Iran in 2012

I haven't visited Iran since October 2003 but on my previous blog I promised that I had made the last entry. Now I am visiting again for the first time since then.

I had some more observations: they were about the bike sharing scheme in Tehran, the traffic issues, and the internet censorship.

Something very important for those who live in Iran is the inflation, but I don't live in Iran so I don't experience it. It's a serious issue if your salary is not increasing with inflation but it didn't seem to be affecting the people I talked to - usually a secular English-speaking elite. But coming from Australia everything seemed incredibly cheap. It cost $50 for a 20 minute 20 km taxi ride from Toowong to the International Airport in Brisbane about midnight, and in Iran it cost $45 for a 6 hour taxi ride from Tehran (Shariati South) to Shahsavar, about 250 km by road (130 km as the crow flies). However, that 250 km was a much more congested and stressful experience, and I always wonder why the Airtrain finishes so early in Brisbane.

The Tehran bike sharing scheme. There doesn't seem to be much information on the web about this scheme in English or in Persian. You can try googling "pilot docharkheh" in Persian but it doesn't come up with much. There is a March 2010 post from a bike sharing blog and not much else in English. I visited the station outside Sarsabz metro on 3 September.

Here's the station from the outside.

The rest of the information is from Milad, the attendant at the Sarsabz metro.

There are 40-45 stations in the east of Tehran; each station has 30-40 bikes with some smaller and some larger. From Sarsabz, 60-70 bikes are hired per day in a manual process although everyone's details are stored in a computer system. Extrapolating, this is a hire rate of about 1-2 trips per bike per day.

Women are more interested in hiring bikes then men but it is not possible and hijab is given as the usual reason. It is of course hard to say whether this demand is actual demand or just demand because they are forbidden to use the scheme.

The stations are open from 7am to 7pm every day except for Fridays and public holidays. The cost is 2,000 tomans ($1) for registration and after that the scheme is free. The funding comes from the government (probably the Iranian and Tehran local government) in order to reduce traffic congestion. Riding on footpaths (or green bike paths) is ok though the bike symbols are quite faded near Sarsabz. I am not sure if footpath or road riding is more common. Bike riding in Tehran looks pretty scary in this video.

There are two kinds of bikes - the green single speed bike and the orange three speed bike. I'm not sure on whether the three speed has an internal hub or not - will have to check photos.

The green single speed bike is solid steel and I would guess it weighed at least 17 kg. The estimated cost of each bike was 80,000 tomans ($40). Every bike has a helmet attached and a registration plate. Foreign tourists are unable to hire the bikes as you need to provide a "shenasnameh" (birth certificate) and "carte melli" (national ID card) and photographs.

There is an age limit of 15-60 but the upper limit is not strictly enforced as he showed us an 80 year old member. Students at schools aren't allowed to use the three-speed bikes as repairs can be expensive. There is no fine for returning the bikes after the 7pm deadline - just a warning and they'll disable your account for four days.

Apparently there is a female MP in the Majlis who suggested glass cages for an Islamic bike - searching I could only find Elaheh Sofali talking about Islamic bikes in 2007 and various discussions. Obviously there is no law against women riding bikes in Iran, but "ghanoon nist" (there is no law) and so there might be hassles, although I was told there are no problems after 11pm. But women cannot use the scheme, even though the application lists only the ID and photo requirements.

The traffic issues. There are many more cars in 2012 than when I visited in 2003. I had been told even in 2005 that the traffic was much worse than 2003. The cheapest car is now the Kia Pride, which is 11 million tomans, or about $5,000. This is within reach of many Iranians and it seems to be a sign of prestige just to have a car. (I know - it can't be prestigious if everyone owns one - but hopefully you know what I mean. Maybe it's like other societies where men feel pressure to own one to transport women around even if they'd rather not have one.) This compares to $10,000 for the cheapest total price for a new car in Australia, the Chinese Chery J1 - Chery had controversial asbestos problems recently. Congestion also seems to have increased considerably. As you may know, ironically, Ahmadinejad is a doctor of transportation engineering from IUST. Tehran won an sustainable transport award for implementing such schemes as the BRT and bike sharing scheme last year. The BRT did work pretty well when I took it from Sharif to Darvazeh Dolat the other day around 7pm, but it was a bit crowded.

I read recently that Guangzhou was moving to limit new cars but I have the feeling that idea is not going to take off in Iran soon. Perhaps it's another parallel with America - the "free market" rules - for example I can't see a "limit new cars" idea in Iran or America "no matter what".

The Tehran pollution and congestion is very bad and they are working to provide sustainable transport, but as I said it's kind of prestigious to own a car. The first person I visited from the airport was my old Persian teacher Mr G in Pasdaran. I asked him what changed in Iran and one moment he said congestion just turning (right, I suppose) from the street Bustan Yekom into Pasdaran is really bad, and the next he talked about how he, his daughter and his son had four cars between them and it was so difficult finding a place to park them all - for example he couldn't move out of his place and build somewhere else in the same street as there was nowhere in the street to park all the cars.

Here's some pictures - there's a time limit on when you can turn into Garusi St off Shariati St. A taxi driver dropping me off didn't turn into the street because of this limit and the camera in the street, but another taxi driver has just obscured his license plate at the beginning of the street and taken the plastic off out of range of the camera.

The internet censorship. This is just a joke - the censorship is widespread but completely inconsistent. There's a website called blockediniran which does a pretty good job and gets almost everything right. Of course that website is itself blocked in Iran, but it doesn't capture all the nuances and inconsistencies as there are redirects and sometimes a mobile site works when the main site doesn't. As I said the censorship is considered a joke as everyone just uses freegate or tor to get around it - it's not a cat and mouse game at all, as the mice are much more nimble than the cat. It's just a huge waste of time and money on the part of the Iranian government.

Basically what I'm saying is I can't see a pattern except for that some random Western websites have been blocked. I don't think the group in the government (TCI) has any idea what they're doing; there is no clear strategy - bans are just slapped on whenever and no-one there has "stepped back" and asked obvious questions like "won't censoring _almost everything_ just annoy people and make _everyone_ use a VPN?", "if we allow a search for dating / lyrics but people can't visit the search results, won't that make the people just use a VPN?" or logical related questions like that. If they were thinking at all they'd be asking "if we block access to the outside world's news for Iranians, might that not increase the probability of misunderstandings and thus increasing the chances of unintended conflict with the outside world?".

So they probably know everyone uses a VPN and that's why the censorship is so half-arsed - they're just going through the motions. I'm sure there are some parallels with Soviet Russia here.

Also blocked results just get redirected to peyvandha.ir so it's obviously you're being blocked - there is no ambiguity similar what apparently happens in China, where you don't know if you're just getting a timeout or not.

It does get annoying when I'm visiting someone's house and using a mobile device (without a VPN set up on it, like my iPhone). Then I experience the inconsistency. Here's some examples.

Starting with the most popular alexa sites - facebook, youtube and twitter are blocked.

Similarly orkut, myspace, friendster, blogger, and wordpress are blocked but blogfa.com is not blocked.

london2012.com works on my phone - just redirects to m.london2012.com. But according to blockediniran it's stilled blocked.

youporn, redtube, xnxx, megaporn, livejasmin are blocked. Google queries like sex, porn, cunt, dick, fuck, fucking, boobs etc are blocked but "tits" works - and these are ok as substrings so sussex, scunthorpe etc work.

Many lyrics websites are blocked. Some like letssingit.com, stlyrics.com, leoslyrics.com, lyrics.com, directlyrics.com and lyrics.wikia.com are not blocked, which is bizarrely inconsistent. Probably this means that whoever was doing the blocking has no idea what they were doing and also isn't very familiar with English.

azlyrics.com, metrolyrics.com, lyricsfreak.com, lyricsmode.com, songlyrics.com, lyrics.net, lyrics007.com, songmeanings.net, lyricsmania.com, elyrics.net, absolutelyrics.com, lyricsty.com, lyricsbox.com, lyricsdepot.com, directlyrics.com, and sing365.com are all blocked.

nytimes, washingtonpost, sfexaminer and latimes are not blocked, but sfgate, foxnews, cnn and huffingtonpost are blocked. reuters and afp are not blocked. If sfgate is blocked because it's from that den of sin San Francisco then it's inconsistent for sfexaminer not to be blocked.

amazon.com is not blocked but amazon.co.jp and amazon.co.uk are blocked.

google.com is not blocked but google.com.au is blocked - which is pain for my iPhone searches!

ibnlive.com is not blocked but rediff.com is blocked.

The mobile versions of smh, theage, and brisbanetimes are not blocked but abc.net.au, smh, theage, brisbanetimes are blocked.

news.com.au is blocked but afr.com and ninemsn.com.au are not blocked.

Dating sites like rsvp.com.au, okcupid.com, alt.com, lavalife.com, and match.com are blocked, but eharmony.com are pof.com are not blocked.

Israeli news websites like haaretz.com, jpost.com, arutzsheva / israelnationalnews, and ynetnews are all blocked, which is a really really stupid idea as of course it leads to more misunderstandings between Israel and Iran.

rferl.org, bbc.co.uk and voanews.com are blocked.

hulu, netflix and pinterest are blocked.

The bizarre: livestrong.com and www.columbia.edu are blocked - presumably Columbia is because of goaskalice.columbia.edu the health website which contains sexual health information, rather than because Ahmadinejad didn't like the place after visiting there. Livestrong.com - I have no idea.

iranian.com is blocked - too much criticism of the government I guess. Similarly aggregator / news sites like gooya and balatarin are blocked.

tripadvisor has been unblocked since a blockediniran twitter post of 28 May 2012 mentioned it as blocked. This still seems to be incorrectly reported by blockediniran as it works from my mobile.


Rice Gambit

I was thinking about the Rice Gambit recently and read the Wikipedia article about it.

It says

The Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (1997) analyzes 1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 g5 4. h4 g4 5. Ne5 Nf6 6. Bc4 d5 7. exd5 Bd6 8. O-O Bxe5 9. Re1 Qe7 10. c3 Nh5 11. d4 Nd7 12. dxe5 Nxe5 (etc etc) with a draw by perpetual check, attributing this analysis to Capablanca, Amos Burn, and Edward Lasker.

I decided to analyze it with Rybka 4. The main line it prefers is 10. c3 Nbd7 11. d4 Nh5 12. Qxg4 Bxd4+ 13. Kf1 Ng3+ 14. Qxg3 fxg3 15. Rxe7+ Kxe7 16. cxd4 Nb6 17. Bb3 Bf5 18. Nc3 Rg8, where the evaluation is +1.41 (after 28 ply) and the PV continues 19. Kg1 Kd7 20. Bg5 Bd3 21. Bd1 f6 22. Bg4+ f5 23. Bh5 Rxg5 24. hxg5 Rg8 25. Rd1 Ba6 26. Re1 Rxg5 27. Bd1 Kd8 28. Re6 Rg8 29. b3 Nc8 30. Bh5 Nd6 31. Be2 Bxe2 32. Nxe2 Kd7 33. Re3 Ne4. Wow, what an exciting sequence!

After 12. dxe5, Rybka 4 prefers 12... Qxh4 (evaluation +1.76 after 27 ply): 12. dxe5 Qxh4 13. Nd2 f3 14. Ne4 o-o 15. Bg5 f2+ 16. Nxf2 Qxg5 17. Qd4 Nb6 18. Bb3 Bf5 19. Ne4 Qg6 20. Nc5 Qh6 etc. If White plays 13. e6, the evaluation is at least +2.47: 13. e6 o-o 14. exf7+ Rxf7 15. d6 Ndf6 16. Bxf7+ Kxf7 17. Nd2 f3 18. gxf3 Qg3+ and White's position is falling apart.

The only other major option tried (according to ChessOK) was ... 12. Bb5, which isn't so good: 12. Bb5 Kd8 13. Bxd7 Bxd7 14. Rxe5 Qxh4 15. Rxh5 Qxh5 16. Bxf4 Re8 ... (evaluation +1.76). Apparently this was the starting position of a Marshall vs Napier match in 1905. Rybka analysis continues: 17. Qf1 Qxd5 18. Bxe5 Qb5 19. Nd2 Qxf1+ 20. Rxf1 Be6 21. c4 f5 22. d5 Bd7 23. exf6 Kc8 ... (+1.85).

Chesslive and Chessok have a game with 12. Na3 which fails to 12. Na3 Qxh4 13. dxe5 f3 etc (evaluation >+2.05).

So it looks like Rybka 4 has busted another line ... Black can win against the Rice Gambit, not just draw.


four themes

I haven't posted anything meaningful here since June 2008. I think facebook has replaced blogging for me in a way. Anyway, recently I've been thinking about four themes.

1. Minimalism and Zen.

2. House prices in Australia.

3. Climate change.

4. Peak oil.

1. My flatmate doesn't seem to be interested in very much other than Zen Buddhism. In his room, there's nothing much except for his laptop, a PRS-505 book reader, some clothes, and "Everyday Zen" by Charlotte Joko Bech. I wish he would share the cleaning more but on the other hand he doesn't get in my way much.

There's also a guy at work, David, who reminds me a bit of my flatmate, doesn't care about whether things are dirty or neat, is anti-social, but is very minimalistic. There's not really any paper or books on his desk like on other people's desks. He doesn't have any interaction with any outside clients, for some reason.

I have a feeling minimalism is related Zen somehow after seeing this photo of Steve Jobs in 1982. Somehow, I feel clutter causes me stress, like my friend David used to say, he lived a bohemian lifestyle until his early 30s but now finds clutter stressful.

Anyway, I'm dealing with the clutter in my house. I sold some things on ebay, like the Apple shirt I got at the Chermside store opening (for $43.60!) I'm dealing with the paper by taking pictures of things and then recycling the paper. This helps me deal with the thought that "I might want to look at this again someday"; digital photos take up much less space than paper.

With the PRS-505, the Amazon Kindle, and the upcoming Apple tablet, I think we might finally be moving to a paperless office or society. I have to keep some documents for the tax office for 5 years, but that's about it.

I also want to keep my bedroom as clutter-free as possible, inspired by the book "Househould Management for Men". That should help me relax. Possibly even get it down to my bed and my piano. My sister told me about an architect Ole Scheeren who keeps his possessions down to two suitcases so that he's free to travel places. That could be the ideal. There's an article about the suitcase test.

I want to redesign the living room, maybe have canvas prints of my favourite travel photos instead of A3 laminated printouts or framed normal printouts.

I did redesign my home page, took my high school stuff off the resume, that's hardly relevant now ... I have a filing cabinet at parents' full of university notes that I have literally not looked at in ten years. So after I deal with my own place I'll deal with my room there.

2. It seems we're in a big bubble still, with the first home owners' boost propping up prices this year. But my friends at work still seem to want to get on the ladder. Suckers. Noel Whittaker in his book "Making Money Made Simple" (20th anniversary edition, which I was reading today) writes that it was hard to save a deposit and pay off a house in the days of the readers' parents, but somehow I think he's just out of touch, hasn't looked at median house price to median income levels or read Steve Keen's blog or BubblePedia. Australia's house prices will come down just like all the other Western countries' prices.

Question is, in the meantime, is the best investment (for the difference between rent and mortgage) shares, cash, gold, or something else? Gold and shares, too, could be in bubbles.

There was a comment on a blog I read today saying that young people have to not buy and live in communal arrangements, having singles avoid renting of two bedroom apartments, more for prices to go down, and another comment on Steve's blog that occupancy rates have fallen from 5.2 in 1901 to 2.7 in 2006 I think, and have only just gone up from 2.51 to 2.56 recently. Why do people prefer to live alone more often now ... ? which brings me to

3. Climate change. My parents, after reading Ian Plimer's book and hearing about Climategate, think it's a bit of a con. I guess I think the IPCC is right about their conclusions, but the authors of Superfreakonomics seemed to be suggesting a better and cheaper way to fix the problems than some emissions trading scheme. I'm cynical about some of the motives of the people pushing ETSs and carbon trading, financiers are happy to have another product to trade, creating more bureaucracy and they get to claim they're saving the world as well.

The other thing is the people at my work who seem to be the most rabid climate change activists are those who fly the most! It's ridiculous! They probably claim they offset it by ticking the box when they buy the ticket, but I am cynical about that too and wouldn't it be better to just not travel. Plus one of those guys has just bought a two-bedroom apartment that he'll live in by himself... propping up the housing bubble by buying before the FHOB finishes, and having empty rooms around the place is hardly the sustainable thing to do. He claims to have bought "400% GreenPower" but I couldn't find any evidence of such a thing. I wonder about the effectiveness of buying GreenPower, I should read more about it.

4. Peak oil. My gut feeling is that this is probably a bigger problem than climate change. The IEA coverup article basically said the International Energy Agency is lying about the amount of oil left in the world to prevent panic! That was scary. When oil becomes scarce, fertilisers and plastics are harder to produce, transport becomes more expensive, and there will probably be resource wars over the last pockets of oil.

I considered switching from my 2006 automatic Yaris (6.7 L / 100km) to a 2009 manual Ford Fiesta Econetic (3.7 L / 100km) (the new smart fortwo diesel gets even less, 3.4 L / 100km, according to toptem.info), but I still spend less than $1,000 a year on petrol, and the Yaris still works fine, I prefer driving an automatic car, automatics have higher resale value, on the other hand the Econetic has an aux in on the stereo ...

back to the topic ... it's scary to think what might happen. Updates at The Oil Drum. A lot of people are in denial. If peak oil arrives, property prices will change quite a lot, places close to the city centre or on (electric) train lines will become the places to live. If I really knew what was going to happen I'd buy oil futures, buy those properties, short sell airline shares, etc but if wars occur over access to oil these things like money will probably be the least of my worries.

I'd better work out what I want to do with my life and work on that to the best of my ability in case some of these worst case scenarios come to pass. And decluttering should be a good first step!


Google groups usenet search broken

Google groups usenet search is missing lots of posts: doesn't seem to be noted in many places, but here is an example.

quoted here:

From: Tim Smith
Newsgroups: comp.os.linux.advocacy
Subject: [OT] Someone broke Google Groups search
User-Agent: MT-NewsWatcher/3.5.3b2 (Intel Mac OS X)
Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2008 17:37:13 -0700
Lines: 23
X-Trace: sv3-OM99PwXIkOwetpag9oEz4AkLGRctmCh36IArIUjXSZ29tovkSnkH/uEKLmKYmNcDyb18e28Qw46mP7O!U2UsiqlALxgAC1K0Rhs2efk8NlKrZId52u1esCDDHfbzKnqtx5UHTfhhjM360a6EhVs/hRe3AOnX!SIrnoD7ZELeodjNzxr/o0w==
X-Complaints-To: www.supernews.com/docs/abuse.html
X-DMCA-Complaints-To: www.supernews.com/docs/dmca.html
X-Abuse-and-DMCA-Info: Please be sure to forward a copy of ALL headers
X-Abuse-and-DMCA-Info: Otherwise we will be unable to process your complaint properly
X-Postfilter: 1.3.39

Google groups search for "Tim Smith". 9 hits. Click "sort by date" and
then there are 161000 hits.

Google groups search for "Roy Schestowitz". 4 hits. Click "sort by
date" and then there are 104000 hits.

Google groups search for "Mark Kent". 46200 hits. Click "sort by date"
and it stays 46200 hits.

It used to be that you'd get about the same number of hits regardless of
whether you sorted by date or relevance. It's still doing that with
Mark, but for Roy and me, it gives far fewer hits when sorted by

Anyone else seeing this? Or am I just hitting a bad server? (It's been
like this for a few days for me, but they seem to use some kind of
scheme to try to send you to the same server when you come back, so if
there is a broken server in their pool, I could be stuck on it).

--Tim Smith



Do I want to sleep at the same time as everybody else? Would I do better work if I worked at the same time everyone else slept, and slept at the same time everyone else worked? Anyway ... Brisbane City Council has noise regulations, so I took a look:

Air conditioner noise is ok from 7am to 10pm, building work noise is ok from 6.30am to 6.30pm on every day except Sunday...

Also, the Do Not Call register says:

  • telemarketing calls can be made on weekdays between 9.00 am and 8.00 pm
  • research calls can be made on weekdays between 9.00 am and 8.30 pm
  • a telemarketing or research call can be made on a Saturday between 9.00 am and 5.00 pm
  • research calls can be made on a Sunday between 9.00 am to 5.00pm but not on a nationally recognised public holiday
  • telemarketing calls can not be made on a Sunday or a nationally recognised public holiday.

Plus, there's a 40km/h speed limit on weekends in Fortitude Valley from 10pm to 6am; the EPA legislation has references to a 6am outdoor shooting range noise exclusion; a QR development checklist writes about assessing noise impact between 10pm and 6am.

As for Brisbane Airport, there's no curfew on planes and their Noise Management Strategy suggests that ground running engines is only unlimited between 5am and 9pm. Tough if you live near the airport or under a flight path.

Basically I think the message is that you can sleep uninterrupted in Brisbane between 10pm and 6am, but that's it, really... etiquette says to be careful not to phone people after about 8pm or so.



It's been a long time since I wrote in my semi private scribbling space ...

I've been living alone for five months, but I don't feel I've been saving a whole lot and I want to invest regularly in the stock market instead of haphazardly. I just want someone relatively quiet to live with, I guess ... who doesn't watch much TV ... I haven't watched TV in forever and at a gathering of people last Sunday was completely out of touch with what's on. They were talking about "Medium" and "Jekyll" and various other shows I'd never heard of. While watching Eurovision I saw ads for "Salam Cafe" which looked interesting. Oh, the things I'm missing out on!

I haven't decided on where to go on my overseas trip this year, but I am inclining towards Iran and Iceland ... as I have been for a while now. It would be good to climb Mt Damavand and be 5600m above sea level -- none of my friends have been that high, I don't think. The world should look different from up there!

I have been failing pretty badly in the book reading goals; but I have managed to finish some finance books, like "The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, lately. That book made me wonder if all the energy modelling I've been doing at work has actually been incorrect or inaccurate. If I can write a paper and have it accepted to a conference, then my boss will support me going there; I would never decline a free overseas trip. In fact I'd never turn down a free trip to anywhere...

Investing in the US seems so unattractive right now; I had thought about investing in the Vanguard International Unhedged Shares Fund (which is like the world ex Australia) but with the Iraq war, the sub prime crisis, and the US's dependence on oil, my feeling is just that I'd rather keep my money in Australian or emerging market stocks. Consider this Reuters commentary:

Peter Schiff, president of money manager Euro Pacific Capital, warns that after years of profligate spending, the "chickens are finally coming home to roost".

"Our whole phony standard of living is imploding," he said. "We have borrowed and spent ourselves into oblivion."

"It's amazing that people can't figure out that America is broke."


Thanks to the "rosy spot" of exports helped by a weak dollar, plus strength in commodities like coal and grains, the UCLA Anderson Forecast Center predicts the U.S. economy will suffer only a mild recession this year.

But without that retail engine of growth, "our long-term prospect is for sluggish U.S. economic growth," Leamer said.

"Unfortunately, there is nothing on the horizon in the U.S. economy that will take over from the consumer."

Combinatorics has really gone on the back burner, and I want that to change too ... so I'll write up a new set of goals and things to do, and begin again.


the weakest link

This relationship post is just about my personal experiences. Recently in relationship and job terms I have found that it's the weakest links in my friendship networks that have got me the best results. That is, in the last six months or so, all through the net, getting back in touch with people -- so through seek, linkedin, orkut and facebook. Myspace is a pile of crap and cyworld is only for Koreans :)

So it is important to work on those weakest links if your job and relationship situation is not good...