deeply rooted in social awareness and culture.  It takes a great number of local experts on the social psychology of Tehranians to solve the essential problems that are unique to Tehran and do not apply to Tokyo.  Japan in particular has a culture vastly different from those of Iranians and I hope that their solutions and policies will not be blindly applied to Tehran. Iran has a history of blindly following policies of developed nations to improve its system (i.e. education, infrastructure, architecture, city planning, etc.) and my impression is that these attempts have lead to disastrous results and confusion on our own social/cultural identity.

me and my model!

6 08 2008

[By Shideh]   I am sitting inside a round building with a big centrifuge and my model that has become like a friend (sort of like Tom Hanks and the Volleyball named Wilson in the movie Cast Away!)  I am here to run an experiment as a part of a research project.  I have stayed over night monitoring this model (for the past week) and get to rest for a few hours during the days while someone else covers for me.  In the process, this little model has taught me a lot!  It’s interesting how a lifeless thing can teach us important lessons some times.  Or perhaps it’s me being alone at nights having the opportunity to think and reflect…  Who knows?



My model and I are sitting in this big round building right now in the middle of no where and are thinking about the significance of the word “patience”.  This experiment cannot happen without lots and lots of patience.  It seems it’s an important lesson as we all mature.  When it’s dark and scary outside, my model and I think about what songs can make us feel better and how funny it is that life has brought us here!  We get depressed some times, frustrated at the world for long hours of work and no sleep.  Then we start to smile at each other again and think about how I am being trained to be patient.

My model is sitting here quietly as it is slowly filled with water and as I prepare some of the instrumentation and learn about the electrical system here. I sing to it sometimes and I wonder if anyone can hear me.  The person who cleans this building arrives at 7am and every time he is startled to see me here!


While I work at nights over my beloved model that I have created from scratch, I think a lot about everything that I don’t normally have time to think about.  Most recently, I have been thinking about the concept of creativity.  I read a book called “Jame’e Shenasi Nokhbeh Koshi” in Persian many years ago which is about the historical failure of Iranians to encourage reforming minds (like Hasanak Vazir, Amir Kabir, or Mossadeq).  According to this book, not only don’t we encourage creativity and reform, we also kill motivation in anyone who has the slightest desire to improve the system.  Among many other things, this book argues that Iran became a “user” society at some point in history and has been copying the west ever since.  I wondered then if there was much hope for a society with such a fate.  I wonder today…

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a humble letter to the people in power!

19 07 2008

[By Shideh] My mind has been preoccupied with a number of events lately. I am busy with my last experiment while the world around me seems to have turned upside down. I usually worry a lot about the state of practice in earthquake engineering and am passionate in thinking that I can make a difference in this field, in Iran and perhaps other developing countries. Here I am though, sitting in front of the TV watching CNN in my hotel in Davis, tired of hard work all day, witnessing the world turn upside down once more.  What is going on? Are Israeli authorities really planning to bomb Iran’s nuclear power stations (and other things)? Is Iran’s government really showing fake or real movie clips of its military maneuvers to threaten Israel back, to bluff, to defend itself, or to scare others?  Are American politicians really open to the military option against Iran? Does it seem like a video game to them or do they actually realize it’s people’s lives they are so easily taking?  Am I wasting my life trying to solve a tiny technical problem in earthquake engineering hoping to make cities safe, wishing to save lives, while our governments can blow up the whole world in one second?  Who am I trying to save?

I am helplessly writing to you, my governments, the authorities or decision makers of the world, you who think you can make decisions on my behalf to kill others, I am writing this letter to you hoping to make you realize that I am disappointed in how you have all used my tax money toward propaganda against each other, to promote our differences, and to create hatred.  When are you going to stop fighting and start solving conflicts without actual conflicts? Read the rest of this entry »